TRIP REPORT: Snug Harbor Outpost, the “forgotten shore”

In Alaska Travelgram by scott

Looking down the coast of Chisik Island from Snug Harbor

As soon as I learned about Snug Harbor Outpost from my friend Matt Atkinson, I was intrigued. We flew over it last summer on Chisik Island—along the western shore of Cook Inlet. But the view from 6,000 feet was…limited.

Willy Porter’s gillnetter rests at anchor offshore at Snug Harbor. In cannery days, the dispatcher looked out the windows of the 100-year-old building in the foreground.

The Porter family purchased the shuttered Snug Harbor Cannery about 20 years ago. Since then, they’ve been working on how best to accommodate folks who want to see bears, catch fish and enjoy this slice of Alaska. In Willy Porter’s words, “We want to show off what we love about Alaska.”

Captain Eli Porter and his sister-in-law Mariah Porter help launch the boat in Homer.

To get there, show up at the Homer Small Boat Harbor at 7:00 a.m. There, Eli Porter (Willy’s son) will pick you up on the “Eye of the Storm”, a 40-foot fishing and adventure boat.

Gear-heads love the “Eye of the Storm” for its power plant: 3x 300hp Suzuki 4-stroke outboards. Hold on to your hat!

Right out of the harbor, we started seeing raft after raft of otters—some holding babies on their chests. A little further out, the whales started rolling.

Capt. Eli worked hard to position the boat so the whales would kinda roll in our direction. A couple of whales came close to the boat and we did see one, mighty whale’s tail in the air before continuing to Snug Harbor. It’s a two-hour ride.

The Snug Harbor Cannery operated from the 1920s up to 1980, when it closed. Willy Porter’s dad fished the local waters in the “Snug 12”. It was one of several cannery boats that brought in the salmon all summer long.

Willy fished with his dad, then took over Snug 12 in the 1950s. Willy and Jennie’s kids spent summers on the boat—playing with the other kids in Snug Harbor.

Abe Porter, left, parks the 4-wheeler to load up bags from “Eye of the Storm” on arrival.

On arrival  at Snug Harbor, Eli’s twin brother Abe met us on the beach and helped load our bags off the boat. We gather in the dining room for an orientation, then take a tour of some of the buildings at Snug Harbor. There are cranes, conveyor belts, ovens and a bunch of old cannery artifacts. Many are “off-limits” …unless you’re part of the crew to refurbish the buildings! The crew will be working quite awhile to renovate what they can and to clean up the rest.

After orientation about meals, wi-fi and other safety items, we loaded back in to the “Eye of the Sorm” to see some bears upriver.

Captain Eli knows right where to go. Even though the fish weren’t yet running, the bears are active, eating the sedge grass. I guess that’s like a salad course before the main dish (red salmon).

My iPhone photo of Snug Harbor bears enjoying their “salad course” of sedge grass before the salmon arrive.

Eli and Jace (the deckhand) were on-point regarding bears and bear-watching protocol. We didn’t get too close and were very attentive about the bears’ behavior. We even saw a clack bear and a momma bear with two cubs.

Fossils on the beach at Fossil Point.

On the way back to Chisik Island and Snug Harbor, we stopped at Fossil Point. it’s essentially a rock wall with fossils falling out of it. Lots of clam and scallop fossils right on the beach!!

“Dinner is served,” said Chef Alicia.

After watching whales in the morning, the water crossing and the bear adventure…we were beat. Everyone took a brief nap before dinner . Alicia, the chef,  offered a tasty spread including halibut tacos! 

The weather was perfect, just right for strolling the beach after dinner and taking in the awesome wilderness setting at Snug Harbor.

Room with a view at Snug Harbor Outpost.

We woke up in time for some coffee and breakfast. It was a great morning to plan a fishing trip. For the ride back to Homer, Capt. Eli had marked a couple of good halibut holes. He wanted to get there just as the tide was changing, too.

As soon as we stopped and put the lines down, we started to get hits. Most of the halibut we got were in the 10-15 pound range, which Capt. Eli said is perfect for eating.

Pulling back in to the Homer harbor, we all were tired. After all, it had been the perfect Alaska overnight: bears, a bed and ‘but (halibut). Snug Harbor Outpost literally has a three-b package: “Bears, ‘Buts and a Bed.” We even got a beer or two in there (bring your own, btw….they don’t sell it). You need to “B” there this summer at Snug Harbor Outpost.

Abe Porter takes a presidential phone call in the radio room at Snug Harbor Outpost.

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