Homeward Bound

As we are heading back to the house, we are met by multiple police, fire, and EMT vehicles with red lights flashing.

continued from "Back in the USA"

September 03, 2012

9:45 PM - The ferry departs Haines headed toward Skagway Alaska. There are two stops along this route … Skagway and Juneau, so I will not arrive in Sitka until 1:00 PM the next day September 4, 2012.

When the first Alaska state ferry sailed northbound through the Inside Passage of Alaska on its maiden voyage in January of 1963, there was rejoicing along the entire route from Ketchikan to Haines at the head of Lynn Canal. "At last!" Cars and even trucks and vans could now travel to and from isolated island-bound towns all along the 450-mile length of Southeastern Alaska's Panhandle. At either end they could roll off the ferry's ramp onto terra firma, connected to road systems north or south! The roadless towns of the famed Inside Passage finally had a "highway" from Prince Rupert B.C. to Haines, Alaska ... even if it happened to be paved with salt water and used marine charts instead of road maps.

South East, Alaska Ferry Routes

For forty-one years state ferries have navigated the waters of the Inside Passage, adding additional vessels and routes as the system grows. Today the trim blue and white vessels with the painted eight-stars-of gold of Alaska's flag shining on their smokestacks sail along additional routes between Whittier and Valdez, to Kodiak, between otherwise isolated Native villages, and along the Aleutian's chain of even more remote islands. The state ferries deliver passengers, freight, news, gossip, and good cheer. The ferry system is the state's lifeline along the routes of towns without road connection to the outside world.

Heading into Sitka, an AMHS ferry shows off stunning views of Alaska.

photo: AK on the GO

10:45 PM - The Ferry arrives one hour later in Skagway to load and unload passengers and vehicles. The ship departs shortly for Juneau. I decide to have a light dinner before hitting the rack. The onboard galley has a good selection of cafeteria-style food. Sitting down at a table, I observe the mix of passengers: Tourists, local natives, college students, residents, tree huggers, and beings I cannot put a label on. I see a face walking by I recognize. It’s Ben, the young college student with the motorcycle. He is arm in arm with the two smiling female "photographers" that we saw earlier at the Haines ferry dock. I surmise he has found a comfortable area to hang out for the cruise. I head for my cabin to shower and saw logs.

12:15 AM - Two hours and thirty minutes later I am awakened by different noises and motions on the ship. The ferry docks at Juneau for loading and unloading. I look out the porthole in my cabin and see lights and movement along the dock. Lying down again, I begin to dream about Corvettes and racing.

Hours later I am again awakened by different sounds and motions. I am assuming the ferry is preparing to depart Juneau for Sitka. I slip back into the state of dream land, good and bad.

7:00 AM - I open my eyes, shake the cobwebs out, and head for the ship’s galley for cup of "joe". Walking to the enclosed foredeck, I sit to enjoy my coffee and the outstanding view and surroundings. I recognize the route and area from fishing and crabbing forays I have enjoyed for several years. The state ferry passes through many historical areas I have read about in Russian ship logs and documents from the late 1700’s. There are also many native stories and legends brought to mind as well.

The channel narrows drastically as the water begins to violently swirl and rush around the ferry. Whirlpools create a shudder aboard the 7,745 ton ship as we enter the Peril Straits. The strait was named by early Russian trapper traders because of a fatal incident during a seal fur hunting expedition sent by Alexander Baranov in 1799.

Baranov employed Native Aleut hunters. The hunting party, when reaching the swirling waters of Peril Strait, was forced to land and wait for the raging tide to subside and change. While ashore, the northern tribe members gathered mussels for supper. This was normal practice for traveling hunters and fishermen. Soon after cooking and eating the shellfish, the majority of the hunters became violently ill and died. The survivors of this shellfish poisoning, were able to immediately drink soap foam and ashes. This enabled a small group of the hunting party to live by inducing vomiting and expelling the tainted mussels. This deadly toxin dinner resulted in approximately one hundred and fifty deaths. Beyond Peril Strait are the points Poison Cove and Deadman's Reach, also named for the incident.

Passing through the straits, the four hundred and eighteen foot state ferry continues ever onward toward Sitka. Weather conditions are excellent. Several miles from Sitka, I finally get cell phone signal. Very quickly I call Steph to let her know the ferry is on schedule. The phone signal is lost again.

September 04, 2012

11:00 AM - Eight hours and thirty minutes after departing Juneau, the ferry arrives at the state ferry dock next to the first Russian settlement in Sitka, Redoubt Saint Michael, also called "Old Sitka".

"Accessible only by air or sea, Sitka offers incredible scenery, fishing, hiking, abundant wildlife, and Alaska’s most culturally rich history and community. There are twenty two buildings and sites in Sitka that appear in the National Register of Historic Places. Old Sitka was founded in 1799 by Alexander Baranov, the governor of Russian America. Baranov arrived under the auspices of the Russian-American Company, a "semi- official" colonial trading company chartered by the Tsar Paul I. In 1802, a group of Tlingit warriors destroyed Redoubt Saint Michael and massacred most of the Russian inhabitants. Baranov was forced to levy 10,000 rubles in ransom for the safe return of the surviving settlers. He returned to Sitka in 1804 with a large contingent of Russians and Aleuts aboard the Russian warship Neva. The ship bombarded the natives' village, forcing the Tlingits to retreat into the surrounding forest. Following their victory at the Battle of Sitka, the Russians established a permanent settlement in the form of a fort named "Novoarkhangelsk" (or "New Archangel," a reference to Arkhangelsk, the largest city in the region where Baranov was born). In 1808, with Baranov still governor, Sitka was designated the capital of "Russian America."

Sitka was the site of the ceremony in which the Russian flag was lowered and the United States flag raised after Alaska was purchased by the United States in 1867. The flag lowering and raising event is re-enacted in Sitka every October 18 (Alaska Day).

Russia offered to sell Alaska to the United States in 1859, believing the United States would off-set the designs of Russia’s greatest rival in the Pacific, Great Britain. The looming U.S. Civil War delayed the sale, but after the war, Secretary of State William Seward quickly took up a renewed Russian offer and, on March 30, 1867, agreed to a proposal from the Russian Minister in Washington to purchase Alaska for $7.2 million. The Senate approved the treaty of purchase on April 9, President Andrew Johnson signed the treaty on May 28, and Alaska was formally transferred to the United States on October 18, 1867. This purchase ended Russia’s presence in North America and ensured U.S. access to the Pacific northern rim.

For three decades after its purchase the United States paid little attention to Alaska, which was governed under military, naval, or Treasury rule or, at times, no visible rule at all. Seeking a way to impose U.S. mining laws, the United States constituted a civil government in 1884. Skeptics had dubbed the purchase of Alaska "Seward’s Folly," but the former Secretary of State was vindicated when a major gold deposit was discovered in the Yukon in 1896, and Alaska became the gateway to the Klondike gold fields.

William Seward was appointed as President Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of State throughout Lincoln’s presidency and the United States Civil War. On April 14, 1865 President Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth. At almost the exact time, William Seward was stabbed multiple times by another Southern conspirator as he lay in bed recuperating from a fall from his horse. Though terribly wounded, the bandages from the equestrian accident and a lone military body guard were the only things the prevented Seward’s death.

The strategic importance of Alaska was finally recognized in World War II. Alaska became the 49th state on January 3, 1959.

The Ferry crew is fast and efficient. Within a matter of minutes, I am able to drive the Corvette off the ferry and into the parking lot. One of the female crew walks over to the Corvette and whistles. She asks "What are you doing in my car?" We both laugh.

Ben, the young man with the motorcycle waves for me to stop. We trade contact information. Ben then asks if there are any hiking trails close by. The Ferry had a four hour layover before departing for the next southern port. I point out the window and tell him less than half mile away was several great trails. I also added the brown bears were out feeding on the nearby salmon runs and to be watchful. There are nearly the same amount of brown bears living on Baranov Island where Sitka is located as there are human beings. Ben laughs and replies, "Hey I’m Alaskan. Bears don’t bother me!" We wave goodbye and he walks briskly toward the trails and stream with the two girls he met on the ferry.

Alaskan Brown Bears - not to be taken lightly

Photo: Stephanie Lambdin Productions

I drive toward town waving at the few oncoming vehicles waving at the Corvette. Stephanie, having picked up the kids from school, pulls into our driveway the same time I do. After hugs and kisses all around, they all want to be first to take a ride in the "new" car. "All right then." We all squeeze into the little coupe (except the dog) and go for a ride to the end of the road back toward the ferry terminal.

Taking my daughter, Hunter, for a spin on our 15 miles of road

With only 15 miles of road, very sparse traffic, and a 45 mph speed limit, it is not as dangerous as driving in Los Angeles. Reaching the end of the road, we turn around at the Starrigavan Creek National Park. As we are heading back to the house, we are met by multiple police, fire, and EMT vehicles with red lights flashing. The convoy of first responders is heading toward where we had just turned around at, the Starrigavan Park campgrounds.

We bring the Corvette back to her new home and parked her in the garage. That evening I receive an email from Ben, the young college student on the ferry. He explains that while walking the Starrigavan Park trail, he and the two girls had been attacked by a momma brown bear. They escaped but not without scratches and minor bear bites on the slowest girl's buttocks.

"But now ask the beasts, and let them teach you;

And the birds of the heavens, and let them tell you."

Job 12:7

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