Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Rainy Road Trip to “Weird” Whittier

Saturday, June 10

One of the more interesting aspects of cruising is the people you meet along the way, especially the warm and supportive camaraderie you find among fellow boaters.

Through an organization called the Seven Seas Cruising Association, we developed an email relationship with a couple who live in Anchorage and keep their boat in Whittier. Fran and Richard own a beautiful bright red sailboat (sound familiar) built by Waterline Yachts, appropriately named  … Red.  

Approaching the tunnel to Whittier
We had been in communication with them for several months before our trip. Despite the fact we were total strangers, Richard most generously shared his insights on places to go in Prince William Sound, suggestions on books and cruising guides for the area, and helped us gain a better understanding of cell and internet reception in the Sound. His advice was priceless.

We had hoped to catch up with the two of them cruising somewhere in the Sound so we could meet face to face and personally thank them for all of their counsel. But while sitting in Seward waiting for parts to be flown in for dinghy repairs, we decided to rent a car and make the 1.5-hour drive to Whittier to see them … on a very rainy Saturday.

The one word everyone seems to use most in describing Whittier is … weird. And after going there, we concur.

Whittier was founded as a military base during WWII, and was known as the “city under one roof”, where ONE building housed 1000 apartments, a hospital, bowling alley, theater, library, shops, gymnasium and a pool. That building was damaged in the 1964 earthquake; so another 10-story building was used for housing and today, everyone in Whittier still lives in that SAME building. Weird.

Driving on top of the tracks in the railroad tunnel
And if that’s not weird enough, the only way to reach Whittier is to drive through a 2.5-mile railway tunnel that cars and trains take turns using. Not only is this the longest highway tunnel in North America, it's the only one-way reversible traffic tunnel shared with a train in the world.

Once an hour the tunnel opens at each end for 15 minute of traffic each way. If you miss that window, you have to wait for another hour before you can go through.

Baby moose grazing 
We had a wonderful visit with Fran and Richard, but the weather and wind in Whittier is notoriously unkind thanks to Passage Canal, and the day we were there was no exception. At their suggestion, on the way home that evening we stopped in Girdwood, a small town between Whittier and Anchorage known for one of the best restaurants in Alaska -- the Double Musky – Cajun cooking at its best with a décor that could keep you gawking for hours.

On our way back to Seward we saw a female moose grazing in the field adjacent to the road with two calves and couldn’t resist stopping for a few photos.

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About Engelenbak

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