Photo: the entrance to the Thomas Basin is to the right of this cruise ship.
As we motored up Revillagigedo Channel a fleet of charter fishing boats charged at us followed by a fleet of inflatable dinghies, their occupants all clothed in identical rain jackets and life vests. Overhead a seaplane roared -- except it wasn't overhead enough for us; we had to dodge to starboard as it roared by below at the level of Osprey's spreaders. At the docks just ahead of us in Ketchikan we could see three big white cruise ships. With only four hours to spend at Ketchikan, cruise ship passengers do their best to cram every minute with activities. And the only way to see and do what they want is to go fast and use a lot of fuel. After a night spent at anchor in pleasant Foggy Bay, our arrival in Ketchikan jangled our nerves.
That wasn't all. The cruise ships have new docks with special tourist offices to arrange tours for their passengers, but in the boat basin we found the Laundromat had closed, the public wifi we'd used two years ago was gone and whenever ships were in the cell phone service was lousy. Downtown, the pharmacy had been replaced by a popcorn shop and the post office replaced by a commercial shipping company. There are jewelry stores galore but finding a cup of coffee, much less a coffee shop with wifi, is a challenge. As tourists on our own boat we felt decidedly like poor relatives.
It isn't all bad, of course. Public art abounds with totem poles everywhere. And once the cruise ships go (five o'clock at the latest), you can cross the street in the middle of the block without fear of your life. And hidden among the Caribbean and New York jewelry shops are some locally owned shops that are real gems. In Glaciers, Bears and Totems
, I describe walking into the shop of a local Tlingit artist and having a conversation with one of the artist's employees who told us, "Those 15,000 people who are supposed to live here? They're not real." That conversation gave me the subtitle and a major theme for my book: Sailing in Search of the Real Southeast Alaska.
We have returned to that store several times but until this year never met the Tlingit artist, Norman Jackson, who owns it. This year we finally did. It was after the cruise ship passengers had left and we found him in his shop talking on a cell phone surrounded by impressive NW carvings. When he hung up, he showed us a newspaper article about a lifetime achievement award he had won for his art and unwrapped a pair of rattles he was working on. The $6,000 price tag left us gasping, but they were beautiful. Norman went on to talk about his fishing boat, Indian Summe
r, which needed a new transmission. We had something in common, boat repairs.
Coincidentally, we were moored next to Indian Summer
in the Thomas Boat Basin. That evening Norman stopped by our boat after checking on Indian Summer
. He told us more about his art and his store.
"When I opened my shop, I said I'd just try it, but it's still open 13 years later. It takes time away from my carving. I could spend more time carving without it, but having it pushes me to carve because I need carvings for the shop. And I help other artists by selling their art."
Photo: Norman Jackon in front of his shop on Creek Street