Alaska 2013, Day 58, Sitka Day 2
We scheduled a 2.5 hour wildlife cruise for 8 AM this morning with Captain Black. When we got up at 6:30 there was no wind and we were all fogged in. I called the captain at 7:30 and asked what he thought about the fog. He said that 1/4 mile out there was no fog and it turned out he was right. He started by showing us the pinks outside the marina (over by the Sheldon fish hatchery). We saw a small school of pinks actually in the marina from the top of the gang way. There was a big bull sea lion working the harbor channel for salmon. Outside he first went to a small rock island. There were oyster catchers and seals (harbor and fur). Next he went off the point just north of Sitka. At the point there were hundreds of seals hauled out on the beach. The beach had kelp hundreds of yards off shore and we could see the water was only 15 - 20 feet deep. There were 2 large rafts of sea otters. His final stop was St. Lazeria island which is a bird sanctuary. It is a small basalt island, maybe 1-2 miles around. It has high cliffs and pinacles. There were large groups of common murres in a cave and on a cliff. Tufted puffins were on the cliffs. We saw murrelets, auklets and cormorants. Along the east end of the island the cliffs drop straight into the water. We were there at low tide and the vertical walls on this side had orange and purple sea stars and green anenomes all along the water line. On the northwest corner as we left the island we saw auklets in the water.
The captain told me that very few cruise ships come in to Sitka anymore. Initially the city charged $700 for a cruise ship to anchor in the bay. The city realized it was costing them so they then went to $50 per person. The cruise companies had already locked their schedules in 12 months out so swallowed it for 1 year. The next year all the cruise ships pulled out. The city estimated that on average a cruise customer spends $80 in port of which they got %6 in sales tax (~$5). They estimated they lost $6 million every year once the cruise ships left town. A private investor built a floating dock at the container port for smaller cruise ships. He booked 1 cruise ship 1 time all his own. He brought buses out to ferry the passengers into town, all on his own. That cruise company then added his dock to their schedule for ~12 stops the next year. He then built a visitor center and got some more buses. The next year he got some more small cruise ships for a total of 45 ships this summer. The captain says cruise ships are finally returning.
After our cruise we walked downtown and hit some of the stores. Anna found a Skagway Far North pocket knife at Archangel Gifts.
Sitka Totem Park
We went back to the park so the kids could attend a ranger talk to finish their Junior Ranger badge.
Starrigavan Creek State Park
After the NP it was too late to go to the Raptor center so we drove out to the north end of the road to Starrigavan Creek State Park. The campground out here is like Sawmill but easier to get to (paved road to its entrance) and is larger. There are some larger sites, we saw 2 that said they could take up to 38' units. Most of the campgrounds are on the Estuary Loop (east side of road). Lots of salmon berries back here. We picked berries for half an hour before walking the estuary trail over to the bridge over Starrigavan Creek. There were lots of pinks in the creek. The looked to be just waiting in a group before going up further. Water was black with salmon.