June 5, 2016
The town of Sitka is almost preposterously scenic. Its streets are lined with small houses and neat gardens. The town meanders from the rocky coast up and down the forest-clad foothills of the steep snow-capped mountains that guard the interior of rugged Baranof Island. The steeples of the old Russian Orthodox Cathedral downtown look over the many marinas and harbors, where a sizeable fleet of traditional, well-kept fishing boats reflect the industrious character of its residents. Unlike some of the other larger communities in SE Alaska, Sitka has been able to resist the gentrification and “sameness” brought on by the advent of mass market tourism, and maintains its distinctive character. The crews of Mother Goose’s second leg all arrived in Sitka several days ago, and took good advantage of their time, visiting the many fascinating museums, shops, cultural center, and exhibits.
Our departure today took place under calm grey skies, and a brigade of Sea Otters shepherded us from the docks out to the breakwater, where the view opens on the many small islands that guard the approaches to the harbor. Our radios crackled and small fishing boats and skiffs buzzed from homestead to homestead on urgent errands as we steamed northwards, but quickly enough the hustle and bustle of the “big city” faded away and by the time we entered Neva Strait only the occasional salmon troller flitted in and out of view between the tree-covered rocks.
By late morning, Salisbury Sound opened before us, and beyond it the yawning expanse of the North Pacific. Easy round swells spawned somewhere beyond the Aleutians rolled in from the northwest and the Coffee Mugs clinked comfortingly in the cabinet, energized by the motion of the sea. Having come so far, the swells rose up and crashed onto the shores of Chicagof Island, which juts imposingly up from the seafloor to the north and east. Humpbacks rose and spouted in the distance as we rode the swells for a couple hours before threading through the surf-trashed foul ground that guards Piele Passage. It is a prohibition era smuggling route which brought moonshine to the miners who chipped away at the wild and remote mountain roots in search of gold, and my kudos go out to the stout-hearted smugglers who first found it without the benefit of modern navigational technology.
Otters played in the kelp as we wound through the islands and inlets that lead to Klag Bay, site of the abandoned Chicagof Gold Mine and our anchorage for the night. The clouds closed in as our anchors touched bottom, and we set off to explore the old mine site in a driving rain, which did little to dampen our spirits or the grandeur of the place. The mine site itself is chockablock with old mining carts, diesel engines, and a thousand other rusting odds and ends, and makes for interesting, if slightly jagged explorations.
Having dodged bears, tetanus, and sasquatch, we retired to our boats to the soothing drumming of the rain and the slow approach of night. An excellent first day on the outer coast!