The main landmark of Homer has to be the "spit", which is a 4 ½ mile long strip of land that juts out in Kachemak Bay. The popular theory of how this spit formed is that it is the remains of a glacial moraine, and re-shaped by ocean currents. In the center of this land, is a harbor protected by land on both sides. It is almost hollowed out, with the fishing boats about out of sight as we entered the bay. And like yesterday, there is a 20 foot tidal change here. There are 875 stalls in this harbor, part of which is a commercial fishing vessels.
Locals call Homer "a quaint little drinking village with a fishing problem". In fact, one of the famous bars here is called the Salty Dawg Saloon. It is known for the signed dollar bills that are tacked to its walls and ceilings. A special drink by the same name was created here. It is a combination of vodka and grapefruit juice, served in a salted rim glass.
Even more impressive is the fishing here. Homer is considered the halibut capital of the world. A visitors guide that was handed out at the pier gate had photos of fishermen with their catches that weighed well over 200 pounds. Other fish caught here include flounder, cod, rockfish, starfish, and salmon. Crustaeceans are abundant too.
Homer can be described as a relax, recharge, and rejuvenate small town, where everybody knows everybody. Handmade jewelry, pottery, and Alaskan art can be purchased as well as hand spun yarn, and freshly-made sweet treats.
We were reminded that we are in the ring of fire where volcanoes line the coastlines of the Pacific. There are four major ones within view of Homer. As close as 70 miles, lies Mt. Augustine at 4025 feet. Last the it erupted in 2006, the volcano put up ash with explosive eruptions for 20 days. Two impressive volcanoes, Iliamna and Redoubt, are over 10,000 feet high and covered with snow an ice. Redoubt blew up in 2009 with 19 separate explosions. And because this is an area that also is subject to earthquakes, there is a tsunami warning siren that goes off weekly as a test.
Ship tours included a hop on and hop off bus for $15. It made four stops, two in town, and two on the spit. There were 5 adventure tours for 1 to 5 ½ hours for $20 to $250. Fishing offered one trip for 6 ½ hours for $350. Finally, there was a complimentary shuttle, which went all the way around the inner harbor to the Salty Dawg Saloon, where you could access shops and restaurants.
By the time we got off of the ship at 10:30am, there were long lines for both buses. Having been to town 10 years ago, we figured it would be best to stay out on the spit today. The weather could not have been better…mostly sunny and a pleasant 60 degrees. No rain and no fog. How lucky is that?
What impressed us most was the sheer numbers of seagulls outside the ship. Specifically, the type of gull called kittiwakes. Thousands of them, many sitting on nests everywhere and anywhere they could make them. Many of these nests had tiny baby birds in them.
Our plan was to walk around the inner harbor, and end up at Land's End, about 1 ½ miles away from the ship. There was a well-made path for both walkers and bikers that went all around the harbor below, and also would lead to the mainland and town. This trail was marked with signage all about the local wildlife, boating, and safety measures. It was fun watching the activity of the boaters down in the harbor. But the best surprise was when we spotted a lone sea otter, laying on its back, and apparently sleeping. For a split second, we thought it was not real, until it began to move its flippers and head. They are much larger than you think when you see them close up. Weighing as much as 100 pounds, these animals need to consume ¼ of their body weight in food a day. What made them so valuable to the early trappers was the fact that their coats are so dense, they made great jackets for the folks that live in colder climates……namely, Russia. They were hunted to almost extinction for their furs that have been estimated to have 1 million hairs per square inch. Compared to a cat, who has 200,000 hairs in the same square inch, the sea otter's coats are luxurious.
Another sighting we had hoped to catch was a pair of eagles, who were perched on top of a very tall light pole. Later on, we heard they are the "lazy" eagles of Homer. They are commonly seen chasing the gulls for their catches, letting the sea birds do the work, then stealing from them. Clever we think.
One thing worth mentioning is the fact that there were many restrooms along the way. And they were totally clean. It was nice to see many benches along this walk too. People-friendly. There were a few sheds where people from the fishing tours could have their catch cleaned and fileted. They advertise a service that includes shipping your catch to where you live, frozen, of course.
Eventually, we made our way to the end of the harbor, where we saw the commercial fishing boats and the building where the fish are processed. Nearby is an ice factory, supplying the vessels with necessary ice to keep the catch, as well as facilities to flash freeze the major catches. Also at the end of the harbor is an appropriately-named hotel by the name as Land's End. Their restaurant is called the Chart Room, with an outdoor deck overlooking the Kachemak Bay. We decided to check it out, since on our last visit, we ran out of time to make it this far, and never did eat lunch anywhere.
It was just as nice as their ads in the visitor's guide. Of course, it would have been nice to dine outside on the patio, but every seat was taken when we got there at 12:30pm. With the only hotel attached to this restaurant, many folks dining here were probably guests. It was equally as nice sitting at a table by the window inside. We had a commanding view of the end of the spit and the rocky beach, where many anglers were fishing for anything that would bite. Many young kids were playing while sitting on the rocky beach, others were walking their dogs, and many were simply enjoying the sunshine.
Being that we were in a hotel, we figured it would be expensive. But it was not, as the items on the menu were all pried a bit lower than everywhere else we have visited so far. And the offerings were not all fish. We had a small serving of soup, salad, and freshly-baked bread. And also split a hamburger. Our waitress shared a lot of info about the people and the area. Ending the meal with a shared dessert of a molten chocolate volcano cake, quite appropriate for here, then went on our way by 2:30pm.
The numbers of bird life here is 10 times the people watching. Noticing that thousands of gulls and kittiwakes were flying and floating over the entrance to the harbor, our waitress told us that the fish factory had a pipe that deposited the fish waste into the waters here. No wonder, the birds were gorging themselves with a free and easy meal. Bet this is what draws in the otters and the harbor seals. Equally interesting, was watching the process of the fishing boats being offloaded of their catch and being weighed.
Walking back around the harbor, we went into most every shops and café on the way. One of those places was the Salty Dawg Saloon. It looked like a small log cabin with a low ceiling. It felt even smaller trying to squeeze inside with a hundred people drinking beer in there. The walls and ceilings were covered with signed bills from everywhere in the world. We stayed long enough to get a photo, since it was dark and over-crowded. Unlike the souvenir shops in our previous cities, everything here was pricey. No bargains to be found. This was the stop for the free shuttle (a school bus). We could have hopped on to go back to the ship, but the day was so nice, a walk was in order.
The lazy sea otter had move up closer to the ship by now. He was not moving for anything, even the boats that flew past him on both sides. One small boat had a large Labrador in it, that appeared to want to take on the otter. We would guess that the otter outweighed this dog by a lot. Seals popped up occasionally, but disappeared just as fast.
All aboard was 5:30pm, and everyone must have been back early, because the ship was moving 15 minutes early. Our tablemate, Dave, had taken a local ferry to eat a special lunch nearby. He was concerned that he could miss the ship, but since we did not hear him being called to the front office, we assume his connections were successful. We won't know for sure until tomorrow, since dinner for us was in the Pinnacle Grill tonight.
Our meal was very good as always. We tried the jidori chicken and the lamb chops, both equally tasty. The jumbo shrimp appetizer we shared could have substituted for an entrée. They were huge. We kept dessert light with ice cream, but were surprised when the manager presented a small chocolate mousse anniversary cake. Now we are not certain where this info came from that our anniversary is now, but it really is a month away. Normally, we prefer to keep these special dates private, but it was so nice to be surprised, we indulged in a small slice of the dessert.
When we returned to our room, we had two photos gifted to us from the President's Club Pinnacle dinner. Also a nice surprise.
Tomorrow's port will be Kodiak, but it will be a short stay. That was one place we remember heavy rain, so if the forecast of cloudy remains, it should be OK.
Bill & Mary Ann