Friday, July 4, 2008

Kayaking is our new adventure sport...

One of our main interests in the Homer area is getting out on the ocean in our sea kayaks. We have had a lot experience in the past on Alaska's rivers- our favorite being the Noatak which flows along the southern edge of the Brooks Range for nearly 500 miles before entering the sea near Kotzebue.

In 2003 we took an eight week float trip on the Noatak. It is very isolated with only one village along its whole length. We saw alot of wild animals but no other people for the first 26 days. So we have our wilderness camping technique down pat and are pretty good at dealing with wildlife. But this ocean business is a whole different deal.

For one thing the rivers we've floated don't change their depth every six hours. We had a 3 foot rise in the Noatak water level one night after a rain storm but that is nothing compared to the 20 to 30 foot tidal variation here on Kachemak Bay. You gotta be pretty darn careful where you park your boat around here!

Another difference is the fishing. On Interior rivers I could pretty easily catch our dinner every night- be it arctic char, grayling or that old standby northern pike. But out on the Bay you drop a line deep in the water and you never know what might grab it.

On our first overnight trip at Halibut Cove we went out in the double Klepper kayak to fish and soon caught two small halibut which my wife could pull right up into her lap. But the next bite I got felt a lot bigger. Naturally, I thought it was just a larger halibut but after five minutes of carefully reeling it in we were startled to see a creature right out of "Jaws" circling under our rubber boat! Okay, it was really only a four foot salmon shark but fish can look really big in the water. We coaxed the beautiful fish in to shore and Linda pulled it carefully onto the beach by its tail. She removed the hook with my needlenose pliers and within a minute the blue green fish was back in the lagoon.

We spent four days on Halibut Cove Lagoon that trip and each day crossed from our rented cabin to the wide beach on the other side to look for clams. We could get very close to comical otters and also saw several bay porpoise feeding in the lagoon. One day after clamming we headed back across what had been a calm and seemingly well protected one mile stretch of water. Halfway across what locals call the "day breeze" suddenly piped up from the west and we found ourselves paddling hard against a 20 knot wind with no spray skirt on our open boat to shed the spray from increasingly large whitecaps. We made it safely back to the cabin but still learned a very good lesson. We resolved to get closed cockpit sea kayaks and drysuits to protect ourselves before again venturing onto Kachemak Bay.

It has taken a few years but now we each have 17 foot long sea kayaks that are stable and safe in open ocean conditions. With the excellent training provided by Tom Pogson and his Alaska Kayak School we feel like we are ready to venture across the bay for extended trips....

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Iris blooming...

Homer is about as far south as you can get on the Alaska road system. At least without going through Yukon and down into Southeast Alaska. The proximity to the ocean and the southern exposure make Homer much warmer than interior Alaska where we used to live. At our new home on the "garden bench" the snow is mostly gone by April and the iris blooms in the yard sometime in mid-June... Flowers are my favorite photographic subject.

The most prominent and popular feature of the Spit is the small boat harbor. Hundreds of boats- everything from commercial crab boats to recreational sailing sloops call the harbor home. The Coast Guard buoy tender Hickory also ties up in Homer and the Alaska State ferry system brings in the Kennicott and the Tustumena. Occasionally a large cruise ship disgorges hundreds of tourists but none of them maintain a regular schedule here.
The water is often quite calm off the end of the Spit...but the daybreeze and tidal currents can suddenly make the three mile crossing to the east side of Kachemak Bay quite dangerous.

The Lands' End hotel and several townhouse dwellings curl around the end of the Spit. At low tide, as shown here, a nice gravel beach provides a nice surface for beachcombers. But when the highest spring tides come in the waves can sometimes push driftwood right up against the lower decks of these buildings.

Sandy beaches line the southern edge of the spit during low tides. But six hours later the water fills in the beach right up to the rock lined road edge.

Just a few miles to the southwest the Mount Augustine volcanoe fumes and vents on a regular basis. This most active of many local volcanoes could erupt violently and cause a tsunami which could quickly cover the Spit and lower Homer with a wall of seawater.

In the winter most of the Spit businesses close down and snow blankets the beaches. These townhouses cast a lonely image across the Bay.

Occassionally winter gets cold enough to freeze up the harbor and lock most of the smaller boats in place until Spring brings warmer temps. This 2007 ice-up occurred in March and caused the Homer Chamber to delay the annual King Salmon Derby by one week. Usually, though, temperatures are mild in Homer, rarely getting down to the teens.

Winter Storms....

Being composed of sand and gravel, the Spit is subject to constant erosion from the ocean tides and winter storms. Maintenance crews monitor the Spit road and harbor jetties to assure their integrity. Frequently repairs are needed to replace eroded gravel and to reduce the risk from wave action.

Homer Spit

The Homer Spit is a terminal moraine from a long melted glacier. The Spit projects about 4 miles out into Kachemak Bay and is host to numerous businesses, a small boat harbor, State ferry dock and a hotel.