Jurgen also had an adventurous streak. He was an outback flyer. He had a parasail that folded into a backpack. He flew from hills, cliffs and bluffs all over Alaska. When we stopped in Dutch Harbor, he flew from Bunker Hill, above the Unisea Inn. Once, back in 1992, Chowder and I borrowed the cannery Toyota and used it to shuttle him back up the hill.
After several flights, Chowder wanted Jurgen to let him try. Jurgen was hesitant. “I don’t know, mon. What if you crash? You could put a hole in it.” Chowder insisted he had been watching him carefully. “C’mon Jurg, let a guy fly!” Jurgen finally agreed.
The parasail was just a big wing made of parachute material. We spread it out behind Chowderhead while he strapped himself into the flimsy canvas saddle that hung down from a spider web of lines. The glider was steered by two marionette handles attached to guy lines that shaped the wings. Chowder gripped these handles and ran toward the edge just as a nice fresh gust filled the parasail and he lifted up and flew away over Captain’s Bay.
“Well, there he goes.” I said.
“Ja” said Jurgen. He took two beers from his pocket and handed one to me. Chowder began to gain speed and altitude. He shot straight over the middle of the bay in the direction of distant Hog Island. Jurgen had been content to make a few lazy swoops around the headlands. Chowderhead flew straight out to sea, like Lindberg crossing the Atlantic. Two more beers emerged from Jurgen’s pocket and we drank them quietly as we watched our friend gradually become a speck against the sun, which was setting beautifully in the wide green Gulf of Alaska.
“Well… there he goes.” I said.
“Ja” said Jurgen.
“Must be having trouble steering,” I observed.
“Jaaaaaah…” said Jurgen. I rummaged in my backpack and came up with four Sierra Nevadas. We settled down and got comfortable. Improbably the speck began to get larger. After several dramatic turns it started to return, roughly, in our direction. But Chowder was a little off course. He was certainly going to miss the straight stretch of road where Jurgen had been landing. In fact, he looked like he might crash into the hotel.
“See?” shouted Jurgen “now he is putting a hole in my parasail!” We jumped into the cannery truck and barreled down the old navy road. When we arrived at the bottom, we didn’t see Chowderhead, but there wasn’t a bloody spot on the side of the Unisea Inn, either. Then we noticed a state trooper standing next to his vehicle shouting down into the small boat harbor. Chowder had landed in the water, and was flailing wildly. The lines were winding around his arms. He was struggling to stay afloat, and gasping for air. As we pulled up, we could hear what the trooper was saying:
“Stand up! Stand up!”
When he did, the 6-foot 3-inch Chowderhead found he had been drowning in 4 feet of water. Kind of made me think.
[Read the rest of this fishy tale from Terry Haines in the NF August issue.]