Thursday, June 01, 2017

Alaskan Cruise: Day 4--On to Sitka

Overnight, we sailed up the coast toward Sitka. As we sailed northward, we got to see more and more snow with snow levels lowering toward the sea. We also passed Mt. Edgecumbe, a dormant volcano within the borough of Sitka.  In 1974 a local prankster named Oliver "Porky" Bickar pulled off one of the greatest April Fools jokes of all time when he ignited hundreds of old tires in the crater (he had them flown in) sending up a plume of black smoke that convinced residence of Sitka the volcano was erupting. Fifteen foot high letters spelling out “April Fool” in the snow around the rim let investigators know it was a hoax. There wasn’t any smoke today and even if there was, we weren’t going to see it for the low clouds.

Mt. Edgecumbe from afar.
And a little closer to Mt. Edgecumbe

Other "lesser" mountains around Sitka..

...are still spectacular to view.
Those who know their history (or read Michener’s book “Alaska”) know that Sitka was the Russian capitol of Alaska when the US purchased the land in 1867. There’s still a Russian flavor to the place with Saint Michael’s Russian Orthodox Cathedral the most prominent example. The original cathedral burnt down in 1966 but it was restored to its original appearance soon after.

Sitka is the largest incorporated city in the US with some 2,874 square miles. The borough is even larger at 4,811 square miles. Juneau is second with 2,717 square miles. In comparison, Jacksonville, Florida, the largest in the lower 48 states has a mere 758 square miles. Still, you can’t get to Sitka by car or train. It’s only accessible by boat or plane.

It rained quite a bit while we were at Sitka as you might guess from the above photos, but still managed to take a short cultural and historic tour that took us to the National Historic Park’s Totem Trail and a live song and dance in a traditional Tlingit Clan House. 
Sitka's small harbor accommodates only one cruise ship at a time which is why so few cruises go there.

View from Sitka across the harbor to Japonski Island where the hospital and airport are located.

Tour guide (left) talks a little about the story poles along the Totem Trail.

Another view of our guide to give you an idea of how larger some of these poles can be.

Story pole.
 Story poles are not immortal, nor of any particular religious importance. Some are to mark an important event in the lives of the clan or individual commissioning its carving. Some are to mock someone or some event. They all rot away from time to time. When they fall, they are respected. You don't walk or sit on a fallen pole, for instance. They are allowed to rot back into the soil and serve as fertilizer for the next generation of spruce. Newer poles are sistered to sacrificial poles that actually make contact with the ground/snow. Those "sisters" will rot and be replaced while the carved poles will remain intact considerably longer.

Efforts are being made to replace those poles that do fall with newly carved reproductions (do NOT call them "fake"!) and to preserve some of the fallen poles for study. It may cost as much as $10,000 a foot(!) and take months to carve a new pole as there are few craftsmen remaining. Efforts are being made to preserve/reintroduce the art of carving in the Tlingit tradition.
Story pole mounted on a spike so it won't rot away so quickly.
 A short bus ride from the Totem Trail was the Sheldon Jackson Museum which houses some fine examples of Tlingit craftwork as well as a replica of a clan house in which traditional storytelling and dances are performed by young Tlingit tribe members trying to revive the culture stripped away by both Russian and American governments and missionaries.
Tlingit bead-and-button jacket.

Tlingit beaded boots.

Inside the Clan House.

Returning to the shuttle bus depot, we then walked a bit of Lincoln Street to do some shopping and visit Saint Michael’s. 
Shuttle bus depot at Sitka.

St. Michael he Archangel Orthodox Cathedral

It really started to rain hard about then so Terry and I made our way back to the Radiance of the Seas. There really is much more to see and do in Sitka beyond what I've documented here.

After dinner, the Radiance departed Sitka at 8 pm setting sail for Haines.

That evening, Terry and I took in a performance titled “City of Dreams” in the Aurora theater. Some fine singing and dancing. Especially the last number done while the ship swayed in some heavy seas. When we exited everyone was gripping the handrails as they made their way out.

This was the only time we encountered rough seas on the cruise. Not surprising as much of our sailing occurred in the inside passageway, weaving between islands in relatively narrow channels. The wind and waves don't get much of a chance to build under those circumstances. Totally unlike open ocean voyages. (The Radiance had come to Vancouver from Hawaii and encountered some pretty rough weather in the process.)

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