Sitka, Alaska is a flat out cool spot. Pulling into the harbor’s western anchorage through the breakwater, we could instantly tell the place was special. On our approach from the north after spending a quiet night in a nearby cove, Jill and I remarked to each other about how beautiful the town appeared to be from the water. With sun gleaming off of craggy, snowcapped mountains that seemed to shoot straight up from the city’s subdued skyline, and tall, green conifers growing thick underneath it all, there was just something about the scene that instantly captured the senses.
After rounding the top of Baranof Island en route from Warm Springs Bay and stopping at a handful of anchorages along the way, it had been over three weeks since we left Ketchikan and Yahtzee and her crew were in need of a good stock up and cleaning. If there ever was a place to enjoy some time ashore, get things done and eat a few good meals, our five days in Sitka was it.
One of our favorite parts about cruising in Southeast Alaska thus far has been discovering the vast wilderness dotted by small communities nestled among it. But getting to Sitka, with a population of roughly 9,000 Alaskans, meant we were in for more people, stores, restaurants and shoreside activities. After settling into Eliason Harbor among the rustic and hearty North Pacific fishing fleet, Jill and the boys quickly made for town while I hooked to the Internet to bang out some work.
I soon received a call to meet for lunch and from that moment, our family time in Sitka was on. Near the marina we found a grocery store, laundromat, park and a McDonalds where the boys redeemed coupons for free ice cream that were given to them for wearing their life jackets on the dock and boat by members of the Sitka Coast Guard Auxiliary. From there we ventured to downtown, which is a modest 10-minute walk. Along the way we found ourselves passing through a working waterfront where seafood processing facilities, along with the various marinas, perfectly showcased the town’s deep roots in the sea.
We found Sitka’s downtown area to be a quaint mix of store fronts, restaurants, parks and historic sites that all look out over the water or up at sweeping mountain views. The only thing that changes the complexion of its streets is when a cruise ship and its thousands of gaping tourists descend upon the sidewalks and attractions. There was one ship in port while we were there and though the throngs of passengers can seem to be a minor annoyance, we fully understand the need for this financial shot in the arm in a world that is increasingly driven by the almighty dollar.
While the conveniences of the city were exciting to bask in, we also explored beautiful Sitka National Historical Park and Castle Hill, the former site of old fortifications and the home of the first Russian governor. Sitka is the ancestral home to the Tlingit people who lived full and imaginative lives here for thousands of years until the Russians came in 1799 and forced them from their land, only to sell Alaska to the United States in 1867. The town was later a hub for those seeking fortune in the Alaska Gold Rush. Storyboards throughout the park tell the interesting history of the area, and we also used the space to enjoy the stunning views, play chase and burn off some young energy. Another popular attraction in Sitka is the educational Raptor Center, which is a rehabilitation facility for eagles, hawks and owls. Jill and the boys spent a morning there and highly recommend it.
Eating out and discovering what Sitka had to offer was certainly part of the fun, but our time there also meant business. I got a lot of writing and work done, and Yahtzee received some attending to as well. When Mother’s Day arrived, Jill said, “All I want for Mother’s Day is to learn how to change the engine oil.” And from that pleasant surprise we launched into a full on Sunday morning of engine servicing where we changed the oil, drive belt, impeller and fuel filters, and gave Old Blue a good cleaning. Though we prefer sailing and have done a lot of it, we are well aware that we’re not getting anywhere in Southeast Alaska, or most places for that matter, without a reliable engine, so it felt good to give it the love it needed.
Another project we finished up was to pull Yahtzee’s floor boards out for a cleaning and to thoroughly dry underneath them. While Jill worked down below, the boys and I scrubbed and hosed off the boards to rid them of any grime that had accumulated throughout the winter. Being on shore power enabled us to run the dehumidifier, which helped take away the last bit of moisture, and we went out for a bite to eat with an extra pep in our step for all we’d accomplished.
With the boat cleaned up and put back together in top shape, it was time to focus on ourselves. I gave the boys haircuts on the dock before turing the clippers on my own head and then they bathed in the cockpit under a bright blue sky. Jill’s a provisioning master and went for a couple big grocery runs and one last visit to the hardware store while Porter, Magnus and I got the boat ready to go.
As is our custom, we also made friends throughout town and on the docks. Two different cruising couples shared tips on the area and some of their favorite anchorages throughout Southeast Alaska that we have yet to visit. The boys made fast friends all over the dock, too, and Porter even got picked up and put on a couple commercial fishing boats — we better be careful or he’ll be headed out to sea for the summer with one of them before we know it.
Refreshed, re-stocked and ready to head back out into the wilds of Alaska with smiles on our faces, we finally broke free from the niceties of Sitka, aimed Yahtzee’s bow north and took off for whatever adventures are ahead. It was an incredible five days and we truly count the city as one of our favorite ports we’ve ever visited.