Gigantic swells of water lifted the small boat up and down as though it were a bobber being toyed with by a bluegill. But this was icy, thirty-nine degree water in the southern end of Cook Inlet near Homer, Alaska that kills by hypothermia in less than ten minutes. With each passing second the swells grew until finally from my seat, as the boat dipped down into the trough of the wave, all I could see before me was a grayish blue wall of water rising above my head and rushing to meet me fast. Then, as the wave neared the boat, we were lifted unto it and raised fifteen feet into the air.
Saved again by the dynamics of water and wave structure, I reached down into the cubbyhole behind me for the life jacket that I had stashed there. I pulled it on and made sure the straps were tight and properly adjusted. I was suddenly glad that I had not eaten the cheese spread that I had brought along for lunch.
The day had started off quite pleasant. I had awoken to sunshine and fair warmth, as much as Alaska will give. My uncle had hired a guide to take me halibut fishing that day but it was necessary for the weather to cooperate. I say hired loosely because the guide was doing it as a favor to my uncle because he had helped him with a client earlier that summer. I was assured that everything was all right and that I should just relax and enjoy myself.
I met Jon Stentel, self-proclaimed master halibut guide, in town just a while later. A tall man with curly, brown hair and a thick mustache, he immediately reminded me of a high school gym teacher, and I would learn soon enough that that is exactly what he did during the winter months. He had an engaging personality and he put me at ease right away.
“Hi, ” he exclaimed. ” You must be Derrek.”
“Yep, and you must be Jon,” I replied.
“Ready to catch some fish?”
“No,” I said flatly, ” I thought we were going to the ballet?” Then I laughed.
“Larry warned me about you,” he chuckled. “Let’s get some fish.”
I hopped into his truck after throwing my gear into the back, and we headed down the road.
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