Big fish in Petersburg
25 May 2009 | 56 48.640'N:132 57.831'W, Petersburg,AK
Big fish in Petersburg
We ran up Wrangel Narrows from our close-in anchorage in St John Harbor, and it was a piece of cake, navigationally at least. The weather was bright and we almost got the currents perfect.
Perfect means letting the flood carry you to Rock Point and then having the ebb pull you back out the top to Petersburg. Unfortunately, the powerful spring tide current carried us in too rapidly, despite my keeping the Deere as close to idle as I could without having it cool off too much, so we had to push through a half knot or so of adverse current on the second half of the narrows to get into Petersburg.
While we were nearly the end of the narrows, but still threading through a number of buoys to avoid the shallows on either side, the USGS decided to board us. Which was interesting, because they told us to keep going to avoid blocking the channel. They transferred their boarding crew onto our swim platform at about six knots. By the time Deb got downstairs, they were knocking on the back door.
My job was to keep driving the boat while the boarding crew went over us from top to bottom with Deb's help. We passed with flying colors (thanks to our earlier Vessel Safety Check in Sequim!) and the USCG congratulated us on having a safe boat. They liked the fact that the Inland Navigational Manual was next to the flares and that we had Seafire systems in ER and Lazarette.
But I found it challenging and bit unnerving to have a boarding crew climbing over my boat from PH to ER while I had to keep my eyes on the water to thread my way through Wrangel Narrows. But now I've got my boarding for the year, so I guess I can just flash my clean checklist at the next Coastie. I guess they had to do something to make Wrangel Narrows more interesting, because we met no large boats during the passage. They're what usually make the journey memorable as there isn't much room to pass.
As I'm learning isusual in Alaska, when we arrived in Petersburg, the harbormaster placed us on the dock with all the seiners which are similar in length to our boat. Those fish boats are fascinating to study, as they are all well-maintained and professionally set up, and each has a name that has a story behind it Interestingly, everyone had an anchor hanging off the front (invariably the same double-fluked anchor whose named escapes me) that looked ridiculously large. These guys are serious about riding out bad weather on the hook.
Of course, we are still having nearly perfect weather. Blue sky, mid-60's and no wind. It simply could not be more ideal.
The town of Petersburg is very much a fisherman's town, and nearly every job is tied to boats, fishing or the fish buyers and canneries. It's also still predominately Norwegian and the Sons of Norway building was one of the largest in town. As near as I can tell, every man in town wore the same style of beard and most of them were truly of Norwegian heritage. They were also a friendly bunch, with everyone you meet on the sidewalk greeting you as if they really do care that you are there and that you are having a good day. About 2800 people live there in the winter, and about 3800 in summer when the fish buyers and cannery are running.
We arrived during the Salmon Derby, and some places were closed with "Gone to the Derby" signs up. The excitement was visible everywhere. In fact, when I met a woman on the street and asked the way to the harbor master's office, she said excitedly, "You want to see the fish too? I heard someone got a king over 58 pounds. I'll show you." And she nearly ran down the street in her haste to get to the Derby weigh-in area where a crowd of enthusiastic onlookers were gathering to admire a gigantic king salmon. People get really excited about big fish in a fishing town.
Fortunately, the harbor master's office was next door so I could pay my bill.
The fish was pretty big too, but I'm no expert. Deb and I went over to admire it later. They had it displayed on ice under glass next to the weigh-in table.
I still haven't caught a salmon myself. But that will change once we get to Auke Bay and I have a guide or two teach me a thing or two so I can fish the rest of the summer off the back of Serendipity.
I also met an interesting gentleman on the dock, Tom from Wasila, who had just returned from a ten day adventure in a tiny skiff hunting bear. He'd taken his skiff down Wrangel Narrows alone and then spent ten days traveling out Sumner Channel, camping on shore each night, hunting bear. He finally got one, and was returning to Wasila the next morning (leaving the tiny skiff behind). He'd recently completed a quest to reach the highest point in every one of the 50 states, and had returned spent part of last winter on a Russian expedition boat going to Antarctica. Clearly, he's the adventurous and ambitious type. He was fascinated with Serendipity, but it was late at night when we met on the dock while I walked Lotus, and Deb was already asleep, so I didn't invite him in for a tour. I could tell he was disappointed.
We're off to Tracy Arm glacier tomorrow.
John and Deb