Voyages North

08 July 2016 | Posted at Ucluelet
11 January 2016
30 August 2015 | posted at Maple Bay
30 August 2015 | posted at Maple Bay, B.C.
30 August 2015 | posted at Maple Bay, B.C.
21 August 2015 | Posted at Port McNeill
09 August 2015 | Posted at Prince Rupert
05 August 2015 | posted in Ketchikan
01 August 2015 | posted at Ratz Harbor, Prince of Wales Island
23 July 2015 | Posted at Sitka
23 July 2015 | Posted at Sitka
29 June 2015 | posted at Auke Bay
29 June 2015 | posted at Auke Bay

Mourning a Glacier

03 June 2018
Photo: The Sawyer Glacier in 2008. Photo on the cover of Glaciers, Bears and Totems: Sailing in Search of the Real Southeast Alaska.

"Great Sawyer Glacier of Tracy Arm and Fords Terror Wilderness is Retiring" read the headline on I was working on an article called "Glacier Safari" for Northwest Yachting and was checking for the latest information on SE Alaska's glaciers. The headline puzzled me. "Retiring" sounded like a strange way to describe a glacier, as if it was a worker at the end of a career. Then I saw the photo of the sandbar at the foot of the glacier and realized that the headline was just a clever way of saying that the glacier had retreated to land and was no longer a tidewater glacier.

I felt as if I had experienced a personal loss. The glacier's magnificent blue and white ramparts gave me my first glimpse of a tidewater glacier, in 2006. Its photo, taken on our second visit to Tracy Arm, in 2007, graces the cover of my book, Glaciers, Bears and Totems: Sailing in Search of the Real Southeast Alaska. On that trip we approached what I thought was an ordinary small iceberg floating in front of the glacier. But as we passed it, the iceberg towered over Osprey's mast. That new perspective showed me that the glacier was bigger and farther away than it looked. Its size and its ability to fool humbled me.

Eight years later, in 2015, we had a more sobering experience with Sawyer Glacier. As we approached the end of the inlet, we kept expecting to see the glacier around the next bend, but instead we saw more barren red rock. "Where is it?" I asked. Surely, it hadn't been this far up inlet. Our chart plotter gave us the answer: its screen showed the boat's icon traveling not over water, which clearly we were doing, but over ice.

Photo: Osprey's chart plotter in 2015.

The glacier had retreated from its charted position. And when we finally saw it around another corner, the glacier stood silent and still, no longer the rambunctious calving glacier of the past.

Photo: Sawyer Glacier in 2015

Holkham Bay, Sawyer Glacier's home, is famous for its part in establishing the importance of glaciers in the formation of the landscape. When John Muir visited it in 1879, he delighted in its Yosemite-like cliffs, domes and valleys. To him their presence next to the glaciers were evidence role of the glaciers.

Thoughts about the role of a glacier in forming the landscape brought me back to the notion of a glacier retiring. Maybe it wasn't so strange. Glaciers do work; they carve out u-shaped valleys, domes and half-domes, move dirt and rocks of all sizes, and write messages in rock in the form of striations. And the glacier hadn't died. It was still pushing ice down the mountain, just not at the rate it once did. Evidence that this great glacier once worked here will last for millennia.

Ninety-five percent of Southeast Alaska's Glaciers are retreating, stagnating and thinning and the rate of thinning has increased due to climate change. (See the National Park Service's Fairweather Guide). This shrinking of the glaciers and their possible loss saddens me but I'm thankful to have had the opportunity to experience them while they were still actively calving, and also thankful for what they teach us about the earth and its natural processes. Barren rocks revealed by the melting glaciers remind me of a desert landscape, beautiful in a wild way. And the sight of new life springing up where glaciers once covered the earth gives me hope.

If you're planning a voyage to SE Alaska, there are still glaciers worth seeing (including Sawyer Glacier). You can read about them in my article, "Glacier Safari," in the June issue of Northwest Yachting.

Guest Blog by Jack Tar the Sea Cat

04 November 2017
Photo: Jack on Osprey.

Avast ye mateys! Elsie left out important events from this summer's blog. I must take to the computer and do the job myself.

You think I can't write because I'm a cat? You have no idea what cats do at night when humans sleep. Here's a photo of me reviewing one of my blog entries. It tasted purrfect - a strong flavor of fish with a hint of chicken.

Jack blog
Photo: Jack at the printer.

So here's what happened that Elsie didn't write about:

Giant Birds Attacked Me, Three Different Times!

The first attack happened in the quiet town of Port Gamble. Elsie and Steve were sitting in the cockpit reading (as these lazy humans do), and I was watching from my post on top of the dodger next to the sail. I heard a familiar cry, closer than ever before-- the high pitch "chee, chee, chee" of an eagle. Sharp yellow talons were heading right toward me! My heart beating fast, I burrowed under the sail cover and crawled into the folded sail. I heard the beat of wings and then silence. The eagle had flown away. It was warm under the sail cover and when my heartbeat went back to normal, I snuggled down and went to sleep.

Awhile later Elsie asked, "Where's Jack?" I heard the two of them walking all over the boat, looking for me on top of the sail cover, on the solar panels and even in the dinghy. Foolish! Those are my favorite places, but I wouldn't go there with eagles around.

Finally, they stopped.

"I heard an eagle," said Elsie. "I hope it didn't get him."

"Maybe he fell overboard," said Steve. "But surely we would have heard the splash."

That's when I got disgusted and let out a meow, thinking that would shut them up. But oh no, Steve insisted on peeling back the sail cover and dragging me out.

The hiding place
Photo: Steve taking Jack out of his hiding place.

The next attack came at the Poulsbo Yacht Club. It was starting to get dark and I was on my leash, sitting in the middle of the dock, waiting for Steve to get ready so I could take him for our evening walk. I heard a loud "squawk" and the flapping of large wings approaching fast. There was nowhere to hide, so I flattened myself on the dock. A big blue heron flew so close above my head that I could see its long sharp beak clearly. It was just as scary as an eagle, maybe more. That's when Elsie, who was standing in Osprey's cockpit, shouted at the bird, "Get away!" No doubt she thinks that's why the bird flew away, but I'm convinced my orange fur scared it away. After all, the orange scares all those robins and sparrows in our yard. There can't be any other reason why I can't catch them when other cats can.

I got another close look at some of those nasty herons on the way home from our trip to the San Juan Islands. We anchored in Penn Cove off Coupeville to escape some bad weather. But the rain and wind died down that evening and I got to sit on deck and watch the setting sun shine through the clouds. On a nice night I can sit for hours just watching the sea and sky.

Sunset at Coupeville, Penn Cove
Photo: Sunset at Coupeville.

The next morning I was sitting on the dodger cleaning my fur when I looked up to see two big herons swooping down for a landing on the cabin roof. With one quick jump I propelled myself off the dodger, all the way to the cockpit floor and under the mainsheet traveler.

Elsie came running out of the cabin, shouting at the birds. Then she turned to me and said, "Boy are you lucky, Jack. Good thing I came out just in time to scare them away."
What nonsense. I knew those big herons couldn't get down to the cockpit.

A great blue heron takes off from a State Parks moorage buoy in Penrose Pt State Park

Steve Bought a New Outboard!

I can't believe Elsie didn't say anything about the new electric outboard for the dinghy, the most important piece of equipment they bought this year.

The dinghy is one of my favorite places to sit when we're at anchor. I like to be close to the water where I can watch leaves float by, and it's fun to jump back and forth between dinghy and boat, especially after dark when Steve and Elsie can't see me. But I don't like the new electric outboard that Steve bought this year. It's too small for me to sit on and it's so quiet they can start it up without my knowing. Oh well, at least it's not smelly like the old gasoline outboard. And humans seem to like it. There's no accounting for their tastes. Strangers were always coming over to look at it and talk about ampere hours and batteries.

Several times Steve got into the dinghy while I was in it. I waited for the roar of the outboard as a signal for me to jump back on Osprey, but instead of pulling a starter cord, swearing, then pulling it again, Steve just pushed a button. Before I knew it, we were too far away from Osprey to jump back. I had to put up with being paraded around the anchorage where people pointed at me and laughed. One time a woman in a kayak asked, "Is that a boat cat?" What did she think I was? Some little yapper dog?

A ride in the dinghy with Steve
Photo: Jack riding in the dinghy with Steve and the new Torqueedo outboard.

I Went Swimming!

The worst time I had in the dinghy was when we tied Osprey to a mooring buoy off Blake Island. I was sitting in the dinghy listening to the pleasant chuckling noise the water made under Osprey's hull. Elsie got in the dinghy, but instead of asking Steve to pass her the outboard battery, she just untied the dinghy, cast off and started rowing with me on the bow.

I wasn't going to put up with another ride in that dinghy! I crouched down, twitched my hips and jumped. But the current was taking the dinghy away and instead of landing on Osprey's deck, I landed in the water. It was cold! Still, I wasn't afraid. I started swimming. Like all cats, I'm a good swimmer--when necessary. I was almost back to the big boat when Elsie caught up to me in the dinghy. She grabbed me by the harness and fished me from the water. I was furious. Was she going to make me stay in the dinghy? But she must have decided she didn't want a wet cat in the dinghy, as she handed me to Steve who was still on the Osprey. He took me down below and washed me in the sink, then roughed me up with a towel. Ugh!

I admit the jump was overly ambitious. But it got me back to Osprey.

We sea cats are good learners. A few weeks after the swim off Blake Island, I went for another dinghy ride. This time I didn't try to jump while the dinghy was going away from the boat. Instead, I jumped on our return. When I knew we were close enough, I went flying through the air, landing with my front paws on deck, back paws on the hull, then hoisting myself the rest of the way onboard.

Am I a good sea cat or what?

Alaskan Cruisers in the San Juan Islands

15 October 2017
Photo: Osprey anchored in Reid Harbor, Stuart Island

"There is one word of advice and caution to be given to those intending to visit Alaska for pleasure, for sightseeing. If you are old, go by all means, but if you are young, wait. The scenery of Alaska is much grander than anything else of the kind in the world, and it is not well to dull one's capacity for enjoyment by seeing the finest first." - Henry Gannett, member of the 1899 Harriman Alaska Expedition.

After six trips to SE Alaska and back, I'm tempted to agree with Gannett's sentiment. Alaska is on a different scale than anything else I have seen: miles of old-growth forests, mountains so steep and so close to the water that they make the Cascades look tame, glaciers that inspire awe, brown bears that inspire fear and totem poles that inspire appreciation for another culture. And our re-entries to the Salish Sea have sometimes been jarring as we adjusted to crowded anchorages and constant chatter on VHF radio channels. So when Steve and I decided to spend two weeks cruising in the San Juans after Labor Day, I wondered how those Alaskan trips would affect our enjoyment of this much vaunted cruising ground.

Normally we experience the San Juans as stops along the way to or from Alaska or northern British Columbia, not destinations in themselves. A cruise to the San Juans would be an opportunity to see more of the islands.

Going after Labor Day turned out to be a good decision. Crowds were down, but seasonal attractions were still open. Almost every State Park we visited had mooring buoys available, and other places had space to anchor. The weather was warm but not so hot we needed our awning.

Here are some other things I appreciated about the San Juans:

Short distances between destinations. Even if we left an anchorage at noon, we were always at our next destination in time to enjoy it that afternoon. And the destinations are numerous. A two-week trip left places to visit on our next trip.

Convenient Provisioning Stops. At the small stores of Shaw Island, Roche Harbor and Deer Harbor, we found fresh produce that wasn't wilted. Perhaps only someone who's spent time cruising in the isolated areas of British Columbia and Alaska can truly appreciate that.

Blind Bay Market, Shaw Island
Photo: Interior of Shaw Island General Store

And then of course there's Friday Harbor on San Juan Island with its banks, post office, restaurants and other stores. It even has a good independent bookstore: Griffin Bay Books. The town is centrally located and just a short trip away from almost everywhere in the San Juans.

Scenery. Just as South Sound has Mt. Rainier on its east, the San Juan Islands have Mt. Baker to their east. It can be jaw-dropping beautiful at sunset or on a clear day when the mountain peeks over a rock to surprise you as you sail by.

Mt Baker
Photo: Mt Baker

Interpretive signs in parks. This may seem like an odd thing to praise but in the wilderness of B.C. and Alaska we have to do our own research. We spent two nights at Garrison Bay, part of the San Juan National Historic Park that commemorates the Pig War of 1859 and the joint occupation of San Juan Island by Great Britain and the U.S. from 1860-1872. I was impressed with the quality of the interpretive signs and the videos. The main message -- that by staying calm and following established policies, it's possible to avoid war -- seemed perfectly tailored for today.
English Camp at Garrison Bay
Photo: The English Camp at Garrison Bay, San Juan National Historic Park

Another place where I appreciated the interpretive signs was on the trails of Obstruction Pass State Park. Their messages about glaciers sculpting the land reminded me that the processes we saw in action in SE Alaska were the same ones that formed Puget Sound many years ago. The San Juans aren't that far from glaciers.

Hiking Trails. Compared to bush whacking through swamps and climbing over windfall as we have in BC and Alaska, hiking San Juan trails were a pleasure. For Steve who jokes he's working up to 2 knots they made walking possible. And we didn't need to watch out for bears.

Hiking Trail in Stuart Island State Park
Photo: Hiking trail on Stuart Island

On Stuart Island we hiked to the old schoolhouse and browsed in the tiny museum. At Garrison Bay we hiked up to the English cemetery and admired the rare Garry Oaks. At Sucia Island we walked to the china caves -- sandstone "sculptures" formed by water and wind located just a short distance from our anchorage in Echo Bay.

China Caves
Photo: China Caves on Sucia Island.

Fishing and Crabbing. We didn't get Washington State Fishing Licenses or bring our pots and poles because we would only be out for two weeks. But in Garrison Bay we spent an evening with six other boaters feasting on crabs they had caught that day.

Rural Setting. We found just enough funkiness to remind us that we were in a rural area: bags of goat feed on the porch of the Shaw Island General Store and the quirky Boundary Pass Traders shop just off the trail on Stuart Island. It's just an old wooden bureau next to the trail near the schoolhouse. You pick out a shirt from the trunk, trying on the samples hanging from the clothesline for size, and mail your payment when you get back to civilization. We both bought long-sleeve T-shirts with dramatic pictures of flying ospreys on the front.

Shopping on Stuart Island
Photo: Boaters shopping at Boundary Pass Traders

Two weeks in the San Juans were just what we needed after a summer of frustrating medical appointments. Puget Sound boaters are fortunate to have the islands so close. The tree-covered islands with their multiple state parks and protected harbors are a great short-term destination. If we have another chance to go back to the San Juans during a "shoulder season," we'll take it. But we hope to be back in SE Alaska, or at least on the northern British Columbia coast, next summer.
Vessel Name: Osprey
Vessel Make/Model: Annapolis 44 sloop
Hailing Port: Seattle
Crew: Steve and Elsie Hulsizer (author of Glaciers, Bears and Totems and Voyages to Windward)
Elsie and Steve Hulsizer have sailed northwest waters since arriving in Seattle via sailboat from Boston in 1979. [...]
2017: local cruising including South Puget Sound and San Juan Islands 2016:north up West Coast VI, across QC Sound to central BC coast 2015: trip to SE Alaska 2014: Seymour and Belize Inlets through Nakwakto Rapids 2013: SE Alaska and back. 2012: from Seattle up the west coast of Vancouver [...]
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