Susan & Mike Dey head to Alaska – 2018
May 1, 2018
his year we have decided to leave Seattle in time to reach Alaska before the commercial crabbing season begins there on June 14. That works well because the AK locals say the best weather is in June. The issue about arriving ahead of the commercial crabbing season is mostly about finding anchorage in the bays and coves without their being filled with crab pots and no place to anchor. But we also get first shot at the crab. We allow 7 days to get to Port Hardy, BC, 7 days from Port Hardy to Prince Rupert, BC, and then 5 more days to Petersburg, AK. That is going straight through, and then we slow down for the remainder of the cruise. There are pluses and minuses to leaving in early May but for us, it works well.
Our summer cruising always begins with bringing Roamer from the marina to our house to swap out her inflatable tender for our slower, scrappy, but considerably more functional aluminum skiff.
That little journey takes about 40 minutes down the Duwamish River to salt water, then another 45 minutes out of Seattle’s Elliott Bay south to Fauntleroy Cove. It’s always interesting to take in the industrial activity along the river, to see a very different aspect of the city than usual.
Today, a tug fleet, with one of many bridges in the distance.
Seattle has quite a few draw bridges to accommodate the maritime traffic. Here’s looking up:
As always, barges get loaded and offloaded, heading to and from Alaska. The fixed vertical fins projecting into the water at the stern of the barge keep it in line behind the tug. In the far distance, another bridge (one of three ways in and out of West Seattle, where we live.)
This bulk carrier is taking on gypsum, used in concrete and wallboard, plaster of Paris, soil conditioner, and more. To provide perspective on size, note the crew in orange on the second deck below the orange life craft.
A break in the industrial activity reveals the mud flats characteristic of this area before the straight channel was dredged. It is cause to reflect upon the Duwamish People who once lived along these shores.
What’s new at the dry docks? Today, from right to left, a Washington State Ferry being refurbished, a new ferry finishing construction (left of the tall crane), a Coast Guard Cutter with the black mast (red hull not visible), and a research vessel (blue hull). A glimpse of downtown Seattle is in the background.
I always enjoy the Seattle skyline. One of the things that I love most is the [white] Smith Tower at the far right, immediately next to a red maritime crane. Until 1931 it was the tallest building west of the Mississippi River, and in our lifetime alone, it went from the tallest building in Seattle to well, not so much.
And so we arrive home, with plenty of daylight left for Mike to make last minute preparations for tomorrow’s departure for Alaska. This trip will be a bit different, as I will remain home for a week while a friend crews to the north end of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Then the friend and I will exchange places, and my Sweetie and I will continue northward along the BC coastline, into Southeast Alaska.
Susan and Mike
Peggy Sue Drury
#2 Port Hardy to Fannie Cove
May 13, 2018 – According to plan, a week after Roamer departed Seattle, Susan flew north to rendezvous with Mike and Roamer in Port Hardy, at the north end of Vancouver Island. Perfect timing, for we arrived within a few hours of each other.
It’s one thing for one’s sensibilities to evolve with time on a boat, but a bit of a shock to go from city-pace to water-rhythm in just a few hours. The process was eased somewhat by being greeted at the Vancouver airport by traditionally carved figures (man and woman) with arms outstretched in welcome, and transferring from a large jet to a small regional carrier where one doesn’t need to request a window seat.
After a couple of days to fuel and clean the boat, bring aboard ice and groceries, we were ready to head north into less populated waters.
Cape Caution always intimidates. Despite our many crossings, we always check and double check approaching weather and remind ourselves of where the safe harbors are along the way. While it certainly can be rough and we have spent time anchored in a nearby cove waiting for winds to diminish, it’s not a difficult a trip in “reasonable” conditions. About three hours out of Port Hardy we reached the go/no-go point. With the wind at 10-15 knots and ocean swells at only three feet, it was a definite Go. We figured that we could be around the cape and out of the most vulnerable area before the wind picked up to 20+ knots in the early afternoon. At about half way, the wind shifted direction and the rollers increased to 4 feet, cause for stowing things in the deep sink and otherwise wedging items that could fly. We loped along for several hours, and decided that the next day’s predicted high winds warranted passing Mill Brook Cove in favor of the next safe harbor.
Fury Cove was a delightful bay with prawns in the deep-water entrance and clams on the intertidal beaches. During the summer, the cove can be occupied by several vessels but this early in the season, we had it all to ourselves. The anchorage was secure and sheltered, with a good view of the open waters of Fitz Hugh Sound. We watched as the Sound was whipped into a frenzy of spray blown from the tops of whitecaps (indicating 20-30 knot winds), while we sat on the aft deck in our calm bay watching the sun go down. On our way out in the morning we brought up enough prawns for a couple of dinners.
Stopper Group of islands
Today was an idyllic day of blue sky and slow meandering to explore new islands. We took 6 hours to cover what we could have done in three…it was that kind of day. We navigated a most circuitous route of passages through islands of all sizes. We stopped to watch a humpback whale feeding in an area where we observed the same activity the last two years, and happened onto an area densely populated by sea otters floating about on their backs, flipper-feet slowly paddling them about. Oh-so-cute with their round faces and long whiskers, but they were quite shy, so no photos. One of the things about sea otters that we have begun to appreciate is how quickly they are recovering after being hunted almost to extinction for their luxuriously soft pelts. Such a delight to watch them in their usual floating pose, dining with their frontside as their table…too many shell fragments? Not a problem! Just grab the remaining morsels in their hands, and a quick rollover cleans the table. We can envision that as the otters continue to spread, there will be conflict, for they eat crab like there is no tomorrow and the slow moving crab have little to no defense against them. The crabbing industry will want the otters to be taken off the endangered species list, to be hunted again, but this time, to protect the crab.
We found an obscure anchorage, enjoyed a quiet evening, and took advantage of the morning low tide to do some clamming. Guess what was on the menu for dinner. (When we get a new batch of clams or oysters we are always careful to eat but one and wait for a half-hour to check for seasonal red tide toxin…tingling lips and tongue… before digging in.)
This was a return visit to a spot we enjoyed last year. It was a long narrow bay, perhaps 200’ wide, with evergreens all around and a small meadow at the head. It was also a fabulous echo chamber!!
Upon anchoring this afternoon, we read and snoozed in 75 degree sunshine, compared to some 20 degrees cooler this same time a year ago. Even now, at almost 8:30 in the evening, we are on the aft deck, absorbing the warmth and quiet enveloping us. At the moment, it is profoundly silent.
But earlier, it was not so. First the mew gulls arrived, milling about in the sky and water, their shrill cries sounding like squeak-toys, in real time and echoing off the enclosing hills. When they departed, we appreciated the quiet song of the varied thrushes in the woods, and occasional robins marking their territories with song. Then came the 30 minute premier performance by a solitary wolf working the edge between meadow and beach, with repeated low ruff-ruff-ruff followed by high pitched yowling. Again, and again, and again, and again….. At first, we were annoyed by whoever was letting their dog incessantly bark and interrupt our quiet evening. But once we spotted and watched him, we properly appreciated the concert and the dramatic echoing that the site provided. From the way he moved, it was clear that he was relatively well fed and what looked like ribs was his fur. Mike howled back but the wolf was …… not impressed.
Let me not forget to mention the mergansers swimming along with their faces under water…they should sport little swim goggles. And the eagles, king fishers, and shore birds that contributed to the picture and sound-scape. And the red throated loons quacking in flight as they searched for a place to overnight on the water.
How does one describe the depth of the silence? There was nothing. Then a robin sang in the foreground. And quiet. Then a thrush in the forest deeper in the cove. Then another thrush. And between and around them, Silence. Not even wavelets lapping about the boat. Total quiet. It called for speaking, if at all, with hushed voices.
Good night from Fannie Cove, Hunter Island, BC
Susan and Mike
#3 Khutze Inlet to Lowe Inlet
May 16,2018 – One of the pleasures of traveling north this early in the year is the many waterfalls fed by snowmelt. They first become visible as they pour into the salt water, such as the one, center, below.
The surprise awaits until one is closer and the stream reveals more of itself. We never tire of the sequence, as demonstrated by this stream. This one is lake fed and runs year round but in a few months it will be very reduced, and others will stop flowing altogether.
Blue sky always makes a travel day feel shorter than do rain, low overcast, or fog. Today, although long, was sunny, and we found that we had this beautiful inlet to ourselves. We had learned years before where to set our crab pots here, so we weren’t particularly disturbed by the strings of commercial pots set in deeper water. (Below, there are four waterfalls exiting to the right of the orange flag, which marks one of our pots.)
Last year when we were here, we sat on the aft deck in the sun wearing parkas. This time around it was warmer by 20 degrees, in the 70s, and happy hour and dinner on the aft deck with the view above were pure pleasure. (The water temperature both years was 47 degrees.)
Later we were joined by a beautifully refurbished 1931 small cruise ship (Discovery) on her way to Alaska for the season. Her delightful owner-captain was happy to share her history.
The best part about Lowe inlet is anchoring just in front of the falls. The trick is to find the sweet spot where the anchor holds in shallow water and the stream ushers the boat into deeper water. Only one boat can fit, and we always relish when it is us. There is anchorage farther into the inlet, where Nettle Basin opens into meadow. Those boats may not have the waterfall, but a view of any wildlife along the shore and grassland.
Good night from Lowe Inlet, Grenville Channel, BC
Susan and Mike
#4 Prince Rupert, BC to Petersburg, AK
May 29, 2018 – The last stop in British Columbia was Prince Rupert, where we stopped to take on fuel and water, do laundry and a bit of grocery shopping. We had planned on a lazy day to do a few last-minute things, but when the marine weather station reported a storm approaching faster than had been previously forecast, it didn’t take long to ditch those plans. Within two hours we were on our way north to cross Dixon Entrance into Alaska. Like Cape Caution to the south, the crossing is open to the Pacific, in this case the Gulf of Alaska. In a boat our size, one can wait days, even weeks, for sufficiently favorable conditions to make the passage. The approaching weather indicated that our best option was to get as far as Ketchikan, which would make for a long day. Ours was an uneventful transit, with low chop and well-spaced 2 foot rollers off the Pacific. Our intuition paid off, as the high winds stuck around for several days. We were pleased to be in safe harbor in Ketchikan for 3 nights.
This year our moorage in Ketchikan was closer to the Action. Mostly, “Action” means shops catering to the big cruise ships in port (as many as four at a time!). Our dock was south, just beyond the cruise ship area and exited into a funky little neighborhood that we quite enjoyed. After our 9 hour trip from Prince Rupert, a visit to a tavern was in order. We arrived at the nearest pub toward the end of a baby shower (!) and birthday celebration, with the place filled with friends, and babies, and kids playing in the street in front. We were immediately invited to help ourselves to the pot-luck buffet, which provided opportunity to ask where to find a grocery store… and conversations took off from there. It was very fun, very local.
Ketchikan has a reputation for being wet and on this visit, we managed to get a big dose of its annual 153 inches. But when it wasn’t raining, wandering the docks, as always, was good entertainment.
The anemones adorning the floats were like gardens.
Halibut hooks were at the ready.
One of many purse seine skiffs was dressed in “traditional” bow rigging.
When the Chief Engineer is in the shower and says, “Uh Oh,” it’s not a good sign.
The First Mate headed in that direction, and upon hearing the gray water pump grinding, knew to throw the circuit breaker. The short version of the tale is that Mike got to spend several hours hunkered in the forward bilge replacing the sick pump with the backup pump that we had onboard. The irony was that just three days prior, he had cannibalized the backup pump to fix the now-grinding one. But in the end, we once again had a functioning system.
Not a deep water port, big cruise ships bypass this tidy, friendly little town. When it wasn’t raining, we enjoyed exploring the muskeg bog behind town, via boardwalk paths leading from one neighborhood to another.
In town we found blue poppies
And a fun garage side.
Petersburg was proud of its Norwegian heritage, with some of the shops and older homes decorated with traditional rosemaling. The local grocery store contributed to the flavor with its Norwegian department signage.
Enough stormy weather, already! We spent extra days in Ketchikan, and close to a week in Petersburg, waiting for winds to subside. Remaining in port gave shelter from the gale force winds out in open waters but didn’t save us from the rain. After getting soaked several times here and in Ketchikan, enthusiasm for leaving the boat waned and we contented ourselves with reading. We were happy to have brought along a generous supply of books.
Greetings from Petersburg, Alaska
Susan and Mike
Greetings from Petersburg, Alaska
Susan and Mike
#5 Petersburg to Windfall Harbor
May 31, 2018 – Departing Petersburg would be the springboard to wandering, exploring, taking side trips, doing what amused us. Our northward travel had been relatively focused on “getting there” in order to maximize our time to explore more of SE Alaska, then slowly work our way home.
Hallelujah! The wind had blown itself out, and we were under way again. Blue sky was overhead, yet dark clouds still obscured the interior mountains that we knew were there, somewhere. Every once in a while, we were treated to a glimpse.
As we nosed out into Frederick Sound, what we took for fishing boats strung along the far shore (above) turned out to be icebergs. Some of them were as big as we were, and that was just the 1/3 showing above the waterline.
Not only were we in glacier country, but whale country as well. Especially over the next few weeks, we were kept busy timing and counting spouts to figure out how many whales were in the current group we were tracking. Or was it a mother and a young one? Humpback or Gray? Shallow dives, deep dives marked by showing flukes, “logging” as in lying on the surface like a great log. Several times we crossed paths with pods of 6-8 orcas (“killer whales”) feeding with intense chasing and thrashing about, also socializing and engaging in antics of breaching, cart wheeling, tail lobbing. Whatever was going on, it was always a great show.
#6 Tracy Arm Cove and Dawes Glacier
June 2, 2018 – How could we resist a visit to Dawes Glacier when we were in glacier country and the entrance to its channel was literally just over the hill from our anchorage? Being in a boat, however, over the hill wasn’t an option and it took most of a day to get around the interfering peninsula. The weather was low overcast, but the water was good for traveling.
Entering and leaving Holkham Bay from Stephens Passage requires attention to the local navigational chart, for despite the seeming open water, the safe passage is relatively narrow, between channel markers signaling shoals on either side. Numerous bergs were floating about, definitely adding to the scene. There were bus-size bergs, and some as large as two story houses. That they retained their glacier-blue coloring was to be marveled at.
When in glacier country, one needs to have proper ice for drinks! Mike netted a piece of floating ice for chipping. It had the appearance of a curious internal “netting” that left no residue upon melting. It must have to do with compression within the glacier. We would appreciate an explanation from someone versed in crystal formation. The photo below is of the chunk of ice that Mike brought aboard. It has not been enlarged.
It was a pleasant day’s journey up Endicott Arm to view Dawes Glacier. The floating ice and bergs were getting fairly thick as we approached, and the tide had just begun to come in, which would compress everything toward the glacier. Rather than risk getting trapped, we stayed outside the floating bergs. The power of glaciers never fails to impress, their ability to carve and to carry as they slowly flow along. For scale, consider that the bergs at the far right of the photo were probably larger than we were.
Back at Tracy Arm Cove, we had what we considered the choice anchor spot. Despite the low sky, the view was grand. A bit of the shore protecting our cove at lower right provides some scale.
One evening a small group of people from another boat went ashore for a walk along the beach. A young fellow was returning alone in the dingy to their boat when he fell overboard and the dingy, still in gear, began running about on its own. The water temperature was paralyzingly cold, somewhere around 40 degrees. Egad. Initially he attempted to swim after the dingy. We shouted that we would collect the dingy; he needed to focus on getting to shore. Despite being burly and in his mid-20s, wearing a life jacket and less than 50 feet from shore, he struggled to make it. The people on the beach kept shouting at him to not give up. We had our skiff down in record time and delivered the wayward dingy as well as a dry jacket and a blanket. Someone on the beach stripped and gave him his dry clothes to put on. Despite age and fitness, the Wet One was a very different guy when he got in the dinghy to get him back to the mother ship. He didn’t argue with anyone about giving him help or rushing him back. Surely he was impressed by how difficult it was for him to function in that water after even 5 minutes. They got him back to the boat and when everyone was back aboard, they departed straight away for Juneau rather than spend the night in the cove as was intended. It was a most sobering experience!
No bears this year…. too early. It would be several weeks until the berries along the shore would ripen, which they were feeding on when we saw them here last year. But our second morning served up a wolf with our breakfast. He was trotting alongside the beach, occasionally pausing to nose at something interesting. Just when he was getting close enough to photograph, he angled off into the woods.
For fun, we dropped our shrimp pot out in the larger bay in a location that we thought would be conducive to their presence. What we pulled up was a basket of some 15 sea snails. They were actually quite large, at about 2 to 3 inches long. Having no idea what the sea snails would taste like, we cooked up a couple as if they were clams. WOW! If one favors intense garlic and lemon, these would be perfect. A small one might serve to flavor a seafood stew for 20, but they were not at all appetizing solo, and all 14 and a half of them were quickly returned to their home. It was an interesting experiment, however! The variation in their shells was striking, as was the little shell “door” attached to the side of their foot, that they pulled closed for protection.
Greetings from Tracy Arm Bay, Holkham Bay, Stephens Passage, Alaska
Susan and Mike
#7 Kake to Ushk Bay
June 2018 – Kake
We stopped into Kake on Kupreanof Island, a Native town, to top off our fuel, to be certain we had enough to make Sitka. The fuel dock had been destroyed by a storm over winter, so we had to make an appointment for fuel to be delivered by truck to the municipal dock. Having time on our hands, we walked along the highway toward town, but didn’t get there before it was time to turn around to meet the fuel truck.
We spotted a couple of nice pieces of traditional form line carving along the way. One was posted like a sign on the side of a run-down building. The segment of unpainted “contemporary interpretation” particularly caught our attention.
The stairs and porch of this house were cluttered, but the door was beautiful.
We were fueled up and a few hours underway when … What’s This??!! The navigation system in the salon up and died. As in Dead. Lost its brains. It was an example of why one maintains a backup system and/or a full set of charts. While we could manage the navigating using paper charts or the iPad, the greatest loss was the depth sounder. Rocks and depths for anchoring are critical issues to know. Although not at all convenient (especially in lousy weather), it turned out the depth sounder on the [open] flying bridge still functioned, so we could manage shallow waters and anchoring. We had a third, even more patchwork backup if need be. It did leave us feeling rather vulnerable, operating with such a patchwork of systems…would another shoe drop soon? After the distance we had traveled, we had no intention of letting a technological glitch interfere with our trip.
The next several days blessed us with our first grizzly sighting, river otters hunting and feeding, a humpback whale slowly feeding along the rocky shoreline in a cove where we were anchored, deer, red-throated and Pacific loons, harlequin ducks, and more. Winds in the channels were strong so most of what we saw was in the quiet coves where we anchored.
Heading to, and again from, Sergius Narrows and Sitka, we spent several nights in Ushk Bay, Chichagof Island, which has become one of our many “favorite” spots. A grizzly sow and her three yearling cubs in a nearby meadow kept us well entertained. Two of the cubs were often interested in tussling and sparring, and one time they landed on top of the third who was busy grazing. Rather than joining the fray, it moved away to continue grazing, suggesting that it was a female and the two “fighters” were males. On our return trip from Sitka, we were pleased to find our bear family still in residence in “our” meadow. Monitoring their activities kept us busy, for we never knew what they might be up to.
Mom, here, weighed well over 500 pounds and the cubs were considerably beyond their roly-poly cuteness.
Due to high wind, we stayed put for several days. Mike set and reset the crab pots several times at the mouth of a stream until he located the sweet spot. Suddenly we had 50 legal Dungeness in our two pots, way more than we could keep, or even wanted. Such a problem! We kept within our limit taking only a few of the largest, and enjoyed their sweet briny taste (crab sandwiches for lunch, crab Louis and crack-and-eat crab for dinners), as well as getting packages of crab meat into the freezer. We were reminded that it is possible to become satiated on crab. Fortunately, it’s only a temporary condition, best treated by changing the menu for a few days, with ample doses of reading and afternoon naps.
Greetings from Ushk Bay, Chichagof Island, Alaska
Susan and Mike
June 2018 – Sitka
Sitka was again on our must-visit list. It’s a very walkable town with a rich history, being the center of Russian Orthodoxy in Alaska and the capital of Russian America before Alaska was sold to the US in 1867. Since political and religious history were discussed in posts from our 2015 visit, those topics won’t be pursued in any depth here. Upon request, those posts will happily get resent.
The town grew up around its wooden cathedral, which was lost to fire in 1966. The cathedral was rebuilt on the same site using the original blueprints and equivalent materials. Today, Sitka’s main street divides to go around St. Michael’s Cathedral, preserving its prominent status in the community.
We enjoyed revisiting the national historic park located at the edge of town, with its wide paths through a forest of Sitka spruce. Of particular pleasure was a two mile section with intermittent totem poles along the coastal path. The original totems were collected from Haida and Tlingit villages, with most displayed at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. The totems currently displayed are replicas, for the original totems were removed to protected storage to prevent further deterioration. Each totem along the walk has signage describing its origin and symbols, definitely helpful when attempting to “read” them.
The forest also provided a shortcut to the Raptor Center, an impressive rescue and rehab operation, with injured birds arriving from all over the region. Recovering eagles that have potential for release back into the wild are moved into a colossal aviary with space for up to forty birds to fly and exercise at the same time. There were perhaps 20 bald eagles in residence at the time, at different stages of recovery. Salmon and goat carcasses were strategically placed on logs, rocks, draped in crotches of trees to simulate how food might be found in real life. There was always an ample supply so the eagles would not learn to associate food with humans, as they would with a “feeding time” schedule. Birds that would never fly were released into immense outdoor enclosures with natural habitat, to reside with their permanently injured brethren (below).
Some of the up-close enclosures provided opportunity to be within a few feet of birds of prey ranging from tiny saw-whet owls with an 18 inch wingspan, to eagles with wingspans of 6-8 feet. Amazing. And oh, those eagle talons!
The Sheldon Jackson Museum was a revisit-favorite, and we wished that we had allotted more time to it (we didn’t realize how early it closed).
In addition to the display cabinets arranged by region, visitors were encouraged to explore the drawers of smaller implements that complemented them. Drawers are on both sides of the short display cases right of center, above.
The museum was small, but densely populated with artifacts. It deserves its own post, which is forthcoming.
There was a final, and memorable, event at the dock in Sitka. Mike had been troubleshooting the ill navigation system, and narrowed it to be a failure within the display unit, not something system-wide. With some trepidation, he switched out the unit at the helm in the salon for the one on the flybridge. There was a great sigh of relief when everything sprang to life at the main helm and functioned appropriately. So nice to be back to “normal” again!
Greetings from Sitka, Baranof Island, AK
Susan and Mike
#9 Sitka 2
In the late 1800s, Sheldon Jackson, a Presbyterian missionary and federal education agent, traveled throughout Alaska collecting items of daily living. He was concerned that native cultures would entirely disappear, due to the absence of written language and pressure to assimilate into White culture. Ironically, while Jackson valued indigenous arts and crafts, he considered their beliefs and customs to be heathen, and the people in need of conversion to Christianity and European ways.
While other collectors sent their items to major universities and museums around the world, Jackson’s acquisitions remained in Sitka, with the Sheldon Jackson Museum opening in 1888. Jackson wanted assimilated indigenous people to know what their heritage had been.
Here are a few of the many items that commanded our attention:
A hand sewn dry suit of seal skins. It was generously sized to keep a fully clothed man dry and warm as he worked in the [cold] water for hours during whale butchering. And we think that we developed the dry suit!
Bone armor. Effective against knives/clubs/spears/arrows, but of limited value when guns were introduced into combat.
Consider that during this time everything was made by hand. These bones were cut and holes were drilled using simple tools. How many hours went into its construction? How much did it weigh?
We were struck by the strong human need for beauty, overlaid on function.
Here, from a different region, wood armor with neck protection.
In the wet coastal climate, clothing made of fish skin kept its wearer dry. The piecing of the skins and elegant stitching and contrasting borders made for some stunning apparel.
Fish skin and seal gut pullover. Everything was hand stitched, and water proof.
Even fish skin storage bags were beautiful.
A storage bag made of seal gut.
The examples of warm outer clothing were beautiful, with different furs and decorations. This child’s bird breast parka was the most unusual one, in our estimation.
Greetings from the Sheldon Jackson Museum, Sitka, AK
Susan and Mike