A Lay Day in Ketchikan

Creek Street is an authentic vestige of old Ketchikan, though its businesses
are driven entirely by tourism rather than randy prospectors these days
June 2, 2015

Ketchikan... most of Alaska, for that matter, accommodates transient boaters with a hot-berth system. Fishing boats are out plying their trade a good deal in summer months, and those empty berths are managed by the municipal marinas.  My experience was that they do an excellent job, and the fees are quite reasonable (the fees appear to be set state-wide, about $22 for Ripple's thirty foot mooring length).

When we found our way to our assigned berth the night before, we were not sure whether we would stay one night or two. After three weeks on the water, we had some housekeeping to do.  Showers, laundry, provisioning,  and perhaps even a bit of relaxation.  Fairly quickly it became evident that two nights was minimum therapeutic dose.

But that first night we got the shopping done, washed our laundry and ourselves, and went into town for a meal. It was exhausting. The laundromat was only a quarter mile away, and the Safeway a bit further, but schlepping all that to and fro was an effort after 13 hours on the water. Add a couple miles walk into town and back, and my dogs were barking.

Gregg Dietzman, a fellow dockmate, stopped by to chat us up. Hailing from Friday Harbor in the San Juan Islands, Gregg had admired Ripple as he passed us on the Grenville Channel, and as it happens, I had pointed out his boat, Poplar III, to Mathias, saying how attracted I was to her. Poplar III is a stoutly built wooden motor vessel originally built as the police boat (1949) for Ocean Falls, BC. Gregg has had her for about a decade and has done extensive travelling along the inside passage. She is spacious, upright, and inspires respect.

Poplar III on Clarence Strait
The next day we spent some time with Gregg picking his brain about routes that we might take so as to see as much of Alaskan waters as we could in the two weeks remaining to Mathias.  Gregg had some ideas and recommendations and we soaked them up like a dry sponge.

We would see many of these cruise ships again and again over the course of the trip
Ketchikan is an odd mix of indigenous Alaska and cruise line kitsch. There are as many as 5 large cruise ships in town at a time. They arrive early in the morning and leave by late afternoon, so the town's eateries are overwhelmed for lunch, and empty the rest of the day. Lunch is therefore overpriced and underwhelming, and the mall that has been built on the threshold of the docks absorbs the lion's share of the tourist dollars. The density of jewelry stores in this tiny area is breathtaking, and many of them sport swarthy shills at their entrances to encourage your patronage.  Dressed in sharkskin suits, no less. These surely must be the only suits of any kind worn in Ketchikan. Ever. Ok.. maybe undertakers?

I am led to believe that the stores in this tourist district are built and owned by the cruise ship lines: a vertically integrated industry that keeps most of the money out of the local economy. The stores are overwhelmingly of three types: Souvenir shops, eateries, and jewelry shops. It reminds me of the tourist industry in Mexico: tourists and locals alike incarcerated in an economic framework that is designed to funnel money to the few. I cannot say whether Ketchikan is better or worse off for the cruise ship industry, but it certainly is less appealing and less authentic for it.

People take these signs seriously in these parts
Later in the trip I had occasion to grow rather more familiar with the streets of Alaska's so called First City, and while my enforced stopover was far from ideal as a cruising experience, I came to know the city in a more favorable light.  There are some very nice restaurants in town, and a good number of bars with rich local color and good food.  Mathias liked this one:

The Asylum watering hole:
it seemed a good deal more sane than the cruise ship district


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