A Kayaking Trip to Remember Travel
There are moments in our lives that clearly stand out in our memories as being special. They may involve extraordinary places and experiences, or simply be shared moments with wonderful people. When you can combine all of these things in one week, those are truly times you will never forget. Such was a place and time in June of 2019 that fifteen California kayakers went to Sitka to explore this most magical place in Southeast Alaska.
Planning an Adventure
The plan was to kayak around the bay among the many islands and also take a float plane trip over to a lake to paddle. While there are some good outfitters in town that lead kayak paddles, the float plane trip posed a problem. The answer came in finding the best portable kayak that would be fast, maneuverable and durable, one that gave protection from the rain, and could handle winds up to 10 knots. We found that boat in the Innova Swing EX, and Innova Kayaks decided to sponsor our trip as a result. The fully-decked boat weighs only 30 pounds, rolls up small, and does not have a metal internal frame to break or abrade the Nitrilon “skin”, which adds to the durability and longevity. There is a skeg and center air chamber running the length of the bottom which makes this boat track straight and fast- up to 3.5 knots. That’s performance you normally get in a hard-shell kayak. Having these boats now, we are looking at other destinations around the world for our future trips. “Have boat, will travel” is our motto, and we will be associated with Innova Kayaks for these trips. Check their website for future destinations of the Innova Travel Club.
In order to purchase some gear for our trip, I asked West Marine to be a sponsor. The San Diego Flagship store outfitted us with some great water repellant hats, and provided discounts on gear. Since we were already kayakers, many of us had most of the necessary paddling and safety items needed for this trip. We are already planning next year’s trip to Austria, and may want to get dry suits for that and other future trips. Sitka bay has water temperatures in the mid-50’s in June, which make it tolerable for short periods in the water. We paddled close to shore at all times, just to be safe in case of a capsize, or sudden wind over 10 knots. “Hugging the shore” is the safest way to kayak in any setting. That keeps you out of power boat traffic, and gives you a “margin of safety” to quickly get to shore in an emergency. If sudden high winds come up, your chance of reaching shore is greatly increased.
The next challenge was to find a place to stay in Sitka where hopefully we could launch our boats from. Looking at maps and aerial photography, one place stood out, the Totem Square Hotel, which has a dock, and after learning of our plans, also became a sponsor. That gave us the ability to have a “Base” from which to venture out in several unique experiences. We paddled the bay for a few hours, then walked around town to see the many shops and museums. Several went on hikes to nearby lakes and hilltops. For those of us going on the float plane trip, the meeting place was just a few blocks away. After our hikes and paddles we would visit the many restaurants in town for a great evening of fun.
The Jewel of Southeast Alaska
Sitka is a place like no other in North America, with a backdrop of beautiful mountains, and a bay filled with several islands of all sizes. The water has good visibility so we could see down several feet to observe starfish and other sea creatures. The combination of rocky shorelines, beautiful trees, and charming island homes, along with stretches of uninhabited wild rugged shoreline, make paddling the bay an incredible time on the water. The launching dock at the hotel is high off the water, but Joel and Wayne at Fish Baranof, the charter company who controls the dock, let us launch off the swim step of a large boat, which made it easy to get in and out of our kayaks. Going back there in the future, we will take a rope and aluminum ladder to make it even safer.
The town was a Russian fur trading settlement until the US purchased Alaska in 1867, and its history is also rich with Native tribes and US Military presence over the years. We were there for a week, and did not run out of places to see. The waters off Sitka have several species of fish, including halibut and salmon, and the harbors buzz with fishing boats at all hours of the day. This is also a great place to see Bald Eagles diving for small fish, and they hang out everywhere, even on top of the bridge. Paddling a kayak allows you to get very close to these birds, while they perch in trees looking for a meal. For those on foot, there is a Raptor Center and Bear Rescue Center to get close to these incredible creatures.
A beautiful float plane trip
A highlight of our trip was taking a float plane ride to Lake Redoubt, just south of town. Kevin Mulligan of Baranautica Air Service out of Port Alexander was our pilot, and no one had any anxiety during our round-trip shuttle flights. He has over 5,000 hours as a pilot, and is so good we could hardly tell when we touched the water when landing. He is also a friendly and spirited guy who puts you at ease before take-off. We flew in a Cessna 185, in which he installed a larger engine, added a three bladed prop, and lengthened the wings to increase load capacity, which also adds to safety. I have flown with several “bush pilots” in Alaska, and Kevin is now at the top of my list of safe and competent pilots.
It has now been some time since our kayak trip to Sitka, and everyone is still talking about it. The most common statement is “I wish we were still there”. There are not many places one travels that you can say that, and this is one. The combination of adventure, incredible beauty, abundant wildlife, good food, and comfortable lodging make Sitka a trip to remember.
Many thanks to Eric Emerson, an avid nature photographer who went with us. Some of these photos were taken by him, and you can see more of our photos and some videos of our trip on his website: https://www.ericemerson.photography/Trips/2019/Sitka-Kayaking-and-Hiking/