Homer | Kachemak Bay
One of the principal destinations on the Kenai Peninsula is the town of Homer, which for me is at least a 4-hour drive from Anchorage and definitely an overnight proposition. Homer is a thriving community that was discovered by artists, hippies and end-of-the-roaders in the 1960s. Many of them never left.
For generations, Homer has been known for its long and narrow sand bar, the Homer Spit, which extends several miles from the center of town out into the waters of Kachemak Bay. More recently, Homer has become known in certain circles as the homeport of the Time Bandit, a crab fishing vessel featured on the Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch television series. I have never actually viewed the show, but I have seen the boat in harbor many times and have the t-shirt to prove it. Of course, I also have a t-shirt that says I can see Russia from my house.
One colorful character who found his way to Homer about forty years ago is Michael McBride. With his wife, Diane, he built a home and a guest lodge out of the raw maritime wilderness across from Homer, on the opposite side of Kachemak Bay. They still operate Kachemak Bay Wilderness Lodge with the help of the next generation of their family.
Michael is a passionate conservationist and a compelling storyteller. He narrates his family’s decades of love, subsistence and adventure in a recent book, The Last Wilderness. To read a review of the book, click here. To see the lodge's website, click here.
The McBrides run a recreational nature lodge, by which I mean that it is not focused exclusively on any one activity. Guests can hike, kayak, go fishing for salmon or halibut, or look for jellies, sea stars and whatever other creatures may have been marooned in the shallow pools when the tide ran out. Or sit on the boardwalk deck and watch the tide flooding or ebbing through the Bay or the sun shining on the snowcaps of the surrounding mountains, with the added potential of spotting whales right off the dock.
When my wife and I visited the lodge with friends a few years ago, we did all of the above, with kayaking being the most popular by general consensus. That said, my personally favorite activity was harvesting buckets of fresh mussels on the rocky beach at low tide early one morning. The chef cooked them up later in the day with lots of butter and garlic and they made a wonderful al fresco appetizer, perfectly paired with a chilled bottle of sauvignon blanc, out on the deck before dinner.
On the subject of shellfish, I should note that there is a thriving oyster farming industry in the little village of Halibut Cove, a boardwalk community that is no more than a few miles by boat from the McBrides’ enclave. The cold and tidally active waters of Kachemak Bay provide ideal conditions for growing oysters, and juicy bivalves sourced from Halibut Cove were plentifully available during our stay at the lodge.
Do you know why Alaskan oysters are so tasty and available to enjoy all year round, not just in months that have the letter “r” in their names? The reason for the old alphabetical taboo, which excludes the summer months from May through August, is that oysters spawn during that time period. Exhibiting the same phenomenon as spawning salmon, the bivalves undergo a metamorphosis that renders them rancid in flavor and more susceptible to spoilage. However, in Kachemak Bay, the water is too cold to trigger the spawning mechanism and the oysters grow plump and flavorful year round.
If they don’t spawn, you might ask, then how do they reproduce? They don’t. Alaskan oyster farmers need to import embryonic oysters, known as spat, for implantation on the aquaculture nets that hang down from colorful buoys, plunging deep into the cold waters of the Bay.