Voyage on the M/V Tustumena: The Most Overcast Town in America, Dumpster Chickens, and Other Ports of Call

I’ve written about the vessel, and the people, and now I’m making a post specifically about the ports of call I visited on the M/V Tustumena.

This is a graphic from the Alaska Marine Highway website showing the routes in Southewest Alaska.

I’m skipping Homer and Kodiak to keep this post from getting too long; if someone really wants to know what I have to say about Homer and Kodiak, they may leave comments.



We had clear sunny skies in Chignik. We could see all of the volcanic scenery clearly (including the famous Castle Cape; I shared a photo in this post). According to the crew and the locals, Chignik almost never has clear sunny skies. Some of the crew members, who have been on this route many times, were taking photos because they had never seen such weather in Chignik before. Continue reading

Voyage on the M/V Tustumena: People I Met

I had heard that the M/V Tustumena is a great place for tourists to mix with locals, and it turns out that is actually true. I would say roughly half of the passengers were tourists (international tourists, tourists from the lower 48 states such as myself, and Alaskans who had never been to the southwestern part of the state before) and half were people who live in southwest Alaska. On the boat, there is no internet, there is rarely cell phone service (though people sometimes got cell phone service in bizarre spots), and unless we were docked in port, we were all in the same confined space. Many of the passengers (including me) were on the ferry for multiple days. This encouraged conversation with fellow passengers. For example, I spent quite a bit of time chatting with this group from Anchorage who do a lot of hiking and backpacking, just like me. I also spent a bit of time socializing with some birdwatchers from Juneau.

Some birdwatchers who were on the ferry watched this bird. Perhaps this bird was watching even more birds.

A paraphrased quote from a birdwatcher from Juneau: “When you become a birdwatcher [she had no doubt that I would become a birdwatcher] the very first bird call you learn to recognize by ear will become special to you” (I pointed out that I recognize the calls of some wild birds in San Francisco, and I’ve known them for so long that I don’t remember which one I learned to recognize first).

I met one passenger who was born on Sanak, an island off the coast of the Alaska peninsula which is no longer inhabited by people. She said that she was probably one of the last people ever born on Sanak. The purser’s counter also has an entire book about Unga, another village that lost all of its human population (IIRC, the last people left Unga around 1960). There are many communities on the Alaska Peninsula and the Aleutian Islands which have been completely depopulated in the 20th century. The U.S. government forced the permanent abandonment of a few villages during the Aleut Evacuation/Incarceration (which I will mention again in this post), and some communities which were the center of military activity during the Cold War were practically abandoned after the fall of the USSR. But for the most part, it seems that these communities lose their people after the local economy collapses (which I guess includes communities whose economies were based on Cold War military activity). Unga’s economy collapsed after both the mine and the fishery stopped being commercially viable. Continue reading

Voyage on the M/V Tustumena: The “Trusty Tusty”

The M/V Tustumena docked in King Cove, Alaska

On June 4, I departed Homer, Alaska on the boat M/V Tustumena, known by the nickname “Trusty Tusty”, as it headed towards Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian archipelago, a journey of about 900 miles (approximately 1400 kilometers) in one direction. The journey to Dutch Harbor took three and a half days, and then I got back on the boat as it turned around for the return voyage. I am sitting on the boat right now, typing the first draft of this blog post.

As I worked on the first draft of this post, I took this picture of the forward lounge (yes, that is my laptop in the foreground).

Where do passengers sleep on the boat? There are staterooms with spartan bunk beds, but they are expensive. Some passengers who did not pay for a stateroom sleep in the forward lounge or side lounge on the promenade deck. Others pitched their tent on the solarium deck.

A couple of tents on the solarium deck.

Continue reading