Captain James Cook saw much of Alaska’s coastline during his troubled third voyage in search of a Northwest Passage. Prince William Sound, Prince of Wales Island, Norton Sound, and Bristol Bay are just some of the places he named during his travels.
English Bay, on the eastern side of Unalaska Island, references the two landings Cook and crew made there in 1778 (just months before his death in the Hawaiian Islands). Any other evidence of Cook’s presence is long buried by time and tides. It takes a lot of effort to get to English Bay. If you do, imagine the Resolution - with its sea serpent figurehead - and the Discovery pulling in, the warm greetings of the native Unangan people, and the crew members foraging for wild celery and sorrel.
Journals kept by Cook and his crew members give insight into the occupants of the island at that time, both Unangan and Russian fur traders. Illustrations drawn by the ship’s artist, John Webber, detail the housing, clothing and traditions of the Native peoples. More than 230 years ago, Webber encountered a woman and her husband on a path above English Bay and quickly sketched them. In 2001, fundraising efforts of local residents – from schoolchildren to corporations – resulted in the acquisition and return of one of those original pencil drawings to the place it was first sketched. Be sure to see the prized “Woman of Ounalashka” when you visit the Museum of the Aleutians.
If you want to check out that same path, or English Bay itself, you can charter a boat (1 hour) or rent a sea kayak (8 hour trip). The possibility of getting there on water is based on the weather and the tides. You can also hike several miles overland on the little-used English Bay Trail. Get a land use permit and a detailed map from the Ounalashka Corporation before you set out. Drive down Summer Bay Road to the Agamgik Bay trailhead (at the pull-off just before the bridge over Humpy Creek). It’s 4 miles to Agamgik Bay, and from there, English Bay Trail will take you another 5.5 miles to your destination. Pack gear for a night outdoors and be well prepared for changes in weather.