City ends hook’s shudders

You can’t venture onto the Homer Spit without noticing something new and interesting — totes of beautiful red rockfish just unloaded at the Fish Dock; dark gray seabirds, shearwaters, among the scores of kittiwakes and gulls off the tip of the Spit; the 90-year-old wooden halibut schooner, the Grant, back in the Homer harbor after a longlining trip; a cooler careening down a steep harbor ramp, flinging its lid into the water. 

This week’s Spit story provides a few updates about things you may have noticed.

Setting the Hook

The city of Homer recently completely a repair of the giant circle hook sculpture on the Spit. Although the sculpture, which was designed by Moose Run Metalsmiths and fabricated by Bay Welding, has only been around since this spring, it has already become an iconic fixture on the Spit. Local business owners direct visitors to “turn at the hook,” and people pose next to, in and on it for photos all day long.

Constructed out of out aluminum five-sixteenths of an inch thick, the sculpture shuddered in a stiff breeze, and the city was concerned that continued shaking could damage the giant hook. The city had Bay Welding drill holes in each end of the hook, and a city public works employee, using an upturned traffic cone as a funnel, filled the hollow form with concrete. It took six cubic feet of concrete — that’s about 900 pounds — to fill the 

13-foot-tall form. A line connecting the eye and the end of the hook has been holding the sculpture in place as the concrete sets.

“Now it’s solid. It will be there forever,” Public Works Director Carey Meyer said. The city paid for the sculpture through the 1 percent for Art Program and with Cruise Ship Head Tax funds. 

Polar Bear Splashed

After about four months and over half a million dollars of repair work, the M/V Polar Bear was finally splashed July 2. Last November, the drunk captain ran the 152-foot-long landing craft aground near Kodiak, apparently grinding the hull back and forth across rocks for two hours in a failed attempt to free the vessel, according to owner Peter Schwarz, who designed and built the boat.

Schwarz learned ship engineering in a military shipyard behind the Iron Curtain in what was East Germany before escaping to the West in 1959 at age 19 on his bike, with the guns of East German border guards trained on his back. He came to Alaska six years later with a dream of riding his motorcycle from Alaska to South America. But he never left.

Schwarz built the Polar Bear during 1989-1990, with profit from working on the cleanup for the Exxon Valdez oil spill on his former boat, the Pegasus, which earned him $38,000 per day during the cleanup even when it sat in the harbor. The Polar Bear took $3 million and a year to build. 

The mostly white landing craft hauls all kinds of cargo and equipment across Alaska. According to Schwarz, it is the only vessel of its kind with a four-way-anchoring system, which is necessary for running the kinds of drilling operations the vessel has recently participated in off of Nome for gold and as part of a harbor development project in Seward. The vessel can also sleep 14 people. When it’s working — as it is now, around the clock — the Polar Bear earns $13,000 per day. 

Earl Brock, owner of Kachemak Marine Haul Out Services, headed up the vessel’s repair. Brock pulled it out of the water on the city campground next to Pier One Theatre in February using massive air bags and a 150,000-pound tracked vehicle he modified for the job. By the time he began the repair, the Polar Bear had three feet of ice in its hull. 

About two-thirds of boat’s hull had to be replaced and some of the vessel’s framing had to be repaired, requiring nearly 20 tons of 10-foot-wide sheets of steel Brock’s team trucked up from Portland, Ore., on a modified glass-hauling trailer. At its peak, Brock had 16 people — including about a dozen locals — on the job and he estimated 3,000 to 4,000 work hours were required. Brock had to bring in two specialists from Outside with expertise in a welding technique that allows the welder to work above — rather than under (lying on his or her back) — the weld site. 

Large vessel haulout is in its infancy on the Spit. The city recently made the property available for the activity during the off-season and set up a volunteer task force to guide haul-out policies and rates. 

Currently, the city charges hauled-out vessels the same way it charges for equipment storage. For the Polar Bear, this meant about $1,600 per month. Polar Bear repairs dragged on through the end of June, a month and a half after the start of camping season. 

“It wasn’t thirty minutes after we got the Polar Bear in the water when campers were setting up,” Brock said.

The Spit’s Own Library

Have you noticed the micro-library just outside the front door of La Baleine Café on the Spit? The library came about when chef Mandy Dixon, who co-owns the café with her mother, chef and writer Kirsten Dixon, was trying to figure out a Mother’s Day gift a couple of years ago. Kirsten Dixon had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer and was at home in Anchorage recuperating from surgery. Mandy came across the idea of a micro-library and thought it might serve as a pleasant distraction for her book-loving mother as she abided cancer treatment. 

“I’m artistic in the culinary area but not at all with crafts or tools,” Mandy Dixon said. 

But she designed and built the miniature library and installed it in her mother’s Midtown Anchorage neighborhood. Once Kirsten Dixon’s health improved, she wasn’t spending much time in Anchorage, instead traveling between the two remote lodges she owns — including Tutka Bay Lodge on the south side of Kachemak Bay — and so she suggested to her daughter that she move the library to the café.  

Mandy Dixon mounted the library on a mailbox post last spring outside the café. 

“The books we get in there are so unique and random,” she said. 

Dixon said a couple who live year-round in Tutka Bay often deliver a load of books to the library. And books that had been on a repurposed wood crabbing boat — originally a World War II-era troop carrier — which now sits at the Tutka Bay Lodge, often find their way into the library.

As small as a bird house or large enough to walk into, micro-libraries are popping up all over the country, and across Homer, too. Enthusiasts create them out of retooled phone booths and newspaper dispensers, build them into public benches, scrap them together with found materials, or construct them elaborately with ample budgets and skills. Despite their diversity in creation, the idea is that people can freely take and leave books. Homer has at least one other micro-library, at Fritz Creek General Store — constructed by Homer Flex School student Michael Peltier and sponsored by Friends of the Homer Public Library. The Friends group has a second micro-library in the works to be installed this fall on the western property adjacent to the library.

You’re free to borrow a book even if you don’t get a meal at the café, but you might not leave without doing so. La Baleine offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Tuesday through Sunday. This week’s dinner theme is Spanish coastal cuisine. 

Miranda Weiss is a Homer writer.

The M/V Polar Bear is back at work after being hauled out on the Spit since late February for extensive repairs.-Photo provided

The M/V Polar Bear is back at work after being hauled out on the Spit since late February for extensive repairs.-Photo provided