The spirit of Kootznoowoo, the “Fortress of the Bear”

by Nathaniel Stephens

Last month we explored Baranof and Chichagof Islands and the outer coast of southeast Alaska. Next we will complete our “ABC’s “ with a traverse of Admiralty Island.

The route starts in Juneau with a crossing of the Gastineau Channel to nearby Douglas Island. We will then face the challenging crossing of Stephens Passage and its notorious rough water. Timing will be key to use the strong tidal currents to our advantage through Oliver Inlet and into Seymour Canal.  We’ll take advantage of a railcar system to portage our boats and gear between the two inlets. Heading south through Seymour Canal our goal will be Pack Creek, a famous area for viewing brown bears.  Indeed the island has some of the highest concentrations of brown bear in the world.

The Tlingit name for Admiralty is Kootznoowoo, or “Fortress of the Bear”. In September at Pack Creek we should have ample viewing of bears feeding on spawning salmon. From there we will head for the Cross Admiralty Canoe Route. A spectacular series of bays, lakes and portage trails; the Route was built in the 1930’s by the CCC and offers the intrepid backcountry adventurer a wonderful overview of Alaskan wilderness. The currents are incredibly strong throughout, running up to 10 knots, and the portages are often long and arduous. Whitewater features known as salt chucks occur in many places at certain tidal flows. We will be rewarded for our perseverance with excellent wildlife sightings and fantastic fishing along the way, as we bisect Admiralty Island National Monument.

Once we reach the eastern side of Admiralty we will make our way toward the Tlingit village of Angoon, the island’s only permanent settlement. We will meet with clan elders and learn about the town’s fascinating history, including an 1882 bombardment by the US Navy after a whaling dispute.

Finally, we will load our kayaks on the Alaska Marine Highway for the ferry ride back to Juneau.

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Oh Ferry Ferry please take me where I want to go!

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Alaska is known for its remoteness, glaciers, mountains and wildlife. But it is its amazing Marine Highway System that makes Alaska even more enjoyable.

On my last kayak expedition, we boarded the Fairweather in Juneau and headed to Sitka. With our kayaks nicely tucked in below, we were able to sit back, relax and enjoy the scenery. Our 4 1/2 hour journey seemed more like strolling in a zoo as humpbacks and bald eagles majestically filled the landscape.

The Alaska Marine Highway System services 33 different ports, starting with Bellingham in Washington. From there you can head north to Ketchikan and travel through the Inside Passage and carry on until Dutch Harbor all the way to the end of the Aleutians.

After 11 days of exploring the Pacific Coast of Chichagof Island, coming around the outside of Yakobi , through the Cross Sound and around Point Adolphus, our final destination was Hoonah, where the ferry LeConte was waiting for us.  Once again, our trip back to Juneau didn’t deceive us. The scenery was outstanding, especially at Point Retreat where a couple of whales breached.

Independently of your destination, whether you are traveling by car, bicycle or kayak, the Alaska Marine Highway System is your ticket to experience the 49th State of America, the Last Frontier, Alaska.

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The World is a Cruise Ship and the Cruise Ship is our World!

Being in Alaska, where cruise ships abound, it reminded of a post that I wrote while working with the Pacific Voyagers Foundation earlier this year.

We were quite shocked last’s week in regards to the events aboard the Carnival cruise ship – but not in the way you would imagine. Being sailors and ocean navigators, we are used to take care of our surroundings. In fact we have a saying that goes like this: “The island is our Vaka and the Vaka is our island”. Meaning that if you don’t take care of your boat, you are not taking care of your home, your land, your world. What happened on that particular cruise ship is a great mirror to what is happening in our society.

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When you are on a sailboat, sailing the oceans, one thing quickly becomes extremely clear. For sanity to exist, for people to enjoy their time and for sailing to go smooth, it is extremely important that everybody respect each other’s privacy and acts with civility. People help each other and communication is gold. Without teamwork, attentiveness and consideration to others, life quickly becomes toxic and unproductive.

Last year we sailed over 140,000 nautical miles circumnavigating the world on Vakas that were only powered by solar energy. We lived to the rhythm of our environment – the ocean. We respected it, appreciated it, and honored it – consequently respecting ourselves, appreciating ourselves and honoring ourselves. Of course, from time to time you have conflicts and issues that need to be address, but these challenges are always welcomed and together we deal with them, growing stronger as a team, and as individuals.

The way we sail, they way we travel, is an extension of the way we live. We only use renewable sources of energy. We fish only what we need. We don’t use the ocean for our garbage, in fact we reuse and recycle as much as possible – producing a minimum of impact. We maximize the use of space. We read books, count the stars, scan the water for possible encounters and only reach out for technological devices when necessary. We eat together and embrace each others company.

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So when we learned that in only the space of a few days hell had broken loose aboard a powerless cruise ship, we scratched our heads wondering how could this happen. But then again, it didn’t take long to understand why. As a reflection to our society, these cruises are a celebration of consumerism, totally disconnected with the environment. According to Oceana, the average cruise ship, with 3,000 passengers and crew, produces 7 tons of garbage and solid waste, about 30,000 gallons of human waste, 255,000 gallons of non-sewage gray water, 15 gallons of toxic chemicals, 37,000 gallons of oily bilge water, air pollutants equivalent to 12,000 automobiles, hundreds of thousands of gallons of ballast water, which contains diseases, bacteria and invasive species from foreign ports – every day! With more than 230 cruise ships operating world wide, you do the math.

Passengers leave behind a city only to find themselves into another city – a floating one. Whenever they get off the boat, is only to sit in a bus and experience other worlds, other cultures from the safety of their cushioned seat, behind a thick reinforced glass, bathed in cold air-conditioning. Their evenings are spent watching television or attending one of the multitude entertaining shows. They eat in huge restaurants, served by an underpaid staff. They stay plugged in with their tablets, computers and constant access to the internet. Days are spent lounging, gambling, shopping or swimming in the chlorine water.

This ethos of individuality and pleasure is not only unsustainable but has absolutely no resistance or resilience. It is like a castle of cards, a game of Jenga, barely holding together. The minute you take away one piece, the entire system collapses.

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The media coverage was also extremely revealing. CNN went crazy with making the event its top priority, and with all the other television stations following. Everybody cried for the poor passengers, yet nobody talked about the even-worse situation of the staff onboard the ship.

“For the workers, it had to be doubly horrible compared to the passengers,” said Ross Klein, the author of “Paradise Lost at Sea: Rethinking Cruise Vacations.” Klein, a sociologist and cruise expert at Newfoundland’s Memorial University, noted that workers are stuck dealing with passengers’ “human mess” as well as their “frayed nerves and the short tempers.” Despite the stench of human waste, some workers may not have had the freedom, or the opportunity, to go above deck.  “Cruise from hell”: Don’t pity Carnival’s passengers! On Salon.com

If these cruises are a mirror to our society, what does it say about our system? Isn’t time to go back to our roots and reevaluate our values and what we stand for? Isn’t there a lesson to learn from the success of such endeavors like the Voyaging Societies and the quick failure of supposedly infallible behemoths? Here at Pacific Voyagers Foundation, we have made our choice – we will stand and promote a world where quality matters over quantity, where humanity is a communal celebration, where energy is never wasted and where food abounds because of the care we put into our environment. Who is up for a sail now?

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