I’d been intending to arrive in Hoonah for years.
My first intention formed after reading an account in one of the sailing magazines about a boat that laid up for the winter there several years ago. Hoonah is one of the few places around here with a proper marina and Travelift to haul boats and its position as the gateway to Glacier Bay seemed ideal for launching the following season. I first contacted Andy Gray, the Hoonah harbormaster, in May 2018 to explore the idea and he was most welcoming. So for a long time Plan A was to sail to Hoonah and leave Windleblo there for a winter.
But then I met Ginny Ware, Reed Hranac’s college friend, who grew up in Petersburg. She connected me with the nice people there and I was drawn to that place. Hoonah would have to wait. COVID further intervened to force a delay in my arrival. Now, finally, our intention to arrive in Hoonah would come true.
Leaving Glacier Bay, the wind picked up as we rounded Point Gustavus and headed southeast across Icy Strait. Ten knots, then 15, then 20 on the nose, plus a contrary ebb current, made the 20 nautical miles to Hoonah a slog. Maybe Neptune was trying one last pitch at delaying our visit. As we rounded Cannery Point, though, the seas subsided and the winds calmed for the home stretch into Hoonah.
This is the place where the Tlingit people settled after being chased from Glacier Bay by ice. For generations, the four clans that now comprise the Huna Tlingit – the Chookaneidi, Kaagwaantaan, T’akdeintaan, and Wooshkeetaan – occupied a glacial valley called S’e Shuyee in what is now Glacier Bay National Park. In the mid-1700s as the Little Ice Age progressed, a large glacier at the head of their permanent village site there advanced suddenly and destroyed the village, expelling the four clans. The clans dispersed throughout the Icy Strait area, eventually settling in Hoonah, which translates in the Tlingit language to “protected from the north wind.”
As ever, fishing dominates the Tlingit’s economic history. A cannery was built in Hoonah in 1912 operating until 1953. In 1944, a fire destroyed the town. Some residents were smoking sockeye salmon on an unusually hot windy day. A house caught fire and the fire quickly spread. The town had no fire department. Virtually every dwelling burned. After the fire, most of the residents sheltered at the cannery. World War II housing units bound for Hawaii were diverted to Hoonah by the Coast Guard. These houses, located in the downtown area, are still called “war homes.” A sawmill was built in town in the 1990’s, diversifying Hoonah’s commerce. In 2004, along with the new marina, the town built a cruise ship dock. Tourism suddenly vaulted to the top of the economy except most recently when COVID forced a cruise ship hiatus.
Despite intentions of making Hoonah a focal point of our time in the Southeast, we ended up only spending two nights there, which would have to be enough. We pushed on, this time to one of the highlights of the month’s cruise – Warm Springs Bay and the tiny settlement of Baranof.
The southerlies were forecast to build, along with three days of rain, compelling us to push on 75 nautical miles in one day, arriving in Warm Springs Bay around 1700 hours on June 22nd. Too many boats were tied to the float at the head of the bay for us to fit, so we anchored in an adjacent cove for a comfortable night. At 0900 the next morning, we motored over to the float to find many of the boats departing. We took a spot.
Soon after, we ascended the ramp to find boardwalks leading to public bath houses and natural hot springs all fed by gorgeous geothermally heated water springing from the hillside above. Making the setting particularly enchanting was a huge waterfall adjacent to the hot spring pools that cascaded into the bay near the public baths.
It didn’t take us long to immerse ourselves in the water for a good soak. We returned repeatedly both to the bath house and the hot springs over the three days as we waited out what the NOAA weather service called an unusually strong storm, which dumped two inches of rain and spawned 30 knot winds over several days. By the end of the week, we were totally relaxed and mellowed out. Baranof proved to be a wonderful place to be holed up!
A final push through Peril Strait and Sergius Narrows (in the fog!) and we arrived in Sitka for the final days of our 2021 shakedown cruise.
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