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Thursday, July 8, 2010

6/17 Headed to Sitka

After leaving Pelican we again poked out into the Gulf of AK. The winds had died down from their worst levels so the going wasn't too bad. Island Bound was designed for ocean cruising so the wave heights were not a problem for us. But the ride is always bumpy as you work your way over the shallows into deeper water. Our destination for the night was the old Chichagof village site on Klag Bay.

Rather than the more frequented "smooth channel route" we stayed off shore before turning north through "the Gate." "The Gate" is a channel that is only 4 3/4 fathoms deep and a mere 50 yards wide. We worked our way through using the day beacons that would hopefully keep us of a 1 fathom shoal that lies 20 yards into small 50 yard space you have to work with. It is suggested that you enter only on a slack ebb tide but as is often our lot our timing was off and we arrived on a rising flood tide.

Moving in off the Gulf from open water and through the surrounding islets was an odd feeling. On a high tide the surrounding islets looked almost smothered, as if the coves and bays were too full. There was little but high water marks along tree lines and small pocket beaches that looked like manicured lawns. I was ever hopeful that we would see some bears -instead the tiny beaches were deserted.

We came to Klag Bay to see the abandoned town of Chichigof. From 1905 through the late 1930's more than 13,000,000.00 in gold was taken from the ground here. Our favorite guide book wrote that the village site is the highlight of Chichigof Island for many cruisers. What we found was a silent drizzly void of time. Most of the old buildings are in much worse shape that the book depicted. Most prominent is a four story high heap of tailings' from the mining operation that is now partly covered with trees and brush. There are bits and pieces of machinery and leftover cast offs from the mining company littering the beaches. Most of the old houses are nothing but ruin. From the dinghy we were able to pick out where the boardwalk would have wound its way along the beach front but there is nothing left but scraggly timbers embeded in the beach.

West of the main town sight we were able to walk into one old building. We could tell that people continued to occupy this old cabin well after the rest of Chichigof was shut down. The stairs were long since washed away but there was an old board set in place so we gingerly worked our way inside. The floor was littered with bits and pieces of a life now gone. There were shelves with cans of soup and home canned food along with old bottles and bits of glass. An old extract bottle stood upright on one shelf, still half way full with its lid rusted on. The moldy sheets of curling wall paper torn from the walls lay along side old news papers with a date from the early 90's. There was an old gas can and a bedroom area with a couple of old damp mattresses. We could see where three stoves were and look out the windows to the beach but the floors are rotting away and we had to be carefull where we stepped.

On the other end of town along the beach where the mound of tailings are lay three twisted and bent helicopter blades??? An old barge made of massive rough cedar sits in the mud on low tide. Here, bits and piles of steam engines and the like litter the beach. The beach itself is a dark black sticky mud. I dropped a crab pot when we arrived (unsuccessful again!) and when I pulled it later is was wearing this black goo that has a decidedly rank smell. I tried fishing for some crab pot bait and only got one faint small nibble. I wondered if the beach itself and the surrounding waters have been contaminated by the what ever they used to help extract the gold. There was no sign of wildlife, no tracks or scat around the ruins and no bear in the rich sedges along surrounding beaches. All in all it was pretty and secluded and it was good to get out and stretch our legs but it was somehow a bit disappointing.

After walking the beaches in the morning we headed out into the Gulf again and off to Sitka. The weather started out as another typical Alaska summer day (rain.) But by the time we arrived in Sitka the sun was up and warm enough to strip off the rain gear before entering the harbor. Once in Sitka proper the town beaches were filled with sun bathers! A wonderful bit of warm weather and a unsurpassed warm welcome in Sitka. The harbor master and company greeted us at the dock to take a line then stayed to talk for five minutes giving us maps and suggestions on the best places to eat and what to see while we were there.

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