It’s nine o’clock at night in Homer, Alaska on the eve of the summer solstice. The sun still shines brightly above snow-capped peaks and illuminates the blue ice of a glacier as it flows down toward the sea.
Most fishing boats have returned to harbor, discharging people happy with the halibut and salmon they just fished out of Kachemak Bay, part of the North Pacific Ocean. A lone kayaker, his naked torso shimmering in the late day sun, glides by our ferry as the crew prepares to cast off.
My husband, his sister, a friend and I are exploring the three decks of the Rusty Tusty, as the Tustumena ferry is affectionately know. We are on board for one of its twice monthly sails from May to September to Kodiak and on isolated communities along the Alaska Peninsula and Aleutian Islands.
We are prepared for the rough seas that are often encountered after passing Kodiak in the formidable Shelikof Strait, where pounding winds can roll off the frozen Alaska Range. The volcanoes throughout the area a testament to the peninsula’s turbulent past.
The seas were calm when the ferry pushed off from its dock. Many of the 65 passengers roamed the ship, excited, watching the glacial mountains turn pink, then gray, as we sailed. We studied the water for a glimpse of a whale, porpoise or puffin. Bald eagles swoop above us. Just before midnight the sun set, etching the towering Redoubt Volcano in red.
On deck, people settled into tents or wriggled into sleeping bags anywhere on deck that was protected from the wind. A mother and daughter grabbed a quiet booth in the snack area and spread out. A hammock slung between two poles was a perfect berth for one man. A birder and his wife took a chance, using yards of gaffer tape to tie their tent to the deck floor.
We had expected to sleep among them, a tolerable plan unless, as often happens, the wind and rain kicked in. A few days before departure our names cleared the waiting list for a two-bunk bed berth. The beds, small sink and mirror looked like heaven to us. With a short night ahead of us, we turned in.
We would have 8 hours of shore time the next day on Kodiak Island, a land of mountains, spruce trees draped in sea moss and bears and we wanted to get our rest.
Click the Day 2 story to find out what we discovered on Kodiak Island.
All photos by the author.
Stories in the Aleutian Islands Series: