Web posted Wednesday, May 8, 2002

photo: culture

The beaches around Homer are a magnet, whether you're carrying a camera or just want to dip your toes into the cold North Pacific.

Have fun, but stay safe

Alaska is not like California, New York, Ohio or anywhere else on earth. That's why Alaskans want to live up here and, likewise, why others want to visit.

While this may seem obvious to some, many summertime visitors think Alaska is just like the Lower 48. And every summer a few careless visitors end up scared, cold, lost or in the hospital because they don't take proper precautions in their travels away from the cities.

In general

While it's hoped the sun will shine and temperatures will be in the 70s while you visit, it is just as likely to be raining and in the 50s. It is always a good idea to have a coat and hat with you -- preferably ones that shed water.

The twice-daily tides on Kachemak Bay and Cook Inlet are dramatic and swift, rising as much as 25 feet in a six-hour period, then falling at the same rate. Even long-time residents have lost vehicles to the tide by parking on unstable sand for too long. Always think ahead to when the waterline will change drastically with the tide.

Avoid disturbing wildlife, particularly large animals. Especially unpredictable are any animals with young. Cow moose protect their calves fiercely, and more people are hurt every year in Alaska by moose than by bears. Black bears are occasionally sighted around town -- stay away from them, and if within the city limits, notify the Department of Fish and Game at 235-8191, or the Homer police at 235-3150. It is against the law to bother birds, too. Remember, the animals were here first. They are fun to watch as long as they are not crowded.

In the woods

One of the best things about the Homer area is its proximity to absolute wilderness. Though the trails in Kachemak Bay State Park receive regular use, you may be the only hikers. Check in with the Ranger Station on the Sterling Highway or at Halibut Cove Lagoon before setting out, or sign the logbook at each trailhead to let authorities know how many are in the party and when hikers are expected to return. It is best to hike with several people, because if one person gets hurt, someone can stay with the victim while another goes for help. Use caution, stay on the trails, and take a map and extra food. The weather and seas are unpredictable and it is always possible to be weathered in and unable to get back to Homer on schedule.

On the water

When going out on Kachemak Bay, dress warmly, even on a sunny day. There's an old saying throughout Alaska that, "If you don't like the weather, wait a few minutes." Take a hat, gloves and rain gear, and wear rubber boots if available. Dress in layers, with long johns under your clothes and a sweater on top. If it's warm, you can always remove the sweater, but if it's cold, you'll be glad you have the extra insulation. Even on a sunny day Kachemak Bay and Cook Inlet can chill a boater to the bone, so bring along a windbreaker and a warm hat.

Breezes in Kachemak Bay often pick up in the afternoon due to temperature changes on land. Waters may be calm and smooth in the morning, but you may find a different situation when heading back to the harbor in the afternoon. If you are susceptible to motion sickness, take an antidote before heading out on the water. Once you're seasick it is too late for medicine.

If you are in your own boat, beware of rough water in front of China Poot Bay, Halibut Cove and other side bays. Kachemak Bay has among the highest tides in the world, and currents alone can create rough water. Keep all Coast Guard-required safety equipment on your boat, including an anchor, life jackets for all on board, flares and nautical charts, and if possible, a cell phone or VHF radio. The Coast Guard can be reached in an emergency on VHF Channel 16, or by dialing *24 (star-CG) on a cell phone.