Marking the half-way point of their Alaskan excursion, Al and Dona continue to enjoy the ultimate cruiser's lifestyle: fishing, friends, and fantastic scenery - all this despite the less than temperate summer weather that met them for most of June.
6/1 We had a great run south down Chatham and Peril Straits on glassy waters. Fought with the current and whirlpools just prior to entering our chosen anchorage and with Dona on the bow looking for rocks we inched our way back in to Baby Bear Bay (just north of Sergius Narrows) for the night. The place was like an indoor swimming pool; walls of trees encircled us and not a ripple all night. Finally we've come to the point where we'd rather be at anchor than at a dock; slept soundly. We held up here to time our southbound passage thru the narrows at slack water and that's difficult because, unlike most days, a morning slack wasn't published for today. Instead, the table shows 1.9 kts on the nose at 09:15 and 2.4kts on the tail at 09:30, rapidly increasing to almost 7 kts. Complicating matters, every boat in the area is trying to transit that narrow channel during the same 15-minute period. The Alaskan State Ferry, Leconte, and Free Flight were approaching the narrows, opposite direction, at the same time. After some negotiations on the radio, taking into consideration his size and my good nature, we decided Leconte should go through first…big boat!
6/2 The weather has changed once again so we're back to the low visibility, rain and winds expected for the next few days. We should be at the dock in Sitka this afternoon, change into our Sitka Slippers (brown rubber boots) and take a few days shore leave; hope Dammitt lets us sleep or he may be visiting the spa (vet's) for a few days because there's much to do in Sitka.
Parrots, white-headed parrots, outnumbering seagulls and ravens, they're everywhere! The national bird, like our political "servants", has discovered where the feed trough is. Sitka's white-headed parrots have found that the easiest way to a free meal is the chum line formed by the discharge of the fish processing plants in town. The birds, both adults and juveniles, are impressive, but it's a lot more fun watching ravens opening bear-proof garbage cans.
We spent several days in Sitka and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, lots of history, great museums, nice people and nice town. The weather has begun to warm up and Dammitt is back to his old tricks. We were beginning to think the old boy was getting smart in his old age, but I guess he preferred to stay aboard, next to one of the heater outlets because he was cold, not because he learned anything last year. He tried climbing an aluminum pole in order to escape a friendly hound's attentions, made it a few feet, and discovered that claws don't work any better in aluminum than gel coat. In the drink he splashed, between the float/dock again. Fortunately, someone else was around to grab Dona by the ankles while she, hair in water, coaxed him out for their first communal shower of the season. We left Sitka the next day, June 8th, under sunny skies with 70 degrees and dragging a lure (Kings are just starting to show up). Caught a couple nice sized Rock Cod, but threw them back because we don't care to eat them and still have plenty of crab/prawn bait. We've just anchored off Goddard Hot Springs and it's started to rain; what a difference an hour makes. Friends from Sitka s showed up on their boat "Deep Sea", rafting up for the night. We visited a couple of wooden hot tubs, fed by sulfur hot springs and maintained by the forest service. A fun time was had by all, well into the wee hours of the morning. Nothing better than spending time learning how to put brains into hoochies and nose clips on herring; quite an art but we had a lot of laughs in the process. And, speaking of the process, John and Michelle got us a special tour of the fish processing plant in Sitka where we were able to watch the off-loading of their 6000lbs. of Black Cod following them thru to the "ready for market" flash frozen stage. You should have seen the stacks of 200# halibut frozen to -20. Earned a few pounds of cod collars for our attention and admiration. No wonder our refrigerator is always full.
Left the anchorage so as to just get through Dorothy Narrows before the minus tide. Dona stood in the bow pulpit, looking for rocks, while I inched our way through. She never saw a rock while I showed less than 3 feet on the depth-sounder several times. It was a real interesting and scenic trip through these little channels, but we eventually emerged from behind the Rakoff Islands and into the ocean swell. The trip south was into a fairly pleasant swell, considering how close to shore we remained. We could have gone out past the 60 fathom line and had an almost glassy ride, but then we'd have missed this, once again, different face of Alaska.
The outside coast of Baranof is harsh and, at the same time, beautiful. A light rain was falling; visibility was 2 or 3 miles with a wispy steam rising from the trees. The sea and wind was calm, a 5-foot swell broke over rocks (visible and invisible) and against the steep, dark and barren rocks ashore. It appears as if violent Pacific storms hurl towering waves against the shore, stripping away anything optimistic enough to attempt grasping a toehold. And, what few grains of soil or seeds the waves miss, the rains wash away. Stripped bare, the colors highlighted by the ever present moisture, the geology is fascinating. Just short of Cape Ommaney we turned up Puffin Bay and found a little unnamed cove at the head where we'll spend the night. It's a great little spot, fully protected with a nice grassy meadow and a stream running through it. We're watching 3 deer play in the stream and expecting a bear any minute. I don't know if the stream supports Sockeye, Coho or what, but I'll bet this is a fun spot with a fly rod when they're running. Had a typical boat bound birthday dinner: steak on the barbeque, artichokes, baked potato with sour cream and a '91 Beringer Cabernet Private Reserve. This Captain's Admiral does nice work.
Rounded the Cape next morning in a dead calm, watched the whales play; almost had one slide under the boat and then we headed up Chatham Strait. Went into Red Bluff Bay, dropped off the crab and prawn pots, anchored right up next to the falls and meadow at the head of the bay and had dinner. As we were about to go to bed a triple-decker catamaran tour boat came in and sat in front of the falls for half an hour. I can understand Tracy Arm, Glacier Bay, Skagway, etc., but Red Bluff Bay? Our 'entertainment' for the evening finally left and we tucked in for the night. Had a leisurely breakfast this morning, picked up an empty (again) crab pot, but really got into the prawns.
We continued up Chatham Strait and into Baranof Warm Springs. Dona's gone from having a thing about waterfalls to mineral baths…must be an age thing. She still requires detours to look at some pretty spectacular falls. Anyhow, we climbed the hill (1/2 mile) over some boards and through the mud, all the while whistling so as to alert the bears to our presence. As we soaked in the slippery-sulfured and more than very warm springs, I couldn't help thinking about how much I like poached pears and if the bears also enjoy poached pears (bodies that is). We really did enjoyed our soak, slid down the hill, jumped in the boat, headed for Chapin Bay and that pile of prawns.
Long range plan #321 for this week…we're headed for Petersburg today, Wrangell tomorrow then off to meet up with friends at Kasaan on the 17th. We'll cruise around that area for a while so I can be in position to head off for Denver at the end of the month. Seems my legality lapsed in May and that I need a landings class before flying again so it's 4 hours in the box and I'll be ok for another 90 days.
Had a productive day in Petersburg, changed the main engine's oil (love that X-changer system), dined on local fresh fried prawns at Coastal Seafood, topped off the water tanks and Dona visited, via the internet, with paymybills.com. We're all set for at least another 2 weeks.
Departed Petersburg at 05:30, amid off-hand remarks about being on vacation, epithets about tyrannical behavior and references to my leadership abilities, but we had to catch the end of the flood into Wrangell Narrows and the beginning of the ebb towards Wrangell…perfect timing. I was so proud of myself and then, as we and the heavy current from the Narrows ran head long into the southerly blow off of Sumner Strait, things got a little bumpy. As a matter of fact it wasn't a great ride for the last few hours as the current opposed the rather substantial wind. Oh well, it was only 3 hours so not that bad, we'd soon be tied snugly and securely to the dock in Wrangell and visiting with friends. Not quite.
Called the harbormaster about 30 minutes out and she said to proceed to the transient dock and raft up to any boat we took a liking to; the place is packed. We are the 3rd boat from the dock and that makes for an interesting trip ashore and an even more interesting trip back aboard our boat with the groceries…on the first boat, across his back deck while being careful not to get tangled in his nets, hoist the bags up and between the wires and onto the next boat's bow before attempting to jump from the first boat to the next, wave howdy to the occupants of the middle boat who were enjoying their evening meal…you get the picture. Some boats are rafted 4 deep so we're anxiously awaiting our new neighbor; hope they have fenders and don't arrive at 2 am.
I don't know if you've ever been someplace the day before an opening of deer, dove or trout season, but there's a high energy level. Everyone's rushing around, making last minute repairs, painting, loading bait, lines, crab pots and socializing. The boats and pickup trucks are stacked way too high with crab pots, lines and buoys. You can feel the anticipation in the air.
The start of the commercial crabbing season is generally felt to effectively be the end of "easy pickins" for the sport fisherman (never been easy for me). As a result, friends of ours who live in Wrangell went out and pulled their 2 pots, cooked them and brought all that crab (maybe a dozen) to our boat for a crab feed. It was super! We tried to talk Joan and Chuck into taking the "leftovers" home with them, but they wouldn't have any part of that and I didn't exactly get pushy with my powers of persuasion so the two of us cracked and picked crab until late into the night. I'll bet we have over ½ gallon of pure crabmeat.
We had a nice run down Zimovia Strait (yes, the Russians and Spaniards got to Seward's Folly before the good guys), tossed out 2 prawn traps and a crab pot before anchoring in Santa Anna Inlet for the night. I too am filled with anticipation.
Dona has finally confessed. She has been smuggling bananas aboard since the very first of our trip. Any fisherman knows that bananas aboard a boat will destroy a fishing trip. It hasn't been my ineptness, but her willful defiance of one of the most basic rules that has ruined the fishing. Michael will be shocked. All the while I've been thinking that Alaska is fished out, when in fact, Jonah has been aboard.
We pulled the crab trap this morning only to discover 3 fat crabs sharing their space with my usual starfish. Looked like crab again tonight until the second prawn trap was aboard, giving us just enough for dinner. I guess I shouldn't complain, but hauling 2 5/16th inch lines with traps hand over hand up from 350 feet and into the dingy for a few shrimp is a lot of work. Next boat needs a pot puller.
Made a short day of it. Dona and Dammitt set up the crab processing plant in the aft cockpit, taking in the sun, while I ran the boat down Ernest Sound to Meyers Chuck. About half way down the sound we ran into an algae bloom like we'd never seen before. Initially I thought there had been some kind of oil or other spill, but as we move further into it the surface of the water took on the appearance of tomato soup. With all this daylight the water temp has risen to 55 degrees, probably 6 degrees warmer than the water in front of our house on Bainbridge.
Departed Meyers Chuck 6/15, running down to Saltery Cove and Sportsman's Cove Lodge in hopes of seeing Larry and Gail McQuarrie, but they weren't up from down south. Seems like he couldn't stand retirement from the airline so he decided to become a full time boat builder. We then wandered over to Kasaan, meeting up with Dave and Meta McDowell who just came up in their Nordhavn 62. We revisited the Long House and Totem Park and spent the evening telling stories and catching up. Returned to Meyers Chuck the following day with the McDowells. Meyers Chuck is one of those little artsy-craftsy communities that has a nice dock, is very well protected from the weather and the residents are fun to be around. Dona enriched the local economy via their gallery, buying homemade soap, Huckleberry Jam and a Cedar Bark berry-picking basket. She also had a great time talking to all the local ladies. Dave and Meta took off fairly early the next morning heading north and we were planning to head south a little later. That plan didn't last long. From our vantage point at the dock, the whitecaps out on Clarence Strait got bigger, more frequent and streakier as the morning progressed. At the same time, the next day's forecast was promising a big improvement so we decided to socialize a little more, delaying our departure til the next morning.
The weather service at least got the date right. Today the winds have increased considerably, the rain very heavy at times and swell at the dock is uncomfortable; we're spending another day in Meyers Chuck. We just helped a wild-eyed Krogen 42 driver tie up to the dock and he said the wind is SE at 25-35 with 6 foot seas in Clarence right now. Two more big boats are also coming in as I write this and looking for rafting partners. I'm thinking about anchoring out because it may be more comfortable and don't want to face the prospect of a crabber tying up alongside with it's crew running through our aft cockpit for the next 2 days. Sure hope tomorrow improves because I'm getting itchy feet.
In the midst of all this activity, the community's weekly grocery supply just arrived via floatplane. Looks like the social event of the week, 10 or 15 skiffs converging on the dock, picking up their boxes and shooting the breeze (pun intended). Later, after the postmistress has had a chance to sort this week's incoming mail, they'll reconvene at the post office, an exciting day.
6/21 Armed with a favorable forecast and also optimistic because today is the first day of summer (even in Southeast Alaska) we departed for Moira Sound in cold, breezy and foggy conditions. The wind quickly picked up, but the ride was tolerable so we continued on. About the time we reached the junction of Clarence Strait and the Behm Canal the winds "freshened" to 25 + knots from the SE and the seas increased to a confused 6 feet with an occasional "over achiever". I think that Dona's frequent and disparaging comments such as "this one coming should be a good one" are what finally drove me to seek refuge in Paul Bight, up Skowl Arm. It's well protected from everything except the NE and as I write this the wind seems to be shifting from that direction, but without much intensity. Today's 16:00 reading of the tea leaves (we were in radio range) is calling for the rains to end and the winds backing to SW at 15kts by morning. Hopefully we'll be able to remain in this anchorage tonight and if we hear as rosy a forecast from tomorrow's 04:00 reading of the Tarot Cards as this afternoon's tea leaves, we'll be on our way in the morning. Where did Dona put my sunglasses? Isn't summer grand!
The morning forecast and the weather seemed to be improving quite a bit so we made our way down to the North Arm of Moira Sound, dropped off the prawn trap in 350 feet of water (hate pulling those deep ones up) and crab pot in Cannery Cove, before anchoring in Hideaway Cove. It's a real pretty little spot, but with a minus 4-foot tide at 9am we'll be landlocked in our anchorage between 5 am and noon. Maybe our traps having more time to "soak" will be just the ticket. We slipped in here on a plus 14' tide with just 2 feet under the keel over a very poorly charted rock. We'll have a plus 18 foot tide at 2 am followed by the minus 4 feet at 09:00 which will give us the opportunity to mark the rock and plan our escape. These huge tidal changes create interesting cruising as the landscape/seascape literally changes before your eyes. It's a bit intimidating to anchor in a relatively large, but secluded bay on a high tide with your boat and eyelevel aligned with trees and a grassy beach and then, 6 short hours later to find yourself 22 feet lower, floating on what feels like the 10th hole water hazard at Wing Point and looking up at the outside world. Additionally, these large tidal variations create some interesting currents as well as cleansing the beaches of the winter storm's collection of huge logs.
The sun's out, wind's calm, barometric pressure's steady, temperature's 55 so the weather really does seem to be taking a turn for the better; summer's just a day late in Southeast. Dammitt, the "galley cat", is even beginning to show signs of life at times other than when Dona enters the kitchen or "Free Flight" comes under siege by some vicious, wild animal. I just might have to make a real effort to find those sunglasses. We probably should also keep a closer eye on the "galley cat", aka the Mark Spitz of the feline crowd's, outside activities.
No need for the sunglasses. Seems forever since we had 2 days in a row without less than 55-degree temperatures, wind and rain. It's been very unusual for May and June, which are normally the driest months of the year. Didn't even come up with a starfish in the crab trap this morning, must be losing my touch, but we really clobbered the prawns. Pulling 350 feet of line isn't too bad when you find 49 big prawns (9 inches) at the end of the line.