Saturday, May 31, 2014

Taku Harbor

…. another “last chance to see” …



This is another of those spots that is slowly disappearing back into the rain forest.  Evidently there was a huge cannery here at one time but now all that remains is the stumps of the pilings and some rotting machinery in the bush.  The locals have built a really good float with probably 400 feet of face available with direct shore access plus another detached float with roughly 200 feet of face.  And its all free.  Can’t argue with that price.  Its about a 3 hour cruise out of Juneau and obviously popular with the locals.  There was one little sailboat on the dock when we arrived that has since left and been replaced by 3 large cruising boats, all local.






Friday, May 30, 2014

Moving on

Time for new scenery.  We’ve been in Juneau for two nights now – tonight will be the last one for this trip.  We’ve used the time to get caught up on email and make some phone calls but really there’s not a whole lot of reason to stick around.  We went for a walk around downtown today but we didn’t see much. Its the State Capitol but there’s not much to see.  The city is roughly the same size as Prince Albert so imagine what there would be to see in P.A. if the cruise boats could get there.  If you didn’t tour the jails, just exactly why would you stick around?


We’re going to start heading south again – maybe we’ll at least find some warmer weather.  Currie, on The Mermaid, our buddy boat, should have arrived in Ketchikan today, if he didn’t get drowned in Dixon Entrance.  We’re so glad we didn’t wait to travel with him – not because we wouldn’t have enjoyed his company but simply because of what all we’ve seen on our own.  Now however we’re looking forward to connecting with him and his crew of adventurers for a visit.  Neither boat wants to be tied to a firm schedule but right now we think we’ll meet up at Kake.  That’s an Indian Reserve about 60 miles south of where we are right now. 


We were going to Kake anyway because its at the north end of Rocky Pass.  That’s one of the north south routes through southeast Alaska that we didn’t take on the way north but that I think we will try on the trip south.  It sounds like the kind of place where you could get in a lot of trouble if you tried to hurry but where you could have a lot of fun if you went slow and just enjoyed the scenery. 

We’re going to leave Juneau sometime in the morning and go south of the city to a little bay called Taku, at the north end of Stephens Passage.  From there we’ll go down the passage to Gambier Bay at the south end and then cross our tracks north of Portage Bay to get west over to Kake.  I’m not sure what to expect for cellular coverage in that area – I think we had pretty good coverage when we went through there a couple of weeks ago.  Its also supposed to be good whale waters although we didn’t see anything other than a solitary humpback through there. 


I threw that last picture in as a lead in to a lecture about bad boat handling, which we’ve seen plenty of since we left Cow Bay.  Some of the floating hotels are downright ignorant, apparently believing that the waters belong to them.  Some of the fishermen also have a fairly liberal interpretation of the colregs.

We’ve helped people dock their boats who were clearly clueless and totally dependant on having someone on the dock to pull them in.  On one occasion I offered to catch lines and a crew member tried to blow me off but the captain threw me a line and thanked me for taking it.  The picture above is of really bad anchoring technique.  It held for two nights but a big blow would have been fun to watch as long as we weren’t in the downwind path.

The anchor chain is the straight, almost vertical line extending from the bow pulpit.  By the angle and the taut nature of the chain you can tell that there’s not much chain to spare - “scope” is the fancy sailor word.  We typically like to have a minimum of 5:1 scope when we anchor.  That means that if our bow pulpit is 60 feet above the ocean floor then we will have 60 x 5 or 300 feet of chain out.  Those numbers are typical up here by the way.  In Desolation Sound or the Gulf Islands we often anchor in 20 feet or less of water.  Up here 40 feet is shallow and we’ve been in deeper.  So to start with, “Cabaret” doesn’t have much scope out – I’d guess 3:1 or less, maybe a lot less.  That means that rather than pulling on the anchor the chain is tending to lift the anchor.  The fact that the water where they anchored was around 80 feet deep just confirms my suspicion about their scope.  80 feet of water plus 8 feet to the bow pulpit means that even 5:1 scope would require 440 feet of chain out.

The second big problem with their anchor setup is how they have attached the bridle.  The bridle is the system of lines that is attached, in their case anyway, to the anchor chain just above the surface of the water and leading back to cleats on the foredeck.  The purpose of a bridle is to transfer the anchor load to the cleats and off the windlass.  In the photo above it is obvious that the load is still on the chain all the way to the pulpit.  If you look really close there is actually a little slack in their bridle.  So it is doing exactly nothing.  If the chain happened to break between the bridle attachment point and the windlass or if the lock on the windlass lets go then the bridle will take over.  Otherwise its just window decoration.

When we put a bridle on the first difference is that its about twice as long as what Cabaret has done.  Our bridle ends up attached to the anchor chain deep below the surface of the water.  The more important difference though is that after we attach the bridle I release the chain.  And I release a LOT of chain.  I will typically drop 25 to 50 feet of chain so that it hangs in a big loop suspended by the bridle.  The weight of all that chain hanging in the water serves two purposes.  First it completely unloads the windlass.  More importantly it weighs the attachment point down so that it is much deeper in the water.  That means that our chain which is already long and thereby coming off the anchor at a shallow angle has that angle further reduced.  The goal is to get the chain pulling as close as possible to horizontally across the floor of the ocean.  That way it pulls against the anchor rather than trying to lift the anchor out of the seabed.  I’m sure we’ll have some bad nights at anchor but I’m also sure that we’re more secure than a lot of the boats we see around us.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Signs you (fortunately) don’t see every day

We gave this one a wide berth ……..


That’s just off the southeast corner of Douglas Island which forms the south side of the Gastineau Channel with Juneau on the north side.  I’m not sure what the story is but I’d hate to be anywhere nearby when it turns from “unexploded” to “exploded” ordinance. 

We had a longish day yesterday starting from Excursion Inlet and concluding at Harris Harbor in Juneau.  Averaging 6.5 knots we typically do a 60 mile day but yesterday was just 0.3 short of 75 miles.  We had help from favourable currents but it still was close to an 11 hour day.  There were 4 of those damn floating hotels in town when we arrived but mercifully they have created their own faux community on the southern edge of town and our harbour is on the north side of town.  So we were able to go shopping without ever encountering any of the touring hordes off the floating condos.  We did see evidence of them as we approached town in the form of several “deep sea fishing adventure” boats and as we got closer to town “aquatic tours of scenic Juneau” houseboats.  Evidently there is a thriving local business built around fleecing the fat tourists off the cruise boats.

They get some wicked tidal swings up here – 20 feet on the one that’s just ending now. 


There’s a huge tidal grid extending to the right of this photo.  The ramp is pretty well useless at this tide but add 20 feet and it would be quite usable. 

IMG_7515 The pilings for the floats are sticking so far out of the water now that they almost look like sailboat masts. 

The rates are pretty reasonable here - $4.15 per foot monthly c/w the roughly $11 per foot that we pay in Cow Bay – so we’re going to stay three nights.  From here on we’ll be working our way slowly south until we get to Ketchikan again.  Then we’ll start a marathon run for Cow Bay.  When we started this adventure we planned to buddy-boat with another boat from Cowichan Bay.  He hopes to arrive in Ketchikan tomorrow so we’re really glad we didn’t wait for him.  No doubt it would have been a fun trip but a very different trip from the one we have had.  We do however hope to connect with him somewhere between here and Ketchikan.  Next to a depth charge, a schedule is likely the most dangerous thing you can have on a boat so I’m reluctant to predict where we’ll meet up but the wonders of modern communication will help us organize something.  He just came out of the black hole between Port Hardy and Prince Rupert so we can talk to each other again. 

We’ve been very pleasantly surprised by how good the cellular coverage is in S.E. Alaska.  Our roaming data is expensive so we don’t use it any more than we need to but it is great to have it available.  With our cellular booster we even had limited coverage inside Glacier Bay.  Outside the bay its a rare day that we haven’t had some level of coverage at some point every day.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The company store

You load 16 tons and what do you get

Another day older and deeper in debt

St. Peter don’t call me cuz I can’t go

I owe my soul to the company store.

I had never actually seen a company town (or store) until today.  Tonight we’re tied up to the (free) “city” dock at Excursion Inlet which, curiously enough, is located close to the mouth of Excursion Inlet, directly east of Glacier National Park.  In fact, the eastern park boundary runs directly down the middle of the channel behind my back as I type.

We tried to leave the park yesterday but got blown back in.  The wind was howling out of the south, coming right up the bay.  We considered spending the night anchored in Bartlett Cove, in front of the park entrance centre, but it was too lumpy and we weren’t happy with our options for an anchoring site.  Anchoring up here is more of a challenge than in some places – the anchorages tend to be deeper and the bottom is less sticky than I’d like most times.  When we finally got the anchor stuck last night I still wasn’t completely happy but it was getting dark and we were well sheltered so we said “good enough”.  “Good enough” in this case was 50+ feet of water over some kind of gravel that left the anchor shiny clean when we pulled it this morning.  I’m a lot happier when it comes up coated in Regina gumbo or a reasonable likeness to Regina gumbo.


The company activity is a cannery and its a big enterprise – we could see it from a long ways off.


I felt like an intruder so I didn’t go too deep into the little town behind the company store.


Judging by the derelict equipment and buildings scattered around, this place has been here for a long time.


The dock is a little scary.  Its free but we’re likely getting our money’s worth at that.  We ended up tying up twice.  I hope we don’t have to redo any of that at Oh-dark-30 tonight.  The picture was taken before we moved around to the outside.  The inside initially appealed to me because we’re right out in the strait and I thought being on the inside would offer us a little protection from waves and wakes.  However I soon noticed that the dock isn’t really attached to very many of the pilings.  When I saw a three foot gap between the dock and that piling immediately ahead of us along with a two foot gap by the piling behind us I decided it was time to move.  The section of float that we are tied to now isn’t much more securely attached but it does have the ramp to keep it sort of in place and it is kind of sandwiched between pilings on both sides of it so I don’t think it can go anywhere quickly.  It would be really bad to wake up in the middle of the night and find yourself adrift with 60 feet of dock securely lashed to the side of the boat.  We’d probably have gone on to somewhere closer to Juneau, given the state of the accommodations, but the weather tends to kick up later in the afternoon and its doing it again today.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Each day better than the one before

Today was a pretty good day.  Yesterday we left our anchorage at South Sandy Cove with the best of intentions of moving to Blue Mouse Cove which means jack shit to most of you but its further west, towards the active glaciers.  First we wanted to go down closer to the inlet of the bay where we knew we could get cell coverage and internet access.  Along the way we circled a little island where the sea lions hang out.


We didn’t get online as quickly as we had expected and by the time we did we were getting pretty close to the park office in Bartlett Cove.  So we adjusted the plan, anchored in whale waters south of Bartlett Cove and waited for the tide to turn to flood.  Our thinking was that the whales likely feed based on the tides and that they would be at the mouth of the bay waiting for the buffet to be served when the tide turned and started coming in again.  And they were at the mouth of the bay when the tide turned.  Unfortunately we were on the east side of the bay and the damnwhales were on the west side, roughly 4 miles away from us.  So we watched and waited for a while until it became clear that the damnwhales weren’t going to come over to our side.  Then we ducked into Bartlett Cove and anchored for the night because the wind was starting to get up a bit. 

This morning we tried the tide thing again only this time we were dealing with a turn to ebb so we went to the northern edge of what the park calls “whale waters” and anchored on the east side again.  Our luck was better.  Right on schedule as the tide turned we started to see whales everywhere, including all around us.  We were in over 100 feet of water and the tide was running about 3 knots so we weren’t very well anchored but we sat there for maybe half an hour before I got worried and we started pulling the anchor.  That took longer than usual because normally the windlass only has to lift about50 feet of chain directly off the bottom but this morning it had over 100 feet dangling below the boat so it was slow going and we tripped the breaker a couple of times.  We finally got all the chain back onboard and once again set out for Blue Mouse Cove.

We didn’t see much for wildlife along the way but the day was spectacular.  The sun finally came out and we could see all the mountains surrounding us.  And we truly are surrounded.




We were fighting the same ebb current that brought the whales’ breakfast so it took a long time but we arrived at our anchorage around 4:00.  As we got close we thought we could see some whales feeding in the cove which was weird because its tiny and shallow.  The whole cove is maybe 20 acres – 25 at the most – and it turned out that there was not one but three whales in it.  Once we got anchored we watched the whales feed all around us for close to an hour before they “are you enn enn oh eff tee’d” (those of you who also watch too many movies may catch the significance – the rest of you will just have to wonder at our foolishness)  We settled in on the aft deck with a glass of wine and planned to enjoy the rest of the afternoon and evening.  We joked that I should start making supper so that the smell might attract a bear. 

Almost immediately after we sat down I noticed movement on the beach about a half mile south of us.  That turned out to be a cinnamon coloured grizzly.  He was really too far away to see him very well but we watched him munching grass for a while and he steadily worked himself closer to us.  The island right in front of where we anchored is connected to the island where the bear was by a shoal that dries at low tide, as it was when we arrived.  Sure enough, before long, the bear was wandering his way across the isthmus between the two islands.  Marilyn got bored watching him and went inside to wash her hair but she wasn’t inside for long.

By this time I had started supper so I wasn’t paying close attention to our bear but occasionally I would check him out and once when I looked he was running towards us.  When I looked behind him it was easy to see why he was running – he was being chased by an even bigger, almost black grizzly.  They ended up running right by the front of the boat, less than 1/8 of a mile away from us and then on down the beach until they disappeared around the point to the north of us. 

We marvelled at our good fortune to see such an adventure and then sat down to eat supper.  About halfway through supper, here comes cinnamon again, much slower, working his way back south along the beach and casting regular worried looks over his shoulders.  I started filming his return and before long Marilyn said “here comes the other one!”  They were both clearly worn out from their earlier run so they were moving much slower but clearly it was still a pursuit.  At one point cinnamon took to the water and that seemed to throw the older bear off his game, for a while anyway.  Eventually the cinnamon bear got back on shore and we last saw both of them working their slow speed chase across the beach to the south of us. 



Now, if we could just see a wolf, our evening would be complete.  We have developed a little ritual of having chocolate on evenings when we have something to celebrate.  This was definitely a chocolate evening.  We also had chocolate two days ago.  That day we saw a momma grizzly and her three cubs out on the beach eating clams.  We thought that was about as good as it could get at the time.  Who knows what tomorrow will bring?



Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Taking a day off in paradise

Yesterday we anchored in the north arm of Sandy Cove on the east side of Glacier Bay.  We’re here!  Today we’re just taking a day off to enjoy our local scenery.  Not that we can see much of it on a rainy low overcast day.


As we were leaving Hoonah yesterday two of those damn floating hotels went lumbering by the channel, obviously headed towards Glacier Bay as well.  We didn’t see much of them over the course of the day but we did hear them occasionally on the VHF radio.  Apparently they allow two of the monsters in the bay at any particular time.  I expect the tour operators time their arrival so the inmates can watch the entrance to the bay which would explain both of them arriving at 4:00 in the morning running slow. 

We took the full meal deal at the Parks office.  Because we’re arriving outside of the mandatory permit season we didn’t have to listen to the canned presentation about the park but we figured we had come this far so we were going to get our money’s worth.  As Yosemite Sam used to say “I paid my two bitties to see a wild west show, and ahs a goin’ to see a wild west show …. wabbit!”  The movie wasn’t too awful – I’m not sure it told us much that we didn’t already know but it had the mandatory Indian content. It probably needs to be revised though because it was sorely lacking in global warming content.  One of the posters outside had a big yellow add-on which suggested that the retreating glaciers might be related to climate change. 

That whole climate change / global warming pablum is going to be a tough sell up here though.  When Captain Vancouver visited the area in the late 1700’s the glacier had retreated 5 miles from the mouth of the bay (today it is 65 miles back).  When the explorer John Muir visited the area in 1879 the glacier was already 40 miles up the bay – that’s a tricky retreat to blame on carbon emissions from automobiles that had yet to be invented.  But it gets worse.  Archaeologists have determined that as recently as the late 1600’s there was a Tlingit Indian village where the mouth of the bay presently sits – and there was no bay whatsoever at that time.  The Indians were happily living beside a river in a delta, unaware that their lives were about to be disrupted by climate change.  So in 100 years starting roughly in 1700, the glacier pushed its way south scouring out the bay as it went and then by the end of the century when Captain Vancouver stopped by it had already started to retreat.  I guess that was climate CHANGE alright but not the kind we get harangued about today.

As we approached the mouth of the bay there was a largish vessel approaching us off our port quarter.  They seemed oblivious to the collision regs and eventually cut squarely across our bow and then abruptly turned to go in the same direction we were going.  As they got too close for comfort we were able to read their name “The Wilderness Adventurer”.  I also noted a smaller sign “Un-Cruise Adventures”  I saw their operation while we were in Seattle.  Their gimmick is that you get a cruise adventure without all the trappings of a cruise, whatever that means.  Clearly it doesn’t mean a lower crew to passenger ratio because we heard The Wilderness Adventurer radio in its crew and passenger complement – 27 crew and …… wait for it ……… 21 passengers.  I guess even if you’re roughing it you wouldn’t want to have to wait to get your Carhartts pressed for dinner. 

When we landed at the Parks Service dock in Bartlett Cove The Wilderness Adventurer was already tied up and its 21 passengers were milling around on the dock.  I’ve never seen so many really long lenses on cameras, even in a camera shop.  So it was particularly amusing to note that none of the long haired hippy socialists wearing their obligatory denim and flannel with stringy pony tails hanging halfway to their asses had noticed the two bears clearly visible on the beach about 1/2 a mile to the east of the dock.  Marilyn spotted the first of them as we were coming up to the dock and after we got tied up another one came out of the bush.  Likely none of the adventurers ever would have noticed the bears but I eventually pointed them out to one of the Park Rangers and she in turn told the adventurers where they were.  If we were nicer people we’d have pointed the bears out to them ourselves …. but we’re not.  We were briefly worried that the adventurers were headed to the same little cove where we anchored because they appeared to be following us but we lost them as we wound our way in here and they didn’t continue to follow us in.

Saturday, May 17, 2014


After we left the bathtubs at Baranof we made a short move up Chatham Strait to a deep bay into the west side of Admiralty Island.  The island boasts 1 grizzly bear per square mile (0.379 bears per square kilometer).  It sounds safer in metric.  I dunno about you but personally I’d much rather meet 0.379 of a grizzly bear than a whole bear.  I guess that just confirms that Canada is a safer country than the U.S.

We saw some humptyback whales in the distance that day but nothing up close.  Marilyn did however spot us a 5:00 bear.  He looked like maybe a last year’s cub.  He was out on the grassy beach to the east of us after we got anchored, rolling in the grass, wandering around, looking at us and then rolling in the grass again.  We watched him for about an hour before he wandered back into the bushes.

Yesterday morning we got an early start out of Hood Bay and came the rest of the way up Chatham Strait to Hoonah.  It was a little snotty in the Strait – nothing major but enough to put my crew to sleep all morning and part of the afternoon.  I never bothered turning the stabilizers on so it wasn’t that bad plus the waves were square on our nose all the way.  The fins work really well to take out side to side rolling but do absolutely nothing for pitching.  As soon as we started to turn back to the west at the top of Chatham Strait the waves started to ease up and before we had gone very far it was glassy smooth again. That’s when we started seeing whales.

I had talked to Chuck, former Gray Hawk owner and my spiritual guide for this trip, while we were entering Hood Bay.  He warned me that we were heading into heavy duty whale territory and his warning turned out to be bang on.  We had humpbacks everywhere we looked.  You have to look quick though because even when there’s lot of them they don’t stick around for long.

We had one (huge) pair that fed directly across our bow.  We were idling in neutral as they passed so both of us were out on deck watching them.  They were so close together on the surface that it appeared they must have been touching – I suppose they were probably less than 50 feet in front of the boat as they crossed our path.  Just as they got maybe 100 yards to starboard they dived and gave us that signature tail wave as they disappeared, only this time it was a perfect stereo tail wave.  I tried to take a bit of video footage but I doubt it amounted to much.  The rest of the time I just watched – there’s times when the camera can’t capture the scene anyway so you might as well make good memories.

Hoonah bills itself as a city but its a city they way Val Marie or Jedburgh or maybe Dalmeny are cities.  In other words – not a freakin’ chance is this a city.  But its a really cute place nonetheless.  We took a slip in the huge marina for two nights - $63 including power.  We need a few groceries and I had noticed that our flares were outdated so we went shopping as soon as we arrived.

Flares are a great big scam but the USCG loves to harass vessels and that’s about the first thing they look for to write up tickets during a boarding.  I guess its a simple enough infraction that any junior coastie can figure it out – look at today’s date, compare it to the expiry date on the flare – write ticket.  Hey --- even I could do that!  The first problem with the “system” is that the flares are manufactured with an expiry date so by the time we buy them, some of their so-called life is run out.  The ones I bought yesterday “expire” in the fall of 2016.  The second problem is that they don’t really “expire”.  I suppose maybe 30 year old flares might not be usable but even some of them probably still are if they have been kept dry.  There’s no allowance for the fact that we may be carrying 43 times the required number of flares and yes, all of them are “expired” but some of them “expired” two months ago.  When officialdom is carrying a ticket book then the rules are the rules, no matter how fundamentally stupid they may be.  Otherwise you’d have to trust officials to use common sense and nobody would want that now would they?

We’ve got two major events left on this trip so I hesitate to state that we are about to embark on the ultimate adventure of the trip but it may turn out that we are.  The two events are Glacier Bay and Rocky Pass.  I’ll deal with Rocky Pass first and come back to Glacier Bay.

When we leave Cow Bay destined for Vancouver we know we have to get out into Georgia Strait through Active Pass, Porlier Pass, Gabriola Pass or Dodd Narrows.  There’s no other way.  Similarly, when we left Ketchikan we had three choices to get to the northern part of southeast Alaska.  We could go through Wrangell Narrows, Rocky Pass or around Cape Decision.  On the chart below, Dry Passage appears to be a fourth route but it gets its name from the fact that it dries and the Coast Pilot says it should only be attempted at high water with local knowledge so we ruled it out.  On the way north we came through Wrangell Narrows but after my phone call with my spiritual guide I think we’ll go home through Rocky Pass.  It may turn out to be more exciting than Glacier Bay but we hope not.


Glacier Bay is a huge body of water and now its right over there.


After a visit to western Canada people are likely to ask (often breathlessly) “Did you go to Banff?”  Similarly Glacier Bay is the “go to” destination in southeast Alaska.  The National Parks Service only allows 25 boats at a time within the bay but we’re early enough that we don’t have to go through their ham-handed permitting process.  However when I phoned to check on the entry procedure the little chickie on the phone was adamant that we needed to call before entering the park.  I’m guessing that she’s not 100% in sync with this non-permit entry period so she made it perfectly clear that we WILL check in before we enter ‘her” park. 

I find myself reluctant to write as freely as I would like to about what we see as the rise of the US Police State.  Everywhere we turn we see evidence of increased interference and needless meddling in private life by the US Government.  One of the immediate effects of a police state is self-censorship, usually followed shortly by overt state censorship.  In my case that self-censorship is already active. 

We were talking yesterday about how our parents watched the decline of the British Empire during their lifetime but likely never really noticed it.  As Canadians we have ringside seats to watch the decline of the US Empire but we need to pay attention.  Nobody provided a play by play for the decline of the British Empire either.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Nothing but pictures

I went for a walk to soak in the hot tub with a cup of coffee.  What a thoroughly civilized way to start a day that is.


That’s the view from the bathtub – I’ve had worse views (from worse bathtubs).  This one has unlimited hot water that is constantly refreshing itself.


IMG_7382These cabins appear to have suffered an earthquake or avalanche or maybe an extremely high tide event.


I dunno much more about plants than I do about birds but these are kind of pretty.

IMG_7383  Its a very gray day but the water has settled down.  And as usual for winter cruising, we’re all alone.


The gray view back to the community – the bathtubs are in the little building on the extreme right, waterfall on the extreme left.

A nasty day avoided

Our goal is to avoid bad weather – often we succeed.  Not always mind you but often.  Today is one of the successes.

When I woke up (late) this morning Gray Hawk was bumping against the dock.  Deep in Warm Springs Bay at Baranof Hot Springs you wouldn’t expect to feel anything no matter what is happening outside so that’s a sign of how agitated Chatham Strait must have been early this morning.  NOAA weather said 8 feet which is pretty significant for inside waters.  So I’m really glad we’re not out there.


The last couple of days my pictures all look black and white.  That’s not the camera – its just been that kind of weather.


That’s the local waterfall that apparently once generated hydroelectricity for this little community.  There’s only about a dozen cabins left here now and some of them look like they went through an earthquake.  Just about where that waterfall emerges from the bush there’s a hotsprings with a couple of natural pools.  We tramped up the sometimes muddy, sometime rocky, sometimes boardwalk trail to the hotsprings yesterday as soon as we arrived but I doubt we’ll go back.  Its a really pretty spot with a great view of the falls but its a serious hike and neither of us is much of a hiker.  Plus they pipe the water down to the dock and they have a couple of horse troughs set up so you can soak in the trough with a half assed view of the bay.  I’m more into hot water and convenience than I am into hiking and scenery.

Yesterday we fought currents all day from Portage Bay to here.  I wanted to get here before that weather bomb hit because this looked like such a good place to sit it out and it is, but yesterday was frustratingly long.  Balancing tidal cycles and weather is the essence of trip planning on a slow boat like ours.  The tides rule but the weather can trump them.  Tides rule because they control our access to some of the bays and inlets.  The tidal range can be 20 feet on some cycles so an entrance that has 12 feet at high might be six feet above the water with ragged rock at low.  The big tides also generate big currents and because the cycle is slightly more than 24 hours long, the current times are a moving target.

In general we’d like to leave a dock or anchorage early in the morning and tie up early in the afternoon.  That’s the most convenient and it also (usually) guarantees the best water because the ocean often calms down at night and gets itself whipped up into a frenzy during the day.  However, the currents may be better for a 3:00 AM departure or maybe a 2:00 PM departure.  The 3:00 AM may not be practical because of tides or simply because its the middle of the bloody night and we don’t want to get up at that time.  2:00 PM may mean that we’d be arriving at our next destination at midnight so that’s out too. Its dangerous running in the dark because we can’t see debris on the ocean – and in some areas there can be a lot of logging debris to dodge.

Yesterday the weather trumped the tides so we fought the flood current all the way down Frederick Sound until we got to the southern tip of Admiralty Island.  Sometimes it was costing us over 2 knots which is significant when we’re only making 6 knots.  By the time we got to the tip of Admiralty Island the tide had changed so then we got to fight the ebb current again as we headed north to Baranof. 

When we leave this bay we run into the situation where the same tide in the same channel will run both directions.  Baranof Island, which we’re on right now, is exposed to the Gulf of Alaska.  We’re on the east side so we’re sheltered from the Gulf by the island.  The tide floods in around both ends of the island which means that Chatham Channel on the east side of Baranof gets a flood current that flows south at the north end of the island and the same flood current flows north at the south end of the island.  Somewhere in the middle they cancel each other out.  That just adds another level of complexity to trip planning.  The same situation applied at Wrangell Narrows where we managed to time our arrival so that we got the maximum benefit of the flood from the south end and then fought a dying flood as we went by Petersburg.  If we had been a bit more precise in our timing we could have flooded in from the south, hit slack at the midpoint and ebbed out past Petersburg.  But that would have put us well past dark when we arrived at our anchorage that night.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Oh-Fuck Ducks

Neither one of us is much of a birder although The Warden is getting better at identifying some of them and she keeps talking about getting a bird book.  I think that bird watching is a sign that you are approaching death so I avoid it at all cost. 

There’s a few birds that we do recognize though.  Canada geese of course and the omnipresent shit hawks.  We’ve seen a lot of bald eagles and the occasional golden eagle.  And then there’s the Oh-Fuck ducks.  I’m sure they have a more official name but that one works for us. 

They’re usually swimming in pairs and when we approach they first start swimming rapidly away from us.  All the while they are frantically looking alternately over each shoulder and you can almost hear them saying “Oh Fuck, Oh Fuck, Oh Fuck”.  Then they abruptly dive.

This morning we’re out on glassy calm water with a forecast of rising winds.  We’d like to get to Baranof Hot Springs before the wind gets up too much and then we’ll hole up there for a couple of nights until this system blows over. 

Chuck introduced me to BuoyWeather and it is well worth the substantial annual subscription.  The Coast Guards in Canada and the US broadcast continuous marine weather statements but today one of the local towers is down so we are having trouble hearing the Coast Guard broadcasts.  For some reason though we have internet access – a feeble signal but enough to check the weather (and post this web posting – maybe)  That big splotch in the Gulf of Alaska is what is about to cause us trouble but so far today we haven’t seen any of it.


Monday, May 12, 2014

South of 57

This afternoon we were briefly north of 57 but when we turned into Portage Bay for the night we ended up anchored far enough south to put us back south of 57.  We had a long day today.

Yesterday we got a 6:00 AM start out of Ketchikan.  When we left the dock I thought we were going to go up Clarence Strait to Sumner Strait, back south in Sumner Strait to Cape Decision and finally north up Chatham Strait.  I didn’t particularly like that plan because Cape Decision is exposed to the Pacific Ocean but I couldn’t see any other easy way of getting expeditiously to Glacier Bay.  Somewhere along the route between Ketchikan and Meyers Chuck it occurred to me that we could go the other way in Sumner Strait and get to Wrangell Narrows.  Up until that point I had been trying to get to Wrangell Narrows by going through Wrangell.  Apparently I was mistaken.

The problem with getting to Wrangell Narrows through Wrangell was that I couldn’t find an acceptable anchorage at the right distance from the Narrows in order to get to through the Narrows at the right stage of the current.  Wrangell Narrows floods from both ends so the preferred transit is to time your arrival so that you can ride the flood to roughly the midpoint and then get ebbed out. 

By the time we got up toward the north end of Clarence Strait the wind had got up and we were getting beat up a bit so we ducked into Coffman Cove for the night.  Coffman Cove is a tiny community but they have a great dock, a little general store, a post office and a library.  When I went looking for wifi at the library I had a hard time actually finding the library because it is skilfully disguised as a pizza parlour.  After a wif weather check we entertained some fellow travellers with homemade wine and got to bed early.

We got another early start this morning and racked up over 80 miles today.  Tonight we’re deep at the south end of a little bay on the north side of Kupreanof Island.  We were just about at the bay when we finally saw some damnwhales.  I was scanning the horizon when I saw a humpback breaching about half a mile ahead of us.  He kept feeding on and off the shore and finally passed us about a hundred yards away.  So we’re no longer skunked in the whale department, although we obviously hope this wasn’t our only sighting.

The weather forecast for the next couple of days sucks big time so we’ll likely stay here until it smartens up.  As it turns out we have a feeble cell signal here deep in the bay so I’ should be able to check the weather regularly. 

Thursday, May 8, 2014

We made it

We’re in Alaska.  We didn’t die.  We didn’t even make the news.  Its hard to believe we’re finally here.

We left our cozy little anchorage in Brundige Inlet just after first light this morning and were outside the inlet by the time it was fully light.  Then we turned left and headed out across Dixon Entrance.  After all the anticipation and all the worry it was totally anticlimactic.  It was pissing rain by the time we got outside the inlet.  We had some low southerly rollers early on but by about two hours into the crossing it was starting to get flat and by late morning it was glassy calm.  Other than the damnrain it couldn’t have been nicer.

We saw two other cruising boats – the same two that spent one night in Lowe Inlet as well as a few fishing boats.  Mostly we just saw grey skies, fog and rain.  Fortunately the radar is working well. 

When we got closer to Ketchikan it started to seriously piss rain on us.  I could barely see the next set of markers as we worked our way up Tongass Channel.  Before it started raining hard I could see what looking like a couple of apartment buildings at the head of the channel.  No doubt what they were – I was surprised that they were out this early but obviously they were cruise boats.  Floating casinos like the Costa Concordia.  Dangerous at any speed.  I was carefully staying well clear of the ugly things for fear one of them would tip over and squish us.  Then it announced that it was leaving town so we had to skedaddle across the channel to get out of its stupid way.



They didn’t tip over while we were watching them but we didn’t watch for very long either.

We got tied up at Bar Harbor and then waited for the Customs doofus to show up.  He had some cruising permit to fill out for us – something we’d never seen before.  And he didn’t have any clue about a clearance number – something that Customs in Washington is big on.  You’d think when its a Federal Agency that they’d try to do things the same way everywhere but apparently not. 

Once we got all our paperwork up to date we went on a shopping run to Safeway.  We always try to cross the border with as little fresh produce as possible although I don’t think the guy today cared one way or the other.  He told us to eat our meals onboard ‘because of agriculture.”  Given that Ketchikan gets over 160 inches of annual rainfall I think its a safe bet that we’ll be eating indoors at least until we leave here.  One of our guidebooks said that Safeway was happy to have us bring their carts back to the dock as long as we parked them with the dock carts so we cheerfully headed out of the parking lot with a full cart.  As soon as the front wheels left the lot they locked up solid.  (I always thought that was bullshit when the sign said they would do that but it turns out it isn’t)  Fortunately a nice man in an SUV took pity on us and drove us back to the dock.

Now that we’re actually in Alaska we think its prudent to start making a trip plan for our time here.  We thought maybe they would have a visitor centre in town but no such luck.  The big attraction for boaters up here is Glacier Bay.  Its such a big attraction that the National Parks Service has a very complicated permit process in place.  You have to apply for a permit less than 60 days before you plan to enter the bay and they have to mail the permit to you.  So clearly that wasn’t going to work.  But today we discovered that – if we get there before the end of May – we can just do whatever the hell we want.  So that’s our immediate plan – head north relatively quickly and get into Glacier Bay before the end of May.  We’re kind of used to heading north so that shouldn’t be hard to do. 

First we’ll need to get some fuel though.  We’re still working off the fuel we bought from Covich Williams in Seattle but I’ve been a little worried.  Evidently we had enough to get here but I had more or less stopped checking the levels in the tanks because they were staring to scare me.  Tonight I noticed that we are riding pretty high – light fuel and low water will do that I guess.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Alaska is right over there

Its been a long old grind up the island, around Cape Caution and finally up the coast to Prince Rupert but tonight we can almost see Alaska.  Its right over there, behind the fog bank.


It was pretty foggy in Prince Rupert when I got up and it got worse before it got better.  We probably had less than 200 yards visibility when we finally got untied around 9:30.  We’d have been away earlier but we had the small matter of 4 cases of wine to deal with before we could leave.  We left Cow Bay with a serious overload of wine and this morning we were still carrying way more than we wanted to enter Alaska with.  More importantly, we had way more wine onboard than we wanted to try getting back into Canada with.  I doubt that the Americans will give a damn what we’re carrying but the bloody Canuck Customs are another matter altogether.  They’d happily charge us duty and tax on wine we made ourselves if we tried to bring it back into the country.

Once we got the wine safely stashed in the Prince Rupert Yacht Club’s storeroom we snuck out into the channel, feeling our way through the fog with both radars running.  By the time we got to the west end of the bay it was starting to lift.  When we went by this old ferry dock we had probably 10 miles visibility and it never got any worse that than all day but there was always a little fog somewhere on the horizon.


Shortly after we passed this abandoned ferry landing Marilyn spotted two wolves on the shore.  I was kind of occupied winding our way through some seriously skinny water so I didn’t bother even trying to take their picture. 

Tonight we’re anchored at the head of the little inlet on the north side of Dundas Island, just to the east of the skinny arrow in the picture below.  Off to the west the next solid ground is Japan or Russia.


That big area of white water at the lower left of the image is known as Dixon Entrance.  Its the last gate we need to pass in order to get to Alaska and, weather permitting, it will be behind us by tomorrow night.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

One last night at the dock

This morning we moved the rest of the way north into Prince Rupert.  I’ve heard about the Prince Rupert grain terminals for as long as I can remember so it was pretty cool to cruise past them today.  And you literally go right by them.  The channel is so narrow as you go by the terminal that it felt like we were under the spout.  There was a coal ship just finishing up loading at Ridley and a grain ship that was just starting to load at the grain terminal.  We could see the grain dust flying from 3 or 4 miles away so we knew they were loading long before we got close enough to really see anything.


The container terminal was pretty impressive too.  There were no ships loading there but they were lining containers up like they were getting ready to load something.  There’s ocean going vessels parked all over the place up here too – thank you very much CN & CP for not getting the grain in position. 


Tonight we’re tied up to the inside of the breakwater at Prince Rupert Rowing and Yacht Club.  They’re very pleasant but a little bit overly proud of their facility so we’ll only spend one night enjoying their $71 per night hospitality.  We made a quick grocery run to replenish a bit of fresh fruit but we didn’t want to get carried away because we like to cross the US border with as little in the fridge as possible.  Tomorrow afternoon we’ll move a little closer to the US border to an anchorage on Dundas Island.  Assuming the weather forecast stays good, we’ll make the crossing at Dixon Entrance on Thursday.


I found a chandler here and bought some guidebooks for Alaska.  I don’t know what I was thinking coming this far on an Alaskan adventure without any guidebooks to tell us where to go.  It worked out well though because there was a bookstore on main street going out of business and they had one of the Hemingway – Douglass guides on half price.  They’re normally $70 so half price is good.  I had to pay full price for the 2nd one at the Chandlery but I’d have paid full price for 2 books if I hadn’t found the discounted one at the bookstore.  I think I’ll walk back up there in the morning and check out her used books.