Saturday, June 26, 2010

Pelican … A Charm You Have to See to Believe

Friday, June 18

On Friday, we planned to tie up at Elfin Cove to see about flights to Juneau for Lydia and Eric the next day, but ended up going to Pelican because the docks were full at Elfin.

This was a stroke of luck for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that there was a big FIRE at Elfin Cove Friday evening. We undoubtedly would not have had much sleep.

Even better, we were able to experience Pelican … a uniquely “Alaskan” settlement that I had read about as I was planning for our trip and noted as a must see!

The only way to get to Pelican is by boat or seaplane.

With a population of about 80, it is located on Lisianski Inlet on the northwest corner of Chichagof Island, 10 miles from the entrance to the Gulf of Alaska.

This charming community sits mostly on stilts along a mile-long broad wooden boardwalk that serves as “main street,” overlooking the harbor and facing a towering snow-capped line of mountains dotted waterfalls on the opposite side of the inlet.

The only gasoline-fueled vehicle in town is the garbage truck. Instead you see electric carts zipping up and down the boardwalk all day and night.

Pelican was founded around a fish processing plant in the 1930s. Sadly, the plant has since closed taking its toll on the community. But Pelican is still all about fish. The harbor is filled with fishing boats, the town’s motto is “Closest to the Fish!” and the night we arrived coincided with the awards ceremony for the annual Pelican Salmon Derby.

Those are all the hard facts about Pelican. What’s more difficult to share is the feeling one gets walking through this charming community. The simplicity of life … where children wear life vests to and from school walking along the boardwalk: or when they take the time to tell you about the berries they are picking from the hillside next to the boardwalk … and offer you a handful of salmonberries.

It’s a community where everyone knows everyone. Where at 2 a.m. they leave their homes and jump in their boats to help their neighbors in Elfin Cove put out a fire. And while they don’t all agree with each other as is common in any community, they are bound together by a unique “tribal” closeness, living along one single boardwalk … walking past the same homes, buildings, and small businesses day after day … with the sea and sky being the only escape.

And more than anything, it’s a community with a view so stunning, you are surprised that no one has bought out the entire boardwalk and turned it into an exclusive tourist destination. I certainly hope that never happens.

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Engelenbak is a custom-built 62-foot steel trawler ... designed to cruise anywhere in the world.