Sunday 5/6 We had planned crossing to Cape Decision then up Chatham Sound to Juneau, but we'd been without a weather forecast for a couple of days until we entered Sumner Strait. No weather channels, unable to contact weather services on channel 16, no cell phone, no problem…I'll just give 'em a call on the SAT COM. No signal. We decided on heading towards the Cape and see what happened. Finally the SAT COM came through and it was for southwest storm warnings in the afternoon, gale force tomorrow then 30kts Tuesday, 25kts Wednesday, and picking back up to 30kts on Thursday. Looks like another fun week in Southeast. We figured that Chatham Strait would not be a fun place to be for days after this storm blows itself out so we did a 180 and we are now tied to a rickety old dock in Port Protection where Dammitt can protect us from TWO young black Labs. Between the wind and "the kid's" verbal assaults, there probably won't be much quality sleep tonight. [Admiral speaks in these brackets] [And there wasn't! The wind screamed & howled but Dammitt was quiet all snuggled under the covers. Then there was this sound like an empty coffee can rolling about on the deck over our heads and I knew that wasn't happening. Finally I got up, braved the winter blast and found out the anchor pin was clanking against the new bowsprit. Fixed it and rushed back inside to find Al still asleep-never heard a thing! And then he gets me up at 6am to push our nose back out into whatever was out there-no weather station again! Thank goodness the sea was flat and no wind - but it was coming. We skidaddled across Sumner Strait and into Wrangell Narrows just in the nick of time. All the while listening to a few more chapters of "Harry Potter."]
We're now in Petersburg on Monday evening 5/7/01 and will try to send/receive emails tomorrow. Spent a bouncy night inside Port Protection and before going to bed everyone was saying, "you'll be here for a week", but we departed very early the next morning. We made it to Petersburg this afternoon, had a pretty good ride until Clarence met Sumner (Straits, that is) then, with the strong SW winds colliding with the currents and winds of Sumner Strait, things became sporting again. Sorry we're missing the west side of Kuiu and the northeast side of Baranof again, but as they say: that's the way the wind blows. The forecast for tonight, in Petersburg, is for heavy rain and 45 kt winds. So far, we've had the heavy rain. Tomorrow's outlook is pretty much the same, but our experience with the marine forecasts has been.... we'll see. That's also been easy for us to say when we're in a solid boat like this and when all we've felt during the last 955 engine hours is a little discomfort. I expect that at some point we will find conditions, which do more and frighten one of us, at least a little bit. I'm tagging on a photo of the Alaskan State Ferry passing a tug and barge on a lovely spring day in Clarence Strait. Happily, we were on land.
Other than the weather and not yet having to install the porthole screens, this year's trip is quite a bit different than the last. There's an abundance of different species of sea birds, a lot that we've never seen before, and on this year's 10-hour run between up Frederick Sound and Stephens Passage, between Petersburg and Tracy Arm, we saw no whales while last August we saw literally hundreds. This year Dall porpoises mobbed us.
The Dall looks like an Orca wanna be, black and white, but smaller, fast and very playful. They act like big, gangly, long legged, lop-eared puppies when they see the boat. All of a sudden we'll see 10-20 of them coming in from a few hundred yards out and all directions as they seemingly race to see who can get to the boat first. Just like playful puppies, I half expect to holler "down" to keep them from jumping up on us and of course I can't help myself from standing on the bow while they dart to and fro. It's almost as if I'm expected to throw a stick and play fetch. It's quite an attachment we share.
[We are finally starting to see a couple of pleasure boaters. We met a retired (just) Air Canada pilot from Gabriola Island, BC and the just retired fire chief from Bainbridge Island of all places! We had a great evening/dinner with all of them and plan to meet up with the pilot again in Juneau and the fire chief & his wife in Sitka, where they are planning to live. What a small world we continually find ourselves in, such wonderful surprises, and wonderful people.]
Tracy Arm was as different, but just as spectacular this year. Where we saw green valleys and waterfalls last year we now saw fresh dustings of snow and ice bridges. We even saw and video taped a huge chocolate colored bear on the trip in. The weather wasn't clear as before, but the combination of cloud and sun added to the texture of the experience. Once again we had the whole place to ourselves for the 3-hour run in and while we were bobbing around in the pack ice while we had our traditional tea and scones. This year's scones were once again fresh out of the oven, but this year's were full of orange zest. Yum! Unfortunately we had to eat these off the north glacier as the pack ice was just too heavy for us to reach the face of the, more spectacular, South Sawyer Glacier.
We spent 3 days in Juneau doing the touristy thing: shopping, fantastic museum, dinners out etc. and all the while trying to make certain everyone understood that we weren't off of one of "those" boats. Yes, there were 2 huge cruise ships at the dock the day we left so summer has finally come to Alaska. Speaking of summer, we did see some daffodils in bloom today, but the tulips aren't yet open on this day after Mother's Day. I'm betting nothing will be in bloom when we arrive in Skagway.
We've decided Tanner Crab is best for crab benedict, but still prefer the Dungeness overall for it's flavor and consistency. What Dona needs now is a very small saucier pan to make the perfect hollandaise sauce. Running up Lynn Canal we were able to get through the narrow opening into Boat Harbor on the high water slack and back out in the morning, having picked up another crab in the process. The whole run to Skagway was stunning with steep, jagged, freshly dusted snow capped mountains and glaciers hanging above us on both sides. Entering Skagway we encountered a pair of Humpback Whales resting on the surface. We sat with them for about half an hour watching them breathe. They'd blow, take a breath then sink below the surface for a few minutes before slowly rising and repeating the process.
5/17 We did the touristy thing yesterday by riding the narrow gauge railway, through the snowfields and clinging to the granite walls, to the summit of White Pass with what seemed like the total passenger load of the two cruise ships in the harbor. All kidding aside, it really was impressive. The two cruise ships left about eight o'clock last night, only to be replaced by three more early this morning and I'm still looking for the cargo ship that hauls in all the "treasures" these 7000 folks will buy today. Who says the "mother-lode" has run out. As for us, we're contemplating breakfast (crab again?) and the day's activities. [I'm going to drag him off to another cemetery. I don't think we will find any relations, but one never can tell.]
We discovered gold!! I hate to think of the number of days in the last 2 years that we've spent waiting for or trying to intercept the promised part, even close to the promised day. Once we got to Alaska Dona and I decided we wanted an inflatable dingy, but no one had what we wanted in stock, so I called one of the reputable discount catalog outlets and started to order one. After talking to the clerk on the phone for a few minutes, and listening to his remarks about zip codes, phone numbers, street addresses other "required" information I quickly decided that we were about to embark on another 7 day game of "where's the package". Finally said, "forget it" and hung up.
Pete Bernstein at Alaska Ship Chandlers (top of the float in Harris Basin) said he'd make a few calls, giving me a price date and location. The next morning he asked me where I wanted the dingy, told me it could be in his hands 3 days later, quoted me a good price and said it would be easy and not terribly expensive for him to send it to Skagway/Gustavus or he'd drive it over to Auke Bay after we turned south towards Glacier Bay. I really believed him. I asked if he could get a new engine room blower within the same time frame and the response was "sure". Then I said, "what if we show up in Auke Bay on Sunday when you're closed?"; he gave me his home phone number. We arrived in Auke Bay about 5 pm on Friday, called Pete and he delivered both items to the boat at 7:50 the following morning. Those of you heading this way, or anywhere else, should have his phone numbers. 800/478-1402 or 907/586-1402.
Sunday we departed Auke Bay just as the weather was beginning to turn sour. I wanted to put some distance behind us before the winds really came up again so we'd be in position to enter Glacier Bay when the weather changed for the better, and so we could get some sleep. Everyone in Alaska has a dog, takes them fishing, it's only dark about 5 hours a day and we were tied up at the head of the dock. I'll bet Dammitt cussed out half the dogs in Juneau, reporting the incident to our cabin after each encounter. Yes, the shades were drawn but he gets behind them, and close our cabin door you say…it's merely teak. We stopped short of Gustavus and the entrance to Glacier Bay by crossing Icy Strait and ducking into Hoonah, ahead of the forecast 30kt winds, but just as the heavy rains began. Tied up in front of us was the couple we had heard on the radio in early April that we thought we would run into at Lagoon Cove, but missed. We had a good time catching up on events and hearing about the ice status in Glacier Bay. The forecast is for some improvement tomorrow, but 25 kts, showers and 45 degrees doesn't sound all that great for the crossing of Icy Strait and even worse for our scheduled golf match in Gustavus with Andre and Carol (aboard Lawrin from Silva Bay on Gabriola Island).
In spite of the forecast we left the following morning and the weather for the crossing was pretty good, but the wind started picking up as we tied up at Gustavus. Their float is a few hundred yards off the beach, very exposed and our boats were bouncing all over the place. We untied, headed around the corner (2 hours) into Bartlett Cove and called THE cab for a ride into town (10 miles and $32 each way). Enroute to the Mount Fairweather Golf Course our driver jumped on the brakes, barely missing a moose, and a few feet further patiently waited for a pissed off porcupine to cross the road. A big part of golf is about rules and being honorable; this course takes it to the extreme. The door to the "pro shop" is open and no one's around so you sign-in, open the plastic yogurt container, make change if necessary, select a set of clubs and cart ($12 for 9 holes, $3 for clubs and $2 for cart) and head for the first tee. Local rules allow you lift, clean and place in the fairway, "not in the ruff that's tuff", but rule #4 does provides relief from Moose tracks anywhere and there is no out of bounds. I had a really good round going til the last hole when the wheels came off, but what else is new.
We sat out the next day in the Bartlett Cove anchorage as, once again, the rains washed the boat down and winds blew us dry. We timed our entry into the narrows just right, ran up to South Sandy Cove, dropped off the crab trap (we'll find out tonight) and headed up the West Arm for an anchorage in Reid Inlet below Reid Glacier. Someone turned the blow dryer on again and the seas picked up. Lawrin put their stabilizer fish in the water (sure like these Naiads) and we plugged along in anticipation of relief in Reid Inlet, only to be disappointed on arrival as we found icy winds coming straight down off the glacier at 20 kts. Now the dilemma: it's 4 pm, we've been underway for 9 hours, it's very windy, the glaciers we came to see are 2 hours further with no anchorages and the closest well thought of anchorage about 2 hours back. One of the books we had said something to the effect that the writer has "heard there is a satisfactory anchorage" on the backside of Russel Island, but included the disclaimer he had never tried it. It wasn't what I would have called suitable as the "protection" was now under water at high tide and the wind was really blowing. Lawrin got her hook into the bottom and invited us to join her. I was a tad skeptical, but we held and after someone let 25 feet of water out of the bathtub the rocks became a mountain and gave us pretty good protection until the wind died down.
We had another glorious day; got up early and headed up Tarr Inlet. Along the way we passed whales, mountain goats and a few brownies, bears that is. These were close enough and big enough for us to not have to categorize as "chocolate colored". From about 100 yards away we watched one pair at the waterline, seemingly oblivious to our presence, flipping over rocks for what morsels lay below. At the end of Tarr we had the place to ourselves so we took a front row seat (radar said ¼ mile, but sure felt closer), put out the dingy and putted around through the Pina Colada in the sun. On the right, the Grand Pacific is almost black with ground up rock and adjoining it on the left the Margerie has many faces, a little something for everyone. She was in rare form, must have been showing off for the sun, as huge pieces of ice exploded off her face with a loud crack and into the water below, sending out a swell and putting everything into motion.
Don't listen to anyone who tells you "Don't bother with Glacier Bay because Tracy Arm is better". That statement is probably coming from someone who has never been into either one or got all wrapped up in and/or angered by the restrictions. They are both extraordinary and very different places, each with their own positives and negatives. Tracy Arm is small, narrow, really steep, very clear ice, almost sterile and easy to get into. Glacier Bay is vast, wide-open spaces with beaches and large mountain peaks rising above, has restrictions for entry after June 1, not martini quality ice and an enormous amount of wildlife. We've seen quite a few big Brown Bears, up close and personal, as well as literally hundreds of mountain goats.
We made our way back to North Sandy Cove on a bright sunny evening, checked the crab trap after a 2 day soak (nada), threw out the hook and watched 5 black bears feeding on the very low tide…Squash the barnacles with that big hairy paw and lick the boulder clean for an appetizer. Then flip (yes, flip) the boulder over and suck up whatever poor creatures were hiding below. Since the sun was shining (almost 20 hours/day now) and we'd had such a splendid day we topped it off with a nice barbequed rack of lamb, asparagus and a bottle of '91 Newton unfiltered cabernet. An appetizer of steamed mussels in white wine and shallots would have been nice, but PSP warnings are posted at all docks in the area and Dona's not getting rid of me that easily.
The weather is really cooperating so the next morning we worked our way through the whales, heading up Muir Inlet past McBride (a retreating glacier with a stream running away from it to the inlet. Heading in we passed at low tide. Hundreds of house-sized and very, very blue icebergs were lined up on the barrier sandbar, waiting for their ride to freedom. When we returned on the incoming tide the river bar was a backwards waterfall and once again these bergs were pushed back towards Mother McBride - what a sight!), Riggs (in full retreat, dirty, ugly and kind of sad) and up to what little is left of the Muir Glacier. The retreat has been so rapid that the upper portions reminded us more of Death Valley than Glacier Bay. The glacier ground great channels through these mountains and the retreating ice left nothing; not even lichen has begun to grow. The "Muir Tour" made us really aware of the enormity of these glaciers as well as their tremendous power, an inspirational experience. Found nothing in the crab pot on our return to North Sandy Cove so the place must be fished out…might just as well leave in the morning.
May 26th another cloudless sky above and snow-capped peaks were the horizon. We timed passing the narrows just west of Strawberry Island perfectly, exiting this portion of the park, turning the corner into Icy Straight and BANG!!…right into the incoming tide. At one point our 8.4 kts through the water was down to 2.5kts and due to the whirlpools and cross-currents (even 2 miles offshore) we got to really "rockin an a rollin". The weather forecast is pretty good for the next 2 days so our traveling companions left us to make the run to Lituya Bay tomorrow, hopefully in good weather, while we turned into Dundas Bay for the night, arriving at one author's "favorite anchorage" only to find it littered with snags and deadheads. We agreed that the holding would probably be great, but worried we might not be able to retrieve our chain and anchor in the morning. In full retreat, we found another spot.
Awakened to a light rain on the foredeck above our bed, so much for the marine forecast. It took forever to haul and wash down the chain that came out of the water looking like a 1" wire cable, thoroughly greased for storage. We worked our way out of the not very well charted arm, into Dundas Bay where we watched a boatload of folks (maybe 10) standing out in the rain with tripods and very big lenses taking an eagle's picture. We were loitering around on the way to Elfin Cove so we didn't have to play around in the whirlpools, created by the 8.3 kt ebb, at Inian Pass. We really wanted to walk around Elfin for an hour or so, but found no room at the dock and, at low tide, not a real good spot to anchor so we stuck our nose out into an easy going 4' swell of Cross Sound and headed for Pelican.
Turning into the harbor at Pelican we were greeted by a display of no less than 10 bald eagles scooping up small fish; so distracted by the scene, thought I'd run into the dock. They looked like a bunch of student pilots practicing "touch and goes" as they took their turns hitting the bait ball, pulling up, climbing 20', eating the small fish, turning downwind and preparing for the next pass. Only difference was that, while they seemed to wait their turn for the "runway", they were hitting it from several different directions and without ATC. We finally tore ourselves away from the air show, tying up at the transient dock and headed into the store to re-supply at what is acclaimed to be the best place between Juneau and Sitka…except on Memorial Day weekend when everything is closed. It's Sunday, May 27 and we've lost track of time, but in how many places would the storeowner open up just because a visitor said she could use "a couple of things". That's the kind of hospitality we've been shown up here, and all Dona bought was one fresh bell pepper.
5/30 We departed Pelican yesterday, down Lisianski Strait and out into the Gulf of Alaska. We were going to noodle around the rocks and sneak into White Sulfur Springs for a bath, but with the poor definition of the charts, the thousands of rocks and our forward looking depth sounder being inoperative, we wimped out in favor of the safety on the outside. Tucking back in again just south of Cape Dearborn, we had a great time checking out backstroking sea otters, some dining on crab and others nursing their young. We anchored for the night in Kimshan Cove, but didn't sleep well as the wind picked up around midnight and there wasn't a lot of swinging room. Departed early this morning to catch the low water slack at Sergius Narrows. Dona said she needed a bath and wanted to make sure we got all our boxes checked, noting that we haven't been all the way around Chichagof Island and we haven't had a soak at Tenakee Hot Spring So, we traversed the "dreaded" Peril Strait and will do a few things on the east side of Chichagof and Baranof Islands before retracing our steps enroute to Sitka sometime next week.
The seas were relatively calm as we worked our way south, turning into the west end of Peril Strait. Arrived at Sergius Narrows 45 minutes early but the channel markers were not all the way over on their sides so we continued thru at full throttle, with no problem, and then the wind started to pick up and up and…The wind was really howling as we entered Appleton Cove for the night (near the east end of the Strait) and as I was putting out the crab pot the boat drifted back over the line. The buoy was nestled right next to the swim platform with the line going under the boat near the prop and rudder. I was able to pull the line, but not easily as I tried to raise the trap. It wasn't entangled in the rudder or prop YET, but we were close to shore, the wind blowing and I was afraid to put her into gear so I just cut the line, losing another crab pot and allowing us to drift away. Once I felt we were clear, I started the get home engine and motored off towards the head of the bay before putting the main into gear (nervous Nellie). This would have been a lousy place and time (if there ever is a good time) to wrap 100' of crab line around the shaft. The anchorage is ok and we are holding well. The bad news is that, in here, it's still blowing about 20+ kts from the east. The good news is that just after we set the anchor we saw 4 buffalo running down the beach. Hold the phone; this isn't Catalina or Yellowstone, this is Alaska and those "buffalo" are really a big brown bear sow and her 3 yearlings at play on the beach; what wind? We were mesmerized. The bears have now left, Dona's fed and watered me well and the winds are increasing, but the visibility is dropping. We have no idea what tomorrow will bring, as we haven't been able to get a weather forecast in quite some time. The barometer has been fairly steady for the last few days, but the current weather stinks. Weather forecasting in Alaska is anyone's guessing game.
Felt like a tethered channel buoy at max ebb most of the night. The wind blew, the rain pelted us, but we were firmly attached to the bottom and, as our anchor alarm showed, we never dragged an inch all night. Both of us actually slept quite well with the rocking motion and I checked our position only twice, awakened for other reasons at my age, and immediately returned to sleep being very comfortable with our security. I'm not one to want to sit inside an anchored boat, unless I feel the options are even less desirable so we left this morning and headed up Chatham Strait towards Tenakee. We fully expected a rock 'n roll ride considering all the winds of the night. But once exiting Peril Strait we encountered nothing but flat seas with little wind so we listened to a couple of more chapters of "Harry Potter". Before we knew it, 7 hours later, were in Tenakee Springs and ready for the hot soak Dona had been looking forward too.
There's a nice little marina just east of town with a pathway/ATV trail into it, no cars, very friendly folk, a small rock spa with posted hours for men & women and another sign, "Nude Bathing Only". Dona's time was 6-10pm and she was there on the dot. She had a wonderful soak and then, to cool off, a full blown Alaskan shower during her walk back to the boat, arriving just in time to help lay out more fenders and tighten the spring lines as a squall was coming thru, sending us bouncing one way and the dock the other. I'd initially thought that we had been broadsided by the QE II. Five fenders and a ball fender later we rested comfortably against the dock again; could be an interesting night. The experience made me think back to last night's winds with fond memories. We'll stick it out for the night since Bruce (the rough looking, burly, bearded, harbormaster who's also an artist, into beadwork) has already been by to collect the tariff ($6). Tomorrow we'll hit the bakery for their famous cinnamon buns (there goes our diet once again), give Bruce's dog Seal the left-over pork chop bones, soak the aches out of my back (pinning the anchor into place) before casting off. We'll spend tomorrow night at anchor to get good nights sleep.