Ketchikan to Juneau: May 23 - May 31, 2017
12 June 2017
Ketchikan, Revillagigedo Island
55' 21.0" N, 131' 41.1" W
We arrived at the dock in Ketchikan at 11:00 am from Foggy Bay and the sun came out! The way the marinas work in Alaska is you call the harbour master as you are nearing the town either by phone or on VHF Channel 73. After giving them your overall length and draft they will assign you a berth. The marinas in Alaska all seem to operate this way. It works well. We were assigned to a slip in Bar Harbour Marina which is at the north end of town. It was a 30 minute walk into town which we didn't mind as we needed the exercise. Bar Harbour is also close to Safeway which is good for provisioning and to the laundromat. Thomas Basin is the marina in the city center. It's closer to all the action, shops, restaurants, museums and the cruise ship terminal! So it depends on your preference and what's important to you, easy provisioning and walking or being close to downtown.
Clearing in to Alaska was a breeze. We simply called US Customs after docking. A friendly customs officer came down to our boat at the dock, asked us a few questions and completed his paperwork. NO questions about food or alcohol. So don't worry about the produce or meat you are bringing into Alaska.
Ketchikan has lots to offer due to the cruise ship traffic. They often have 4-8 cruise ships per day, 4 in the morning and 4 in the afternoon. We weren't as bothered as we thought we might be by the cruise ship patrons. We enjoyed talking to the locals who owned shops in Ketchikan, the bookstore, the quilt and yarn store, and the gift shops. Creek St. is a photographer's delight with its wooden boardwalk and colourful buildings. The "Discovery Centre" is a must see with excellent displays of Alaskan life, fishing, mining, logging, tourism and native history. Overall we really liked Ketchikan, our first Alaska town. We stayed 2 nights.
Meyer's Chuck, Cleveland Peninsula
55' 44.3" N, 132' 15.5" W
The narrow channel in Ketchikan was busy as we left with float planes taking off, cruise ships arriving, humpback whales "bubble feeding", numerous other boats leaving and a current! So keep a watchful eye. We had fueled up south of town when we arrived so we were good to go. The weather is still cool in May and we continued to wear our toques and gloves. The snow capped mountains of Prince of Wales Island to the west were beautiful as we sailed up Clarence Strait. The Alaskan ferry passed us going south.
We wanted to go to Meyer's Chuck on a recommendation from a friend and really enjoyed its quaint feel. We decided to anchor as there was a good NW wind blowing in the anchorage and we didn't want to get pinned on the dock. Shortly after anchoring a 112' MV "Shadowfax" steamed into the bay and used its many thrusters to parallel park at the dock taking up all the available space! A small Canadian Nordic Tug "Sandpiper II" that came in before "Shadowfax" was left to anchor out like us. Then a local man and woman pulled up to our boat in their skiff to inform us that we had anchored on the "runway"! Apparently a float plane was scheduled to arrive at Meyer's Chuck in 10 min and he needed the whole length of the bay to land. So we quickly pulled up the anchor and sure enough the float plane arrived. He aborted the first attempt to land and circled around and was successful the second time. After he left we reanchored back in our original spot. There weren't a lot of other choices in the bay. We took a walk ashore but didn't meet any locals. It seemed as though most of the buildings were summer homes. There used to be a school here and the government built the beautiful new dock for the school kids. Now it's just used by the cruisers! We became aware of the size of the tides when we were in Meyer's Chuck. It was a 24' tide that day and the bay looked totally different at low tide!
Wrangell, Wrangell Island
56' 27.4" N, 132' 23.0" W
There was a strong NW wind blowing so we decided to take the more inland route through Zimovia Strait to Wrangell. The route up Clarence Strait would have given us NW winds on the nose. We did enjoy a short sail across Ernest Sound and spotted several whale spouts silhouetted in the sun on this bluebird day. We were assigned to the Heritage Marina in Wrangell by the harbour master. It is a nice new marina (2007) with enough depth for us. The downtown marina is closer to town but not good for boats with draft. "S/V Vagabon" was beside us at the dock, Dave & Liska from Seattle whom we had met in Port McNeil. We discussed strategies for transiting the Wrangell Narrows the next day and then we all walked the 30 min into town. There was 1 cruise ship in dock. Wrangell has a western feel to it and is smaller than Ketchikan, only 3,000 people. They have a number of tours available for visiting the nearby Le Conte Glacier or the Anan Wildlife Conservatory where you can observe bears feasting on salmon in the river in July & Aug.
Petersburg, Mitkof Island and the Wrangell Narrows
56' 48.6" N, 132' 57.9" W
Norm figured out the timing for the famous Wrangell Narrows. From all reports it sounded very intimidating...be at the start of the Narrows at Port Alexander 3 hours prior to high slack at the Summit. The Summit is 2/3 of the way through the Narrows. We would ride the flood to the summit and then ride the ebb out to Petersburg. The whole transit turned out to be quite easy. For anyone who has ever dealt with Yuculta or Dent Rapids in BC this was a piece of cake. The current was never greater than 2-3 knots. It was a lovely ride through beautiful countryside with cottages and people fishing. As we turned the corner at the end of the Narrows the most magnificent snow capped mountains appeared as a back drop to Petersburg. There was a 2 kt current running in that channel but we managed to tie up at the fuel dock and then found our berth assigned by the harbour master.
Petersburg is a commercial fishing town. I've never seen so many large fishing boats in my life! Fishing season hasn't kicked into gear yet but when it does I'm sure the town is bustling. We enjoyed a walk ashore seeing some of the Norwegian heritage sites of this town and found a take-out pizza for out dinner.
Snug Cove, Gambier Bay, Admiralty Island
57' 25.3" N, 133' 58.0" W
We decided to leave Petersburg early the next morning at 7 am as we had a 57 nm day ahead. We were whisked out the channel with a 6 kt ebb current! SOG was 12.5! WOW what a ride! We enjoyed a peaceful early morning motor up Frederick Sound keeping our eyes peeled for whales that were supposed to enjoy the cool waters of this area. The humpback whales come to Alaska to feed during the summer months and then return to Hawaii during the summer to give birth. We didn't see any whales until we turned north up Stephen's Passage and then we saw several. AND we saw our first iceberg! We were so excited. We changed course slightly so we could take a good look at it up close and take photos of course! And we picked up some glacier ice for our gin & tonics later that evening.
As we entered Snug Cove we spotted 2 brown bears on the beach and motored over slowly for a closer look and photos. Then a humpback whale was close enough that we heard him exhale! Snug Cove was just as it sounds, snug and safe and sound. Apparently Admiralty Island is known to have the highest population of brown bears in Alaska so it was a good stop for wildlife viewing too.
Tracy Arm Cove, Holkam Bay
57' 48.7" N, 133' 37.8" W
From our weather reports we knew that Tuesday was going to be the last sunny day for a while. We wanted to see the famous Tracy Arm in the sunshine so on Monday we enjoyed a nice sail over to Tracy Arm. This is where everyone anchors to make the day trip up Tracy Arm and back. There aren't any anchorages at the head of the bay so cruisers usually return to Tracy Arm Cove. The trip is 45 nm so it's a full day. We were astounded at the number of icebergs near the entrance to the anchorage. "Do we need to anchor with the icebergs" I asked? We found a spot away from the icebergs and as it turns out most do not enter the bay due to the shallow water at the entrance. The anchorage is lovely with views of snow capped mountains and surf scoters and eagles calling the bay home. We launched the dinghy and explored the bay. We weren't brave enough to go ashore however even though we had our newly purchased bear spray (in Ketchikan).
The day began with grey skies and even a sprinkle of rain and I was beginning to think the forecasters had it all wrong. But then the sun broke through the clouds and it turned out to be a magnificent day. The water was emerald green and the sheer granite cliffs were stunning, carved by ancient glaciers. There were cascading waterfalls everywhere and beautiful snow capped mountains served as a back drop against a blue blue sky. We loved it. The surprise was that we had to dodge icebergs all the way up the inlet. At the turn to North Sawyer Glacier we thought we couldn't go any further due to the amount of pack ice but then a tour boat zoomed past near the shore so we followed his path which was much less constricted with ice. We were able to make it to the last turn to South Sawyer Glacier. The glacier looked like a dam or a rock face. You could see the blue ice and the enormous size of it. We decided not to go further for risk of damaging our boat from the icebergs. With our fin keel and spade rudder Sarah Jean is vulnerable. So we dropped a lunch hook at the waterfall and sat in the hot sun in the cockpit. When we were pulling up anchor a black bear came out of the woods. He looked like he was hoping to find salmon in the stream. It's too soon buddy. Come back in July! On the return trip we saw quite a few more seal pups and their moms on ice flows and I spotted 2 mountain goats up high on the mountain. What a spectacular day!
Taku Harbour, just S of Juneau
58' 04.1" N, 134' 00.8" W
Well after 8 days of sun we finally had rain today. But we are nicely tucked in at Taku Harbour, 20 miles south from Juneau. We're tucked in at the dock here and our friends Fred & Cinda from Juneau arrive on their sailboat "Songline" tomorrow. Can't wait to see them. It's been 4 long years since we've seen them. We both sailed home from the South Pacific and spent some time in Hawaii together on the sail home. They are anxious to share with us this amazing cruising ground they call home, SE Alaska. Stay tuned for some adventures with some "Real Alaskans"!