Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Petersburg to Craig

This has been a week filled with friends and laughter. Ron and Pam joined us in Petersburg. We spent the first day bicycling around town and eating at Inge's food stand (Alaska Thai Curry and a halibut sandwich to die for.)

At 5:30 the next morning we set out with the tide, rounding the last buoy of Wrangell Narrows (overflowing with sea lions) and headed out Frederick Sound to Chapin Bay for our rendezvous with John and Teddi on Teddi Bear. Teddi had planned this meal for weeks, well before leaving Sitka to bring their boat south for the summer. As we approached Chapin Bay, a tiny boat raced towards us. After a moment with binoculars we knew it was John and Teddi in their dinghy, waving a PILOT sign at us, to guide us in :)

Notice small external ear flaps differentiating seals from their much larger sea lion cousins. These guys are 8-9 feet long and weigh 1200+ lbs!

John and Teddi greeting us outside Chapin Bay

Teddi Bear leaving Chapin Bay on her way south

We're taking a bit of an unusual route this week. After Chapin Bay (on the south end of Admiralty Island), we headed for Red Bluff Bay on the west side of Baranof Island. Then, rather than head north like most folks, we decided to loop back south towards Craig, which is further west but almost parallel to Ketchikan. We love the narrow passages and smooth lake-like bays filled with sea otters--terrain unique to this part of SE Alaska.

Red Bluff Bay is one of those jewels that never disappoints. The "bear meadow" at the mouth of the river was thick with Brown Bears, the waterfall was in full flow, and the weather cooperated. Ron and I kayaked, and as we were skimming some rocky cliffs at high tide we came around a corner, and there was a huge brown bear picking his way along the 6 inches left of the shore below the cliffs. He couldn't have been more than sixty feet in front of us. We were downwind and he didn't hear or smell us, so we followed him. He'd run out of shore to walk on and would be forced into the water. Getting out, he'd shake and create a cloud of water vapor that floated away in the wind. Finally, he saw us. I think this is the first time I've seen a bear with a startled look on his face. He had arrived at a place where trees rather than rock was above him, although precarious on a 60 degree slope. In a flash, we watched amazed as the 1000 pound animal jumped up that hill as if he was light as a feather. A hundred feet up he stopped and peered down at us as we glided by. There hadn't been any time for cameras, but I'll always remember this as a peak experiences.

Red Bluff Bay

Ron keeping his distance. The water is quite shallow here and bears are FAST

King of the forest, and he knows it.

Barrow's Golden Eye

Another picture for George (her designer)

Discovery joined us late that evening

Next morning we started out early, crossing Chatham Sound (about the width of Puget Sound) in mirror smooth, water spotting both an orca and dahl's porpoises. Once across, we turned south towards Rocky Pass, between Kupreanof and Kuiu Islands. It's a strange feeling, coming from wide open waters into what at first appears like solid terrain, hundreds of tiny islands covered with evergreens.

Heading south into twisty passages
An eagle awaits our entrance into Rocky Pass

South of Rocky Pass, we anchored in Labouchiere Bay on Prince of Wales Island. The bay held two resident sea otters and the view out to the west was breathtaking. The name of the bay was French, so we decided to break out the duck confit in the freezer, and Pam, who studied with Julia Child, cooked us up a meal we'll always remember. (Thanks Joe Euro for stocking frozen confit at your wine shop.)

Duck confit, asparagus, curried rice, mushrooms sautéed in duck fat, and les petite chous

VERY happy campers

Did I mention the view?

The next day would be a short one, heading towards El Capitan, another long, shallow, twisty passage named after the mountain in Yosemite because of a similar appearing rock near by. We anchored out of the current in a widened pool about half way through the narrowest portions. Although El Capitan channel is one of the most efficient and protected north-south routes, we saw just two boats pass by in the 20 hrs we were anchored there.

Ron and Pam

Abandoned boat near El Capitan

South of Sumner Strait and El Capitan is a wonderland of islands, seemingly thousands of them, as well as larger, open bodies of water leading out to the ocean. One of these is called Sea Otter Sound. Need I say more?
They're so darned cute, and curious.

I dare you not to say 'ooh'

Or 'ah'

Nossuk Bay gave us another peaceful night in paradise. The sunset was beautiful, accompanied by the call of an owl on the island nearby.

Finally, Craig. May 28th is Ron's birthday while the 29th is mine. We explored the town on foot, went out for birthday dinner at Ruth Ann's (the salmon Oscar is wonderful), then back to the boat in time to catch the sunset (at almost 10pm!)

We sadly bid Ron and Pam goodbye this morning, watching as their float plane climbed towards the sky. Wonderful memories. Even more wonderful friends.

Craig sunset

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Sun and Mountains that POP

Three nights in Wrangell. The first day, we met a young family on a sailboat (his dad's.) Three young kids as comfortable wearing lifejackets and running around in the rain on docks as, well, water rats, if you get my drift. He looked young, maybe mid-thirties, but turns out he's a pilot on Cruise Ships. He's the guy who gets on board and keeps them from running into things. A lot of responsibility. So many cool jobs in this world.

We hooked up with Doug and Jill in Passages, getting together for an evening and a breakfast. One of those chance encounters with a couple I've known of for many years, friends of many of our friends, but had never actually met. This is their 9th trip up to Alaska in a boat they've owned for more than twenty years. Lots of good tips, including their favorite anchorage in Wrangell Narrows, near Beecher Pass.

We set off mid morning intending to take two days to get to Petersburg (it can easily be done in one day.) Wrangell Narrows (oddly named in that it leads to Petersburg) is one of the more interesting waterways in Southeast Alaska. It's quite shallow in places. Similar to the ICW on the East Coast, there are channel markers everywhere to help keep you from running aground. And you share this narrow, shallow channel with tugs pulling barges and cruise ships (piloted by our new friend.)

Beecher Pass is an even shallower channel off of Wrangell Narrows with a lovely anchorage beyond. We managed to arrive right at low tide. I poked my nose off the beaten path and was immediately confronted with six foot depths (we draw 5.5ft.) Turning around VERY carefully, I decided to anchor and decide what to do. We really wanted to try out the new spot, but weren't too keen on grounding our boat. So - brilliant idea. I dropped the dinghy in the water. Although small, she has a depth finder and an electronic chart. So, following what looked like the deepest channel, I reconnoitered while Glenda stayed on the boat. Sure enough, there was a fine channel with thirteen feet deep most of the way. I headed back to the mother ship and in half an hour we were anchored in our nice new spot. Doug and Jill putted in less than an hour later, Doug radioing to announce he had caught two beautiful King salmon and would we like some? Silly question. I ferried them over in the dinghy after they anchored and got their catch carved, vacuumed packed and put on ice.

It turns out, they don't eat fish! Doug just likes to fish, and loves giving it away as gifts to friends and family. How lucky is that?

The next morning we were off to Petersburg. Passages is faster than we are and they soon passed, but not before I got a good shot of her. The sun and the mountains were out, offering lots of wonderful photographic opportunities.

We'll spend three nights in Petersburg, where the air is as clean and crisp as the top of the world. Glenda said, and I agree, that there is something about this location that feels like it's the top of the world. A water world surrounded by mountains and glaciers.

Our friends Ron and Pam join us in the morning, and then we'll be off on an adventure out Fredrick Sound, over to Baranof Island, then down to Craig on Prince of Wales Island.

Anchorage near Beecher Pass

The view up Wrangell Narrows

Doug and Jill's Passages

Perching on channel marker

Roasting this week's coffee at dock

Top of the world

1500lb Stellar sea lion cruising around the boat.
I was standing on deck when I heard what sounded like a whale breathing. It was one of the harbor sea lions. MUCH bigger than the ones at home. I once saw a skull set next to the skull of a brown bear. The sea lion's head was bigger! He swam right along the boat and I could see his entire body just feet from me. I'd estimate he was seven to eight feet long. Not sure if it was the same guy, but one of these fellows hopped on the dock and sent a man to the hospital with a huge bite taken out of his leg. Now that's an Alaskan sea lion!

Blue Heron fishing in the slough near the docks

Petersburg is famous for it's Norwegian heritage

Sometimes we feel lost among the behemoths of the Petersburg fishing fleet

Simply gorgeous setting

Slough behind the harbor.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Ketchikan to Wrangell


That's how I'd have to characterize the last few days. A couple of days of cruising, then a couple days of sitting around reading, doing a little work on the boat, eating a little too many cookies.

We ran from Ketchikan to Meyer's Chuck on day one, then on up to Wrangell on day two, where we decided to stay for three nights. Wrangell is authentic. A few small cruise ships stop here occasionally, but mostly this is a town where the world pretty much stops still.

Meyer's Chuck is the same, only on a MUCH smaller scale. Four people lived there this winter. It explodes to thirty or so during the height of the season. We saw Steve, whom we've met before. He first moved to Meyer's Chuck in 1946 when he was a kid. His dad did logging in the area. In 1961 he married and moved into a tiny house where he lives still - year round. He doesn't much care for Ketchikan (the city) any more. Get's there a few times a year. Food gets flown in from one of the markets along with mail on a weekly basis. They don't build people quite like this any more.

Weather has been on again off again snotty, making up for the nine days of sunshine on the trip up. I couldn't help rendering some pictures in black and white to capture a bit of the mood on the way here.

Be sure to click on the pix to see them large...

Leaving Bar Harbor Marina

Alaska Ferry Taku getting her bottom painted

Columbia underway in Clarence Strait (she's a beautiful ship)

 One of our favorite things to do in Meyer's Chuck is to take the walk, through the rain forest to the beach. It's hard to capture in photos how ancient and utterly green this place is.

Heading up to Wrangell we encountered sun, overcast, heavy rain and dramatic skies. Although some of the pictures are gloomy, we weren't!

The sun peeked out as we approached Wrangell. The first night, we stayed out on the "summer dock." The next two night's we'll spend in the harbor. I've included a couple of shots of the boat, in part because her designer (George Buehler) linked this blog to his web site ( and asked me to feature the boat more. How could I refuse?

Approaching Wrangell

The view looking south from the "summer dock"

Next stop Petersburg...