On Andy Collins’s 16th birthday, his dad drove him to the Ketchikan DMV to take his drivers test. To some it is nerve racking, but for Andy it wasn’t anything to be too worried about. Pretty soon he’ll be driving down South Tongass in his Silverado with his music blasting, without his dad as a back-seat-driver.
Being a kid from Southeast with a father as a charter fisherman and a brother who seines, Andy has felt this sense of freedom before, when he took his boat out alone for the first time.
“I have been on and around boats as long as I can remember, when I was a kid my dad used to let me steer the boat,” said Collins. “Now I can go out on my boat basically whenever I want.”
“We don’t have a lot of road. I feel like I have way more freedom with my boat than I do with my truck,” said Collins. “I can leave and go explore new things, go wherever I want too, go hunting in different spots, and go fishing.”
Unlike down south, we don’t have a highway to take us around to 48 states. We have water. Some people like Jonathan Skaggs, who moved out of Ketchikan to Arkansas in 2016, has realized this change in lifestyle.
“When I lived in Alaska, my skiff gave me all the freedom I could ever need,” said Skaggs. “Now I have that same freedom, but with my 2005 Toyota Tacoma. There was so much to do out there on the ocean. You could do way more than you can do here.”
Ketchikan is a relatively small town with only 32 miles of pavement from one end of town to the other. The ocean is the highway from Ketchikan to other towns, hunting spots, and our main source of revenue, fishing.
Rick Collins, the owner of Explore Alaska Charters, and the maritime teacher here at Kayhi, finds having a boat a necessity for living in Southeast.
“I charter fish in the summers, and I could not imagine living in Ketchikan without a boat,” said Rick Collins. “My family has always been a little goofy with boats. When I was growing up we always had a few boats around, my dad was really into them.”
Owning a boat comes with a price. The price for maintaining a boat can be more than some people can afford, and being in Southeast Alaska could limit where you hunt, and definitely where you fish.
“Owning a boat really gives you an amazing amount of recreation opportunities,” said Collins. Unfortunately, owning a boat and paying for maintenance has gotten a lot more expensive over the years,” said Collins. “Prices of motors and fuel have gone way up, and it’s harder for some people to be able to afford.”
Just like his sons Max and Andy, Rick Collins was inspired by his father and is always out on the water doing something, but when he was younger, it was overall cheaper, which made it easier.
When Rick was growing up, prices for gas were around 90 cents per gallon and maintenance was cheaper as well.
“In the mid 80’s, you could get a 28’ boat for $25 thousand easy, nowadays it would be closer to $300 thousand,” said Collins. “It used to be somewhere around 85 cents a gallon for gas.”
Nowadays in Ketchikan, people are paying closer to four dollars a gallon. For someone with a boat and a car, filling your tanks could easily be way too much money.
Gas is a big factor in pricing out a car too and unless you know how to do engine work, or how to do other mechanical work, you’re probably paying someone like Chevron or Shaub to do the work. It could be avoided if you knew how to work on your vehicle or knew someone like Clint McClennan, Kayhi’s auto shop and small engines teacher, to give you a hand.
“I make sure all of my kids know how to change the oil in their vehicles, fix a flat tire, and check fluids,” said McClennan. “It is very important to me. it’s cheaper, and it’s always good to know.”
While Rick was into boats growing up and still is, Mr. McClennan has the same passion. But, his just happens to be on four wheels.
“Before I had a car, we used to hitchhike everywhere,” said McClennan. “But when I got my first car, I was kind of a hotshot. It was a 1964 Ford Thunderbird and it looked like a spaceship.”
Young McClennan saw it sitting in his neighbor’s yard and always watched him work on it, when it was time to sell it, he knew he had to have it.
“That was always my only goal, to have a nice car. Even though I couldn’t even drive for another two years,” said McClennan. “I somehow convinced my brother to buy it when I was 14 from our neighbor, I worked all summer at the cannery, mowed lawns, and worked on other peoples cars, saved up 900 and bought it from him when I was 15. Kids at school were all asking ‘what is that thing?’”
We all need to get around somehow and being from Southeast, the water is our main highway, and source of income for many. If you live down south you may never get to experience what people would say is a blessing and a curse.