Web posted Wednesday, May 8, 2002

photo: people

Boats are to Halibut Cove residents what cars are elsewhere in the world, and the docks are their parking lots.

Halibut Cove Where the streets are paved with water

Halibut Cove is a singular Kachemak Bay community. Instead of streets, driveways and garages, it has water, docks and slips. A trip to the grocery store means spending at least half a day -- taking a skiff to Homer and returning home when the Bay is calm enough. Time takes on a different definition in a place like Halibut Cove, especially for the year-round residents, many of whom are fishermen and artists. Their world is defined not by the morning bus schedule or a 9-to-5 existence, but by the tides and weather.

Most visitors reach Halibut Cove by private boat or on the passenger ferry Danny J. An elegant wooden vessel, the Danny J has been a fixture on Kachemak Bay for decades, and makes trips twice daily from the Homer Spit. The entrance to Halibut Cove is a smooth, deep-green channel between the mountains of the mainland and little Ismailof Island. Houses perch on high pilings along both rocky shores of the 35-fathom channel. Twisting wooden stairs dangle down to floating docks.

All of Halibut Cove is privately owned, and there are no public camping facilities. The west end of Ismailof Island is open to visitors between 1 p.m. and 9 p.m., however is not open to commercial traffic. People coming on their own boat can tie up at The Saltry restaurant dock after 1 p.m.

Overnight accommodations are available at a number of lodges and B&B operations. Some also offer kayak and skiff rentals on an hourly or daily basis.

The Saltry anchors one end of a rustic boardwalk that meanders past family residences, boatbuilding shops and art galleries.

Picnic tables are set out on the boardwalk and isthmus for visitors who bring their own lunches. The west end of the island also offers short forest trails for hikers and birders. For children there are exotic tide pools and a barnyard full of animals. Guests are invited to wander at leisure, but are asked to respect people's privacy where signs are posted.


The walk to Alex Combs' studio passes yards full of colorful flowers.

The Cove's first residents were Natives. Their kitchen middens -- garbage heaps -- have yielded artifacts including stone lamps and tools. Clem Tillion, who has lived in the Cove for 50 years, says the first white resident was a French-Canadian trapper named Claude LaRue. The next settlers were Norwegian fishermen, who tapped into the Lagoon's rich herring fishery in 1911.

The Cove briefly supported 36 saltries and a population of 1,000, but fishermen spoiled their own nest and destroyed the fishery by 1928. When Tillion arrived, half a dozen old Norwegians and two old couples remained, but he and his wife, Diana, were the first to raise a family there.