Exploring the wild coastline and islands of Southeast Alaska’s archipelago is practically a rite of passage for local boaters, who tackle the challenge in vessels of all sizes. Somewhere on board these boats there will always be a printed guide pointing to the nearest marinas and detailing local currents—useful information for all the practical decisions that need to be made between here and Ketchikan. What some boaters miss is additional reading material, a guide to expand on the other characteristics that make Southeast Alaska such a worthy trip.
Alaska’s Inside Passage by Dale Pihlman is an encyclopedia of all things Alaska Panhandle, offering insights only an insider could muster up; Pihlman grew up in a commercial fishing family north of Ketchikan and has spent his whole life in the area. The 400-page book is broken down into sections that cover topics like rainforests, wildlife, marine environments, Native American groups, and historical industries of Alaska.
Pihlman worked for years as a fisheries biologist for the Alaskan Department of Fish and Game, making him extremely familiar with the flora and fauna of the region. Photos of the indigenous large mammals, accompanied by description of their lifecycles and diets, make for quick and easy identification. Birdwatchers will find similarly useful photos and descriptions of the avian population of the area, highlighting the stars out of a group of 360 species known to visit the region.
A large portion of the book is devoted to human activity in Alaska. Pihlman goes into great detail on the native groups who lived in the area for centuries. Sections describe the origins of the Native Americans and the social structures that governed their day-to-day lives; the differences and unique lifestyles of Native American groups and sub-groups are vividly portrayed. The segments on the complex social nature of the clans is especially enjoyable reading for fans of history or anthropology.
The traditional industries of the region are covered; the expected industries of logging, fishing, and mining are featured along with some unexpected ones like aviation and fish pirates. The penultimate section on the area’s communities will likely prove the most valuable to boaters making their way through the island chain for the first time. Any cruiser mooring at a new village will enjoy reading about its history and main source of income.
Pihlman has lived his whole life in Southeast Alaska, holding a series of jobs as a professional fisherman, art teacher, pilot and biologist as well as operating a sightseeing vessel for 23 years. This variety of employment and decades spent in the area allow him to provide a personal touch not often seen in guide books. Many historical anecdotes on prominent figures conclude with Pihlman relaying a story about meeting them when he was a child or interviewing a direct descendent.
Alaska’s Inside Passage does an excellent job of capturing the finer details and interesting facts that tend to get overlooked when planning the logistics of an extended trip. It would make a worthy addition to the collection of any boater thinking of venturing to Alaska, whether it’s the first or fifteenth time. You can learn more and get yours online at alaskainsidepassagebook.com.