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On to Ketchikan – July 16 to August 1

After filling our water tanks and disposing of our trash/recyclables in Bartlett Cove we head east in Icy Strait than south down to Chatham Strait to Pavlof Harbor.  There is a perfect “bear beach” in the anchorage which didn’t disappoint, with two youngster bears (perhaps only recently sent packing by their mother) in the evening and then a sow with two cubs the next morning.

We continued south in Chatham Strait and as we approached Kasnyku Bay we saw lots of whale activity.  Since we had seen so little activity up to this point, we stopped the engine for a short time and drifted while listening to the whale exhalations.  Since whales are mostly below the water (barring the very exciting breaches), often times it is the auditory “viewing” of whales that is most enjoyable.  The sound of exhalations easily carry a mile across the open water on a calm day.  2018-Cruise-291Just outside of Takatz Bay, our anchorage for the night, Marcia put a hook down and we trolled for salmon for an hour before going in.  Lots of salmon jumping but not much biting. 

The next morning, July 18, we continued down to Warm Springs Bay, and fished for halibut outside the entrance.  Marcia lost some bait to a wily fish but nothing to the bait with the hook in it.  We crossed to the east side of Chatham Strait to try fishing at Kingsmill Point but the wind had kicked up at this point and we elected to go in for the night.  The anchorage was a new one to us in Security Bay on Kuiu Island.

Bright and early the next morning, we were out at Kingsmill trolling for salmon on the morning bite.  It was pretty clear that the coho/silver salmon had not started their run yet as a couple of hours of trolling yielded only a feisty pink salmon.  We called it quits and headed over to Gut Bay for the night.

The next morning the plan was to continue the fishing activities but when we popped out into Chatham we changed our plans.  An offshore ridge was forming giving SE Alaska 2018-Cruise-293xmost sunny weather but as the ridge was building, the north winds were starting to build.  Chatham Strait, which runs for 120 miles in a N-S direction (200 miles if you include Lynn Canal with which it connects), offers a perfect channel for the wind to run.  We beat our way north to Red Bluff Bay. Turned out others had the same idea and we ended up in the outer bay rather than at the head.

2018-Cruise-308xThe next morning, July 21, we beat our way across 2018-Cruise-310xChatham Strait to Frederick Sound where the winds were light and the seas calm and worked our way up towards Pybus Bay.  We spent 3 nights in the area during which Marcia caught two nice size halibuts.  We also watched some glorious sunsets and moon rises.  Both the sun 2018-Cruise-313xand moon had an orange cast but we heard nothing about what might have contributed to it.

Before we headed to Petersburg, We checked out a couple of anchorages we had not been to.  The first was Hobart Bay and the second was Cleveland Passage.  On Thursday, July 26, we docked in Petersburg at high slack when the currents are running less strong pass the docks.

After two nights in Petersburg, we caught the afternoon high tide through Wrangell Narrows and spent the night in St John Harbor on Zarembo Island, due south of the 2018-Cruise-326xentrance to Wrangell Narrows. From here we headed first to Thom’s Place and then to Santa Anna Inlet, doing some prawning along the way.

All during the previous week or so, we were having stunningly clear skies, warm temperatures and calm winds.  Most evenings were spent watching the sun go down from the flybridge and, this being Alaska, killing horse flies.  But by this time, the forecasts were hinting of changes.  On July 31, we made for Meyers Chuck (full size version of photo below), at the junction of Ernest Sound and Clarence Strait.

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With an early start to catch the southbound ebb tide we arrived in Ketchikan on August 1 and will stay here a few days while some rain and high winds pass through.

Miles traveled this leg – 511.2; engine hours – 88.8
Total miles traveled – 2001.1; engine hours – 317.6

Glacier Bay – July 9-16

We have visited Glacier Bay National Park every time we’ve come to Alaska.  This was our 8th time (not counting the 1-day visit on a cruise ship in 2006) visiting the park and we still enjoy it.  It is a wonderful combination of scenery, wildlife, natural history and solitude that makes every trip worthwhile.

Different from past years was that we chose not to get an advanced notice permit (obtainable 60 days in advance) but rather a short notice permit (48 hours in advance).  That worked well this year on account of all of the disruptions we had to our typical cruise schedule (i.e., late departure and furnace repair).  By being prompt with our application we were able to get the dates July 10-16 for our visit.

We left Juneau on Sunday, July 8 and headed to Excursion Inlet on the north side of Icy Strait. The forecast we for increasing westerly winds and we thought Excursion Inlet better protected than Flynn Cove our usual pre-Glacier Bay anchorage.  When we checked the forecast on the morning of July 9, the forecast for the next day had deteriorated further so we phoned the Park Service and were able to get a 1-day permit to enter the park on July 9. This allowed us to anchor in Bartlett 2017-07-256xCove (the park headquarters) rather than getting beat up in Icy Strait while entering the park on July 10.

2018-Cruise-064xWe ended up spending two nights in Bartlett Cove but took advantage of the time to visit the Huna Tribal House and do the short forest walk around the pond.  The tribal house is just gorgeous inside and we saw a moose with her calf while on the walk.

A2018-Cruise-183xt our N Sandy Cove anchorage we had quite a bear show.  It started with a black bear working the shoreline, followed up with a brown bear sow with two cubs and concluded with a confrontation 2018-Cruise-195xbetween the sow and a male brown bear pursuing her.  All of this transpired a few hundred yards away. The sow chased off the male once but as the sun set, the male resumed his dogged pursuit and the drama was not resolved.

2018-Cruise-269xThe day we went up to the head of Tarr Inlet and glacial ice, we had calm conditions and very little floating ice to deal with.  That gave us the opportunity to anchor in the small bight on the west shore of Tarr Inlet a mile or so south of the Margerie Glacier.  2018-Cruise-284xWe were rewarded with a view of the glacial face overnight (along with periodic rumbles and crashes) and bits of ice floating by.  Fortunately, nothing large floated by to hang up on our anchor chain.

2018-Cruise-135xAt South Marble Island we had the usual assortment of birds and sea lions. Unlike last year, we saw no goats on the cliffs of Gloomy Knob. Also not present in the numbers we’ve seen in the past were humpback whales.  Research indicates that the number of whales in Glacier Bay/Icy Strait have dropped by over 40% from their peak in 2011.  This is distressing news as humpback whales are such a key element to the Alaska experience.

Miles traveled this leg – 230.3; Engine hours – 37.1
Total miles traveled – 1489.9; Engine hours – 228.8

Hanging Around Juneau

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Job number 1 upon docking in Juneau on Monday, July 2, was removing the failed Kabola dashboard and shipping off to Marine-Tec in Anacortes. While Marcia went to the post office to check on shipping options, I removed the unit. With Wednesday being the July 4th holiday, we quickly concluded that getting it to Marine-Tec before Thursday would be impossible or cost prohibitive. We took the route we’ve taken before and using USPS Priority Mail. Because we can have USPS packages sent to general delivery, it is often the only way when you’re a transient boater.

2018-Cruise-053xWith the package on the way, we could turn to taking advantage of that rare Alaska feature, sunshine. The forecast was for hot (high 70’s) weather for Tuesday through Thursday. We also had the happy discovery that the road construction on the Glacier Highway from Auke Lake to 2018-Cruise-052xStatter Harbor (where we are) was now complete and it had wide sidewalks and shoulders that were bike friendly. The new pathways now connects Auke Bay with the existing bike paths and routes that go all the way into downtown Juneau. It was obviously time to break out the folding bikes.

2018-Cruise-045xTwice we rode the 8 miles (16 miles RT) from the harbor to the Mendenhall Glacier visitor center 16 miles. In doing so, we rode past the Safeway which is the closest grocery store at 2-1/2 miles. Another 2 miles further along the bike route is the Fred Meyers. We now can do shopping for light-weight items, such as produce, meats or bread without renting a car or taking a bus.

Given the warm weather, we decided that the appropriate lunch after a bike ride was a milk shake from Hot Bites, a fast food restaurant in the parking lot at the harbor.

The Statter Harbor at Auke Bay is extraordinarily busy this time of year. First, the transient mooring area is totally 2018-Cruise-040xopen and mooring locations are not assigned by the harbor. You must go in and look around to find a spot to tie up. Second, it is heavily used by commercial fisherman (seiners, gill netters and trollers) while they wait for the fishing openings announced by the Alaska Fish & Game. Third, many of the excursion boats for the cruise ship passengers originate from here, lots of bus traffic and camera-toting 2018-Cruise-050xtourists on the docks and in the parking lot. Fourth, many mega-yachts (>100 feet) stage out of here while they pickup and drop off their guests and reprovision. We’ve got six on the outer dock right now. Lastly, when the weather is nice, the view up to the mountains is quite spectacular.

All in all, if you have to wait for parts, Juneau turned out to be a pretty pleasant place to do so.

Watching the Digits Roll By

This occurred as we were traveling from Funter Bay to Auke Bay (Juneau).

Sitka to Juneau

While in Sitka, I had a phone conversation with Dave Nagle cruising on the Diesel Duck DavidEllis. He was in Chatham Strait headed towards Sitka and we agreed to rendezvous in Douglass Bay on our first night out from Sitka and the night before they went into Sitka, June 29. We’ve stayed in Douglass Bay numerous times, but it would be their first time. We both arrived about the same time and rafted together. The evening was spent catching up with boat projects and solving the world’s problems.

The next morning, we parted ways with the Nagles and continued east in Peril Strait, targeting Point Moses Cove in Hanus Bay for the night. We arrived early enough that I considered putting the kayak in the water and paddling near shore. The consistent 10-15 knot west wind persuaded me it would be more pleasant to stay aboard and listen to an audio book.

Our original plans when we left Sitka were to head towards Icy Strait, fishing for halibut along the way, with the goal of getting a last-minute permit to enter Glacier Bay National 2018-Cruise-031xPark. Those plans changed when I went to turn on the furnace the morning July 1 and found the furnace control panel had failed. The furnace is the key to our comfortable Alaska cruising. Not only does it heat the boat, it heats the water while we are anchored and underway. Running the generator can accomplish some of those tasks but is a lot less efficient. Pretty quickly we decided our best course was to head up to Juneau and get the failed part repaired or replaced.

We had good speed up Chatham Strait, boosted by the flood current. The winds were light until we reached the junction of Icy Strait, Lynn Canal and Chatham Strait at which time 2018-Cruise-032xthey picked up to a steady 15 knots out of the south. Not long after, we anchored in Funter Bay on Admiralty Island. The anchorage didn’t provide much relief from the winds which stayed 10-15 knots all night long.

The anchor was well set by the wind the next morning, when we pulled it from the bottom for the leg into Juneau. We were fortunate that the commercial salmon openings had not closed yet so we were able to quickly find a space on the Auke Bay transient mooring docks without having to compete with the seiners, gill netters and trollers.

Miles traveled this leg – 156.6; engine hours – 24.9

Total miles traveled – 1256.9; engine hours – 191.7

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