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Escape to Alaska

On June 26, the Canadians threw us a life line by allowing foreign vessels, for any purpose, to transit their waters, either coastal or inside channels, from one foreign country to another foreign country. The transit must be done in a direct route and expeditious fashion but anchoring or essential stops, for fuel or food, are allowed.

We depart Bainbridge Island the afternoon of July 2 anchoring the first night in Port Townsend Bay. An early start gets us across the Strait of Juan de Fuca, up Haro Strait and to the customs dock at Van Isle Marina before noon. With our clearance number in hand, we continue through Active Pass and up the Strait of Georgia to a bay northwest of Nanaimo for the night.

I2020-07-005xn the anchorage, our paths cross with Rosy & Jim Addington of Sea Venture who are planning a similar quick (or as least as quickly as 6.5 knot boats can be) transit to Alaska. We’ve known Rosy & Jim for several years and had been commiserating electronically with them about this year’s border closure, so finding them was not a surprise. Since our boats are similar in category (slow, long range cruiser), we decide to buddy boat2020-07-001x to Alaska.

From northwest of Nanaimo, the next day, July 4, we position in Gowlland Harbor, a few miles south of Seymour Narrows, halfway up Vancouver Island. The next day (and night and day, again) is a long one. We catch the 0530 slack before the ebb at Seymour, ride the favorable ebb current through Johnstone, pass Port McNeill, enter Gordon Channel, cross Queen Charlotte Sound, enter Laredo Sound a2020-07-007xnd make our way up Principe Channel to McMicking Inlet on Campania Island, a 263 mile and 39 hour journey. From here its one more anchorage in Canada at Kelp Passage, SW of Prince Rupert. The next day, July 8, we cross the border between Canada and the USA, clear US customs via the ROAM app on our phones, and enter Alaska.

2020-07-024xTo prevent the spread of Corona virus, Alaska requires those entering the state to bring a recent negative Covid-19 test, take a test upon entering and stay in quarantine until negative results are returned, or complete a 14-day quarantine.  Since the quarantine clock started at our last port of call in Bainbridge we decide to stay isolated on our boat cruising in Misty Fjords and not arrive in Ketchikan until our quarantine is complete. Jim & Rosy on Sea Venture, had left their last port of call in Anacortes earlier than we had and elect to proceed to Ketchikan more directly, so we split up at this point.

2020-07-033xWith fewer cruising boats we are able to secure the USFS buoys in Punchbowl Cove, Walker Cove and Klu Bay as well as anchor in isolation in Fitzgibbon Cove and Moser Bay, as we make our way slowly up Eastern Behm Canal, across the north side of Revillagigedo Island and then back down Western Behm Canal. Misty Fjord lives up to its name and reputation. We arrive in Ketchikan on Thursday, July 16, having completed the transit to Alaska and satisfied our Covid-19 quarantine period.

Cruisin’ Through Covid

We, like virtually everyone, has had their life and plans turned upside down by the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. We read, listen and watch the daily news of the loss of life and economic disruption created by it. We then feel almost ashamed to complain about the relative inconveniences that we experience in our life as a result of it. For us, the biggest change is 2020-06-006ythe uncertainty of when or if we’ll be able to take our summer cruise along the Inside Passage. One can hardly fault the Canadians over their reticence to let Americans cross their borders as casually as we have in the past.

In the mean time, we go on short cruises from Olympia, at the southern end of Puget Sound, to the San Juan Islands near the border with Canada. Having Drake aboard we 2020-06-012xnow look for those destinations that offer easy beaches on which to land with some walks and fields in which Drake can play.

The last time we cruised that range was in 2012, the year in which our focus was preparing and selling our home in West Seattle. Since 2012, our normal cruising range range ran from Bainbridge Island to Glacier Bay, so we are feeling a bit constrained.

Ship’s Dog

2020-02-029xWith the passing of our last cat, Maggie, we took a one year hiatus from having a pet on board while cruising. Having had a cats for 35+ years, we now have taken a leap and gone to the “bark” side by adding an Australian Labradoodle to our crew.

Born in November 2019 as a part of a litter of five males, we picked up Drake (as in “Sir Francis” but formally recorded as “Fur Fantastic”) from the breeder in January 2020.  Knowing how formative the first few months of a puppy’s life are to its adaptation, we drove immediately from the 2020-04-065ybreeder in Medford, Oregon to the boat for a 3-week introduction.  We returned to Arizona for another six weeks before escaping back to the boat as the Corona virus pandemic accelerated.

So far, he has been a trooper and coped perfectly well with marine life and not been phased by the sound of the engine, bow thruster, walking on dock grates, steep dock ramps or, very importantly, doing his “business” on the deck at the bow of the boat. Descending the steep stairs from the pilot house to the 2020-04-013xstaterooms below are beyond him now so we carry him down. Drake isn’t likely to be more than 25 pounds so even if he never descends the stairs we can easily handle him.

While Marcia had a dog 40 years ago, Kurt never had a dog.  Every day we are reminded by how different cats are from dogs.

Cruise 2019 – Where We Went

Below is a map of the places we visited on our 2019 cruise. If you click on a mark it will name the location and give some numbers associated with the visit.Excluding our time in Port Townsend while having work done, our cruise was 118 days long. …

Season Wrap-Up

We left Port McNeill on Monday, 8/19, and scooted across Queen Charlotte Strait, heading to Turnbull Cove in the Broughtons. The weather forecasts were for strong winds along the inside waters and we thought Turnbull offered excellent protection.  Either it did or the winds weren’t as strong as forecast because over the 2 nights at Turnbull we never saw anything over 10 knots.

We then stopped at the marine resort Pierre’s at Echo Bay for a night to attend one of their prime rib dinners.  While there we reacquainted ourselves with Kathy & John Youngblood owners of Mystic Moon (Selene 53).  They have spent the last 12+ years cruising down the coast, through the Panama Canal, around the Caribbean Sea, back through the Panama Canal, across the Pacific to New Zealand and Australia, through SE Asia, up the eastern coasts of Japan and Kamchatka Peninsula, through the Aleutian Islands, and back down the coasts of Alaska and British Columbia (I am exhausted just writing that route).  Enjoy their travels at Mystic Moon Voyages.

2019-Cruise-295xWe also met at Pierre’s, Peter and Sue the owners and builders of Kama Hele, a 54 foot Diesel Duck.  They live in the San Francisco Bay area and cruised up to Alaska this year.  We saw their boat in Petersburg but weren’t able to meet up before they went north and we went south.  I’ve been following their building efforts at their blog BuildingKoloa and their cruising at KamaHeleCruising so it was a treat to meet them and tour their lovely vessel.

From there we positioned ourselves the night of 8/24 at Port Harvey so that we could get an early start along Johnstone Strait and take advantage of favorable currents and winds.  This year, as we have the last several years, we used the route through the Octopus Islands to move from the northern waters between Vancouver Island and the mainland to the southern waters of the Strait of Georgia. After a night in Waiat Bay we continued down to Gorge Harbour and a lovely lunch at the Floathouse Restaurant.

An early start and surprisingly favorable currents allowed us to scoot the length of the Strait of Georgia past Nanaimo Harbour to a spartan anchorage a mile north of Dodd Narrows.  The NW winds blew all night long but the bottom was sticky and we just weather-vaned at the end of our anchor chain and didn’t budge.

The next morning, 8/28, we joined the parade of boats through Dodd Narrows.  Our winter dock mates, Barb & Eric Wood, were also southbound and allowed us to pull in ahead of their vessel BarbEric through the passage.  We continued to Montague Harbour for the night while the Wood’s headed off to Thetis Island.  A surprise to us at Montague was the strength of the wind.  The harbor seems landlocked but the NW wind blowing down the Strait of Georgia seemed to pop right over Galiano Island blow right through the anchorage.  Fortunately, it calmed down in the afternoon and we paddled the kayaks to the marina and had an early dinner at the restaurant.

The next day, we crossed back into USA waters and, after clearing in through the new CBP phone app, headed to Echo Bay on Sucia Island.  We arrived early enough to paddle to shore a take a hike along one of the many trails on Sucia.  Even though we were coming up on Labor Day weekend, the anchorage and island did not seem to be excessively crowded. 

2019-Cruise-306xWe headed into Cap Sante Marina in Anacortes to spend the first two days of the holiday weekend.  Other than a few provisions, the main reason for stopping in Anacortes was to take on fuel.  An additional attraction is the Lopez Island Creamery trailer at the marina’s entrance scooping out generous portions of ice cream.

2019-Cruise-302xOn Sunday we headed over to Deer Harbor on Orcas Island. Our yacht club, Queen City, leases dock space at the marina for its members to use.  The marina was buzzing with activity from holiday boaters at first and then with a flotilla of classic wooden boat attending the 2019-Cruise-301xPort Townsend Wooden Boat Festival a few days later. While at Deer Harbor we continued our bad habit of having ice cream for our “lunch” as the marina store served Lopez Island Creamery ice cream.

After four days in Deer Habor, we traveled the short distance to Prevost Harbor on Stuart Island.  We met up with our friends, Barb & Eric Wood on BarbEric who were anchored in Reid Harbor on the south side of Stuart Island, and hiked out to the light house at Turn Point. 

After two relaxing nights, we headed to MacKaye Harbor at the south end of Lopez Island.  David Cohn who owns a “cousin-ship” to ours, the classic Seahorse Marine Diesel Duck Shearwater.  David and his wife Rachel own a vacation home a few hundred yards from the beach in MacKaye Harbor.  We anchored, near Shearwater then paddled the kayaks to shore.  Dave prepared a wonderful meal which we enjoyed while catching up on how our respective summers went.  We got back to the boat just before the rain and lightening started.

2019-Cruise-308xBesides visiting with David & Rachel, MacKaye Harbor was the perfect jumping off point for crossing the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Port Townsend. Although we weren’t hauling out until Tuesday morning, 9/10, we wanted to arrive on Sunday so that we could take care boatyard paperwork and any in the water tests ahead of time.

After 9 days hauled out and another 2 days at the dock, we departed Port Townsend at first light on Saturday, 9/21 and arrived at the dock in Eagle Harbor at noon, closing out our 2019 cruise.

South to Port McNeill

2019-Cruise-253xThe journey south went smoothly with one pleasant surprise along the way.  We chose the “outside-inside” route from Prince Rupert along Petrel and Principe Channels.  Whale activity in Squally and Whale (I wonder how that name came about) Channels was brisk.  During one early morning start to reach a fishing area for the first bite of the day, three or four whales came vertically out of the water 200-300 yards away in a tight column with mouths open gathering their breakfast of herring and other bait fish.  Of course no photo was taken as it happened and ended so quickly.  Lots of whale tails, however.

While in this area, I received an e-mail from friends Don & Natala saying that they would be flying in their 2019-Cruise-263xfloat plane (see Echo Bay Aerodrome) in the area exploring lakes on the islands and could I suggest a possible rendezvous.  After exchanging several satellite messages and phone calls we managed to work out a time and place.  Amazingly, it all worked perfectly as though we had planned and rehearsed it in advance.  It is a bit odd to look out the rear doors to the salon and see an airplane propeller 6 feet from your stern.  The weather was calm and Don & Natala spent the night flying off the next day while we continued south at a more measured pace.

We fished our usual places along the route and caught six nice silver (aka, coho) salmon for the freezer.  Our stay north of Cape Caution was abbreviated by a long range weather forecast for a period of windier conditions which would keep us from rounding Cape Caution.  While not having a rigid schedule we weren’t willing to risk a prolonged delay to our journey south.  Others had similar concerns as there were more than a dozen pleasure craft transiting Cape Caution along with us.

From here we’ll head into the Broughton’s for a few days before transiting the constrictions south of Johnstone Strait.

Some Cool Pictures

Getting a good action shot of our boat in a remote location can be difficult unless you’re as fortunate we were to have two kind people share their photos with us.

The first photo was taken by Deb from Anacortes who was on the Glacier Bay tour boat Baranof Wind entering Johns Hopkins Inlet as we entered.  Deb was good enough to hunt me down on the internet and share her photo with me.

Deb C-02xsThe second photo was taken by Marge as we entered Windfall Harbor.  Marge and husband Jerry had been cruising SE Alaska on their vessel Dream Catcher and we had arranged to meet them in Windfall Harbor.


Breaking out of this narcissistic trend, the last photo is of a starfish wrapped around the bait and hook at the end of Marcia’s line she dropped to attract a halibut.  After Marcia pulled the starfish out of the water and it slowly unwrapped itself and dropped away.


A Busy Month

After a leisurely week of bicycling and milk shakes in Juneau (see Juneau 2018) our friends Debbie & John joined us on July 7 for 3-weeks of cruising.  We’ve known Debbie & John for about 30 years and have done climbing, kayaking and cross-country ski trips with them.  We felt like we could be confined in a boat together for 3-weeks and still be friends at the end.

After a major provisioning in Juneau with stops at Costco, Fred Meyers and Safeway, we left for Glacier Bay on July 9, spending our first night anchored in Bartlett Cove. The next 2019-Cruise-117xday we rode the building afternoon flood current through Sitakaday Narrows and visited South Marble Island in the late afternoon.  The winds were calm and the seas flat so we were able to drift with the engine off as two whales worked along the shore of the island feeding.  Throw in the sea lions and the tufted puffins and it was quite an introduction to Glacier Bay.

2019-Cruise-121xSince John enjoys fishing as much as Marcia, we built in a few opportunities to drop the hook in search for a halibut.  Fortunately for Deb & I, halibut fishing usually involves slowly drifting with the engine off or sitting over mound with a deep anchor, both pretty pleasant when in Glacier Bay.

Similar to our 2018 visit to the head of Glacier Bay, the ice in the water was quite thin and sporadic.  Not only can you travel Tarr Inlet with only minor dodging of floating ice but we felt2019-Cruise-135x comfortable in anchoring the night about 1-1/2 miles from the snout of the Margerie Glacier.  John & I even snagged a couple of ice chunks floating by the anchored boat for ice in the evening beverages.

The next day we made another pass by the Margerie and Grand Pacific Glaciers before heading into the Johns Hopkins 2019-Cruise-143xInlet.  The inlet is closed to motorized vessels until July 1 to provide harbor seals who birth on the ice the time to raise their pups undisturbed by the noisy human traffic.  Again, the ice was quite thin and we got closer to the glacier’s front than we have previously.  What ultimately stopped us was not the ice but a belt of ice with seals and pups. We felt there was no way for us to 2019-Cruise-160xtransit further without getting to close to the seals.  A conservative count of the seals on the ice was about 200.

While heading to our evening anchorage, we traveled past Gloomy Knob.  We had seen some mountain goats high on the ridge the day before but on our return trip the goats dropped down much closer to the water and were easily viewable.

2019-Cruise-178xAfter a couple more nights anchored out, we headed into Bartlett Cove for a hike along the Bartlett River and evening visit to the Tlingit Tribal House for a program.  We heard a fascinating talk by a Tlingit clan member explaining the relations between the Tlingits whose traditional home 2019-Cruise-186xincluded Glacier Bay and the National Park Service.  He also brought some traditional Northwest native carved halibut hooks which are both functional and beautiful.

From Glacier Bay we headed down Chatham Strait and tried some salmon fishing.  The pink salmon (aka, humpies) were running strong and frequently caught and returned but only one silver (aka, coho) was caught (and not returned).

2019-Cruise-209xWhile the whale viewing had been excellent, we had not seen many bears.  So we headed to the Pack Creek Bear Viewing Area on Admiralty Island.  We also arranged to meet our former neighbors from West Seattle who were cruising SE Alaska on their own vessel.  While we saw about five bears, it wasn’t nearly as spectacular as our 2017 visit that included 16 different bears.  The Pack Creek stream flow was way down and the fish hadn’t really started running upstream yet.

2019-Cruise-220xBefore heading into Petersburg and Deb & John departing home, we tried for halibut around Pybus Bay.  Despite pesky bottom fish stealing the bait off their hooks, both John & Marcia managed to hook halibuts on different days.

Debbie & John departed Petersburg on July 28 and we left the following day working our way south to Ketchikan (where this is being written).  From here we’ll cross Dixon Entrance, clear immigration in Prince Rupert and work our way south, fishing at a few sites along the way.  Before returning to our homeport in Eagle Harbor on Bainbridge Island, we have an appointment in Port Townsend for our regular maintenance and a few upgrades.

Trying for a Three-peat

With a forecast for 4 foot seas on the outside waters, we departed Sitka on Friday, June 21 to fish near Cape Edgecumbe.  Marcia had heard that it was the current “hot” area.  The several dozen boats, about half of which were guide fishing boats, certainly confirmed that a lot of locals thought it was the place to be.  Sadly, the salmon did not think it so “hot” and had gone elsewhere. 

After a night in the cove outside the entrance to De Groff Bay, the next morning we tried Dog Point for the early bite, but nobody bit. We were “oh for four” with our Sitka fishing efforts so we decided to head back to Chatham Strait which had proved productive a week earlier.

2019-Cruise-084xWe retraced the previous steps we took to Sitka, this time substituting Ell Cove for Takatz Bay, before we reached the fishing area in Chatham Strait on Monday, June 24.  After about an hour of trolling, Marcia had a hit on her line and reeled in a 32-inch, 15-pound chinook salmon.

The Alaska annual non-resident limit for chinook salmon is three fish if caught before July 1 but only one if caught after.  Marcia figured she had six more days to get that last fish and was determined to try.

After anchoring the night in Gut Bay, we went back out into Chatham early the next morning.  The weather pattern had changed and a blocking ridge in the Gulf of Alaska brought an end to the rain that we had seen earlier. Unfortunately, better weather often means higher winds on inside waters.  2019-Cruise-086xThe winds can either be afternoon sea breezes driven by warm land and cool waters or the prevailing northerlies of building high pressure.  In any event, the forecast for Chatham Strait was now 15 knot winds and 3-foot seas.  Where we were fishing it was a steady 15-20 knots with short choppy seas because the flood current was opposing the wind.  After about 2 hours of fishing with no action, we called it.

We tried again the next day but the winds and seas were the same or a little bit worse so we decided to head into Fredrick Sound looking for quieter conditions and perhaps a halibut.  While we found light winds and calmer seas, after fishing two locations we had no halibut to show for the effort.

With Marcia’s chinook salmon clock running out, we headed back into Chatham on Friday, June 28 and anchored the night in Security Bay on Kuiu Island.  A half-hour after we dropped the anchor, the 5-10 NW winds in the anchorage clocked around to 10-15 SE winds and stayed there the entire night.

The next morning, we headed out hoping for the best but by the time we reached Kingsmill Point on Kuiu Island the 15-20 S winds convinced us that it wasn’t safe for us to fish.  Even if we were lucky enough to hook a fish we couldn’t safely land it as it requires standing on the swim step to net the fish.

With two king salmon in the freezer, we changed our plans and headed up Chatham aiming for Juneau.  After stops in Ell Cove and Funter Bay we arrived in Juneau on July 1. 

Last year we had an extended stay in Juneau necessitated by waiting for a furnace part to be repaired.  We ended up having a wonderful time.  We’ve decided to repeat that this year voluntarily.  Our guests, Debbie & John Wick, arrive on Sunday July 7.  We plan on departing Tuesday, July 9.  We’ll do a week in Glacier Bay, do some more fishing in Chatham and Fredrick Sound, visit the Pack Creek Bear Observatory and end their visit at Petersburg on Saturday, July 27.

This is the Alaska I Remember

The last couple of years, it seems like the weather during our time in SE Alaska has been extraordinarily nice bordering on record setting. The recent stretch of weather during our travel from Ketchikan to Sitka has restored my sense of normalcy to the world.

2019-Cruise-060xAfter we arrived in Ketchikan on June 4, we decided to do a partial loop around Revillagigedo Island and hit some of our favorite anchorages along the way. We departed on June 6 and stayed at Yes Bay, Fitzgibbon Cove, Walker Cove and Klu Bay before returning to Ketchikan on June 10. We did some crabbing and prawning along the way, enough for some meals with more to go in the freezer for later.

We raced back to Ketchikan a day earlier than planned to beat a strong couple of fronts passing over SE Alaska (I read the dreaded word “atmospheric river” in one of the forecast discussions put out by the Juneau weather office). We were glad the slip we were assigned in the Bar Harbor marina was next to a purse seiner fishing boat whose heft protected us from 25 knot winds blowing across the channel,Tongass Narrows, running in front of the harbor. We were In the section that only had a floating breakwater for protection and not “real” rock breakwater barrier.

Devils Elbow RouteAfter about 36 hours of stiff winds, they relented and we were able to start the next leg of our trip towards Sitka on June 12. To cut a day or so off the journey, we took the most direct route through Keku Strait/Rocky Pass. Our first night out of Ketchikan was in bight outside of Red Bay on the north side of Prince of Wales Island and the second night was at an anchorage about a mile WNW of Honey Dew Cove on Kuiu Island bordering Frederick Sound.

2019-Cruise-066xOur destination for June 14 was Gut Bay but Marcia wanted to fish the mid-day bite in Chatham Strait along the east shore of Baranof Island. Her instincts were good and after about an hour of trolling, she hooked and landed a beautiful 25-pound Chinook salmon. To say she was overjoyed was an understatement.

The next day, we tried to see if “lightning would strike the same place” but to no avail and we moved on to lovely Takatz Bay. 2019-Cruise-079bwShortly after we anchored, rain began in earnest. The way the clouds threaded their way through trees and past ridges was reminiscent of our time in Misty Fiords during rain.

Fortunately, the heavy rains were not accompanied by high winds and Chatham and Peril Straits were not uncomfortable when we headed to Douglas Bay in Hoonah Sound. The next day, June 17, we ran 2019-Cruise-063xCanoe Pass next to Sergius Narrows, fished the north end of Kruzof Island outside of Kalinin Bay then headed to the cove outside the entrance to DeGroff Bay for the night (and more rain).

On June 18th, the winds and waves in Sitka Sound convinced us that fishing Viskari Rocks was not a good idea, so we took the protected water route through Sitka Harbor and the islands to the SW over to Biorka Island where we again fished unsuccessfully. We anchored the night in Samsing Harbor just a few miles south of Sitka.

Despite the leisurely start that morning, we were tied off in Sitka by 10 AM.  We’ll spend a couple of nights here before heading out on our slow journey to Juneau…