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A World Away

2015 June 19

Whales, totems and Alaskan wildlife abound on a cruise through the vast wilderness of Prince of Wales island

Most people are familiar with the three largest islands claimed by the United States—Hawaii, Puerto Rico and Kodiak. In fourth place is Prince of Wales Island, located on the south end of Alaska’s inside passage, and I am grateful for the relative anonymity of this remote Alaskan Island. Every summer a million tourists make their way through southeast Alaska on cruise ships, and not one of those behemoths docks at Prince of Wales. The approaching waters are too shallow and rocky, the docks are too small and the residents too few to accommodate such vessels. Cruise ships couldn’t get there, but I couldn’t wait to board the float plane that would whisk me to this place for a two-week early summer cruise.

Crewmember Sally and I waited on the dock while our pilot loaded up the back of his de Havilland Beaver with dry goods and boxes of mail. I grew up in Alaska, but I outed myself as a denizen of the lower 48 at check-in when a worker commented on my West Marine boots. Mine were not the brown-and-tan, hearty-as-they-are-ugly Xtratufs beloved by Alaskans and affectionately referred to as “the southeast sneaker;” they were something a tad more stylish. Loading finished, we strapped in for a cloudless ride above the water and thickly forested archipelago. The islands passing below were like green paint splatters on a blue-blue canvas. 

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