Shoveling Boat Snow

December 12, 2021

The first snow of the 2021 winter in Petersburg, Alaska. (Photo: Patsy Urschel)

Patsy and I were outside just now, shoveling the snow off the Endeavour. We’ve had two heavy snows in the last week here in Petersburg, Alaska. The first was about a foot and a half, the second about a foot. The total for the first twelve days of December is just a snowflake under 48 inches. It’s not been particularly cold, with the temperature down here on the water hovering around freezing − a couple of degrees below, then a couple above. But the balmy temperatures have made the snow heavy and wet. It sticks to everything.

We shovel to stay afloat. I heard yesterday from Jake, the fellow who takes care of boats for people who are south for the winter, that yesterday a 40-foot salmon troller named the Kaiulani sank in the south harbor. (It wasn’t one of his charges). We’ve heard reports since then that other boats have sunk, too. The snow accumulates and either presses the boat low enough in the water that water starts coming in the deck hatches (that’s what happened with the Kaiulani), or it tips the boat over and water pours in over the gunwales. Bilge pumps can’t keep up, especially when they’re clogged with slush. If the snow doesn’t sink your boat right off and you make it to warmer weather, the melting snow will likely freeze hard in the scuppers some night, plugging them, and the next rain will turn the deck into a wading pool. The weight of the water will sink the boat. There’s always something to think about.

I couldn’t talk Jake into shoveling our boat, so Patsy and I do it. We’ve been taking turns, using an oversized black plastic shovel, which doesn’t grate on our ears or score our deck the way aluminum does. We start at the top with the roof of the pilothouse, then the top deck, then the main deck, then the dock, which by then has three new layers of snow on it. The snow goes into the water, which this afternoon was running about three knots past the boat and out the narrows, carrying our little snow bergs out to Frederick Sound.

I can’t picture how much snow it would take to sink or capsize the Endeavour, but I don’t want to find out.

− William Urschel