This is the second in the series of articles “Cruising Off the Beaten Track in SE Alaska”. Last time we left you in Tenakee Springs. This time around we are taking you on a voyage to enjoy Pelican.
Pelican is a remote fishing community on Lisianski Inlet, near the west coast of Chichagof Island. It’s off the usual track cruisers take from Juneau to Sitka. Peril Strait is the usual route, but we had heard from friends that Pelican was worth a visit. We headed west on Icy Strait and then down Lisianski Inlet to Pelican. Lisianski Strait connects the inlet to the Gulf of Alaska. Both the inlet and strait were named after Russian Captain Urey Lisianksi, who explored the area in 1804 aboard Neva. Alaska was owned by the Russians until 1867, when it was purchased by the US.
We pulled into the transient dock at Pelican’s small harbour, behind two large seiners rafted together. They were waiting at the dock for the next salmon opening. A float plane landed and docked near our boat, where four men stood waiting with their luggage. They had been in Pelican for a few days on a fishing charter, staying at the Highliner Lodge. I chatted with them and they reported they were each going home with 200 lb of fish; salmon, halibut, and black cod!
Pelican is a boardwalk community, with most of the buildings on pilings above the tide line. The locals use golf carts and ATV’s on the mile long boardwalk. The town was established in 1938 by a fish packer, who named it after his boat, Pelican. Many think that the community of Pelican was named after the bird, but there are no pelicans in Alaska! We walked the boardwalk, noting the “Lisianski Cafe” where we planned to have breakfast the next morning. The fuel dock was up high on pilings, so we decided to hand carry the fuel we needed, using jerry cans.
There were a couple of fishing boats unloading their fish at the fish processing plant at the end of boardwalk. This plant used to be a much bigger operation. There was a cannery too, but now the sports fishing operations are how Pelican continues to thrive. At 5:00 pm four boats from the sports fishing lodges in Pelican arrived back at the dock. We watched as the smiling fishermen stood proudly with their catches. They had caught an impressive number of fish! A couple of young men from the US Midwest were working at the lodge for the summer, earning money for college. They worked hard, often until midnight, cleaning, packing and freezing the fish the fishermen brought in every day. It was all boxed up ready to fly out with the men on the float planes the next day.
Pelican really is a remote community. Access is by float plane, boat or ferry, but the ferry only comes once per month. There used to be a store in the village and a bar, but both have closed in recent years. There is a library and a health center; however, a notice was posted that the next visit from the nurse was a month away! We met an elderly man who came to Pelican when he was 14 years old. He’s now 86 and comes back, just for the summers with his wife. His grandson was with them this year to help out. There is an elementary school in the community, but we heard rumours that it may shut down due to the fewer number of families living in Pelican full time. We only met one other cruising boat at the dock, a couple from Sitka. They knew the area well and shared their knowledge of favourite anchorages with us over coffee at the cafe. There is no cell reception in Pelican, not unless you want to walk up to the garbage dump where there is a weak signal, but also a place where bears are sighted! We spotted young people standing outside the library peering at their cell phones, and learned from them that the library has wifi.
If you love getting off the beaten track and discovering new places, we recommend a stopover at Pelican on your way from Juneau to Sitka. It is truly a remote SE Alaskan community that thrives on fishing.