Some answer to the call

Posted: Friday, February 14, 2003

"Call me Kha Goon Gha, which means crying wolf. My mother, Lizzie Peterson, of Klukwan, said that was how I sounded when I was a baby. I am an eagle of the killer whale clan. I was born in 1939 in Juneau, of a large family, but only my sister, Teresa, and my brother, Ray, are still living here in Juneau. My name is Ron Peterson."

On the WaterfrontBy Elton Engstrom

This is like another sea-faring tale that began with the memorable opening line, "Call me Ishmael." Ishmael was depressed with city life so he signed up for a three-year whaling voyage on the Pequod with his friend, the harpooner Queequeg. So began Moby Dick, perhaps the most famous novel ever written by an American.

Ron Peterson was in Portland, Maine, in 1965 when he was 25 years old. He got a berth on a ship fishing for cod on the Grand Banks. He became a dory fisherman. This wasn't like Southeastern Alaska with its many islands. Here was only the great open, empty sea - the Atlantic Ocean.

"I was worried a storm might come up, and they would not be able to find me. They had no radar. You couldn't see land. It was spooky."

In a dory you used oars, not a motor. He had about seven skates of gear which he pulled twice a day, with about 50 hooks on each skate. He baited the hooks and dropped his skate while using the oars to pull ahead.

He got about 5 to 10 cod when he pulled in a skate. Then he dressed the fish, leaving the head on. When the mother ship picked him up before nightfall, the cod were put in a tank filled with ice.

Not everyone who hears the call to travel great distances away from home listens. The ship Hope was in Northwest Coast waters in 1792. In the published journal "A Voyage to the Northwest Coast," skipper Joseph Ingraham, seeking a cargo of sea otter furs, tells a story of two Haida boys who thought they wanted to leave the forested islands and coves of home.

"We had on board two lads, who said, as we were sailing out of the harbor, that they would remain on board and go to sea with us. To try if they were in earnest, I made sail and left the canoes astern. But they soon changed ... and were exceedingly frightened. After a while I brought to and let them into their canoes, making each of them a present. A woman in one of the canoes that took them away, I was informed, was mother to the youngest. She was so overjoyed on the restoration of her son that she could not refrain from tears."

My grandfather pursued the livelihood of a dory fisherman when he sailed out of Gloucester, Mass., in the 1890s.

He once had a shipmate named Centennial Johnson, who in 1876 rowed across the Atlantic Ocean. My grandfather asked him how he did it. He answered, "I just rowed, and rowed and rowed."

"Call me Ishmael. Call me Kha Goon Gha."

Elton Engstrom is a lifelong Alaskan, retired fish-buyer, lawyer and legislator (1964-70) who lives in Juneau. He can be reached at 586-1655.

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