Saturday, July 5, 2014

Alaskan encore

May 1st came and the first real signs of summer with it. The sight of excited people and our friends leaving for Alaska was too much for us and we decided to cast off the lines and head north again for the summer, a few weeks earlier than we had originally planned.
Dawn start

Given that we were leaving 3 weeks later than last year we decided that we would put in some long days and make some good progress up to Alaska. We cleared customs in Friday harbor and headed over to Bedwell harbor to clear Canadian customs and then made our way on to Montague harbor for a restful night before our next passage on to Nanaimo.

It was wonderful to be off the dock, on our way north and back into the simple cruising lifestyle. We have so much to look forward to including my father joining us in Ketchikan.
After a quick overnight stop in Nanaimo and a Canadian vegetable shop we departed on a long leg to the Octopus islands. The winds were with us and we had a lovely sail up the Strait of Georgia and into the group of islands just as it was getting dark.

The following day we decided to get another early start for the morning ebb tide through Okisillo channel and up Johnstone Strait. Last year we seemed to have everything against us, wind and current and our progress was slow. This year was totally contrary and not only did we have the current with us but 20-25 knots of wind behind us to we raised the sails and make excellent progress all the way to Port McNeill attaining a speed of 12knots over ground at one stage, an all time record for us under sail.

Another quick provision and fuel stop we took the favorable forecast for SE winds and made a dawn start for our crossing of Queen Charlotte sound and into Fury Cove. The winds were light at first but soon picked up and we had a great sail to the entrance to the cove.       

The next few days we made early starts with the draw of Bishop Bay hot Springs making them easier. We have not had much luck with crabbing but we have caught a good amount of Prawns near Shearwater. Yum.

After a brief stop in Butedale to see if Lou was there we went on to Bishop Bay although there was only one other small boat on the dock we used a mooring buoy rather than tying up to the dock as there was a sign limiting it to 30 ft boats. Ah well. We were soon enjoying our lovely warm soak in the springs. We stayed one additional day and then made our way up Granville channel to Lowe Inlet where we again had great success with the prawning. We now have enough to last us a few weeks.

Onwards to Prince Rupert. We avoided staying in town, instead staying in Pillsbury Cove, just near the start to Venn passage. We went ashore and spent the afternoon walking along the beach and trying to find the petro glyph, which we failed to do.

Another early start for our journey across the border to Ketchikan. The forecasts were accurate and we raised the sails soon after entering Dixon entrance and were making 9knots over ground with 25-30knots on our beam. Great sailing. The skies were clear and we arrived in Ketchikan around 5:30pm, called customs who came to the boat and issued us a 1 year cruising certificate. For a change it was not raining in Ketchikan.

We had about two weeks to wait before Rog was due to arrive from London so we decided that it was the perfect opportunity to visit Behm Canal and Misty Fjords. Our first night was spent in Naha bay tied up at the dock which we had to ourselves for a day. We had heard that the nearby lagoon was worth kayaking around and we used the specially built portage run to take the kayaks into the lagoon. There is also a great trail that leads around the northern part of the lagoon.

We visited Yes bay, which had been recommended to us by Bill who runs the lovely adventure tour ships Catalyst and Westward, and it was not a disappointment. We spent a few lazy days there visiting various islands, crabbing and walking up to see a beaver dam.

Fitzgibbon cove yielded our biggest catch of crab ever:-14 big boys, most of which we had to put back as we simply could not eat them.

Onwards to see Waterton and Punchbowl inlets, both spectacular destinations with classical shear granite walls rising up from the ocean to over 4,000 feet high. Quite spectacular.  As all the anchorages had people in them we headed over to shoalwater pass and anchored near the forest service cabin and used the fire pit there to have a roaring fire and toasted marshmallows.

Having managed to pass away two weeks it was time to head back to Ketchikan, civilization and pick up Roger and continue onwards. However our hearts sank as Jude had a message from Australia saying that he father had taken a turn for the worse. On arrival in Ketchikan Jude called home and it was decided that she should get on a plane as soon as possible. Accordingly a flight was booked for the following day to Sydney and Jude departed the following morning only a few hours before Roger arrived.

Rog and I did our provisioning in Ketchikan taking on enough food for about three weeks and we headed off. Before we left we heard that Jude’s father had passed away, surrounded by his family and in peace. We mourned his passing and thought of everybody back in Sydney and what they must be going through. Yefim was a wonderful man, much respected and admired.

Over the next few days we made our way to Wrangell to meet up with John and his wonderful dog Phoebe. We have not been to Wrangell before so it was good to see a new Alaskan town. We had a meal out with John and did some vegetable provisioning before we departed towards Petersburg and to meet up with some other friends, Phil and Gerri, whom we wintered in Friday Harbor with. We were assigned a slip alongside them and spent the evening together and the following evening Gerri cooked a delicious meal, which even Katya ate, and we got stuck into the scotch.

I had a well deserved hangover the following day and the thought of a long passage was not that welcoming but I soon felt better as we got underway and had a strong cup of tea. We made our way to Chapin cove on the south side of Admiralty island where we had the anchorage to ourselves and enjoyed some rare sunshine.

I had to take Roger to see warm springs before we headed over to Tracy arm to see the Sawyer glaciers. We managed to squeeze on the dock at Warm springs and we indulged in both the natural springs and the baths, having several lovely soaks each day we were there.

Cannery cove was our next stop and at first we had the anchorage to ourselves and then 6 other boats turned up. We waited out a passing low which bought much rain, which when it cleared left clouds of mist rolling at the head of the anchorage.

Our passage over to Tracy Arm cove was uneventful but we did manage to get a bit of sailing in before the winds died down.

Fortune was shining on us for our trip up Tracy arm to see the glaciers as the sun shone and the cruise ships, or any other large vessels were absent. The ice did not seem anywhere near as thick as last year and we were only a week later. As we headed back down Tracy arm we passed a “Beyond the Stars” a Hanse sailboat with a crew from Victoria BC.

Our short 3 hour trip to Taku harbor turned into a great sail as soon as we excited Tracy arm. 25-30 knots of wind from behind and the current with us gave us a great run although it got a bit choppy as we passed on large inlet. Tying up to the dock in Taku was great, just so we could stretch our legs after being boat bound for 5 days. We walked along to look at the old cannery and Tiger Olsen’s old cabin and played on the swing. We spent two days in Taku walking and talking to the locals along with meeting up with the crew of Beyond the Stars.

3 weeks seems to have passed quite quickly and it was time to head to Juneau to meet up with Jude, Gaba, our niece, and her good friend Maddy. I decided that we would go Auke bay rather than downtown Juneau being cheaper to stay and closer to the airport and good old Costco for our provisioning.

The girls arrived on time and I picked them up in a car which we had hired so that we could also do the provisioning. The tranquility experienced over the past few was about to be shattered, albeit in a nice way. All available space on the boat was going to be used either to sleep or for food storage. 6 people on a 48 foot boat.

Fully laden with people food and fuel we set off for Swanson harbor and on towards Elfin cove. We attempted to get into Glacier bay but we could not get a permit, shame as it would have been good for the girls to see the glaciers.   

Elfin cove was as delightful as ever and we took the opportunity to eat out at the local bar and stretch our legs and buy some Ben and Jerry’s ice cream.

We departed Elfin cove to head on the outside, or open ocean, to Didrikson bay. We saw some Puffins and caught 3 large Rockfish in somewhat wobbly conditions.

We transited Ogden passage and smooth channel on our way towards Kalinin bay stopping off to watch an acrobatic display from a passing Humpback whale. On arrival we did some exploring and the Gaba and Maddy had their first bear encounter, seeing an adolescent grizzly eating grass on the fringes on the inlet.

Kalin bay has a great hike, which takes about 4 hours, to sea-lion cove which has a sandy beach which is reported to be used by the Sitka surfers. I stayed behind to stay with Roger and dropped the girls off at the trailhead. There was another group of walkers at the trailhead who were also doing the walk.

A couple of hours after I dropped the girls off at the trail head I went out to look for the bar the girls had seen the previous day. Sure enough there he was sitting down munching grass in the same spot. I watched him for a while and then he started making his way over to where I was supposed to pick the girls up after their walk. I waited to warn the girls and direct them to an alternative pick up place.  The girls were all very excited on their return and retold a story of their bear encounter when they started the walk. It turned out that there was a grizzly bear sitting on the trail eating grass. The man who headed the party of other walkers slowly approached the bear trying to move him off the trail. The bear ignored the man and continued eating grass. The man approached nearer again trying to move bear off the track. Still no joy. The man then took out his bear (pepper) spray and gave the bear a full frontal spray but the bear was not bothered. The man moved to within about 15 feet of the bear and again sprays the bear and still no moving. Eventually the bear slowly moved off the track seemingly unconcerned by the walkers or the bear spray.

We departed for Sitka the following morning a four hour journey through a couple of narrows which were easily transited. We tied up at the dock and went to see if we could find Mike who we had met last year. Unfortunately we had missed him by a only a few hours.