Written by bathtubjake on 19 May, 2007
After our twenty-minute seaplane flight to Rudyard Bay, we boarded the catamaran for a sail back to Ketchikan. Upon leaving the dock, we had to sit down inside the boat, at a booth resembling a fast food restaurant. The view from here was limited and…Read More
After our twenty-minute seaplane flight to Rudyard Bay, we boarded the catamaran for a sail back to Ketchikan. Upon leaving the dock, we had to sit down inside the boat, at a booth resembling a fast food restaurant. The view from here was limited and obstructed. Luckily, we were soon released and headed upstairs to the top deck, which was open across the back of the boat. Inside Misty Fjords National Monument, the ride was slow and gentle. We cruised through the Punchbowl cove featuring tall, slick cliffs. From the top of the cliff to the bottom of the fjord was equal to the height of the Sears Tower! The boat floated close to the cliffs and the onboard naturalist narrated the sights over the PA system. We could see several birds nesting in the cliffs and learned quite a bit about the plants clinging to spots of soil in the rock. The landscape is certainly unique and something we would not be able to see anywhere else in North America. The glide through the monument took about an hour until we came out to open water.Once back on the sea, the catamaran picked up speed. Although the sun shone brightly now without any cliffs to hinder it, the wind chill was much greater. It felt about 50 degrees with wind whipping in our faces. A corner of the bulkhead provided a little shelter, but it was a cold ride. Anyone with long hair needs a hat or a ponytail in order to see! We did occasionally slow down to investigate some islands. Our captain even spotted a bear on shore and brought us in very close to observe. We also stopped to see New Eddystone Rock, which is a tall piller of rock on a patch of island. Supposedly, Captain Cook thought it was a ship's mast at first and was elated to see humans! However, it was just a rock. Nearby were some seals camped out on another island. We spent about another hour rushing back to town. Once in the Ketchikan harbor, the naturalist again described the town as we floated past most of the community on our way back to the small dock. After disembarking, we had approximately an hour left to explore Ketchikan before boarding our ship again. Close
We reserved our tour of Misty Fjords as an excursion from Holland America on the Zuiderdam. Upon arriving in Ketchikan, we met a representative of the outfitter near the ship and then walked a few blocks to the bus. Then we were delivered to the outfitter's…Read More
We reserved our tour of Misty Fjords as an excursion from Holland America on the Zuiderdam. Upon arriving in Ketchikan, we met a representative of the outfitter near the ship and then walked a few blocks to the bus. Then we were delivered to the outfitter's seaplane dock on the other side of town. Once there, we had to wait nearly an hour to board the seaplane. Each plane could only ferry six people, and only four planes could dock at a time. Therefore, it took quite a while for all 200 passengers to be flown out to Misty Fjords. Everyone had to wait at either the seaplane dock in Ketchikan or at the Punchbowl formation in Misty Fjords on board the catamaran. Although the weather was pleasant, we had to stand outside on the dock to wait. At least we did have a view of several bald eagles fishing at the nearby cannery. The floatplane was a small craft and required climbing a short ladder into the plane. The plane was bobbing in the water at the time, so the ladder seemed a bit precarious, but we all made it. Inside, seats were arranged so that each passenger sat next to a window. We were instructed to don the large headsets which provided a taped recording of music and description of the flight. The pilot occasionally interjected his own commentary as well. We started with a circle around Ketchikan ending with a close-up view of our ship. Then we headed off into the wilderness, flying over mountains and lakes for about twenty minutes. We could take photos out of the windows, but it was hard to get a view without the structure of the plane.The landing of the seaplane was very smooth, much easier than a commercial jet landing on concrete. Once again, we had to brave the bobbing ladder, but there were people standing on either side to assist. We were warned that the dock was extremely slick. Since we were the last float plane to land, we were ushered into the catamaran pretty quickly. I would have liked to have spent more time here, as the surroundings were impressive. The dock was in a cove surrounded by high cliffs, covered in green forest. The temperature was much cooler than in town, about 60 degrees. Inside the catamaran, we were relegated to a center booth, similar to a fast food restaurant. Although we could see windows across the aisles, we were limited in our view. We had to stay seated as the catamaran launched, but luckily, we were released to wander after about five minutes. We bypassed the snack bar and headed to the top deck which had an open area on the back of the boat and a small indoor seating area. It was also possible to walk around the perimeter of the deck, although that would have blocked the view of the indoor seating area. Close
Written by Idler on 27 May, 2003
A ship in the harbour is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.
- William Shedd -
When I stepped tentatively into the skiff that would take me out to the Viking Fjord, I had little notion of the sea change my journey…Read More
A ship in the harbour is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.
- William Shedd -
When I stepped tentatively into the skiff that would take me out to the Viking Fjord, I had little notion of the sea change my journey was about to undergo.
A traveller on land, however removed from civilization, never confronts as featureless a terrain as the sea. A wayfarer can cut a notch in a tree or build a stone cairn to mark his route, while a seafarer leaves no evidence of his passage. A ship’s wake quickly subsides into the vast indifference of the sea. There is, when you get right down to it, nothing so lost as lost at sea.
These were not the thoughts that preoccupied me, however, as we motored across the bay toward the Viking Fjord. Though I had assumed the 65-foot vessel would be quite large, she seemed smaller than I had expected, or perhaps the scale of the landscape diminished her. There was a self-containment in her trim lines, something almost chaste about her freshly painted white hull. Set against the still, dark water and backdrop of wild tree-lined shore, she was a welcoming sight.
I spotted movement on deck, the long-limbed form of Jan, my friend and shipmate-to-be, accompanied by Skyler, an aging springer spaniel. It was good to see Jan’s smiling face beaming over the rail as Jay secured the skiff and we climbed on board. We had the long evening before us to catch up on news and plan for the trip ahead, but first came a tour of the Viking Fjord.
Jan had sent me photos of the boat when they’d first bought it, but they didn’t do justice to the boat’s workmanlike elegance. Originally built in the 1960’s for a member of the Scripps family (of the Scripps Institute), the Viking Fjord was a cross between sturdy trawler and pleasure yacht, built for rough seas but boasting niceties such as wood paneled cabins and a large comfortable saloon. Jan and Jay occupied the main cabin amidships and were in the process of renovating the second cabin.
My berth was in the crew’s quarters, or foc’sle, in the prow of the ship down a small hatchway. There, a narrow corridor flanked by two compact berth compartments provided sleeping quarters for four. Sharing this space with three others no doubt would have induced claustrophobia, but as the sole occupant I found the foc’sle reassuringly snug. Soon my books and possessions were spread out over all four bunks.
A miniscule bathroom occupied the area most far forward. One of the first bits of instruction I received involved the working of the hand-pumped toilet. Later I receive instruction on another feature of the forward head. The area just behind the mirror and sink, it turned out, was the storage area for the anchor chain. As it was taken up, the chain would fall in unruly heaps unless someone tended it, shoving the chain from side to side to assure it would fit.
The anchor chain storage was but one of many compact practicalities of the boat, which was striking in its efficient and clever use of space. No square inch was wasted, with cunning cabinets, bins, racks, shelves, drawers, and fold-down tables set into every possible niche. Some cabinets were so tiny or peculiarly shaped that I wondered what they could possibly have been intended for. Each compartment fastened with a latch, and, indeed, there were few things on board which were not already secured or capable of being lashed down. The boat’s essential tidiness, I realized, had more to do with safety than with aesthetics.
The saloon and galley took up a good part of the main deck. A series of windows running down either side of the saloon and a large picture aft provided a light and a sense of space for those sitting ensconced in an armchair or on the large sofa. Unlike my previous trips on large, impersonal ferries, this was a nautical space I could relate to. I have a deeply ingrained love of compact, scaled-down things: small cars, efficiency apartments, cottages and cabins, and now, I found, boats.
But the most delightful area was the wheel house, reached by a hatchway set between the galley and saloon. This to me seemed by far the choicest spot on the boat, providing not only views of the surrounding waters but a sense of dominion over the vessel itself. In the wheelhouse, an impressive battery of levers, knobs, and navigational devices, whose purpose I could only surmise, was arrayed behind the ship’s wheel. Behind the wheelhouse was a winch for hoisting the skiff, which was stowed on the top deck along with a dingy and other larger equipment.
Jan and Jay conducted the tour with understandable pride. They’d spent the spring months preparing the Viking Fjord for their first season cruising the Inside Passage. While I was to spend only a week on board, this was to be their new home.
After a thorough introduction to the boat’s features, which, if nothing else, served to clue me that I was now part of the crew, Jan led me over to a locker and gave me a steady look before opening it.
"This is where we keep the survival suits," she said. "You need to know how they work."
And so the final thing I learned on my first day on board was how to don a day-glow orange survival suit. Both Jan and Jay are paramedics and have conducted rescues at sea, sometimes during the brutal winter storms characteristic of their home on San Juan Island. Immersion hypothermia is something they have first-hand experience with. The amount of time that a person can survive in frigid water varies with a person’s body type, behavior, and gear. However, a person can become confused and even delirious after a fairly brief time, becoming a danger to himself and his shipmates. It was essential, therefore, that I understood how the suit worked.
Strangely, I found this demonstration somewhat comforting. Jan’s no-nonsense, matter-of-fact demonstration boosted my confidence. "You’re part of the crew here," I thought. "You’re not a passenger." This was, to be truthful, the main appeal of the trip: to be a member of the crew, however temporary. To know where the survival suits, flashlights, and emergency flares are stored. And to have someone depend on my knowing that.
Before darkness fell in the oddly prolonged Northern evening, I said goodnight to my hosts – correction, shipmates – and settled into my small upper berth in the foc’sle. The ceiling of the compartment was only a few feet above my head. I reached up and touched it. I wondered, briefly, if I might wake in the dark, sit up, and hit my head, so I tested how far I could sit up without this happening. Not very far. "Remember where you are," I murmured drowsily to myself, as the almost imperceptible rocking of the boat soothed me to sleep.
(continued in Part 3...)
Written by Idler on 30 May, 2003
There the sea I found
Calm as a cradled child in dreamless slumber bound.
- Percy Bysshe Shelley -
Before leaving Bella Bella the following morning, there were errands to run. We had to stop by the Marine…Read More
There the sea I found
Calm as a cradled child in dreamless slumber bound.
- Percy Bysshe Shelley -
Before leaving Bella Bella the following morning, there were errands to run. We had to stop by the Marine Centre at nearby Shearwater to see if they could repair the alternator, plus we needed to stock up on provisions at the small grocery store in Bella Bella. I also needed a fishing license – a whopping $40 for a five-day permit, which I didn’t begrudge paying as so far as I could tell selling marine equipment and fishing licenses or catering to sport fishermen was about the only moneymaking proposition in Bella Bella.
We made the run over to Shearwater in the skiff. Coming up the ramp from the dock, Jay paused to point out a bald eagle perched in a dead tree. Bald eagles are a common sight along the British Columbian waterways, and while I’d seen them elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest and even on the East Coast not far from where I live, I doubt I’ll ever see them again in such concentrations. The man who had driven me into Bella Bella the day before had reported seeing thirty-five of them in a single day.
While Jay was consulting with the repairman about the alternator, I passed the time looking over boating supplies at the marina, essentially clueless as to the purpose of most of the items. By midmorning we’d finished the provisioning and repairs, but there were still further mechanical preparations that needed to be made. Finally at around noon we were able to weigh anchor. I made a modest contribution to this procedure, standing in the forward head and making sure the anchor chain was stowed properly. The Viking Fjord’s lugger engine made a surprising amount of noise. For some reason, I had conceived of the voyage as essentially a quiet affair, but this was definitely not the case when the engine was running.
More surprising, however, was the smell of diesel fuel wafting up from the engine room into the saloon. When the saloon windows or doors were open, this effect was minimal, but then it invariably became quite chilly. I must confess that one of my many faults or peculiarities is a hypersensitivity to smell. Merely spending a few minutes’ time at department store perfume counter can bring on a splitting headache. As a consequence, I spent much of the voyage out on deck or up in the wheelhouse, both blessedly diesel fume free.
Of course, during the first few hours of the voyage the last thing I wanted to do was sit in the saloon. Merely leaving Bella Bella behind, then rounding a bend and viewing what seemed like an endless broad channel ahead, seemed quite an accomplishment. My only disappointment was that there were so few on hand to observe what I deemed our stylish departure. Only a sprinkling of small craft were near Bella Bella, and soon we left these local watermen behind us. We would see only a few vessels over the next few days. The sense of isolation, of being beyond reach of man's help or hindrance, grew increasingly profound as we progressed.
The gentle movement of the boat, not quite up and down or side to side, but flowing over the water with faint jostlings, exerted an almost hypnotic effect. Then came that curious sensation, so pronounced on boats, of things slipping by, almost as if – and this has never made sense to me, yet it always seems so – the land were moving and not us. Part of this may have had to do with the stillness of the water and smoothness of the run. Yet we were indeed moving, as the throb of the engines and the broad wake spreading behind us testified.
Heading for the Milbank Sound, we cruised at a moderate pace of about 7.4-8.4 knots, the speed measured in nautical miles per hour, a nautical mile being approximately 1.2 miles. The distinction between nautical vs. land measurements and terms has long fascinated me. Of course, by virtue of reading Patrick O’Brien, Horatio Hornblower, and suchlike, I at least knew starboard from port, but I felt completely baffled when I first glimpsed at one of the boat’s nautical charts. Latitude and longitude, depths and bottom contours, tides and hazards – it was all quite beyond me. I might venture that after several weeks if not months of diligent effort that I might make some vague sense of it, but on the whole I was simply glad that there would never arise any conceivable occasion when I’d be called upon to actually read a chart.
Several hours out of Bella Bella, I received a bit of a shock when bringing Jay some coffee up in the wheel house.
"Thanks," he said, accepting the cup. "I needed that. Here. Would you mind taking the wheel for a bit? I need to go check how the engine is doing."
"But..but…" I sputtered. "I don’t know how!"
"Just follow this line on the GPS tracker, " he said, indicating a line on a map displayed on the laptop next to the wheel. He then gave a two-minute crash course on how the GPS system worked. Our course had been laid into a laptop running a global positioning program. The person at the helm simply followed the line shown on the screen. A small red icon represented the boat, and all that was necessary was to keep the boat icon aligned with the line representing the course. It was almost mindlessly simple, really.
But during the first few minutes alone at the helm, I felt utter panic. With exaggerated vigilance, I scanned the channel ahead for the one thing that I'd been warned about - stray logs. Each minute or so, I’d nervously flick my eyes downward to check the computer screen, making sure I was following that sacred line.
After a quarter hour or so, it miraculously transpired that I had not sunk the boat, and I began to breathe normally again. I found that steering was largely a matter of reacting to whatever currents were affecting the boat, and that I could feel the tension against the wheel and steer to counteract it. What I found hardest was reconciling the shape of the channel and surrounding terrain with what was shown on the GPS screen. It was as if the shapes on the map were more real, more easily understood, than the indisputably concrete but less easily analyzed vista before me. I was just beginning to feel uneasy about this incongruity when Jay re-entered the wheel house and I happily relinquished the helm.
At around 7 p.m., we turned into Kynoch Inlet, a deep channel with spectacularly steep cliffs on either side. The forest seemed to close in purposefully, almost menacingly, as the channel narrowed. The endless forest was monotonously uniform, consisting mostly of dark conifers relieved by an occasional stand of birches. Punctuating this dense greenery were numerous waterfalls, varying in size and spilling from the snow-capped peaks of the coastal mountain range. An hour and countless waterfalls later, we reached the base of the inlet and began to look for an anchorage.
The word "anchorage" has such a solid, reassuring sound, but I soon found that, as in all things have to do with boats, there is seldom any certainty. I’d assumed that anchoring the boat would be a simple thing: just find a likely spot and drop the anchor. However, the channels and inlets of the Inside Passage can be extremely deep; often the drop-off from the land is immediate, with a spot just offshore being several hundred feet deep. Finding a spot that is shallow enough to drop anchor and yet not too shallow can be a tricky business, especially as it may not be clear whether the anchor has "set" or not.
We let out some 375 feet of chain at a spot that, according to the nautical chart, was about 90 feet deep. It was then a matter of watching the depth finder and chain to see how far we drifted. There was, of course, a considerable radius of drift for a boat anchored on 375 feet of chain, and so there was the suspicion that perhaps the boat wasn’t anchored at all, that it was merely drifting. Only when it became apparent that the boat was drifting within a circumscribed radius could some measure of certainty be gained.
(continued in Part 4 . . .)
Written by Idler on 18 Mar, 2002
It all started when some friends out in the Pacific Northwest bought a boat. Jan and Jay were planning to live aboard the 65-foot trawler yacht Viking Fjord. Having sold their house on San Juan Island as well as their former boat, my friends…Read More
It all started when some friends out in the Pacific Northwest bought a boat. Jan and Jay were planning to live aboard the 65-foot trawler yacht Viking Fjord. Having sold their house on San Juan Island as well as their former boat, my friends planned to start a charter business with their new boat. They needed crew for their maiden voyage up the Inner Passage and asked me if I’d like to join them. Frankly, I was astonished that they’d ask me. I had virtually no shipboard experience other than an occasional passage on large ferries. But then, I realized, what was required was not necessarily experience but a willingness to learn. Needless to say, I leapt at the opportunity.
The only difficulty that presented itself was coming up with a workable itinerary. Jan and Jay were planning to go by easy stages up from San Juan Island, off the coast of Washington, to Sitka, Alaska. When I got their proposed itinerary, I quickly realized that the only week I’d be able to come was the week of June 26-July 2, on the leg from Bella Bella, B.C. to Ketchikan. My first challenge, therefore, was figuring out how to get to Bella Bella, a small Heiltsuk tribal village on Campbell Island, some two hundred miles as the crow flies north of Vancouver and accessible only by boat or plane. Planning was complicated by the fact that I hoped to use flyer miles to get out west, but didn’t have enough for a flight outside the U.S. Furthermore, there were no flights from Seattle to Bella Bella; the sole airline that serviced the village being Pacific Coastal, based in Vancouver. Thus I ended up developing a slightly lopsided itinerary, flying into Seattle to take a bus north to Vancouver, then getting a flight to Bella Bella. Another slightly worrying factor was that if we encountered storms or technical problems cruising north from Bella Bella, we might not get into Ketchikan on the date planned, so I added a couple days onto the end of my trip to allow me extra time, if needed, before flying back to Washington, D.C.
I’d never planned a trip in which one stage was so dependent upon the prior ones operating smoothly, but whether luck with was with me or my planning paid off, I found myself on June 26th on a Quick Coach bus headed for Vancouver Airport, having flown into Seatac the night before. I’ve always enjoyed travelling by bus. I’m a poor passenger in a car and a nervous driver, so sitting on a clean and comfortable motorcoach is just about my favorite way of travelling, save by bicycle on flat terrain. At Vancouver Airport, I learned that the Pacific Coastal flights all left from the South Terminal, which services small planes. Coming into the terminal, I quickly realized I’d entered what was a small universe unto itself – the world of the sports fisherman.
Now, I don’t want to step on any toes here, so I’ll say right from the start that I think being a sports fisherman is a wonderful thing. Still, I was somewhat taken aback by the passengers disembarking and waiting to embark on the charter flights, going to places like Oak Bay and Chatham Sound, places I’d never heard of before. Every one of them seemed to be of a type, with some variations, with a tanned, weather-beaten face beneath a sport hat, which usually bore a beer company or fishing gear logo. Almost all of them wore fishing vests with numerous pockets, woolen jerseys or flannel shirts, jeans, and sturdy boots. They carried long, canvas bags for their rods and reels, and most were also carrying small coolers.
I had two and a half hours to kill before my flight for Bella Bella left, and I spent most of it watching the sports fishermen come and go. The ones waiting to leave sat hunched over beers around tables at the terminal café, splaying their hands just-so to indicate the size of the one that got away as they spun their yarns. The ones disembarking proudly carried large cardboard boxes containing the fish they’d caught, which had been duly canned, smoked, or frozen by what must be an entire British Columbian mini-industry devoted to preserving whatever the sports fishermen catch. I seemed to be the only non-fisherman in the terminal, save the efficient Chinese staff of the café. After eating lunch at the café (leaving a big tip, which was what I imagined any sports fisherman would do), I boarded the flight to Bella Bella.
There were four passengers aboard the 13-seat plane. The pilot looked like he was scarcely of age, but flew like a seasoned pro. I''d worried a bit about a smaller plane ride being bumpy, but other than the loud, persistent drone of the propellers, which sounded like an outsized basso box fan, the flight was remarkably pleasant. The occasional view through the clouds below revealed flat, shimmering sheets of water interspersed with green islets and peninsulas. An hour and a half later, the plane descended towards one of the larger pine-tree studded land masses: Bella Bella.
A stretch of asphalt for a landing strip with a prefabricated building sporting a wind sock alongside comprised the airport. So this was Bella Bella. But where was the village? One of the other passengers, a trim-looking woman with an air of efficiency, turned to me and asked it I knew how to get into town. As I professed complete ignorance, one of the other passengers, a great bear of a man with a shaggy beard, turned to us and said, "There''ll be a taxi along any moment now. Would you like to share it into town?" Sure enough, moments after disembarking and retrieving our luggage from the underbelly of the plane, a battered station wagon pulled up near the plane. Meeting the flight from Vancouver was obviously a local cottage industry. As we squeezed into the station wagon - one door, it turned out, did not open - my fellow passengers introduced themselves. The trim woman was the new resident nurse practitioner for the village, and the bear was a local skipper, "Big Mike."
I told them I was planning to meet some friends coming up from San Juan Island on their boat. "What''s the name of the boat?" Big Mike asked. "The Viking Fjord," I replied. "Hmmm... we can check down at the harbormaster''s." And so we did. After the nurse got out at her new digs, Big Mike took me in tow, leading me along the dock to the harbormaster''s hut. But no one there had seen or heard of the Viking Fjord. I wasn''t quite sure what to do, but was determined not to be thrown by this potentially worrisome fact. "The plane got in a little early, Mike. Perhaps I''ll just wait here a bit. Thanks!"
Sitting down on a bench on the pier, I partially succeeded in squashing my fears of being stranded in the middle of nowhere. People watching provided a distraction. The scene at the pier was lively, at least by local standards. One tribal fisherman was doing something complex with a net while several other fishermen leaned on pylons and chatted with him. (Why is it, I wondered, that it always seemed to take a minimal of three workmen to do anything - one to work and at least two others to watch?) Several teenage boys motored up in a flat-bottomed fishing boat, angled it effortlessly into a small slip, and tied the boat off, all in just a few minutes. Born to the aquatic life, I surmised. Several wary-looking cats skulked around the pier, hoping for bits of fish, while a dog of indeterminate ancestry scratched at fleas before stretching out for a nap. Men came in and out of the local bait and liquor store a stone’s throw from the pier. No women were in sight. Perhaps they were home cooking dinner? Worry got a foothold in my mind. Where would I stay if Jan and Jay had been delayed somewhere en route to Bella Bella?
Lost in the grip of this negative fantasy, I didn''t at first hear someone calling my name. "Kay!" Startled, I looked up. There was a gaunt, bearded man in a skiff coming towards the pier. How did he know my name? Then I recognized him - Jay! Good grief, he''d lost a lot of weight, looking like the proverbial old sea salt, with his hair tied back in a pony tail. And what of the Viking Fjord? Anchored out a ways, Jay said. He’d come to take me out to it. He manhandled my suddenly silly-seeming red suitcase on wheels into the skiff (oh, what I suddenly would have given for a seaworthy duffel bag instead) and off we headed for the Viking Fjord.
(to be continued...)
Written by smmmarti guide on 19 Jul, 2005
Along with exceptional scenery, outdoor adventures, thrilling flight-seeing tours to nearby Misty Fjord, fabulous food, and welcoming locals, Ketchikan also offers picturesque Creek Street, the infamous Dolly’s House, in-town kayaking, a self-guided historical walking tour, a funicular to the Deer Mountain Hatchery and Eagle Center,…Read More
Along with exceptional scenery, outdoor adventures, thrilling flight-seeing tours to nearby Misty Fjord, fabulous food, and welcoming locals, Ketchikan also offers picturesque Creek Street, the infamous Dolly’s House, in-town kayaking, a self-guided historical walking tour, a funicular to the Deer Mountain Hatchery and Eagle Center, Alaska’s most extensive collection of totem poles, the Southeast Alaskan Heritage Center, a small Iditarod Museum, and best of all, Ketchikan Kandies. This place is just plain fun.
Horse-drawn carriages show visitors around town.
Ketchikan’s harbor is particularly striking. The city is built on the slopes of a steep mountain and extends out over the waters on wooden pilings. Front Street’s boardwalk, where bright-red horse-drawn carriages wait expectantly for fares and gift shops roll out the red carpet to new arrivals, hints at the town’s enduring hospitality. The aroma of cedar and spruce drifts down the mountain, flavoring the air before mingling with the scent of a campfire emanating from the blacksmith’s tent near the Great Lumberjack Show. The heavenly potpourri arrives courtesy of the Tongass National Forest, the largest temperate rainforest in the world.
Harbor views from our cruise-ship berth
One could suspect the town was created Disney-style just for the sake of the 1 million cruise passengers who frequent it during the short summer season, but the buildings and town are authentic. Ketchikan began after Mike Martin, hoping to open a salmon cannery, bought 160 acres from Chief Kyan in 1885. Soon, canneries popped up all over town and the settlement was incorporated in 1900 with 800 residents. The construction "boom" and demand for the area’s premium lumber gave rise to an equally lucrative timber industry.
Ketchikan’s heritage, however, goes back thousands of years to the Tlinget, Haida, and Tsimshian tribes who made this region home. The culture and influence of these native tribes is honored and celebrated in many ways in Ketchikan, adding immeasurably to the town’s enduring appeal.
Appropriately, the town is named from a Tlingit phrase referenced both as
kitschk-hin, meaning creek of the "thundering wings of an eagle," or katch kanna, which roughly translates as "spread wings of a prostrate eagle." Drawing from either interpretation, one can expect that eagles live here. Indeed, just beyond town on the road to Saxman Village, we stopped to watch dozens of eagles hunting for fish along the shore. Back in town, the Deer Mountain Hatchery, an eagle center operated by native tribes, guarantees sightings of the great national symbol.
A fitting tribute to the fish from the Salmon Capital of the World
During our first Ketchikan visit, our family participated in a canoe trip across Ward Lake , followed by a rain-forest ecology hike and salmon bake. The kids loved the friendly competition generated when the guides informed us that on the return trip, we were racing the other canoes. Hoots, cheers, and laughter from each of the five 24-passenger vessels echoed across the mountains before planting the experience firmly in our memory banks. I’ll always remember the scent and feel of the thick, marshy layer that forms the rain-forest floor, the result of 18 feet of rain per year, and the unbelievable proportions of the mosquitoes.
The sight of this shore-side village suggests that you take up fishing, if you haven’t already.
Each time I visit Ketchikan, I include a stop at the Southeast Alaska Heritage Center, just a few blocks from Front Street. The small but beautifully outfitted center does a terrific job of presenting history, artifacts, and insights into the native tribes and cultures via dioramas, films, and exhibits. It was here I also learned about Alaska’s geological origins, "below the surface of the earth, 11 fragments of ocean floor and extinct continents collided to form the geologic foundation of Southeast Alaska. As they continue to grind into each other, volcanoes erupt along the deep faults, and mountains push further into the sky;" pretty exciting stuff to a geology buff. To see more of what the center offers, take the online virtual tour. If you want to see more, the Discovery Center totem park is another great place to see the local icons.
There is an assortment of totems to study and photograph in downtown Ketchikan.
For 5 years I had resisted attending the Great Lumberjack Show, sensing it was just a little too hokey and touristy, but after my nephews dragged me there on our recent visit, I was converted. Not only is the show amazing in the show of lumberjack athleticism and skill, but the Mistress of Ceremonies, Sourdough Jane, is an equally compelling entertainer who really gets the crowd going. (Note to the ladies: Forget Chippendales and film stars; these lumberjacks are not only built, but they can build fires!) Alrighty then, where was I…
Sourdough Jane keeps the fellers on their toes and the crowd on their feet.
Clowing around with a chainsaw at the Great Lumberjack Show
Rolling up his sleeves to get to work
Following the show, we boarded Dolly’s Trolley , which offers a tours to both Saxman and Totem Bight State Park, as well as city tours and admission to one of Ketchikan’s most popular attractions, Dolly’s House.
A shipmate is charmed by the lady of the house.
The trolley’s namesake refers to Ketchikan’s most celebrated citizen, Big Dolly Arthur, who came to the town in search of financial independence, which she aptly achieved by operating a house of ill-repute. According to stats from the era, local miners and fishermen returned 75% of their wages to industrious retail and service establishments such as Dolly’s. The savvy businesswoman did especially well during prohibition by offering alcohol on the side. The house is now a major sight on Creek Street, operating as a museum.
But before we engaged in the charms of Creek Street, we were off to Saxman Village, where the largest concentration of totem poles in the state can be found. Along the way, our informative guide shared history, legends, and facts about the area. After stopping to see a bald-eagle nesting area and searching for crabs and seaweed, we arrived at Saxman.
Young eagles in a nest. Their heads turn white at maturity.
Dolly’s mascot watches from a window.
Our first stop was at the shed, where a master carver was just wrapping up his work for the day. There is something strangely eerie, yet whimsical, about totem figures in their exaggerated but straightforward imagery. There is a skill to reading the figures and their meaning, so our guide offered a briefing of each of the major totems at Saxman. He explained why Abraham Lincoln appears to be so short atop his pole (the natives had never seen a full-length photo, and so assumed he was short), and why Seward’s pole is meant to humiliate, evidenced by the white face and shocked eyes. The story is that Mr. Seward made off with treasures offered him during a festival, but failed to "repay" the favor in the native tradition by hosting a Potlach in return. .
Master Carver wraps it up for the day.
Saxman boasts the largest grouping of totems in the state.
Back in town, we sauntered down sunny Creek Street, welcoming the kayakers returning from their outing under the famous bridge. We toured Dolly’s House, small as a doll house and twice as sweet, then stocked up on souvenirs at the inside passage’s best gift shops before stopping at Ketchikan Kandies to wrap up another glorious day.
Only the salmon should paddle up Creek Street.
Satisfied, we rejoined the ship and awaited sail-away on deck. My nephews were in heaven recounting the portside pleasures: the lumberjack show, totem poles, bordello tour, eagle sightings, cuddly dogs, and a sweet shop. They couldn’t imagine how it could get any better.
Just as our ship sailed out of the harbor, as if on cue, an eagle swooped down beside us and plucked an unsuspecting fish from the water. We watched as the fish struggled in the bird’s powerful talons, marveling as giant wings carried both bird and prey higher and higher toward the forests beyond.
Harbor seal greets visitors.
Grand memories are made of small moments.
Written by Drever on 14 Jul, 2005
Looking out from the Coral Princess berthed at Ketchikan, I couldn’t see much to stir my interest or whet my appetite for exploration. I saw a small town of clapboard houses stretched out string bean style along Tongass Avenue. Coming away from the docks, though,…Read More
Looking out from the Coral Princess berthed at Ketchikan, I couldn’t see much to stir my interest or whet my appetite for exploration. I saw a small town of clapboard houses stretched out string bean style along Tongass Avenue. Coming away from the docks, though, I realised that Ketchikan still has the rough-and-tumble flavour of its frontier past, when fishermen, loggers, and Indians all mixed at Creek Street, where "the men and the fish come to spawn."
Pilings over Ketchikan Creek supported most of the homes. Black Mary, Blind Polly, and Dolly have long since retired, and their houses are now a collection of coffee shops, boutiques, and galleries. These brightly painted boutiques once catered for gentlemen seeking the company of "sporting women." The museum at Dolly's House gives a look into those bawdy ways of frontier life. There visitors can learn about Ketchikan's colourful history – its guides dress in period costumes.
Ketchikan is still a major commercial fishing port with several salmon canneries and processing plants. Misty Ketchikan, the rainiest town in southeast Alaska, also carries the title "Salmon Capital of the World." Being the first port of call in Alaska, it also bears the title "First City," although with a population of 14,000, it is only the fourth largest in the state. Like many Alaskan cities, it occupies a huge area and consists essentially of several small towns or villages.
Ketchikan offers insight into what Alaska is about. Its attractions include a salmon hatchery and eagle centre, totem poles, museums, and art galleries. Fishing charters and sightseeing tours are available, as is kayaking. You can kayak in Misty Fiords or hike up Deer Mountain. It is the shopping mecca of the Alaskan cruise trail, with the big international diamond shops that cater for the cruise trade sited here, as well as many local tourist shops and galleries. Sales reps on board the ship give briefings on buying diamonds – I pondered on how many people would obtain a commission out of each purchase, and they were very unreceptive.
The climate is damp but mild. If you stay in Ketchikan longer than an hour, chances are that it will rain at least once - we proved fortunate. The average annual rainfall is 162 inches. Despite all the rain, the only people with umbrellas are usually tourists. First City residents seldom use them, nor do they let the rain interfere with their daily routines, even outdoor ones, such as fishing, hiking, or having a softball game. If they stopped everything every time it rained in Ketchikan, nothing would progress.
The port can only take three cruise ships at a time, and as they queue to get in, the time allowed only amounts to half a day, so it is necessary to have a plan of action. Some of the sights are a bit out of town - Totem Bight, for instance, is 10 miles out. Therefore, booking a tour may have an advantage.
Written by Linda Kaye on 02 Jul, 2003
Ketchikan, is Alaska’s southern most city and its fourth largest. It is also known as Alaska’s "First City" because it was the first major community travelers came to on their way North. Average rainfall is 155 inches per year; sunshine is cherished and enjoyed. It…Read More
Ketchikan, is Alaska’s southern most city and its fourth largest. It is also known as Alaska’s "First City" because it was the first major community travelers came to on their way North. Average rainfall is 155 inches per year; sunshine is cherished and enjoyed. It was raining the day we arrived.
Because our ship would be docked in Ketchikan only a half day and because my parents, who were traveling with us, were not into bike tours, canoe safaris, kayaking or sports fishing, we decided to simply walk around the town. The docks are almost in the center of town and it is an easy walk to many interesting points.
Our first stop was Whale Park, a small park in a triangle formed by Bawden Street, Mill Street and Mission. It is filled with colorful flowers. I was amazed at the gardens considering the cold weather. In the park is the Knox Brothers Clock which has been working since the turn of the century and Tingit Chief Kyan’s Totem. It is a perfect place for pictures.
While we were at the park, we saw the horse-drawn trolley pass by. The clippity-clop of the horse’s hooves against the cobblestone transported us back in time for a moment. It left us wishing we had taken that tour. Perhaps next time.
We proceeded up Mission Street another block or so to an area of Ketchikan’s checkered past known as Creek Street. Creek Street is a boardwalk built on pilings over the Ketchikan Creek and was a red-light district in 1903. After 1920, the houses became speakeasies with bootlegged liquor flowing freely. Of course, the main business on Creek Street in those days was prostitution. The most renowned house of ill repute was Dolly’s. Dolly "entertained" gentlemen callers until 1953 when Ketchikan’s red-light district was shut down.
Today, the buildings along the Ketchikan Creek have been restored and are occupied by shops and art galleries. Dolly’s is now a museum and gift shop, filled with antiques and memorabilia and gives visitors a glimpse into Ketchikan’s past.
We meandered back towards our ship, stopping for a while at Moggie’s on Dock Street, a local coffee shop; enjoyed a hot cup of coffee and did some people watching. Back along Front Street at the docks, with our ship in full view, we had the opportunity to do some serious shopping; store after store offering unique Alaskan treasurers. This would be only the first of many opportunities to purchase that perfect souvenir.
Written by Linda Kaye on 23 Feb, 2001
Ketchikan: Alaska’s fourth largest city is located on Revillagigedo Island, 235 miles south of Juneau and 90 miles north of Prince Rupert, British Columbia.
Ketchikan derived its name from a Tlingit Language and there is a long-standing controversy as to it’s meaning. One…Read More
Ketchikan: Alaska’s fourth largest city is located on Revillagigedo Island, 235 miles south of Juneau and 90 miles north of Prince Rupert, British Columbia.
Ketchikan derived its name from a Tlingit Language and there is a long-standing controversy as to it’s meaning. One translation is "the creek of the thundering wings of an eagle". Another is "eagles with spread out wings". The creek flows through the town emptying into the Tongass Narrows and was originally an Indian fishing camp. Settlement of Ketchikan began with interest in mining and fishing with the first salmon cannery opening in 1886.
Gold, silver and copper mining created a booming mining town when gold was discovered nearby in 1898. The mining waned and by 1930 Ketchikan earned the title of "Salmon Capital of the World".
Ketchikan’s annual rainfall makes it one of the wettest spots on the continent. With an average annual rainfall of 169 inches it is also called the "Rain Capital of Alaska". Most of this rain falls during the winter months.
Ketchikan has also been called Alaska’s "First City" because it is the first city along the Inside Passage. However, Ketchikan residents will tell you "First City" refers to its place in their hearts, a place held because of its rich cultural heritage and continuing respect for the influence of the true first residents, the Tlingit Indians.
Written by gothere beenthere on 17 Sep, 2009
Ketchikan Ketchikan the first stop for the gold prospectors who came to this lovely country of Alaska long a go. Now we to are invading this wild and serine country on the Norwegian sun a mighty cruise ship that will be for the next seven…Read More
Ketchikan Ketchikan the first stop for the gold prospectors who came to this lovely country of Alaska long a go. Now we to are invading this wild and serine country on the Norwegian sun a mighty cruise ship that will be for the next seven days our home. We had been sailing for 1 night and 1 day along the coast of west Canada past the Island of Vancouver winding in and out of small little islands and now as the dawn of a new day broke, we sailed into the port of Ketchikan this was our first stop of four ports, we quickly had our breakfast on the top deck of our ship in the sunshine of the Alaskan morning. As we dined on our breakfast, we could see the hive of activity in the port boats small and large sailed past flying boats skimmed the water as they took off and landed large cruise ships that had been behind the Norwegian sun sailed past us into port. In the distance, the high mountains glistened with the glaciers that looked like snow in the distance. We had booked in advance a small trip ashore to a native Indian reservation, we had booked it while on board the ship, we took a lifeboat ride to the shore and boarded our bus that would take us to our destination just a short distance out of town, we turned into a small lane and in front of us we saw for the first time an Alaskan Indian reservation.We alighted our transport and were taken by school children to the Native ceremonial house were we treated to an Alaskan Indian welcome, all the children of the village danced and sang there ancient songs and dances, from there they took us to were the totem poles were made, they told us the history of totem pole’s and from there we were shown them being made all from ancient tools and paint. The trip took 2 hours and was a delightful way to take in the native Alaskan traditions. From there we went back into Ketchikan for a stroll around the town. The town still has the old staging point were the old gold prospectors alighted to buy there first goods to take them further into the interior far north to there next but one stop. You can still walk the wooden walkways the old buildings are still stores but instead of selling hard wear they sell gold and food like fish and chips, at the far end of the walkway there is the local brothel albeit now thank goodness a museum, the walkways are on stilts that are over the small creek and if you close your eyes for just a moment and let your mind wander in the Alaskan sunshine you might just hear the shouts and cries of the men who would go on to make an epic journey far into the interior of Alaska to dig for there fortune.The town of Ketchikan is a wonderful insight to a bygone era a small peaceful community will welcome you with there goods that you can buy, It was an enjoyable experience that will live on in my memory for a long time, all to soon again it was time to board our cruise ship for our next town, and as we sailed of into the afternoon sunshine we looked back at this small town with fondness. Close