- Artist Profiles
- Harbor Notes
- Welcome to Sitka
Electric cars are increasingly commonplace these days. And electric trucks – including models from Ford, GMC, and dedicated EV manufacturer Rivian – are finally rolling off the assembly line. But what about boats?
Small electrically powered boats have actually existed for over one hundred years! Larger vessels such as emissions-free commercial ferries — pioneered in Scandinavia — have been silently sailing the seas for at least 7 years now, in a variety of configurations and stages of conversion. Norway’s Yara Birkeland – the world’s first fully electric and autonomous container ship – entered service in spring of 2022.
I’ve been fascinated by the view of the historic Fisherman’s Quay building with the boats moored out front and the Sisters Mountains looming above. It is challenging because of the scale of the mountains and the way the light flattens the buildings.
I’ve worked on different versions many times and about ten years ago finally felt that I did justice to the scene. I’ve known and loved (the boat’s late skipper) Larry Calvin for years because of his delightful nature and tireless support of this wonderful Tongass forest where we have both been fortunate to spend our time.
The Sitka Harbor Department’s plans for 2023 include, first and foremost, replacement/repair of Eliason Harbor’s electrical infrastructure.
Says Harbormaster Stan Eliason, “This is a high priority, and we are currently in the midst of applying for a federal grant for the project. We should hear back by October of this year.” Funds are to be obligated by September 30, 2026, and expended within five years of obligation.
The foremost expert on the topic of fishing and sustainability in Southeast Alaska might just be Sitka’s own Linda Behnken. Many in the state – and the country – would agree with this assessment. As a longtime commercial fisherman, executive director of The Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association (ALFA) and “birth mother” of the Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust (ASFT), Behnken carries a lot of street – or wave – cred.
Behnken sees two significant challenges to sustainability. The first – and perhaps most daunting – of these is Climate Change.
Beth Short-Rhoads – Fish to Families and Schools
Coral Pendell – Keeping the Boat “in Good Trim”
Renee Trafton – Unconventional Taste of Southeast Alaska
Louise Brady – Protecting the Foundation of Life and Home
For 20 years Matt Goff has been adding to his website SitkaNature.org. In that time he has shared many thousands of nature photos he’s taken around Sitka.
Anything in the natural world can catch Matt’s focus – including the weather, rocks and the stunning scenery Sitkans are lucky to experience. He especially loves to photograph the wide variety of life found in Sitka’s marine and terrestrial habitats. He’s taken pictures of more than 2,500 species in the area so far and says he’s “got many more to go!”.
“What’s on our radar for repair and replacement is Eliason Harbor Electrical,” says Sitka Harbormaster Stan Eliason. “Electrical replacement needs to be done and could take as much as $5 million. It is a serious need, but it’s difficult to say when it’s actually going to happen.”
Eliason is still planning on replacing the Fishermen’s Work Float. “That is a pretty critical piece of infrastructure, to get the fishermen back out there and fishing.” Eliason explains that the work float is a Tier II grant, while Tier I grants get priority.
Sitka is located on Baranof Island… in the heart of the Tongass National Forest, the largest temperate rain forest in the world… Access to Sitka is by air or water only. While an influx of Russian Traders and American colonists in the 18th and 19th centuries has resulted in a mixed citizenry, the total Tlingit population has now rebounded…
The mission of the Kayaaní Commission is to preserve our spiritual way of life. The religion of the Tlingit was the Earth. The Tlingit are one with the Earth. (We are) here to preserve and protect traditional ways of our ancestral knowledge.
The journey from apprentice to master, in any field, may not be a straight one. But as Tlingit master carver Tommy Joseph knows, the road – or the waterway – however winding it is, will surely be an interesting one.
Tommy’s journey started in Ketchikan, Alaska in 1964. That was when the Tlingit carver-to-be was born, as Naal xἁk’w, into the Ch’aak’/Gooch (Eagle/Wolf) moiety of the Kaagwaantaan (Wolf) clan.
The rebuilding of Crescent Harbor was completed in late 2020, after delays related to Covid-19 and the complexity of restoring electrical power to all the floats. All boats are back in their slips now.
“The boats which did not need electrical were back in place by May of 2020. After that, power was restored to each float, one at a time.” The final returns were in late summer. The project was “a challenge,” pronounces Harbormaster Stan Eliason. “Now we’re done; it’s time to move on.”
Some folks get their start in seafood processing at a tender age. Now a policy engagement director for the Sitka Conservation Society, Katie Riley worked in the Packing Room at Sitka Sound Seafoods (SSS) for two summers at age 18.
She started by printing labels that gave the weight, price, etc., to go on 50# boxes of frozen fish heading south – her title was “Labeler.” The second year she became “Labeler & Expediter.”
Pat Kehoe’s life might sound like a John le Carré book. We met one evening over a pint (after Pat’s cherished tap dance class) to talk about how art and life had evolved.
Trained as both artist and nurse, Pat came to Sitka from Washington in 1980, specifically to go fishing. She’d been working as an RN in a “very intense setting” and needed to do something different. She and a friend put their VW van on the ferry, got to Sitka on July 4th and settled in at Starrigavin campground.
Crescent Harbor is being re-built – installation of the timber floats is “going really well,” per Sitka Harbormaster Stan Eliason.
Eliason is hoping to get boats back into their stalls as soon as possible. The Harbor Dept. has a time-lapse camera recording the progress of the renovation and reviews the footage once-a-month. This will provide an archivable record of the project.
“The utility portion,” says Eliason, “will be substantially complete by June 12th. That will be the final portion.
These days, in marine science education in Southeast Alaska, turns out that “sharing” is the name of the game.
Much of the philosophy (and some of the structure) of scientific sharing that now exists in this place is largely the offspring of Sitkan Jan Straley. Having lived in Alaska since 1979, Straley is famous for her decades-long research, writing and photography about whales. Equally important, though perhaps less well-known, is Jan’s influence on at least two generations of Alaskan scientists.
This year’s cover artist was born and grew up outside Boston – interestingly, she notes, at the one-mile mark of the Boston Marathon.
Bethany Goodrich’s photo is striking to some because of its tranquility and the feeling of respect and connectedness between the salmon in the foreground, and the hand and mussels in the background.
Plans continue for the re-building of Crescent Harbor, located in the center of downtown. Said Sitka Harbormaster Stan Eliason, “We received $5 million from the State of Alaska (out of an anticipated $12 million).” The construction phase of the project should begin during the winter of 2019 with estimated completion by March of 2020.
Eliason thinks that “We are right on track timing-wise, but (the scope of the project now covers) only re-building the timber floats, rather than the whole harbor.”
During the 1980s, in the spring of each year, halibut fishing in Sitka resembled a combat zone. Massed on the fishing docks and back decks of longline fishing vessels were (mostly) men – deckhands and skippers surrounded by endless buckets of stainless steel circle hooks connected to miles-long poly-line, gearing and baiting-up to hunt the (up to) 400-lb. flat fish.
In those days the catch quotas were filled by any fishermen who wanted to fish and it was known as a “derby” fishery.
You’ll definitely see “a bird with attitude” when you look at the cover of this year’s Sitka Harbor Guide. So says artist Sandy Greba, who is lighting up a Harbor Guide cover for the second time in five years – this time with her watercolor painting, “Hooded Merganser.”
Sandy has a knack with color, light and water – you can see this both in “Hooded Merganser” and in her earlier cover art, “No Vacancy,” whose sea lions-atop-a-buoy-in-water graced the cover of the 2013 Harbor Guide.
The next major project slated for the Sitka Harbor Dept. is the re-building of Crescent Harbor, located in the center of downtown. A matching state grant has been applied for, to implement the project.
If the State of Alaska is unable to fund 50% of the project, bonding will have to occur.
According Harbormaster Stan Eliason, the harbor dept. now receives 100% of the fisheries tax. Fisheries tax collected for the 2016 season was $953,323.80.
Commercial fishing has always been at or near the top of the list of the most dangerous jobs in America. But after decades-long efforts from many organizations in and outside Alaska, as well as government safety requirements for vessels and mariners and a change in fishermen’s attitudes toward safety, the number of fatalities has been greatly reduced.
High among the groups helping to make fishing safer is the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association.
The transient float is complete, providing 980 feet of additional moorage to the Sitka harbor system. The float, located off Thomsen Harbor just north of the Harbor office, also acts as a protective breakwater. The $5.8 million project was funded partially with a matching state grant.
Harbormaster Stan Eliason said he was pleased with the completed facility, already in use. “It will serve Sitka well,” he said.
A complete refurbishing of Crescent Harbor is the next project to be addressed, according to the Harbor Master Plan.
When herring return to Sitka Sound each spring, so does watercolorist Phil Long. This year’s Harbor Guide cover image is from Long’s painting “Net to Tender” that depicts an action scene from the Sac Roe fishery.
Long lives in Sitka for four months of the year during the herring and salmon seasons to oversee the movement throughout Southeast of refrigerated shipping containers. The containers are destined to be packed with fish and shipped, mostly to Asia. The rest of the year, he lives in Oakland, California.
The rebuilding of the Sitka Transient Float was underway this spring with hope to complete it by summer. The $5.4 million float provides the harbor system with nearly 1,900 feet of new improved facility, now including 50 amp and 30 amp electrical service. The float is used all year by transient boaters, those on the harbor waiting list and people who have to be moved from other spaces.
The float employs the same technology as the recently re-vamped ANB Harbor – wooden floats tied to steel pilings and buoyed by foam-filled polyurethane tubs.
If you see Sitka longliner Mike Mayo at the helm of F/V Coral Lee, you’re looking at a man of contradictions. Mike embodies the rough-and-rugged image of the Alaska fisherman, but he was initially trained as an accountant and didn’t wet a line, commercially, before his mid-20s.
He is a demanding captain, but is generous with those who work for him and in his adopted home port of Sitka, where he is well-known for his philanthropy. The head of a large family and a lover of life, Mike is quietly philosophical about his several close brushes with death. He can be alternately perceived as a hard-as-nails businessman, a holy man or Santa Claus.
What a difference a year makes!
The Eyak, an integral part of the Sitka waterfront, tore a chunk out of her middle on a rock near Goddard Hot Springs and sank on Jan. 19, 2015. On Jan. 24, 2016, the Eyak was back in the water, ready to faithfully carry mail and haul cargo to Port Alexander and other points on southern Baranof Island.
Skipper Dave Castle, three passengers and Castle’s dog Olive all escaped the sinking without injury, but the material loss was in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Ketchikan artist Terry Pyles had a brainstorm at the world-famous Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, while staring at Alejandro de Loarte’s 1610 painting The Kitchen. The work portrays a jolly and prosperous European man, surrounded by fish and game ready for the cooking pot.
Pyles said he immediately thought of an Alaskan in his kitchen, surrounded by regional delicacies. “I’ve always loved still life (paintings) since I was a kid,” Pyles said. “I was drawn to de Loarte’s painting – (the man in it) reminded me of my friend Dave. I thought, `how perfect this could be just changing it out to Alaskan stuff.’”
About 4 a.m. on Jan. 19 near Goddard Hot Springs, the well-regarded Sitka mailboat and tender Eyak slammed into a submerged rock and tore out a chunk of her middle. Skipper Dave Castle was at the helm when he felt the impact. Castle had been dealing with finicky radar and heavy weather. A quick check of the damage showed a large hole.
“It was too big to even think about pumping,” Castle said. Three other people and Castle’s dog Olive were on board. After issuing a distress call, they donned survival suits and deployed the life raft. Castle plugged vents to keep fuel from leaking. Two people boarded the raft and a third held the line.
At a number of Sitka embarkation and debarkation points, residents and visitors have been delighted by the distinctive metal signs.
At the entrance to ANB Harbor on Katlian St., a white and brown aluminum rendering of a troller on blue water floats above metal letters. Halfway up Raptor Way, the road to the Alaska Raptor Center, a metal eagle sports a prominent yellow beak and silvery white head feathers. At the cruise ship lightering dock beneath the O’Connell Bridge, a two-sided “Welcome to Sitka” sign is a 10-foot wide study in the textural, tinted and heat-induced color possibilities of art using steel, stainless steel and aluminum.
When you have eight miles of harbor to maintain, there’s always something to do. The next major project for the Sitka harbor system will be the complete rebuilding of the Sitka Transient Float, a little to the north of the harbormaster’s office. The transient float makes a small V with Petro Marine’s new fuel dock. The rebuilding is pegged at about $6 million and is scheduled to begin in the fall of 2015.
The 40-year old transient float was originally built as a wave container to protect old Thomsen Harbor, and was laid out in an L-shaped configuration. After the rock breakwater was built, the float was straightened out to be used for moorage.
The cover image for the Harbor Guide this year is courtesy of John Erp, a Sitka-based photographer, sailor and troller. We reached Erp as he was rigging his trolling poles on one of his two vessels at the work float this spring. He lives on one vessel or the other.
Erp said the cover photo – which he has not named — was of an older wooden sailboat moored in downtown Juneau circa 2000. Erp, now 65, had just completed an intensive summer program at the Rocky Mountain School of Photography.
“What caught my attention was all the converging angles of the bow spit, chain and lines,” Erp said.
If you count it all up, Sitka has more than 8 miles of city docks – the largest small boat harbor system in the entire state of Alaska. One thousand three hundred stalls. But that’s still not enough – there are more than 300 vessels waiting for slips.
2014 welcomes a completely refurbished ANB Harbor. Sitka Harbormaster Stan Eliason said everything was replaced – floats and fingers, electrical and water hookups, even the main pilings. The approx. $7.5 million project was funded through a 50/50 match with the state. ANB’s new configuration accommodates 94 vessels of various sizes, a few less than the old setup.
If you do thing often enough, it becomes habit. If you perform a service for enough people for enough time, you become infrastructure.
Skipper Dave Castle and his vessel, F/V Eyak, qualify as Baranof Island infrastructure. They are a vital link between Sitka and the few hardy people who live in Port Alexander, at the hatchery at Port Armstrong and at the government research station at Little Port Walter.
Once a week in winter and twice a week in summer, Castle delivers to these outposts food and all manner of supplies. What makes him infrastructure is that he also carries the U.S. mail.
Fishermen are a famously independent lot who sometimes get accused of letting their independence get in the way of their own long-term economic interests. Well, the more than 500 fishermen-owners of Seafood Producers Cooperative (S.P.C.) can tell their accusers a story that shoots that reputation down.
It’s a story that goes all the way back to the 1940’s, picks up in Sitka in the 1980’s and continues big time today. The fishermen-owners of S.P.C. produce eight million lbs. of catch annually, netting $44 million in gross sales revenues.
It might be appropriate that Mark Bartlett paints the Rockwell Lighthouse, because light is one of his main sources of creativity. “I’m always seeking light,” the 52-year-old Sitka-based artist said. “That’s what I’m looking for and where I start a painting.
“If I’m doing a mountain, for instance, I want some drama and the way the light is hitting the mountain is how I develop that drama.”
Bartlett’s subjects span Alaska – he explores the misty, defused light of Southeast and the sharper light of the Interior. A naturalist, he is nonetheless unafraid of taking some creative license.
With a port facing the open Pacific and the protection of Sitka Sound’s many islands, this town has been shaped by the sea.
Present-day Sitka is a top Alaskan fishing port and a much sought tourist destination. Cruise ships and yachts bring thousands of visitors from the sea – and many who arrive by air also venture out in boats.
Sitka’s ocean bounty and strategic port must have lured Tlingit Indians to Sheet’ka – their name for the spot where tall mountains, thick forests, and abundant wildlife met the edge of the sea.
ANB Harbor, first built in 1956 and last renovated in the 1980’s, is the oldest of the city’s five harbors. By 2014, it’s going to be the newest.
A complete replacement of the entire float system and pilings at ANB Harbor is scheduled for this year.
“The problem is flotation,” Eliason said. “We had a meeting down there (at ANB Harbor). There were four of us on the float and we had to disperse our weight to keep from sinking.” He said ANB Harbor has been costing a lot of money and staff time to stay ahead of the spreading deterioration.
Cover artist Sandra Greba’s “No Vacancy” displays the vivid colors and sharp line that makes this watercolorist unusual for her medium. Watercolor paintings often use soft hues and soft lines. Soft would not begin to describe the strong red that dominates this work.
Greba is an Alaska-born, self-taught, Sitka-based artist who specializes in paintings of birds and flowers, but who occasionally takes on a different subject. She said she was inspired to paint “No Vacancy” from her experiences in Southeast viewing sea lions who have hauled themselves onto buoys to bask in the sun.
“Local surf & turf,” is how my sweetheart and I dubbed our 2012 Valentine’s Day locally-harvested dinner of stewed venison and pan-fried coho.
The melt-in-your mouth venison chunks and flakes of salmon were perfect, but, being a culinary barbarian and old-school, I reached for the salt.
And then I remembered that I had been given a sample of fancy finishing salt, made from the salt water right off our shore and produced in a building off Sawmill Creek Road. You can’t get more local than that!
To most Americans, buying “Local Food” means a trip to the Farmer’s Market or out to a roadside farm stand.
But for a growing number of U.S. consumers “Local Food” is the fresh fruits and vegetables that come in boxes to their home on a subscription basis.
Organically-raised, humanely-slaughtered meat and meat products are sometimes added into the choices. These direct farmer-to-consumer relationships are promoted under the program acronym CSA – Community-Supported Agriculture. Subscribers buy a “share” of the harvest for a fixed price.
Unless you’re a fish, Sitka is a remarkably peaceful place.
But on Dec. 7, 1941 — and in the days and months thereafter – Sitka poised on the brink of world war. Soldiers and sailors scanned Sitka Sound and beyond and manned powerful shoreside batteries to blast enemy ships miles out at sea. Armed spotter planes flew over the Gulf of Alaska, searching for a Japanese fleet expected to invade first Alaska, then the rest of North America.
Six months later, the Japanese Navy bombed Dutch Harbor in Western Alaska. They seized the outermost Aleutian Islands, Attu and Kiska. Sitkans could well imagine they were living on the front lines of World War II.