Sometimes when I go away filming, I’m not entirely sure what to expect. Some have been fabulous and some very disappointing. Experience has taught me that some of the most exciting or exotic destinations can be a bit of a letdown for various reasons. It all starts at home when various people, including mates and family members, ask what I’m up to. When you say ‘Oh I’m off to America or to Sri Lanka’, you can imagine the reaction, ‘Oh alright for some’ blah blah blah. It’s weird they all assume that’s jolly and a laugh, and whilst I agree it’s not the same as being stuck in an office, it’s definitely not jolly.
My latest trip took me to a place I have never been to before and didn’t really know much about apart from 2 statistics. One is that it is 576,000 square miles big, and the other is that it was bought from the Russian’s for $1 an acre many years ago. Yes, it’s Alaska. Apparently, Montana, Texas, and North Carolina fit into it easily! That is rather hard to visualise until you think that the whole of the UK fits into Texas 4 times. Wow, that’s big and with a population of only a mere 3 million.
As I have mentioned already, you are never quite sure what to find or see, but every so often, a place really stops you in your tracks. And this place did just that. Some of the things I have encountered and seen on my trip really are so memorable I will remember for the rest of my life.
The plan was to make 2 films on the back of the sustainable fishing series I made for ITV’s ‘This Morning’ (see other pages here on the site). Alaska is the perfect place as all the fishing is very carefully and strictly regulated. One of the films concentrated on the wild salmon industry; the other was to look at more fully sustainable species, such as halibut and crab. ‘Alaska Seafood’ were to be our guides and be with us to show us the industry, people, and wonderful fish.
The trip started with a 9½ hour flight to Vancouver with a quick 1-hour wait, then a 45-minute twin-prop trip to Seattle. I was to meet up with the crew, Matt (the cameraman), Russel (the soundman), and JD, my director. As I landed, my phone went off, and it was JD. They had missed their flight connection from Washington to Seattle by 3 minutes…meaning that they would not make the last stage of the journey from Seattle to Juneau so that they would arrive tomorrow. Oh dear, that meant we were almost a day behind to start with on a very tight schedule. I had 5 hours to kill, so I checked in and went through the ridiculously long American safety checks, including a full-body x-ray scan.
Next, a very thorough rub down and many questions from bemused officials as to why I wanted to go to Alaska in the first place.
I was a bit tired now, but hey ho, the sun was shining. I thought I’d better stay awake as long as I could, trying to forget that in the UK, it was 9 in the evening. This was a bit wearing, coupled with the fact that I would have to endure the normal, pretty awful run of the mill airport food. However, on closer inspection, it seems here in Seattle airport they have many food offerings indeed. Some good, some not so, but I was quite impressed. I settled for a large seafood restaurant with a stunning window view out to the runway. My waiter was charming, full of life and very funny. I’m not too sure why I remember this. Oh yes, I do; because in America, everyone is trying to please you, so you leave a bigger tip. I know I may be a cynic, but strangely, it’s a refreshing change to be served by people who seem genuinely happy to do so without grunting, sighing, or being downright rude. The menu was a nice surprise. It read really well and was full of fish and shellfish. Wild Alaskan salmon and Halibut featured heavily, but I was going to be eating huge amounts of the stuff over the next few days, so I plumped for fried oysters with rice and broccoli.
A good choice my waiter commented, ‘It’s my favourite dish on the menu buddy’, and off he went. I was warming to him even more, especially after my second beer, until I saw him say the same about a calamari dish to two Japanese tourists. Oh well, perhaps I was expecting too much.
The meal arrived quickly, nicely cooked, lovely plump oysters which were lightly fried. It was served with rather undercooked broccoli and Basmati rice with golden sultanas and slivered almonds mixed through. Not the norm, but certainly very good. I sat there wondering how many of the airports in Britain could A: cope with this sort of menu and B: could deliver this quality so quickly, Mmmmm.
After polishing off the whole plate, I then had a quick crème Brulee and sat back with a full stomach to admire the view and think about the next step of the journey. No sooner had I sat back in my chair, Mr Waiter returned. Catching me unawares from behind, trying to flog me a coffee or another drink and telling me in no uncertain terms that his shift was about to end. I took this as a euphemism for ‘please settle the check so I can have my big fat tip’. I paid up and left a tip. We shook hands and made our way out.
I still had 3 hours to wait, so I found a seat in a huge corridor and settled down, feeling rather sleepy and pleasantly full. I was woken by a Korean lady slumping in the seat next to me and hitting her head on the wall. We exchanged glances, she trying not to feel too embarrassed, but it must have hurt. I did feel for her. It reminded me of the old school days when you fell over in the playground and jumped, saying, “That didn’t hurt, that didn’t hurt”, but then ran into the loos and cried your eyes out. My attention was suddenly drawn to a small dog with a bandana around its neck trotting down the concourse, not what you normally see. Her owner, a slight girl in her mid-twenties, was almost walking like her dog, short steps and looking rather rushed. I have to tell you what happened next because it’s one of those situations that simply does not happen.
She was completely oblivious to what happened next; this poor animal was walking and starting to squat, then run and squat again. This continued past me. The dog then just let go whilst trotting and walking, depositing small nodules of…… The girl continued to drag her dog along over a space of about 15 metres and out of sight. The couple directly behind her started to shout very loud, showing their dismay and chased the lady around the corner. I sat there and in my sleepy state and watched a couple just miss the offending deposits, then a cleaner pushing a large cart sidled up to the waste. He had no idea what he was looking at that was obvious, but as he bent down, his demeanour changed, and he started shouting and waving. That got even worse when he looked further down the concourse. At this point, the girl and dog returned. The couple must have shamed her into returning, clutching some tissue and tried to help the cleaner. He got even more irate and shouted at her, almost pushing her out of the way. She then left him and returned to help. After a lot of waving, he cleaned up the mess and wandered past me shaking his head. He was not a happy man. Still, it entertained me for a few minutes, and his wife would no doubt get the full story when he got home! Only 2½ hours to go.
I finally got on the plane and off to Juneau, which was about 2½ hours over some beautiful scenery. What a fabulous place with miles and miles of woods and sea inlets.
By the time I arrived, it was early evening, and the light was fading fast, but I did glimpse the tail end of the Herbert glacier on landing, tipping large chunks of ice into a huge lagoon.
The lagoon, petrol blue in colour, washing away to the sea, what a good start, I thought. The airport is small and functional, and the other people on the flight were a mix of walking tourists and keen fishermen, some I would see on the return flight in a week. I shared a cab to the hotel with a nice chap, here to hike and have a look about. The taxi driver was a cross between an ageing rocker, like Roy Wood and Neil, the hippy from the young ones. He arrived here to salmon fish 16 years ago and never went home; the draw he said was too great. We arrived at the Westmark Baranof hotel and tipped out. Juneau is a mix of old-style fishing buildings and tourist trap shops to flog anything they can to the many ocean-going liners that dock here in the season. Whilst I was there, I must have seen 6 or 7 huge ships, some as big as 750,000 tons, dock so skilfully it puts my parking a car to shame.
The hotel was functional, clean and adequate and the staff were nice and pleasant. The bar area reminded me of a scene from the film The Shining, but with a few more people. I met the girls, Jocelyn and Cherry, from the PR Company ‘The Dialogue Agency’, and Andrew Brown European head honcho with Alaska salmon. Also on the trip was a good friend and photographer of mine, Steve Lee. He was here to shoot food pictures for the new Alaska salmon cookbook/brochure. He would also take a few for the Company of me being in Alaska filming. I was warned that the crew would be in early at Juneau airport, where we would meet them as we needed to fly to another island Hoonah. So an early start was needed, after a halibut sandwich and a couple of beers I hit the sack, and slept really well. I met Steve and Andrew (head of Alaska Seafood Europe) after a good night’s sleep early in the reception and went in for breakfast.
The restaurant was busy already. The menu read really well, full of fish and not the normal offering. Steve and Andrew asked about the deer sausage, which they ordered. I had Alaskan salmon hash, which was very good indeed. Large shards of potato and onions, with huge flakes of wild salmon folded through, topped with 2 fried eggs. All washed down with fresh coffee. What a nice way to set yourself up for the day. The staff were really friendly and very helpful, even at 7 in the morning. What a refreshing change from the reception you get in the UK. I don’t want to bash the UK too much, but the only reason I mention it is that I’m starting to notice more and more that people here always want to help you. JD had called to say they were on the early flight and would meet us at the airport about 8-ish, great. Taxi’s ordered and full of food, off we went, taking full bags as we were to stay over on another island and in a town called Hoonah, famous for its fishing industry and yes, bears!
Reasons to be in Alaska, Part 3
JD and lads arrive, and we hug each other. They complain about having no sleep and being knackered. In return, I tell them what a lovely sleep and a fabulous breakfast I have had. He ignores me and wanders off to retrieve the kit.
Oh dear, after a good hour, it transpires, all the kit had gone to Hamburg from Washington. So we had the Go Pro (a small camera) main camera, only 1 tape, 1 battery and no sound kit. That’s it. JD, Matt and Russell are not happy bunnies. I resist the temptation to tell them again what a lovely breakfast I had had.
After several cigarettes, a few coffees, and a lot of fairly irate discussions with the ground staff, we all resign ourselves to the fact there is nothing we can do. The kit could be arriving on either of 2 flights later in the day, one later in the morning or late afternoon. Not the news we wanted to hear.
JD and the lads, now with only 4 hours of sleep and airline food in 2 days, accept the fact that we have to kick on with what we have; we have no choice.
We move into the small airport about 100 metres to another small check-in desk. The lad behind the desk looks about 15. Russell, the soundman, still worried about his kit, is mumbling about not being entirely happy. We then have to weigh everything, including ourselves, as we will be flying in 2 small planes for the short 30 minutes trip to Hoonah. After many stacking and re-weighing, we go through a small door out onto the tarmac and start loading the 2 planes. I’m in the slightly larger plane, as we will try and do our first piece to camera.
The weather is spectacular with strong sunshine and blue skies. The mountains that surround the airport are high and fully wooded, and brilliantly green. The young boy finishes packing the smaller aircraft and gets into the pilots’ seat. Yes, he was the pilot. I joke that he should still be at school; our pilot ignores me as we do a walking piece to camera getting into the plane.
Here he explains later. You don’t drive much here, you use the sea or fly everywhere. Not very reassuring, especially when they tell you they fly by sight, ignoring most of the instruments. (Whilst we were there, a small plane had crashed into a mountain killing all the people on board).
We take off and head for Hoonah, about a 20-minute flight. On the way, the pilot makes a quick detour and circles a pod of whales far below, so Matt can get a few shots. I forget my camera is in my bag that has been packed in the back, damn…
We circle the tiny airfield and then make a sharp descent into Hoonah; the airfield is deserted.
While they unpack the plane, I do a quick piece to camera. We all pack into a small minibus for the 5 minute trip into Hoonah town.
Our driver Jimmy and his wife Minnie are our guides for the day. They both have the tourist blurb off to a tee, both even laughing in the right place. They are charming.
We have coffee at Grandma Nina’s coffee shop/shed, and it looks like the only shop in town. After a big fire in the forties, the main town probably comprises about 50 small wooden homes, almost identical.
A large guy, thick-set, huge shoulders wearing a baseball cap, rolls up. He booms, ‘Hey you, the film crew’ we nervously say yes, and we all shake hands. Our charter captain for the day, Keith Skaflestad, is quite a scary guy, and it was like shaking hands with a grizzly bear.
We all climb aboard and leave to find his dad, who is out salmon fishing; he is about 30 minutes away. His boat is immaculate, clean and new, with two huge engines. Once out of the harbour, we open up and glide across the bay. What a job I have here in Alaska, sun shining, beautiful clear blue sky, calm turquoise sea, flying across a huge inlet.
On the way, we chat about fishing, salmon, whales and, of course, bears. It transpires he loves all three and promises to take us to see whales later as he knows the perfect spot. So naturally, we all get very excited.
Bears, he says, are everywhere, so be careful. I ask him if he is scared of them. He pauses and smiles. He replies, “No, cos I have this,” and pulls out a 50 calibre pistol. I have never seen a handgun that big before, and it’s huge, as big as my chest and slightly worrying. It turns out it’s one of 27 guns he owns. I enquire as to why he has 27 guns and a 50 calibre pistol. He chuckles and says, ‘Cos I can!’ He laughs and shrugs his shoulders when I explain that if you are caught with any handgun in the UK, you could face 5 years in prison.
We arrive at his dad’s boat, the Janice K and meet his dad Faggan. They are trolling for salmon. This means long lines are dragged in the water very slowly. Large hooks and silver pieces of metal are attached to the lines that flash in the water and attract the salmon. I climb aboard, and we shake hands. Keith’s son is fishing also.
I ask about the species of salmon they are after. They fall into 5 main categories King, Coho, Humpies or Pinkies, Chum and Sockeye. King is the most sort after and bringing the best price. I’m amazed at the way the guys handle the salmon with great care. We film various bits, then say our goodbyes and head off to the cannery, about 30 minutes away.
The cannery is also known as ‘Excursion Inlet’, is a slightly spooky place. It’s literally in the middle of nowhere, on the side of a hill with no road access whatsoever. The only way in is by sea or air with a very short airstrip at the back of the complex. It looks like a gravel road until you see the funny International Airport Building. The original complex was built to house prisoners of war that burnt down, then re-built today.
It’s a huge complex, with large processing lines, for canning, preparing, freezing, and caviar production.
Tonnes of fish are processed here in only a few months. Yet, the volume they get through is staggering.
At the rear of the building are the buildings that house all the migrant workers. They come from all over the world, and many returning years after year, earning as much as they can in a few short months.
Outside the main processing plant are banks and banks of shipping containers, ready to ship cans and frozen salmon worldwide.
We film wonderful old machines that remove heads, guts, skin and anything else that needs sorting; it’s a very slick operation. Then, the fish are all graded and checked and rechecked.
The salmon for canning are cut and packed into cans by 2 machines built in the ’20s and still going strong. Attention to detail is everywhere. Two lines of workers check every can to ensure there is no bone or skin on top of the can. If there is any, then they are gently removed or pushed back into the salmon. When I enquire why they do this, the reply is that it’s the first thing the customer sees, and it puts them off seeing anything other than pure salmon flesh.
The lids are added after under vacuum, then off to the retort (a sort of huge pressure cooker) for cooking and then cooling the cans.
The best quality salmon is filleted by hand and trimmed perfectly before being vac-packed and frozen. I pick a couple of nice fillets for my cooking section for the film later. We also choose a large King salmon for our dinner. I plan to barbeque it later once Keith has dropped us off.
Finally, we drop past the caviar processing plant. It’s the most secretive part of the operation, carefully picked to remove any veins and graded, salted and packed. The market for this premium product is on the increase and is sent to Japan and Europe. In the UK, we call it Keta caviar. Large round globules of salty, viscous liquid that fill your mouth, no wonder Sushi chefs love it so much.
Phil goes forth in Alaska
After that, we go to harbourside to film Keith’s dad unloading his catch; he has a full load, and they carefully lift and unload, then off again. It’s a fantastic process that has to be seen to be believed. The fish are in superb condition and very carefully handled.
After such an early start and with a little jet lag we eat lunch in the staff canteen. It is actually terrific, tasty and straight to the point with a heavy lean towards Mexican. The staff come from all over the world, some returning each year and have done for a long time. This is one slick operation.
When we polish off lunch and finish a few pieces to camera, it’s late afternoon, so we set off to find some whales. Keith assures us he knows where they are this time of the day. He did not disappoint. We sped off, and as we got closer to Hoonah. We could see the plumes of mist from the whales blow holes a long way off. He slowed down as it’s illegal to chase whales here.
The next 40 minutes I will never forget for the rest of my days. There were a couple of pods circling, diving, blowing all around our boat. Apparently, they were feeding and fattening to get ready for the winter. Keith explained that they were bubble net feeding.
That means they all circle a shoal of fish, letting out bubbles. This confuses the fish and makes them feel trapped. They then swim close together and swim upwards. The whales then rise underneath the shoal and push them right to the top, opening their huge mouth’s to capture as many as possible.
It’s a truly spectacular sight, and we watch them go through the same process many times until they get full or just bored. Then, at that point, they suddenly disappear and surface ¼ of a mile away, the seagulls following, then they were gone.
We head back to Hoonah, and on the way, stop to look at seals sleeping on a buoy. Apparently, they are there all the time. So how the hell do they get on?
We say goodbye and thanks to Keith (who was off bear hunting) and meet up for a barbeque of King Salmon and a few glasses. What a first day.
We stay in a hotel on the island, I have a suite that overlooks a small lagoon, and I stay up late to look for a bear but to no avail.
The next day, we have a good breakfast of hash again and head off to see if we can find a bear or two with Jimmy and Minnie. The day is overcast and drizzly, but we are in good company; they are amusing. Finally, we stop to film the salmon waiting in the river. There are hundreds, if not thousands, gently resting. I have never seen so many in all my life.
Matt and Russell film the coach leaving. I have to say slightly worried as we are deep into Grizzly bear country. But, as we go further up the road, we get to our destination. Waiting for us was our guide Owen James, complete with a high power rifle over one shoulder. That did make me feel a little safer.
We pile out of the bus and are given rigorous instructions on what to do and what not to do. This is for real. I’m heartened by the fact that our guide (name escapes me) has never had to use his rifle in the past 10 years.
We set off down a long track through trees and then a bog. Bear evidence is everywhere, and there has been a female, and young cub has been through fairly recently, Minnie tells us.
You can see the flattened grass and shrubs. We finally get to the viewing platform overlooking the river and ……nothing, just that horrible drizzly mist that chills you through and through. Finally, the river is low, and we scan the surrounding area, the rain gets slightly harder.
We wait and wait, probably for about 30 minutes. By this time, I was starting to think it was not going to be our day. Then, a tap on my shoulder and our guide points into the trees 20 metres in front of me. He says quietly to me, ‘Do not move’ I focus and lock onto a large grizzly bear, head poking through the bush looking straight at me. I freeze and do not move. I look away briefly, look back, and it’s gone!
At this point, I hear a splashing noise from the river and glance over to see the river awash with salmon heading upriver. It looks like the river has a bubbling wave slowly moving up the river. As they get closer, I see the large dorsal fins poking out of the water.
The next thing the bear wanders out from the bushes below our viewing platform about 30 metres away, lolloping towards the river followed by two small cub’s; wow! She suddenly runs into the river, jumps on a salmon, lifts out of the water, rips off the head and skin in one easy movement and leaves it for one of the cubs. We watch her up and down the river and on and off the banks for a good 40 minutes.
They settle on the far bank, stuffing themselves full of fish. Then, after a while, they wade back across the river, onto the stones disappear back into the bushes from where they came out. Wow, wow wow!
We wait for a couple of minutes, then walk back carefully, then to my right, I see the bushes moving, and the mum gives me one last look before going off to sleep with her babes.
I have to say I do feel a lot safer on the bus. So we decide to head back to Hoonah for a fish and chip lunch in Keith’s cafe.
After lunch, the rain really sets in, and it becomes very misty, sod’s law as we had to film the cooking sequence, but first, we film with Eric on his boat to chat about fishing and the sustainability issue.
I cook Cedar Planked Wild Salmon with Mustard, Parsley and Salt and Pepper.
- Preheat the bar b q, soak the planks of wood in the sea for 30 minutes.
- Next, place the salmon on the wood and slice a 1cm deep slit right down the length of the fillet.
- Place butter into the full length of the crevice.
- Smear well with Dijon mustard, plenty of salt and pepper and cook by the indirect cooking method on the hot bar-b-q (that means pile the hot coals on one side of the grill, then place the planks on the other side, then cover with the lid.
- Wild salmon in any form takes skill and care. It is so lean that if you overcook the flesh, it will be dry in a flash, so ALWAYS undercook.
- After about 8 minutes, I lift off the lid, squeeze over some lemon juice, and sprinkle over plenty of chopped parsley and re-cook for a couple of minutes.
We all taste straight off the plank. It’s delicious and just cooked. Jimmy & Minnie seem very pleased. Phew, they eat salmon all the time. We head back to Juneau, in the gloom, in two small planes and back to the hotel for a quiet supper and bed.
The next day, we are up early and off to Auke Bay to catch a charter boat run by Grant and Tyson.
We are off to meet and chat with a guy called Bill Thomas and his son Cole from Haines. He’s a big noise in the sustainable fishing movement here; yep, he’s out fishing and has done for many years. On the jet boat, we fly past porpoises, darting and dipping. We finally meet Bill on his boat. I climb aboard and film a nice piece to camera with his son. He is engaging with a perfect sense of humour.
He is gill net fishing, and we film him hauling in his catch. All the fish he catches are placed into a tender boat. That’s a boat that comes out to all the smaller fishing boats, collects their catch, and takes it off to Excursion Inlet cannery. This way, the lads can continue fishing 24/7. Finally, we say our goodbyes and head off to see if we can see more whales as Grant has had a call to say there are plenty not far from us. So, all excited, we head off into the mist.
Phil in Alaska Part 5
As we get closer, we can see several boast circling and waiting, which was a good sign. These are tourist boats, so we know there must be plenty of whales in the vicinity.
Whilst we wait, Tyson gets out the fishing rod and asks if I want to fish. Within 15 minutes, we have 5 King salmon, all well over 15lb; wow, in the UK, you can wait 2 weeks for 1!
The whales do not disappoint. Within a few minutes, they are everywhere—bubble net feeding and keeping us all entertained. One pod even head straight for our boat, then dive at the last second. I did get slightly concerned at that point. Then in a flash, they were gone. It’s not often in life you are truly stunned by what you see. This is one of those exceptional moments.
We head back, still chatting about what we had seen, say goodbye to the lads and head off to lunch. Over lunch in Juneau, the conversation continues over what a fabulous morning it had been. We spend the afternoon trying to get GV’s, but the weather is not helping us. It’s raining and a bit miserable.
I spend the afternoon wandering around Juneau. It’s a nice place, small and compact jammed full of trinkets and tourist shops. There is an average of 5 huge cruise liners here every day in the season, so it’s big business. I try to negotiate a price on a Walrus head, but to no avail, she was not going to budge from her $5000 price tag…
I get back to the hotel and have a quick kip. Jet lag was really kicking in now.
Later we eat dinner in the hotel restaurant, eating snow crab on Steve’s recommendation, it was delicious and something I will remember for a long time.
The next day we have to get up very early to meet a ferry/catamaran that is going to take us to the location for our second film in Petersburg. We can fly, but the weather is not too good, so it was better not to risk it. The boat is a 700-ton catamaran that travels at high speed, and the trip will take some 4½ hours. After a slight delay with tickets and travel docs, we get on board and settle down with a nice coffee.
The trip is a good time to reflect on what we had seen and experienced so far. JD is very focused on the next couple of days, so we put a plan into place. We were going to film Halibut fishing, another of the sustainable fish on offer here, plus cooking for the mayor of Petersburg.
JD asks half-heartedly if the captain will let us film on the bridge. The answer comes back no problem, so off we go.
When we emerge from the labyrinth of corridors and locked doors onto the bridge, there is an air of complete calm. Captain Wayne and 2nd mate Pat have fully focused on the sea ahead, plus 2 or 3 spotters with huge binoculars.
I try to chat with the Captain. He answers whilst looking straight ahead; he looks out for whales, helped by his team spotters.
He tells me that they are here feeding, ready for a long trip to Hawaii or Japan. The females and calves leave first, then males and finally the pregnant females, eating as much as possible. They are everywhere, and I ask Captain if he has ever accidentally hit a whale; the answer is a resounding no.
I explain to him what a privilege it is to be here and ask him if he ever gets bored. He replies, ‘No, I get to do this shit every day. I laugh. After an hour, we are clear of the whales, and we thank Wayne and his team and get ready to dock in an overcast Petersburg. We disembark, and I have to film several sequences of me leaving the ship. All a bit strange, really, me leaving a huge ship several times to the amusement of the local deckhands.
I meet up with Sue Paulsen, a Petersberg PR lady and local resident. We then head off, and she shows me the town, which is basically a long street with shops on either side, a mix of fishing based shops and businesses and hardware stores, not many trinket shops here. We check into the small, clean hotel that weirdly smells of bleach and have a coffee at their small coffee bar. Very good it was too.
After a quick lunch, we head off to get the ingredients for my cooking strand for the mayor. I thought I would do a British themed idea but using Alaskan ingredients. So I prepared a King crab cocktail with spring onions and coriander. Marinated Halibut cheeks with sesame, soy, chilli, olive oil, ginger and pepper. King crab legs, split and filled with a mild, fragrant curry butter with extra cumin, turmeric and cardamom. And sautéed halibut cheeks coated in breadcrumbs with bacon, mushroom and parsley sauce. All helped by Aimee and her colleagues, what stars they were.
The evening started with a quick speech to say thank you to all the residents and the Mayor, a cookery demonstration outside (this coupled up with my cooking section to the film) and a good chat with the locals. The only downside was the weather, raining all the time, but hey, that never stops us, gazebos, and umbrellas, and we are fine!!! After a beer or two, I head off to bed, knackered.
We are up fairly early the following day but have to go down the street for a bite to eat as the hotel has no restaurant. So we feast on hash and eggs and coffee head off to the local radio station for an interview on why I am here. We chat about sustainable fishing and how important it is to the local economy. I explain that in the UK, the public is becoming increasingly interested in how and where their food comes from. We then head off to meet Aimee again, who has a couple of restaurants to interview her about being a fisherman’s wife. She is, in fact, a fisherman or woman herself and spends all winter squid fishing off the Californian. She is very quick to correct me. She is attractive, charming and engaging. She is also quite scary, very toned and strong. Her father was a fisherman, and she has been around the industry for many years, so she has fished all her life.
She is more than qualified to answer questions on a film about sustainable fishing. We have a great lunch at her place of Halibut burger with salsa, salad, cranberries and feta cheese, and it’s delicious.
After a quick rest stop, we stop off to meet Captain Dan O’Neil to see if we can catch a huge Halibut. Next, we head out of Petersburg, past a couple of canneries and out past Hungry point for an hour’s trip to the best fishing spot. Again we see sea lions again resting on a buoy.
We bait up with salmon and herring and get ready. Halibut fishing is dropping bait and weights some 200 feet than waiting and waiting and waiting…..
We finally get a bite, or Russell did. He then passed over the rod to me to reel in on camera (what a gent). It took a good 10 minutes. It was cumbersome, and I kept diving again and again. Finally, Dan teases me and comments, “Come on, Phil, we will all be old by the time you reel this in”…
Finally, it surfaced, but no… it was not a halibut but a 70lb skate. It was enormous, covering most of the deck when we eventually landed it. It was flapping about a bit, and we were told to steer clear of the tail. It has a large spine on it.
As it was not what we were trying to catch, we gently placed him back into the water, and away he wafted.
We tried several other areas, but to no avail, never mind, we tried. Finally, Dan suggested we took a look at the icebergs way across the bay; they looked tiny in the distance.
As we sped across the bay, they got bigger and bigger. The icebergs were from a glacier 10 miles away, and in summer, large chunks fall away and float about whilst they defrost.
We sailed amongst them. The temperature dropped rapidly; in fact, it was quite eerie. Dan said we had to be very careful as small chunks of the office can rip through his keel easily.
He stops the boat and picks a large chunk of office out of the water for me to hold and taste. Then, we film a piece to camera. He also suggests we take it back to the hotel for our post-filming gin and tonic.
The hundreds of icebergs’ shapes, colours, and sizes are amazing, and the chill almost takes my breath away. It was like being on a film set.
I ask JD if I can do a piece to camera on the iceberg. He reminds me of ‘elf & safety’ and my young daughter and wife!!!!! So we speed back to Petersburg as the light is fading, all chilled to the bone but stunned by what we had seen and been amongst.
That night we all head out to dinner at a restaurant called Beachcomber, a short drive the other side of Petersburg.
I eat black cod, smoked an acquired taste, I’m told due to its high oil content. Its served with red spuds and vegetables. It’s also delicious. I also have a green salad with blue cheese and hot smoked salmon, very nice.
I fall into bed, full and reflecting on another wonderful day.
Our last day in Petersburg starts with a salmon burrito and coffee with the team at The Seafood cafe. We film here showing large Dungeness crabs, a medium-sized halibut, and the biggest salmon caught this season to date. It weighs in at a whopping 50lbs and certainly dwarfs our 4 at 20lb! We film around the town with Sue in the last few hours, finally dropping her off before boarding our large seaplane back to Juneau.
The flight is amazing, as we fly over some of the most spectacular scenery in America. I film an opener to the film and then wonder as we circle over Herbert glacier before landing in Juneau. We have another good dinner and finally to bed.
The crew and I leave early and catch our flight to Seattle. We pitch up at the same restaurant I ate at on the way out. We all feast on fried oysters and squid. Then we split up. I go to Vancouver, and the boys go to Washington.
On the plane back to Heathrow, I scribble many notes and pinch myself on how lucky I am to have had the chance to film and write about one of the most unexplored parts of the world we live in. It’s been an incredible experience.
Thanks to all the following people who made this trip such a success:
- Alaska Seafood: Hannah, Andrew, Joe, Tyson, Bill Thomas, Cherry, and Jocelyn: www.alaskaseafood.org.uk
- Historian Sue Paulsen and People of Petersburg.
- Keith Skaflested TECKK Outfitters, Hoonah.
- Dan O’Neil Secret Cove Charters Petersburg.
- More Charters LLC.
- Michael McGinley, Ocean Beauty.
- Mike, Excursion Inlet.
- Tyler Hickman, Icy Straight Point.
- Representative Bill Thomas.
- Minnie and Jimmy Dalton.
- Anthony Lindoff.
- Susan Christensen, Sons of Norway.
- Amyee Peeler, Inga’s Gallery.
- Joe Viechniki, KFSK FM.
- Gary and Dorothy McConnell, First Choice Charters.
- Randy Lantigne and Mark Tupper.