Book is about Plan Brief background – Building the Red Dog – My father’s journey Read short passages 40 minutes – Answer questions Presentation Not only a photographic presentation of a physical journey Also an outline of a life – an outline of how a Boy’s dream becomes a man’s reality
South To Alaska
From the Heartland of America to the Heart of a Dream A Visual and Narrative Synopsis of the Nonfiction Book… SOUTH TO A LASKA by Nancy Owens Barnes
Dawn of a Dream Born in Oklahoma in 1916, ten-year-old Melvin Owens sees a photo of a cabin in Alaska and dreams of living in the “north country.” Near Oklahoma City, circa 1926.
Melvin with parents and sister, Clear Creek, Oklahoma, 1933. Melvin quits school in the eighth grade to work and help his family through the Great Depression. He later becomes a carpenter.
Melvin marries Cecil Marie in 1940, who shares his dreams of adventure. Cecil is 18, and Melvin is 23.
During WWII Melvin learns to build and handle boats while working at a Seattle shipyard, then crewing a B-29 crash boat on Lake Washington.
After the War, Melvin and Cecil return to Oklahoma and buy a hundred-acre farm. Melvin builds a new house on the property, where the family lives for the next twenty years.
But the dream is not forgotten… On the dining room wall of their farmhouse, Melvin and Cecil hang a map of Alaska.
Their first trip to Alaska is a family vacation in 1961. While there, Melvin admires a cabin near a cove with a boat anchored nearby. He decides to build his own boat to take to Alaska.
The fall of 1961, Melvin begins constructing a 35-foot steel-hull boat. A construction foreman, he shuttles the boat between job sites and the Oklahoma farm.
Melvin completes the boat in 1964. But within the next two years he is offered a better job, and his youngest son is deployed to Vietnam with the marines. He and Cecil refuse to make a move until their son returns home. Melvin eventually sells the boat, thinking he would prefer a larger one for a journey to Alaska. Cecil and 35-foot boat, Wilburton, Oklahoma, 1964.
In the mid-1960s, Melvin’s job takes the family to Arkansas. Melvin sells the Oklahoma farm and builds a new home in Hartford. Hartford, Arkansas Oklahoma Farm
After their son’s return from Vietnam, Melvin and Cecil travel to Alaska a second time in 1968. They choose Ketchikan as their future Alaska home. Ketchikan, Alaska, 1968
Building the Red Dog That fall, Melvin begins building a 47-foot boat in his Arkansas backyard. He and Cecil name the boat after the Red Dog Saloon in Juneau, Alaska.
Modifying plans from a boating magazine, Melvin adds five feet to the length of the boat. Hartford, Arkansas, 1969.
He installs a single Patton tank engine and uses war-era airplane switches in the boat’s control panel. Hartford, Arkansas, 1970.
Melvin and Cecil make the boat’s interior as home-like as possible with bulkhead-to-bulkhead carpeting and a Franklin wood stove for cold Alaska nights.
After three years of tireless work, Melvin completes the Red Dog in 1971.
Hartford to Galveston The Red Dog is hauled 40 miles from Hartford to Fort Smith and launched on the Arkansas River on September 27, 1971.
FORT SMITH KETCHIKAN PANAMA CANAL The planned route to Alaska totals more than 10,000 miles. Melvin has never been south of the U.S. border, has never been on a boat in the open ocean, and speaks no Spanish. “Learn by doing,” he often says.
A calm-water sailor, Cecil will not travel the open ocean. She plans to board the Red Dog from Fort Smith to Galveston, but will stay with relatives until Melvin reaches Bellingham, Washington, on the west coast. There, she will again board the Red Dog to travel the Inside Passage to Alaska.
Melvin and Cecil sell their Hartford home, and depart for Alaska aboard the Red Dog in November, 1971. Inside an Arkansas River lock.
In Galveston, Melvin’s journey becomes stalled due to a mechanical problem and an accident with a tug and barge. Cecil with Red Dog , Galveston Yacht Basin, 1971.
Melvin and the Red Dog , Galveston Yacht Basin, 1971. Then, when Melvin and Cecil need to go to California to help Cecil’s mother, Melvin turns the Red Dog over to a Houston boat business. The business owner defrauds Melvin and abandons the Red Dog in Tampico, Mexico. Melvin flies to Tampico and returns the boat to Galveston.
Galveston to Progreso Finally, in the spring of 1973, Melvin prepares to leave Galveston for Alaska alone. Melvin piloting the Red Dog .
Before he leaves, an acquaintance joins Melvin and, days later, they encounter a storm on the Gulf of Mexico. Log – March 27, 1973: Very rough going – Irving sick and scared witless – Laying on couch and looking like a corpse – Thinks he is going to die – Thinks we are lost and over by Cuba and thinks they might start shooting any minute – Wants to turn around and run before the storm – 8:00 pm hang out anchor and tires for sea anchor and wait for morning – Winds must be 60 mph and waves 20 feet – Still no clouds – Very rough night.
Progreso, Mexico With Irving so ill, Melvin heads for the nearest port with a hospital, Progreso, Mexico. Irving is hospitalized overnight and returns home the next day. From Progreso, Melvin continues his journey alone.
Progreso to Panama Canal In Belize, suspicious customs agents board the Red Dog . Melvin is interrogated and the boat is searched. The Port Captain threatens Melvin with jail if they find a gun. The searcher, distracted by a bag of M&M candy, does not find Melvin’s gun.
Melvin’s next port-of-call, the Panama Canal, lies more than 1,000 miles away. Stress from the Gulf storm and trouble in Belize – added to handling the 47-foot Red Dog alone in nearly continuous wind and turbulence – wears him down. He loses weight and becomes mentally and physically exhausted.
Log – April 14: Left anchor 5:20 am – Wind stopped in the night – Fair sleep – Nice day until 11:00 am then wind and waves head on until dark – Rest of green beans and can spaghetti – Too tired and exhausted to even wash but must eat enough to keep going. Log – April 17: Left 5:30 am – Smooth along Nicaragua Coast – Depth sounder quit working yesterday – Left me feeling very low and blue – Cooked some bacon and eggs for supper – Water not so rough tonight – The moon came up full as soon as the sun went down – Seems like an old friend in a lonely world – Many things need doing but nothing seems so important right now as sleep and rest.
Panama Canal Colon (Atlantic) Balboa (Pacific) After resting two days in Colon, Melvin transits the Panama Canal. Finally, he is able to turn from south to north.
Panama Canal to San Diego After transiting the Canal, Melvin revels in the Pacific’s abundant sea life, taking great pleasure in watching hammerhead sharks, dolphin, seals and giant sea turtles in their natural environment. Odd-looking sea birds steal rides on the Red Dog’s railing and ride with him for hours.
Puntarenas, Costa Rica In Puntarenas, Melvin has difficulty purchasing fuel. He goes from fuel dock to fuel dock, but no one will allow him to fill his tank. Melvin involves the Port Captain, who steps in and helps him get the fuel he needs to continue his journey north.
Mar Muerto Progreso Gulf of Mexico Anchored at Mar Muerto on May 16, Melvin sits only 125 miles from the Gulf of Mexico – the same water where he began his ocean journey nearly two months and 4,000 miles earlier.
Manzanillo Engine problems and wild weather plague Melvin along Mexico’s coastline, forcing repairs in Manzanillo. When he arrives in San Diego on June 22, Cecil packs her bags for Bellingham.
<ul><li>Point Conception </li></ul>San Diego to Bellingham In the midst of a violent storm at Pt. Conception, Melvin fears for his life, but makes it through the storm with minor damage to the boat.
Melvin cruises extra long days north along the Pacific coast. At the Strait of Juan de Fuca, he is relieved to turn east and leave behind four months of open ocean travel. When Melvin and Cecil meet in Bellingham, his first words to her are “Fools rush in…” Melvin & Cecil in Bellingham. (Courtesy of Bellingham Herald)
Bellingham to Ketchikan Melvin and Cecil depart Bellingham to follow the Inside Passage to Alaska on August 2. All goes well until Dixon Entrance when rough seas prove traumatic for Cecil. She braces herself in the main cabin and asks Melvin to turn back.
But they continue across and anchor safely in the lee of a small island north of the entrance. When Melvin and Cecil crossed Dixon Entrance, they also crossed the Alaska border. Cecil notes in the ship’s log that evening: We celebrated with a bath and a Coke. Wilkinson Channel, Inside Passage
Red Dog in Alaska, 1973. Melvin and Cecil arrive in Ketchikan on August 15. It has been 23 months since launching the Red Dog at Fort Smith, 5 months since leaving Galveston, and nearly 50 years since Melvin’s dream began.
Ketchikan Melvin and Cecil live on board the Red Dog for three years after their arrival in Ketchikan. Melvin finds work as a welder at the Ketchikan Spruce Mill.
Pennock Island Home Melvin builds them a house on Pennock Island, across from the Ketchikan waterfront. There are no roads on the island, and one must travel to and from the island by boat.
Melvin & Cecil’s Pennock Island home ,1995. Melvin and Cecil love watching the wildlife that shares their dock and waterfront: bald eagles, seals, otters, great herons, killer whales, porpoise.
Their front window displays a daily flurry of activity with cruise ships, float planes, fishing boats and skiffs.
In the 1980s Melvin sells the Red Dog and builds the Pretty Lady , his affectionate name for Cecil throughout the years.
Melvin and Cecil use the boat to fish and to explore the shores and coves of Ketchikan-area islands.
After arriving in 1973, Melvin and Cecil live in Ketchikan for twenty-seven years. Melvin & Cecil on Pennock Island,1995.
View of Ketchikan waterfront from Melvin & Cecil’s Pennock Island home with Pretty Lady in foreground, 1993.
Due to health problems, Melvin and Cecil left Alaska and Pennock Island in 2000. Cecil passed away in 2005, and Melvin passed away in 2006. Like the faint lines still visible on the drawings Melvin used to build the Red Dog , traces of their presence on Pennock Island, on Ketchikan, and on Alaska remain.
SOUTH TO ALASKA is available through major online booksellers, your local bookstores, and the book’s website, www.southtoalaska.com . Contact the author: [email_address] New Leaf Books Trade Paperback, 208 pages A Daughter’s Story of Her Father’s Journey