Thursday, May 21, 2015

Colorful Elfin Cove

Elfin Cove, Outer Harbor
We arrived at Elfin Cove around noon and pulled up to the fuel dock; posted hours were 1pm to 5pm Mon-Sat so we waited for the attendant.  Several other boats arrived shortly thereafter and also waited for fuel.  For such a tiny village it was surprisingly busy.  With our tanks full, we inquired about moorage; the friendly but hurried attendant told us moorage was free and to take any available spot in the outer harbor or in the back harbor where anchorage is also possible.  Since the docks at the outer harbor were full, we made our way to the back harbor accessed through a very shallow, narrow passage.  
Passage to the Back Harbor
The neck of this narrow passage is only 30 feet wide with a minimum depth of 8 feet at low tide, a tight squeeze for Got d’ Fever’s width of 15 feet and draft of just under five feet.  Motoring slowly through the passage, pushed by a slight current, we were able to stay mid-channel and avoid the shallow ledge on either side of the passage.  
Boardwalk around Elfin Cove
Spilling out into the back harbor, we found space at the docks and tied-up at this fascinating village, popular among seasonal sport fishermen.  Elfin Cove is one of the smallest communities in Alaska with only 16 year-round residents; the community fills with guests in spring and summer, arriving for a fishing vacation at the local lodges, an economic mainstay for the village.  Visitors arrive by floatplane, private boat, or by skiff from Pelican.  The village is a mixture of rustic charm and modern conveniences; businesses and homes are connected by boardwalks – there are no cars or significant roads.  Boardwalks wrap around the two bays and crisscross over the hilltop community through the trees. 
Elfin Cove General Store
Pretty Steep for a Wheelchair?!
Most of the lodges are built over the water with easy access to the docks, a picture postcard photo opportunity, or a charming setting for a Hollywood movie. 

A special pulley cart system built by one of the residents shuttles heavy supplies down to the boardwalk; next to the lift is a posted wheelchair access sign, someone’s cute  since of humor.  The adorable general store is open three days a week with limited hours but is well stocked with supplies brought in by barge.  
New Construction at Elfin Cove
Of course there is the requisite pub/café in town, a post office, and a nice gift shop.  The Elfin School now serves as a museum since all the children have since grown and departed.  The postmaster was kind enough to phone one of the locals who came and opened the museum for us to peruse.
Main Street, Elfin Cove
The colorful history of Elfin Cove is presented through photographs and keepsakes from the 1930’s and 40’s.  First charted by George Vancouver during the years 1776-1779, Elfin Cove was referred to as “Gunk Hole,” an Eastern term to donate a safe harbor.  In 1927 Buck O’Leary and Ernie Swanson discovered that Gunk Hole was a great place to fish and to do business.  
Elfin School House Museum
With the help of financial backing from fox farmer Frank Townsend of Inian Island, Ernie Swanson was able to build a small warehouse on shore and two float houses, one of which salted and packaged fish for shipping to Juneau and the other which sold groceries and fishing gear.  Swanson’s business grew into a collection of docks, cabins, and a restaurant and he decided to move to Gunk Hole with his wife Ruth in the early 1930’s.  The community was renamed Elfin Cove in 1935, thought to be attributed to Ernie’s boat, The Elfin.  Prior to the name change the community had been granted a Post Office of which Ruth Swanson became Postmaster.  Folklore has it that she would only accept the position if the town name was changed from Gunk Hole to Elfin Cove.

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