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Hanging Around Sitka

Over our past cruises, we’ve visited seven of SE Alaska’s communities that are accommodative of transient pleasure craft. Of those, Sitka is our favorite (although, they all have their charms). It is large enough that it has all the services we need while cruising but not so large that you can’t do everything by foot. It only gets 3 to 5 cruise ships a week versus 3 to 5 a day that Ketchikan and Juneau get. Lastly, it has the longstanding Sitka Summer Music Festival which focuses on chamber music and is in full swing during June.

Our Sitka schedule this year was to tend to boat chores during the day and then go out in the evening to a music festival event. The main venue for the formal concerts is the Cape Burunoff - Povorotni PointHarrigan Centennial Hall, a stunning setting that looks out over southeastern entrance to the harbor.

We arrived in Sitka on June 20 and departed on Saturday, June 23. After that we cruised and anchored out four nights in some of the pleasant anchorages south of town. While Sitka is on the outer coast of Baranov Island, you can travel nearly 30 miles south of Sitka over a route mostly protected from ocean swell (getting around Cape Buronof and Povorotni Point can get a little rolly). Three of the anchorages, Herring Bay, Kidney Cove and Leesofskaia Bay we had visited in the past. New to us 2018-Cruise-030xwas Jamboree Bay, a bit open to the northwest but it was pleasant enough.

On June 27, we returned to Sitka for more chores (oil change being the big one) and attended music festival events the two nights we were in town. On Friday, June 29 we headed out of town to continue our northbound journey.

Miles traveled this leg – 79.0; engine hours – 13.8

Total miles traveled – 1103.0; engine hours – 166.8

Ketchikan to Sitka

Even though I had tested started the engine already, I still had a little trepidation when I turned the key to start the engine on June 13. The engine quickly started, and all was well as we headed north up Clarence Strait.

Since our goal was Sitka and the tides and currents favorable, we decided to route ourselves into Frederick Sound through Rocky Pass rather than the Wrangell Narrows. Our anchorage for the night was the entrance bight outside Red Bay on the north end of Prince of Wales Island. The conditions were calm so only the wakes of passing cruise ships rocked us overnight.

Devils Elbow RouteThe next day, we headed to Rocky Pass. We arrived, as expected, about 2 hours early so we dropped the anchor in the open area between buoys R6 and R8 for a couple of hours waiting for high slack at Devil’s Elbow. This was our fourth northbound trip through Rocky Pass (we’ve also done four southbound trips). We’ve found the key for uneventful trips is making sure you time your Devil’s Elbow transit for pretty-darn close to high slack and you are comfortable relying on your electronic charting. While there are navigational aids in Rocky Pass, it isn’t marked as densely as Wrangell Narrows and we have usually found two or more missing on each transit we’ve made. Also, I always have a route laid out in my navigation software so that I can see when and how I should turn as we thread our way past submerged rocks and reefs.

After passing through Rocky Pass and continuing up Keku Strait, we headed to Honey Dew Anchorage on the northwest end of Kuiu Island. We shared the anchorage with a local boat from Petersburg.

2017-05-071xThe next morning, June 15, we headed over to Gut Bay on Baranof Island. We were able to take the anchorage right outside the uncharted cove on the south side of the bay. While deep, it is protected and all that chain hanging down tends to keep you from drifting around much. The boat’s orientation does flip around depending on whether the inner basin is flooding or ebbing, but the view is lovely in all directions.

From here we headed to one of our favorite anchorages, Ell Cove, about 30 miles further north along the east shore of Baranof Island. We were surprised to have the anchorage to ourselves for the night.

2018-Cruise-021xThe next stop in our slow trip to Sitka was Douglass Bay in Hoonah Sound. We spent two nights here trying our hand at prawn fishing. The first haul was good but the second day, in pretty much the same area, was poor. The weather had improved so we speculated the sun and warmer weather caused the prawns to seek cooler and darker conditions (we, of course, have no real idea whether that is the case).

The last night, June 19, before heading into Sitka, was in the cove just outside the entrance to deGroff Bay on Krestoff Island. We like this anchorage over deGroff because it can be entered/exited at all tide levels and it doesn’t have the navigational challenges of the narrows at the south end of deGroff Bay.

The next morning, after a short 11-mile journey we were tied up in Sitka’s Eliason Harbor.

Miles traveled this leg – 309.5; engine hours – 48.6

Total miles traveled – 1024.0; engine hours – 153.0

Arrived in Ketchikan and a departure aborted

The trip across Dixon Entrance on Saturday, June 9, was one of our best with only light winds and a low long-period westerly swell.  We departed Prince Rupert predawn (naturally) but were preceded by one boat and followed by a half dozen more through low water slack in Venn Passage.

Because of the poor weather in the preceding days it was quite a fleet of pleasure craft heading to Ketchikan.  We counted about 15 boats crossing, most of whom passed us at various points along the route (ah, the joy of being a slow boat). 

It was a real crowd in Ketchikan and you could tell that most of them were first time Alaska visitors based upon the exchanges they were having with the Harbor Master. The harbor crew did a great job and found space for everyone. Even though we were near the end of the pack, we were fortunate enough to still get a bow-in starboard tie slip (but without AC power).

We got our shopping and chores done on Sunday in anticipation of departing Monday with the forecasted light winds and favorable tides. 

Bright and early on Monday, with only 2 lines still on and all of the electronics operating I turn the key on the engine, hear a slight cough then only the low oil pressure engine alarm.  Another twist of the key elicits only the alarm.  Never a good feeling to be dead-in-the-water but at least we are tied to the dock and in Ketchikan where there are resources. 

2018-Cruise-007xWe go into diagnostics mode and after about 40 minutes of sleuthing we’ve determined the problem is with the engine starting battery bank, 2 AGM 4D batteries that are original with the boat.  With no load they show 25.5 volts, with the engine in the on position they drop to 17-20 volts and when the starter is turned they are are at 7 volts.  After isolating the bad batteries then engaging the house/start battery parallel switch, we easily start the engine with the house battery bank.

An internet search for “marine batteries Ketchikan” turns up Crowley Fuel (aka, Anderes Oil) as a source of marine batteries.  Marcia talks with the crew of a commercial fishing boat that confirms them as the place to go.  They open at 7 am and by 7:30 am we have a plan to take the boat down to their fuel dock where they’ll take our bad batteries and sell us 2018-Cruise-009xnew batteries.  With a plan in hand, I decommission the old batteries and we hoist them (each weighs more the 100 pounds) into the cockpit.

Once we are tied to their dock, they confirmed that one battery had failed totally and we have to fuss over the optimum solution to our situation (turns out that 4D batteries aren’t all the same size), but the folks at Crowley Fuel were extraordinarily helpful and accommodating.  By 5 pm that afternoon, we’ve got a brand new start battery bank consisting of 4 6V Trojan T105 golf cart style batteries in two battery boxes. 

We try again tomorrow, Wednesday June 13, to depart on our next leg with a destination of Sitka.

Miles traveled this leg – 87.3; engine hours – 12.9

Total miles traveled – 714.5; engine hours – 104.4

Port McNeill to Prince Rupert – More Pre-Dawn Starts

Despite the title of this post, the next leg up the coast actually didn’t begin with a pre-dawn start.  We departed June 2 at a civilized 7 AM in order to time the slack before the flood at Slingsby Channel.  A strong ebb at Slingsby meeting the incoming swell from the ocean can create choppy seas and we wanted to avoid that.

As we got out in Queen Charlotte Strait, the strong ebb current boosted our speed by about 1-1/2 knots which put us in front of Slingsby in the last half of the ebb.  We rerouted up Gordon Channel and crossed to Cape Caution from Pine Island which kept us about 5 miles outside of Slingsby and there was no problem.

While we had our stabilizer poles out, ready to drop the “fish” in the water to damp the roll, we ended up running without them, saving us the 1/2 knot penalty they exact on our speed. The winds were calm so the swell was smooth and modest except for the occasional set of swells that we start us rolling until our boat damped out by itself.  We pushed on to Kwakume Inlet for the night, sharing the ample anchorage area with one other boat.

The next day was a pre-dawn start and a long one to boot.  The weather was changing and we wanted to get around Ivory Island through Milbanke Sound before the swells built too much.  We had our poles out again in case we needed stabilization but because the exposed area is only about 6-8 miles (versus 25-30 miles for Cape Caution) we toughed it out by angling a bit more into the incoming swell until we could make a sharp enough course change that put the swell more on our stern.

Again, we had current working in our favor and we decided to exploit it by bypassing our original destination of Bottleneck Inlet and continuing to Khutze Inlet.  Another long day and the first time we ever broke travelling 100 miles in a day.  We shared the anchorage with a Nordhavn 55, Sequel.

On our next day, we started before dawn in order to hit Grenville Channel on the start of the flood current which sets NW up the channel.  The forecast was for a strong front hitting the BC coast with gale force winds for a day or so and we set our goal at Klewnuggit Inlet a very secure and protected anchorage where Grenville Channel opens up a bit.  We shared the anchorage with 4 other boats.

We took a storm day in Klewnuggit Inlet and watched the ample precipitation give the boat a good rinse.  Other than a 3 hour period of 15 knots, the wind was modest.

While the forecast in Hecate Strait was still for 20-30 knot winds, on June 6 completed the final leg to Prince Rupert with one more pre-dawn start.  Fortunately, we saw mostly winds in the 15-20 range and generally on our stern running with the current.  We made good time and were able secure moorage at the Prince Rupert Rowing & Yacht Club facility.

All during this time Marcia was struggling with a cold/sinus infection that first hit her in Gorge Harbour.  It had not materially improved in the 10 days since so our first task was getting her seen and treated by a doctor.  With medications in hand, we crossed our fingers that she’d soon be on the mend.

Miles traveled this leg – 297.4; engine hours – 41.0

Total miles traveled – 627.2; engine hours – 91.5

At the End of Every Boater’s Rainbow, a Nordhavn

Nordhavn 55, Sequel, seen in Klewnuggit Inlet, Grenville Channel

On the Move – Bainbridge to Port McNeill

One of the reasons we worked so hard to get out on Friday, May 25, was that the buildup for our yacht club’s Memorial Day celebration at the Bainbridge outstation was occurring. It is a multi-day event with boats thickly rafted at the dock. It started on Friday and we knew if we didn’t get out by early Friday morning we’d be stuck until Tuesday.

Fortunately, we’d done some provisioning in Port Townsend once the tenting around the boat associated with the bottom coating was removed. We worked hard at our chores and at 4:30 AM we cast off the lines to begin our cruise.

2018-Cruise-001xOur first night we made it to Sucia Island. The next day we ran up the Strait of Georgia to Nanaimo where we cleared customs. At the customs dock we were pleased to see our former Seattle neighbors, Jerry and Marge. They were on their own boat but staying at the city docks while Jerry recovered from a bad cold. Since we were going to anchor out we had to cut our visiting short and leave the customs dock before the afternoon rush from Dodd Narrows arrived.

We had another predawn start and continued up the Strait of Georgia to Gorge Harbour on Cortes Island. We stayed two nights here (one at anchor the other at the dock of the Gorge Harbour Marina) waiting for a break in the NW winds in Johnstone Strait.

We positioned ourselves for Johnstone by anchoring in Owen Bay on Sonora Island the night before. Another predawn start got us to the Port Harvey Resort on Cracroft Island before 11 AM.  It still being early season (although it seems late to us), we ended up being the only boater on the dock.  Dinner was one of George’s excellent pizza which he brought to the boat after it was cooked in their pizza oven.


One more predawn start got us to Port McNeill around 9:30 AM.  Port McNeill provides convenient provisioning and is an excellent jump off for rounding Cape Caution, our next milestone.

Distance covered – 329.8 miles in 50.5 engine hours

A Pox Upon Your Bottom

So this was the year to haul out and redo the boat’s anti-fouling coating (the nasty stuff that keeps barnacles and sea weed from growing on the boat’s bottom).  Since the boat was going to be out of the water, we thought we take advantage of that and have some of the major dings to the boat’s top coat (acquired mostly from learning how to dock in close quarters and in the wind).

2018-Haulout-003xUnfortunately, top coating is more sensitive to temperature and humidity than the bottom paint so that meant we had to be in an interior work space.  That meant we could not live aboard while the work was being done (liability/insurance concerns) plus the mast would have to come down before the haul out and be raised after we splashed at the end of the process.  Suddenly our hoped for 2-week work package was becoming closer to 3-1/2 weeks.

2018-Haulout-018xScheduling of the inside work area at the boatyard we were using, Port Townsend Shipwrights Coop (PTSC), was a challenge because spring is their busy time (both fishing and recreational boats are trying to get ready).  The date we got in the second week of April was about a week or two later than we would have preferred.

2018-Haulout-020xWe arrived in Port Townsend on Monday, April 9, but between the necessary work for laying the mast down on the boat and some stiff south winds, we didn’t actually get hauled out until Thursday, April 12.  Initially the bottom looked pretty good because there wasn’t much growth on it.  But not long after the pressure washer started taking the green stuff off, bottom paint chips flew and other issues became apparent.  After some scraping at trouble areas and measurements of paint thickness, we knew we had a problem.

2018-Haulout-040xI often joke about our boat being a giant floating chemistry experiment. The boat is made up of many dissimilar metals and bathed in an environment (salt water) that encourages these dissimilar metals to react.  The role of paint (or, more appropriately, coatings) is to keep these dissimilar metals from interacting with each other or the water.  When the coating begins to fail, chemical reactions occur and, in the long run, bad things will happen to the boat.

2018-Haulout-051xThat was the situation we were facing.  The barrier coat we had on the boat was failing and chemical reactions were starting to pop the barrier coatings away from the boat’s steel bottom.  While point repairs are possible, inevitably there would be more and more failures taking more time and money than really fixing it.  We bit the bullet and decided to have the bottom sand blasted back to bare metal and be totally recoated with new primer, barrier coat and anti-fouling coat.  Suddenly the cost of our work statement doubled and its length went to 5 weeks.

2018-Haulout-082xAt the end of this uncomfortable process (not the least of which was living in a motel room for 5 weeks with our cat Maggie), we splashed back into the water on May 17 with robust new bottom coatings.  We hurried back to Bainbridge Island and completed our provisioning activities in record time.  We depart tomorrow, May 25 for our 2018 cruising season.

Back to the “Barn” and Where We Went

Following are visit with the Goodman’s in Echo Bay on Sucia Island, we headed to Anacortes for a night and to fuel up. The fuel dock at Cap Sante gives a price break at 750 gallons that consistently lowers its price below that of most other marinas.

We like to go into winter with fuel tanks pretty much full in order to reduce water condensation in the tanks. The drawback is that when we our fuel and water tanks are full, we list badly to the port side.  That list can be addressed by drawing down the port water tank but often that takes a week or so to consume enough water to get us reasonably close to level.  We added 909 gallons which got us within a 100 or so gallons of being totally full (we carry about 1400 usable gallons).  Before we depart next year we’ll top things off.

For the final leg from Anacortes to Eagle Harbor, tides and the Corp of Engineers conspired to make it a 2 day journey.  The tides were such that an early departure would mean fighting a flood current exiting Rosario Strait then fighting an ebb current down Admiralty Inlet.  The Swinomish Channel wasn’t an early morning option because the Corp of Engineers was working on the swing railroad bridge across the channel until 9 am on the morning we wanted to depart.

We did opt for the Swinomish Channel and Saratoga Passage route but ended up anchoring in Elger Bay on Camano Island.  The anchorage is exposed to south winds coming up Puget Sound and partly to west winds blowing in the Strait of Juan de Fuca but was okay the night we stayed there.

An early start on 9/14 got us into Eagle Harbor on Bainbridge Island in the late morning, ending our 2017 summer cruise.

Our season was 140 days long and covered 3817 miles.  We operated the main engine a total of 656.5 hours.  In calculating an average speed of 6.3 knots, I subtracted 51.1 hours for the idling along while fishing or sightseeing.  We ran the generator 62.2 hours.  In our 139 nights out, we anchored 91 nights, spent 2 nights on a mooring buoy and 46 nights at docks with services.

The map below shows the locations of all our overnight stops along the way. Clicking on a  map symbol displays the location name and some descriptive text of the day’s journey.

To view this as a full page map click on Cruise 2017.

Echo Bay Aerodrome

After the crowds in the Gulf Islands over Labor Day, we crossed Boundary Passage back into the USA.  We’re thankful that we have Nexus cards which allow us to clear back in via phone without reporting for an in-person inspection at one of the very busy stations in Roche or Friday Harbors.  Instead we declared Prevost Harbor on Stuart Island as our first port of call, thereby saving at least 3 hours.

After one night at anchor in Prevost, we continued on to Deer Harbor where our yacht club (Queen City) leases about 120 feet of dock space.  We were fortunate that space was available at the dock when we arrived.  Two other boats arrived later that day and had to raft to those of us tied to the dock.

2017-09-047xAfter relaxing for four days at the dock, we headed to Echo Bay on Sucia Island.  We arranged for our friends, Natala and Don Goodman, to fly in with their float plane.  They live on Lake Sammish, south of Bellingham, and moor their plane there during the summer.  For them it is a short flight to Echo Bay.  After they landed, I helped them tie up to one of the many Washington State Parks buoys in the bay and ferried them over to our boat.

2017-09-055xLater that day, we saw another float plane land in the bay but instead of going to a buoy, it nestled up to the stern of a large yacht. It turned out, that Don knew its owners, a couple who lived in Anacortes. The next day, after Don & Natala departed, the people in the yacht flew off in their airplane and 2017-09-054xreturned with an additional float plane (they are both pilots).  They moored the second airplane at a buoy as Don had.

2017-09-062xLater that afternoon, a third float plane came in and landed in Echo Bay.  This one taxied up to shore where its pilot tethered it to shore and set up is camp in the trees nearby.  He came in near high tide so his plane was soon high & dry.

In a period of less than 24 hours, Echo Bay had four separate floatplanes joining the dozen or so power and sail boats enjoying the splendid late summer weather in Echo Bay.

Wilderness – Not Wilderness

Every year on our journey south from SE Alaska, one of the difficult adjustments we have to make is to the increased number of boaters in anchorages the further south we go. 

In SE Alaska, we become accustom to being the only boat in an anchorage.  Occasionally, we will share an anchorage with 1 or 2 other boats.  In the most popular anchorages, a half-dozen is a crowd.  The same goes for many of the northern BC anchorages if you aren’t on the main route of Grenville Channel/Princess Royal Channel (aka “the Ditch”).

The photo below is taken on a paddle from our anchorage in Tuwartz Inlet at the south end of Pitt Island which we had to ourselves.


The closer you get to the major population centers of Vancouver/Victoria, the anchorages get more and more crowded.  The photo below was taken in Montague Harbour on Galliano Island on Labor Day weekend.


While we prefer the more secluded anchorage, the crowded anchorage can be lovely and pleasant.  The key is setting your expectations appropriately (e.g., don’t expect solitude on Labor Day weekend in the Gulf Islands).

Ultimately, it is the memory of that first photo that gives us the motivation to travel those many miles each season back to SE Alaska.