Cruising SE Alaska – part 4

After leaving Glacier Bay, we visited the village of Pelican in Lisianski Sound. It is a brave town of 80 people, economically depressed as are many remote places in Southeast Alaska, which has had a long history of short term booms and busts – gold, timber, and fishing. In the steep sided fjord, the town clings to the slopes, partially built on a very narrow steep strip of land, some reclaimed land and on piles driven past the water’s edge, shoehorned in where a village hardly belongs. It is a boardwalk town with no vehicles except for golf carts and ATV’s. All of the industry is gone. Along with the region’s many other canneries, this one has closed, obsolete with the advent of fast refrigerated boats, smaller salmon catches, and strict limits on fishing. With power at 88 cents per kilowatt hour, the cold storage and ice house went bust. No ice, no fishermen. Those power costs are ten times higher than Seattle, and twice as high as at our home in Kona. The economy is depressed, but the place is far from depressing. It is charming, and the people are among its most charming resource. There is one high end fly-in fishing resort with twelve rooms and four modern charter boats, a good bakery cafe, post office, library, liquor store (of course) and a new school with seventeen students.

Pelican Village Building on Stilts
Built on Stilts in Pelican Village
Hard to believe, but there is no grocery or general store. Everyone orders on line for delivery by mail, or takes the once a week ferry, in summer that is (once a month in winter, maybe!), to Juneau, or orders from Juneau Costco which ships the order by ferry or float plane. Oh, and one more thing. There is a fine marina for about 100 boats with water and power, only little used now that the fishing fleet is not here… another marina facility among the many crying out to be utilized.
Pelican Village Lisianski Fjord
Pelican Village from the Water
If we could only move them to Hawaii where waiting lists have been up to 20 years!

Pelican is our western most destination this season. Just around the corner, only 19 miles away to the east is Elfin Cove Village, touted as Southeast Alaska’s most charming boardwalk fishing village. Elfin is squished against the steep mountains that tumble down the north shore of Chichagof Island. It is a tiny, but busy fishing port. The 2010 census counted 20 people as permanent residents, down from 32 in 2000! We crept carefully into the tiny harbor, only to find it bustling and completely full of fishing vessels offloading, provisioning and working – no room at the inn for us here. We reluctantly turned around and continued on toward Juneau, choosing a different anchorage for the night.

Pelican Marina
The Marina in Pelican Village
Remember (from the previous letter) that we had to transit narrows through North Inian Passage from Glacier Bay to Pelican, and were moving at more than 13 knots with the current. Now it’s time to sail east through the South Inian Passage on the way east to Juneau. We flew through that passage with a six knot fair current, again reaching speeds over 13 knots, twice the speed we are used to traveling. We certainly learned our lesson in Glacier Bay by not watching the currents. These last two narrows passages were planned with the maximum currents! The two day trip gave us the opportunity to anchor overnight in two more picturesque, pristine and deserted little cubby holes. The water in Southeast has been mostly flat calm, except for the current which does not normally ruffle the surface much. There has never been enough wind to sail for more than an hour or two, so every day has been a motorboat ride, with hardly a drop of salt water reaching the decks. I guess the trade off is sightseeing for sailing, as the close views of glaciers and icebergs, heavily forested mountains straight up from the water; whales, and otters more than makes up for the lack of wind. And transiting these waterways is always interesting, around islands, through narrows, up and down long narrow inlets, sightseeing while paying close attention to our navigation – a sharp lookout and radar, chart plotter, depth sounder and paper charts.

…To Be Continued

Author: Howard

Captain Howard is a lifelong sailing nut. His third and present boat, Holy Grail, has been in the family 26 years after he and the Admiral Stephanie built her in British Columbia. They have sailed her about 45,000 miles from B.C. Canada on a circuitous route through Mexico, Easter Island, Pitcairn, The Australs and through many islands to Australia, Solomons and Papua New Guinea. In 2017, they ended a five year visit to Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.