June 13, 2016
The town of Valdez, our destination today, is the first community we have visited with a road linking it to the rest of the world, is the largest town on Prince William Sound, a major fishing port, and the terminus of famous Alaska Oil Pipeline, which brings raw petroleum 800 miles south from the North Slope where it is extracted. Valdez was chosen for this dubious honor because it is the United States’ northernmost ice-free port, beating out Anchorage by only a few miles. The enormous oil loading terminal sits on Port Valdez’s southern site, surrounded by endless forests and snowy peaks dotted with hanging glaciers. Massive tankers
The town itself is opposite the terminal on the north side of the bay, where it can best take advantage of the low winter sun. Today however, the sun sits overhead in a cloudless sky and packs of young kids pedal their bikes madly along the waterfront in shorts and sandals. Mostly destroyed in the 1964 earthquake and the resultant tsunamis, Valdez was rebuilt on bedrock a mile or so west of its original location. Today it is a town of wide streets on a granite bench at the foot of the mountains. A large number of businesses offer sea kayaking expeditions, helicopter tours, fishing, trekking and more. Nearly 300 inches of annual snowfall have made Valdez something of an extreme winter sports mecca, and snowmobiles sit in sheds waiting for winter.
The crew of Hele Mai rents a car and heads out of town to explore the river canyons, glaciers, and gold mining history to be found inland, while others of us visit the excellent local museum, explore the shops, hike through the hills and river valleys around town, and enjoy the summer sunshine. The crew of deception runs in to a couple old friends from Washington State on the docks getting their Salmon seiner ready for the season. We are more than 1500 boat miles and 12 degrees of latitude away from our home port, but running in to friends is a good reminder of the threads that bind this region together.