Carr: Building a Log Cabin While Underway

log cabin
Photo courtesy Michael Carr

By Michael Carr – Building a log cabin while underway is not easy. But I persisted and built one, many times over. Each time I began constructing the cabin it had subtle variations from the one I had built previously. Maybe bigger windows, an additional room, or a new style foundation. Every facet of the construction was analyzed and considered; type of concrete for the foundation, frame spacing, siding style, and wood stove installation.

This cabin was built in my mind, and not in reality. Construction often occurred during a transit between Prince William Sound and Kodiak AK. There are many areas of the world where gales and storms persist most of the year, and the Gulf of Alaska south of Cook Inlet seems to one of these regions.

We would depart our homeport of Cordova AK, on the eastern side of Prince William Sound, and head west. Bounded by Hinchinbrook and Montague Islands Prince William Sound is a protected body of water. Even when storm force winds whip seas to monster size in the Gulf of Alaska, the sound is relatively safe.

But when you reach Prince William Sound’s western end you must leave its protection and head into open and unprotected waters. We could delay this eventuality somewhat by sneaking through Elrington Passage, which keeps you in calm waters for a few more miles. But then you must round Elrington Point and face 200 miles of open ocean to Kodiak Island. At 10 knots that’s 20 hours, more likely 24 hours of heaving, yawing, surging, rolling, pitching and swaying.

My log cabin construction would begin soon after we steadied up on a course of 220 degrees T, the course we would try to hold for next day until we sighted Humpback Rock Entrance buoy off Kodiak Island. I would wedge myself into my top bunk, one lifejacket to keep me from rolling out, and another to keep me from slamming against the inside bulkhead. There was nothing to help with the heaving, when the thin military issue mattress would levitate off the bunk and take me towards the ceiling just a foot above my head. Sometimes I would slide to the bottom of the bunk and sometimes my head would be pushed forward against the bulkhead.

In the midst of this unceasing movement I would will myself to sleep, and to help induce sleep I would commence construction on the log cabin. Make a supply list, set up stakes for the foundation, pour the concrete, set the rebar…and hope that sleep might interrupt the process. One night in the midst of construction the entire ship’s crew was awakened when a 10,000 lb. concrete sinker, lashed to the buoy deck with multiple steamboat ratchet jacks, broke loose and slid around the deck, damaging buoys, and attempting to destroy the entire forward section of our cutter.

We hove too, stemming the wind and seas, while members of the deck crew re-secured the errant sinker. Once back into my bunk I restarted log cabin construction.

We made this transit to and from Kodiak Island many times, I did not keep count, but on each transit, during those 24 hours of spray filled 4 on 8 off watches, I built a cabin. What great relief it was to enter the sheltered waters of Woman’s Bay leading into Kodiak Island, and to round Elrington Point on the return to Cordova. In a matter of a few hours after entering sheltered waters life onboard would dramatically improve. I could stand and drink a cup of coffee on watch, without wedging myself into a corner of the bridge.

I think of my log cabin often, and later in life rebuilt it, with improvements, while sailing on other ships and in different oceans. When ashore I often sat at the top of the hill where I imagined building my cabin, but never did build it. It’s design, construction and existence is more interesting in my mind as a memory of being underway at sea.