Noting Changes on a Dynamic Coastline.

I used to transit Peril Strait a lot.   When I was chair of the Alaska Public Radio Network, I went back and forth to Juneau to lobby the state legislature frequently.  I loved sitting in the solarium of the ferry, or in the forward observation lounge taking in the scenery along the shoreline.

Traveling by water gives you a sense of the scope of the land.  Getting on a plane you can pop over to Juneau in just over 20 minutes.  It takes nine hours to navigate the straits and narrows between Sitka and Juneau on the ferry.  That is one reason I preferred to take the ferry, the scenery and a chance to think without interruptions.  It was also less expensive.

The state ferry system has deteriorated over the past decades. The MV Matanuska, the last remaining ship of the “class of ‘63” was launched more than 60 years ago, and the flagship, MV Columbia, the largest ship to transit Sergius Narrows, was launched in 1973.  The ships are often pulled out of service for repairs.  There are missed sailings and missed ports.  The easiest port to miss is Sitka because it sits on the outside, and to get there from the Inside Passage requires a long detour that is lengthened by having to wait for slack tide at Sergius Narrows.  The state sold the fast ferries that used to serve Sitka several times a week.  Sitka used to get two or three ferries a week both Northbound and Southbound even in the winter. This year, in the June and July schedules we get one ferry a week southbound, period.  Nothing, at all, to Juneau.  I have not been on a state ferry for almost a decade, not because I haven’t wanted to, but because there is not a ferry available when I need one.

So, while I used to know the waters and shorelines we cruised last week on Chichagof Dream, Olga and Neva straits, Sergius Narrows, Peril Strait, I haven’t left the waters of Sitka Sound for a while.   My water time is limited by the range of the day boats that give wildlife and nature tours out of Sitka.   Some things have changed along the route.

Areas that were clearcut in the 70’s have grown greener, and the pioneering alders are now well established.  New landslides have cleared out chutes in various stages of regrowth.

Clearcuts filling in

But the most startling change is seeing all the gray ghosts, yellow cedar trees that have died in the past several years.  The yellow cedar die off is due to climate change.  We used to have sufficient snow cover to insulate the trees’ shallow roots from the winter cold.  Now the snow comes less frequently, the roots freeze and the trees die.  And we wait for Red Cedar, from further south, to hopefully make their way north to replace our yellow cedar. 

But the Sitka spruce and the western hemlock are still thriving, and our coastline still takes my breath away.  And as an added bonus, on Chichagof Dream we got to sail into several bays off the main route.

Our second night we anchored in St. John the Baptist Bay, just north of Olga and Neva Straits.  It was a peaceful place to spend the night and to wake up in the still waters of this sheltered cove.

Then we transited Olga and Neva straits with views of Mt. Edgecumbe from different angles.

One thought on “Noting Changes on a Dynamic Coastline.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.