After lunch on Day 2 of our exploration of Alaska’s Inside Passage, we cruised back along Frederick Sound towards the small fishing town of Petersburg; it was the only town we would visit on this trip. As you can see, we hadn’t travelled very far, but that was the real purpose of this expedition; to take the time to slow down; to really explore and enjoy this wilderness environment far from the busyness of daily life.
Once more we were awed by the majesty of snow topped mountains.
Chunks of ice continued to float by; strange, natural sculptures.
Ice chunks such as this were a very important part of the story of Petersburg.
As we turned into a narrow channel off Frederick Sound, a group of houses came into view and a small fishing boat passed us on its way out. Petersburg’s reason for existing is fishing!
The town was built here in this beautiful but isolated part of the wilderness for two reasons; an abundance of fish in the icy cold waters and an abundance of ice. Before the days of large scale refrigeration, those ice chunks that come from the LeConte Glacier were used to keep the fish fresh until it could be canned or sent fresh to market.
The waters here are tidal and some buildings along the edge are on poles.
Many houses have steep roofs because of the abundance of snow.
As we entered the port, our attention was taken by a bald eagle.
They are truly magnificent birds.
It landed on one of the navigation markers as we went by.
As we came closer, it began to feast on its catch.
These eagles are not like the town scavengers we had seen in Juneau.
The waterfront at Petersburg is lined with fish processing sheds in which over 45.5 million kilos (100 million pd) of fish and shellfish are processed annually; canned, smoked and fresh. That’s a lot of fish from one very remote, small village!
The types of fish caught here include all five species of salmon; king (chinook); coho (silver); pink (humpy); sockeye (red); and chum (dog). Other fish include halibut (a bottom feeder), ling cod, Pacific cod, herring and several species of rock fish. Shellfish such as Dungeness Crab, King Crab, Tanner, shrimp, scallops and clams are also caught in these cold waters.
Just reading that list makes my mouth water. We ate salmon cooked in a variety of ways of during our trip but, on this night in Petersburg, we were promised a fabulous feast of Dungeness crab.
One of the sheds is adorned with a Viking Ship emblem, and for very good reason. This fishing village was founded more than 100 years ago by Norwegian fisherman, Peter Buschmann, after whom the village is named. He arrived in the area in the late 1890s; that’s after the start of the gold rush in the Juneau / Skagway areas. What this astute fisherman noted was the possibilities of this fine harbour tucked away off Frederick Sound with its abundance of fish, an abundance of ice floating by in the Sound and an abundance of timber for building. With other Scandinavian fishermen he set up a sawmill, a homestead, a dock and and a cannery. Today the village is known as ‘little Norway” and is still populated by people who are largely of Scandinavian origin.
Building and boat repairs are other important occupations in the village.
The boat on the right will certainly need repairs!
Most fishing boats are kept in good condition. They need to be. Fishermen’s lives depend on the good maintenance of their boats. Not long before we arrived there, one boat that had not been properly repaired went down. Fortunately they had done a safety drill before they left port and their radio call brought the rescue helicopter to their aid. All of the men were winched to safety… the last man just as the boat sank from sight. But imagine what it was like in days past, when there was no rescue helicopter; a great many men were lost while fishing.
The marina is filled with fishing boats of a variety of sizes and purposes. Three different kinds predominate; trollers, which bring fish in using lines with baited hooks; gilnetters, which use large curtain-like nets to entangle fish; and purse seiners, like the one we saw earlier in Frederick Sound, which let out a large net drawn in a circle before closing it at the bottom like a purse. Their goal is salmon swimming near the surface.
There were plenty of smaller boats in the marina as well… the main way to get anywhere here is by water. In fact, apart from flying in, the only way to get anywhere is by water. A ferry system connects Petersburg to Juneau in the north and Ketchikan in the south. Small ships, like ours, bring visitors to the area although none of the big cruise liners come here… the port is far too small. Leisure fishermen and hikers arrive by sea plane or by daily commercial flights to Petersburg’s small airport. So although commercial fishing is the mainstay of the economy, tourism does play a part. Fishing tourism is particularly popular here in summer.
Finally Captain Shaun brought the “Sea Lion” into our dock for the day and our DIBs were prepared for one of the afternoon’s excursion. While some chose to fly over the glaciers, others took a bike to explore the area. Others met with some of the old ‘sea salts’ of the town to learn more about life in this port. We chose the option of a walk and a plant hunt.
For this walk, we first had to cross the bay in the DIBs and then climb that hill on the other side. Our goal was to walk up through various areas of forest until we reached a muskeg bog up on the plateau. We were promised that we would find some very interesting plants… and we did.
More of that walk in the next post.
Jennie and David
All photographs copyright © JT and DY of jtdytravels
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