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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. 

Cruising the Sitka Area

Of the communities in SE Alaska, Sitka is probably our favorite.  The town is large enough to have all the services you need, with lots of restaurants and local activities.  It only gets a half dozen or so significant cruise ships a week and those either anchor out or berth 4 miles north of town.

This year we decided to attend a number of events from the Sitka Summer Music Festival.  The schedule we adapted was 3 days (Wednesday, Thursday and Friday) in town and the other 4 days out cruising locally.  2017-06-066xThat schedule gave us the opportunity to continue our fishing efforts, try new anchorages and hear some wonderful classical music.

The Friday and Saturday concerts are held in the newly renovated Centennial Hall which looks out toward the mountains south of town. Your eyes are easily distracted from the performers on stage to the views out the windows behind the stage.

2017-06-069xAnother opportunity that came up while in Sitka was a tour of the newly commissioned USCG Cutter, the John McCormick.  The John McCormick is the first of the new Sentinel class cutter on the west coast of the US. and will be stationed in Ketchikan.

We tried our hand at fishing but were hampered by the weather (wind and seas) and equipment issues (the downrigger motor started misbehaving).  Marcia did land a chinook but it turned out to be too small (the minimum size for retention is 28 inches) and was released. Several other fish bites were lost before they were brought close enough to net.

We did manage to visit four new (to us) anchorages (Outer cove to deGroff Bay, Kidney Cove, Seven Fathom Bay and Big Bay).  We also got some good wildlife viewing of a brown bear in Kidney Cove and humpback whales bubble feeding just south of Sitka.

2017-06-077x         2017-06-090x

While the weather this season has been a bit cooler than normal (while out cruising near Sitka we’ve gone several days in a row with the high temperature barely breaking 50° F), mostly we are experiencing small disturbances circulating in from lows out in the Gulf Alaska. When we do get a reprieve from the seemingly interminable clouds the views, even from the harbor are stunning.

I close this post with a panoramic stitch from a recent morning as the sun slowly spread its rays across the marina.

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Keeping the wet side down, a mishap on the way to Sitka

After three nights in Petersburg and enjoying the Little Norway Festival, we depart early Monday morning, May 22.  The wind and rain that occurred Saturday afternoon through Sunday night passed by and, while cloudy, the winds were light.  We head for lovely Cannery Cove in Pybus Bay on Admiralty Island.  We, of course, drop our prawn pots before anchoring for the night.

The forecast for May 23 is for increasing winds as the day goes on so we decide to spend another night in Pybus Bay but to move to an anchorage that might offer more protection against the expected winds.  Moving also gave us the opportunity to harvest prawns from the pots we dropped the day before and to reset them with new bait.  We head into Henry’s Arm which we hadn’t used since 2011. 

2017-05-054xAt first we are the only boat in the anchorage but by evening when the forecasted winds, NW 20 knots, show up there are 3 other boats with us.  While it was breezy in the anchorage, we were protected from waves that are kicked up by the wind.

The next day conditions are good and we head out into Fredrick Sound heading for Gut Bay on Baranof Island.  As we turn into Gut Bay, the winds suddenly are blowing a steady 15 to 20 knots from the west.  Gut Bay, which is surrounded by steep cliffs and high mountains, apparently offers the wind a fairly direct path from the Great Arm of Whale Bay on the west side of Baranof Island to Chatham Strait on the east side of Baranof Island. Preferring to not have another windy anchorage we head to Thetis Bay, part of Tebenkof Bay on Kuiu Island.

While Thetis Bay was perfectly alright, we decide to try another anchorage in Tebenkof Bay (which is an impressively large bay).  A few years early I had seen (via AIS) a boat use an anchorage and thought it’d might be pleasant.  The anchorage is at the entrance of a very narrow channel which leads south to a nearly land locked cove (a cruising guide for SE Alaska gave this anchorage the name “Eye of the Needle”).

The next morning before departing, we decide to launch the dinghy in order to explore the channel and take measurements along the way.  We hoist our dinghy, which weighs 400 pounds or so, with our boom.  As we were pushing the stern of the hoisted dinghy over the side rail of the boat deck, the shackle holding the pulley through which the lifting line passes broke.  The dinghy immediately falls, hits the rail, tilts stern first toward the water, plunges in, and flips upside down.  In the process the lifting line had gotten jammed into a second pulley where it shredded and broke.

2017-05-063xAt this point we are totally gobsmacked and standing on the boat deck looking down at our upside down dinghy drifting away in the wind and current.  Marcia has the presence of mind to say “launch the kayaks.”  After a short chase of the runaway dinghy we start pulling and pushing it back the 200-300 yards it had drifted.  We secure the dinghy to the boat and have breakfast to let our nerves calm and come up with a plan.

We pull some spare hardware we had and reassemble a working a lifting arrangement.  We first lift the dinghy up at the bow and flip it right-side up, next we pump out the water in the dinghy, then we attach to the dinghy lifting harness which was still intact and put the dinghy back on the boat deck.

In the end, while it would have been better if the shackle had not broken, we were fortunate it wasn’t worse.  The dinghy has dent in the bottom and the 7 year old outboard engine is totaled (2 hours under water and 5 days with salt water stewing inside it before we got to port).  Importantly neither of us were hurt and nothing was damaged on Alpenglow (the dinghy must have struck the rail at or near a vertical stanchion and shows no evidence of the impact).

2017-05-083xAfter we got the dinghy secured on the boat deck we headed south and across Chatham Strait and visited Little Port Walter, the site of a NOAA Research Center.  The entrance is shallow so we left at sunrise the next morning to insure we had ample water under our keel.  We headed north a reentered Gut Bay in calm conditions.  We had a lovely evening enjoying the sunset on Mt Ada above our anchorage.

2017-05-110xFrom Gut Bay we continued north along Chatham Strait to Ell Cove, one of our favorite anchorages.  We were the only boat there so we took our favorite location towards the NW corner of the cove.  In the afternoon, we look out and see the troller Solstice pull in.  We had been crossing paths with them for several weeks since we rounded Cape Caution.  Dan and I congratulated each other on our good choices in anchorages.

We continued our journey to Sitka with a stop at Douglass Bay in Hoonah Sound (and more prawning), followed the next day with a night at the SE Cove of the Magoun Islands.  We could have continued into Sitka but we enjoyed the quiet of one more night at anchor followed by a short 10 mile trip into Sitka and an early arrival in town.

Our plan is to stay in the Sitka area for about 3 weeks and then head north to Juneau followed by a trip into Glacier Bay starting July 4.

Provisioning our way to Petersburg

Our usual practice upon departing Ketchikan after first arriving in Alaska is to start trying to fill the freezer with seafood.  For us the easiest are prawns and crabs.  We left Ketchikan the morning of Friday, May 12 and headed to Fitzgibbo…

Time to Move

The weather in the PNW this past winter and early spring has been poor (if we had been here for more than the one month since leaving AZ we’d probably use more colorful language).  When a weather forecast showed up suggesting several days in a row of dry and not too windy days, we decided to high tail it out of town.  At a civilized time of 0750 on Thursday, April 28 (the same departure day as last year), we cast off for out 2017 cruising season.

Our original thought was to leisurely work our way through the Strait of Georgia.  We thought perhaps we’d visit Princess Louisa Inlet an offshoot of Jervis Inlet about 45 miles up the BC mainland coast from Vancouver.  When, on our third night out, we were moored at the Thetis Island Marina we started to look at the weather and lay out the schedule.  The extended weather forecast showed light winds along Johnstone Strait 3 and 4 days out.  We’ve learned from previous trips that in early season, good traveling conditions are precious and ought not passed up casually. 

After some quick discussion we pushed Princess Louisa to a future year and decided start moving.  From Thetis Island we headed first to False Bay on Lasqueti Island in the Strait of Georgia than to Gowland Harbour on Quadra Island across from Campbell River. Because of the time of month, the slack before the ebb at Seymour Narrows wasn’t until about noon.  Despite the leisurely start, we made Port Harvey on Cracroft Island.  The next days travel brought us to Port McNeill our first (and only) BC provisioning stop.

We had a weather day in Port McNeill but then got a forecast we thought we could work with.  An early start got us into Queen Charlotte Straits, then around Cape Caution.  The seas were about what we expected (4-5 foot swells) but a long period so our paravane stabilizers worked very well.  After 14 hours and 95 miles we called it quits for the day at Kisameet Bay.

The next day we fell in with Solstice, a fishing troller, traveling about the same speed as us.  He was transmitting an AIS signal (as do we), so even though we were separated by several miles at time and barely visible, it felt like we were buddy boating.  As we slogged up Graham Reach and headed to Khutze Inlet for the night (12 hours and 85 miles), Solstice pulled in shortly after us and dropped anchor a couple hundred yards away.  We chatted on the radio later and learned that they were a semi-retired couple (Dan and Marsha) from Gig Harbor.  The next morning we left about ten minutes after them and followed them up Grenville Channel and into Kelp Passage Cove (12 hours and 89 miles).

During this time the weather has been cool and rainy but the winds not too bad.  They occasionally would bump up to the upper teens but would usually be from behind and not a problem.  Both Solstice and ourselves are seeing good conditions developing for crossing Dixon Entrance and are motivated to push the mileage to make sure we hit it.

From Kelp Passage, we again leave shortly before dawn right behind Solstice and follow them across Dixon Entrance in some of the best conditions we’ve ever had.  At this point we parted ways as Solstice continued to Ketchikan (for another 95 mile day) and we pull up short at Foggy Bay (a leisurely 9 hour 64 mile day).  Dan & Marsha were needing to get to Petersburg where they’d leave the boat while they fly home.  We agreed to look for each other on AIS later in the season and hopefully actually meet in person.

An early departure from Foggy Bay gets us to Ketchikan a little before 10 AM on Wednesday, May 10.  Because we’ve arrived in Alaska early there is enough time to do a swing through Behm Canal and still go to Petersburg for a few days of the Little Norway Festival.

Trying to Get Ahead of the Game

Things are always breaking on a boat.  The boat must supply all of the services necessary for comfortable living (e.g., electricity, heating, potable water, waste disposal) plus be capable of propelling itself and offer sufficient information for safe navigation.  The fact that you are floating in salty solution that encourages the corrosion of everything it touchs only adds to the opportunities for failure.

As part of our annual pre-cruise work list of fixes and enhancements, we decided to replace some items that had not failed but, based on their age, were likely to fail soon.  Wanting to have the work down right and in a timely fashion, we decide to pay people more skilled then we are.

We left Sunday, April 9 and motored up to Port Townsend to begin our journey of spreading money around the communities of the Salish Sea.  Port Townsend Shipwrights Coop did the lions share of the work.

IMG_20170410_135535906One item was the generator exhaust elbow where cooling water from outside the boat is sprayed into the hot exhaust gases from the fuel’s combustion.  When it was removed, it showed some minor external corrosion and had buildup of “gunk” which can lead to exhaust back pressure and more serious problems.

After leaving Port Townsend, we headed up to Prevost Harbor on Stuart Island in the San Juan Islands for a couple of nights at anchor.  We crossed paths with Peter Geerlofs the owner of “cousin” vessel Diesel Duck, SeaDucktress.  We encountered Peter frequently during last years SE Alaska cruise.

2017-04-17 Hole in WH InletWe headed into Anacortes on Sunday, April 16 where the next day, we were having a new water heater installed by Marine-Tec, the folks who installed our furnace.  When the old water heater was pulled, corrosion was starting to eat away the inlet pipes so we were glad we had acted. The new water heater, a 15 gallon Solaris, is certainly a step up from the old unit (an 11 gallon Kuuma) and we are looking forward to long service and ample hot water.

Our last stop was a swing down to Des Moines Marina where we topped off our fuel tanks in preparation for departing the following week.