One June 17, 2004 our entire family of thirty-two, including grandparents Rolf and Marg Hougen, six families, and eighteen grand-children drove to Skagway to begin our Southeast Alaska ocean adventure. We took the brand-new fast-ferry, the “Fairweather” to Juneau in about two hours. Al and Linnea Castagner, along with Linnea’s mother Swanie (Rolf’s sister) had gone down to Juneau a few days earlier in Krafty II, which was to be our mother ship for the week’s adventure. Al was the undisputed “Admiral of the Fleet” due to his extensive experience in Southeast Alaska and his experience in fishing these waters.
The vessels for our trip were four Nordic Tug boats – two 42’ models, a 37’ and a 32’ and of course Al’s 28’ GlasPly. We spent the next day buying groceries and other supplies for the boats. Later in the day, we received our “operational course” and check-out for the Nordic Tugs. We took possession of the boats later that evening.
We were up at 6am the next day and on out way to Al’s Secret Cove in Icy Straight. Some boats went out halibut fishing; others just relaxed and took in the breath-taking scenery. We set out several crab pots that evening. The next morning, we checked the pots and had caught plenty of Dungeness crabs – all of the grandchildren participated in the cleaning of crabs and halibut. After another great (and successful) day fishing, we had a wonderful seafood feast that lasted until well after midnight!
The next day we were off to Hoonah, a picturesque Tlingit village situated about 40 miles west of Juneau on Chichagof Island. This is the largest Tlingit village in Alaska with a population of about 900 with the economy based on commercial fishing and lodging, and more recently cruiseships. We spent a few hours there getting a few needed items and we set course to Glacier Bay National Park. It is mandatory to pre-register in order to be allowed entry into this park. We cruised into the Park Warden Centre and registered, stopped by the amazing Glacier Bay Lodge and then headed north and set anchor in a sheltered bay.
We had the most amazingly hot weather, with mostly calm seas and no rain for the entire trip. That’s pretty good for Southeast Alaska. Day 4 was no exception: we were up early and went to Marble Island which is well known for the many sea lions and puffins that inhabit there. We saw hundreds of sea lions but few puffins. From there we were off for the 3 hour trip to Elfin Cove – a small town of about 50 people. It’s a fish-buying and supply center for fishermen. Residents participate in commercial fishing, sport fishing and charter services. We took the South Inian route to this town, which was quite rough with a lot of tidal action. The people there treated us like family and even opened up the gym that evening so the 18 grandkids (and a few adults) could let off a little steam after being on the boats for the better part of 4 days.
After a foggy morning, Day 5 saw us fishing our way back to Hoonah. We paused for an hour to watch the whales put on a show and then did some serious halibut fishing. All 18 grandchildren could claim that they had landed a halibut by the end of the day! Le Grand Fromage (Rolf) caught the biggest one of the day at 73 pounds. We spent the night in the Hoonah harbour.
After a relaxing morning we fished our way back to Al’s Secret Cove for our final night of the boat trip. We got some more halibut and a few salmon, and spent the evening cleaning, cutting and packaging fish. Of course, we had another great seafood dinner.
On Day 7, we reluctantly headed back for Juneau. We had a great family trip in a very special part of the world. Southeast Alaska is so close to home, yet it’s such a different environment on the ocean – so dynamic and alive. It makes one wonder what the heck the Canadian negotiators were thinking when they were negotiating the borders of the Alaskan Panhandle in the late 1800’s. That’s another story…
Recollections by Kelly Hougen