Log: Misty Fiords to Sitka

Tuesday, June 5 55º30.07’N 130º59.31’W Ella Cove in Misty Fiords National Monument

Ketchikan people going to work; cruise ships coming in. Great sailing. Dolphins. Nice view of New Eddystone Rock, a tiny rock island 230 feet high. Vancouver named it after the Eddystone Light on a rock off Plymouth, England. and then went on to name nearby bays and islands after its keepers, Rudyerd, Smeaton and Winstanley.

Wednesday, June 6 Burroughs Bay 56º02.66’N 131º06,.18’W

Leaving Ella Cove at dawn, we cross Behm Canal to Punchbowl Cove.  The spray from the falls on the corner is caught in the new rays of morning between mist wisps.  A crowd of cottonwoods have laid claim with tentative toeholds to a space where not so many months ago the rock face came plunging into the sea.

We tie up at Punchbowl’s lone mooring buoy and have a big breakfast.   Loons land in a flutter of color.  Dark with turquoise stripes on their throats.  The glacier carved face reminiscent of Half Dome rises 3000 feet from the water/.  Bright green sea grass marks the once in a new moon and once in a full moon tide line. A pair of ducks dive:  black bodies, black feet, white tail and undersides.  Wish my eyes were better.  As the negative 3 foot tide goes out we notice an uncharted rock just off our stern about a 100 feet from the buoy at 55º31.659’N 130º46.935.  We make a note and resolve to email the Douglasses, authors of our cruising guide.  

We motor up then up Behm Canal, pushed by two knots of flood.   We pass Walker Cove where we see a sailboat  in the distance;  otherwise we have this expanse to ourselves.  When we pass a log on which six gulls are standing, our wake knocks them off. They must have been sleeping!

Thursday, June 7 Helm Bay off Behm Canal  55º39.11’N 131º58.91W

It was funny to find the lone Forest Service buoy in the midst of such a sweeping area of water and to watch the sun descend – not set, mind you – across a huge fetch of Behm Canal. Waking to the morning’s low tide, however, we had great areas of mud separating us from the grassy back shoal areas against the mountains where we’d searched – in vain – for bears.

Friday, June 8 55º57.91’N 132º26.51’W McHenry Anchorage

The wind gods have let us down again so we motor up Clarence Strait. joined for a piece by a couple of very fat dolphins. We are the only boat in this little anchorage on Etolin Island.

Saturday, June 9 56º27.92’N 132º22.95’W Wrangell

The grey early morning waters of Clarence Strait turn to deep luminous blue as the sun slowly breaks and then as we wind through passing forested islands, to dark green. As we turn into Stikine Strait waters mix with the those of the great river of the same name and lighten to an opaque aqua. By the time we round Woewodski Island toward Wrangell, the water is a solid chalky beige dotted with little bits of ice from the Stikine River and the LoConte Glacier.

Nestled between two snow covered hills, the colored tin roofs of Wrangell are welcoming. At closer range, it seems the same gritty, matter-of-fact place we left it. We tie up among fishing boats, fast glacier-bound aluminum boats and a couple of other sailing cruisers. Chief Shakes house, which used to stand on the adjacent island, is being rebuilt, with dedication and totem pole raising schedule for May 18, 2013.

Sunday, June 10 Wrangell

Leaving Cruz to a well-deserved chance to sleep in, Jack and I head for the Diamond C Cafe for a big breakfast. The crowd is local and convivial, the server busy and focussed. Every table fills and then refills as the Sunday morning drizzle turns to rain. On the front door is a help wanted sign for four positions: Full-time dishwasher, part time dishwasher, bookkeeper, and night security guard. What is a funky café on the main street is a boarding house on the side of the waterfront. I wonder if it is the start of salmon season or some recent boss-worker dust up accounts for the rare list of unfilled positions.

After laundry, grocery shopping, a boat yard visit, and a nap, Jack and I head out of town on the bike path south of town. For a good while a great grey heron takes off just as we get even with him and lands a hundred years down the shore, over and over again. The only other bike we meet is ridden by a helmeted toddler out with his mom. Houses and businesses are are strung out several miles along the way. The bike path must serve the occasional carless visitor or fisherman and provide a safe route to school for kids.

Back at the boat, I see small barge has arrived at the large commercial dock. The tug is waiting beside it, its three masthead lights indicating a tow still on and the quiet of a Sunday evening is broken by a fork lift unloading supplies. Cruz already has dinner mapped out so I take off on my bike again to get a closer look.

A couple of trucks pull up to the loading area carrying 40 ft containers while the forklift works in the tight spaces of the stern to move the smaller items down the stern gangplank, onto the dock and into the yard. Once there is a bit more space, a second lift – already loaded – joins the first. Simultaneous unloading and loading is well choreographed. A forklift grabs a forty foot container, pivots to exit the barge sideways thus avoiding other containers and machinery on the deck, then turns again to run the container onto the waterfront where it is stacked or placed on a truck. Trucks come and go. Guys with clipboards count and check things off but there can’t be more than a handful of workers at any one time.

The foreman briefs me on what is going on. He works for Northland Services which shares responsibility for individual ports with Alaska Marine Lines. This is Wrangell’s summer provisioning, including its fuel needs. Until recently, gasoline and diesel arrived on purpose built barges. Since the regs changed, cylindrical fuel tanks come enclosed in twenty or forty foot frames and are stacked along with the other containers. I ask about an extra long container which lies on top of three forty-footers. “Oh that’s the dumpster!,” he says. “Except for a few things we burn here, I’m afraid our garbage all gets exported to Redmond, Washington.” Indeed this is the story that is repeated throughout Southeast. Barges head south nearly empty now that timber is on the wane and the transport of frozen salmon limited to late summer and fall. In terms of conventional economics, exporting garbage is “cheap” and the poor communities east of the Cascades need the income. While this not something that most Alaskans want to talk about, some of them are starting to see things more holistically and do the real math.

Monday, June 11 56º48.59’N 132º57.94’W Petersburg

The Wrangell Narrows with their sixty-odd aids to navigation separate us from Petersburg. We’ve done them before on our own and in the Ferry but nonetheless I study the chart carefully as Douglass recommends. It’s a bit like memorizing a salon course; sudden fog or driving rain can cause a white out.

In the end it’s clear all the way. With Cruz at the helm I take my seat in front of the mast and enjoy the ride. But then the the Taku enters the Narrows. The car ferries are the largest vessels that can negotiate the Narrows. We stay the course on until the Taku appears behind us. Our point of closest approach turns out to be the tricky patch between the South Ledge and the North Ledge or red buoys 16 and 18. Our request to stand on is denied. At the Taku captain’s suggestion, Cruz we moves us over into a few feet of water on starboard and lets the big ship pass.

After tying up among Petersburg’s 800 fishing boats in the busy Harbor at the north end of the Narrows, we pick up the Petersburg Pilot with the headline “Damaged Ocean Beauty will forego fish processing for the season.” Why? Because the Matanuska – the Alaska State Ferry which we took up from Bellingham two years ago – had collided with the dock on which the extensive Ocean Beauty facilities sit. Interestingly, most passengers were unaware of the mishap and the building shows light damage a few boarded up windows. But the company insists that the working environment for the 160 workers may not be safe. I chat with a fisherman neighbor about the company’s hard line.” I guess they just want to milk them,” he says.

Wednesday, June 13 56º56.81’N 133º53.78’W Kake

As shown on the chart, the port of this small is a native community is surrounded by shallows and has a tricky entrance. But when we get there we find a hefty sea wall protecting a carefully dredged harbor with newly built dock with spacious floats and empty slips everywhere. We tie up at the closest one, next to the only other cruising boat, the S/V Raven Song from Vancouver. The Harbor Master is nowhere to be found so we are back in the Alaska where it’s impossible to spend money.

Thursday, June 14 57º28.38’N 133º53.78’W Appleton Cove off Rodman Bay off Peril Strait

A long but wonderful day. Over twelve hours up from Keku Island/Strait to large sea lion haulout on the tiny island south of the southernmost Point Gardner on Admiralty Island, and up Chatham Strait along the snow covered mountains of Baranof Island. Great sailing. Occasionally we’d see a small boat. Off port near the mouth of Peril Strait Cruz spotted a large pod of Orcas, splashing, circling, carrying on. Several males had extremely tall dorsal fins. One breached completely. We were transfixed. Then off starboard, out of nowhere on a clear afternoon, a National Geographic boat appeared and steaming toward the pod, its brightly clad passengers all on the bow with binoculars. Cruz says Nat Geo must have tagged the whales and was tracking them.

After a day of straining eyes to watch whales through binoculars, we entered the mouth of the shallow cove on a low tide. There from the shallows a humpback spouted and dove just off our beam. Thank you!

Friday, June 15- Saturday June 23 57º03.35’N 135º21.21’W Sitka

Our much anticipated arrival in Sitka lies at the end of a journey through Peril Strait, Deadman’s Reach, Neva Strait and Olga Passage. The Harbor Master says we can tie up on Dock A, tells us how to get here and appears us on the float to catch our lines. Kristi in the Harbor Master’s office remembers us, pulls our file from the com

puter, promises us an eight day stay right and charges us a grand total of $170, electricity and 6% Sitka summer tax included. Thirty-five cents a foot in the heart of one of America’s finest call towns. (Compare this with $1.25 a foot at Sullivan Bay in the B.C. wilderness before Cape Caution.)


2 Responses to “Log: Misty Fiords to Sitka”

  1. 1 Alice Brocoum August 7, 2012 at 11:00 am

    Great photos, so interesting to read about the places we’ve been from your watery perspective. We went by Kake on the ferry, but just walked off and on in the rain. Will read on later after bike ride, we’re in Whitehorse now on our way to Dawson City following the Klondike gold rush. Then south to Haines to pick up the ferry home. Loved our Inside Passage ferry trip ( with a week long stop at each port: Keichikan, Wrangell, Petersburg, Sitka, Juneau and Skagway), but you travelled the best way by far! See you at yoga in September, Alice

    • 2 Carol McCreary August 7, 2012 at 8:20 pm

      Look forward to sharing notes on your return, Alice. We’re looking to you to let us know the must visit places in Alaska. Feel free to make suggestions right here. Next year we’ll surely rent some wheels and move inland a bit.

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