Adventure 2017: The Buchanan Family — Paddling Alaska’s best-kept sea kayaking secret |

Adventure 2017: The Buchanan Family — Paddling Alaska’s best-kept sea kayaking secret

If you go

Kayaker’s Cove costs $20 per person per night. Bring your own food and libations. Sea kayak rentals, which include spray skirt, paddle, PFDs, bilge pumps and rubber boots, start at $25 per person per day. Info: http://www.kayakerscove....

courtesy photo

It was the proudest I’ve ever been as a father.

If you go

Kayaker’s Cove costs $20 per person per night. Bring your own food and libations. Sea kayak rentals, which include spray skirt, paddle, PFDs, bilge pumps and rubber boots, start at $25 per person per day. Info: http://www.kayakerscove….

It was the first evening of our five-day sea kayaking trip at Kayaker’s Cove in Prince William Sound, Alaska, and, tired of all the travel and logistics getting there, I headed out at 9 p.m. for a quick solo paddle while the kids got cozy in the cabin.

Reveling in the area’s beauty, I circumnavigated Hat Island, surprising a romp of sea otters, and then crossed back for the paddle home alongshore, feeling guilty about not rallying my kids out. The splash of a paddle approached in the distance, most likely that of the caretaker. As it got closer, however, I saw the beaming face of my daughter Brooke, 17. She, too, had apparently decided to venture out solo. “I had to,” she gushed. “It was just too gorgeous out.”

So we stayed out, heading farther down shore to a waterfall-lined grotto. Before veering into it, I glanced back and saw my other daughter, Casey, 14, giving pursuit in her own single kayak.

“Casey!” I beamed. “What are you doing out here? Nice rally!”

“I’ve been trying to catch you,” she said. “But you kept disappearing around the corner.”

As with Brooke, she, too, had come out on her own, mesmerized by our surroundings. Here I was wishing my daughters were with me, and Voila!, there they were, each magically appearing out of nowhere.

High-fiving mid-water, we turned into the cove and paddled under waterfall spray before turning around and dodging sea otters for the half-hour paddle home. Dragging our boats up the cobblestone beach at 11 p.m., we ventured inside for hot chocolate and fresh-baked brownies before snuggling into bed. Welcome to Alaska’s best kept sea kayaking secret: Kayaker’s Cove.

Despite Prince William Sound’s allure as a sea kayaking hotbed, camping in the rain is overrated. Especially with kids in tow. (Nearby Seward gets an average 73 inches a year, Whittier a whopping 156.) So we stumbled upon Kayaker’s Cove, a 12-person cabin, with two out cabins sleeping another eight, in the heart of Alaska’s 5-million-acre Chugach National Forest. It would provide a roof overhead, warm kitchen and living room, wood-fired sauna, and most importantly, a shed full of sea kayaks to explore some of the most pristine wilderness on the planet.

On the wall of the outhouse, reached by a boardwalk above the primordial rainforest floor, a poster lists all 28 members of the Alaska Hostel Association. An asterisk by Kayaker’s Cove notes it’s the only one requiring a water taxi to get to. So we shuttled a half hour out of Seward across Resurrection Bay to a tiny cove nestled in a waterfall-filled nook below jagged mountains. En route, Brooke saw an orca whale.

Caretakers Stan and Sally Olsen met us on the cobblestone beach, Stan a retired construction manager and England-born Sally as psyched on kayak fishing as she is on Brexit. While Stan gave us a quick orientation and helped a family of four from Anchorage leave on our boat, Sally headed out to jig for rockfish.

Hauling our bags up the back steps, leaving our coolers on the porch, we met our other hostel roommates — a group of eight 60-something ladies, led by Barb, freshly retired from the military, solo traveler Meg and Eric and Lisa from Reno. On day two we’d lose Meg but pick up Fabio and Frank from Switzerland.

It’s like a ski hut you’d find in Colorado, only for sea kayaking. Guests come and go, staying for different durations, all here for the same reason: a roof overhead in the wilderness, and sea kayaks for exploring it. You also bring your own food and booze, keeping the price down.

Inside, we shuttled our sleeping gear and duffels up a ladder-like set of stairs to a loft above the kitchen, unloaded our food into various cubbies and hung our clothes on assorted hooks. The kids wasted no time settling into games on the dining table. Surrounding a crackling wood stove, the living room has two couches and three easy chairs, a wood coffee table and windows and deck overlooking the rainforest and glass-like water beyond.

In the morning, we feast on fresh, kid-picked blueberry, watermelon berry and salmon berry pancakes and bacon before heading off to the boats. Outfitted with rubber boots, sprayskirts, PFDs, paddles and bilge pumps from a storage space below the deck, we grab our kayaks, adjust our footpegs and shove off, heading north toward Humpy Cove. We’re a formidable flotilla, in three tandems and two singles.

Counting sea otters, eagles and waterfalls along the coast, we veer into the cove and haul our kayaks over seaweed-covered boulders to escape the rising tide. We then hike to a waterfall cascading into a deep pool, with a natural walkway behind it. The spray coats us before we return and save our boats from the tide. On the way back, we detour around Hat Island and surprise a harbor seal frolicking off its point.

In the evening, Nino and I sea kayak out for supper. We quickly catch nine rockfish, jigging a lure 70 feet deep, at one point reeling in a trio on the same three-hooked line. On shore, Barb’s group is under a tarp around the campfire, with one drysuit-clad lady outside the perimeter, reading a book through a Ziplock bag. We warm up in the sauna just behind, plunging into the icy water of the Sound at 10 p.m.

The days blend together, blurring salmon dinners with saunas, charades, hikes through Spanish moss-draped Sitka spruce, and day-long paddles. Four days of drizzle do little to dampen our spirits. The kids learn that out here, you take things as they come – a lesson thankfully softened by our warm cabin.

On our final day, Casey and I head out past a tiny, banyan-looking spruce atop a lone rock island and veer left in search of a rumored sea cave somewhere along the jagged shoreline, across from a landslide scarring Fox Island. Poking our bow into various nooks, we finally find it, five eagles and four sea otters later.

Timing our entrance with the tidal surge, a few strokes have us threading a tight passage to see the cave tower overhead. Rising and falling with each pulse of the ocean, we poke around, name starfish and marvel at the shafts of light filtering through the opening. We arrive back just in time for our 3 p.m. pick-up, where another group taking our place is unloading — it’s a 10-person “Friends and Family” trip put on by outfitter Pinkie and Goose Adventures. It’s the first time co-owner Goose (Jake) and his three brothers have been together in 19 years. As my own family knows, it’s hard to script a better place to bond.

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