Alaska Peninsula and Kodiak






King Cove is a somewhat larger and thriving community. It is dominated by the Peter Pan fish processing plant, where we refuelled, having motored through fog all the way from False Pass. There was also a general store with reasonable supplies. The main harbour, called the Old Harbor, was recently refurbished. When we arrived the harbour was quite empty but soon filled up with seiners returning from an ‘opening’. During the salmon fishing season, boats are only allowed to fish when ‘openings ‘are declared by the fisheries authorities. These periods are rarely more than 48 hours, during which the fishermen work flat out to fill their holds at one of the many salmon runs along the coast. During a good opening a large seiner may return with 50,000 pounds of fish, occasionally taking 20,000 pounds in a single trawl. Of course at other times it is very much less. Like all communities on the Alaska Peninsula, King Cove is on the edge of wilderness. We were warned that there were occasional bears foraging within the town limits and a young boy had been killed by a bear when out walking with his mother, some years ago.



Captain Harbor was a, completely land-locked, secure anchorage. The winding, river-like approach gave way to varied, attractive scenery around the anchorage and the possibility of viewing bears and deer. Though the general store at King Cove had provided the necessary ingredients for one of Tom’s jaw-extending burgers, the waters of the harbour provided fresher fare in the form of black cod, which were willing to bite on almost anything including bare hooks. We did also catch one baby halibut, but were unable to attract any of its bigger brethren. This was probably just as well given their size and our less than adequate fishing gear.







We departed Captain Harbor in mist and low cloud, accompanied by a gently rolling whale, feeding along the shore. However, we arrived in Volcano Bay, just around the corner in bright sunshine. Though the large bay was somewhat open there was a hooked indentation in the northwest corner where we found quite good shelter. The scenery around the Bay is very striking, with high, cindery volcanic peaks and bluffs. More importantly for Vicky, the low area around the little river mouth looked very like ’bear country’. She had been disappointed in Captain Harbor, where there were many signs of bear scat and the flattened areas of grass which show where they have fed – but no bears. This time she was rewarded when a mother bear and two large cubs made their way down to the beach at the head of the bay near the outlet of the stream.










After the excitement of the bear sightings it was probably just as well that we had a long, peaceful day of motoring in beautiful weather to Sand Point in the Shumigan Islands. On the way we passed several container-laden, towed barges. This is a very common form of coast-wise shipping in the USA. Even in the Hawaiian Islands, which can be subject to big swells and strong winds between the islands, it is very common to see huge barges under tow far behind big, powerful tugs. Sand Point is a very busy fishing port and quite a large community by rural Alaskan standards (pop. approx. 1,000). The village is big enough to have a good-sized store for food and other supplies. There are several bars and even one or two cafes and restaurants. There was no chance, however, of mistaking this for anything but a frontier town, with its muddy streets and ramshackle buildings.




The highlight of our visit and one of the most interesting stops of our time on the Alaska Peninsula was a tour of the Trident fish processing plant. This was very informative about the essential economic powerhouse of the region. The plant can process up to 350,000 pounds of salmon a day during the summer season! It also processes other fish varieties during the rest of the year. Most of the employees of the plant are seasonal workers from abroad. They are paid very little for work on an industrial production line. It would be easy to assume that this is pure exploitation. There may well be an element of this. However, when we talked to our Filipino guide, who was a manager and the plant safety officer, he told us that every member of the company’s management, except the President, had started on ‘the line’, as he had. All had been trained and promoted by the company on the basis of their ability and hard work. He genuinely felt that it was a good company for which to work.



At Sand Point we were faced with a decision. The time available for further cruising in Alaska was running out. We felt that either we could head further up the Alaska Peninsula to Hidden and Geographic Coves or make a jump to Kodiak Island, which is a wonderful cruising area in itself. The latter option won and we made an overnight passage to the appropriately named Japanese Bay. This is a completely land-locked anchorage approached through a narrow but deep channel. The high land around it and the snow-capped mountains further inland made it very attractive.


The next day we indulged in a short and gentle motor around to Three Saints Bay, doing a little whale-watching on the way, viewing a humpback feeding right in along the shore. As we turned away to move on, the whale waved a lazy flipper at us. The scenery around Three Saints was, if anything even more dramatic than anything we had yet seen, with rocky cliffs rising steeply from the water’s edge.







Barling Bay is just south of the settlement of Old Harbor along Sitkilidak Strait. The Bay is quite large. There is a considerable area of silty shallows at its head, where a small river enters the bay. We were fortunate to be there in quiet weather as the Bay is reputed to be subject to violent williwaws in strong northwesterlies, which boom down the valley from the mountains of the interior. The bay is in a very attractive setting. At high water, we took the dinghy up the larger of the two streams flowing out of the wide, low valley at the head. Here we saw deer and a pair of older bear cubs. We suspected that the cubs might have been orphaned as there was no sign of a mother.








Sitkilidak Strait narrows as it runs north to the tiny settlement of Old Harbor. The village, with its blue-roofed and onion-domed Russian Orthodox church, is dwarfed by the mountains behind it. Just beyond the village, the navigable channel narrows even further and becomes winding. Fortunately it is well charted allowing transit northwards along the east coast of Kodiak Island without going seawards of Sitkilidak Island.





In continuing delightful weather we headed further north for our last stop before Kodiak Town. Though Shearwater Bay is large and somewhat exposed to the southwest, there is an anchorage in a small, virtually land-locked cove in the southeast corner of the bay. The entrance to the cove is narrow, but deep and the pool inside was exactly ‘Sunstone’-sized. It was the perfect spot to view a typical Alaskan summer sunset – at about 2230 at night.






Kodiak is a large town by rural Alaskan standards and a major fishing port, with all facilities, supplies and services, including regular air services to Anchorage and other towns. Approaches to the harbour from both north and south are encumbered by rocks and shoals, but channels are clearly marked. This isn’t particularly surprising, as Kodiak is also the largest Coast Guard base in the USA. Visitors are normally berthed in the northern of the two harbours, which is closest to the town. However, space is at a premium during the fishing season. There are a number of hikes in the area, with information at the Visitors’ Centre or Wildlife Information Center. Quite apart from the cruising to be had on Kodiak Island itself, Kodiak town is an excellent jumping off point for cruising the Alaska Peninsula, Kenai and Prince William Sound. Several cruisers each year arrive from Hawaii, for this reason, As we did in 2002. We know of several cruisers who have also wintered in Kodiak.





Having hiked up Pyramid Peak on Unalaska near Dutch Harbour, we could hardly leave Kodiak’s Pyramid Mountain unscaled and so set off with fellow cruisers David and Liz. With a beautifully clear day we had wonderful views over the whole area, quite apart from carpets of spring flowers, reminiscent of South Africa, and the occasional surprised wildlife, such as the ptarmigan, which tried to lead us away from her nest.







In 2002, we had been befriended by the Kodiak Harbourmaster, Marty and his wife, Marion - who writes the unlikely gardening column in the local newspaper. They were as delightfully friendly on this occasion as the first. Marty and Marion have branched out to use their boat for dinner cruises for tourists. In addition Marty has become a wedding celebrant and so conducts weddings on board.


We took advantage of them to find a home for the fender plank which we first acquired in Kodiak and which had since been round the world via all five of the southern capes. We had a guided tour of Marion’s garden – and her delicious cooking, while Marty found us a few of that Alaskan delicacy, the salmon berry.








Having restocked and refuelled, we sadly said goodbye to Alaska, which we consider one of the outstanding cruising grounds in the world. Looking forward we knew that there would be a price for the wonderful cruising we had just experienced.  Ahead were 8,000 miles of passage-making in order to get home to Auckland. Appropriately, a little way beyond the Kodiak offshore approach buoy, a whale lifted a lazy tail to bid us farewell from northern waters as we pointed ‘Sunstone’s’ bow toward the southern end of Vancouver Island and the Straits of Juan de Fuca in British Colombia.