Sunny Wrangell

Sunday, June 29, 2008
At Anchor, St. John Harbor, Alaska
N 56 degrees, 26.410 minutes
W 132 degrees, 57.355 minutes

Dear friends and family:

We thought we were never going to escape the rain. But I will tell you, when the sun comes out, Alaska is gorgeous. There are snow capped mountains in nearly every direction, and all the foothills are covered with a blanket of evergreen trees. Every point of land has its resident eagle or pair of eagles, and the sun sparkles off the water.

We had anchored on the 25th and 26th of June at Blashke Islands, an intricate maze of waterways that looked impossible on the chart. We decided to leave for Wrangell on the theory that, even if it continued raining, at least we could walk ashore, and there were presumably some indoor activities -- a restaurant, perhaps a movie theater or a museum. We had a somewhat rough passage over to Wrangell, with winds at times of 30 knots. Our trusty rain canopy seemed in imminent danger of blowing away, or at least destroying itself, so we took it down, and tested the waterproofness of our foul weather gear.

Wrangell is a nice, protected harbor, full of fishing boats and friendly people. We went for dinner to the first business ashore: the Marine Pizza, bar, liquor store, "laundry-mat," motel and showers. The Friday evening crowd was lively, the pizza was yummy and the showers were hot. We didn't test the other facilities.


View of Wrangell
Wrangell appears to have movies three days a month. We actually were there for two of the three June days, but the movie was "Kung-Fu Panda," which neither of us were anxious to see. Instead we watched the very first episode of "West Wing" from our video supply on the boat. On Saturday we accomplished some necessary housekeeping tasks, including laundry (not at Marine Pizza, but instead at the next business down the road...) We washed and dried the foul weather gear, which according to the label, should restore its waterproofness. The sun was coming out (and has remained out since -- not including the four-hour night), so there has been no further chance to test the foul weather gear.

We walked about two miles to "Petroglyph Beach" where there are reportedly 40 different petroglyphs made by prehistoric Indians. We found about ten of them. The local Tlingit Indians have no cultural memories or traditions explaining the source or meaning of the petroglyphs, so anthropologists have concluded that they were made by some tribe predecessor to the Tlingits. Most seem to be representations of faces, but there are also animal depictions and spiral figures. There were a number of local residents at the beach, enjoying the sunny weather.

Everyone we encountered along our walk was very friendly. All the drivers wave at all the pedestrians and vice versa. One fellow with Indian features showed us his copper teapot collection, and talked about halibut fishing; another fellow, apparently living in an old Ace Hardware store (or at least having a decrepit Ace sign over his door), remarked about how he was learning "Flight Simulator" on his computer. We found some ripe huckleberries, nearly ripe salmon berries, and plenty of wildflowers.

 Many people have pretty gardens, although the best flowers seem to grow in pots, instead of in the ground. (Maybe they've just been brought out from greenhouses?

The streets of Wrangell are full of people, especially teenagers. There was some sort of carnival, with booths, that we just missed. People told us that Wrangell has a spectacular Fourth of July, and that we really should stay. As the day moved into evening, some teenagers were out cruising in their cars, four to a car, driving out to the marina, doing a big U-turn in the parking lot, and cruising out again. Wrangell fuel pricesUnleaded gasoline is $5.07 a gallon, and everyone has a truck or an SUV. The road only goes a few miles in each direction, so I suppose you can't spend too much on gas. (Unless you're a fisherman, filling up to go out and try for the diminishing supply of fish...)

Our walk took too long, and we missed the open hours of the local grocery stores. We had hoped to buy something to barbecue, while we sat out in the sunshine. We thought about finding another restaurant, but none looked as promising as Marine Pizza, so we dug in the refrigerator and freezer, and came up with ingredients for curry. As Craig said, it was better than anything we could have gotten in any of the restaurants.

This morning we motored here to St. John Harbor, so that we will be poised tomorrow morning to transit Wrangell Narrows -- a very narrow, 21 mile long channel that leads to Petersburg and Frederick Sound. We tried fishing a bit this morning, but no luck. The gill netters were all out today, setting their nets, starting at noon (a short season apparently began at noon). At 11:52 a.m. Craig had his pole out, as we were rounding "Craig Point," and a fishing boat hurried over to tell us that he planned to put out his nets, in that exact spot, starting in 8 minutes. One should never get in the way of an Alaska fishing boat. Once deployed, the nets can be difficult to see. Some boats deploy off the back of the boat ("stern-pickers") and some off the front ("bow-pickers"). In theory the nets extend from the boat to a beach-ball sized orange buoy, but the buoy (and for sure the nets) can be pretty hard to see. From noon on we had a number of boats to find our way around, and then coming into St. John Harbor, there were a number of crab pots to dodge. We added our own to the collection, and I hope to be able to report to you that we caught crabs this time, not just slimy starfish.

Best wishes to all!

Craig & Barbara Johnston
S/V Sequoia

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