Filling in for his father, Allan Engstrom takes us on a trip around Chichagof Island

Posted: Friday, July 16, 2004

My son, Allan, I hope with the good wishes of the readership, is taking over for me to write this week's column. Here it is:

Recently, I decided to take a trip around Chichagof Island in my 23-foot Olympic. Starting from Juneau on July 1, it took a little over three hours to make South Inian Pass, which leads to Cross Sound and the outer coast.

It was here in 1804 that Alexander Baranov, accompanied by a fleet of 600 Kodiak natives in their double-seated kayaks, became trapped in the pack ice and fog and nearly lost his 51-foot sailing galley, the Yermak. In a letter to a subordinate, Baranov described the experience of being pulled through South Inian Pass by the strong current as "like going into the mouth of hell."

I found calm weather and little fog, and of course drifting pack ice is no longer a problem. After refueling in Elfin Cove, we ran around the corner to Lisianski Inlet and then into Pelican. Yuri Lisianski, captain of the Neva, spent over a year in Alaska in 1804 and 1805, and played a key role in the Battle of Sitka. However, according to his own account, he never visited the inlet or the nearby strait that today bears his name.

Pelican is a wonderful little community, a true gem on the outer coast. As I understood it, the cold storage is being used as a buying station for a co-op of fishermen out of Sitka. No processing takes place on site. A skeleton crew runs the plant, and the fuel dock and store are still in operation.

Most of the trollers were absent, a few fishing off Yakobi Island, with the rest out on the Fairweather Grounds. During the evening of July 1 and the following day, a lone troller worked the area around Pelican. In silent splendor, he plied each shore of Lisianski Inlet in turn. Although it may not make up for the loss of the processing plant and its large crew of seasonal workers, Pelican is beginning to benefit from increased tourism. A few very large private yachts with names like Black Tie sat with regal luxury alongside my little red Olympic. A few tourists out on charters leisurely strolled the boardwalk.

A crucial question for Pelican is one of access. Although there are daily seaplane flights, the ferry stops only twice a month in the summertime. If there is one spot where the state could step in and give a boost to Pelican's economy, it is with regard to ferry service.

With the recent grounding of the LeConte, the state did step in. A contract was signed with Allen Marine for a high-speed passenger ferry. The state should increase this service, and operate every week. The catamaran makes the run from Juneau in under four hours, and the service provides tangible benefits. For those Juneauites who have never seen the horizon of the broad Pacific along the rugged outer coast, Pelican is now a short trip away. On Sunday, July 18, for a $92 round-trip, you can step aboard the catamaran at 7 a.m. at the Auke Bay dock, and arrive in Pelican by 11, just in time for lunch at one of the finest gourmet eateries in Southeast, the Lisianski Inlet Café. I recommend the homemade clam chowder and a large helping of fresh-caught ling-cod fish-and-chips.

Afterward, you can take a stroll up the boardwalk and stop for a cold one at Rosie's Bar and Grill, a real Southeast institution. I am sure Rosie will be waiting to welcome you with the same hospitality that I found. She has a heart of gold, and hers is the only place I know where you can stand up on the bar, pin a dollar bill to the ceiling and show off your pride in a Pelican tradition.

Just don't spend too much time shooting pool; you will need to be back aboard by 11:45 a.m. for the return trip to Juneau. If there is one suggestion I would make to Allen Marine, have your captains spend a few hours in Pelican. A 45-minute turnaround is too quick for many day trippers from Juneau, and the businesses of Pelican would benefit from the increased layover.

On July 3, with a big hug from Rosie and 20 pounds of smoked salmon from Aggie and Martha Moi, I left Pelican and headed south along the outer coast of Chichagof, through Peril Strait and then finally north toward Tenakee, which we reached at nightfall. After seven hours of running on step, I was pretty well beat up. It was too long a trip for a single day. The only thing that kept us going, other than a compact disc of John Denver's Greatest Hits stuck in an endless loop of "Country roads take me home," was the thought of the Tenakee Fourth of July Picnic and the king crab legs and Cajun jumbo shrimp that are yearly staples.

Honorable mention this year goes to the retired southeast manager of NBA. Pete Crandall is keeper of the flame of the Tenakee Bar-B-Q, and his grilled franks were out of this world. In the words of the above-mentioned balladeer, they were "almost heaven," and so tender that they rivaled the king crab legs in perfection. Pete, if you put em in a red shell, I could not have told the difference.

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