Words by Les and Kel Rohlf Photos by Kel Rohlf
Friday and Saturday, July 16-17
On Friday, we grabbed a few groceries, had a good sandwich lunch at the Rusty Compass Coffee Shop, and worked on blogs/bills. While Kel engaged in some retail exploration, Les visited the Sheldon Museum. It includes lots of late 18th and early 19th century artifacts collected by a local mercantile owner. The museum’s displays narrate the tensions and changes among the local Tlingit clans with the influx of settlers, missionaries, and gold-seekers from outside Alaska.
We had dinner at the Lighthouse Restaurant adjacent to the harbor – their halibut fish and chips were as good as any we’ve had to date.
Despondence, disappointment, disillusionment – these are my emotions when faced with the reality that the Hammer Museum was closed during our time in Haines.
We had planned to depart Haines for Skagway on Saturday morning, but the forecast included a small craft advisory for the Northern Lynn Canal. After walking up the hill above the harbor and looking east beyond Portage Cove, I could see whitecaps and feel the strong northerly breeze. We stayed the extra day in Haines to wait for better weather. Kel visited the farmers market on Saturday while Les continued to sulk about the Hammer Museum being closed.
We liked Haines a lot. The harbor staff worked with us to ensure we’d have a space despite lots of fishing boats using the transient dock. There are a handful of good eateries and two well-stocked groceries. The only issue with Haines for small boat owners is that the public shower is located at the Moose Laundry, which is a (good) mile west of the harbor.
Sunday, July 18
Haines to Skagway
Miles: 17 Hours: 2.5
We turned out of the Haines Harbor at 5:30 am to get to Skagway before the wind and waves. The NOAA ship Fairweather was anchored just off Haines in Portage Cove. This 231-foot hydrographic survey vessel uses side-scan sonar to accurately map the ocean floor. Data it provides to NOAA cartographers are used to updated nautical charts. We motored slowly past her and turned north into Taiya Inlet.
Taiya inlet is only half as wide as the rest of Lynn Canal, so when we met the southbound Alaska Ferry Matanuska, we got the amusement park treatment from its wake. The wake itself caused 3- to 4-foot waves, and we were bounced around for another 20 minutes as those waves ricocheted off the narrow canyon walls back into the channel.
Our 17-mile excursion was otherwise smooth, and we arrived at the Skagway Harbor about 8:00am. After settling in and getting showers, we enjoyed a very nice brunch at the adjacent Skagway Fish Company. Later we wandered about the town. Skagway is an interesting place, even more so in these interesting times. With a very small year-around population, it seems to exist as an historical monument (Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park) and as a theme-parkish destination for cruise passengers. With no significant cruise ship arrivals (yet), the place is something of a ghost town.
Monday, July 19
Skagway has a very nice small craft harbor. Showers are close by at Harbormaster building, the docks are in excellent shape, and there are water spigots at each slip. It’s about half empty right now – I’m told this is a destination for Canadians, given its proximity to Whitehorse.
I walked the docks early this morning and watched the river otter gang cruising around the harbor looking for trouble. The harbormaster yesterday said one of her primary responsibilities is spraying otter poop from the docks.
There seemed to be a little more activity in town today. We caught up on laundry and restocked groceries from the rather sparse IGA. One exciting find there – they had beef tri-tip roasts, so we snagged one to grill tomorrow night. We also did our best to support the open restaurants – great sandwiches at the Glacier Coffee House and excellent pizza at the Northern Lights Pizzeria.
We filled the boat with gas this morning and water this evening. As we head south, we’ll call Glacier Bay to check availability of short-notice permits. During the summer months Glacier Bay National Park allows only 25 private vessels in the primary bay on a given day. Of these, 13 are Advance Permits (60 days out) and 12 are short-notice and made available 48 hours ahead of entry. Since most permits are for multiple days, only a few new boats are allowed to enter Glacier Bay each day.
As Transients and Independent Travelers, designated as such by harbormasters and locals, we find ourselves mostly alone. Some might find that disheartening, but we both are enjoying the solitude. No crowds to navigate, open moorings at most marinas, even at the popular Auke Bay harbor. As we move from town to town, we continue to be surrounded by mountains, seas and lovely cloud formations backlit by the ever present sunlight. We have yet to see the stars, as we fall asleep often looking up at the blue gray sky of dusk and wake up to the same light, except it’s dawn.
Each town we stop in has its own character. It was a pleasant reprieve to just arrive in Haines with no checklist or agenda. We walked the first night to dinner out at the fairgrounds about a mile, then took the long way back to wander around the old Fort Seward area and the abandoned cruise dock.
While in port, we do a fair amount of walking, which is welcome after traveling in the boat. Haines was a small town that seemed to ignore the fact that we were transients. The shop folks let us browse without hovering. If I felt like it I chatted with them about our trip. I walked around uptown, and strolled back over to the fairgrounds for their farmers market. My cure for disappointment is retail therapy. (As Les mentioned the Hammer Museum was not open during our stay in Haines.) It was the one attraction that I requested to be part of our itinerary.
But alas it wasn’t meant to be, however I did find a beach and because we had such nice weather (sunny days) I went to sit and enjoy the scenery. I have been missing our dog, and so it was sweet when a little dog arrived and sat near me on the beach. The next day he brought a friend, and we sat together until the horseflies chased us each away. I ambled up towards Fort Seward, and found the ruins of one of the barracks. Some rusty, discarded pipes/tubes were lined against the wall. Upon closer inspection what looked like remnants of an unfinished project, I discovered that the ruins housed a sculpture park.
My favorite piece was interactive. It was labeled “Take Time” and was an hour glass with a handle to turn it. So I took some time by turning the handle, and continued to wander around the ruins. I sat at a picnic table to jot down some thoughts and sketch one of the sculptures. It was some much needed me time. Even though I mentioned that we are often by ourselves on this journey, we each appreciate getting off alone to pursue our own interests. It truly fills my soul to sit outdoors and witness the juxtaposition of nature and art.
Haines captured my heart. Its beach, the sculpture park, the shops and friendly shopkeepers, the library, plenty of public restrooms, soft serve ice cream, the coffee shop, and the farmers market. Oh, did I mention the breathtaking mountains that stood watch over us at every turn. I was thankful when the wind picked up, keeping us in port an extra day.
Skagway is the northern most point on our itinerary. We were excited to meet this town just 17 miles north of Haines. It too had its own character, and at first it seemed like we entered the set of a well-kept ghost town. The marina felt empty. The town sits screened behind trees, so we really felt alone when we arrived at 8am on a Sunday morning.
The streets were empty. Stores were closed. The train that normally runs to the Yukon basin was shut down until later in the month. At the historic park visitor center, the ranger told us that the locals party on Saturday night and sleep on Sundays. “Whatever would be open Sunday, most likely would be open on Monday, too,” he informed us. Not very promising, since the grocery and hardware store and most restaurants were closed. We walked down Broadway and read some signs about the Gold Rush era. In one back alley we heard saloon music from the 1890s and a sign saying we could pan for gold. We passed on by to discover that the Harley Davidson souvenir store didn’t plan to open until August 8th. We ate dinner on our boat. Les made egg and cheese burritos.
On Monday the town seemed to wake up a bit, but still lots of places were closed or didn’t open until noon or so. We did our laundry and picked up groceries. Found great sandwiches at the Glacial Coffeehouse for lunch. Around dinner time, I was longing for Papa Johns. Les pulled out his phone and called the local pizza/Mexican food restaurant to see if they were open. They were! We walked back into town and ordered a pizza each, and they even made mine special order with no tomato sauce. I had spinach, black olives, feta cheese, mozzarella and grilled chicken. We definitely were well fed in Skagway.
Next stop, hopefully Glacier Bay National Park!
Give me your lantern and compass,
give me a map,
So I can find my way to the sacred mountain,
to the place of your presence,
To enter the place of worship,
meet my exuberant God,
Sing my thanks with a harp,
magnificent God, my God.
Psalm 43:4-6 The Message