Linger Longer

14 September 2016
06 August 2016
09 July 2016
18 July 2015
24 May 2015
31 March 2015
26 February 2015
15 February 2015 | Barra de Navidad
07 February 2015 | Tenacatita Bay
04 February 2015
26 January 2015 | 19 18.051'N
04 January 2015 | La Cruz, Nayarit, Mexico
25 December 2014 | La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico
01 December 2014 | Ensenada, Mexico

Reflections by Kirk 6-7-2014

07 June 2014 | Glacier Bay
Since our departure from Seattle in June of 2013, our plan has been to go as far north as Glacier Bay National Park. You may not enter the Park without having received a permit in advance. Access is severely restricted; and when we did receive our permit, we felt part of a privileged few. This is the ultimate northbound destination for most cruisers from British Columbia and western United States. Between June 1 and August 31 only 25 recreational vessels, two cruise ships and six tour boats are allowed inside Glacier Bay at any one time. As we entered the Park very early in the season on May 31, even that small quota was not yet reached.

A few facts and a little history. Glacier Bay National Park, Wilderness Area and Preserve encompass just over 3.3 million acres, including mountains that spawn the glaciers, glaciers themselves, lowlands left by the glaciers, shorelines and some distance into offshore waters. Vertically it extends from 15,300-foot high Mount Fairweather (higher than any point in the lower forty eight) to below sea level. Glacier Bay is a result of what is called the "Little Ice Age." As recently as 1680, what is now the bay was a broad river valley inhabited by the Huna branch of the Tlingit nation. A glacier to the north of the valley was beginning its advance. By 1750 the glacier had advanced to where it protruded beyond the river valley into Icy Strait, its farthest point of advance. The Huna were forced to retreat across Icy Strait and settle in an area protected from the north wind. That settlement has now grown into the predominantly Tlingit town of Hoonah. In 1794, when Captain James Vancouver explored the area, he described it as a "compact sheet of ice as far as the eye could see. The bay is a mere five-mile indent in the coastline." By 1879, when famed naturalist John Muir made his first of many extended visits to the area, the glacier had retreated another 40 miles to the north. Today the glaciers are about 70 miles from Icy Strait. In 1992 Glacier Bay Park and Preserve, together with Wrangell/St. Elias National Park (Alaska), Kluane National Park Reserve (Canada) and Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park (Canada) became part of a 24 million acre World Heritage Site. With additional contiguous protected areas, it is claimed that this is the largest roadless designated wilderness area in the world.

The Park contains many glaciers, some are contained in mountain valleys, some have made it down into the sea and then retreated back into valleys of their own creation, and some still extend out into tidal waters. The area is rich with life both in the sea and on the land. It is very interesting to witness the process called succession. The area at the mouth of Glacier Bay now has forests of conifer trees with development of understory plants. As you move up the bay toward the retreating glaciers, the plant life changes dramatically. The trees change from conifers to poplars and alders, the first trees to colonize "new" land. Moving further up bay, trees change to shrubs then to a few hardy types of herbaceous plants and finally to lichens. You can really see how the land evolves from the sterile, recently glacier scoured bare earth to mature forest in about only 70 miles. Consequently, this park is one of the most studied on earth. Almost all of the glaciers are receding with the exception of at least one, John Hopkins, which is advancing at a rate of 4,000 feet per year. The glaciers move much more rapidly than I would have suspected, anywhere from one to 20 feet per day. An interesting fact is that as glaciers recede and their tremendous weight is removed from the underlying land a process called isostatic rebound occurs. The land actually rises. Some of the small islands in the Park are documented to be rising one and one-half inches per year. We learned of a man who bought land in front of a receding glacier many years ago and has seen his waterfront land increase by 30 acres. A thought for the youngest land in front of receding glaciers; and by the time global warming has allowed palm trees in Alaska, you may own a paradise of waterfront property.

Our trip into the Park begins in Bartlet Cove where the Ranger station and Glacier Bay Lodge are located. At the Ranger station, we were given our orientation to Park features and regulations. Many areas are off limits for the protection of animal life. Near the entrance to the bay, an area frequented by humpback whales in the summer, you may not travel within one mile of the shoreline, as near shore areas are favorite feeding grounds. Several islands may not be approached within 100 yards as they are nesting grounds for birds or haul out places for Stellar Sea Lions. Several inlets left by receding glaciers are off limits. One in particular is an area that harbor seals use for birthing and "pupping." The mothers and pups stay on pieces of floating ice and boat wakes may jostle the ice around enough to knock the defenseless pups into the water where they would likely die. In many areas, motorized vessels are just not allowed. Camping is prohibited in one long shoreline stretch due to large concentrations of bears. On our way to the lodge where we heard of unlimited length free showers (a true luxury for people living on a boat), we watched as crew from a company called Whales and Nails, was finishing the reconstruction of a 45-foot long humpback whale skeleton under a recently built wall-less structure. Sad story. A whale named Snow that had been studied in Park waters for 26 years was found dead, having been struck by a cruise ship. The skeleton was preserved and is now being reconstructed as a permanent Park exhibit. Very cool! The lodge was nice and the showers were awesome.

We started our trip up the bay with the knowledge that anchoring was going to be a bit challenging. As the glaciers have receded so recently, there is little accumulation of sands, silt, and mud...stuff that anchors need to dig into. Many areas are deep and shelve very rapidly up to the shoreline. As the afternoon winds kicked up, we sometimes had a two-foot chop bouncing the boat around. I nearly drove Kris nuts with the frequent trips up on deck to recheck our position and see how our anchor rode was behaving. We have now spent hundreds of nights at anchor and I guess we have learned some things. Despite my nervousness, our anchor always stayed firmly attached to the bottom where we set it.

We saw lots of cool stuff in the Park. One day we went to where Marjorie Glacier and Grand Pacific Glacier nearly merge together at the head of Tarr Inlet. As we approached the head of the inlet, Grand Pacific appeared as a very wide, very flat expanse with a rock hilltop poking up in the middle. Dark parallel lines traced the twists and turns of the glacier down the valley and around the hilltop. The snout had a relatively flat top and was very dark colored with large masses of rock all over the face. We guess that it seldom calves pieces off the face or we would have seen more blue/white ice. As we went around one last bend, the face of Marjorie Glacier came into view. This glacier had a highly irregular shape on top and a mostly blue/white ice face with a myriad of shapes framed by cracks in the ice. We motored to within about one quarter mile of the face of Marjorie, shut off the engine and just drifted for about two hours. While there we saw many pieces of ice fall off the face and plunge into the sea. Most were smallish chunks that started mini avalanches of ice. Some were quite large and the splashes were huge creating large waves. We were far enough away that the waves resembled large boat wakes by the time they reached us. The sounds of the constantly moving glaciers were amazing. Sometimes we heard what sounded like gunshots as new cracks appeared. Other times huge rumbles, like during a thunderstorm, shook the air. Noise from the splashes was quite loud. Later that day, we cruised the face of Lamplugh Glacier and spent the night in a mile long "pond" left by the receding Reid Glacier with its huge curving face right in front of us.

Night is a bit of a strange thing for us in Alaska as there really isn't any. The sun officially sets at about 10 PM local time in the northwest; but a twilight glow remains in the northern sky until sunrise in the northeast at about 4 AM local time.

During travel to and fro different parts of the Park, we saw the full array of marine mammals; humpback whales, orca whales, Steller sea lions, harbor seals, harbor porpoises, and sea otters often with pups clutched on their bellies. Beautiful vistas of completely snow-clad mountains in the Fairweather Range poked in and out of clouds. There was a small island that was obviously the local Stellar sea lion hangout. We cruised around very slowly and watched them splashing around in the water, clumsily trying to jump out of the water and onto the rocks. Each separate grouping of rocks had its own hierarchy. The sea lions high up on the rocks were dry and apparently asleep, but when any of the newly arriving wet sea lions attempted to join them they were repulsed. When a big bull decided to move, every animal around made lots of space very quickly. This was all so intriguing that we shut off the engine and drifted, listening as we watched. We heard the very amusing sounds of croaking, belching, grunting, and mournful moans.

We did have one very extraordinary experience. At 0359 hours, we both awakened and bolted upright. A very loud noise rumbled through the boat. We rushed out of bed and up onto the deck outside to see what was going on. I didn't even realize that I was running around the decks bare-assed naked until Kris asked if I was getting cold. We ran through possible sources for the noise and figured it must have been a landslide or possibly a seismic event. This was a little scary and I stayed up there for a while watching for any unusual movement of the water. Nothing seemed unusual so I got back into bed, but was still a little pumped up and did not fall asleep right away. For maybe fifteen or twenty minutes I heard very faint rumblings through the hull of the boat and finally fell asleep. Next day we were back at Bartlet Cove prior to our departure from the Park. I started to ask a ranger about a strange noise, when he just asked "What time?" When I said about 4 AM he told us that a magnitude 5.7 earthquake had occurred about 30 miles from where we had been anchored. The shaking had awakened nearly everyone within a hundred miles around, but we never felt any shaking, only the loud noise. In consequent discussions, we learned that no one on land had any sensations of loud noise, only the shaking. Sound travels very well through both rock and water. So I think that we actually heard enormous pieces of the earth sliding against one another and the continuing rumbling the new arrangement of the earths crust settling into place. I suspect and truly hope that this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Glacier Bay National Park was an awesome experience. We saw and heard Mother Earth hard at work in the constant evolution of her geography. In the short pace of about 70 miles, we saw the succession of plant life in a totally natural setting reclaiming the face of barren sterile surface area. We saw the sea very full of life. We even saw rarely sighted Tufted Puffins, the bird on the cover of our favorite bird guide.

Life is Good
Vessel Name: S/V Linger Longer
Vessel Make/Model: Sceptre 41/43
Hailing Port: Seattle, WA
Crew: Kirk & Kristin Doyle
Our adventure started Sunday, June 16, 2013 with many friends "cutting our dock lines" at Shilshole Bay Marina in Seattle, Washington. When we left we knew we were pressed for time to reach southeast Alaska for the most favorable cruising months. After contemplating this dilemma for a short [...]
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Heading north into the Sea of Cortez for the summer where there is less change of hurricanes.
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