June 23rd, Monday. The morning came quickly as we prepared to board our second of the four legs of the marine highway journey. This time, our vessel was a 235’ catamaran that was built in the early 2000’s. Designed for speed, this ferry contained 4 diesel motors, totally 19,200 horsepower. The vessel was almost double the speed as the first, the Malaspina. Our journey southwesterly would take us down the Lynn Canal of the Inside Passageway, voyage through the Chatham Straits, then on through the narrow Peril Straits, and towards the Sitka Sound, with views of the North Pacific Ocean. This leg of our marine travel is scheduled for 4.5 hours.
Our ride once again, was breathtaking; even more so than the trip from Skagway to Juneau. We traversed in a very narrow pattern of quick turns, and various speeds. Eagles were every where we looked! Bob, had the privilege of spotting a brown bear, on shore during one trek of the narrow straits. Just as an interesting fact; Alaska is home to three types of bears; the polar bear, the black bear, which can also be brown in color, and the brown bear which is known as the grizzly. At certain points in the Peril Straits, the width of the was not more than 300 feet wide with fierce currents up to16mph ripping though some of these waterways. The skies were gray, then they were blue, and then fog would set in. At one point, we were in clear view of the North Pacific Ocean.
Sitka is situated on the large Baranof Island; 4,710 square miles. They state that the town of Sitka encircle the entire island, however with only 14 miles of paved road. All outer parts of the Baranof Island must be visited with fly-in planes, dropping you at extremely remote locations on this massive piece of land. Also known to all locals, Sitka is home to the largest population of brown (grizzly) bears in Alaska; one per sq. mile. Yikes!
When we had reached Sitka, we had passed many islands, inlets and coves, to include Kruzof Island off the Sitka Sound which is host of Mt. Edgecumbe; the Fuji-like snowcapped volcano that adorns Sitka’s’ outer waters. It’s height is 3,000 ft. and you can climb to the summit from the base, which is a 7 mile hike. The volcano is considered dormant, not extinct, because it has been active within the past 4,000 to 6,000 years.
Sitka’s’ history dates back to 1799 when Alexander Baranov, head of the Russian American Company, found the settlement under a charter from the czar. The tiny state park of Castle Hill commemorates the spot were the ceremony transferring Alaska, from Russia, to the United States was held in October of 1867 with a transfer cost of only 9 cents per acre.
There are many museums in town with overflowing with its’ Russian ancestries’ and history, and many totem poles that were built by the Tlingit Indians. The towns center is based around St. Michaels Cathedral; built in 1848 with monies from the Russian Orthodox Church and with extreme Russian influence. Finally in 1958, Alaska was declared a state and the 49th star was added to the United States Flag. That’s about all for my tiny knowledge of the history, and hopefully not boring you, of this beautiful Alaskan town!
Prior to arriving in Sitka, I was slightly nervous regarding our campsite accommodations. Something was telling me this was not the place to stay for the next 5 nights. As we departed the ferry, Jacob and I ventured off with the Jeep to find this campground, before the motor homes we taken off the ferry. It was merely a stones throw from the ferry docks, 12 miles from town, and certainly not what it was all cracked up to be. Immediately, and gladly, we forfeited our deposit of all of $22 each, and headed to the only other available campground in Sitka; the Sealy Cove RV Park & Boat Harbor. Sitka does not see very many motor homes, so therefore there campsites are very limited. (It is a 120 mile journey by ferry from Juneau to Sitka, and totally out of the Inside Passage). Sealy Harbor RV Park was basically a parking lot with electric & water hookups, situated along side the canal which brought mostly recreational vessels in and out of port. The showers that Larry, Dar and the boys were to use, was located at a 2nd harbor, across the bridge, and only by way of a Jeeps drive.
As we were to able to discover, Sitka was home to a diverse number of people ranging from beer-guzzling fishermen, barely able to make ends meet to wealthy retirees from California, pushing up housing prices. The town soaks in 94 inches of rain a year. We experienced 5 days of rain in Sitka during our 5 day stay; however, seemed to make the best of it!
Our first evening consisted of meeting some of the local young local fishersmen at the Pioneer Bar; a place we were told that had free wi-fi. After a interesting few hours with these commercial fishermen, we learned about some places for the guys to fish, the differences between themselves and the recreational fishermen, where to eat that evening, and how much money it cost them to be in the commercial fishing business. Jacob made friends with one of the fishermen and received a tour of one of their large fishing vessels.