Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Satko's Ark, a 40 foot boat made by a USMC vet, who decided to drive it cross country in the late 1930s and head up the west coast to Alaska to homestead

 The idea for the journey began during the Great Depression, in 1934, when Paul Satko lost his 24-acre farm, his gas station and parking lot in Richmond, Va. where he was a welder and machinist. He heard of a government program offering 40-acre plots in Alaska and decided that he, his wife and two of their oldest children could combine four lots to create a vast 160-acre farm.

Satko, a Marine Corps veteran who had sailed to China, the Philippines and Hawaii, decided to build himself a boat. However, rather than sail it out of an East Coast port and then on to Alaska, Satko decided to haul it across the country and then launch it from a West Coast port.

He welded the steel frame of the 40-foot boat to a truck chassis together in Richmond, and to tow the boat, he used another truck chassis, stripped to the framerails as a puller.

In 1938, Satko, his pregnant wife, seven children and one black cat embarked on a journey across the United States with the idea of sailing from Seattle to Alaska. The family stopped many times across the country to take odd jobs to pay for their expenses. Their journey took 2 and a half months.

By November the family had made it to Puget Sound, took the engine from the puller and put it in the boat, and tried to head to sea. The boat wasn't strong enough to counter strong winds pushing against it's slab sides, and was run aground. Remember, it only had a low horsepower 1920s engine, which was cleverly cooled by piping along the keel, instead of a radiator.

After many delays to upgrade the boating ability of the homebuilt 40 footer, the family slipped past local interference who had child protective services trying to keep the kids off the boat, and the boat from getting underway, and made it into Canadian waters before the USCG was awake the next morning.

6 weeks of slow going up the coast, while subsistence hunting and fishing along the way, and they made it to Ketchikan Alaska. (I've been there myself). They carried onto Juneau, and lived aboard the boat while building a home, but many issues prevented a happy ever after. Not long after WW2 most of the family moved back to Virginia, a couple of the oldest kids stayed in Alaska

For about 80 photos from the Juneau Library of the Satko family

and a half dozen of the boat losing to the tides

thanks Mario!

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