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Our Journey on Scolamanzi II
Our Journey on Scolamanzi II

Cordova – Where we start our journey through Prince William Sound:

31St May –2rd June

Cordova – Our first port of call in Prince William Sound.

Approaching Cordova harbour, we were welcomed by the sight of thousands of seagulls circling about the entrance. Al waiting for fish scraps off the returning fishing boats.

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The 53 hour crossing the Gulf of Alaska was weighing heavily on my eyelids by now. It does not help that we are now north of 60 degrees North with 20-hours of daylight and that the 4 hours of night time is still light enough to read without a light.

 

 

There was just no way we could get our eyes off all the activity around the harbour. Boats were constantly coming and going. Fisherman and their wives were getting nets on the boats. People were mending torn nets. Guys working on boats. Fascinating for us to watch.

Over a glass of beer and a late lunch on the fly-bridge, we happened to witness two bald eagles trying to attack another one on one of the pillars of the docks – 2 metres from where we were sitting. All this frantic activity was to prepare for the next “fish opening” expected in 2 days’ time. We have never experienced a fishing harbour this busy. Cordova is indeed an authentic commercial fishing town with Copper River, Trident and Ocean Beauty Fisheries the three main players in the fish-processing industry.

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Alaska seems to be very successful in managing their salmon fishing industry in a sustainable manner. In contrast to BC, Canada ( who have focused on fish farming with Atlantic salmon ) Alaska has focused on salmon hatcheries mainly in Prince William Sound who collectively produce many millions of salmon for release into the sea. These salmon all return to the area where they were hatched after 2-3 years. The Fisheries staff catch the required numbers of salmon who are ready to spawn. They will be milked of their eggs, the eggs hatched and small salmon will be released into the sea. The Department of Fisheries maintain a network of undersea buoys able to count the numbers of salmon as they return to their natal rivers to spawn. Based on that information they decide when and where fisherman may catch salmon or other fish. The Federal Government decide on the number of fishing licences. Fisherman may buy them. Local fisheries decide when, where and for how long they may fish. For example: Cordova/Copper River has 500 licences for gill netters. Licences are hard to come by and expensive. Judging by the numbers of young couples fishing and the types of big UTEs they drive, they must be doing well. On our 3ed day in Cordova the fish opening started 0700 that morning. Hundreds of these “bowpickers” went out fishing. All the same with the gillnet on a large drum on the bow and a cabin aft where they eat and sleep. The boat has a very shallow draft of about 12-18 inches, to allow them to work the shallow sandbars of the Copper River Delta. These boats all have one or two huge V8 motors with Hamilton jet drives. The harbour sometimes sound more like a speedway with these fast boats moving about.

This small but unique Alaskan community with its dramatic natural setting against the high snow covered mountains, the Copper River Delta next door, five glaciers just outside of town with fabulous bird and wild life to boot, was a great choice to unwind after our crossing. Cordova has a rich cultural heritage and colourful residents which makes for a good 3 day stay. We found a town full of surprises. The cultural museum and library complex, the Cordova Centre, was one of them. A great facility for such a small community. Walking through town, we met a few interesting characters. A friendly lady showed us how she mends their fishing nets that were torn by seals and sea lions trying to steal fish from the nets. Her company was the large family parrot. We were enjoying the sunshine day and were reminded every now and then how fortunate we are to see Cordova with blue skies! Cordova has a massive rainfall and as the librarian said, if you don’t like Cordova’s weather, just wait 5 min – it will change!

Johann was enjoying walking around the docks and chatting to the fishermen. The stories as colourful as the quaint little town.  One of them was the story around the “sucker cloud”. One often see them – a small blue circle in the middle of a threatening cloud. The story goes that the cloud is teasingly saying: “Ha, Ha Sucker!… You thought it was going to become a sunny day, right?” –  And minutes later it will start raining! So funny – this has now become part of our daily vocabulary!

Another part of all the fishing is the “tender boats”- some 200 are licenced in Alaska. They are larger more sturdy vessels who go out with the fishing fleet when there is a fish opening. They are contactable via VHF and they will meet with the fishing boat, take their catch on board at an agreed price and sell them fuel or whatever else they need. This is to allow the fisherman to maximise his time fishing and not having to waste time going back to the harbour to unload.  One day we were waving politely to one of them passing by. Johann, in a small-talk way just asked if they bought lots of salmon. A reply and a waved was returned. Minutes later a young man came around with sockeye salmon and halibut fillets neatly packed into Ziploc bags! That is Alaska for you. People here we found are sharing, friendly and very helpful. These guys probably held little fishing hopes for us, looking at the Aussie flag (thinking what would they know… little do they know!) and a way too shiny, white boat lying next to the rough and rugged neighbouring ones. Plus… the sight of Scolamanzi’s crew with her Cannon and Ugg boots did not spell great fishing prospects either I guess.

We arrived in Cordova at the same time as Astrolabe 1 (an Australian flagged sailing yacht) who have sailed from Australia via Japan to Alaska. We had a great time swapping stories on board that night with Ian and Kim. Jen and Jamie was another young couple we met from Kodiak who live on their small junk rigged sailboat, Thymalbus Arcticus. They are involved in collecting biological data on sea mammals, tagging wales and counting salmon. How interesting and convenient it must be to work from home (and that being a yacht!).

On our last day in Cordova we hired a SUV to drive the 35 miles along the most expensive road to nowhere anywhere in the USA. The bridge over the Copper River alone cost USD 1.4 million in 1910 alone. We saw some beautiful landscapes, moose and birds, had a walk up Sheridan mountain and to the glacier plus saw the mighty Copper River and Childs glacier.

That ended our memorable stay in Cordova. After paying the harbour master 0800 the next morning we departed for Sheep Bay nearby.

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