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When Visitors Come to a Remote Alaskan Island

Imagine, if you will, a California beach boy.  His wavy blond hair back lit by the summer sun.  (Well, actually May doesn’t count as summer as our story begins in Southeast Alaska. The seasonal cannery workers may have arrived but the sun still lies low on the Southern horizon.)  His shoulders are tan and muscular.  (Tan?) Set off by the spaghetti straps on this spandex singlet. (Revealing halibut-belly white shins!) On his feet are in line skates as he moves through town.  (Many homes in banner-hung Petersburg are built on gravel roads, so skating and skateboarding aren’t real popular here.)  As he comes to the abrupt end of downtown his face takes on a forlorn look with the sudden realization that, “Toto, I have a feeling we aren’t in Kansas anymore.”  In contrast his fellow cannery workers on a cigarette break as he passed the cannery wore the orange bibs from their rain gear, hairnets, Xtratuffs and probably still had on their orange rubber gloves.  The men he had skated around in town, as they stood in the middle of the street talking to friends in cars that blocked traffic, wore heavy sweaters, rounded bill baseball caps and jeans.  Alaska is different!


The liaison for a person transferring to Petersburg was once contact by new employees’ realtor.  Noting that housing prices in nearby Wrangell were substantial lower, the realtor wondered about the commute time between the two communities on the Alaska Marine Highway.  “Well, if it is high tide you can come through Dry Straits in an hour otherwise it is an hour and a half coming through the Wrangell Narrows.”  To his disbelief the realtor discovered that Wrangell and Petersburg were situated on island with no connecting roads and that Alaska Marine Highway on the maps marks the route of the ferry service.    Alaska is different!


Alaskan try to being nice about the differences with visitors;

  • When the visitors come to Petersburg in their fifth wheel trailer, they’re worried about ice for their coolers, we reassure them we can boat over to Le Conte glacier and chip plenty of ice off a passing iceberg.
  • When taking visitors out to check our crab pots at low tide. We kill the out board, glide to the pot, kick off our shoes and leap over board into a foot of water. The gasp!
  • When they ask on the docks what altitude Petersburg is at, we respond that it is the same latitude as Denmark.
  • So they get the full Alaska experience, we pick up visitors at the ferry terminal or cruise ship dock by skiff and boat them to the crane dock, instead of just driving there.


One final example, my helicopter pilot and I flew into a work site on Kuiu Island a few days ahead of the job.  We would be part of the team slinging in trail building material to a fish ladder.  I asked when the stacked trail planks laying about would be bundled up.  And was told by the fisheries person in charge, “The day of the job.” A little surprised I asked how he was going to tie off the planks until then.  He seemed a little confused.  “This area (the grass between the beach and the forest) is tidal.”  Nothing.  “And it’s at the mouth of a stream.  They’ll be washed away.” To which he replied rather heated.  “I have a masters degree from USC.”  I went to school at University of Southern California too.  Los Angeles has “astronomical high tides known King Tides” that run 8 foot at the most.  Southeast Alaska has high tides of 22 feet.  Alaska’s a little different.  The day of the actual sling job entailed boats full of workers, the helicopter with sling gear and crew members and  a beaver of floats full of brass.   I guess, the boss’ cussing could be heard over the    deHavilland’s engine.  Planks were scattered for five miles either direction on Keku Straits.   Obviously the job was postponed.  I gave the big wig the name of a local boy who could manage the project properly and flew away.   Alaska is different!


Author - William Moulton