Hoonah to Elfin Cove

Forty five miles to Elfin Cove. That was our plan for today. After yesterday’s perfect sunny weather, we did not know what to expect today. The forecast was noncommittal on whether or not we would have sun.

The sun greets us as we follow a fishing boat past the Hoonah breakwater

Outside the breakwater is all of Hoonah's working harbor

There's a place for everybody at Hoonah

The fuel dock is on the right of the photo

Ferry dock on the left. Hoonah breakwater on the far right.

As it turned out we were blessed with sunshine and unlimited visibility. All of a sudden there were massive snow-capped mountain ranges in sight on all quadrants. We enjoyed a fair passage with winds on the bow at 10-15 and current running in our favor.

The quintessential S.E. Alaskan "skyline"

Two boats left Hoonah at about the same time as we did and trailed us up to Point Adolphus, after which they headed to Glacier Bay. We saw a few humpback whales in route but as we approached Point Adolphus, we spotted many in the distance making themselves known with blows and splashes.

Point Adolphus is known for its whales and we hoped it would not disappoint today. A few boats were drifting around the point and we joined the fleet. While we saw six or so animals feeding leisurely, they were not very showy. After 45 minutes we continued on, although I got a great picture of a sea lion chomping on some fish.

A sea loin enjoys a lunch of fresh salmon

Our route took us through North Inian Pass, which is known as a place of winds and disturbed seas. The seas were a little confused as they spilled past the islands. The most interesting phenomenon was the clouds that cascaded off the islands and formed a fog bank as they reached the water. We had sun on the boat, blue skies in one direction and fog in the other. Alaska can certainly dish up some interesting weather combinations.

Elfin Cove, our destination, is a unique harbor. The public docks are outside the cove proper. There is a 100 foot long public dock with no services. We managed to get the very last spot, so we felt ourselves very lucky as there are not many alternative anchorages in the area. People on the dock grabbed our lines and made us feel welcome.

Elfin Cove is all about fishing. The inner cove is ringed with fishing lodges and homes all connected by a boardwalk. There is all manner of buildings: lodges, houses, gift shops, a post office, a salmon smoker and much I am certain we missed. The big news was that the Cove Lodge and the Coho Grill burned to the ground June 19. The remains of the buildings were quite a sight and one can only imagine the fear and panic fire brings when every building is so close to the other. We heard that the blaze occurred in the early morning and that everyone pitched in to help keep the rest of the town from going up in flames.

Next to the public dock sits a large fuel dock and a dock for the fish buying boats. Water and fuel can be had at this dock (unlike in Tenakee and Hoonah, it’s a floating dock, which is much nicer for us). I’m certain it exists mostly to serve the fishermen who come in to sell their catch to the fish buyer and then continue back out to sea.

With at least four fishing lodges that I counted, there was a lot of activity in the afternoon. Four seaplanes came and went, dropping off and picking up guests of the lodges. The lodge boats came in with their catches of the day. And because the King Salmon fishery was closing tonight at 11:59 tonight, the fish buying boat (St. Jude) was active all night with its cranes and deckhands offloading salmon and loading ice back into the holds of the working boats. Karen and I enjoyed watching the action, as it wasn’t something we’d seen before. The St. Jude worked through the night until the closing and midnight.

We made plans to go halibut fishing through Dan of Elfin Cove Lodge. Dan’s lodge was totally booked, but he hooked us up with Fishmasters (the neighboring lodge) and Mike and Captain Gary. Mike of Fishmasters was great – we made our plans for a half day of Halibut Fishing, and he walked us up to the General Store (that we hadn’t found on our earlier walk!) so I could buy a fishing license.  We set our departure time for 8am, and hit the sack by 10.

At 3:30am, we heard a loud knock on the outside of the aft cabin. Typically, if anchored, that means you’ve dragged into someone else. In this case, being that we were on a dock, we thought it meant that someone had arrived (yes, it’s so light out at 3:30am you could easily move around) and needed to raft to us. I got up to help, only to find that there was a man on our boat asking where the breakfast he had heard about was. I told him it wasn’t on our boat, which seemed to disappoint him a good deal. Did I mention he was stark naked? Karen couldn’t stop giggling when I came back and told her. Welcome to Elfin Cove!


(Karen writes)Well, we had planned to get up early and make a beeline for another small “town” called Elfin Cove, about 45 miles away. However, we both felt lazy and had no real wanderlust, and the sun came out and it was lovely. So we decided to while away another day in Hoonah. What did we do first? We had heard the Hoonah Library might have internet access, so Bob packed up the computer into my backpack (??!!??) and we headed to the Library to find out if we could upload any blog posts. It was magic…they had free wireless and we were able to upload several days of blog posts with pictures. Bob did all that work while I read Alaska Magazine and Consumer Reports. It was a really nice library, and they had at least 5 computers available for people to use as well. The hours vary by day, but we timed it right and were able to enjoy the wireless until the library closed at 1pm.

We headed back to the Misty Bay Lodge for lunch. Bob had a great burger and I really enjoyed my halibut wrap, though it was large enough to feed a small family. We walked over the Ace hardware store at the Hoonah Trading Company just to see what was what (great stuff and selection), checked out the Office Bar (claims to have free internet, we didn’t try it, it was a bit smoky for us) and then it got so sunny and hot it was time to return to Arctic Star to peel off the layers of fleece and enjoy the sun. We went over to ask Sherri and Bill from Augenblick if they’d like to come over for wine/beer/cheese at 5, and they said yes, so it was a date!

Main street Hoonah

Everything you might need is here

We had a great chat and shared our love of the Pacific Northwest and boating. Sherrie brought over pictures from Glacier Bay earlier in their trip (I’m jealous….it was SUNNY when they were there!) and also some killer shots of grizzlies from Hoonah Sound. We thoroughly enjoyed meeting them.

Bob spent the afternno walking the docks to see what he could see and take some photos.

It's amazing what people will go to sea in.

Freshly painted, decorated and ready to fish.

Tools of the trade.

The "corner office" of a long liner. The TV allows the crew at the aft of the vessel to keep an eye on what's ahead.

Every wooden boat as a unique character all its own

The locals key and eye on you but won't budge

Our proudest neighbor at the docks

Grace among the chaos of a working fishing boat deck

Another view of Hoonah Harbor

Dinner was…crabcakes, the first Bob has ever made. They were an excellent way to end the day!

North Bight, Neka Bay to Hoonah

(Karen writes) We arose to see that our “neighbors” were up and going early. The black Nordic Tug Augenblick had already departed. Some of the others (Pursuit and In Search Of) were headed out of the bay. We had breakfast and watched as the folks from Miz Giz (of the broken generator) and his friend on Xanadupulled up their crab pots before departing for Juneau and repairs. Luckily for us, they didn’t want to deal with fresh crab while headed to Juneau…so they dinghied over to us and offloaded 6 large and lovely Dungeness crab. We were really happy about that. The crabs were really fresh…we offloaded them into a bucket and one tried to make an escape before Bob could shell them. Bob won the battle, of course! Bob’s new name is “Crab Slayer”, which he earned dealing with these crab. Despite being from the East Coast, neither of us has ever caught or “slayed” a crab. It was pretty funny to watch. Nonetheless, Bob did a great job (should I say “killer job??”) and soon the crabs were boiling away as we weighed anchor and decided to snoop a bit around Neka Bay before we headed for Hoonah.

Now What?

Bob about to dispatch another crab

Chimney Rock Island is just outside North Bight. You'll see this formation a lot in this area if you look close.

We left the North Bight and saw spouting near where we had seen it the day before, so we headed over to take a look. The whale was fairly shy, so we didn’t spend too much time trying to watch. It was a bit misty as we headed for Hoonah.

The good news was that a Celebrity Cruise Lines Ship was anchored at Icy Strait Point, which meant that if we got to Hoonah in a timely fashion, we could head out on foot to “ISP” and see what the cruise ship people get to do when they disembark. As we entered Hoonah, we were assigned a slip from Harbor Master Paul and we quickly got settled and headed off to see ISP.

There is a shuttle to ISP from the inner harbor – you buy tickets ($5 one way! Ouch!) at the Misty Bay Lodge. Still, because we wanted to get to ISP before the cruise ship departed, we gladly hopped aboard for the 1.6 mile ride. When we arrived at ISP, the cruise ship mania was winding down…it was about 1:45 and the last tender back to the cruise ship was at 2:30. This meant that we could look around without encountering large masses of people which suited us just fine. ISP was fun to walk around, and we saw the zip line (the world’s longest they claim) and though about it for a few minutes before the high price tag (Over $120) turned us off. It’s nicely done, ISP, and there are lots of shops and things to entice cruise shippers to part with their hard earned cash. We helped the Hoonah economy when Bob bought a frozen yogurt. We sat outside and watched the people returning to their ship, and saw a whale quite close bubble feeding. Bob thinks this whale is hired by the cruise ships to be part of the planned entertainment. Me? I’m not so sure. Still, it was fun to watch.

We take a stroll along the ISP boardwalk

The ravens are everywhere. These guys are looking for handouts.

Tourist time

As the last of the Celebrity Cruise folks from the Millennium were leaving, we started walking around.  Another Celebrity Cruise ship, the Mercury, came in before the Millennium left, ensuring that ISP would remain open until 9pm or so. We timed it perfectly, between the crowds from either ship.

About as close to a cruise ship as we're likely to get

Only one road in town, but the bureaucrats placed a sign just in case

We walked back to town and stopped to pick up a few provisions at the Hoonah Trading Company. It was well stocked other than with protein.  Then we headed back to Arctic Star to “pick” the crab that had been boiled earlier. As the mist was pretty much done, we put two chairs on the back deck and grabbed crab “crackers” and “picks” and got to work. It took us 1 hour and 2 beers to pick all the crab.  We filled a large bowl with the succulent meat.

Time to pick the crab

Then we went back to Misty Bay Lodge to enjoy the famed Halibut Pizza, which was good but outrageously filling. We walked the docks and talked to the folks aboard the Nordic Tug Augenblick, Sherrie and Bill from Anacortes, WA. They were super nice, and we enjoyed meeting them.

Misty Bay Lodge is the home of the not to be missed Halibut Pizza

The docks at Hoonah

Fisherman are a breed to themselves and they are proud of it.