A Week Off in Petersburg

Christine Smith takes the David B to explore all the best hiking, provisioning and sightseeing that Petersburg, Alaska, has to offer.

Petersburg

Christine Smith

We have a week off! This doesn't happen very often in the summer and my husband, Jeffrey, and I are enjoying a little time to catch up on email, phone calls, and some light maintenance on the David B. Our next cruise doesn't begin for ten days in Ketchikan. When Jeffrey and I realized that we were going to have a week with no guests on board, we had to decide where we wanted to spend this free time.

We thought about Juneau. There is a lot to do there. The restaurants are nice; there are lots of hiking trails and good hardware stores. The drawback is that it’s pretty expensive to spend a week tied to the dock. We thought about heading down to Ketchikan, but decided the boat basin where we tie up is too close to the floatplane takeoff and landing area. It’s not necessarily a bad thing; it’s just a lot of loud noise all day long. In the end we decided on Petersburg. We’ve spent a lot of time in Petersburg the last few years and it has become one of our favorite places.

Petersburg is a hard working fishing town that hasn't been changed by the lure of big tourism with its thousands of tourists, t-shirt shops and jewelry stores. When we tie up in Petersburg, it's among purse seiners, trollers, and trawlers. The docks are always busy with people working on their boats. One of my favorites is called the Saga, a shrimp boat run by fisherman/author Dennis Sperl who spends his time catching the delicious small pink side-stripe shrimp that I serve on most all of our cruises in Alaska. I recently picked up Dennis' book Living to Fish, Fishing to Live about his love of fishing and Alaska. He has stories and poetry about the fishing lifestyle he's known his whole life.

Besides being an industrious town, Petersburg is also very scenic. There are beautiful mountains, icebergs from LeConte glacier in Frederick Sound, sea lions cruising between docked boats in the harbor, and more bald eagles and ravens than you can count. What I really like are that there are a few nice walking trails to stretch out our boat-tired legs. My favorite trail meanders through the muskeg just a couple of blocks from the harbor. The muskeg is a boggy, peaty-smelling marsh-like environment with stunted trees and carnivorous plants. Even the trail feels squishy. If you have time, there are several benches along the way where you can sit and listen to songbirds, ravens, and eagles.

From a cruising standpoint, Petersburg is a great place for provisioning. The local grocery store, Hammer & Wikan, has a shuttle service to and from the harbor. The van ride is short, and even though the driver, Joe, an Alaska native, seems a little cranky, you can tell that he has a heart of gold and a love of his job, his town, and his people. If you're lucky, you can catch the farmer's market that is held every other week. It's a small market, but if you get a chance stock up on veggies from Farragut Farms. Marja and Bo's fresh greens are a welcome treat. We've even been lucky enough to have them deliver directly to the David B when visiting Farragut Bay. I'll save that story for another day.

Petersburg has the best bookstore, Sing Lee Alley Books. It's located in an older house a couple doors down from the Sons of Norway Hall. Every time I walk up Sing Lee Alley's steps and through the door, I can't wait to start browsing books about nature and Alaska. There's always something new, and as a bonus, it has a mail drop for all those postcards you've been meaning to send out.

Another thing that I love about Petersburg is it's public radio station, KFSK. The news is entertaining, the music eclectic, the community calendar has daily school lunch and senior center menus, and hosts give on-air birthday wishes. KFSK also has a service called Muskeg Messages that people use to pass along information to folks who are off-the-grid. Listening to KFSK is an enjoyable way to get to know Petersburg.

I could go on about Petersburg, but I think you get the idea. It’s a place worth spending our week off.