Ken's Journal
No. 5 - Summer 2005

Valdez, Alaska
June 30 - July 4, 2005 - Days 30-34 on the road. Part I.

I picked up Lesley at the Anchorage Airport on the 28th and we headed out for Valdez the next afternoon. After spending the night in a small campground near Glacier View on the Glenn Highway, we arrived on the 30th. The weather turned to crap just about the time we went over the Thompson pass and down into Valdez. The weather stayed bad for the duration of our stay. Not to let the weather get the best of us, we pressed on with out plans! We had planned a couple hikes, perhaps to a glacier, and a day-cruise into Port Valdez, over to Bligh Reef (famous for the Exxon-Valdez disaster), around Glacier Island and to the foot of the Columbia Glacier. Our hope was to see some wildlife - seals, orcas, otters, the glacier, whatever - but mother nature wasn't too cooperative.

I put the RV in a campground right on the water, looking out on the bay, not more than 50 feet from the entrance to the Small Boat Harbor. Called the Sea Otter RV Park, it lived up to it's name as we watched Sea Otters playing and feeding right out the front window of the motor home.

A commercial fishing boat coming back in after a day of work. As you can see, the weather left a bit to be desired.

In addition to hosting the end of the Alaska Pipeline, Valdez is famous for it's salmon fishery. Here's one of the commercial fishing boats in the Small Boat Harbor. This one is a purse-seiner. Basically, these guys catch salmon by encircling them with a long net and drawing, or pursing, the bottom closed to capture them. The net is set into the water while the boat travels in a large circle around the fish, The far end of the net is attached to a power skiff, which holds it while the seiner completes the circle, The top of the net floats while the weighted bottom falls like a curtain, The bottom is pursed, the fish are trapped, the net is hauled in and the fish are transferred to the hold of the boat.

We scheduled the harbor cruise for the day after our arrival, hoping the weather would clear. But that was not to happen.

We did get a good tour of the fishery business as the pinks were running and the fishing grounds were only ten minutes out of the Small Boat Harbor!

The Chelsea Dawn has a problem common to many of the seiners when the salmon are running heavy - they have more fish in the net than they can bring aboard at once - either the winch will burn-out or the boat will capsize!

So what they do is rig a hand net to the winch and dip fish out of the main net until weight of the net and the remaining fish can safely be hauled aboard. Here they're working the dip net into the main net. The dip net is held over the hold and the bottom of the net is opened to drop the fish.

In the background you can see one of the cannery ships. Once a seiner fills his hold with fish, he can off-load his haul to the cannery ship and avoid a tedious journey back to the cannery so he has more fishing time. The cannery ship will weigh the catch and pay cash on the spot.

Now the main net is empty enough to pull aboard. Look carefully and you can see fish spilling out of the scuppers! You can also see the lack of freeboard - this boat is ready for the cannery ship!

The guys working on these boats are mostly college kids working the summer for college (beer) money. The work is difficult, dangerous and cold. Some of the college kids work in the cannery cleaning fish on the line - up to their elbows in fish guts and freezing brine for 10-12 hours a day. Even though the pay is good, most of these kids find a different job the next year.

A seiner can also off-load directly to the cannery - shown here is the cannery vacuum sucking the fish out of a seiner's hold. The cannery ship sucks the fish out the same way.

Steller Sea Lions relaxing on Glacier Island.
A passel of 'em? (a herd? a flock? a what?)

The shore Glacier Island is quite rocky and drops off quickly - here, just 50 feet off shore, we're in a couple hundred feet of water. A couple Steller Sea Lions hanging around on the right.

At this point we're still about a half mile from the face of Columbia Glacier. We can't get any closer as there are no leads through the iceberg field. The Captain indicated that just a week before, you could get right to the face of the glacier - but there was a major iceberg calving event that filled the bay below the face. This is the result.

Fog rolling off the headland at the entrance to Shoup Bay. Even if the weather is sucky, there's always some beauty to be found.

Ever wonder why glacier ice is blue? Well, it seems that under the intense pressure of snow layer upon snow layer, small ice crystals are pressed tightly together until the they absorb all but the shortest wavelengths of light - the blues - so that's reflected and that's what you see.

Next - Valdez, Part II
Page 11