Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Glacier Bay and Wild Coast of Chichagof

(Be sure to click on pictures for larger versions)

It’s been a busy two weeks, chock full of new adventures. Week one, Bonnie and Matt were aboard and we explored Glacier Bay National Park from top to bottom. Week two, Jason and Jacky joined us as we took the outside (ocean) route down Chichagof Island to Sitka. Both voyages were peppered with whale and sea otter encounters.

Whale watching in Icy Strait

Bonnie and Matt enjoying Seaducktress cuisine
This was our fourth time into Glacier Bay and arguably the best. The majestic Fairweather Mountains (Mt Fairweather is 15,300ft) were “out” almost the entire time and temperatures climbed into the seventies. We had warned Bonnie and Matt to prepare for cold weather when glacier watching, but there we were, tee shirts and shorts less than a quarter mile in front of Margerie Glacier, with a warm wind blowing across the water. Margerie is the iconic glacier among many here. She calves frequently to the sound of thunder, and is one of the few park glaciers that isn’t retreating. A funny footnote: several days later we were on our way back to Juneau when we passed Discovery (friends Bill and Karen) headed the other way. When I radioed to say hi, Bill told me they had a great picture of us sitting in front of the glacier. But how? I asked. We hadn’t seen them in the park and only two other boats were with us. Turns out, they had left their boat behind and taken the tour boat into the park, spotting us floating in front of the glacier. So much for the “lonely wilderness experience.”
Rather than follow our usual path through the park, we decided to explore parts we hadn’t seen. The second day we headed up Muir Inlet, the easterly arm of the “Y” that forms the park. The day started out foggy and rainy, but before long the weather had cleared and we enjoyed still water and mountains etched against “kodak clouds” and brilliant blue skies. Matt, who is an avid skier and mountain aficionado, was awestruck by the vistas and the scale of the park. That day we made it as far as rapidly receding McBride Glacier. In eight hours we didn’t pass a single other boat!

Whether by cruise ship or any other means, Glacier Bay National Park should be on everyone’s bucket list - but do it soon. It’s true. The glaciers really are going away.

Valley carved by glacier

Margerie Glacier
Margerie is almost 500ft tall, dwarfing boat

Heading up bay

Not much ice this year

Muir Inlet - looks like the edge of the world

On our forth day in the park, we spent several hours floating near the Marble Islands watching whales and hundreds of sea lions.

Puffin trying hard to get beyond ground effect

Large Sea Lion rookery on S. Marble Island

That night, we anchored in Bartlett Bay near the ranger station. Hitching a ride into Gustavus nine miles away, we enjoyed an amazing meal at the Gustavus Inn, what was effectively an “all you can eat” meal of freshly caught halibut. That night (after a $60 cab ride nine miles home) we retired to our floating home tired, full and content, witness to a gorgeous sunset.

Icy Straits is a broad swath of water washing in from the ocean, dividing Chichagof Island from the mainland to the north. It’s probably our single favorite place to be in SE Alaska. Named for the days when the entirety of Glacier Bay was ice—icebergs breaking off in the bay—it’s rich waters are home to the single largest cluster of humpback whales in the region. We spent hours with Bonnie and Matt as well as Jason and Jacky (and Jane and Michael before them), floating with the engine off, listening to whales blowing and trumpeting all around us. It’s as surreal an experience as one can imagine. They (the whales) were very patient with our presence, and from time to time would gift us with leisurely “fly bys”, swimming serenely within a boat’s length. And then, as a special treat, one of them would occasionally decide to breach, launching it’s forty-five foot, 50,000 lb body out of the water. Pictures can never do this act of joy any real justice—but I kept trying anyway.
Poking his nose up

Rare sight - sea otter on its belly

Almost too close to fit in camera!

Radar heading back towards Juneau. Those are commercial trollers!

We’ve been coming up to Alaska since 2007 and each year I’ve wanted to explore the western shore of Chichagof Island. However, each time we were in position to do so, storms have come up at the last moment. The coast line is intricate and rocky, and didn’t want to thread our way through rocked by eight foot seas. But Jas and Jacky brought us luck (as they always do.) The weather forecast looked good with seas forecast less than five feet. We spent the night in tiny Elfin Cove within a few hours of the coast. The next morning everything looked great, except for a pea-soup fog that had settled in. Darn! We’re talking about REALLY thick fog. But I made the decision to stick our nose out, hoping it might burn off by the time we headed down Lisianski Strait towards the ocean—and that’s exactly what happened. The next two days were a mix of sun and overcast, no wind, and calm seas. Passing within feet of rocks, we negotiated the “inside passage”, entering the maze of channels and remote coves that dot this wild coast. Set aside as a wilderness preserve, channel markers are few and far between and radio reception is essentially nil. We were in the middle of Spring Tides, which meant minus (extra low) tides during parts of our journey. Jason spent a lot of time on the bow helping me spot and avoid rocks, adding to our sense of adventure. I’ve vowed to return here and spend more time in the future.

Jason, Jacky and Glenda enjoying Alaska sunshine

This is what the whales are eating - huge balls of bait

Look carefully for his eye

Pure joy

Commercial fishing on edge of fog - Cross Sound

Rocky coast of Chichagof

Jason on bow watch

Jason and Jacky

At anchor in Magoun Islands near Sitka

Fuel tanks in Sitka (we fueled up the boat here)

Totem Park in Sitka

Sitka Harbor

Ending up in Sitka, we showed Jas and Jacky the sites, taking a couple of beautiful hikes and capping off our week together with dinner at Ludvig’s.

Hiking near Mosquito Cove

Glenda and I will spend six days here in Sitka, doing boat maintenance and enjoying some solitude before heading back to Juneau where we’ll pick up Simon, Faith and Hala. It’s been over two months since we’ve seen our little granddaughter, and we can hardly contain our excitement.


  1. These pictures are so beautiful and I'm soooo jealous. What a wonderful time with family and friends, an experience of a lifetime. I miss you guys! Enjoy and be safe. I look forward to more posts.

  2. thank you for sharing this blog. It has a lot of meaningful information. I wish if i could get some more information on this. Take care! fishing catamaran Aspen Power Catamarans - Larry Graf designer and founder of patent pending proa hull design.

  3. Really nice blog..and i enjoyed the pics you shared here. Glacier Bay power catamarans provide the comfortable ride on the water to offshore boating enthusiasts.


  4. Thanks you for your wonderful blog. We just arrived in Sitka (from French Polynesia) and will be spending the next 3-4 months heading towards Seattle. Might you be willing to share a lat/long for your favorite Baranov Island anchorage if I promise not share? You can email me at svcentime@gmail.com or search on sailblogs for the vessel centime and leave a comment. Fairwinds, Heidi