Monday, June 30, 2014

Homer Scenery and Fishing Trip


Homer is located on the south coast of the Kenai Peninsula.  It is bordered by the Kachemak Bay to the east and the Gulf of Alaska to the south.  It has a long history as a fishing village with salmon and halibut plentiful in the waters of the bay and just outside the boundary of the bay and the Gulf.  The east side of the bay is the western side of the Kenai Mountain Range which features the Harding Ice Fields--about 600,000 acres of snow and ice and glaciers!  We visited the Exit Glacier over on the Seward side, and we can easily see 4 or 5 glaciers coming down to Kachemak Bay across the way.  Here are some views of the bay and the mountains from Skyline Drive up on the ridge above Homer.
Looking southeast to the point at the boundary of Kachemak Bay and the Gulf of Alaska

The Homer airport in the foreground with the Homer Spit reaching out into the Bay

One of the large glaciers coming down from the Harding Ice Fields

The Great Halibut Fishing Trip

Saturday was probably the most perfect weather day we have had since crossing the Alaska/Canadian border!  We couldn't have ordered much better weather for our fishing expedition in quest of halibut--Homer is known for its halibut fishing grounds!  We were lucky to find a charter--the Dutch Treat--for a full day of fishing.

The two ladies elected to pass in favor of exploring the Farmer's Market, so Ray, Jack, and I rose bright and early to head out onto the Homer Spit to the marina.  We stopped at the Boardwalk Bakery for a breakfast sandwich--Ritchie had two gravy biscuits instead!--and cups of coffee:  very necessary because we got up at 5:00 a.m.!

Then it was off to the boat where we met Captain Peter and Mate Tory.  We were joined by 3 other gentlemen--one was an Australian named Jon who said he was also in an RV.  I never did find out what he was doing in Homer, Alaska! After some brief remarks and instructions, we were underway.
Leaving the marina from Homer Spit.
Jack with his coffee and our Australian chap chat at the rear of the boat
After a trip of about an hour, we reached the fishing grounds where the captain gave us further instructions about how we were to fish and how to do the "Halibut Shuffle" each time one of us landed a fish.  This involved moving up the rail to the end of the line of fishermen!  That way, all of us had a chance to rotate to the end of the boat for the best fishing position.  It really didn't seem to matter:  we pretty much hooked up a halibut each time we dropped the line in, no matter where we were positioned.  So the hooks were baited--with a chunk of octopus and about half a herring!--and sent over the edge with a 2 pound weight attached to get the rig to the bottom of about 100 or more feet of ocean.  It was game on:  we started pulling in halibut almost immediately!
Ray has hooked up and is pulling up a fish!

Tory, the Mate, pulls Ray's catch aboard

Looks like a keeper, Ray!

This one was on the end of Jack's line--note the chuck of octopus in front of the halibut!

Captain Peter helps Jack get his catch aboard

Hang on to him, Jack!  Don't let him get away now!
The charter fishing rules for Alaska and halibut fishing call for only two fish per license per day--one of any size, and one 29 inches or less.  So with six guys on board, we could catch 12 fish of the right size.  We didn't hook any "dinks", as the captain and the mate called the 29 or less types, at first.  We soon had our quota of big ones--we didn't keep every fish we pulled in that was over 29 inches, waiting to bag a bigger fish, so we probably caught 14 or 15 fish before deciding on a "keeper".  The ones we rejected were sent back into the ocean to grow some more!
Halibut are bottom feeders and are not really fighting fish, but they don't want to leave the bottom, so once hooked, they have to be pulled up the 100 or so feet to the boat.  A 30 pound fish with a 2 lb. weight on the line makes for a lot of pulling and tugging!  We took frequent breaks to let our arms recover from the strain!
Ray, Jack, and Jon take a break from fighting the halibut

Ray and Jack rest up for the next fish
We pulled in more fish, trying to land our 6 "dinks"--every one seemed to be 30 or more inches, and since we had our quota of big fish, every one went back into the briny deep!  Pull up a big halibut, measure him, and let him live for another day!  Exhausting!  Hard on the forearms and biceps!  But finally, we had our proper quota of fish--big ones and "dinks", so we headed back to the marina which was by now about 1.5 hours away.  Of course, we had to have pictures with our catch--Tory, the mate, used all of our cameras to records our trophies!
Ritchie, Jack, and Ray with four of our halibuts!

Two of the "big ones"
After the pictures, Tory set about fileting them out for us.  He was pretty expert at wielding that filet knife!

Once back in the marina, we loaded all of our paraphernalia and our bags of halibut filets on a cart and headed for the ramp up to the parking lot.  Because the tides in Kachemak Bay run an average of 18 feet, and because we landed a little after low tide, the ramp was sure much steeped going up than it had been coming down!
Jack and Ray with our catch--white bags--and other stuff
It was back to the RV park where we set up an assembly line to package our 35 pounds of halibut into freezer bags for stashing away in our freezers!
Tam and Betty cut up and package our catch--Jack observes!
So, a great weather day, a successful fishing trip, and three RV freezers loaded with halibut.  We celebrated on the patio....

Well, some of us celebrated--Jack did his usual "Nap Time"!!
Life is good, for sure!!!

Jack as Tourguide


What Jack didn't mention in his rebuttal is that he saw "ethnic food", slammed shut the brain, and declared to the group that he had found this "great ethnic restaurant" from information at the Visitor's Center.  He hadn't really checked out where it was--well off up in the hills north of Homer and well east of Anchor Point.  And to Betty's point, the GPS activity was not on "Sweet Thing" which was still in Jack's car, but on the GPS app on her iPhone.  It was smart enough to take us on the "shortest route", albeit over a long stretch of gravel road and then eventually to a dead end!  We did have a pleasant enough lunch--until we got the bill!

The Group at the Russian restaurant!

After Jack's second straight restaurant suggestion--The Salty Dog Saloon--we have "retired" him from the restaurant research department.  The rest of us may not be much better, but we elected not to give him a Strike Three and just put him on the bench!  Now he has turned to weather forecasting for us:  here is how he will do the forecasting.....

Looks a little cloudy, eh, Jack??

One more day in Homer and then we are off to Kenai and the Diamond M Ranch and RV Park!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Jack's Rebuttal

The first morning in Homer (same as Homer, LA----a fishing town) we went to the Welcome Center.  I found a coffee table and sofa with local restaurant menus on the table.  While the others looked thru the pamphlets I reviewed the  menus.
One, was a menu for  Samovar Cafe in Nikolaevsk, AK.  (Look it up on Google).  It sounded interesting as Alaska was first settled by Russians!  As Rich said we all agreed it was interesting!
Now, about the Salty Dog Saloon, I knew it had to be good based on the name, when we walked in I thought  I was walking into McGuires in Pensacola with all the hanging dollars. I wonder if they have to pay tax on all those dollars like Mc Guires?  Well, we can say we have been there like the Red Dog Saloon in Juneau.
When it came to picking out a fishing trip, I wasn't allowed to choose but,  Rich and Ray did a great job of choosing a charter.  My arms are very sore from pulling up the Halibut, like pulling up  amberjack in the Gulf of Mexico.

Addendum from Betty
In defense of Jack's Sweet Thing, my iPhone was doing the navigation with the assistance of goggle.  Guess this is too remote for goggle to keep up.

Friday, June 27, 2014



On Tuesday, we hitched up the cars to our Monacos and headed off west and south from Seward around the edge of the Kenai peninsula, bound for Homer.  We planned to depart at 9:00 to allow plenty of time to reach Homer by mid-afternoon because we had heard that there was construction activity around Soldotna--we were on the road by a little after 9:00.  There was some construction work, but nothing like we experienced on the ALCAN highway!

We pulled into the campground--Oceanview RV Park--and checked in at the office.  For reasons none of us--including the lady on the desk--could comprehend, the reservations for 7 nights had been split in two:  one set of three sites for 4 nights, and a different set for 3 nights!  Eventually, she figured out how to position us so that we wouldn't have to move mid-week and we rolled on into the campground.  Getting positioned in the sites was a bit more challenging than we have experienced:  all the sites are back ins, and the driveways are narrow which makes backing a 43 foot Class A motorhome into a shorter than normal site somewhat precarious!  However, we got situated and enjoyed a sunny evening cocktail hour on Ritchie's patio!

View from Oceanview RV Park looking south across Kachemak Bay

The village of Homer is located at the water's edge and it has an ill-defined downtown.  The major commercial area for the tourists is out on "The Spit"...a large sandbar extending well out into the bay.  This is where the main marina is located with lots of fishing charters.

A portion of the main marina at Homer
It is halibut season here and tomorrow Ray, Jack, and I will venture out at 6:30 a.m. on "Dutch Treat" with three other fisherpeople to see if we can fill our freezers with fresh halibut.  We got our one day fishing license today for $20 which allows us one halibut of any size and one more under 29 inches.  We hope that we might land one like this:

Note the one hanging up!  Now that's a trophy fish!  The one the lad is about to pick up probably weighed in at 40 to 50 pounds
I talked to the family who are parked right next to me this evening--they are from Virginia and in a rental Class C.  The 14 year old boy caught a 74 inch, 210 lb. halibut today:  the family is brimming over with excitement and pride!!

The spit also features some pretty good restaurants--about all of them feature fresh fish!!  Umm, wonder why, eh?  We stopped in at Captain Pattie's and liked it so much we went back the next day!  The clam chowder was excellent, and the halibut sandwich was melt-in-your-mouth fresh!  Plus the view from the windows was an unobstructed "picture" of Kachemak Bay.

Captain Pattie's restaurant out on The Spit at Homer, Alaska

Jack's Ethnic Choice for Lunch

First thing on the morning of our first full day in Homer, Ray, Tam, Betty, and Jack stopped into the Visitor's Center.  As folks were getting information, Jack happened on a brochure or something that told about a Russian restaurant located in Anchor Point which is a village a few miles north of Homer.  He talked all of us into going there for lunch, so we set off in search of some ethnic food.  The GPSs in the back seat pointed the way and instructed us to turn off of Sterling Highway onto North Fork Road.  Viola--a gravel road!  And Ray had just washed his car!!  The GPSs told us the restaurant was still 8.2 miles away, so we slogged on up the gravel road, finally coming to some asphalt (which, as it turns out, is the other end of the "loop" which is North Fork Road--the asphalt portion came around from Anchor Point!).  Soon we came to a small village named Nikolaevsk.  We didn't know it at the time, but we were almost there--however, the GPSs turned us off onto another gravel road!  We followed it all the way to the end without seeing the restaurant, even though our "technology guides" said we had passed it by!  Of course, by now, we were all giving Jack up the river for his "ethnic fix"--and, I suspect, he was becoming a bit concerned:  he has the ultimate trust in his GPS to get him where we need to go!!  His nickname for it is "Sweet Thing"--she didn't do all that well this time!  We finally called the restaurant to ask where they were located:  a lady answered with a think Russian accent and tried to tell us where she didn't help much!
We got back to the village and spent some more time driving up and down the asphalt road.  Ray finally pulled into the village's US Post Office to send Jack into ask for directions.  As we have found throughout Alaska, folks up here are friendly and gregarious and anxious to lend a hand:  one of the ladies in the post office came out, got into her postal cart, and led us to our destination.  To say we were in for an "experience" is an understatement!

The exterior of the "Russian" restaurant in Nikolaevsk
We walked in the door and were greeted with a huge assortment of "stuff":  ethnic clothes, brick-a-brack, all for sale (I would suppose based on the coming "$5.00, 5 seconds" routine of Nina, the proprietor/chef).  Here is a taste of what we saw:

There was another group--a family with mom, dad, and three girls and two boys--in front of us, and they completed their order.  The dad spoke Russian, so we had a translator to help with communication.  And, as we discovered talking to the family over our lunches, several of the children were adopted Russians.  However, Nina needed no help in ramming us into the one menu item she could provide on this day:  a combo meal including borcsht, sausage, dumplings (like ravioli), and a dessert of cream puffs still frozen or at least deeply chilled on the inside.  Nina presented everything with a flourish in a thick accent:  "Ok, picktures now, 5 seconds, 5 dollars!".

She would also allow you to pick out some Russian clothes to put on and have a picture made with her:  "Quikly, Quikly...only 5 seconds, 5 dollars!"  None of us opted for that add-on, but our Russian father and his daughter did:

The dessert, as I said, was a dish of cream puffs with drizzled chocolate and whipped cream along with a cup of Russian tea.  Nina came around to sprinkle some cinnamon on each cup and offer to sell us some of her tea bags:  "5 seconds, 5 dollars"!  We didn't buy any!

When it came time for the bill, she wouldn't take credit cards, so we had to scrounge up the cash to pay the $170 bill--for 5 people at lunchtime!  Ritchie had $160 and Jack could find a $10, so we got out of there without having to drive 40 miles to the next ATM machine!!  Like I said, "an experience"!  We will not let Jack suggest anymore ethnic restaurants!

One plus:  the little village is a Russian enclave and had an authentic Russian Orthodox church which was charming.  Apparently, according to the history pages in Nina's restaurant, she had a lot to do with the creation of the church.

On the way back to Homer, we discovered that the asphalt road we got to from the gravel was still North Fork Road, and it was paved all the way to the main highway in Anchor Point!  So much for relying on GPS systems, eh?  That road starts in Anchor Point as paved, curves up into the hillsides where the little Russian village is located, and then turns to gravel as it curves back down to the highway south of Anchor Point.  The GPS systems just took us to the first turnoff we came to from the could have cared less that it was gravel--it's computer program found the shortest route up to the "Commissar's place" where we got "the treatment"!  And I thought Russians didn't understand capitalism and the profit motive!!!


Today, Jack picked out another "restaurant" by name only:  The Salty Dog out on The Spit.

We parked, walked in, there were $1 dollar bills pasted/stuck to every--I mean EVERY--surface in the place!  We walked through the bar area into the back room where there were some tables with a pool room off to one side.  We didn't see customers in the place eating anything.  Jack thumbed through the little advertisement flip chart from the table--not once, but twice---looking for food items, saying, "I thought I saw something in here about food!".  NOT!  Like the sign over the door says, Jack, "Saloon!"  We all decided Jack was now 0 for 2 in the restaurant selection derby!!!

Anyway, the experiences just keep piling up and we will have lots of fun joshing Jack about his taste in restaurants.  But Jack, we still love ya!!

More to come, for sure!  All our best from Homer!!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014



A heads up to take a look back at Betty's blog post...lots of pictures have been added!

What an enchanted place!  I am so glad that we took extra time to stay in Seward because we added some great memories into our Alaska Odyssey book of remembrances!  We explored the other side of Resurrection Bay; we visited the Exit Glacier; we took a ride down the west side of the bay because of hints of sea otter sightings (thank you, Ron Jones, for the notes in your book!) but found none; we ate at several restaurants with good food and interesting vignettes; and we had a great time at the Ididaride "ranch" of the Seaveys!

As mentioned in Betty's post, the Seavey family is now legendary in Iditarod racing lore.  (Note the clever alliteration of their dog sled ride/tourista venue:  Ididaride!)  Ray, Tam, and I stopped into their kennel after visiting the Exit Glacier and got the particulars on their activities.  Once Jack and Betty were back with us, we waited for an "almost perfect day" and called for reservations for a morning sled dog ride.  NONE of us were disappointed:  it was a highlight of our trip so far for me and I think for everyone else!  But then, I am an animal lover--as are the others!  Watching those dogs perform pulling a sled which must have weighed in at almost a ton was something special!  Here are some shots not included in Betty's blog:
Eric, our tour director, explains a bit about the Iditarod race.

The group--minus one!--in front of the Iditarod map

Our "musher" has the full 15 dog team hooked up...and we are ready to ride and they are ready to pull!

Look at those dogs lean into their harnesses...they really want to run!

Tam and Betty check out some tired guys after pulling a "huge" sled around the premises!

A typical "old" sled from the Iditarod past

Champion Mitch Seavey's sled built with fiberglass hockey sticks

Eric dressed one of the young riders in typical -50 degree outer wear 

Ritchie says "Mush" and nothing happened...but at least he stood in the champion's sled!

Betty thinks, "Wow, can't take much gear in this little thing!"
Seward is nestled on the shores of Resurrection Bay.  As noted in an earlier blog, it contains a large marina for both private vessels and fishing boat charters.  In its early days, it served as a port of entry for goods going off into the "interior".  The first transportation was by dog sled until the Alaska Railroad built a connecting line from Anchorage.  The original Mile 0 of the Iditarod was on the shoreline just off of downtown.  Here we are at the marker:

Jack says, "Hey, Betty, this is nice!  Mush on, Lady, mush on"!
The scenery in Seward is just flat out spectacular!  Mountains surround the bay on all sides except the outlet to the ocean.  Glaciers abound!  We could clearly see the Godwin Glacier across the bay from the campground:  amazingly, this glacier is only at 3500 or so feet above sea level!  Compare that to the level of the Blue Ridge Parkway--around 3000 feet!  I thought, "Holy Cow!  Old US 52 coming down from Fancy Gap to Mount Airy--that could be a glacier in ages past!"  Here are some pictures of the mountains across from the campground:

Note the tree line stops but the green continues to the snow line

Often, the sun would shine on the bottom section of the mountains across the bay in the late afternoon

The white to the left of the picture is the Godwin Glacier...the mountain to the right is just over 3900 feet!  The spot just above the glacier is a sea gull!!
We have come to expect a bit of the eccentric in Alaska:  far too often, as we drive along the highways, we see residences with a very large collection of "junk" in the yard!  Old cars, trash, scrap metal, broken down machines, you-name-it!  The well kept places are minimal and stand out because of it!  This has been a disappointment to me because of the pristine beauty of the land around...maybe they only see it for a few months in the Summer and then it all gets covered in snow!!  Anyway, in Seward, one family (or individual) has created a perpetual garage sale in their yard--it is the Hulk Hogan of garage sales!  It is just up a few blocks from downtown, and trust me, if you can't find it here, you probably can't find it anywhere in Alaska!  It was a bit drizzly the day I took these photos, so to protect the merchandise, out came the tarps!!


Can you imagine living to the left or right of this place?  Better yet, if you can zoom into the picture above, you will see a vertical sign to the left of the door which says, "Private Home"!  So how about living here, eh?

As I think has been established, the campground was right on the shores of Resurrection Bay.  There were four rows of camping sites running up from the bay--two on the first level, and two on the second.  All the "front row seats" were occupied when we pulled in, so we found three sites up on the "front row" of the second level--we still had a great view of the bay and the mountains across the way.  Down on the front row--mostly Class Cs, which seem to be highly popular here in Alaska--there was a public path between the campground and the fire pits.  As I walked along the first night, it occurred to me that they might be "assigned" to the front row, so I asked a group around a fire ring about that:  "Nope, first come, first served!"  Unfortunately, we never paid the high price for firewood at $7.99 a package of 5 logs, so we never did a fire by the shore!!  Lots is a shot of the path, the fire pits, and Row 1 of the campground:

Fire pits, public pathway, and Level 1 of the campground--ocean is beyond those distant mountains!
As I publish this, we are in Homer...and do we have some tales to tell about our first day here!!  As the saying goes out in the Dakotas, "You betcha!"  I will look forward to posting some comments and pictures--and I am sure there will be other blog posts about this first day now some 5500 miles from VanHoy Family RV Park in Harmony, North Carolina!  A big shoutout to Casey and Mike!

Hope y'all are enjoying our posts...we are sure 'nuff enjoying Alaska!
More to come!!