Hailing from Bainbridge Island, WA, Al and Dona Holmes have been taking their Nordhavn 40, "Free Flight" on an Alaskan Cruise since they took delivery of her in 1999. Their 2001 trip commenced in April.
On last year's trip to Alaska we spent hours looking and listening for Loons. Maybe we saw 5, but never did hear their warble. The waters around Sidney and the Gulf Islands are full of them at this time of year. While we sat around the marina waiting for the guy who promised to install the radar reflector or fix the gel coat ("first thing tomorrow"), at least we could listen to the Loons. Finally, not wanting wait any longer or listen to some lame excuse like why the gel coat couldn't be wet sanded during a fine drizzle, we left Sidney about 12:30. We ran about 4 hours, past Ladysmith, stopping for the night and a very nice dinner at the Page Point Inn.
Departed at 07:40 and had an uneventful run up to Comox, arriving at 17:20. Dona reminded me that her work rules require her to be at the dock or at anchor by 5pm and plans on filing a grievance. You'd think with all the Loons I showed her today, she'd give me a break. Maybe if I take her to dinner at the Edgewater we can settle this at the local level. For anyone coming behind us…we were told that the pleasure boat side of the Comox Marina would not be accepting transients this year. We were sent around to the commercial side and "shoehorned" ourselves in with the rest of the fishing boats. I'd like to point out that I scared no one and, even though we had a new wax job, we were given the proper respect. The sun has come out and Dona is taking Dammitt for his evening stroll; I'll have the shower ready. Tomorrow it's off to Campbell River where I may be able to send this first installment and a visit with friends before we go through Seymour Narrows.
4/7 Got up this morning at 06:45 to clear skies, calm winds, 34 degrees and ice on the foredeck. Thought we'd sneak out early enough so as not to draw an audience while I tried backing between the rafted up fishing boats. Not a chance! Some guy just visiting from Ontario was standing alongside - "just admiring your boat". With the calm wind, lack of current and bow thruster we managed to make it look like we knew what we were doing. The big Bald Eagle, perched on the breakwater buoy, thought so much of our performance that he gave us a standing ovation. The bow thruster is nice, but the addition of a stern thruster would make me fearless.
The only drawback we've seen to early cruising, in a pilothouse trawler with a good heating system, is that the marinas and government wharves are full of sleeping vessels, just waiting for the "official start" (May 1) of the boating season. On the odd occasion you need to stop in a real town there can be little or no room at the inn. Fortunately we are a little better prepared, both mentally and equipment wise this year for the inevitable rafting up which will occur down the road.
Made Campbell River at 11:30. Just south of Cape Mudge is kind of like the "Continental Divide" of tides. From this point north through the Johnstone Strait the ebb tide will now flow north and we'll pick tomorrow morning's up at Seymour Narrows with a 06:05 slack water. We spent about 3 hours washing "Free Flight" down, filling the water tanks, preparing for tomorrow's run and setting up dinner plans with local friends. I even tried, unsuccessfully, to send and receive emails using the marina's phone line (damn computers). We've vowed to stop and anchor someplace if Johnstone Strait kicks up again this year…we want to enjoy a few days in a clean, not salt encrusted, boat.
04/08 04:45 wakeup. Dona and Dammitt threaten mutiny, but once again I explain that it's about an hour to Seymour Narrows with the current on our nose and slack water in the narrows is at 06:05. Besides that it's a beautiful morning…clear, full moon, no wind and a balmy 36 degrees. We made the Seymour on time and this year Madam La Farge would have been quilting or knitting again except it was too bloody dark.
The problem with a nice clear day off NE Vancouver Island is that the associated high-pressure system usually creates a lovely brisk NW wind. The problem with the brisk (20-35 kts) NW wind is that it meets the 5-6 knot ebbing current head-on and creates 2-4' nearly vertical waves. The problem with all this is that it turned our newly washed and shiny boat into a salt encrusted mess the instant we turned the corner into Johnstone Strait. Once the first 50-gallon drum of water slammed into and over the pilothouse we decided to continue… especially since we were stroking along at upwards of 13 knots, but I'm hanging up my mop. All we could do was put on a CD of Bob Marley's and turn the volume up way too high. The rhythm was perfect. We made Lagoon Cove at 13:00 (N50'36 W126'19), becoming the 1st boat of the season. Bill is busy repairing things around here so there will be no shrimp feed tonight. By the way, I think I may have fixed the laptop. It appears that someone altered the configuration of my laptop while it was at the boat show in Jan. (No, I'm not any more proficient with computers than engines) and I think it'll talk to the modem now. Now all I have to do is find a phone line when we get to Port McNeill or? We left Lagoon Cove yesterday in a light rain, headed for Port McNeill. Dona had some business with paymybills.com, she needed to fill the 3 cubic inches of refrigerator space she emptied the night before while in Lagoon Cove and the weather forecast for the following day looked pretty good for crossing the Queen Charlotte Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound so we moved on. We had an uneventful trip. Cell phone reception returned at the juncture of Clio Channel and Johnstone Strait, continuing until today when we were about 2 hours NW of Port McNeill. Prior to that, we have had AT&T cell coverage all the way from home until passing through Seymour Narrows.
4/10/01, Departed Port McNeill with a beautiful sunrise and clear skies at 06:25. It would eventually warm up to 60 degrees in our Goldstream Harbor anchorage (N51'43.6 W128). Noticed from last night's paper that all LAX could expect today would be 48 degrees and rain. The first half of our 11-hour day was smooth and quick. About the time we turned the corner off Egg Island those darned north winds kicked in. We learned that the smoother ride was well outside where the swell didn't climb the shore and mix with the opposing wind, but as we entered "protected" Fitz Hugh Sound there was no relief. We'll forever call it Fitz Hugh Funnel as all the wind (20kts), generated on this beautiful sunny day, met us head on. The chop may have only been 2-3', but they were square and 1-2 seconds apart. On the upside, the scenery and visibility were so good we decided to continue on when we could have ducked into Fury Cove, which is a really nice little spot we've been to before.
We have just recently become aware of the fact that we have not seen ONE pleasure boat on the water since leaving Sidney. Wonder what that means?
[In my defense, now the fridge is so well packed that nothing moved while we were getting the s… beat out of us the last several hours of this really beautiful day.]
4/11/01 Alright, who keeps filling the day-tank for the get-home engine? When I was talking to Pete the other day and told him I still had more than ¾ of the original fuel in the 10-gallon day-tank he said I should burn it up quickly or pretty soon I "could varnish something with it". I really have been trying, running the darn thing in gear at 3000 rpm for hours on end. I'm to the point of putting tape on the sight gauge so I can verify that it really is burning fuel. The one thing this "mechanic" doesn't want to do is run it dry and teach himself how to bleed the air out of a diesel.
I'm not kidding, anybody headed this way had better move it cuz the weather has been unbelievable. We're gonna use it all up and it'll be gone before you get here. We departed Goldstream at 06:40 on another bluebird day, cavu and 34 degrees. This is a really well protected, but tight anchorage, with very good holding in 50' of water. Surprisingly, the anchor and chain came up pretty clean (only one multi-fingered starfish) and didn't require 20 minutes to hose off the usually sticky mud before being deposited into the chain locker. Remind me to make sure the 'next' boat has a high-pressure anchor rode wash-down system to go along with my new stern thruster.
We just anchored in 110' of water (pretty deep) at Horsefly Cove, off Tolmie Channel. Not the best holding (sand and rock), but it's a pretty little spot, well protected and the weather's calm. If you get this email, you'll know we made it through the night. It's 8 pm and the temperature is down to 47 degrees with high thin overcast, but the barometer is slowly falling. We had 58 degrees under clear skies 2 hours ago. Just finished dining on a nice gumbo, salad, fresh homemade biscuits. You should have seen Dona grinning at me in her flour speckled black fleece; leaves no doubt as to why professional bakers always wear white. Of course the meal was complimented by a nice bottle of Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc and George Winston's CD "Forest"… life is tough. She's in her element…trying to empty the fridge before we reach Prince Rupert. After tonight we may be out of ice cream and fresh strawberries, then she'll probably have to make a few dozen chocolate chip cookies so we'll have something for dessert tomorrow night. Heaven forbid we should miss an evening without a sumptuous dessert. I weighed 150 lbs when I met her.
4/12/01 As the song goes, "What a difference a day makes". Because it was so warm yesterday we forgot to arm the diesel furnace and awakened to a cold and rainy day as well as a cold interior. The hot water circulating through closets, cabinets, etc. normally keeps the chill off the inside of the boat, but with the 46 degree water and the low outside air temperature she really got cold-soaked. We've been underway for almost 6 hours now, the outside air temp hasn't been above 40 degrees all day and the chill is finally coming off everything we touch. Shoulda kept my mouth shut.
As usual we've been accompanied by lots of animal and bird life. Because of the very different time of year we're seeing many things we've seldom or never seen before. This trip we've noted lots of loons and, several times, witnessed immature eagles practicing their mating flight (ain't puberty grand), but this takes the cake. Right alongside the boat we just saw an adult eagle slowly descending towards the water, talons spread wide in the armed position, ready to give us a demonstration of how to catch fish; not quite. As those talons gently dipped into the water a sea lion's head appeared under our friend. I guess what happened next could be best described as a touch and go. Surely the eagle wasn't toying with the sea lion. Maybe they were after the same fish.
This morning we finally did see our first pleasure boat since leaving Sidney, but he was headed south so I don't think that counts. One of our reasons for leaving so early in the season was that we were hoping to see waterfalls at their most spectacular state. Butedale Falls were disappointing at less than 1/3 of last July's flow. I realize that the West is supposed to be experiencing a drought, but suspect that with all the snow capped peaks we are simply too early for much to have melted. Speaking of snow capped peaks, right now we are headed up Grenville Channel. I can see several miles ahead, several miles behind and a few hundred yards to either side where trees climb the hills to the snow line a few hundred feet above before disappearing into the misty and ragged overcast on the peaks above. A very light rain is falling; Free Flight is riding easily, the throaty rhythm of the Lugger beats along while Dona and Dammitt sleep. Very peaceful. And, my nap's next.
Friday the 13th found us departing Kumealon Cove (almost the NW end of Grenville Channel) at 07:30 under scattered clouds, light winds and 35 degrees. Hey, the water is a tepid 45. Last night's rain, in our anchorage, coated all of the trees with a fresh mantle of snow down to about the 500' level; quite picturesque. We should arrive in Prince Rupert about noon where we can send/receive emails, pay bills and take a real good look at tomorrow's forecast. Liberty for all before heading towards Ketchikan in the morning.
Re: liberty…Ole Dammitt has settled into a new boating mode this year, day sleeper. It seems that's all he ever does. At night he guards the boat which isn't bad while at anchor, but at the dock it can play hell with our sleeping if an otter, mink or another cat approaches his boat. He's no longer interested in going out on deck or even walking the dock and we're hopeful this new attitude will reduce the number of unscheduled baths.
4/14/01 Take 2 Bonine and call me in the evening. Dr. Al here, prescribing for a ride across Chatham Sound. The forecast was good for today and deteriorating for tomorrow so we beat it out of town at first light. Took the back way through Venn Passage and the shortcut behind Tugwell Island. As soon as we emerged into Duncan Bay we could see forever… at least to the snowy peaks on the U.S. side. It was flat and calm. That is until we neared the middle of Chatham Sound where the NE winds rushing down Portland Inlet, greeting us and the outgoing tide, turning our millpond into a washing machine. Once north of the international boundary and the influence of those outflow winds we rode a gentle 4' swell from Dixon Entrance into Revillagigedo Channel.
In the vicinity of Mary Island, about 25 miles out of Ketchikan, the cell phone chirped into life, notifying me of voice messages. We've been without cell phone coverage this time from about 2 hours north of Port McNeill. We took a slip, vacated by an out of town fisherman, downtown Ketchikan in the Thomas Basin and spent the Easter weekend working on our tans.
The weather over the next few days, even by June's standards, was exceptional. We had clear skies, temperatures in the mid-50s and the town was deserted. Other than the bars, year-round restaurants and a few core businesses, most everything in the downtown area was closed. The only activity was spring-cleaning, painting and the restocking of shelves; first cruise ship is due May 4th. That's the day the place goes mad with people, lil' ole purple haired ladies streaming off the "Love Boat" to buy mini totem poles or Haida masks manufactured in Indonesia. At any rate we enjoyed our time ashore, but were ready to leave Tuesday on morning so we figured we'd circumnavigate Revillagigedo Island (I can't pronounce it either) and have a look at Misty Fiords National Monument.
We left the harbor about 10:30, eased the Lugger up to 1350 rpm where we're still getting 6.5 kts, but only burning about 1.5 gallons/hour and it's really quiet. Besides that we're here now (maybe a little early) so what's the rush. However, we did find that as the swell from Revillagigedo Channel pushed us up into the Behm Canal, the stabilizers were more effective at 8 kts than 6.5.
4/17/01 We're tied to a mooring buoy in Ella Bay, just opposite and looking at the New Eddystone Rock (a 230'+ spire in the middle of Behm Canal). We can see a large pod of Dall Porpoises feeding in the foreground about 300 yards out (been there almost an hour now), the spire behind them and snow-capped peaks in the background. Nice spot. Because the waters are so deep and reliable anchorages few and far between, the Park Service has placed several mooring buoys in strategic locations. Sure makes it nice, especially in stinky weather. Dona grabbed her "Happy Hooker" (from the boat show, honest), ran out onto the bow, grabbed the ring and tied us off. Then she returned to the warmth of the salon and changed out of her wet clothes. Misty Fiords? In Seattle we call it heavy rain.
4/18/01 Interesting day we've had. Slipped our mooring and wandered over to this rock, sticking straight up out of the middle of the "Canal" with a few lonely Spruce clinging to it's sides. Yes, there was a mist hanging over the place and even an eagle perched in the uppermost spruce. Spectacular is an over used word, but I'm having difficulty describing Rudyerd Bay and Walker Cove (the two main fiords): Vertical walls, overhanging cliffs, lichen, high snowfields, waterfalls and most of all, a feeling of solitude. We lost the satellite telephone shortly after entering each and I was surprised the GPS continued to function. The terms "bay" and "cove" are not the least descriptive and do them no justice. I'll stick with Misty Fiords. I took more video footage today than I have during the last 2 weeks.
As we headed north from Rudyerd towards Walker, a large pod of Dall Porpoises pulled alongside to surf in our trailing wake as well as the bow wave. They, and we, were having a ball. But, ole Dammitt takes his job as protector of the hearth very seriously and was not a happy camper. He stood on the couch in the salon, up on his hind legs looking out the window, spitting and growling. Then he was up to the pilothouse window, challenging them again. It was hysterical. He persisted for about an hour and I'm sure he believes his performance scared them off when they didn't follow us into Walker's Cove. Had I known the old man was going to be so protective, I would have taken HIM on our wilderness walks and I could have left the heavy caliber bear rifle at home. Took him hours to calm down.
We were all set to make a short day of it and tie up to the Walker Bay mooring buoy, but it wasn't there. All right, not what we'd planned so we headed for the alternate. Two hours later we pulled into the cove at the mouth of Grace Creek where there was supposed to be another buoy and a float…not a chance. The United States Coast Pilot wasn't doing too well today. Fortunately, we have enough alternate fuel to go back to Bainbridge Island so we returned to Rudyerd Bay and tied up to the buoy in the Punch Bowl. I was going to say it's a spectacular spot, but I won't. Net mileage, after 9 hours underway, about six.
4/20/01 Had a good run yesterday. We had scattered clouds again with temperatures in the low 50s. This side of the island isn't in the Misty Fiords Monument unfortunately, so we saw lots of clear cutting... ugly. Found a little spot where the Coast Pilot said it was too dangerous to enter without local knowledge (lots of rocks), but with these electronic charts and a little common sense it was a piece of pie. We even found a mooring buoy in Marguerite Bay (in Traitor's Cove) where we spent the night. Back in Ketchikan now and will send/receive emails, get a few items for the boat (haven't spent anything on the boat for 5 whole days), heading out again tomorrow. Today's plan for tomorrow is to run down Clarence Strait, stopping in a few places on the east side of Prince of Wales Island before turning the corner at Cape Chacon and heading up the west side through Hydaburg and Craig. Should be out of touch for the next week to ten days. After that, who knows?
After getting into Ketchikan, picking up a few things (yes, Dona had to visit the grocery), checking voice mail and doing email we were outta there in less than 2 hours. We headed across Clarence Strait, hoping to see friends who have a sport-fishing lodge in Saltery Cove. We tied up to their dock, and couldn't believe it: the place was still winterized and not a soul around. The weather was severe clear, calm and the temperature still in the mid-50s. We brought pina coladas and steaks for the barbeque. Despondent, we had no other alternative other than to leave my card on the door with a description of the day they were missing, put on a Jimmy Buffett CD, mix a pina colada, steam the artichoke and heat up the grill. Nice evening, but really missed seeing friends.
Awoke the next morning to weather that was a carbon copy of the day before. We headed south for Moira Sound, hoping to enter tiny Inner Kegan Cove through the narrow and shallow inlet on the high tide. Found a mooring buoy inside, tossed out the crab trap (don't ask), took the dingy to shore and met a couple of guys bear hunting who were staying in a forestry cabin by the mouth of the stream. Largest and most plentiful Black Bear population in the world is right here we were told. Dona and I continued our hike, talking loudly and whistling as we went (I didn't bring the rifle) for about ½ mile along the stream up to Kegan Lake. It was a glorious day: warm, sunny, big trout to watch in the clear stream. Ah, the plans for the next day.
Well, it's time to pay the piper. The weather has changed. A series of fronts are coming through the Gulf of Alaska over the next "few" days. We got hit with some heavy weather last night and are so far back in that we can't get normal and continuous weather forecasts on the VHF frequencies. We spent the day making water, charging the batteries, cleaning house, putting on the rain suit, rowing to check the crab pot (don't ask), hanging up the rain suit to drip, listening to music and reading. We even installed a carpet on the engine room floor. From what I can gather (and we're not getting much) re: forecasts is that the area outside this cove and around Cape Chacon will be having winds increasing to SE gale 35-40 kts with seas at 10' tonight and increasing to 14' tomorrow (4/23). The long range forecast is that we are supposed to plan on winds of < 30 kts 4/24-25 then < 25kts 4/26-27 and they say nothing about wave height…oh joy! The Coast Pilot describes the area between Cape Chacon and Duke Island (where we're going) as having tidal currents that are "much confused" and seas that "look like breakers". We may be in our little cove for a while. Dona says if I don't scare her she won't mutiny.
4/23 Last night we ate our fill of the best Dungeness crab I've ever had. Dona says I make that comment every year with our first really fresh crab. This morning it was Crab Florentine for breakfast and it's looking like crab cakes for lunch. The morning's weather forecast isn't quite as negative as the one before so when the tide allows us to exit this little bay we may run down to Kendrick Bay and hunker down for tonight's forecast frontal passage. That will put us in a better position to make a run at Cape Chacon when the weather improves.
Spent another day swinging on the buoy. I'd hardly finished writing the above when the wind "freshened", the rain intensified and the barometer started falling like a rock so we decided to stay. Even in our secluded little hole the rain came sideways; had to bail the dingy out a couple of times because we were afraid she'd sink. That evening, after the worst had passed, the weather service changed their downgraded forecast to a gale with winds in excess of 40 knots. After departing the following morning we were able to pick up the Canadian forecast for our area and they were just canceling a storm warning (winds 48-63)…weather forecasting…they usually get the date right. In the aftermath of the storm the seas outside Moira Sound were really big and confused, had the seat belt sign on and flight attendants strapped in. I was just beginning to wonder if we should stick with the plan of going to Kendrick Bay, returning or whether we should duck in somewhere else when the swells evened out. While the seas were in the 8-10' range, they were rather pleasant. We made the decision to continue past Kendrick, around Cape Chacon, behind the Barrier Islands and into Clam Bay inside Kassa Inlet. Other than a little more turbulence west of the cape we had a pretty good ride. A pod of whales joined us at about that point, making what little discomfort we felt go unnoticed.
The weather forecast was calling for winds out of the south at 25kts so I pulled into Clam Bay, laid out that 110# Bruce anchor with about a 6 to 1 scope and waited to be awakened in the night. Dona had fixed pasta with crab & spinach, fresh baked sour dough bread and a nice bottle of wine. The wind never materialized and the boat never moved…slept like a baby. While we were eating our breakfast this morning we watched a rather large Black Bear on the beach having his. It was a minus two tide, allowing him to look under the rocks he hadn't been able to for quite some time. Either bored with the cuisine or having eaten his fill, he wandered up the beach, scratched his back on a tree and disappeared into the woods. Before we left I got to hose off the anchor and 200' of chain that had lain out nice and flat during the night, settling deep into the mud.
We are now in Hydaburg, main settlement for the Haidas. Unfortunately, these folks seem to suffer from many of the ailments so many other Native Americans do. Nearly everything, even what is relatively new, is in a state of decay. But, we were very impressed by one spectacular, unpainted cedar totem (in a grouping of about 15) that made the stop worthwhile.
4/27 Made it to Craig on inside waters yesterday. No green water over the front of the bow as yet, but the 35-40kt winds from the beam sent a lot of water across it and being heeled over 5-7 degrees for long periods of time was interesting. We picked up some mail, will try and get a few things repaired and wait out a 990mb low expected to blow through on Sunday.
I really should learn to keep my mouth shut. For more than 2 weeks we kept getting comments like "Wow, you're really early; first pleasure boat of the year". We had been expecting some pretty foul weather and planning to play the weather window game, but had absolutely glorious weather. We couldn't understand why we were all alone...until about a week ago. For the last week we've ducked in here and there, hiding out from one low-pressure system after another, sliding down from the Gulf of Alaska (975mb and 40kts last night). We've gone from calm bluebird days with highs in the upper 50's to heavy rains, gale force winds with highs of 40 degrees. Sunday 4/29, and we're in Craig AK where they get 10 feet of rain per year and I'll swear we've had at least that much in the last 48 hours. It must almost be over so things are looking up.
For any of you coming through behind us I found a good mechanic, Bob Maestas (907) 826-2883. He was even able to teach me how to change the transmission oil and clean the suction screen. I would like to point out that my mechanical skills, while the subject of rumors and innuendo, are improving. We've been gone a month now so it's kind of like we're in the top of the third…no burns, no cuts, no bruises.
Isn't it amazing that events, which initially seem to ruin your plans, end up by creating a situation where the total experience is vastly improved. We were planning to duck into Craig, hide out from a storm, have dinner with a friend and set out again, but due to a series of storms and waiting for a part we stayed a week. The imposition of this delay in our travel plans, as well as the very generous loan of a truck, forced us off the boat where we experienced a portion of Alaska we otherwise would have missed. Over a few days we backtracked to Hydaburg, over to Hollis, and drove the coast north of Thorne Bay. From the comfort of our truck, we watched the Alaskan State Ferry and a tug with barge slug their way into a full gale down Clarence Strait. We passed some very appealing Steelhead streams; it was almost too much for me to stop and "only have a look", but 40 degrees, 40 knots, heavy rain and aching bones urged us on. We traveled through the muskeg where we saw deer everywhere, a black bear cub along the road, but more importantly we got to meet the people.
At first I thought folks were so friendly and waving as we drove by because they recognized Doug's truck and that was probably part of it, but after a few days we realized that it's just the way they are. We couldn't go into the harbormaster's office without using the phone line for email, being shown where to drop crab pots, catch a fish or their calling to check on the delivery of our part. It was the same in the grocery, filling station or in talking for 10 minutes to Ethel (age 55, with a son in Yakutat and she just got back from Florida) holding traffic for road construction. They have the time to talk, are genuinely interested in others and very friendly. We loved our experience in Craig.
Overnight UPS only took 3 days, but I suppose that's better than the overnight package that never found us in 2 weeks last year. After 8 days in Craig we pulled the crab pot (1 Boone and Crockett nominee in the starfish category) and headed out. Anchored in a nice little cove behind Santa Rita Island. We awakened to a bright, sunny day. Pulled the crab pot (must have been cleaned out by shrimp or sand fleas as there was nothing but bones remaining) and headed for the caves at El Capitan.
We tied up to a nice little float at El Capitan, climbed the 400 stairs to the cave and went part way down, pretty eerie. The Park Service doesn't open the place for tours until May 24th and that's ok with us. With all the bear hunters out and about I half expected to find a 300-pound "Papa Bear" around the next corner. We were later joined at the dock for the night by two Fish and Game Troopers and saw a black bear some guys had shot on the beach. Just as we were falling asleep, all hell broke loose. Could have sworn there was a cat fight going on in the salon, but it was only our hero protecting us from another otter. The otter was not impressed.