Passage to Juneau
17 June 2019 | Seward
On leaving Seward we had perfect weather, the sea was rolly, but there was just enough wind to hold sails and motor sail, which stopped the worst of the swell affecting us too much. We fairly soon realised that we had better just keep going straight across the Gulf of Alaska, we had a four day weather window, for the 400 mile passage, which would take us three days.
It was a disappointing crossing in that we had to motor the whole way, the second two days the North Pacific had an unfamiliar glassy look, and was calm and flat, so sails came in and we plugged on. The only boat we saw was one fishing boat, 40 miles short of our destination, apart from that we were accompanied by a growing number of birds as we closed the coast, mostly Northern Fulmar, although Mikey Gurney hotly fought his ornithological corner and thought they might be Sooty Shearwaters! There was less contention about the Pacific white sided dolphins and the porpoises, and what we now believe are Ancient Murrelets, which sit in groups on the surface of the water but always dive down as you approach. We also enjoyed seeing the Black footed Albatross, and Puffins!
We took three hour watches, Mikey sharing with me, as he was uncertain of his watch keeping abilities, which in any case were never tested!
Seventy hours and 438 miles later, we closed land and motored into Cross Sound and into the delightfully picturesque Elfin Cove, seeing a single lone Orca just as we went in. Although it was 05.30 there was plenty of light, the nights never really get properly dark.
We chose a very narrow passage in, mostly due to my misreading the sailing directions, and taking us in on the West rather than the east channel, I still have a bit of dyslexic thinking about coming from the east and being on the west coast!! Oh well it was high water, and it was more fun and quicker anyway!!
Once in we tied up briefly on the fuel dock, and had breakfast, by which time there was room on the floating dock as a commercial sports fishing boat was leaving. Deep sleep for a few hours, and then a hot shower and a good walk ashore on the Boardwalk town, where we also found the fishermen's laundry facility and did some washing! Elfin Cove is a small community of about 30 people through the year, but we are now in the tourist season, and it attracts a lot of sports fishing, which is pretty unpopular with the local fishermen.
It is an uneasy relationship between the two, when fishermen have to stick to quotas, and put up with days when fishing is closed commercially, yet the tourist fishermen can still go and catch big fish for fun!
Next morning we had to get up early again to catch the tide in the Inian Pass on our way to Glacier Bay.
Glacier Bay is a World Heritage site, and a National Park, It stretches 50 miles up and has several glaciers as well as a lot of wildlife. You need a permit to get in, but every day they allow about 4 boats in on a first come first serve basis. We managed to contact them on VHF, and get permission to enter that day, at 07.30 while we were still 10 miles off. We were delighted, as it was definitely on our bucket list, and could have involved waiting for a few days.
We had to report to the Park office, where you do a so called 'orientation course', mostly rules and regulations in the park. Glacier Bay is on every cruise ships itinerary, but they are luckily limited to just two cruise ships a day! We had fabulous weather and did a couple of walks from the park, armed with bear spray! Next day, still with fine weather, we headed up the bay, seeing a few distant whales, and plenty of seals and sea otters. Our destination had been Reid glacier, where we had planned to stay the night, but we decided to crack on and make the most of the weather. It was another 12 miles to Margerie Glacier at the head of a long fiord, Tarr Inlet, the biggest tidewater glacier in the world. The 36 mile long Great Pacific Glacier also at the head of the bay no longer reaches the sea, but is a lovely backdrop to the scenery.
We had the two glaciers to ourselves, and drifted with the engine off to listen to the creaking of the ice, and then the sudden burst of noise as the calving glacier dropped large chunks of ice into the sea with a roar and a loud splash.
The day was changing, and cloud and wind were suddenly upon us as we motored back down the fiord, to eventually take shelter in Blue Mouse Cove after a long 80 mile day. The rain lashed us in the night, and the morning brought a vision of low cloud touching the water, encouraging a lazy start and long breakfast!
We zig zagged across the bay to the various rocky islands in fog and rain, but our persistence paid off, and soon we were enjoying whales and sea lions, and the rain abated. We answered our own question as to what the difference is between sea lions and seals, when we heard the roar of the sea lions as they lazed on the rocks. Puffins scooted around us and sea otters lounged on their backs with babies on their tummies.
We were well satisfied with a great day of wildlife when we returned to Bartlett cove for the night, in good time to spend a few hours using the internet that we had discovered at the lodge there.
Next morning we headed off to Hoonah, a native community on the west of nearby Chichagof Island. It turned out to be a scruffy place, with a few totem poles and one in the making, and curiously had two cruise ships anchored off, who seem to bring nothing to the community.
We were heading in the general direction of Juneau, and arranged to meet Sagata on her way south from Haines, in Funter bay on Admiralty Island, finally the wind obliged and we managed to sail into the bay and anchor under sail next to Sagata.
Jamie and Mikey had bought a fishing permit, so now was the time to catch us some supper, or so we hoped, they had a lot of fun, but no fish, so resolved to try again next morning. Try is the word; after several hours two wanna be fishermen presented me with a small plaice that they had managed to hook by the tail!!
We weighed anchor, and set off for Auk Bay, the anchorage for Juneau, just 25 miles away. Sagata followed behind us, as they had problems with their freezer and needed a part. As they knew the form, we were persuaded to go out for a drink after supper, at the very lively bar, which was great fun, and then back to Brother Wind for yet another drink, and soon it was midnight.
Yachties aren't used to two late nights in a row, so our start for the Juneau bus was a little later than it should have been next morning.
Juneau apparently covers a greater area than any state capital in America, but for all that is a small largely low rise town. The old centre has some nice clap-board houses, and a large Art Deco State parliament house. We visited the city museum which was small but gave us a real understanding of the gold rush which was the reason that settlers first came to Juneau, and explains why Alaska's capital town is not connected by road to anywhere. There have been many bids to change the capital, but Juneau hangs on to its status. There were four big cruise ships in town when we were there, which is a major source of income for the city.
We were keen to go and see the Mendenhall Glacier which lies behind Juneau, and the excellent circular bus system dropped us off a mile away for us to walk up to the Glacier park. One of the trails took us along the shoreline to a fabulous waterfall which gushes melt water down onto the beach close by to the glacier. In spite of the by now very wetting rain, we thoroughly enjoyed it, and added to our walk by cutting through the forest on a trail, well-armed with our bear spray, we saw several tracks but no bears.
We were really very wet when the bus finally came, and we still had to go and do some provisioning, so off we got at 'Fred Myers', dripping into the supermarket with very soggy jeans, we did a fast shop, filling two trollies, which we then had to get home on the bus. We finally got back to Brother Wind at about 20.00, poor Jamie feeling very shivery and rather the worse for wear, but we soon got the boat warmed up and he was looking much better.
Today was laundry and fuel before we set off down the Stephens Passage towards Tracy Arm, Holkham Bay, and another glacier to visit!