Alarmed awake at 4 am, we cast off at first light to snake our way through Venn Passage, then north through the backdoor to Duncan Bay, no drama. Lots of sport fishing boats zoomed by. Great conditions! No rain, no wind except a few knots to keep the jib assisting, and favorable current, sweet. Made great time so passed a possible anchorage at Dundas and carried on.
Dixon Entrance was flat calm with a barely noticeable swell. A humpback blew by just when we crossed into Alaska waters. By 1 pm we were anchored in inner Foggy Bay. We have it to ourselves except for a grazing deer on the shore. The entrance to Foggy Bay is toothy with sharp rocks. Dave follows his route on the iPad in his hand while I keep bow lookout.
Easy day! Tomorrow, Ketchikan Ho!
Leaving Foggy Bay on a minus tide this morning, we could clearly see the bottom coming out the rugged double entrances. Took it slow with a bow watch, and no problems.
Another lucky weather day - the rains held off and we had an easy motor in flat calm seas the rest of the way to Ketchikan, riding a slight favorable current. Lots of fishing boats, commercial and pleasure. Entering the channel we got our Customs clearance by phone, then called for a slip assignment. We are in Thomas Basin in the tourist heart of town. Four gigantic cruise ships were in town today, but by the time we had docked and settled in, their passengers were streaming back aboard.
We walked the length of town northwest to Bar Harbor to stretch our legs. Ketchikan is skinny, just a block or so deep from the steep-to shoreline. Along the way are dozens of tourist shops, 4 big berths for the cruise ships, and seaplane docks for quick tours. One dock processes fish for the sport fisherman, cleaning and wrapping filets, then instant freezing them on a conveyer that passes though a special container for that purpose, a couple minute process.
We were last here in August 1984, buying Moulin Rouge and starting our journey south. Today we are excited to be finally starting our Alaska adventure.
Had a very fun night at the Ketchikan Yacht Club celebrating the arrival of the Race to Alaska boats, including Kermit, the boat they sponsored. The finish line is a few yards away, so we hear the cheers when one more contestant gets in. This is only the 2nd year of the event, a tough challenge as no one can use motors, even in the high-current channels. The boats have interesting rigs to allow pedaling or rowing to supplement the wind.
Our hosts, Eric and Sherry of mv Dolphin, have shared their enthusiasm and a lot of information about the anchorages ahead of us. The more we see and hear, the more we are considering wintering Baraka in Alaska so we can resume cruising up here next year.
Ketchikan has been fun. My fitbit gets a workout. We wander the waterfront enjoying the shops with native artwork, and watching the love boat tourists. As many as 6 cruise ships show up each day, easily doubling the population of Ketchikan. By late afternoon the passengers stream back aboard, and the town takes a nap.
Our cell phones are working here, but apparently the t-mobile “north america” plan doesn’t include Alaska for data. A bit disappointing, as we enjoyed surprisingly good coverage in British Columbia. Maybe we slipped across to another continent.
But I was able to upgrade my Consumer Cellular (AT&T) plan to make my phone into a hotspot, so we should be able to stay connected with that whenever we are in cell tower range.
Yippee, after a full month in Ketchikan, while Dave stayed aboard and I flew home to donate my gallblader to science, we are finally underway again, headed north. We motored up Clarence Strait in light drizzle and grabbed a space at the dock in Meyers Chuck, a neat little hamlet and protected bay. Nephew Julian is aboard, fun for us. We went ashore to explore the shore trails that wind past a small sawmill, a log cabin, and an interesting collection of rustic homes. There once was a cannery here, and as many as 100 residents back in its heyday. The lumberman showed us his king crab traps when we asked. Two young men are rowing from Skagway to Prince Rupert and showed us the rowing shells they’d built.
Woke to a 7 am knock on the boat. Cinnamon roll delivery! Freshly baked, still warm and yummy.
We untied and motored slowly out to avoid an entrance rock that our chart says may not be located where charted.
Motored in a little misty drizzle north to Frosty Bay. There is a small float here, and a cabin for kayakers, now vacant. Except for a couple harbor seals and juvenile eagles we seem to have this pretty anchorage to ourselves. And still have a couple more cinnamon rolls for tomorrow! Life is good.
Calm anchorage in Frosty Bay. Pulled the hook in drizzle and headed toward the zigzag Zimovia narrows, working to Wrangell. Julian took the helm and capably handsteered through narrow bottlenecks, past crab buoys and fishing boats in misty rain and little wind. Nice to have someone willing to stand out in the chill!
Pulled into Heritage Harbor at Wrangell, grabbing an open space at the long transient docks. We walked into town to stretch our legs and to explore the possibility of taking a tour boat to see the bears at Anan feasting on the salmon run, but a bit too pricey for us at $300 each (per person, not per bear).
Walked back into Wrangell to do laundry, shower, and visit the very good museum, plus collect a few groceries. Dave studied the tides and currents and we decided to tackle Wrangell Narrows in 2 days, riding a favorable current to anchor just w of Kenne Island, then carry on to Petersburg hoping to arrive at slack water.
We zigzagged up Wrangell Narrows in drizzle and radioed for a slip. The Petersburg harbormaster slotted us into the north harbor, in the heart of town, halfway in so we were out of the current when docking. Our slip is between 2 fish processing piers, and there is a distinct fishy pong to the air. Eau de Petersburg. The docks are strongly built, hinting at winter conditions here.
Petersburg is charming, neat older homes with a nordic influence, a good seafood place (bought their smoked salmon dip), good hardware and handy shopping and laundry. Good town for exploring.
John Mangus came by to measure the boat, calculating out keel placement, for a September haulout and winter storage, then drove us a couple miles south to his yard to explain how we’d be hauled out. Rather than a travelift, he has a trailer rig that drives into the water at high tide. We will motor onto it and hydraulic arms will cradle Baraka, though our weight will be on straps under our keel. We will need a 15-16 foot tide to haul out, limiting which days it can work.
Today we walked in more drizzle from town past the yard to a storage facility. For reasonable rent we will be able to empty the boat, cushions, bedding, mattress, books, etc into a dry and heated storage unit. Since mold is a big issue here, this will minimize our spring cleanup.
From Petersburg we sailed in brisk wind to Fanshaw Bay, where we set our anchor well after another boat in the anchorage warned us it was a wind tunnel with SE wind. Sure enough, we clocked 40, but well set with no fetch, we slept well.
Yesterday we sailed north to a small un-named cove just inside the entrance to Tracy Arm. We had 3 knots against us coming over the morain entrance bar. Sawyer Glacier up Tracy Arm creates a constant outbound current down the arm, no matter what the tide. We got up early today to attempt to reach Sawyer Glacier, 22 miles up the zigzag arm. As we approached each turn the bergie bits accumulated, and soon Julian and I were manning the bow with boathooks to push away the smaller bits, and call back to Dave at the helm to turn left, right, left. Up the fjord walls we could see striations from the receding glacier, waterfalls, hanging glaciers, and skinny trees clinging to sheer walls with no topsoil. We carried on, down the south arm until we could see the entire glacier, toothly fragmented blue ice. We saw several calving events, seeing the fall, then hearing the delayed roar. Seals basked on the bergs. Very cool. According to our charts we were about 2 miles inside the glacier, reflecting how much it has receded since the charts were made. Finally, we could safely go no further, with solid pack ice across the arm.
Coming back down we did the same in reverse, threading our way slowly in zigzag paths through the floes, Julian and I again shoving bits away. I bent my boathook, and we crunched a few small bits, but no damage.
Special day, unlike any experience we have had in Baraka. Tonight we are back in the un-named cove, anchor down, with small bergs sharing our anchorage.
The crabpot yielded 2 dungeness, enough for dinner.
We left Tracy Arm on the flood, skittering sideways against the current coming over the morain bar. There was a small bore across the entrance, and the fierce current towed the green buoy completely underwater, and in bursts did the same to the tall red marker. Dave gunned the throttle and we could still make a knot against the current and have steerage, but our escape from Tracy Arm was far more exciting than our entrance.
We turned the corner into dense fog. Julian manned the radar and AIS, reporting ships approaching and small bergs we were passing. In a couple hours it cleared. As we approached the entrance to Taku, two humpbacks blew and dove repeatedly. We tied up to the sturdy public dock and hiked ashore to explore a forestry cabin and the interesting ruins of a cannery, with lots of rusty gears and parts, arranged into a sculpture garden. Stacks of thin sheet iron lay curling under the old cannery pier, rusted into skewed blocks. This was the raw material for the cannery’s cans, welded onsite. Our book warns we may be visited at night by bears or river otters. Time to drop the hatchboards in.
Today we had a choice, get up at 4 am to make the Juneau bridge at low tide when it would clear our mast, or sleep in and opt for plan B, either the small marina south of the bridge, or Auke Bay, around Douglas Island to the north. The small marina was full, as the seiners were coming into port today, so we carried on to Auke. Alaska marinas won’t take reservations. Auke said they “probably” would have room, so we motor sailed north in chilly winds clocking 30, then mustered our nerve to venture inside the breakwater not knowing if there was a berth for Baraka. The gusts settled a bit as we came in, and found apparently the last transient berth available against the external breakwater. Julian flies out tomorrow and we are not far from the airport.
We explored a bit of Juneau, touristy downtown via bus, and yesterday via rental car made it NW to Echo Bay and also to the base of the Mendenhall Glacier, plus hit Costco and Safeway for groceries. This morning we leave for Glacier Bay, stopping on the way in Funter Bay or Spasski Bay and Hoonah. Our permit starts August 24. Nice stop here at Auke. We appreciated the laundry and easy access and had a great seafood meal at Hot Bites.
Left Auke Bay in sunny calm, motoring up Saginaw Channel, mountains and glaciers framing our vistas. We turned a corner to head down Lynn Channel and got 22-25 knots on the nose, lumpy seas, but a favorable current, which explained the lumpy seas. By the intersection with Icy Strait, the winds had dropped into pleasant breeze, then picked up strong from the NW as we turned the corner. Again the favorable ebb turned the seas square for a lumpy ride. We tried to make Spasski Bay and very nearly did, then decided it would be too exposed to channel seas, so we turned and ran back to Whitestone Harbor for a quiet night. Our charts showed us anchored in 3 feet of water at low tide! Though we never saw less than about 35. Teaches us not to be over-reliant on chart accuracy.
Today Icy Strait was flat calm. What a contrast to yesterday! We motored 20 miles west and tied up to the transient dock in Hoonah, a Tlingit community. A cruise ship was in. We walked a mile and a half toward it, where we enjoyed the cannery museum and people paying $148 for a zipline trip that probably worked out to be about one dollar per second. Back in town we had a delish dinner of salmon tacos and bites at Chipper’s. Nice totems and artwork around town, as the locals celebrate their heritage.
Tomorrow we will work a little more west to Flynn Cove, to position our entry into Glacier Bay on the 24th.
After a quiet night in Flynn Cove we motored across Icy Strait in calm. Our destination disappeared in fog. We called Bartlett Cove on VHF as required, before entering Glacier Bay. Except fora couple ghostly fishing boats and a misty tree-lined shore we could see little. A humpback blew off our bow. We took the boat our of gear listening for him, but didn’t see him again. Clusters of sea otters drifted by. At Bartlett we anchored and put the dinghy over, in time for the 11 am orientation, a mixture of how not to hurt living things in the park, and how to avoid those living things hurting us. Most impressive was a bear pepper spray cannister riddled with massive tooth holes.
Today we were ashore early for the tribal house celebrations. A couple centuries ago the Huna Tlingit were pushed out of Glacier Bay by a little ice age. Today they symbolically return, with the collaboration of the National Park Service.
Huna Tlingit arrived from all over SE Alaska, decked in their traditional regalia, button blanket shawls and cedar and spruce woven hats. Many clan elders wore beautifully carved and painted hats, each representing a sub-clan animal, fish or bird. Some were removed from museum displays for this occasion. Three dugout canoes approached out of the mist, with paddlers chanting and drumming, representing the return of the Huna to their homeland. This was followed by ceremonies, thanking the ancestors, donning the ceremonial regalia, thanking the trees who gave their lives to the canoes and house, and blessing the house, naming it and breathing spirit into it. A highlight was a frail elder telling the story in native tongue, of how the Huna were forced from Glacier Bay, then retelling the story in English.
Tonight we will be able to go inside the tribal house. The exterior is beautifully dressed in carved and painted cedar panels depicting the eagle and raven clans.
The participants were able to balance creating an historic and memorable day to celebrate their heritage, and to include hundreds more outsiders. We stood outside a rope barrier but clearly were welcome to watch and witness.
We will go dark for a few days as we work up the Glacier Bay fjords.
Dave rousted me early to pull anchor then let me go back to bed. We motored north 25 miles, past toothy mountains and cliffs scoured by ice up a long arm to Margerie Glacier, probably the most photographed glacier in Alaska. The Norwegian Sun cruise liner was already leaving as we approached. We angled in, zigzagging through a field of small icebergs but not nearly as dense as we experienced in Tracy Arm. Margerie was worth the trip - a wall of dirty black ice on the left, and pure blue while knife-sharp shards on the right. We were still a mile from the face but it felt like we could reach out and touch it. We heard more than saw calving, one a sonic boom. We lucked out, a clear blue sky day. Many visitors only see a wall of fog. Running back south we gybed the jib side to side as each channel funneled the wind. We are tucked into North Fingers anchorage, having it to ourselves plus a few hundred mosquitos.Tomorrow we will head toward Hoonah.
We are enjoying a second stop in Hoonah, for fuel, groceries, laundry, showers, cell and internet! All luxuries. Tomorrow we will start south toward Sitka, which we will approach via Peril Strait. Dave is timing the currents, making a plan.
We walked back out to the cannery to watch a cruise ship depart, and another to dock, each of which takes a solid hour while messenger lines are caught, then winched to pull stouter lines. Takes a big crew and significant effort.
The fuel dock attendent told us the state and Hoonah spent $19 million putting the cruise ship dock in. Now tiny Hoonah gets either 1 or 2 ships daily, May to mid-September. The cannery has been beautifully restored as a museum, making this a worthwhile stop for the ships. The locals own the cannery and hopefully keep more of the incoming cash than do other cruise ship ports.
Our harbormaster attended the Huna Huka Hit celebrations in Bartlett Cove and shared more insites and some photos of the private celebrations not open to outsiders. We feel most privileged to have been there for that special day.
We left Hoonah in flat calm, but Icy Strait decided to give us a rowdy goodbye. No sooner had Dave raised the main than I saw black water to the NE. He quickly put a reef in, in gusts of 25-30. We turned the corner into Chatham and ran south, a good sail downwind. We are surprised by how cold it is! Sunny day, but the NE wind has blown across the Juneau Ice Field, and feels like winter.
Turning into Tenakee Inlet, the gusts became flukey, laying us over between calms. As we approached Tenakee Springs, we were looking for the floating breakwater. Our guidebook says you can go around either end to approach the dock.
There are two breakwaters! The first you come to is the old one, now too near the toothy shore to pass to port. We carried on, got inside the new breakwater and tied up at the transient dock.
Tenakee Springs is an interesting town. A single dirt lane along the water passes interesting cabins and homes on stilts over the water. A few of the older cabins were log houses. Decor and signage is ecletric. Everyone has a dog, a bicycle and a dock cart. There are no cars. At the center of town is a bathhouse with warm springs, separate bathing hours for men and women.
Screaming Eagle, tied up behind us, gave us a fresh cooked crab! Nice memento of a fun stop. We left Tenakee Springs at 6 am to catch the current for an easy run down to Peril Strait. Peril separates Chichagof and Baranof islands. It turns a couple sharps elbows and has a couple narrows to hit at slack water. We motored part way westward to Appleton Cove for a quiet anchorage. On AIS we could see a gaggle of boats transitting the narrows at slack water. Our turn tomorrow.
Had Appleton to ourselves for a quiet night. Critter count zero. Where are all the bears?
Up early to motor westward sort of through Peril Strait to make Sergius Narrows at 12:30 pm slack water. We had some counter current as expected, so Dave allowed for extra time. Got there an hour and a half early, then had fun in the whirlpools tucking into Launch Cove, where we anchored to await slack. At noon we pulled anchor and rounded the corner into Canoe Passage. We still had a little current against us, then made good time through the rest of the Strait. Planned to anchor in St John Baptist but didn’t like the look of the long fetch in a NW wind, so we carried on all the way to Sitka, tucking in the NE corner of the breakwater, anchored in 50 feet.
Saturday morning Bob of Singularity called, reporting room at the Eliason transient dock. We pulled anchor and motored in past sea lions and otters, and fishing boats in a steady parade. Moorage is first come, first served in Alaska marinas so we were happy to grab a spot. Beautiful sunny day. Once settled in we walked into town. Dave bought a single gallon of bottom paint. We aren’t due to paint, but when we haul in Petersburg he’s thinking there might be a few bare scrapes from the bergie bits.
We walked on to explore, meeting a Tlingat in his shop who explained subsistance hunting for otters and walrus. After the otters were very nearly extinct by over-harvestion, first by Russians, then the Americans, the otter became protected. They bounced back, and now are themselves stressing the crab and mussel populations. Natives are allowed to hunt them, and make and sell handicrafts made from their parts to non-natives. The man said some tourists came into his shop and screamed at him for hunting otters. I’m guessing if they weren’t so playful and cute no one would mind. Our sympathies are with the natives who have lost so much. Supporting their right to harvest is a very small reparation.
Yesterday’s walk took us past town to. salmon weir/hatchery. The poor salmon are trying to make it upstream to spawn, and are instead corralled at the hatchery where they will be killed and gutted for eggs and sperm. They are dying anyway, and the hatchery greatly increases the chance for offspring. Seagulls stand on the banks to snag the stragglers.
We walked out to the totem trail - a wonderful winding course through woods and along the bank of Indian Creek, also full of spawning salmon. The trail was dotted with traditional totems, reproductions of earlier versions carved by native artists.
Sitka offers a lot to see, and seems less touristy than the other stops along the cruise ship route.
We have been hitting all the tourist sites, the great totem park / rainforest trail, the Sheldon Jackson museum, the raptor center where injured eagles are rehabbed, the fish weir and hatchery, Indian River choked with spawning salmon, and lunch at the chowderhouse. We walk some 20k steps daily according to my fitbit. Sitka has offered a lot to see. Fun to share all this with son Joel, who joined us last night.
A storm is due tonight and tomorrow, delaying our plan to be underway by now. An “atmospheric river” is predicted, bringing -YIkes! - 2 to 5 inches of rain tomorrow. Storm is the band between gale and hurricane, so we are double tied to the sturdy dock, with extra lines tying the dinghy down on the foredeck. Glad we got in some siteseeing. Tomorrow we will be hunkered down on storm watch.
The gale blew out at Sitka, though we still had the downpour tail end of the “atmospheric river”. We have rarely had rain like that, seemingly in sheets, even in the tropics. We untied anyway very early to make slack water at Sergius Narrows in Peril Strait. Made good time and anchored for an hour in Schultz Bay, then motored through just before slack.
Underway I saw what I thought was a smooth iceberg very close to the boat. Whew, glad I hadn’t run into it! About then it blew and dove, spraying the cockpit.
We ran all the way to Appleton, where we enjoyed a rare dinner in the sunny cockpit.
Weather looked great for Sunday, but deteriorating on Monday, so we sadly skipped Warm Springs and hustled in flat conditions but fog all the way to Chapin Cove on the south side of Admiralty. Our book claims there is one grizzly per square mile. We watched but the critter count is still zero.
Today we again got up at first light for a third long day, all the way to Petersburg. We lucked out, no rain and only light to moderate winds on the nose. Our treat today was many humpback sightings, lots of spouts, tail slapping and a few airborn leaps. They were everywhere in Frederick Sound. Some spouting was so dense it resembled fireworks. Two paused on the surface next to us while we motored by, then blew and crossed our wake.
We pulled into Petersburg and scored a slip in the north harbor, in the heart of town. We are here early, giving us a couple extra days to mothball Baraka for the winter. Strong winds and heavy rain is forecast starting tonight. Good to not still be underway looking for safe anchorages or bashing to weather!
Baraka is safely on the hard, pulled out of the water here in Petersburg for the winter. The yard is 2 miles south of the town. We booked into an airbnb while we winterize the boat. Dave bought a dehumidifier, and we rented a nearby heated storage unit. Hopefully we will return in spring to a mildew-free boat.
We moved all cushions, bedding, books, anything absorbant into the storage unit. I will wipe down all interior surfaces with white vinegar. Dave is winterizing engine, genset, watermaker, batteries, and freshwater systems. We are stripping the exterior of foresails and all loose items. The yard looks secure, and they did a great job setting us up with lots of hardstands. We will engage someone to check on the boat, but feel very confident we are in a good place.
Monday we fly home. End of a fun summer season cruising north!