Greased Poles and other July Fourth Fun

The last post showed a bit about the tiny town of Pelican, and the July Fourth parade. After the parade everyone met down by the school for a community cookout. The town provided burgers and hot dogs on the grill and everyone brought a side dish or a dessert.

Between the normal summer residents and their visiting guests, fish processing plant workers and some visiting boaters like us there were almost 200 people!

They had lots of games – a big pile of sawdust where coins were hidden for the little ones to find, wheelbarrow races, an egg toss, and foot races – all divided up into age groups. They even had the “over 65” group!

Over 65 foot race

Our faces hurt from smiling and laughing so much… but there was more fun to come. People started heading over to the harbor for the “anything floats” races. In the meantime many of the kids and teens jumped in the water to swim and cool off – despite the fact that the water is about 50 degrees!

There weren’t too many entries in the “anything floats races”, but enough to keep us entertained especially with windy conditions near the starting point.

The bear on the float above is a nod to the very high population of brown bears on Chichagof Island, and to the number of them near town. A week before our visit, the town safety officer (VPSO) had to shoot a bear that kept breaking into the kitchen of a fishing lodge. People are very careful about trash to keep from attracting bears, but sometimes a bear will lose its fear of humans and become a problem.

Back to the festivities – the highlight of the day was the Greased Pole Competition. It starts with a tapered, smoothed log that’s strapped to the dock, suspended over the water. They place a small American flag near the end, and the object is to slide out the pole and grab the flag.

But the pole is kept greased up with Crisco…

…and it’s pretty flexible, so body weight will make you accelerate as you get towards the tip. Meanwhile, the spectators contribute money to the prize pot, and the longer the contest goes on, the bigger the the pot gets. Here’s a very short video to show how it all works (or, in this case, doesn’t!)

ALMOST! (But no…)

After about an hour of many people making multiple attempts (and some big bruises)… this guy finally succeeded and won the $1300 prize pot!


It was a fantastic day – we loved all the old-fashioned fun. We stayed around an extra day or two to visit friends and do some chores, then headed back out to explore more of the outer coast.

July Fourth in Pelican

No, we don’t have pelicans in southeast Alaska. This tiny boardwalk town perched on a mountainside on the ocean coast of Chichagof Island was named after a fishing boat – the PELICAN. About 40 people winter over, but the town hustles a lot more in the summer with a few charter fishing lodges, a small fish processing operation and a cold storage facility.

Supplies, mail and people arrive by either boat or by floatplane, and often when a plane is coming in someone zips down the dock in an ATV (with a little dog between the handlebars) towing a cart.

All the vehicles in town are ATVs of some type, except for the trash truck (a pickup with a large aluminum box in the bed) and the fire truck (another pickup).

We heard about the schedule for the next day’s July Fourth festivities while having lunch at the little cafe (good to know that we needed to bring a side dish for the cookout), and to know when the parade would start. I love an old-fashioned parade!

I’ll post more of the July Fourth festivities tomorrow – especially the Greased Pole competition… not to be missed.

Elfin Cove

Our first stop on the outer coast is the little community of Elfin Cove. We’ve tried to visit here a few times in the past but the dock was always chock full of fishing boats. This time, we planned our arrival for just after a commercial trolling opening… and voila – plenty of space on the dock!

The town has just a handful of residents that winter over, but the population swells during the summer with sport fishing lodges and commercial fishing activity. Most of the town is along a boardwalk loop, connecting the front dock area with the back bay.

Back bay docks

I shot a little drone video to give you a better idea of what the community looks like, and to show the views looking out towards the scattering of islands that protect Elfin Cove from ocean waves.

There are two entrances to the town, on either side of a small steep island. The cut to the back bay is pretty narrow and shallow – navigable only at mid-tide or higher… and definitely high tide for a boat like ours.

The old school no longer has enough children to remain open so the building is home to the post office, community gym and a little museum. We had a nice lunch at the Coho Cafe… and caught up on some local news and plans for July Fourth.

Flowers were blooming and people’s gardens were growing quickly in the long hours of daylight.

We particularly liked this planting arrangement – “Croc Pots”

We strolled the boardwalks and admired the effort required to build houses in such a remote place with steep cliffs and massive trees. Berries were just about ready for picking – the salmonberries were a few days away from perfection…

…and the blueberries looked just about right.

Playing host to so much fishing activity means that there’s a lot of demand for fuel, and I suspect the fuel barge doesn’t come around very often. A community like this has to be able to store a lot of fuel – diesel and gasoline.

Fuel farm

Besides the cafe and the fishing lodges, Elfin Cove has a little General Store stocked with food items, marine supplies, t-shirts and sweatshirts, and of course some fishing gear.

A Pilot boat is based here – used to pick up the Alaska State (navigational) Pilots that are aboard every large cruise ship to guide them while they are in the inside channels.

As you can imagine, supplies are very expensive here – everything arrives either by boat or by float plane. Mail, cargo, fishing lodge guests, food and supplies arrive on the various float planes that arrive throughout the day – weather permitting.

With the commercial trolling season opening, the barge next to the main dock became a platform for receiving fish and selling ice to the trollers. Other tenders (fish buying boats) also came in to load fish to be taken to the processing plants, and it was a very tight squeeze when an 85′ tender needed to get past some small boats at low tide. One wrong move and those little guys would have been splinters… but the tender was piloted perfectly – an impressive job.

We were tempted to stay a bit longer to enjoy the July Fourth festivities, but we had good weather to run out and around to another tiny town – Pelican. Stay tuned.

Just a Few More…

Some last photos from Glacier Bay, and some other treats.

If you remember from the last post, we looked for mountain goats on Gloomy Knob as we were northbound in the bay but didn’t see any. We decided to head back there on our way south and had success! Groups of goats…

…and a nanny with her kid. So sweet!

And since we were so close to Tidal Inlet we nosed in to check the beach and the alluvial fan for wildlife, and we lucked out with a brown bear sow and her very blonde two year old cubs.

We drifted in the deep part of the inlet to have lunch, and spotted a pair of sub-adult brown bears on a different part of the beach – a “brownie” and a “blondie”. This is the first time we’ve seen so many light colored brown bears.

A sleepy sea otter waved as we headed out of the bay and back to Hoonah – we needed a few days to pick up some forwarded mail and catch up on laundry.

The weather was clear but hot! It was 80 degrees one day, which is way too hot for the wildlife and the locals. It’s very scary to see so much fishbelly-white skin when the Alaskans don their shorts! It was a relief when the sun set (around 10pm) and we enjoyed seeing the pretty sky.

The eagles were still sitting on their nest, but we haven’t seen any little fuzzy heads yet. We don’t know if the eaglets have hatched yet, but that nest is pretty deep.

All caught up on mail, Internet and phone calls, we headed out of Hoonah, past the docked cruise ship. I had to laugh at the two crew members standing on a little float by the ship’s bow, painting with very long-handled rollers. Maintenance on any kind of boat, big or small, never ends.

We cruised west towards the outside coast of Chichagof Island, and had to take the boat out of gear quickly when a humpback appeared right next to us. We drifted for a while to make sure it cleared the area before we put the engines back in gear. You just never know what’s around the next corner.