Tuesday, July 30, 2013

1000 Miles Since My Last Post!

Hala already loves the sea

Wow - how time and the miles fly.

We're sitting in Port McNeill, near the top of Vancouver Island, and will be home in less than two weeks. Our final guests, Susie and Howard (who are celebrating their 50th anniversary) will be joining us tomorrow. We'll give them the cooks tour of the Broughtons (an island archipelago near the northern end of Vancouver Island) and then Glenda and I will bring the boat home on our own.

After dropping off Jason and Jacky in Sitka, G and I stayed a few days, topping off fuel, resting and enjoying fireworks on the evening of the 3rd (it stays so light up here that they have to start late, and end up on the fourth anyway.) Then we headed out of Sitka to Juneau where we pick up Simon, Faith and our granddaughter, Hala. We headed through Peril Strait to Frederick Sound, but not until stopping one more time in our favorite anchorage, Red Bluff Bay on Baranov Island. Maybe, we thought, we'd see another bear.

And did we! How about eight brown bears. Unfortunately no pix worth sharing. They were either too far away or it was too dark. But you can imagine...:)

Arriving in Juneau we managed to score a slip near downtown rather than our usual spot in Aucke Bay 10 miles north. The kids joined us on July 12th and after a brief tour of the glacier and downtown, we were off, officially heading south. For Glenda and me, this leg was mostly about spending time with Hala (and the kids as well, of course,) but we still managed to get in some great whale and sea lion watching.

The kids left us in Petersburg. Like a horse racing for the barn, we started making more time each day. Skipping Wrangell, we made it all the way to Meyer's Chuck, then Ketchikan for two days (where we saw Molly and four of her seven kids again), then Foggy Bay and then...Canada again! We spent two nights in Prince Rupert, and then headed down through northern BC stopping in Lowe Inlet, where we watched a bear fishing at a waterfall, Khutze Bay, were we had three folks from Genesis over for dinner, peaceful Fougner Bay (any of you who have read my first novel may remember Fougner Bay), Pruth Bay, where we hiked to the ocean, Secure Anchorage near Fury Cove, and then finally, yesterday, we crossed Queen Charlotte Sound and headed on into Port McNeill. WHEW!

A word about yesterday, and then we'll get to the pictures. I had never before been in Secure Anchorage. We usually stay in Fury Cove which is right on the edge of Queen Charlotte Sound, one of the major "ocean" crossings of the trip. However, because the weather had been so snotty, Fury was filled with boats waiting for a weather window to make the crossing. Although the entrance is intricate, with rocks and two S-curves, Secure Anchorage was just that. Quiet. Calm. Beautiful. I took the time to kayak a bit. However, next morning was the thickest fog I've seen for a while. We left at 5:30am under radar and carefully following the track I had made going in on the electronic chart, but it was till a little hairy. We didn't have more than 50 yards visibility for the next five hours, and were traveling among another 6-7 fellow boaters who had exited Fury Cove about the same time. The seas were a little roll - 4-5ft swells, but overall it was an easy ride - that is until...

We had just entered Queen Charlotte Strait when a boat came on the radio saying he was having engine problems and couldn't keep up speed. We saw him on radar and volunteered to slow down so he had to shut down, we could offer assistance. Sure enough, an hour later he radioed that he could barely make 3 knots. So we turned around and found him two miles behind us in the fog. Shelly T was a 36 ft catamaran trawler, and BOTH her engines had failed. We hooked up a tow line, and pretty soon we were chugging along in 3-4 foot seas, up current, doing around 5.5 knots. Four hours later, we pulled into Port Hardy and dropped them off. We exchanged cards and kidded that probably some day we'll meet again and become best of friends. For our part, it felt good to be able to help and, frankly, it was a fun adventure.

Mast-head eagles in Sitka. They don't normally get this close unless they're a nesting pair.

Oops, I guess they heard me.

Sea Otter in Frederick Sound. The don't usually stay asleep when we pass.

Coming into Juneau can be otherworldly. Thank heavens these guys only frequent a few towns.

Tourists were kind enough to take our picture on a walk in Juneau. To our left was the Alaska Governor's residence, once home to 'she who shall not be named.'

We discovered the 'secret' anchorage among the Brothers Island. It felt like we were in a National Geo documentary, with the sounds of whales outside and a big sea lion rookery near by. Thanks to Matt for telling me about it.
We took a dinghy tour and landed on a nearby beach, exploring forest with the thickest layer of moss I've ever seen.

That night.

The name of the doll is 'baby.' She and Hala are close buddies.

Every once in a while we really do up breakfast!

Athena in Frederick Sound. Owned by Jim Clark (founder of Netscape), at 295ft she is the fourth largest private sailboat in the world. But it could be yours for $100 million.

Simon, Faith and Hala. What a great five days we had with you!

Reflections in slough, Petersburg

Ketchikan. This is how the locals clean their boats in Alaska

They put the boat on a platform...

And let the tide do the work.

I just like photographing eagles, so bear with me.

Early morning, heading south out of Prince Rupert, Canada

Always keep an eye on radar.

We kept seeing Genesis along the way. Alan (left) single handed north, then advertised for crew. Bart (right) played a role in what, for me, was an amazing synchronicity that I'll tell at the end of this post. (See if you're paying attention.)

Lowe Inlet. A very special place. This shot was taken from where we were anchored.

I don't think the salmon was in any danger from the bear.

After dinner in Kutze Inlet, 'the boys' were slightly over gross weight rowing back to Genesis.

Early light traveling down Princess Royal Inlet

On the ocean beach at Pruth Bay

Foggy morning in Pruth Bay

Pruth Bay

This is the first time we've had Pacific White-sided Dolphins play on our bow (it's usually Dahl's Porpoises.) Glenda and I were leaning over the bow waving, and she would turn on her side to look at us. It was utterly awesome!

Shelly T under tow, finally coming out of the fog. Chris B, notice the line I'm using for towing. Worked great!

Okay, so if you were paying attention you know that I have a synchronicity to share with you.

My dad grew up in Holland during WWI. Holland was blockaded and they had a tough time getting enough food. After coming to the States, he ultimately joined the Merchant Marines during WWII, and ended up in slow Liberty Ships doing the dangerous convoy run from Scotland to Murmansk Russia deliveries war goods. I remember vividly him telling me how frightened he was. Many ships were picked off by U-boats and you only had a few minutes to survive in the cold arctic sea.

While in Meyer's Chuck, we ran into Jeff and Wendy from Daybreak, a lovely Flemming 55. We had met them in Seattle's Belle Harbor two years ago. Great folks we look forward to getting to know better. We saw them again and had dinner in Ketchikan, where in the course of conversation I mentioned my dad's story. Jeff said he had just read an old book out of print book (published 1966) by a dutch author about the Murmansk run. The next day, he brought it to the boat for me to read. The Captain, by Jan de Hartog, was a phenomenal novel about a sea-going tug and its role, following the convoys to try and pick up survivors when ships were sunk. I loved it, and was fascinated to learn than de Hartog had grown up in Holland about the same time as my dad.

Several times this summer we ran into Genesis, a 30ft sailboat. Alan, a professional photographer, was initially by himself, but then advertised a found two guys to help him bring the boat back south. In Lowe Inlet, right after I photographed the bear at the waterfall, Alan and Tom set out in their dinghy to get closer. As we were heading back to the boat we saw them waving frantically at us. We headed over and had a good laugh. In his haste, Allan had forgotten gas for the outboard, and oars. So we towed them back. The next night we ended up again together at beautiful Khutze Inlet. It was finally time to feed those boys some dinner and brownies. As they came aboard we were introduced to Tom, who is from New York and works facilitating exchange student programs, and Bart who is from Kamloops Canada.

Turns out Bart is Dutch. One thing led to another until I mentioned I had just read an exciting sea story by a Dutch author - I was blanking on the name. Jan de Hartog? Bart asked. Yes, that was it, I said. He became animated, telling me that de Hartog is one of his favorite authors and over the years he has collected all of his books, some in Dutch and many in English, and he'd be happy to send me some to read!

Perhaps it's because of the connection to my dad, but this whole episode struck a deep chord in me. Yet another example of the invisible lines that somehow tie us all together.

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.