By Bob Mackreth, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore Park Historian, 1997 to 2005
The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore lost an important historic figure last week. Dick Carrier, who passed away at 85, oversaw the park’s transportation program throughout the eighties and nineties—the Lakeshore’s operational formative years. His uncompromising commitment to safety and meticulous care of the boats set a tone that saved both tax dollars and heartbreak. (It’s an unfortunate fact of human nature that “Cutting corners out here could get me killed” can be a less effective deterrent than “Dick would have my ass if he caught me slacking off in one of our boats.”)
Signing on with the NPS after retiring from a long Coast Guard career, Dick was also a living bridge to the islands’ past. One of his final USCG posts was Officer-In-Charge of the Outer Island Light Station, which gave him the right to claim the distinction of “last keeper of the Outer Island Light.” No matter that his title was Chief Boatswain’s Mate, not Keeper; what he said was the truth.
While Dick may have been unyielding on the life-and-death issues, he was easy-going in every other respect: patient when retraining newcomers who learned their boating habits in less demanding waters (this writer among them) and happy to share the lighter moments from his storehouse of memories. It was Dick who told me that when the Outer Island crew radioed in their grocery order for the next boat heading their way, “Jergens Lotion” meant beer.
My last memory of working with Dick is my favorite by far. We were coming back from Outer Island a few weeks before his retirement date, just the two of us in the boat. The opportunity to revisit his time stationed at Outer brought forth a treasure trove of memories for me to record, but he added one more as we passed Stockton Island on the way in.
There’s a small cove on Stockton’s east side with a standing rock in the middle, and water just deep enough to get around the rock if you’re careful. Zipping along homeward, Dick suddenly pointed the boat straight at the shore, entered the cove, and whipped around the rock without cutting his speed by a knot. I was certain I was going to die, but when we got back to our course, he looked over to me and grinned like a big kid, “Bet you thought we wouldn’t make it!”
The unspoken message was clear: you can be a daredevil if you really know what you’re doing, but there’s a long way to go to get to that level.
Thanks for that memory, Dick, and a whole lot of others.