2004 Aug 21: Sitka, Alaska Landfall – Family Visit

On the day of our arrival in Sitka, Alaska, August 21, 2004, we berthed ADAGIO safely in New Thomsen Marina. The harbormaster recommended that we rent a car on August 22, and drive up to the hiking trail that goes to the top of the mountain above Sitka. He said that there is always a cloud covering the top of the mountain, except for a few days a year, and this would be one of those days. The skies were crystal clear when we reached the top of the tree line where the Sitka spruce and hemlock trees are gnarled, twisted and stunted. The views of Nakwasina Sound and Olga Strait to the north, the extinct volcano, 3,201 ft high Mt. Edgecumbe, to the west and the islands in the bays to the south of Sitka were extraordinary.

Sitka can be called Alaska’s first city. It was founded by the Russian fur traders in 1799, and later served as a center for gold prospecting and salmon canneries under American rule. This is where James A Michener lived while he wrote his book ALASKA. The Sheldon Jackson College hosted him, and at the Sheldon Jackson Museum, he had access to the world’s best collection of daily “household” items, clothing and tools of the Tlingit Indians.

Today Sitka is a successful blend of tourist attractions and working fishing port and seafood processors. The citizens of Sitka have prevented the construction of mega-docks for cruise ships, which still anchor gracefully in the bay and bring their passengers ashore in small boats.

The cultural history of the area is beautifully displayed at the Sitka National Historical Park. Trails leading through giant spruce trees are lined with totem poles from abandoned Tlingit and Haida villages.

Our daughter, her husband, and our two grandchildren arrived on a rainy afternoon, and experienced Alaska’s “liquid sunshine” for a few days, while they accustomed themselves to life afloat. When the skies cleared on August 29, we released our dock lines and cruised north across the northern tip of Sitka Sound, into Hayward Strait, through the East Channel, and anchored in the cove on the north side of Magoun Island in 6 fathoms. Surrounded by eagles, we watched them in the trees, listened to their calls and their flights overhead. David commented that he had never heard a bald eagle’s call.

The outboard engine was difficult to start at first, but soon ALLEGRO was carrying us around the bay and into the south end of Krestof Sound. The tide was ebbing, exposing the sandy beach to the west of our anchorage. We went ashore to explore and to pick wild blueberries which stained hands and mouths with their sweet juice. At sunset a pair of dolphins and a seal swam along the shore nearby. The nearly full moon rose up from behind the trees, very round and bright.

On August 30 we departed Magoun Island after lunch, motored north across Krestof Sound and into Whitestone Narrows and its small eddies and rips, at the south entrance to Neva Strait. The Strait is long and scenically lined with forested hills. We passed through Kakul Narrows at close to high slack tide. An Alaskan Ferry came through Sergius Narrows and a barge and tow passed us coming from astern and entered Sergius Narrows. About mid-tide we watched as a cabin cruiser from Sitka fought the ebb tide coming out of Sergius Narrows. At times the boat was standing still, motoring at 6 to 8 knots, and was being thrown around by the eddies and whirlpools. Our daughter spotted sea otters cavorting on the shore, and we all watched small diving birds, most of which were murrelets and aucklets.

Arriving at Schulze Cove, north of Fish Bay, on the north end of Baranof Island, we anchored in 4 fathoms, the afternoon of August 30, just before a heavy rainfall. After lunch and naps we took a ride in ALLEGRO, out towards Fish Bay. The outboard was once again difficult to start and ran rough. We landed on the beach of Piper Island near where ADAGIO was anchored. The water was so clear that we could see giant white anemones on the bottom below ADAGIO. As we dinghied ashore we could see giant purple sea stars. We walked along the beach and into the forest where campers had built a fire pit. The rain-moistened forest was fragrant, the ground blanketed in ferns and mosses. In the shallows we found many sea stars. One purple one with 19 legs was moving quickly across the pebbles. Our granddaughter caught a blenny fish with her bare hands, a hermit crab and an unusual dancing, swimming worm, which we kept in a clear plastic container for observation. Large beige and orang jellyfish pulsed by.

The morning of August 31 found us fogged in at anchor in 2.2 fathoms, in Schulze Cove, north of Piper Island, at dead low tide. The guys took ALLEGRO out for fishing in the fog. They soon returned to enter waypoints into the GPS to ensure their safe return to the mother ship, reporting that there were “blue holes” in the otherwise pea soup fog.

Our son-in-law wanted very much to catch a salmon, so we anchored in Sukoi Inlet, between Partofshikof and Kruzof islands, for a few hours to try the fishing at the entrance to a stream. The guys took the dinghy and found salmon leaping and swimming upstream across the bay from our anchorage. The fish would not bite the lure or swim into the net, because they had begun their arduous swim upstream to spawning grounds. Dorothy had turned on the siren and loud hailer to tell them that ADAGIO’s anchor was dragging. They could not hear the loud hailer or the siren over the outboard motor. When they returned, we raised anchor and motored back through Kakul Narrows at low slack tide.

As we lowered the anchor in 5 fathoms in Schulze Cove, the sun was setting. A seal checked us out. Soon a beautiful full moon + 1 day was beaming into our front windows in this pristine, calm anchorage.

September 1 we headed back to Sitka to get gas for the outboard engine. Humpback whales were spouting and showing their tail flukes as we exited Kakul Narrows. Our daughter was thrilled. Steve took us around Vitskari Rocks near Sitka where our son-in-law caught a beautiful rock fish for our dinner. Then we returned to the Sitka New Thomsen Marina due to weather forecasts of bad weather approaching.

One of our favorite entertainments ashore was the Raptor Center where injured owls, eagles, hawks, ospreys and kites are nursed, re-trained and, if possible, released to the wild. Those unable to cope for themselves formed a permanent raptor “zoo” for us to enjoy. At the dock, our grandson caught a large lavender sea star with his crab snare, then serenaded us playing his cello. ADAGIO has finally lived up to her name. He is the first musician to have performed aboard ADAGIO.

Hours exploring the beach at the Sitka National Historical Park, watching salmon swimming up the streams and eagles on the beach and wandering among totem poles in the forest, was a perfect way for our fine family to spend their last day in Sitka.

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