Tracy Arm!

Well, we finally did it. On the Fourth of July we were ambling back south but just not ready for it. Comparing destinations with fellow sailors tied up at Baranof Warm Springs, we kept hearing Tracy Arm! This 45-mile fjord south of Juneau is clogged with icebergs and bergie bits that make their way clear into Stephens Passage. The big ones hang around all summer.

Behind a sea of icebergs, the South Sawyer Glacier beckons.

In 2009, on our first trip to Alaska, we floated near the entrance of Holkhum Bay contemplating whether to go up Tracy Arm to the Sawyer and South Sawyer Glaciers or up Endicott Arm to its glacier and Ford’s Terror.  I’d been the one to chicken out and had not lived it down since.

Canadians Wayne and Randi and Americans Anna and Jim, sit us down, lay out the charts and tell us exactly what to do.  “There’s an unnamed cove right at the beginning. Good anchorage once you get in.”

Cool. We know how to squirm into an anchorage.

“When we were there last week an iceberg floated in in the middle of the night and a couple of boats had to move,” says Anna.

Oh. Not so cool. In an attempt to recommend the best place to drop the hook, the four of them discuss iceberg movements.  There’s no consensus. The only message is “Just go!”

There’s already a sizable berg in Unnamed Cove when we arrive. I watch its slow drift into late evening and worry. In the end I just sleep through the night. If it comes our way, we’ll know it and figure it out from there. Unfamiliar situations are welcome when there are other boats around.
Access to Tracy Arm is immediate from Unnamed Cove, a tiny dent in north shore of Holkham Bay.  From the first bend, Tracy Arm is  spectacular. Each of the forks at the end has a tidewater glacier that starts in the enormous Stikine ice field.
Age old blue ice greets us as we head out very early in the day.
The steep cliffs and deep shadows of the first bend of Tracy Arm are dramatic at this time of day.
As the sun breaks to the east, the steep cliffs glisten in the shadows.
Gulls perch on the bergs, seals haul out on them.
The upper reaches of the 5000 foot fjord walls have glacier-hewn U-shaped valleys.
The lower reaches have V-shaped valleys sculpted by rushing water.
Strangely colored rocks line the shore. The color of the water depends on what is reflected in it and the amount of glacial silt, which increases as we head up.
Morning breaks across the water and there’s more blue in the sky.
The fjord just keeps unfolding mile after mile.
We proceed slowly. I run from watching from the to talking with Jack in the stern. Note how small our dodger is! Rain or shine we have a 360º view. So much to see!
Finally the South Sawyer Glacier appears. The way to it is choked with ice and there are no other boats around. We hear it calve and know the this can produce waves up to 25 feet. That’s close enough for this year.
This berg is approximately the size of our house!
This is the view back into the South Fork of the fjord.
Ahead is the North Fork of Tracy Arm, which has less vegetation, making its water a steely grey.
This North Fork cliff face is particularly colorful.
Of course it has waterfalls.  There must be a spectacular lake up there.
The North Fork glacier is not calving this year.
Looking back toward where Tracy Arm forks.
Every mile is different – the light, the colors, the flow of water.
In the early afternoon the wind comes up on this section of the fjord. It’s on our nose so no sailing. Now I am watching out for hard-to-see (and just plain hard) transparent bergie bits anywhere from a foot to 15 fee across. They can do damage. We don’t hit any.
A rather dramatic half-dome, no? Tracy Arm is a kind of watery Yosemite.
The afternoon sun lights up the topography we’d missed in the morning shadows.
The variety of the landscape never stops surprising us.
Surprise after surprise.
Delight after delight.
With bergs of every shape along the way.
And new scenery continuously revealing itself.
Back near where we started a strong of intriguing icebergs are moving past Unnamed Cove.
While it really lacks a name, its nameless name has become known thanks to its convenient location.
Over drinks on deck we watch the iceberg parade past our anchorage.
It’s still going on when we awaken the next morning. This black one is fairly sinister.
As we exit Holkham Bay, we get a good view of Sumdum Glacier. It’s a hanging glacier not a tidewater one.
We’ve done it! Good bye Tracy Arm. See you next summer!





Our Southeast Cities

Our Southeast Cities

Sitka and Petersburg. A week in each has reacquainted us with these two gems in Southeast, as Alaskans call their panhandle. Both enjoy Tlingit culture, huge fishing fleets, and miles of docks along which you can stroll and talk to fishermen. But they’re quite different.  

Sitka looms large in American History as the capital of Russian Alaska and the place where Alaska was transferred to the United States in 1867. Sitka’s multilayered past comes alive as you visit the National Historical Park with its totem poles, Castle Hill, St Michael’s Cathedral, the Bishop’s House, and the Sheldon-Jackson and city museums and attend performances of the Naa Kahidi Tlingit dance troupe, the New Archangel Russian dancers, and summer chamber music festival.  For natural history, there’s the Alaska Raptor Center, a bear rescue operation, and the extraordinary Sitka Sound Science Center, to which the locals attribute their children’s documented high levels of science literacy.  Everyone should spend a week in Sitka.

For me, Petersburg stands out as a bright story of immigration to America. It was founded by Peter Bachmann who arrived from Norway in 1897.  He chose the site because of proximity of fresh ice from the nearby Le Conte glacier.  In time recruited hundreds of his impoverished countrymen, who built houses on pylons and great wharfs with canneries over the waters of Wrangell Narrows. 

Okay, you say, Norwegians settled many places in the Pacific Northwest; so where’s the story?  Well, Alaska produces about 60% of all US seafood and Petersburg a good portion of that. The old canneries now house modern fish processing operations to which the catch is delivered 24/7 during the summer. People walking down Nordic Drive speak Tagalog, Spanish, Haitian Creole, Slavic Languages, and varieties of Englishes (that  for Number 45, with his preference for Norwegian immigrants, mark them as potential terrorists from “shithole countries”).  More than any agricultural community in the Central Valley, Petersburg hammers home the reality that workers like these, who willingly leave home to follow the harvests, are the heroes of our national food system. They are responsible for the food security we currently enjoy.

I talk about Sitka here; let me just share some photos of Petersburg this week.

Mountains rise north of town beyond Frederick Sound.
More than a dozen wharves extend into Wrangell Narrows. Three of them have fish processing operations.
Ships from the fishing fleet deliver their catch 24/7.
Seven hundred stalls accommodate huge purse seiners, gillnetters, trollers, small boats the locals use to fish for personal use and the occasional recreational cruiser.
You can’t get to Petersburg on a large cruise ship but several docks accommodate smaller one, such as National Geographic’s Sea Lion.
Petersburg has interesting tides, without a seawall, very tricky currents. Boats in Hammer Slough rest on the bottom and six hours later are afloat.
On Saturday, the range between high and low tides was 24 feet. This boat launch ramp wasn’t much good at low tide.
The ramp from the floats to the wharf gets so steep, we avoided leaving the boat at low tide.
As in Sitka, we spent time at the Community Center gym. Petersburg has a splendid new pool facility.
In addition to the Olympic pool, there’s a warm pool, a hot pool and a sauna. Kids here learn to swim.
Many houses and businesses feature traditional rosemaling designs.
The canneries house workers on Nordic Drive, the main street, adjacent to the wharves. This boarding house is especially attractive.
City parks have some great wooded trails.
There are nice places to sit but you risk gathering moss.  Petersburg gets 130 inches of rain annually. Picnic tables are in covered log structures with great fireplaces.

Log: Watery wilderness to Petersburg

Tuesday 3 July 2018  Appleton Cove on Peril Strait  57º25’N 135º15.7’W

In Sitka we take shore leave from the comfort of our home base on Aurora. On terra firma our minds and muscles get a different kind of workout. For the first time in ten days, Jack and I spend some time apart – more than forty feet! I ride my bike to the laundromat or the library, clear email, have phone meetings, ensure distant aspects of my life are on track.  Jack scoots all over town, works out at the community gym, and anguishes briefly over news from Washington that tumbles in all at once. We bathe in chamber music.   We walk the docks talking to crews of trollers, gillnetters, seiners, recreational boats, and large tax-haven flagger yachts waiting for their guests. We revisit favorite sites: from the deep dark forest floor we gaze up at the totem poles and the eagles circling, singing above as ravens call out to us. We spend time with Sara and Brian, Gus and Emma and pepper them with all our unanswered questions.  

We’d arrived thinking this is the last time we’ll visit Sitka on our own keel.  We leave thinking it won’t be.  

Shipwright Robert, who is fitting out S/V Valiant for world cruising with his fiancee, lives aboard lives with his four retired sled dogs and the dog of a friend lost at sea.

The clouds hang heavily over the spectacular peaks that rise sharply behind the city the whole week. Twenty minutes after we cast off, dawn breaks, enveloping us in its warm embrace. 

We leave as we came, spending just enough time on the buoy at Schultz Cove for lunch and naps before transiting Serguis Narrows at slack.  Going through we pass Teas for Two and wave to Helen and Ian, who call on the radio for a brief chat.   

Whales, porpoises, dolphins spout and jump. The air is bone dry. Appleton Cove’s Alaska State buoy is unoccupied.  Where are our fellow humans?  

Wednesday 4 July  2018 Baranof Warm Springs 57º05’N 134º49.9’W

Another beautiful morning on Chatham Strait.  We arrive at low tide and Jack turns Aurora 180º with inches under the keel for a starboard tie on the north side of the dock.  We head for the bathhouse and get very clean.  

Bathing in the endless warm waters in a free bathhouse with a view.

Boats come and go, leaving a mostly convivial crowd for Fourth of July celebrations. The exceptions are a couple of larger boats with commercial guests and generators running.  While barely audible above the roar of the falls, they spew fumes. Ted, the retired resident who helps collect moorage for the Sitka Harbormaster, requests they desist and they do. But after dark when the last of the outdated, disposable marine flares soar above the bay, the gensets come on after we go to bed. (Which inspires Jack to complain to the Sitka Harbormaster, who replies that a sign with the rule is a good idea.)

Aurora on Baranof Warm Springs opposite Jim and Anna’s Balloon and sailboat of Wayne and Randi from Golden BC.


Friday 6 July  2018 Cannery Cove in Pybus Bay  57º18’N  134º08.7’W

A dozen large seiners lie at anchor as we leave Warm Springs Bay.

There are a dozen seiners in the Bay when we leave Warm Springs, their crews sleeping off a couple of days of fishing. It was so much fun the last time when these big ships flouted the rules and rafted side by side from the float out across the Bay.

MV Teal, a classic Wooden Yacht from Friday Harbor in Washington’s San Juan Island leaves Alaska’s San Juan Islands and motors into Cannery Cove.
There’s a spectacular mountain cirque surrounding Cannery Cove in Pybus Bay on the east coast of Admiralty Island.

Saturday 7 July 2018 Unnamed Cove on Tracy Arm  57º48.5’N  133º38’W

Nothing creepier than having a berg bigger than your boat floating around the anchorage.


Monday 9 July 2018  Cleveland Channel

Rather than go on to Portage Bay on the south shore of Frederick Sound, we decide to break the trip to Petersburg in two passages of approximately 5 hours each. So we drop anchor in  Cleveland Channel at southwest end of Stevens Passage just north of Cape Fanshaw.

When we check the weather during before dinner drinks, all reports have been updated.  It seems rapidly moving low pressure system is on its way, predicted to blow though and wear itself out in about 36 hours.  We’re okay with small craft advisories of 15 to 25 knots of wind. This report, however, specifies gusting to 40 knots.  And we are not yet around Cape Fanshaw at the point where two huge bodies of water meet: Stephens Passage and Frederick Sound.

We go to bed with the prospect of having to spend a day waiting out the storm and expecting to be awakened by wind starting in the middle of the night.

Tuesday 10 July  2018 Petersburg

We wake up early to the eerie calm that proceeds a storm. It looks like we’ll have no trouble rounding Cape Fanshaw and getting into Frederick Sound.  By 5am the anchor is up and we’re underway.  Before leaving Stephens Passage we see a couple of humpbacks, the only whales we see in days on two vast bodies of water known for their whales.  On a previous trip through Frederick we had to wend our way through dozens of half-sleeping whales.

We round Cape Fanshaw on calm waters.  (With apologies for another blue grey seascape. Just a slice of the miles-wide 360º watch Jack and I keep underway..

Soon enough it begins to rain and we lose visibility while neither the wind nor the sea state is troublesome. We don’t see a single ship until we approach Petersburg and find ourselves in the company of a large fuel barge on starboard and a tug and tow on port.  Looks like everyone is on target to enter the Wrangell Narrows on a high tide at slack.  No sooner do we enter the channel than the tug skipper, who had been shortening his cable, announces to “all concerned traffic” that he’s coming through.  We scramble into low water on the side as the huge tug and barge slide by a boat length away.

Petersburg 700 stall harbor sits right on Wrangell Narrows among the canneries.

We head for the fuel dock where the enormous tanker is already unloading gas and diesel. We fill up to ward off winter condensation that will put water not our diesel.  I ask the attendant how the fishing is.  Not too good. And where are the whales?  “Yes. Where are the whales?  I’ve been here ten years and a couple of times each week would see groups of humpbacks or orcas head down the Narrows.  Not this year.”Aurora’s new home is stall 106 right in front of Ocean Beauty’s huge fish processing operations.


Log: From the magic of Klemtu to the enchantment of Sitka

Tuesday 12 June 2018  Klemtu 52º35.6’ºN  128º31’W

We break the usual long passage north with a stop in Klemtu, where we land at the fuel dock and are greeted by a smiling Alan at the fuel dock.  The folks at Shearwater has advised against filling up with their diesel until the huge shipment piped off a barge had settled in their tanks.  Alan is welcoming an accommodating.  When we request permission to drop anchor in Klemtu’s small bay, Alan says, “You could just pull back onto that extension of the fuel dock.”  Oh good. A leg-stretch in this interesting First Nation village without having to inflate the dinghy.  When I go up to the office on the dock to pay, Alan asks if I’ve visited  Klemtu’s Big House. I haven’t.  He has me copy down the phone number of Shane Robinson, who can guide me.

And that is a story still to be written.

Wednesday 13 June 2018 Lowe Inlet  53º33.4”N 129º34’W

Daybreak gilds the foothills along Grenville Channel as we exit Lowe Inlet.

We leave Klemtu at 6am and twelve and a half hours later drop anchor in Lowe Inlet. This can be a challenge but we nail it, our anchor grabbing the mud on a single narrow goldilocks band between shoal and depths. 

Thursday 14 June 2018  Kumealon Inlet  53º52’N 129º58’W

The rising tide in Lowe Inlet entitles us to a mid morning start and a strong favorable current north on Grenville Channel.  I sit on deck leaning back on the mast where I can look out for logs and signal to Jack, who zigs and zags around them. Twice a month, when the moon is full or new, spring tides float the drift from shore into our path.   

Into Kumealon Inlet tonight,  23 vertical feel of water will flow in and out – six hours to arrive and six to depart. Again we must lay down the hook in the sweet spot, which is just off a rock wall where you can see the rise and fall with your own eyes. We succeed.

Friday 15 June 2018 Cow Bay, Prince Rupert 54º19’N 130º19’W   

The new Cow Bay Marina has space. Owner Robin Beattie and his employee Noora are at the docks to take our lines.  Currents are strong here.  We tie up in 150 feet of water and watch shore rise 25 feet with the falling tide. 

In the fog that comes the next morning we can’t see shore. It will not be fun transiting the circuitous Venn Passage on a low spring tide in such conditions.  In the end, the lack of visibility on the morning of our rest day enhances our joy when the next morning dawns clear.

Sunday 17 June  Foggy Bay  54º56.9’N 130º56.4’W

Above 54º40’ !   Alaska at last.  Jack has called ahead to US Customs and got us permission to spend the night here along with two other slow sailboats.  

S/V Caro Babbo in Foggy Bay, where US Customs officials have given phone permission for us to overnight between 54º40’N and Ketchikan.

Monday 18 June 2018  Ketchikan  55º20’N 131º38.4’W

As we motor up Revillagigedo Channel we see our first giant cruise ship of the trip, then second, third, four, and fifth towering over the waterfront.  Without a suitable dock the largest cruise ship (in the whole world it seems) – the Norwegian Bliss – is anchored out and lightering in its passengers to shore.  Today this diminutive town of 13,000 people has nearly 13,000 visitors!  

We duck behind the first of these behemoths expecting calm in Thomas Basin. There is none. Strong, noisy williwaws rush down the peaks.  As we dock I manage to get the midline on a cleat but nothing else. Aurora fishtails into the neighboring boat whose occupants come out to help.  Man rushes to stern, woman grabs a bow line. It takes us ten minutes of struggle to inch the boat in an get it tied up.

Ketchikan’s hill top library has comfy chairs and snowfield views but 80º is still hot.

Ketchikan is 80º. To escape the heat and check my mail I take the city bus up to Ketchikan’s new library.  The ride is pleasant, the chair comfy, the view spectacular, but Alaska libraries aren’t air conditioned.  What was I thinking?

When the sun sinks and the big ships are gone, and the fishing boats return, and thing get convivial on the docks.  Sage, who organized our rescue is a shipwright who lives aboard with his family.  He gives us his card, which we tape to the nav station. It’s hard to find a ready shipwright in Alaska in the summer; Across the way from them on S/V Lionheart are Rachel and Jeff with their baby, toddler and teenager.  They are moving from Prince of Wales, where Rachel taught all of Thorne Bay’s third, fourth and fifth graders, to the Olympic Penninsula. John and Jennifer of Cara Babbo visit, bearing fresh corn muffins: turns out they’ve just moved to Port Townsend, where it will be good to have them.  Next visit is crew of Teas for Two – the third Foggy Bay boat – Ian from Victoria and Helen from the northern shores of the UK.  

Wednesday 20 June 2018  Thorne Bay  55º40.9’N 132º31.4’W

Whew!  We did it.  Got into Thorne Bay. Jack on Navionics on iPad standing next to me at helm.   Straight line zig zag. My knuckles white.  Jack’s voice calm. “One or two more degrees to the right.”   “Now hard turn to left and straighten out at about 275º.”

Battery lantern lights nav station writing desk while I enjoy the long slow late night sunset.

We’re the only boat on the guest dock.  We tie up right in front of Toccata, which Sheryl and Greg spent 27 years building in Port Townsend.  New Harbormaster, Ron, seems to know everything.  Says Sheryl is doing the laundry and Greg is in crafting something in his shop on shore. Somehow we miss them but liveaboards Libby and Jim pay a visit.  Once the largest logging camp in the world, Thorne Bay is a quiet community of 400 souls.  Libby says 38 of them are named “Jim” and that the second most popular name is Sean/Shawn. Shows some demographic diversity, I say.

Thorne Bay has excellent, empty docks and a liquor store but no bar. Which makes it somewhat unAlaskan. Rachel the teacher and future home schooler suspects her family was “too hippy” for the place.

Thursday 21 June 2018  Exchange Island  56º12’N 133.04’W

Solstice sun breaks, calming wind in Exchange Island anchorage. We celebrate with drinks on deck.

Summer Solstice.  A late afternoon west wind is strong enough to spins Aurora opposite the direction the incoming tide has pushed her. I let out 50 more feet of chain I pay attention to our GPS coordinates lest we drag.  We don’t.

As the wind subsides and sun sinks, we enjoy drinks on deck. An enormous salmon jumps and splashes as a great blue heron, clearly outmatched, looks on in wonder.

Friday 22 June 2018 South entry to Rocky Pass 56º35’N 133º41’W

Lovely morning passage north behind the Kashevarof Island and into the vast Sumner Strait. Two hulking cruise ships steam south to disgorge thousands on the Ketchikan waterfront when the shops open.  An orange blaze appears over the horizon off Pt. Baker. Not a ship on fire but a commercial trawler with its fishing lights on.  A large work platform of a boat disappears down Prince of Wales’ west coast.  Nothing smaller anywhere around.

We head for Keku Strait, which nothing larger than Aurora can transit.  We’ve done it twice before. Cognizance of how tidal level and direction affect passage are essential, especially for the middle 20 miles sections known as Rocky Pass.  

So we get the Douglasses’ Exploring Southeast Alaska: Dixon Entrance to Skagway: Details of Every Harbor and Cove.  We rail against the outdated 2007 second edition, designed either to terrify or laud the courage of the authors: “Stories abound of good skippers who grounded or ruined their boats in Rocky Pass.  Part of the problem is crappy editing by Fine Edge publications. They’ve left in pages of dramatic stuff written long before placement of aids to nav and dredging of a section near Summit Island in the early 00’s.  Our aging chart includes 2007 datum and Jack updated our Navionics digital chart plotter just before the trip. Despite some magnetic disturbance at the north end of Rocky Pass, we should make it.

Saturday 23 June 2018   Kake  56º56.8’N 133º53.7’W  

Make that Peace of Kake.  Kake is a Tlingit village at the end of Keku Strait where we are relishing modest triumphs. Our anchor held in the good mud of a vast shallow expanse of wind beaten water as we slept soundly.  And when the tide was right mid morning we worked in tight collaboration to transit Rocky Pass.

Make that Peace of Kake

Here on the good docks of this surprisingly empty harbor, we have been sandwiched by two other recreational sailboats.  On starboard is Williwaw, owned by the surviving half of a cruising couple whose family members are delivering it to Anacortes where it will be sold.  On port are three generations of Austrians on their third circumnavigation.  “Via Panama?” I ask.  “No, the Northwest Passage.”   Wow. I tell them about Dogbark! and they mention seeing them on AIS earlier this week.  

Sunday 24 June 2018  Baranof Warm Springs  57º05’N 134º50’W   

Early morning fog persists all the way across Frederick Sound and up Chatham Strait.  As we round the tip of Admiralty Island, a Stellar sealion surprises us with a huge splash off our port beam and explodes above the surface next to the boat on port side, an enormous salmon in his mouth.  White; looks like a polar bear.  Plays with his food. Throws it up in the air and snatches back in his jaws.  

It’s late morning when we get close enough to the dock to see there are 45 free feet waiting for us.  Everyone seems to sleeping.  Finally the sun breaks over the snowy 4,000 foot peaks above us.  Is there any corner of the good earth more beautiful than Baranof Warm Springs?

The docks come alive.  We meet Sharon and John, who live aboard Gipsy Lady in Point Hudson.  Stu in on Ripple a 26 foot gaff rigged boat built by the Northwest School for  Wooden Boats.  He’s buddy boating with Terry from Powell River, who has a tiny trimiran and helps me tighten the shroud we stretched when we bent the whisker pole and free the main halyard stuck in the mast.  

The waterfall roars.  We languish in one of the tubs in the bathhouse.  When the seiners arrive, four big ones raft to the smallest, which hangs off the end of the dock. The Sitka Harbormaster under whose authority this small dock now falls would not approve. This is a party. Dogs and children spill out of the boats.  Good to see beloved traditions endure.

Seiners raft five deep at Baranof Warm Springs. Kids and dogs tumble off, cooks get busy, beer cans whisper open. A real party.

Monday 25 June  2018 Schulze Cove 57º23.5’N 135º35.8’W 

A long day starts with spectacular views as we make our early morning exit from Baranof Warm Springs.

Blinding sun-infused fog extends to the south as we head north,
The Ketchikan-bound ferry makes its way down Chatham Strait.


Hot sun burns away the fog so we can enjoy Baranof Island’s spectacular peaks.

We decide to push on in hopes of getting to the Sitka side of Sergius Narrows. In our 10th hour underway, we pull off into Deep Cove to figure out our low slack transit of the Narrows.  We try to ignore the dread the Douglasses inspire in Cruising Southeast Alaska so turn to the usually sensible How to Cruise to Alaska without Rocking the Boat Too Much. Here’s what Walt Woodward writes:

Without a current guide, Walt Woodward’s 1989 How to Cruise to Alaska works. And it agrees with the paper and electronic charts.

Make no mistake about it, Sergius Narrows should be navigated for the first time by an inexperienced skipper only at high water slack; positively and without exception at high water slack. ….Let’s see if I can command your respect of Sergius. In the first place, it is one of only four passes listed in the Pacific Coast Tidal Current Tables for special statistical  treatment: the others are Deception Pass, Seymour Narrows, and Isanotski Strait.  All of them are awesome in the sudden and sustained way that maximum currents surge through them.  The critical portion of Sergius is just 450 feet long, the length of the dredged channel that is 24 feet deep and  only 300 feet wide. On one side of the channel is the rock wall of Sergius Point; the other, marked by a nun buoys, includes covered rock and a submerged rock. Through this aperture race mighty and variable-direction currents of almost six knots on the flood and 5.5 on the ebb. At slack water, however, the thing can be a mill pond for about ten minutes, plenty of time to get through. The only problem then would be other ships waiting for the same slack period.  An Alaska state ferry can fill most of the channel. 

Hmm. We’ve done Sergius twice before but can’t remember if it was high or low slack. No other boats around, at least not westbound. All our tide tables agree that low slack water is at 4:05 pm. And we’re not really inexperienced skippers.

So we go for it.  Two powerful eastbound local boats push against the current to transit a couple of minutes early, leaving Serguis for us alone. We go in a minute before dead low slack and emerge a minute after it.  Absolutely smooth.  Around the corner we find the Alaska State buoy in Schulze Cove waiting for us.

Tuesday 26 June 2018  Sitka  57º03’N 135º21’W   

An iconic SE Alaska troller on Salisbury Sound.

Sublime passage through the swells of Salisbury Sound. The rain stops and the sun breaks through on the early morning trollers. 

In Neva Strait we pass a couple of Sitka black-tailed deer, a small subspecies of mule deer that are a stable of the Alaskan diet. 

Sitka deer on the shore of Neva Strait.

In a narrow passage between Sitka’s first small islands, we pass Dogbark! and chat with Graeme and crew until they disappear into Olga Strait.  They’ll head out across the Gulf of Alaska toward Dutch Harbor and continue north along the Bering Sea coast to Nome, where Janna, Talia and Savia will meet them.  We’re getting their dispatches online.

Dogbark! disappears into Olga Passage enroute to the legendary NW Passage.

Visiting Klemtu’s Big House with a Hereditary Chief

Ever since first laying eyes on Klemtu’s Big House, I’ve wanted to get inside.  In a First Nations village on a remote area of the British Columbia coast like this one, it’s better to wait for an invitation. This year it comes.  Alan, who’s just helped us at the fuel dock, checks to see if I’ve had a tour when I go up the ramp to pay. When he hears I haven’t he makes me write down the phone number of Shane Robinson, who will show me around.  “Or you can just call him on VHF, Channel 6,” he adds.

Rather than depend on electronics, I figure I’ll just walk around the village until I find Shane.   I see a young woman and an old man chatting in front of the health center.  No sooner do I ask  if they’ve seen Shane, than a car passes and they yell, “Shane!”  He doesn’t hear, but the word is out.

I continue up the hill in the company of the old Indian, who’s heading home.  Slowly with a limp. “There’re wolves around the Big House these days,” he says with a smile. “Used to be black bears there but now it’s wolves.”  I ask about the Spirit Bear. “Has anyone seen one recently?”  Also known as Kermode bears, these rare individuals have white coats but are related to black bears. “They live on the smaller islands now.  The brown bears have chased them off the bigger islands.”

I bid farewell to the old Indian at his house and keep going up the hill, thinking how nicely Klemtu snuggles among the mountains around its small bay.  The road continues beyond the village past a construction site for an expanded water treatment facility.  Soon a car is beside me.  It’s Shane Robinson.  “Why don’t you meet me at the Big House at 6:30?”  Because of this construction, the electricity is off but it will be back on then.”  Agreed.

Klemtu nestles against steep mountain, protected from open ocean. This is their Big House.
I wait for Shane in front of the back door, where I identify Raven, Eagle, Whale and…..Wolf. I figure that the old Indian must be a Wolf.
Shane goes in the back door but sends me around to the front.  I wonder if this is going to be a “canned” presentation.  The watchman who guards the front door to Klemtu’s Big House is an important part of a story that unfolds in a lovely way.  In the watchman’s hands are two coppers, one for the Kitasoo and one for the Xai Xais, the two bands that founded Klemtu.
Finally we enter.  The interior is breathtakingly beautiful. I understand why Shane wanted the the scene lit properly.  In the middle is soft clean sand for the dancers. A real fire is lit in the pit and the smoke wafts up through the open smoke hole.
The carving of the winged totem poles is particularly fine. Three dimentional with a contemporary feel.  Ah, look at those teeth.  Nor Raven, Eagle nor Whale.  Must be Wolf.
The seating on either side is all fine woodwork. I ask about the railings. Is that where the children sit?  Nope, that’s the press box: space for video cameras on tripods.  The Raven totem is in the background.
Distinctive to the Kitsaloo Xie Xie is the twin finned killer whale.   I hadn’t noticed that on the back door.  Killer whales have only one fin.
Here’s Shane with the Twin Fin Whale totem. We’re about an hour into the tour now and it’s getting really interesting.  He tells me about his grandfather and grandmother.  They raised him and when his grandfather died he passed on his title of Hereditary Chief to Shane. Now he takes care of his grandmother, who needs special care.
This is a mystery to me. This looks like a totem waiting to be carved but it’s overly trimmed. Plus a Big House doesn’t normally double as a carving shed. Shane has me guess; eventually he points our the decorated sticks lying around. This is a drum that can be play by up to 20 people. It sits in a special space behind the Whale and Eagle totems not far from where the dancers in their regalia enter the Big House.  As I understand it, this communal drum is an innovation.
On either side of the totems on the south side of the building are the doors from backstage.  The people playing the log drum sit behind the wooden panel.
Backstage in one corner is a dressing room with some of the regalia.  This fine mast sits on a pile of red cedar bark, a mainstay of most Coastal Northwest tribes.  Formerly woven into garments, today it is most often seen in the conical hats worn by many different Native peoples from Washington to Alaska.
Klemtu doesn’t have a museum but a larger room “backstage” has a variety of objects, including gifts from other tribes and even pews and objects from a decommissioned church in another village. Here’s another great mask.
This fine small piece of Native art from another village catches my eye. Shane said he hadn’t read it properly until a visitor pointed it out.
While cedar bark often adorns masks elsewhere, the braid topping this eagle mask may be distinctive to Klemtu.
This Raven mask is really fine. Thank you, Shane, for opening my eyes to your culture, history and values. Now that I’ve finally posted these photos, I need to find your phone number and text the link. I will count on you to set straight anything I got wrong.

Now back on line I discover that the Kitasoo Xai Xais have a really good website.


Wearable Percussion

Shore leave in Prince Rupert provides the chance to visit the extraordinary Museum of Northern B.C.  While all the collections are excellent, I love the First Nations’ regalia.  This time what catches my eye are the garments with audible accoutrements.  With wearable percussion, dancers interact with and enhance the beats of the drums.

Apron with metal thimbles.
Apron fringes with puffin beaks.
Garment fringed with pieces of metal and Chinese coins.
Leather dance apron with deer hooves.
Chilkst shawl with puffin beaks.
This bear claw crown would have been worn by the shaman.
Carved goat horns combine in this crown.
Fox skin tunic with with red wool felt and fringes with deer hooves.

When we get to Sitka, I head for the Sheldon Jackson Museum in search of wearable percussion.  One of two Alaska State museums, this holds the collection of Sheldon Jackson, a Presbyterian educator who founded a school for Native youth and collected the items in last decade of the nineteenth century.

But here I don’t find a single example of wearable percussion!  I suppose  people of Jackson’s ilk were not keen on the Potlatch.  Instead, this place is a temple of material culture and human ingenuity. Every drawer in the small octagonal museum holds intriguing objects.

A shaman’s rattle hang in a case near the banks of drawers with other collections.
After European contact and the availability of wire. Tlingit artisans tried their hand at stringed instruments.
When hunter scratches on the ice with tool, the sound resembles that of seals. Feeling safe, the seal approaches the hunter.
Wouldn’t a necklace of fox teeth or of crab mandibles make a pleasant sound?
Or how about a Yup’ik necklace of ground squirrel mandibles? These necklaces were worn by both men and women.
I’m sure some vocal sound or drumming accompanied use of these women’s healing belts.  Inupiaq belt features porcupine quills, one from the Bering Sea caribou teeth.
Snow goggles save Inupiaq hunters from going blind and certainly make a fashion statement.

Log: North past Cape Caution

Thursday 31 May  2018  Bedwell Harbour  48º45’N 123º14’W

DogBark! on the Port Townsend waterfront is ready to leave on a cruise north around Alaska, into the Northwest Passage, and across the Atlantic.

S/V Aurora casts off lines at 4:40am.  No sooner do we exit Boat Haven than we feel the swells and get the main up right in Port Townsend Bay.  There on the historic waterfront we pass Dogbark! the sixty foot refitted racing boat that is taking friends through the Northwest Passage this summer.  We rock and roll around Point Wilson and then sail across Juan to Fuca to Haro Strait on a single tack.

To clear Canadian customs in Bedwell Harbour in mid afternoon, it’s the usual drill, with Jack clambering up the ramp to the kiosk on the wharf, where the federal official on duty simply puts him on the phone with someone in Ottawa. Since S/V Aurora is known quantity, long in the data base for this coast, we pass without question and snag a provincial park buoy nearby. Still no park host so it’s free. Only five boats there, all sail.

Friday 1 June  2018 Nanaimo 49º10’N 123º56’W 

We take Swanson Channel from South Pender to avoid Active Pass traffic in Trincomail Channel.  After a view up Ganges Harbour, we sail northwest along Salt Spring Island, round the north tip via Houston Passage, head south toward Chemanius and north again into Stuart Channel.  We Ladysmith and Thetis Island for future excursions once we find that with sails plus power we can make slack at Dodd Narrows. Pushed to Nanaimo on a flood, we tie up among fishing boats and early cruisers on G float right behind the fish and chips place.  

Saturday 2 June 2018   Boho Bay, Lesqueti Island 49º29’N 124º13.7’W

With no Whiskey Golf naval exercises on weekend, we head across Georgia Strait, where four hours of lumpy following seas bring us to Lesqueti. Drop anchor only to see the shoal rise, ringed with the bring green algae that spells a low low tide. We expect to re-anchor, but discover the shoal drops off steeply a full half boat length from our stern leaving us just enough room to swing. I take a bunch of photos of the shoreline to facilitate future anchoring and nuture my love of being close up to the shore.

Sunday 3 June  2018  Campbell River 50º02’N 125º14.6’W

Long day starts with anchor up at 5:30 and ends 11 hours later when we tie up in Campbell River.  Goodbye Georgia Strait.  Lumpy yes, but all that horizontality, those vast expanses embrace so many beloved spots:  Powell River, Comox with its diminishing glacier, Courteney whose rich paleontology yields the bones of footed fish, little Lund at the end of the road that starts in Patagonia, the high peaks of Desolation Sound, and the Discovery Islands with so many more nooks and crannies to explore (God willing) when we’re really old. This is the end of our home waters – the Salish Sea – fed on the east by the gray green waters of of Toba Glacier and bounded on the west at Seymour Narrows.  South of the Narrows the Pacific Ocean floods north and ebbs south.  North of this passage or just mile or two, ocean waters flood south and ebb north.

Monday 4 June 2018 Shoal Bay 50º27’N 125º21’W

Seymour Narrows is a riot of marine mammals somehow able to time passage at slack in the the absence of Ports and Passages the copious guide to tides and currents issued each year.  As we enter the narrows, a small group of southbound Orcas – a female with her calf and a male with a gigantic dorsal fin – dive and spout early morning greetings.  Then a couple of northbound humpbacks swim by, arching into the current to show off their powerful flukes.  Next we see about twenty small dorsal fins splashing south off starboard.  Three of them – undoubtedly distracted by the sound of our engine – race headlong back toward us.  One plays on the bow wave long enough for me to see it’s a Dall’s porpoise who like the other two, races back to join the pod.

Nodales Passage is sun-filled, dreamy and spectacular.  As we turn into the Shoal Bay wharf, a downpour lets loose so as soon as we tie up, we strip off our wet clothes and fall into warm naps.  

Shoal Bay is gently green and pretty. The view from there is awesomely blue and grey spectacular.

Upon waking, we see Ama Natura across the float. I go up to the tiny lodge to pay the seventy-five cents a foot fee and find Portland friends sharing their new project with Mark McDonald.  Ama Natura, designed by Capt Peter Wilcox and built a decade ago by the Northwest School of Wooden Boat Building, is a pioneer petrol free boat.  This I learn is thanks to Peter and spouse Bridget Bayer’s intrepid provisioning of biodeisel from a production facility that uses the byproduct of Oregon potato chip manufacture. In other words, they transport the biodeisel by car to Ama Natura at her home port of Olympia.  This is quite a chore and a deterrent to most of the rest of us.  So now Peter and Bridget have launched the Northwest Passage Decarbonization Project and dedicating the next twenty years to winning over the communities and tribes already fighting petroleum tanker traffic and the pipeline from the Alberta oil sands.  A promising initiative. Hats off to them.

Tuesday 5 June 2018  Port Harvey 50º34’N 126º16’W 

We time our departure from Shoal Bay so we reach Greene Point rapids at slack and can transit Whirlpool Rapids with the northbound ebb or enjoy the option of anchoring in Forward Harbour if conditions in Johnstone Strait are stinky, as they often are. As it happens, following seas rush us up the strait. I awaken from a brief daydreamy nap on deck to find we’ve passed Port Neville and are bound for Port Harvey.

Over the years we’ve watched the old guard along these passages pass on.  On our very first voyage we met Lorna Hansen, last of a line of Norwegian homesteaders at Port Neville. She soon retired to Campbell River leaving the old place and former government wharf unattended, as it remains today.  (Mark McDonald, however, was able to purchase and maintain the government wharf at Shoal Bay.)  Farther up the coast and inland we spent many summers visiting Lagoon Cove and listening to the tales spun by master storyteller Bill Barber.  After Bill passed several years ago, his widow put the modest marina with its old fashioned marine ways and strategically-located fuel dock on the market.  It’s now been sold and continues to serve fishing boats and cruisers.

At the end of Port Harvey, a 3-mile long channel off Havannah Passage, lies the grandly named Port Harvey Marina and Resort. It was founded by plucky Albertan retirees, Gail and George Cambrdge, as a much needed place where mariners can shelter after (or before if southbound) transiting Johnstone.  Former hardware store owners, they moved their inventory into a new floating store and bakery, atop which they built a restaurant. In the winter of 2015, the bladder on which the building stood, sprung a leak and sank. Only the long mooring float was spared. Undeterred, Gail and George, built a float big enough for a tent and opened the next summer serving pizza every night and cinnamon buns every morning.  

When we hail Port Harvey on the radio, Gail answers. George is off on an errand so today she’s working the place single handedly – no summer help – and still managing to proffer the best customer service on the this part of the coast.  She puts on her bright orange safety vest and runs down from the house on shore to take our lines on the dock.  She’s preceded by their dog, who we disappoint for not having a dog on board.  A new restaurant sits on a proper barge and a new store on the tent float.  Yes, we’ll order a pizza. And what? You have wifi out here at the end of this float?  We can just sit here now that it’s starting to rain?  Super. Just before putting our meal in the oven,  Gail knocks on the boat. “The restaurant is a still bit cold. Is it okay if I just bring your pizza to the boat?”   

Pizza delivered to boat!

Wednesday 6 June  Waddington Bay  50º43’N 126º37’W

The door to the long house in this First Nations village is in the shape of a copper, a gift item at potlatches.

Another short day ends with the plonk of the anchor into the waters of a favorite anchorage in the Broughtons. Past seasons left us enthralled by the fjords of  Tribune Channel with towering flanks punctuated by waterfalls and challenging anchorages. Now we go for the rocky islands with their historic and contemporary Native settlements.  As we pass the one in Gifford Passage and admire the traditional art work of its long house, I realize that the main entrance bears the shape of “a copper.”  Coppers are distinctly shaped metal plaques of various sizes which were and probably still are ceremoniously gifted at potlatches.    

Thursday 7 June 2018  Allison Harbour  51º02.6’N 12737’W

From the Broughtons we wend out way out into Queen Charlotte Sound and on to Queen Charlotte Strait. Remembering our encounter in the fog with a huge tug and tow, we’re thankful we can see every rock in Richards Channel. Then w turn toward land, taking the round-the-rocks route necessary to enter Allison Harbour, the best possible jumping off point for a rounding of Cape Caution. This year we’re able to get the weather on the radio. Finding that it’s likely to rain on Saturday – which it does solidly – we hole up with our books.  I finish the History of Denali Park and Preserve by Tracy Salcedo, mother of Jack’s cousin Cruz Chouré, who crewed with us in 2012 and 2014. I continue have my thought provided by Richard Sennett’s Building and Dwelling, which was gifted by Jo’s friends Kate and Eric, who came to say goodby to her at our celebration last month.

Saturday 9 June 2018  Green Islet Anchorage  51º38.4’N 127º50’W

IMG_5125This was the most relaxing rounding yet of Cape Caution, there in the background of a  photo that says it all.

What a beautiful day!  Cape Scott off the end of Vancouver Island was in full sun, with a rainbow dividing it from the more stormy areas to the south.

We just kept going. Past Egg Island Light, up broad Fitzhugh Sound, leaving Calvert on port, the lovely Fury Cove and Addenbrook Island Light on starboard, to snuggle into a favorite anchorage for a night of deep grateful slumber.

Sunday 10 June 2018 Shearwater  52º08’N 128º05’W

Community bulletin board notice (with annotations) announces visit of specialist in “Disorders of the Heart.”

For a couple of days now Jack has wanted some cell phone service to reserve a place at this outpost on Heilsuk tribal lands; we often find it booked solid. But when we show up, there is Harbour Master Christophe to greet us.  Opposite us on the float is a 46 foot Nordhaven that’s come crossed the Pacific with its Australian owners.  Down the dock, a Swede from a village at a higher latitude than the Bering Sea. While doing the laundry, two crews of Quebeckkers exchange info on their separate circumnavigations. It’s always nice to know who our fellow travelers are on these lonely passages where we seldom see another cruising boat.  This also supports the notion that the Inside Passage has best cruising grounds in the world, a wilderness wonderland no global circumnavigator can miss.