07/17/2010, Tracy Arm and Beyond
July 15, 2010
We arrived in Petersburg this afternoon having put 160 miles under Sirena's keel since leaving Juneau on the 12th. Traveling from Auke Bay to Taku Harbor on Monday, we found the new docks empty and took moorage. Soon we were joined at the dock by "Bee Weems", a Zimmerman 36 lobster boat design. Pete and Cathie have been cruising the northwest waters since bringing their boat across country from Annapolis, Maryland. They cruised up the east coast and Hudson River to the Great Lakes. Upon reaching Duluth, Minnesota, they loaded the boat on to a truck and had her hauled to Anacortes, Washington. It was fun to meet up with someone from our old home area and learn of their travels.
The fishing fleet is out this week for a gill-net opener and the northern part of Stephens Passage was very busy with fish boats, tenders, cruise ships, barge traffic and a few recreational vessels. This has been the most traffic that we have had to deal with so far on this trip. The Automatic Identification System receiver (AIS) is proving its worth. Rob is able to plot traffic on the laptop along with radar targets and adjust our course as necessary to avoid unpleasant encounters. In reduced visibility conditions this is critical to our safety. Although we have not had to deal with too much fog, this is the time of year when we will encounter foggy conditions more often.
After leaving Taku Harbor on Tuesday the 13th of July, we had a marathon day. Heading down Stephens Passage with the ebb tide at 6 am, we made the entrance to Tracy Arm at slack tide. We headed up Tracy Arm to check out the glacier. We started encountering ice out in Stephens Passage by the time we reached Midway Island. A few scattered bergs had escaped from Tracy Arm on the ebb. Tracy Arm, located in Holkam Bay, is a classic fjord. It has deep water (over 1000 ft.) and impressive vertical granite walls. Magnificent glacier-polished peaks of up to 5000 feet flank Tracy Arm, and classic U-shaped valleys run between the ridges. At the end are two glaciers, North Sawyer and South Sawyer.
We went up the fjord for 22 ½ of the 24 miles from the entrance. We did not go all the way to the glaciers due to ice conditions. We were not alone, several other boats went as far as we did without reaching the "holy grail" of Alaska cruising. In spite of not reaching the glacier, we had a good experience and noted in the log "nothing broke and no one got hurt." When we got to the anchorage at 4 pm we had put 69 nautical miles under our keel that day. We slept well with our anchor holding secure through the storm that moved in that night.
On Wednesday morning we decided to move on to Gambier Bay on Admiralty Island. The forecast was for southwest wind, 15 knots. These are usually good conditions for us to travel so we left on the morning ebb tide at 8. The current flushed us out the entrance bar and we were hit with 6 foot wave on the bow. A classic wind against tide situation and there was no going back! The current over the bar was running at 5 knots and dragging the marker buoys under the surface. We heard on the radio later that one of them broke loose and drifted north in the passage. We continued on to Admiralty Island with seas abating somewhat as we neared the western side of Stephens Passage. This was one of our roughest passages but Sirena brought us through with ease and alacrity. The crew was exhausted as we neared Gambier Point but rallied when we sighted multiple spouts at the entrance to Seymor Canal. The were so many whales spouting, surfacing and diving that it was impossible to count them all. There may have been up to two dozen visible at one time.
We reached our anchorage in Snug Cove at 1 pm and tucked in for the evening just as the rain began again. This place is very secure as the name suggests and we were able to relax and rest after two days of hard charging. The weather forecast is for light winds over night and into tomorrow so we will move on early.
We left the anchorage at 5:20 am (YAWN!) with cups of strong coffee for the crew, we will have breakfast as we move along. Fredrick Sound is behaving today, seas are flat and winds are calm. We make our way south in perfect conditions, a big change from yesterday, but that is Alaska. We sighted more whales off Cape Fanshaw and by noon we were off Farragut Bay, headed for Thomas Bay. We heard a familiar voice on the radio calling the Petersburg harbormaster, it was Doug on "Geordie Macrae". We made brief contact and exchanged greetings. After lunch we decided to continue into Petersburg for a few days to rest and re-supply. We tied up in South Harbor by 2:30, Doug and Pat were there to help us moor. Another long day with 56 miles covered today. Our cumulative distance traveled since leaving Bellingham is 1334 nautical miles by ship's log.
07/11/2010, Juneau, AK
We rented a car for two days in order to accomplish logistical tasks and for touring around with Barb and Joe tomorrow. The bus system here is very good and the south-bound express delivered us right to the airport where our car was waiting. We drove into downtown to pick up our mail at the post office and to scout out the town. We have a full day today to get re-supplied and clean laundry. After finishing at the laundromat in Auke Bay, we went shopping at the huge Fred Meyer store that is across from the airport. It is the largest Fred Meyer in the nation, being one-quarter mile long from end-to-end. Everything we needed was there except a hair salon. Sharon found a place at the Nugget Mall nearby and got her first trim since leaving Bellingham. That evening we went out to eat at Mi Casa Mexican Restaurant and had halibut fajitas.
We were up early to meet up with Sharon's sister. Their ship is the "Island Princess" and she moored in downtown Juneau at 6:30. We were at the cruise ship terminal to greet Barb and Joe at 7:30 and we were off to visit the glacier. We were there by eight and were the first vehicle in the parking lot, no tour buses in sight! The Forest Service manages this site and have a great visitor center with trails and interpretive signs. We got to view the face of the glacier which is part of the Juneau Icefield.
The ice field covers 1500 square miles in the area north and east of Juneau. The visitor center sits on a rock bluff that is about one mile from the calving face, the site of the building was actually covered by ice in 1935. This glacier continues to recede while others in this ice field are advancing. Scientists from the University of Alaska are studying the ice and have permanent stations up in the glacier that they stay in during the summer months. The glacier empties into the Mendenhall River valley and has an impact on the weather there. We could feel the cool breeze coming down off the ice and in the winter the valley below has more snow than the city does. We all enjoyed the visit and hiked up to the base of Nugget Falls to get a better view. By the time we got back to the parking lots the tour buses were disgorging hoards of tourists, so we made a quick exit.
Barb and Joe got the grand tour of "Sirena" down at the dock in Auke Bay and we went into downtown for lunch. After some wandering and shopping it was time to part ways as the "Island Princess" was departing at 4 p.m. It was so good that we were able to coordinate our arrivals in Juneau and see family while on this journey.
07/08/2010, Juneau, AK
We have stayed in Hoonah due to gloomy weather forecasts and are going to spend the Independence Day holiday celebrating with the community here. The day started with a wake-up call TNT bomb at Oh-dark-thirty. The parade at 10 featured a color guard, a grand marshal (the local Forest Service Ranger) and all three fire trucks, the ambulance and an Alaska State Trooper vehicle! The Hoonah Police force provided "traffic control" at the only intersection. Rob video recorded the whole parade, all eleven minutes. The parade ended at the park in the harbor where food booths had been set up. Each booth offered different Native delicacies: Indian tacos on fry bread, herring egg salad, and fish rice. There was also "honky food" like hot dogs, chicken and burgers.
After lunch, the call went out "Let the Games Begin!". There was a cross country race and foot races for all age groups from age 3 & 4 to age 30 and up. Next up were sack races, same age groups; then came the egg toss to end all egg tosses. They had a case of eggs and the intention was to have them all broken in the field by the end of the day. They started with mother/daughter, then father/son, then mother/son, then father/daughter and on and on and on. The ravens will eat good tonight! On to the
Hammer & Nail Contest, then the Watermelon Eating Contest (with chocolate pudding for those under six). Rounding out the afternoon's activities was a softball tournament. Sunset today is at 10 pm., so "Play ball! Fireworks were out by the old cannery in the half-light of near midnight. Whew! We will sleep well tonight, sunrise is only four hours away!
The population here is only 800 people and at least half were at the park. This was a real old-time, small town celebration and it was fun for us to be there.
P.S. The halibut pizza was wonderful, we even have leftover in the freezer.
We left Hoonah this morning and spent some time exploring the large bay to the south called Port Frederick. We went down the bay and found a forest service mooring buoy at a cabin site in Eight Fathom Bight. We had lunch there after setting a shrimp trap in The Narrows. No luck with the shrimp trap. We traveled back up Port Frederick, past Hoonah and out into Icy Strait. There was a large cruise ship anchored off the cultural center at Cannery Point so this was a good day to get out of town. We went back to Whitestone Harbor to do some more crabbing, again no luck: That's why they call it fishin', not catchin'! We had an enjoyable evening at anchor and left the next morning to cross over Icy Strait to Lynn Canal. We chose to go into Funter Bay and since it was early in the day we found space at the public dock.
The dock is located at the site of a former cannery. There are only a few residences here now, mostly vacation cabins. That evening a local fisherman gave us some king crab meat to have with our supper and told us about the cannery and about an interesting hike. We walked the trail between the cabins to where a small creek flows down to the beach. In the forest behind the last house is a small cemetery containing the remains of some Aleutian natives. They had been re-located here by the government in World War II when the Aleutian Islands were invaded by the Japanese. The Aleuts were housed in some of the cannery residences and left to fend for themselves. They had difficulty adapting and medical care was a long journey away in Juneau. The dates on the headstones indicate dates of death in 1943 and 1944, some were adults, some were children. All of the graves have been recently re-marked with wooden crosses in the Russian Orthodox style. Today, the forest has reclaimed the site and it is in a pretty setting, but it remains a sad story just the same.
On the way back to the dock we spotted some bear scat on the trail and made ourselves hurry along and be noisy, lest we have a close encounter.
Wednesday morning brought clearing skies and warm temperatures for our trip up Lynn Canal and around the tip of Admiralty Island. We arrived in Auke Bay at noon and got one of the last spaces in the marina. The place is filling up with fishing boats and there are at least eight mega-yachts along the breakwater. This marina is outside of Juneau and is strategically better for cruising boats like us. There is good access to supplies, laundry and it is on the bus line into downtown. Tomorrow we will rent a car and do some shopping. On Friday we meet up with Barb and Joe (Sharon's sister and her husband) for the day while their cruise ship is in town. We plan to go up to the Mendenhall Glacier Park for a look-see. We spotted the glacier on the way into Auke Bay, it is just five miles or so from the marina we are staying at and we can see the ice field from the moorage.
07/01/2010, Hoonah, Alaska
We arrived in Hoonah this morning after an enjoyable night at Whitestone Bay. We traveled there on Tuesday after leaving Tenakee Springs. But what an enjoyable journey since leaving Sitka!
We ran the rapids at Sergius Narrows again, hitting slack water and avoiding the high speed ferry using our previous experience to plan the trip. We spent one night at Douglass Bay in Hoonah Sound and two nights at Hanus Bay. Rob did some exploring by dinghy and met some other cruisers who were anchored nearby. Exchanging information with our fellow travelers is always productive, we have been where they are going and they have come from whence we go.
On Sunday, we left early to catch the tide out in Chatham Strait for the trip up to Tenakee Inlet. We were about half way there when we spied a boat out ahead that we recognized. It was "Geordie Macrae", heading south. We raised them on the radio and exchanged greetings and updates on what we have been doing. We last saw Doug and Pat in Ketchikan on Memorial Day, they have been to Glacier Bay and are heading towards Sitka. When we were close aboard, we both idled our engines and had a mini-reunion off Peninsular Point. Doug and Pat raved about Tenakee Springs so we were excited to get there and found plenty of room at the dock.
Shortly after arriving, another boat came in that we knew from our time in Ketchikan. "Suntour", a 40 ft. Uniflyte with Rick and Carol from Edmonds, WA came alongside the dock opposite "Sirena". Another mini-reunion in the making, we gathered for sun-downers at the appropriate hour (its always 5 o'clock somewhere!).
They say that New York City never sleeps, well, the same can be said for SE Alaska in the summer. Sunrise is at 0400 these days (that's 4:00 am. to you civilians) and sunset is 2200 (10:00 pm.) so we rarely get to experience darkness. We use black-out material to darken the cabin. It is light out until after we retire for the night and when we get up, it is light enough to get underway. The only things that matter are tide and weather; so far both have been favorable to our plans.
Tenakee Springs is just as charming as described and we enjoyed our visit there. We walked the "main street", checked out the public baths, shopped at the mercantile and had lunch at the bakery/cafe. Rob took a hike up the trail to the Indian River crossing, walking across the suspension bridge built by the Alaska Highway Department. There were several depositions of bear scat on the trail, obviously from a brown bear, but weathered enough to not be of concern. When hiking, one always carries a noise maker and makes oneself a nuisance on the trail in order to avoid a confrontation.
We left Tenakee on Tuesday morning with the outgoing tide. On our way out Tenakee Inlet, we were distracted by two humpback whales breaching nearby. We idled down the engine and watched the cow and calf for a while, capturing the action on video. After turning north in Chatham Strait, we observed more whales, some feeding on the abundant schools of fish.
Early afternoon found us anchored in Whitestone Bay (recommended to us by "Geordie Macrae") with our crab traps down. The weather allowed some time for showers for the crew and a good supper. A check of the traps after supper revealed a good catch so the crew worked into the night cleaning and cooking crab. We were joined in the anchorage by another cruising boat and three commercial fishing boats.
After a quiet night at anchor and a forecast of rain and wind for the upcoming day, we left early for the short run to Hoonah. The wind held off for the morning and we arrived at the dock in Hoonah at 1030. The friendly and efficient harbor staff found us a good slip with power and water and we went shopping in town that afternoon. Tonight's menu on board features crab Ala "Sirena". Tomorrow we will sample the local cuisine, Misty Isle Inn has been recommended by other cruisers. They feature a halibut pizza that is reputed to be "to die for". (In case you haven't figured it out, the main reason for visiting SE Alaska is to eat fresh seafood!)
06/20/2010, Sitka, Alaska
Thursday, June 18
Sirena is lying starboard side to the public float in Warm Springs Bay on Baranof Island. We arrived yesterday, Thursday, after a 30 mile run through Frederick Sound from Cannery Cove. Frederick Sound is where you start seeing whales in numbers and, wow, did we ever! Some nearby as we traveled the south shore of Admiralty Island, some distant, some singles, several in pairs. They would surface to breath, leaving a telltale spout as they exhale, then sound (dive deep for a long time). We did not get any pics this time, but there is more to come. We must have the camera ready at all times and be quick.
We got in to Baranof in time to hike up to the lake and the natural hot spring pools. There are two pools to soak in, HOT and HOTTER. We could only take a few minutes of soaking before feeling like boiled lobsters. They also have bath houses down by the dock that have soaking tubs and piped-in warm spring water for longer soaks. The lake is breathtaking, in an alpine setting, with high peaks and snow fields all around.
We had a nice supper and quiet evening watching all the humming birds working the wild flowers. There are swarms of humming birds. They hover around the boats checking out anything that is red, orange or yellow. Several fishing boats have arrived for the night and anchored in the harbor. There is a fishing season opener on Sunday so they are headed out. Many of the crews appear to be families (father, son, daughter). "Voyager", a small troller, came into the dock piloted by a young woman, the sole occupant. When she left, the skipper went out on deck and set the outriggers down into working position.
We departed on Friday and sighted more whales as we ran up the west shore of Chatham Strait. We turned into Peril Strait by mid-afternoon and went up to Rodman Bay. We chose an anchorage called Appleton Cove. Rob was looking forward to putting out our crab traps in this bay, but we found that it is saturated with commercial crab pots. We even had a difficult time finding a place to put down the hook. We finally got settled in for the evening and grilled some steaks for supper. The weather has been very settled since we left Wrangell for which we are grateful. Not like the reports from the mid-west and south that we having been hearing on the satellite radio.
Sunday, June 20
Yesterday morning was another great day for traveling with light winds and clearing skies. We pulled up the anchor at 0800, figuring to meet the 1130 slack water at Sergius Narrows. From our anchorage to Sitka there are several narrow passages, with strong current to contend with. There is not as much traffic in Peril Strait as in Wrangell Narrows, but the Alaska State Ferries do make this run into and out of Sitka. There are also lots of fishing boats moving about due to the upcoming opener.
When we were approaching the Adams Channel narrows we heard a "Securite" call on the radio from the high speed ferry "Fairweather" stating that they were approaching Povorotni Island and that they expected to transit Sergius Narrows in 30 minutes. Rob checked the AIS display and found that "Fairweather" was running at 35 knots. When vessels like this broadcast a a call like this it means one thing to boaters: Plan to get out of the way! We consulted our chart and found that we would be in wider water by the time "Fairweather" caught up. We were able to swing wide to port and get into the entrance to Bear Bay as the ferry roared by, leaving an 8-foot high wake to deal with. A sharp turn to starboard and we climbed up and down the waves until reaching quiet water once again.
We reached Sergius Narrrows right at slack water and buzzed through to catch the ebb current out to Salisbury Sound. This body of water is open to the Pacific Ocean and we had a bit of swell on our tail as we ran down to Neva Strait. Lunch in a seaway is always an adventure.
We reached Olga Strait, another narrow passage, by 1400 and again met the high speed ferry on her return trip from Sitka. Same drill as before, only in reverse. We were able to travel outside the marked channel as the ferry passed by. This time the ferry captain slowed down to 20 knots so the wake was not as bad.
We reached Sitka by 1530, having spotted another humpback close aboard near the Siginaka Islands, only 5 miles from the harbor. We got into our moorage and washed down the boat before supper. Tomorrow we will explore town and get some groceries. Laundry looms on the horizon as well.
Wednesday, June 23
We have spent the last four days being tourists around Sitka, Alaska. On Sunday we walked into downtown, about 20 minutes from the marina, and had an excellent Father's Day meal at the Agave Mexican Restaurant. They were featuring halibut enchiladas, which we both ordered, and they were wonderful. The place also does pizza, and delivers to the docks. We wandered around town and got our bearings.
Monday morning was wet but the sun came out by noon and we toured around a bit after doing laundry. Tuesday was going to be a wet day also and we decided to get some needed maintenance done on the boat. Rob took a cart over to the fuel dock and picked up five gallons of oil and some transmission fluid. By noon he was done in the engine room, disposed of the used oil in the recycling tank and we did some grocery shopping.
This morning we got two all-day passes for the local bus system ($3 each for seniors). We rode the Red Line into town and walked over to the Sitka Historical Park Site operated by the National Park Service. There is a wonderful visitor center with interpretive galleries, a cultural center with wood carvers, a metal worker and native regalia exhibits. They also have a totem park and trails through the forest to the site of the Russian fort built here. Sitka is a major settlement of the native Tlinglit tribe and they have their own cultural center with dance performances. The Sheldon Jackson Museum here has one of the largest collections of Tlinglit art in Alaska.
This town is very rich in history and there are many well preserved and restored places to visit. We visited the Russian Orthodox cathedral and the Russian Bishop's House after lunch. We were privileged to be able to observe an orthodox service in progress at the bishop' house.
To end our visit to town we hopped on the Blue Line bus and rode out to Whale Park which overlooks Silver Bay. Humpbacks and orcas can be viewed here and there are some interpretive stations that speak to the biology of whales. Back in town we transferred to the Red Line for the ride back to the marina.
Boat moorage here, like many places in Alaska, is in slips normally occupied by permanent tenants. When a boat leaves for a while, the harbormaster may use the space for tranient boats like us. We were told when we got here that we may be moved if the tenant returns early. Most of the boats here are fishing craft and the seasons are starting up so we have been able to stay put. Tomorrow's forecast looks good so we will make an early departure with the flood tide to carry us up to Sergius Narrows.
Next stops will be Tenakee Springs, Hoonah, and Juneau. In Hoonah, we will check into getting a permit to enter Glacier Bay National Park. If there is an opening, maybe we will be lucky.
06/12/2010, Wrangell Alaska
We have been enjoying an extended stay in Wrangell due to stormy weather this weekend. It is just as well because our mail is due in Petersburg on Monday. There is a salmon smoking contest in Wrangell today to which we have been invited. People here fish to live and love to fish!
Sirena arrived in Wrangell on Wednesday, June 9 having visited Meyers Chuck, Santa Anna Inlet and Berg Bay. We departed Ketchikan on the 6th with two passengers along for the ride to Meyers Chuck. Linda off "Pacific Star" and her dog Amadeus. Linda has friends in Meyers Chuck and is staying with them for a few days. We were glad to have some company and "local knowledge" on board. We spent the afternoon walking the length and breadth of this small community on the mainland side of Clarence Strait. We met Dave and Maggie at their cabin and got the grand tour. They have a great place and dock in Back Chuck. The cabin is on their own island and is only accessible by foot path at low tide or by boat. The foot path is a public trail that has dedicated right-of-way through everyone's property and the folks who live here are very friendly. We followed the path out to the beach on Clarence Strait and enjoyed the view of Prince of Wales Island.
The next morning we got underway and rode the incoming tide up Ernest Sound to Seward Passage. We took anchorage in Santa Anna Inlet by noon and enjoyed open air showers on the aft deck under sunny skies and warm temperatures. Completely refreshing after a few days underway! We had a good night at anchor and left the next morning, traveling on up Blake Channel to Berg Bay. This is a very pretty anchorage on the mainland with alpine scenery and a Forest Service maintained cabin.
See all pictures at: GBSirena . I am now using Goolgle's Picasa Web Albums to post pictures. Nothing more will be posted at the Flickr site.
On Wednesday we made the 19 mile run up through "The Narrows" and Eastern Passage to Wrangell(pop. 1700) and got moorage at the Reliance Dock in town. This is a great town with very friendly people. We toured the downtown on Thursday after a hearty breakfast at the Diamond C Cafe. The town is a recovering timber town and has many businesses that cater to the tourism industry. A few small cruise ships now stop here. We picked up some souvenirs and Rob got a haircut at the local barber. The barber is a native woman, Clara, who has many grandchildren. She calls her shop "Grandma's Barber Shop" and is is filled with antiques bottles, old barbering tools, a real old-time barbers chair and two old shoeshine chairs. There are pictures of all of Clara's grandchildren on the wall. Clara is also a cedar bark weaver. She has some samples of her work in the shop and in the Chamber of Commerce visitor center.
Clara gave Rob a great hair cut and asked about our trip. She asked if we liked seafood and said that we should stay in town for the salmon smoking contest on Saturday. People have been smoking fish this week and will enter their work in the contest at the Elks Lodge. They award prizes and the public is invited to sample the entries. Clara asked what kind of fish we like and we told her that halibut is our favorite. The next day she came down to the dock , in the rain, with a bag of fresh halibut filets for us! Wrangell gets our vote for the friendliest town in Alaska.