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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Home Stretch

We are currently in Port McNeill, near the NE corner of Vancouver Island, and about 300 miles (as the boat floats) from our winter home in Eagle Harbor on Bainbridge Island.  While we still expect to be cruising for another 3 weeks, it definitely feels like the home stretch.

2017-08-085xSince we left Ketchikan towards the end of July, we’ve been focusing on filling the freezer with seafood for the winter.  Marcia has done well catching silver (aka, coho) salmon.  We’ll even be giving away some seafood since we only take one cooler full of frozen fish with us on our drive to Arizona.

We left Ketchikan with expectations of the usual improvement in the weather as we crossed into BC.  At first, our wishes came true and we had some very warm weather (with accompanying strong NW winds).  Eventually though, we ran into persistent cloudy and showery weather.  It appears as though the blocking high that gave Puget Sound its dry and hot weather shifted south slightly and left the BC coast to make-do with the SE Alaskan weather we’ve experienced this summer. 

2017-07-516xOne of the highlights of the southbound journey was spending an extra day in Prince Rupert and visiting the North Pacific Cannery historical site.  It is the most complete remaining example of the hundreds of canneries that once operated along the PNW coast. The photo at left is a salmon gutting machine worthy of Rube Goldberg.  Before the advent of inexpensive electrical motors, there was a drive belt running along the ceiling from which the machines would take their power.

2017-08-002xOther highlights were the many new (to us, anyway) anchorages we visited.  Those anchorages we’d visit again included Welcome Harbor at the NW corner of Porcher Island, Klewnuggit Inlet along Grenville Channel, Tuwartz Inlet on the south shore of Pitt Island, and Kainet Creek at the end of Kynoch 2017-08-034xInlet (just outside Culpepper Lagoon).  We enjoyed some lovely sunsets (enhanced by smoke from BC interior wild fires) and had a number of whale (humpback and orca) viewings along the way.

From here we’ll make one more pass through the Broughtons before heading down Johnstone Strait.  We’re targeting crossing back into US waters after Labor Day and being back in Eagle Harbor the middle of September.

Time to Go, Already?

I won’t pretend, as I have in the past, that I’ve been keeping the blog up to date.  So this may be a bit longer as I am covering about 5-1/2 weeks worth of stuff. Since the last entry in the middle of June, we’ve headed up to Juneau, over to Glacier Bay (with two stops in Hoonah), back to Juneau and now down to Ketchikan.

2017-06-208xAlong the way to our first stop in Juneau, we anchored in Pavlof Harbor, about halfway up the east side of Chichagof Island.  Our friends, Craig and Ann in “Shot-8”, were also anchored there.  They are avid fishermen and took Marcia fishing along the stream in the lake above the harbor.  They were fly fishing while they loaned Marcia a spin casting reel.  I declined the opportunity to fish but enjoyed the walk to the lake.

2017-06-241xWe also checked the anchor SE of Gustavus along the channel separating Pleasant Island from the mainland. It is a fine anchorage in settled conditions but has lots of current and exposure to wind (depending on direction).  2017-06-250xWe had good conditions and were rewarded with a stunning sunset and sunrise of the Fairweather Range which separates Glacier Bay from the Gulf of Alaska.

While in Juneau we did our mid-cruise heavy provisioning at Costco and Fred Meyers. We rented a car to make that possible. We also bought a new outboard to replace the one that took a bath in salt water when the dinghy flipped upside down in the water after we had an equipment failure in our lifting equipment. Besides those boat chores, with reliable cell phone and semi-reliable Internet, we coordinated our rendezvous in Hoonah with friends Natala and Don who were flying up in their float plane.

2017-07-003xDon & Natala were flying up from a fishing lodge on the west coast of Vancouver Island. The original thought would be they would stay the night in either Ketchikan or Sitka before heading into Hoonah.  They hit favorable winds, though, and were able to fly to Hoonah after clearing immigration and fueling in Ketchikan.

2017-06-272xComing from a fishing lodge, they brought with them the salmon they caught at the lodge.  The lodge, of course, had cleaned, packaged and flash frozen before leaving.  We raced it over to the freezer on board Alpenglow. Marcia used their salmon for two of the three dinners while they were aboard.

Following Don & Natala’s departure, we worked our way over to Glacier Bay National Park where we had a permit for entry (the NPS limits the number of motor vessels allowed in the park at any one time). While this was our seventh visit to the park, we always enjoy the sights.

2017-07-046xThe highlights this year’s visit to the park were the puffins and sea lions at South Marble Island and the goats on Gloomy Knob. The ice in Tarr Inlet up towards the Margerie Glacier was heavier this year and 2017-07-160xwe elected to not pick our way through the debris to get to the head of the inlet.

2017-07-250xAt Bartlett Cove, we visited the recently opened Huna Tribal House.  The artistry and craft in its construction is stunning and the interpretive talk given about the history of the Huna Tribe very interesting.

2017-07-269xBack to Juneau we went for some light provisioning and a few chores but one reason was to visit the Alaskan State Museum in its newly built facility.  For anybody visiting Juneau, it would be a shame to miss a visit to the museum.

2017-07-365xFrom Juneau we headed down Stephens Passage, where we first did some fishing (a very nice halibut and lots of prawns) in the Pybus Bay area then retraced our steps to the Pack Creek Bear Viewing Area on Admiralty Island.  This is a site operated by the Alaska Department of Fish & Game and the US Forest Service.  2017-07-452xThe brown bears that visit Pack Creek are habituated to humans but not food conditioned (they don’t view humans as a source of food).  Pack Creek is a salmon stream and bears depend upon it for their food.  While we were there, we saw about 16 different bears.  We saw 5 sows with 7 cubs all at the same time.

2017-07-490xAfter Pack Creek we managed a rendezvous with Dave & Dorothy on the DavidEllis (a classic style Diesel Duck). After spending a night in Red Bluff Bay rafted together we took each other’s photo in front of the waterfall near the head of the bay.

From there we headed in earnest towards Ketchikan via Rocky Pass.  We were among 4 pleasure craft heading south and were surprised to meet a flotilla of 11 pleasure craft (9 sail and 2 power) heading north.  2017-07-507xWe had to wait on the north side of Devil’s Elbow while they transited this narrow section.

We are now back in Ketchikan, 11 weeks after arriving in early May.  From here we’ll cross back into Canada, clearing customs in Prince Rupert.  We’ll spend the remaining 7 weeks of our cruise slowly working our way back down the coast.