Craig, Alaska

At the dock, Craig, Alaska

N 55 degrees, 28.90 minutes, W 133 degrees, 8.64 minutes

July 29, 2008

Dear friends and family:

We're suffering from a bit of cabin fever here -- waiting out a storm before we proceed south back into Canada. We hurried into Craig three days ago, with the threat of this coming storm. The storm, seemingly unaware of our hurry, has taken its own jolly time, languishing out there in the Pacific, and didn't really arrive until last night. We were going to try, then to push off from the dock this morning at 7 am, but the forecast still warns of 40 knots of wind in the immediate area of Craig. Oh well. It's a good time to vacuum up the rice grains I managed to dump last night in all the nooks and crannies around the stove.

All the fishing boats in the area heard the news about the bad weather as well. The harbors in Craig are packed like a can of sardines. Most of the boats seem to be purse seiners, all about the same size. The purse seiners had a 13 hour opening a few days ago -- meaning they could fish for 13 hours -- and I guess they all have to cool their heels, between these bureaucracy-dictated openings. So there are guys furling nets, guys mending nets and guys wandering the docks. The restaurants are full of fishermen, and when we went up to the Craig swimming pool yesterday, the jacuzzi had 10 fishermen dangling their feet in it. They were talking about one of the skippers who had the end of his thumb nipped off down to the knuckle by a piece of equipment. They were complaining about the charter boat operators who -- so they say -- have moved into the area and are robbing them of all their fish. And needless to say they were complaining about government bureaucracy.
Most of the fish boats are painted fairly plainly -- black and white, an occasional blue, or a few strips of varnished wood. One of the boats here, painted varying colors of pinks and purples is called "Viewpoint." His dock tag says "Viewpoint -- Rainbow Warrior." We talked to the guy as he was slapping some purple paint on some of his fittings. He said he's painted that way "so the charter boats can see me coming!"

For whatever it's worth, we haven't seen any charter boats at these docks. Maybe they all go somewhere else, knowing how much they're disliked here?

Yesterday we rented a car and drove through the rain to Hydaburg. There are two Indian villages in the area: Klawock for the Tlingit, and Hydaburg for the Haida. Hydaburg is more remote and more run down. The streets are muddy and potholed and many of the houses look pretty sad. We stopped in the little grocery store and asked where we could see the promised totem poles. The very friendly clerk directed us to the village's totem park. She also told us to look for smaller totems in a few front yards.
The totem park has a very nice, modern school on one side, and a church on the other. An event was about to start at the church, and woman was trying to hurry everyone in the door. A couple of blond cheerleader-looking teenage girls wanted to know if we were coming. They said they were on a mission from North Dakota, and they were going to be making a presentation at the church. A little acting, and a little singing. Just after that, a group of Indian kids wandered by. One called another a "Tlingit." Obviously meant as an insult.

The totems themselves were quite impressive. Some very old, and others somewhat newer. Captain Vancouver (or some other old bearded white guy) appeared on one pole, with an eagle's talons clamped onto his head. But for the eagle, he looked for all the world like a German nutcracker's caricature of a sea captain. Captain Vancouver?

Hydaberg totem park

Hydaberg church

We also went to Klawock, much closer to Craig, on the main road. It didn't have quite such a third world feel. But they also had a totem park, with a large number of totems, new and old.  (See photos, right, and at top of page). Some of the newer totems seemed more representational, and more influenced by western artistic influences. There appears to be a carving workshop next to the totem park, but no one was around to ask about it. Like Hydaburg, some of the houses had totems in their front yards. We saw some fairly bizarre front yard carvings, interesting woodworking, but not much to do with traditional Indian art.

Klawock yard art

Klawock modern totem


More totem photos

Craig continues to be frustrated in his fishing efforts. We stopped by the Prince of Wales Hatchery Association -- they're not seeing much action yet, because the salmon haven't started to return. They're late this year, just like everything else, presumably because of the bad weather. But the chief honcho there offered Craig some fishing advice, which we hope to implement soon. Actually, any fisherman you ask will have advice. Across the dock from us is a 55 foot steel sailboat, Akvavit, rigged out for commercial fishing. The owner, a former engineer who vastly prefers Alaska's solitary fishing life, had fishing advice, and also offered us a beautiful salmon filet from his most recent catch. We ate a third of it that evening, and the rest is in the freezer.
One of the themes you hear in the fishermen's advice is to watch for where the big wildlife -- eagles, whales, seals, etc. are feeding. I'm afraid that so far, when we see a whale feeding, we stand there with our jaws open, and our camera lenses clacking. There was an instance of that a couple of hours before we arrived at Craig. A solitary whale started leaping out of the water -- at least ten times in a row. Sometimes you could see that he was doing barrel rolls in the air. I think this is a feeding behavior -- to stun the fish -- but it looked for all the world as though it was a tremendous amount of fun.

Well, the sun is starting to peek through and the winds have dropped, so I think we'll be heading south. There may be no internet connection for a number of days, so you may not hear from us for awhile.

Best wishes to all!

Craig & Barbara Johnston S/V Sequoia

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