It was great being back in Homer again. The town is another of my known favorites (there are probably plenty of favorite places in Alaska I just haven’t visited yet).
The town reminds me a lot of a little fishing community I used to go to growing up in California called Dillon Beach, specifically Lawson’s Landing. If you’re ever in Petaluma, California, I highly recommend taking the 40-minute trip west to visit it.
Anyway, Marti had managed to book us a sea taxi aboard Ashore Water Taxi & Freight with Dave Lyon and his dog Pika.
A Palo Alto, California native, Dave reminded me a lot of one of my uncles, another man who had spent plenty of time on a boat in the ocean. Dave’s first-mate and one of the most talkative dogs I’ve ever met, Pika had good enough sea legs to balance herself on the boat’s side railing without ever falling overboard.
Dave knew a thing or two about Kachemak Bay and plenty of being out on the open sea. We talked about the oyster farming industry and he knew a lot about Dillon Beach and its local oyster farms from growing in nearby Palo Alto. It was good talking with someone who knew a good deal about my old stomping grounds.
It had been awhile since I’d been on a boat, and I’m not talking about a cruise ship. Dave’s water taxi was a 20-foot skiff with an open deck and an enclosed cabin big enough to seat about a dozen people. Being onboard reminded me a lot of the sea adventures me and my father and brothers used to take when we were younger. The wind blowing in our face on a calm, clear day in Homer, not even the weakest of stomachs could have got sea sick that day.
The 10-minute ride across Kachemak Bay to Halibut Cove was not long enough for me, and I wanted to stay out longer. But we arrived at our destination nonetheless where we met Greg and Weatherly Bates, a husband and wife mussel farming team.
The Bates had crafted an innovative way of growing mussels in mass through an environmentally minded system called “mussel socking.” Essentially long lines (socks) are tethered to a plank above water and then caked with tiny baby mussel seeds. The lines are then lowered about 30 feet underwater where the baby mussels will latch onto the sock and naturally eat whatever tiny algae happening to float by. This goes on for about 15 to 20 months before Greg and Weatherly harvest them.
The couple tether about 40 or 50 of these socks to a large raft-like contraption that is anchored above water. They have three such rafts buoyed inside Halibut Cove. They hope each sock produces about 50 to 70 pounds of market size mussels.
When we arrived Weatherly told us they had just socked new mussel seeds that had spawned last summer. When the seeds are very small, it takes them longer to grow, and then when they hit a certain growth point, they start growing much faster underneath Kachemak’s cold, nutrient-rich waters.
The Bateses studied marine biology in Rhode Island where they met before moving out to Alaska like so many, to find adventure and opportunity. It looks like they found both.
Greg told me a similar model popular in Scotland inspired their farming method. Seeing the demand in Alaska growing and no local supplier to satisfy it, Greg and Weatherly jump on the opportunity.
It seemed like Greg and Weatherly really loved what they were doing and truly believed in their business. And the proof it was working seemed pretty self-evident to me, but then again, everything I know about mussel farming I just wrote about.
I was in no hurry to leave Kachemak Bay, but we couldn’t stay long, so I did my best to savor the cold salty air as we rode back with Dave and Pika, taking pictures and basking in the sun. Indeed, I didn’t really want to leave Homer so soon, either, but we had to be back on the road early to be in Soldotna the next day, then onto Kenai and so on.
So it goes.
I managed to get out for a while after Halibut Cove. I watched the sunset into the ocean as eagles chased the other birds around while boats and yachts came and went from Kachemak. It’s really tough to leave Homer and I never look forward to it each time I visit, but I knew I’d return again. Of course I would.