Posts Tagged 'Alaska'

Log: POW Circumnavigation

Prince of Wales – land of watery wonders and deep culture.

A sign pasted on the inside of our pantry door at home proclaims says “Dream POW-ABC.” It’s the fruit of a collision between my January resolutions and a list of the largest islands in the USA. Did you know that four of the largest are in Southeast Alaska? Prince of Wales, Admiralty, Baranof and Chicago. We’d already done a major part of the shoreline of each one, so why not go back and systematically circumnavigate all of them?

Prince of Wales is the largest of the bunch – the third largest in the USA in area, plus a thousand miles of coastline, which are magic to look at even on a map. With hundreds of small protected coves in which to drop anchor, there would be no need to hurry. All spring we looked forward to our DIY luxury cruise. The true surprise was finding not only wonderful wilderness but also an variety of intriguing small “cities” and villages. Since available books on the area are so out of date we wrote our own Cruisers’ Guide to Prince of Wales Island to document port facilities and other amenities.

Sat 11 June – Kina Cove, Kasaan Bay 55º20’N 131º31’W

Once we flee Ketchikan, we head up Chatham Channel to Kasaan Bay. Kina Cove is the perfect place for a much needed weekend of rest. It’s not the most beautiful spot as there has been recent clear cutting. But no one is there, holding ground is good and we have five bars of AT&T and tether to strong wifi!  I even manage to post the first part of our log.

Mon 13 June – Kasaan 55º32’N 132.23.9’W

This greenhouse with hydroponic and traditional produce can help feed all 65 residents of The Organized Village of Kasaan.

With both hydroponic and traditional produce this beautiful greenhouse helps feed all 65 residents of The Organized Village of Kasaan.

In their decade-old cruising guide the Douglasses say don’t even think about spending the night tied up at Kasaan’s rickety docks. As we glide by, even at a distance, my binocs pick up some rather splendid infrastructure for a village of 65 people. It’s right there on the vast uninhabited shores of Kasaan Bay. As we approach we see the float plane dock, lots of empty slips for boats of all sizes and a hefty float capable of handling a large barge.

Totems stand in old growth forest around the historic 1882 Whalehouse, to be rededicated on September 3, 2016.

The poles in the Kasaan totem park stand in spectacular old growth forest.

We walk up the ramp, along the shore, past the fire hall and a handful of houses. Up the hill are the offices the Organized Village of Kasaan, the health clinic, library and a small modern school that features a climbing wall and a new green house where the villages vegetables are growing in traditional containers and hydroponic tanks. The library seems like the appropriate place to request permission to visit the totem park and get directions to the path. The lure of Kasaan is one of the finest collections of Haida totem poles on coast. “Of course” say the folks in the library, “and place don’t miss visiting the carving shed as well.”

Kassan ege

The turquoise eyeshadow and black mascara are typical of Haida design.

The path through old growth is beautifully maintained and no problem for Jack on his scooter. Just before the totem park, however, the steps onto an otherwise fine log bridge block his progress. I cross and go onto the narrow paths around the poles and take lots of photos. The longhouse, however, is surrounded by orange plastic tape that marks it off limits.

Back down the trail we visit the Carving Shed where Stormy Hamar is carving the top motifs of an enormous yellow cedar log. The drawing he shows us speaks to the sophistication of Haida art (confirmed in the collection of the BC Museum in Victoria.). It represents the fruits of hours of interviews he, in collaboration with master carvers, has carried out with elders. Stormy, who seems barely in his mid thirties, insists he is not a master carver.

KasaanFace

The detail of these poles is so rich it makes you wish you were a bird and could get closer.

Again and again on this trip we meet young, dynamic, smart, focussed Native artists, naturalists and political types for whom deference to elders is the norm. I wish I lived in a society like this.

The orange tape, Stormy explains, is because this Whalehouse, one of the oldest Haida structures on the coast, is being restored. Artisans and carvers from neighboring Tlingit tribes are helping these northernmost – and hence minority Haida – with the work. In fact, everyone is preparing for once in a lifetime ceremony to rededicate the Whalehouse on September 3, 2016. Their kin from Haida Gawaii and the coastal mainland BC from whom they are cut off by the international border will be among the guests of honor.

Stormy Hamar and Jack with the enormous yellow cedar being transformed into Kaman's newest pole.

Stormy Hamar and Jack with the enormous yellow cedar being transformed into Kasaan’s newest pole.

On the walls of the carving shed are hung red cedar strips for basket weaving, small ceremonial paddles made by kids and a splendid small Haida canoe with a delicate design burned into its gunwales. I comment that it is very sad that in recent years there’s been no native canoe at the Port Townsend Wooden Bast Festival.

On the wall of the Carving Shed is an exquisite small canoe by Stormy's son Eric Hamar, who is currently studying wooden boat building in Port Townsend.

On the wall of the Carving Shed is an exquisite small canoe by Stormy’s son Eric Hamar, who is currently studying wooden boat building in Port Townsend.

Stormy smiles proudly and says the canoe is his son’s work. In fact, his son is a student at the Port Townsend School for Wooden Boats. Jack and I perk up in recognition: this spring the Port Townsend Leader profiled a young Haida carver. I have the profile of Eric Hamar on my desk and Kasaan Carving Shed has a computer print out tacked to the wall. Our communities are linked.

Tues 14 June – Thorne Bay 55º40.9’N 132º31.4’W

S/V Aurora near Toccata, built by resident crew Greg and Cheryl and launched in Port Townsend.

S/V Aurora near Toccata, built over 28 years by resident crew Greg and Cheryl and launched in Port Townsend.

A tiny break in the thickly treed shoreline marks the long winding entrance to Thorne Bay. Unable to find the fuel dock we call it a day and tie up at the mostly empty new docks, Greg jumps off the 50 foot sailboat docked nearby to welcome us and help with our lines. He and Cheryl are Thorne Bay liveaboards on Toccata, which says Greg, “We’ve been building for the past 28 years.”

Toccata looks pretty shipshape to us and when we’re invited for drinks the next day, we get the whole story. Yes, Greg and Cheryl launched their dream 28 years ago, not to sail blue waters, but to live in mindful comfort in the coastal wilderness. We look through the photos of the long construction process, every stage of which they managed hands on. The splash day in Port Townsend is celebrated with a part for all the people from the boatyard who helped out with this a small floating house for two people. Exquisite woodwork. Wonderful head with colorfully tiled shower. Hasse sails and rigging by Lisa and Dan.

Gary the guy to know in Thorne Bay. Brings fuel right to the boat.

Gary’s the guy to know in Thorne Bay. Brings fuel right to the boat.

We hear that the fuel dock is best visited on a high tide so we head deeper into the bay the next morning. As we prepare to tie up a float plane arrives with the mail and we’re asked to wait. First plane leave and a second flies in to drop another dribble of cartons from Amazon.com and first class mail on the dock. Then we pull up only to find there’s not a single cleat so we use the short lines the float planes uses. Then we discover the electricity is out and the pump won’t run. Gary, the owner, says, “Never mind, it’s pretty shallow here for you anyway, I’ll just bring your diesel over to the dock later.”

After Gary’s visit to us we stop by his store that sells fishing and hunting gear and licenses. We talk about bears, learn that there are no grizzlies, only black bears on the Island. Last year nine bears were taken, some by locals who hunt them mid season for their meat and some by trophy hunters who take them later in the season, when their meat tastes fishy but their coats are thick.

Thur 16 June – Coffman Cove  56º00.6’N 133º37’W

Coffman Cove's large fleet of small boats serves Alaskan families catching salmon to get them through the winter.

Coffman Cove’s large fleet of small boats serves Alaskan families catching salmon to get them through the winter.

Unlike Thorne Bay, Coffman Cove doesn’t hide. It’s houses string along shore and it’s easy to find the docks.  The Doglass guide is again way out of date on the the condition of the facilities. Docks and floats are new, with steel ramps that let folks drive right up to their boats on the floats. There’s lots of space.
The fishing fleet is small, it seems to be mostly personal use and subsistence fishing. Small fleet. Community seems to serve local folks, although I meet an RVer, an Oregonian from Salem, who comes to fish and consume everything he catches on the spot.

We really need a fisherman on board. Just a little bit too much to manage ourselves what with navigation, sailing, VHF underway and cooking, eating, planning, chart organization, exploring, talking to folks on the docks, journaling, reading, and fixing things when we’re not.

Minus tide reveals  Look!  
Two rocks. I snap photo degrees
To remember you 

Unless you get mixed up with those rocks that mark the start of the lagoon beyond the docks, Coffman Cove is easy to enter and exit.  The islands just to the north are rich with sea life.  Humpbacks dive and blow.  Steller Sea Lions swim around our boat to join a huge group of their kin on a rocky shoal.

Again today!
Three hundred sixty degrees
No other humans!

Sat 18 June – Point Baker 56º21’N 133º37’W

Long enchanted by fisherman-author Joe Upton’s accounts of life at Point Baker in Alaska Blues, I want to go. Jack thinks we were there in 2014 but he’s confused it with Port Protection, which is several miles south. Both tiny off grid communities are at the very tip of Prince of Whales above the 56th parallel.

All of Point Baker's government and commercial float.

All of Point Baker’s government and commercial float.

Point Baker will be our northernmost stop. Founded in the 1930s, it has about 35 residents on boat and in houses clustered around a tiny bay. At one end of a long float are the public buildings – post office, community center with library, and fire hall. At the other, the businesses – fuel dock, grocery, bar, laundry and showers – apparently all operated by one family. Up on the hill there’s a communication tower that doesn’t include cell service and a shiny new cluster of lights like you might see around a fancy tennis court. I discover it’s a new tank farm adequate to meet the fuel needs of the gill net and troll fleets. Less than two miles away, in a slightly larger bay is Port Protection, population 63, which offers a similar mix of services.

I go chat with a pair of fisherman, shuttles in hand, who roll their gillnet off the drum to check and repair it. There’s a good rhythm to the work of this father and son as they prepare for this week’s Sunday noon to Thursday noon salmon opening. The knife clenched in his teeth does not deter the father from conversation. They’re out of Wrangell.

A cruise ship, too big for anywhere on POW, is glimpsed through the narrow entrance to Point Baker.

A cruise ship, too big for anywhere on POW, is glimpsed through the narrow entrance to Point Baker.

The net is 24 feet wide and 3/8 of a mile long. It’s a five and one quarter inch net – that’s the distance between knots on opposite side of each individual “net square” when pulled away from each other. There’re aren’t a lot of tears in the net itself because the float tine at the top and the leaded line at the bottom are bound to the net with the lighter thread on the shuttles. Consider it sacrificial: if something big like a shark gets caught in the net, the thread breaks not the net and the shark leaves. They are fishing sockeye and hopefully kings. Last year their best haul netted $3200. Yes, cloudy days are better; when it’s sunny the fish go deeper.

A pretty girl arrives, fresh laundry in hand. She’s the son’s partner, the third fisherman on a pair of 32 foot boats fishing together.

So, I ask, what are rec boats supposed to do when we see a working gill netter? The tiny red buoy that marks the end of the net looks just like what crabbers deploy over their traps. New rule of thumb: Head toward the boat itself. These guys watch for boats, using radar in the fog. You can call them or they will call you.

Point Baker’s float plane dock is extra large because it doubles as a helipad, the communities emergency evacuation point. Unattended boats don’t tie upthere but on a calm sunny day in fishing season this large float makes the perfect net loft.

Monday 20 June – Devilfish Bay 56º05’N 133º22.5’W

This is most varied passage of the trip is from Devilfish Bay.  A garland of splashing Dall’s porpoises crosses our bow as we make a pre-dawn departure from Point Baker.  Heading west we round Port Protection at the tip of  Prince of Wales. Sumner Strait is full of whales.  The rock outcroppings of nearby peaks rise  above the clouds.  Isolated sea otters enjoying the ocean swells give way to larger groups as we  enter Shakan Bay.  Near the mouth of Dry Passage, I spot what looks like a tidewater glacier but cannot be.  It turns out to be the marble mine, newly reactivated if mining mostly marble dust.   I’m at the helm as we wiggle through Dry Passage.   Jack has his iPad open to Navionics and  all we have to do is get the countless red and green aides to navigation in the correct order. We’re just coming off a low tide.  Next is El Capitan, narrow with peaks all around.

When the waters open up again we see an UnCruise boat at anchor.  The Wilderness Discoverer takes only 76 passengers and it would seem a kayak, SUP, skiff or inflatable for each one.  Then again, they are too big to get into where we have come from.

A fleet of tiny boats allow passengers to explore some of the narrow passages we've just exited.

A large fleet of tiny boats allows passengers of this mother ship  entry to the narrow passages S/V Aurora has just exited. 

Tuesday 21 June Kaluk Cove 55º44’N 133º17.5’W

Such a choice of beautiful coves off Sea Otter Sound!

The choice of beautiful coves off Sea Otter Sound is difficult. We’re alone in Kuluk Cove as we are everywhere else.

Day starts with windlass problem. But I’ve got a strong back that I take good care of and the ergonomics of the manual raising are okay. Later it dawns on us that I am the culprit. Jack had suggested that the new inverter should be mounted on the wall of locker in the aft stateroom. The mounting brackets allow air to pass around it. To find a suitable place for it I pick it up only to see a flicker. One the red plastic screw on the back is loose and the copper ring collides with the one on the black screws, causing the short. The new inverter is dead.

We have our pick of pretty coves off Sea Otter Sound and choose Kaluk, which is perfect.

Wednesday 22 June – Klawock 55º33.4’N 133º05.9′ W

From the Tlingit village of Kwalock, a diversity of poles look out over the water.

The hill above the barber in the Tlingit village of Kwalock has a fascinating variety of poles.

To raise the anchor without the windlass we run a line from a winch in the cockpit and snapshackle it to a link of the chain.   Soon the chain is up on deck and even easier than usually to flake in the chain locker.  We embark on another day of whales and sea otters.

Have you ever seen anything like this pair of common murres, the eggs with their future progeny floating to the ground?

Below this pair of common murres, eggs with their future progeny float to the ground.

Perhaps the excitement of it all has left us tired. When we enter the protected bay at Klawock on a lowish tide, we’re not sure how to get to the public docks. So we tie up in an empty space at the Tribal docks next to the cannery.

I call on the good ladies inside who are cooking lunch for their members and organizing the food bank. They say, no, the boat in the place where you are will be back later today. But there should certainly be space at the public harbour.

Is this a Tlingit Guy Fawkes?

Is this a Tlingit Guy Fawkes?

There is indeed. After not getting the Harbour Master on VHF we tie up at an empty space. Nice view of Klawock’s deservedly famous totem park. A fisherman says call Rose and gives me her cell phone. Find this strong little wisp of a woman near on the street. She’s ben Harbour Master for 17 years. Part time no benefits. Her house is across the street. I pay moorage in cash – 11.45 for boats of any size – and thank her for the well designed and maintained restrooms and showers on the ground floor of her office perch with view of ships coming and going.

This large Tlingit village – population 850 – seems like a good place to moor a boat to winter over.  While hardly in the thick of things, Kwalock has a real airport and a harbor that charges an annual moorage rather of only $11 a foot!  Look up from your boat and there is Kwalock’s renowned totem park.

Thursday 23 June – Craig 55º28.6’N 133º08.6’W

We’re in AT&T land so Jack is on the phone with Michele in Craig, a town that captivated us on our last visit. She has a place for us. Jack writes down where it is- behind a blue hulled trawler. After stopping for fuel at Craig’s fuel dock – a first class docking adventure facilitated by young strong life-vest-clad attendants – we slip past the fish packing packing plant and into North Harbor. Narrowness, rocks, traffic, current, you name it. Man, I can’t find that trawler. There’s a blue hull but it’s a troll rig! We go on almost dead ending into shoe and there’s a space. It’s behind a recreational boat resembling a fishing trawler and style recognized as such.

Jack tight turns into the dock for his usual flawless landing for a starboard tie. But something is off. I get down on the stern rail to fend off the trawler, whose crew appears to help. Easy landing, but this is the first sign transmission is awry.

Trawler crew – sixty something Jack and Jills from Washington State are nice. They’re in Alaska for the summer. Going to Kasaan for the September 3 Whale House rededication. A daughter has become Alaskan. They’ve been coming for years. Man says, “It’s addictive.”

When I go to pay moorage, Michelle and I laugh about the “troller” and “trawler” confusion – the two fishing boat styles sound almost the same. From the emergency preparation handouts on her desk, I discover she’s a community activist. Completely attuned to infrastructure vulnerabilities and the need for politically powered community resilience.

Craig docks are wonderful, even better if you’re tied near the ramp to the street and can follow all the comings and goings of the whole community. The last time we were here it was the Fourth of July, Three years olds casting baited hooks in the fish derby; older kids in the log rolling competition. Tradition. Alaska style chaos.

Just across from us is Mixie, crewed by aging commercial fishermen Charlie and Lee. She’s from Craig. They troll in the summer and retire in the winter. And like Greg and Cheryl in Thorne Bay, they built their boat themselves and sailed up from Port Townsend! I learn it’s a Hoquiam hull, distinctively curved, and that there are four similar boat at Craig, including one built by their son.

Mixie has a distinctive Hoquiam hull as does the boat next to it. It was built by Lee and Charlie, Alaska commercial fishermen who spend their off season in Port Townsend.

Mixie has a distinctive Hoquiam hull as does the boat next to it. It was built by Lee and Charlie, Alaska commercial fishermen who spend their off season in Port Townsend.

At Napa store we ask Mike who might be able to answer some of our questions about our inverter. He says find Dave. Retired Master electrician who lives on a sailboat near yours. We find him and sure, he’ll take a look. Climbs around following wires, talking to himself. “What is that I wonder? All right. It’s right there. Okay. Al righty.” There must be a breaker

Like most single handed liveaboards, Dave’s a talker. He worked all over Alaska, turned to alcohol, as many do, lost his family, heard God, embraced an orthodox Catholicism. I find him better informed about Church history and politics than anyone I’ve talked to in a long time. Today his technical smarts make Dave a local legend. Slowly he’s getting back close to his kids.

Wrong headed morning!   
Tired. Spooked. Not ready.
Narrows called Tlevak. 

I recuse myself. 
Jack calculates, navigates.
Gets it right.  Dead on.

Monday 27 June Hydaburg 55º10.1’N 133º41.7’W

Hydaburg

The largest Haida village in the United States, Hydaburg is home to one of three large totem parks on Prince of Wales.

Hydaburg is the largest Haida settlement in the United States. We’re the only visiting boat at the spacious and largely empty so everyone knows who we are.   A few people greet us.  Lisa, Chair of the Native Corporation, does so in Haida.  She lets us struggle with a few words before filling us in in English.  Hydaburg’s  big, two-day Fourth of July celebration is coming up and then at the end of July there is culture camp, a week of workshops in traditional skills, arts, and music as well as language classes.

RedCedarBark

Someone has been collecting red cedar bark, perhaps for the hat and basket weaving workshops during the annual cultural celebration in July.

The houses are modest ranch-style while the school, the health clinic and city hall are stately and well-designed, which seems appropriate for a people of a round shared culture.  The foundation for new longhouse is being built and carvers in the shed are working on the poles. There’s a tiny Alaska Commercial Company store and emergency medical services and a small fleet of three village busses to take people around the island via a road that is slowly being paved.

Hydaburg is the largest Haida settlement in the United States but residents are separated from their Canadian cousins by customs requirement that make the journey between the communities onerous.  Like us, they must enter Canada at Prince Rupert rather than going directly to Haida Gawaii.  And returning from there, they must pass US Customs at Ketchikan.  This is surprising given the special status of Native Communities in both countries.

The weather for crossing back south looks good for the end of the week.  So we leave, curious to come back.

Water’s lavender   
Blues, silvers, sun mirrors mix
Surfaces deceive. 

Wed 29 June – Nichols Bay 54º43’N 132º08’W

Nichols Bay is at the very south tip of Prince of Wales, reached though many hours of wilderness. Forgotten by all save a few commercial fishermen, it lies a couple of miles from the Canadian border. We snug into a little nook off the first bay and turn in early as we have long day ahead.

Thurs 30 June – Prince Rupert 

In the predawn darkness of Nichols Bay, some seaweed “floating” off our stern turns into rocky bumps as the tide ebbs out. We bump into the uncharted drying peaks as we exit but gradually find our way out into the light of early morning.

We sail from the cape
And a flat line of horizon 
Closes around us.

Silky silver sea
Your billowing swells push us.
Where we need to go.

Humpbacks spout, cross bow  
Just as sun burns hole through clouds 
Giving whales haloes.  

Bull kelp grows longer
By a foot each shorter day!
Guiding us past shoals.

The Gnarled Islands   
Misted monochrome west 
Depth, color to east.  

Green Island, the northernmost of Canada's manned lighthouses, welcomes us back south.

Green Island, the northernmost of Canada’s manned lighthouses, welcomes us back south.

After passing customs in Prince Rupert we discover the Prince Rupert Rowing and Yacht Club has a space, albeit it a port tie. Jack attempts a bow out-stern in but the transmission is suddenly funny and the current strong. So we give up on that. As I scramble to move fenders and lines to the port side, the usual helpful and competent contingent appears on the docks and helps us in. We sleep soundly leaving boat issues for the morning.

A Cruisers’ Guide to Prince of Wales Island

Having cruised around Prince of Wales Island in June 2016, the crew of S/V Aurora would like to share notes and encourage others to make the trip. Since there’s no current cruising guide to this area, we’ve tried to collect key missing details.

The information in the Second Edition of Exploring Southeast Alaska by Don Douglass and Réanne Hemingway-Douglass is indispensable for anchorages but a decade out-of-date on docks. Today the Island is well served with new harbor facilities operated by Prince of Wales’ “cities”, sometimes jointly with Native Corporations.

IPOWislands

While it’s tempting to spend every night in one of hundreds of delightful anchorages, don’t miss the Island’s diverse communities with excellent moorage facilities.

For current information we turned to the 2016 Visitor Guide issued by the Prince of Wales  2016 Visitor Guide issued by the Prince of Wales Chamber of Commerce. While this publication is oriented to visitors traveling by ferry and road, it lists harbormasters’ phone numbers and includes good information on population centers.

CruiousSeaOtter

Sea otters swim up to your boat to make eye contact.

Prince of Wales offers wilderness we’ve found nowhere else in Southeast Alaska. The third largest island in the United States lies wholly within Tongass National Forest and has only 3700 inhabitants. Unlike the roadless Admiralty, Baranof and Chicagof Islands, Prince of Wales has roads connecting settlements on its east and west coasts. In this respect Prince of Wales looks inward: roads enable a single electrician or plumber to serve most of the population. Scheduled floatplane service fills the gaps, delivering mail and picking up passengers. Each of the destinations not served by roads maintain helicopter pads and volunteer emergency medical service teams.

Version 2

Sea lions frolic or lounge among spouting, diving humpback whales.

The ferries of the Alaska Marine Highway do not serve the island; rather the Inter-Island Ferry Authority provides daily roundtrip service between tiny Hollis and Ketchikan. By and large the traffic is local, devoid of any large cruise ships. All in all, the light footprint of this transportation system has left virtually all of the POW’s thousand mile shoreline unmarred by infrastructure.

Cruising around Prince of Wales means a spectacular sweep of natural beauty teaming with wildlife: whales, dolphins, porpoises, sea otters, seals, sea lions, eagles and heron. Its docks and harbors offer opportunities to meet the people – the Haida,the Tlingit, the gill netters and the trollers.  In future blog posts we’ll share our stories and document our anchorages and the passages.  Now let’s circumnavigate POW counter clockwise and provide information on visiting the Island’s communities.

Hollis  Population 165

Hollis is where the Inter-Island Ferry for Ketchikan leaves every morning at 8am and returns in the evening at 6:30pm. Th 35-mile trip takes three hours each way. Houses dot the shoreline of two coves off the south arm of Kasaan Bay. Unfortunately, it is not an inviting overnight destination. The bay where the ferry calls features a floatplane dock but no other moorage, not even for dinghies. The much larger bay to the south is shallow and seems threatened by williwaws from nearby hills. This is the only place we visited where the 2007 assessment of the Douglasses, who also did not dock here, still holds. “It has been reported that the Hollis Dock is extremely small and usually filled with local boats.”

According to the POW 2016 Visitors Guide this unincorporated community founded in the 1890s as a mining camp offers these additional services: emergency medical services, public telephone, library, accommodations, RV service, and boat launch.  More at the website of this unincorporated community- www.hollisalaska.org.

Kasaan Population 65

Located on the northeast shore of Kasaan Bay, the Organized Village of Kasaan is home to members of the Haida First Nation, whose ancestors migrated north from Canada’s Haida Gawaii, until recently known as the Queen Charlotte Islands. They founded “Old Kasaan” seven miles away and in 1976 incorporated at the present site, which had since the late 1800’s hosted a mining camp, sawmill, postoffice, and store and later a cannery that operated until the mid-twentieth century.

The 1880 Whale House at Kasaan has been rebuilt and will be dedicated on September 3, 2016.

Kasaan’s 1880 Whale House,  recently rebuilt by Haida and Tlingit carvers, will be rededicated in a September 3, 2016 ceremony.

While somewhat unpromising at first glance, Kasaan is a must see cultural destination for Inside Passage cruisers. At the end of a trail through heartbreakingly beautiful old growth forest (which hides the second or third growth struggling to cover nearby hills) lies an enchanting totem park and a historic longhouse which is to be rededicated with a once in a lifetime ceremony late this summer. Here’s the story as recounted in the 2016 Visitors Guide.

A two-third mile walk on a forest trail leads to Kasaan Historic Totem District and Chief Son-i-Hat Whale House or Naay I’waans. “The Great House” built around 1880 is the only traditional Haida longhouse in the U.S. In the 1930s, totems from the old villages were moved to the totem park. Between 1938 and 1940, Civilian Conservation Corps carvers restored the longhouse.

Kasaan offers a unique eco-cultural tourism experience in 2016…The Whale House and its house posts have undergone extensive renovation by a team of Haida and Tlingit carvers since 2014 in a joint project of the village corporation, Kavilco, and the tribe, the Organized Village of Kasaan. To celebrate restoration efforts and to honor this historic time for the Haida people of Kasaan, the tribe plans a rededication event for September 3, 2016. For information see http://www.kasaan.org or call 907.755.2261.

Kasaan docks

While it’s tempting to spend every night in one of hundreds of delightful anchorages, don’t miss the Island’s diverse communities with excellent moorage facilities.

Visiting cruisers are greeted by brand new sturdy docks with the essential safety features but no electricity. At one end is the float plane base and the other a hefty float to accommodate small cruise ships, such as the 49 passenger Baranof Dream operated out of Sitka by the Tlingit First Nation.  At the time we visited in June, there was no opportunity to pay moorage. Support for the Whale House Rededication, however, can be made  online.  The tribal newsletter covers the carvers’ progress and things to come.

Kasaan has a clinic, emergency medical evacuation, float plane service, a fine small library, a school, a green house with traditional and hydroponic vegetable gardens, two 2-bedroom vacation cabins, and a new Totem Trail Café.  More into at www.kaasan.org.

Thorne Bay  Population 500

Lying at the end of a long bay behind a nearly hidden entrance, Thorne Bay offers excellent moorage, unrivaled by anything we’ve seen elsewhere. Brand new floats are broad planked with 9-inch toenails and have electricity, water and the full range of safety features: fire extinguishers, life rings, permanent “swim” ladders, and, at the top of the covered ramp, a bright yellow locker with “Kids Don’t Swim” life jackets. Restrooms are particularly well designed for public use, the shower is roll in and all of the ramps are smooth. I believe moorage was 75 cents a foot.

Thorne Ramp

While it’s tempting to spend every night in one of hundreds of delightful anchorages, don’t miss the Island’s diverse communities with excellent moorage facilities.

Shane, the energetic and personable young harbor master is married to a teacher at the local K through 12 school and well integrated in the community. Thorne Bay was founded as a logging camp and incorporated as a residential community in 1982. The A&P (Alaskan and Proud) market is excellent. There are three churches, a liquor store, one of POW’s rare sit down dining restaurants but no bar. Currently, there’s no laundromat: one wonders if there is not a potential mini-business in dockside pick up and delivery. Other services include daily service by three float plane companies, emergency medical, library, sleeping accommodations, RV service, a gas station and a boat launch. Cell service is good.

Thorne Bay’s weak point is its fuel dock, tucked in a nearby shallow bay. Keelboats should purchase fuel only on a mid to high tide and, as we discovered, be prepared to hold as float planes land and disgorge passengers and mail. However, there’s an alternative: fuel can be delivered dockside in 5-gallon containers. Gary, owner of The Port, which runs the fuel dock and the post office, and the Tackle Shop at Throne Bay  is very accommodating and highly knowledgeable about hunting and fishing.

Thorne Gary

If the tide’s low at the fuel dock, Gary will bring diesel right to your boat.

With its current huge excess capacity and with moorage at less than $1000 annually, Thorne Bay is an option for cruisers who wish to winter over and fly or ferry in.  More on these websites:  www.thornebay-ak.gov and www.thornebayalaska.net.

Coffman Cove  Population 200

Founded as a logging camp in the 1950s, the City of Coffman Cove was incorporated in 1989. When logging jobs disappeared the community had to reinvent itself and get into the business of recreational and commercial fishing.  It’s a pretty but very unpretentious place. Modest vacation rentals and residences are strung along the shores of Clarence Strait with spectacular views of the white peaks beyond Wrangell.

Coffman Floats

Kasaan’s 1880 Whale House,  recently rebuilt by Haida and Tlingit carvers, will be rededicated in a September 3, 2016 ceremony.

The floats are good and the main ramp to them accommodates vehicles the serve the small commercial fleet of gill netters and trollers. Sport fishing is huge here, serving mostly Alaskans in pursuit of the annual personal use catch that will see them through the long winters. Small boats carry folks across the Strait for the day; a fleet of Lund dinghies takes them to the nearby, wildlife-rich islands.

Coffman Harbor Master

Ways to contact the Harbor Master.

We couldn’t raise the harbor master on the VHF but easily found dock space and paid fifty cents a foot, dropping a check in the box at the head of ramp. The sign there illustrates three ways to contact Harbor Masters at small Alaskan ports.

Coffman Cove docks are served by electricity but we didn’t connect to shore power as our solar panels love Alaska’s long days.  As we were to learn, most electrical outlets belong to permanent moorage tenants. We heard a range of attitudes toward borrowing electricity from a vacant plug.  Boats requiring power at smaller ports with part-time harbormaster would do well to contact local authorities during business hours.

Tiny Coffman Cove offers visitors a whole range of modest services. Bait Box Takeout has food and seating.  The Riggin’ Shack is a general store with a variety of non perishable groceries.  On Monday or Tuesday they get the fat weekend edition of The Ketchikan Daily News from the previous Friday.  All the liquids are offered under one roof:  Rain Country Liquor, the Dog House Pub and the office of R and R Fuels.  There’s no fuel dock but the friendly owners of the business will run a hose to your boats or deliver diesel by dock cart in 5 gallon cans.   There’s an excellent coin-operated laundry at the Ocean View RV Park, a short walk from the docks.  Other services include an ATM, a clinic, emergency medical service, a  float plane dock, and new monthly car ferry service to South Mitkoff Island.

Coffman Liquids

Public phones serve Coffman Cove, which has no cell service. Dial 83 to use a prepaid card or 85 to use a credit. Free calls can be made for the weather (81), for commercial fishing safety reports (82) to call in an emergency spill (84) and to reserve a forest service cabin (86) or a place on the ferry (87).

Coffman Library

Folks stop by the Coffman Cove Library 24/7 to use the free wifi.

Free wireless internet is offered around the clock at the Coffman Cove Library, which is staffed by an AmeriCorps volunteer under a program to bring more digital services to small Alaskan Communities.  Local people may sit on the porch for hours or just pull up in their cars and quickly check their email.  There much more on the official website of this vibrant community – www.ccalaska.com – and you can download a pdf of the brochure “Coffman Cove: Alaska’s best kept secret on Prince of Wales Island.”

Point Baker Population 25

At the northernmost tip of the Island, Point Baker offers an entirely different cultural experience, one immortalized for me by former fisherman-resident Joe Upton in Alaska Blues. In the third week of June this tiny floating community was crammed with gill netters preparing for a Monday through Thursday opening. There was no space at the dock and the small bay does not easily accommodate boats anchored out. On the recommendation of a fisherman, we rafted to a ferrocement boat, seemingly abandoned. No one asked for a moorage fee.

Point Baker

All of Point Baker’s commercial and civic buildings float along a single long dock.  Boats raft several deep on the opposite side. 

Port Baker is an unincorporated community of about 25 households. All public and commercial buildings are moored on the lee side of a 440-foot state dock with boats docked along the other side. A post office, community center, and small store operate very limited hours while the fuel dock,laundry and showers appear to serve boat and crews 24/7. A pub opens seasonally and there is some overnight accommodation. The state dock in good condition and offers a clear pathway whereas access to buildings is unkind to disabled cruisers.

There’s no cell service but there’s a public phone that requires a pre-paid card number. The large float plane dock doubles as a heliport. During salmon openings, fishermen raft their boats and repair nets there.

The evening before we pulled out of Point Baker, the Calder Mountain Lodge put up their welcome sign and opened for to serve sports fishing clients brought in from Petersburg. Their kind reply to my inquiry confirms they do not normally serve cruisers.  For current info try the Point Baker Community association phone – 907.559.2204.

Port Protection  Population 63

Port Protection is two miles and 2 minutes of latitude south of Point Baker but these two tiny fishing communities have no roads and are not connected. It lies at the end of a cove named for Wooden Wheel Johnson at the beginning of the last century. At mid century there was a trading post and a permanent community was established here in 1981 through the State of Alaska land disposal program.

We didn’t visit this year but enjoyed watching the low-key activity around this pretty and well-protected bay when there in 2014.  We tied up at the free state float in the company of a variety of active and inactive local boats.

Port Protection

There are nice views of Port Protection all around from the state float.

Seasonal services include float plane service, emergency medical, fuel, groceries, simple accommodations, a library and a public phone. The 2016 Visitors Guide recommends calling Wagon Wheel trading Post at 907.489.2222 for information.

El Capitan Cave Dock

Since this float does not accommodate cruising vessels, we simply mention it in passing. We do recommend, however, that all cruisers experience Dry and El Capitan Passes on their southbound journey and this route takes them right past this dock. It is owned by the State of Alaska and marked with a US Forest Service sign indicating the El Capitan Cave Interpretive site. Dinghies that tie up here are a mere 45-minute walk to the largest of the Islands’s more than 500 caves.The US Forest Service offers free tours of the cave several times a day in the summer. Visitors can reserve a spot for a specific tour by calling 907.828.3304 at least two days in advance. Maximum group size is six; minimum age is seven.

El Capitan

There’s no moorage at this State of Alaska dock at the foot of the trail to El Capitan Cave. 

Boats can conceivably anchor nearby and dinghy in, although the nearest sound anchorage is Devilfish Cove, four miles south. An alternative would be to have a member of your crew drop others off and remain with the boat until the tour is finished 90 minutes to two hours later.

Naukati Bay  Population 140

Located in the strait between the main Island and Tuxekan Island off Sea Otter sound, Naukati Bay lies about a quarter of the way down the southbound route. With so many exquisite anchorages in the area, we expect most cruisers move on to drop the hook, as we did. As the webpage of the community association boasts “Naukati Bay is the center for world class saltwater sportfishing, record black bear and Sitka black-tail deer hunting, breathtaking scenery, whale watching extraordinaire, sea kayaking and canoeing, spelunking, hiking, stream fishing for big steelhead trout.”

Naukati

Naukati Bay is surrounded by fine anchorages among the small islands of Sea Otter Sound.

According to the POW Chambers 2016 Visitors Guide, “the newly constructed floating dock and boat launch are near the Naukati Bay Shellfish Nursery where oyster spat (seeds) are grown and provided to many oyster farms in the area.” Naukati Bay boasts float plane service, EMS, groceries, fuel, and an ATM. On the Fourth of July local kids compete to find huge skunk cabbage leaves, which dwarf them.  For more information call the Naukati Bay Community Association at 907.629.4104 and visit the website www.naukatibay.com.

Klawock  Population 850

The traditional summer camp for the Tlingit community from Tuxekan Island, it was chosen chosen as a permanent site by Chief Kloowah. It is also home of Alaska’s first cannery, established by San Franciscans in 1878, and its second oldest hatchery.  Today, Klawock is best known for the twenty-one extraordinary poles in its totem park.  There are replicas from the 1930s of poles that stood at Tuxekan as well new poles by contemporary Tlingit carvers, which have been raised with great ceremony by the community.

Klawock

Klawock’s park of extraordinary totem poles is just up the hill from the docks.

The  well-built modern public dock and floats lie inside a sheltered peninsula with view of Klawock’s renowned totem park. On entering the harbor, your first see a set of floats between the cannery and  a wharf with a large tidal grid. These busy floats belong to the tribal association.  Go on into the harbor to the public facilities; the narrow channel is deeper than it first appears.

IMG_5513

Here’s a view of Klawock floats looking toward the harbor entrance. 

Because so many boats were out long term or for the day when we arrived, there was lots of space at the dock. Most of the spaces are rented, however, and owner’s lines may be on the dock but you can tie up and then check with the Harbormaster if you have not done so ahead of time.  Electricity is another matter, as permanent tenants are already paying the meter and electricity is seldom offered.  In all the POW ports except Craig, S/V Aurora was the only visiting cruising boat.

The Harbor Master’s phone is 907.755.2260 and the  office is at the top of the ramp along with excellent restrooms with showers, baby changing tables and other amenities. I noticed that the women’s sometimes appeared locked but it’s a design flaw.  The shower stall is spacious and ADA accessible but as stall door does not reach the floor, someone taking a shower might lock behind herself in the interest of safety.  Rose Kato, Kwalock Harbor Master for seventeen years is retiring in July 2016.  Transient moorage is a rather mysterious $11.45 a day for all boats regardless of size.  Mariners interested in leaving boats to winter over in Alaska will be delighted to know annual moorage is a mere $11 a foot.

Craig  Population 1,127

Craig is a charming little town with both the north and south coves of its harbor packed with tolling vessels, most local but many from the Puget Sound.  The historic waterfront boasts an impressive series of wharves.  Up the hill  there are great views of the waters surrounding Craig’s compact peninsula. Known as West Craig, this is where you find the library, a traditional general store and chandlery atop a pier, the float plane dock, the popular Dockside Cafe, a convivial bar, and Voyageur Books and Coffee, with a fine selection of titles by Alaskan authors and books about Alaska.  East of the harbor is a large Alaska Commercial Company supermarket and liquor store, a laundromat, and a whole range of services.

Most cruisers arriving from the north stop for fuel at the large sturdy Petro Marine float near the tank farm outside of town.  Often rough waters can make tying up difficult but the staff is competent and helpful.  This is a good place to confirm slip availability, even if arrangements have been made ahead of time.  Craig is a port that practices hot berthing and asks boats to declare departures as well as arrivals.  The Craig Harbormaster can be reached on 907.826.3404 or VHF 16.  The office is located on the road that links East and West Craig and separates North and South Coves above year-round public restrooms with heated public showers.   There’s much more information on the city website www.craigak.com.

Craig Docks

Craig is the home base for most of Prince of Wales’ fleet of trollers.

Hydaburg  Population 376

The largest Haida village in the United States, Hydaburg was founded in 1912 and is perhaps the best place in Southeast Alaska to appreciate the age-old culture and contemporary politics of a Native community.

Hydaburg thin

Bold, sophisticated art typifies Hydaburg’s totem park.

Nearly a century before George Vancouver explored the area, a group of Haida people from Haida Gawaii – the former Queen Charlotte Islands – migrated to Prince of Wales Island.  The first group settled at Kasaan on the east coast while others established villages on the west coast; in 1911 these villages came together at Hydaburg.

The village was incorporated in 1927 and governance passed to the Hydaburg Cooperative Association when it was founded in 1938. The HCA Mission is “to honor, strengthen and preserve our Haida Culture and Language through fostering healthy children and families who have pride and dignity in the community and culture, and by creating economic development opportunities for all our people.”  This community appears to doing exactly that, with the HCA, the economic development-oriented  Haida Corporation and The City of Hydaburg all playing a part.

At the time we were there, Hydaburg folks were busy planning for two major July celebrations.  July 3rd and 4th are packed with races, parades and events to commemorate U.S. Independence Day.  Each summer at the end of July, the Hydaburg Culture Camp brings together elders from this village and elsewhere to teach the Haida language, song, and dance and traditional skills of wood carving, weaving, beadwork, and food gathering and preparation.  We were warmly welcomed to these festivities and hope to attend on a future cruise.  In addition to organizing these events, Hydaburg folks will join their fellow tribe members at Kassan for the September 3, 2016 dedication of the Whale House.

Dominating the central water front in front of a large modern school, is Hydaburg’s totem park.  The colorful poles are both intricate and bold.  Some are well-preserved replicas of village poles that were carved in the 1930s while others are the work of contemporary artists. Recent years have seen a number of communal pole raisings.  Master carvers remain busy in the Carving Shed at waters edge, sculpting works for the community’s new Tribal House being built nearby.

Hydaburg has a state-of-the-art complex of docks, floats, several hundred feet of breakwater with moorage space, and a boat launch with its own long float.  While docks are well lighted, electric meters have not yet been installed at all slips and there are no restrooms or showers at the site.  Hydaburg  City Clerk Stacia Miller serves as Harbor Master. Phone her at 907.285.3761 to request moorage and pay fifty cents a foot at city hall.   As there is currently excess capacity, cruisers are welcome to leave their boats over the winter.  Hydaburg has excellent cell coverage; wifi is available at city hall and at the library in the school when it is open.  There’s a small Alaska Commercial Company grocery, a health clinic, emergency medical service and a float plane dock but no fuel.

Hydaburg docks

Hydaburg’s docks and floats are state-of-the-art and currently have excess capacity.

Getting to and from Prince of Wales Island

Crossing US-Canadian border requires approval from customs and border authorities before proceeding to other coastal areas. Northbound cruisers must pass U.S. Customs at Ketchikan, Alaska and southbound cruisers must pass Canadian Border Services at Prince Rupert, B.C. It’s important to become familiar with current official procedures as well as guidelines for navigating large ship traffic into and out of these two key ports.

Ketchikan lies 82 nautical miles north of Prince Rupert, a logical stop following the long passage along the coast before crossing the open waters of Dixon Entrance. Check tides and currents if you plan to exit Prince Rupert via the narrow and shallow Venn Passage.

After crossing Dixon, weather conditions and/or boat speed may make it advisable to anchor in US waters enroute to Ketchikan. This, however, requires prior approval from US Customs and Border Protection. You may contact US authorities in Ketchikan from Prince Rupert or by phone from your boat. The number is 907.225.2254. U.S. Customs officials normally approve overnights at Foggy Bay and will expect to see you the next day.

Ketchikan

Ketchikan’s Thomas Basin has brand new ramps, a renovated electrical system and friendly uniformed staff.

As soon as you tie up at a Ketchikan dock, all crew must remain on the boat until you receive clearance. U.S. Customs officials have always visited our boat to check our passports and personally welcome us. The wait has never been very long, particularly at Ketchikan’s Thomas Basin, which is adjacent to the federal building. You’ll probably want to spend the night before continuing up Tongass Narrows to Chatham Strait and the east coast of Prince of Wales Island.

This requirement to enter the United States at Ketchikan and Canada at Prince Rupert is why most cruisers take a counter-clockwise route around Prince of Wales.

Cruisers leaving the west coast of Prince of Wales can anchor at the south tip of the Island before crossing the open waters where the Gulf of Alaska and West Dixon Entrance. Nicholas Bay offers good protection but be aware of poorly charted rocks beyond the main channel. Nichols Bay is miles from the Canadian border and just north of Haida Gawaii. Unfortunately the protected wilderness and rich First Nations culture of these islands can only be accessed after entering Canada at Prince Rupert.

IMG_5029

Cow Bay is the animated heart of the Prince Rupert waterfront.

Our passage from Nichols Bay to Prince Rupert in beautiful weather took over 13 hours. We set up an informal watch system to manage our stamina so we would be sufficiently rested to navigate Venn Passage, pass customs dock and moor or anchor for the night.

To pass Canadian Customs, the traditional option is to tie up at the Lightering Dock which lies somewhat isolated near the center of the Prince Rupert waterfront but with no access to land.  From this  unattended location you can call Canadian Border Services at 888.226.7277 using your cell phone or the phone on the dock. Your request will be processed by an official based in Ontario with a closed circuit camera view of your boat.

Canadian authorities recently started to allow cruisers to check in with customs as soon as they dock Prince Rupert.  To the south of the Lightering Dock are Fairview Small Craft Docks and terminals for BC and Alaska ferries. Just north is Cow Bay, with a new marina of the same name and the Prince Rupert Rowing and Yacht Club, and beyond that the Rushbrooke Floats.

Cruising with differently-abled crew members

Unlike most sports teams, cruising crews accommodate a range of ages and abilities.  And as cruisers age or find themselves in recovery from accidents, invasive treatments, or joint replacements, they are less likely to want to go hiking or squeeze into an airplane seat for a vacation in Europe, Africa or Asia.  During our time on S/V Aurora, we’ve been considering the services offered to crews of mixed abilities and documenting the accessibility and safety of moorage facilities on the inside waters of the Pacific Northwest.

Craig Shower

ADA-compliant roll-in showers are found at  Craig, Thorne Bay and Klawock harbors. 

We were delighted to find that most of the harbors on Prince of Wales Island allow the user of a wheelchair or electric scooter to roll safely along a float, up the ramp, onto the wharf, and out into the community. Nothing in the informational literature or standard cruising guides had prepared us for this pleasant surprise. The harbors at Craig, Klawock and Thorne Bay, moreover, offer well-maintained restrooms with grab bars and roll in showers. By and large, stores carrying groceries and essential gear were also accessible.

The gateway cities of Prince Rupert and Ketchikan have also made improvements. Moorage along Prince Rupert’s waterfront floats over about 150 feet of water, where  wakes, tidal currents and wind perpetually rock boats. Now all sections of the Rushbrooke Floats have been joined by metal plates and the ramp offers wheelers a smoother transition. The Prince Rupert Rowing and Yacht Club has a new ramp; while metal finger docks are still narrow and dangerous, staff helps tie up arriving boats. New in summer 2016 is Cow Bay Marina at Atlin Terminal with safe, accessible facilities: wide wooden floats with water, electricity, laundry, restrooms, and showers. Ketchikan has thoroughly rewired floats and added wide, covered, metal ramps at Thomas Basin and helpful, uniformed harbor staff visit boats to collect moorage.

We visited two important Prince of Wales sites maintained by the National Forest Service. The tour of El Capitan, one of the largest caves in the US, is open only to fit hikers over the age of seven. However, a related – and in many ways much more interesting site – is the Beaver Falls Karst Interpretive Trail. It demonstrates the dynamics and features of the ongoing formation of the Island’s sinkholes and caves. A beautifully laid out 0.7 mile boardwalk takes visitors through scrub forest, over muskeg, past pools whose acidic waters dissolve limestone, through dark old growth forest and over deep caverns adorned with exotic plant life and waterfalls.  Detailed, illustrated interpretative signs are placed all along the route.  The first specified this: “The trail was designed to be barrier-free to the extent possible without disturbing the site. The distance between the rest areas exceeds AA standards. Maximum distance between the rest areas is 300 feet with a maximum grade of 14% for 30 feet.”

Karst trail

The 0.7-mile Karst Interpretive Trail, which demonstrates how caves like El Capitan are formed, exceeds ADA standards and has rest areas every 300 feet.

Kids Don't Float

Loaner life jackets for kids and adults are found at the head of most docks.

Also impressive is how many communities lend life vests through the Kids Don’t Float. This was the brainchild of the Homer, Alaska Fire Department  in 1996. Later the same year, the Alaska Department of Health, the U.S. Coast Guard and community groups collaborated to grow the program. Now life jackets for children, teens and adults are found at most docks. Look for them in phone-booth type lockers, trunks or loaner boards with attractive graphics and motivating messages.

Kids Don’t Float spread to Canada in 2003, supported by police, municipalities, and businesses. This is a good idea .  Let’s work with authorities, ports and marinas, and civic groups to bring more Kids Don’t Float facilities to Washington and Oregon.

Map of Prince of Wales Island 

This map is from the Prince of Wales Chamber of Commerce 2016 Visitors Guide, which is available free in print and online.  While we primarily anchored out in the Island’s wilderness bays and coves during our cruise, we found this the best source of current information on POW’s unique communities.  Folks at the Chamber can be reached at 907.755.2626 0r info@princeofwalescoc.org.

We’d like to hear from readers as well. Please share your thoughts below, both news of your discoveries and corrections we should make to our brief “Cruisers’ Guide to Prince of Wales Island.”

Bon Voyage and smooth sailing!

island-map

Log: North to Alaska with David

On Friday afternoon, May 20 2016, we finally shuttle selves and supplies from house to the docks, grab celebratory drinks at the Pourhouse and take out from 123 Thai and move onto Aurora for the next twelve weeks. We turn in early and are off before dawn, with David still tucked in under his goose down comforter in the V-berth.  Goodbye, Port Townsend.

Sat 21 May – Montague Harbour 48º53.6’N 122º23.8’W

Good old Point Wilson rocks and rolls us before we make a straight shot across Juan de Fuca on the ebb to pick up the push of the flood into Haro Strait. Search for orcas to no avail. David – whose father was from Sashkatschewan – does the honors of flying the Canadian pennant as we dodge a big ship in Boundary Channel.

DavidFlag

Sequestered on the boat at the customs dock at Bedwell Harbour, we watch Captain Jack make his way off the boat, along the float and up the long steep ramp to phone in our arrival. This time the officer up in the dock invites him to sit down and actually apologizes for the inconvenience. “Lots of people find the walk difficult,” he says. “We been trying for years to get this situation fixed.” So he gives Jack phone and email of the higher ups in Ottawa and encourages everyone to complain directly about this egregious accessibility gap.

We’d hope for an unoccupied mooring buoy at Montague Marine Park on Galliano Island so that David could enjoy the challenge and comedy of catching the ring with a pole and tying up. But as it’s a beautiful night with the locals out for the weekend and all are taken,  So we find a space, drop anchor and prepare David to be rudely removed at dawn from his bunk over the anchor chain locker.

Sun 22 May – Ladysmith 48º59.8’N 123.48.7’W

Up and down the coast our movements are determined by tides and currents as well as winds and seas. The Captain has calculated that a late Monday morning transit of Dodd Narrows – ever so narrow and so often clogged with log booms – is optimal. So we have some options of where to wait. I vote for Ladysmith and prevail. On the VHF, Harbormaster Mark tells us they’re full but if we’d anchor he’ll call us when 40 feet of dock became free. So we continue up past the log booms and the sawmill, drop anchor at the head of the inlet, and have a nice lunch.

The community-owned non-profit Ladysmith Maritime Society is the best. Mark and a young man, who was obviously being trained, appear on the dock to take our lines  – the last time anyone will do this for weeks.  Once off ship, Jack rolls right into the handicapped shower, David walks into town to do some last minute shopping for his culinary wonders, and we all wallow in the broad bandwidth.

Mon 23 May – Boho Bay 49º29.8’N 12413.8’W

Dodd goes flawlessly and we sail northeast across Georgia Strait to the little cluster of islands southwest of the mighty Taxeda. Alone in Boho Bay off Lasqueti, we drop the hook in our little spot near the big rocks just as a river otter swims around it in pursuit of dinner. His catch is quick and efficient but eating a whole foot-long fish is something sea otters do not do elegantly. They don’t use their paws but jerk their heads up, taking the fish head first. They snap their heads around, biting, chewing, and swallowing an inch at a time, fishtail in the air. The last time I saw an otter eating, I nearly called marine mammal rescue thinking the captive fish had snagged the poor otter with a stray hook. Now I know otters just look like they are gagging when they eat.

Boho Bay is our first distant, isolated, off-grid anchorage and gets us started on the definition of “wilderness”.  It also is the first of a series of technical adventures regarding our electrical system. It starts when our fairly new carbon monoxide alarm goes off. We figure that when we were anchoring, some diesel exhaust must have entered the salon. So we turn on the engine blower, open up all the hatches and port holes and hang out on deck.

The damn thing continues to scream and the reset works for about two minutes. We consulted Nigel Calder and finally dig out the leaflet with tech info in twenty languages that has not yet been filed in the three-ring binder marked “S/V Aurora Operations Manual – Vol IV”. Finally, I wedge in a piece of bamboo skewer to keep constant pressure on the reset button.

We’d wondered about our ever so slightly bulging batteries, even though folks in Port Townsend had assured Jack they weren’t ready to be changed out. Bank 2 is drawing 9.0 volts of DC juice while Bank 1 has 14. Something’s off.  We decide to check things out in Campbell River.

Tues 24 May – Campbell River 50º02’N 125º14.6’W

It’s a long long long day, but there are no joint Naval Exercises in Whiskey Golf so we power though the rough waters along Taxeda and motor-sail up Georgia Strait under vast clear skies, elated that the Comox glacier appears bigger than last year.  The light-and-color show of sky  on water continues all day. When the view on port appears white and grey and on starboard true blue, I remember to take a photo.

Georgia

Under still glorious skies, Jack catches the back eddy which takes us into the First Nations-owned North Coast Marina. On the adjacent shore is  a boatyard, the Ocean Pacific chandlery, Riptide Pub, a Starbucks, and the biggest supermarket I’ve ever seen. Campbell River is the last town with roads to serve the interior or Vancouver Island plus all the roadless small communities of the Discovery Islands, Desolation Sound,and the Broughtons.

It’s 4:45pm when we tie up so I run up to Ocean Pacific to see if someone can help us the next day. Lisa checks with the manager who says they’re  booked up but they’ll spread the word. Sure enough, Lisa calls the next morning to say someone will be around later in the day. Jack volunteers to wait around and handle it, dispatching David to Starbucks and me to the Campbell River Museum. In the end we gain four new “golf cart” batteries and lose a bit of confidence in our Port Townsend shop, which has recently changed hands.

Thurs 26 May – Shoal Bay 50º27.5’N 125º21.9’W

Could a passage of Seymour Narrows be any less dramatic? We encounter no line up of boats, share the space with no large ships, log booms or barges messily loaded with salvage timber. As we pass through the whirlpools above what is left of Ripple Rock, I tell Jack and David about the tremendous project undertaken to blow its head off. One of the must-see films at the museum is based on newsreels from the 1950s. It took some time for Canadian and US technocrats to rule out a nuclear explosion and years longer to put in place the tunnels required to do the job with conventional explosives. In the end, the massive rock on which so many ships and lives has been lost blew up into the air and the sea in a perfectly executed blast.

Morning rays brush hills
Lighter, brighter greens. Until
Canvas is complete.

North of the narrows everything changes. Is this where the wilderness begins? David is skeptical – there’s evidence of clear cutting. While we see no active camps and replanting of trees was well along, we pass a small tug towing a large log boom. I take David’s picture with it.

DavidNodales

Of more concern are the fish farms, great pens of Atlantic salmon (color added) that attract sea lice and foul anchorages. Nobody knows who owns them – Norwegian and Chilean technologies, yes, but managed by huge multinational corporations. Next to nobody knows anyone who draws an income from this business and if they did, they might not admit it. These farms don’t need farmers: fish are fed fish meal brought in on barges which serve all the pens in an area.

At the “magic chowk” where Cordero Channel crosses Nodales at Frederick Arm, we hang a left toward Shoal Bay with the usual great anticipation. Beautiful as always and there is space at the dock.

Iridescent flash!
Orange hummingbird visits.
“Rufous,” says David.

ShoalBay

Mark has made progress on the house and Cynthia has produced pottery over the winter and is working on a commission for a new lodge. We have drinks and guacamole on the deck as rufous hummingbirds swarm among the petunias, preferring the Mark’s sugar water from the red plastic blossoms on the feeder. There’s one other cruiser, plus several summer helpers, including a Nova Scotian who’s helping build for winter use a mini hydroelectric generator on the bay’s lone small stream.

Hummingbirds

Fri 27 May – Port Harvey 55º.34’N 126º16’W

Jack has timed our departure to so we’re near slack at Green Point and catching a favorable ebb through Whirlpool Rapids. The morning is glorious, the water smooth so we power down and have a nice breakfast when David emerges. We’ve done these rapids more than a dozen times so they present no trouble.

Mirror smooth surface
Johnstone winds cannot ruffle
Whirling Green Point pools

It’s Johnstone Strait beyond them that the huge question mark, no matter what Environment Canada has to stay. But it too is welcoming; there is no need to seek shelter in the bull kelp wilds of Port Neville. Instead we spend a long day going all the way to Havannah Channel, eager to see George and Gail at their mini resort at Port Harvey.

No Johnstone traffic
Save a cabin on its way
To summer moorage

Our Waggonners guide wisely counsels patience as the place is tucked in at the very tip of the inlet. Still the red and white two story lodge just doesn’t appear in our binoculars! What is going on! We decipher the docks, which look fine, and as we approach, George and his dog walk out to meet us.

The lodge has sunk! It’s gone. Totaled. Inventory, equipment, everything: lost. The fine structure with a hardware store/mini grocery down stairs and a deck and restaurant upstairs was on an inflatable bladder.

GeorgeGeorge is all smiles, undeterred. (Dog is sad; he only meets boats in hopes of finding dog friends.)  George and Gail are rebuilding. A sturdy old barge has been secured in place.  The lodge is being framed this month. It will be one story because “a lot of our cruisers are getting older and don’t like the stairs.” A tent is going up on a nice wooden float to shelter cruisers who feel convivial. Electricity will be restored to the docks soon. In the meantime, homemade cinnamon buns are delivered for breakfast and pizza for lunch or supper. Getting all the permits required for the café kitchen will take a little longer.

While David is devouring his enormous bun and chatting with George, I run up to the house to see Gail, the baker. She’s in a pink chenille bath robe and tennis shoes, grey like me, resilient and smiling like her husband. I condole, commenting on the effort before them. “It’s okay, she says, “I love to work.”

Sat 28 May – Waddington Bay 50º43’N 126º36.8’W

May 28th is Mom’s birthday. She would have been 106 today.  And she would have loved knowing that the United Nations chose this date for a new annual awareness day, one for which Anna is representing PHLUSH back in Portland.

Mom, sex ed leader,
do you know your birthday is
Menstrual Hygiene Day?

We cast off and make our way down Port Harvey and up Havannah Channel. Low hanging garlands of mist decorate the dark green hills.

My raisin wrinkles.
Thirsty for dew, face morn’s mist.
Grey skies! Silver sea!

Bleached white shells making an old Native kitchen midden highlight a patch of shore under the bright but shadowless morning.

Streak of bright white.
Bleached shell beach. Native people
Would’ve breakfasted here!

midden

Only David has indulged in cinnamon buns so I go below to make breakfast. Do I sense smoke as I as pass the aft stateroom? Sure enough, there’s a slender plume emanated from the the trusty inverter where we charge our cell phones and laptops. I shut it off, pull the plugs on the greater than usual number of devices there and call Jack down. He turns the switch on the battery banks, shutting down the whole DC system, then pulls the inverter away from the back and side walls of the cabinet and pulls out a bag of cough drops that’s blocking the vents. “See, here’s the problem” he says, chiding me for negligent housekeeping. He goes back to the cockpit to navigate the narrow, kelp-clogged Chatham Channel. “Let it cool down and we’ll try it later. It’ll probably fix itself like so much else.”

What?!  I quickly consider the consequences of an onboard electrical fire. Sure, our fire extinguishers are current, but we don’t even have the dinghy deployed. It’s still tightly wedged – deflated – in the forward locker!! But enough for now, I shift gears as I’m called to the deck to help with the tricky navigation. I stand directly behind Jack, back to back, finding the two red range markers on a distant hillside with my binoculars. When one appears to be directly above the other, it means the boat is on the required 270º bearing. I have to guide Jack in turning a degree or two to port or a degree or two to starboard until we’re precisely on course. Then, thanks to a dogleg in the channel, I turn forward and pick up a second set or ranges in the direction we’re headed. Finally we’re in deeper water emerging toward Knight Inlet and Jack is telling David to be on the lookout for the Pacific white-sided dolphin that like to play in our bow waves.

“Aren’t we going into Lagoon Cove to check out the electrical? It’s ten minutes from here!,”  I say.  There’s some resistance but I stand firm. At least I can deploy the dinghy. We head into The Blowhole and soon are hailing folks on the dock.

We haven’t stayed at Lagoon Cove since master story teller Bill Barber died – it’s just too sad. There’s never been much in the way of amenities, just an extremely caring welcome. The fuel dock serves neighboring shrimpers and crabbers and the people at the fish monitoring station who share their Internet with Lagoon Cove after work. Jean Barber still summers in the house above the docks but this renowned cruising stop in an unspectacular location is now for sale.

A very perky person welcomes us on the VHF and soon we see her bouncing around the dock. She waves us in, grabs a line and introduces herself. “My name is Jam.”

“Hi, Jan.”

“Jam! Like peanut butter and Jam.”

She’s a fellow cruiser. Points to a nice ketch, Sea Esta. Says Jean had to go away for a few days and she’s just helping out. There are only a few boats in.  Jack ventures the question, now with fairly low expectations. “Is there anyone here who can answer some questions about our electrical system.”

“Sure!” say Jam. “My husband is really good at that stuff! Right now he’s out helping someone set the trap so we’ll have prawns for happy hour!”

“You got boats coming?” I ask.

“All the time! Last weekend it was Victoria Day! We really packed them in here!” She does a little hand chop motion to show boats moored stern-in to the dock (rather than tied up laterally to it). Indeed, Lagoon is the only place we’ve ever stayed that practices Mediterranean mooring.

Gratified that people still come and that the host’s huge plate of prawns still graces the pot luck BYO happy hour table, I finish up deck tasks while Jack and David make lunch. After a while a young guy with a bushy red beard shows up. It’s Dave; he towers over Jam, who’s probably a Canadian Filipina. Dave looks at the ancient inverter, shakes his head, says it’s dangerous, you can’t use this. Another cruiser suggests using the cigarette lighter and offers a couple of USB plugs. They don’t work so Dave checks things out and finds out the lighter had just never been wired in and fixes it. Then Jack wonders whether the reason our diesel furnace won’t turn on is that the guy in Cambell River who installed the batteries just forgot to rewire it. This turns out to be the case. In less than an hour Dave has everything in order. By 2pm he’s sitting at our nav station eating the breakfast Jam has delivered because he’s been busy nonstop all day. We say goodbye, put some cash into Dave’s pocket and his name our 2016 Pantheon list.

Knight Inlet’s dolphins let us down but the afternoon has broken warm, dry and colorful. We motor thought a the ever-changing palette all the way to the low islands of the Broughtons.  It’s a long day and there is only a single sign of human habitation.  As we float past, I snap of photo of the First Nation longhouse, while David pulls out his phone, catches some waves from the village cell tower, and text Karen with news of our progress.

Gifford

We watch the sun set from Waddington Bay, the all-around sheltered anchorage with view holes that we discovered on our 2015 South of Cape Caution Cruise.

Sun 29 May – Allison Harbour 51º02.7’N 127º30.7’W

If the weather gods continue to cooperate and we get an early start, we should be able to make it all the way to Allison Harbour. This is the ideal jumping off point for Cape Caution and the weather should hold for a next day crossing.

We rout David from his berth, throw his bedding on top of ours, remove the mattresses, open the anchor locker, and send him up on deck with his first cup of coffee. He activates the windlass with his foot, bringing up the chain in small bites, letting the motor cool off every ten seconds and giving me the chance to flake it neatly in the locker below. Now that we’re in the wilderness, David will be subject to this routine every day.

Under clear skies and on windless seas, we motor on to Allison Harbour and snug into a sweet little cove. Let us remind the unwary reader that “harbour” is a geophysical term. This one bears no signs of human habitation apart from our ephemeral presence.

Mon 30 May – Pruth Bay, Calvert Island 51º39’N 128º07’W

Cape Caution really lived up to its name on our 2014 cruise. Fourteen hours of stomach churning rollers northbound, General Jackson in the fog southbound. This time? Easiest yet. Mirror seas reflect a cirrus-domed firmament with dappled blues and silvers. Small sandy beaches glow golden even though we give the Cape wide berth. The red roofs of the Egg Island light station and the gentle wave of the Maple Leaf flag assure us that someone is keeping watch.

cirrus.jpgWe learn one new lesson, however. Just south of the Cape, Jack hails the pilot of the lone southbound vessel we encounter – a tug towing a large barge. He just wants to confirm that passing port to port works best. He tries on 16 and then on 11, the Victoria Coast guard channel for commercial traffic south of Cape Caution. No answer. Why the tug didn’t answer the call on 16 is a mystery – it’s the law for everyone to monitor it. But not being on channel 11 is less of a mystery. The pilot was probably still on channel 78, which is the Prince Rupert Coast Guard channel used by commercial vessels north of the Cape. The lesson: Cruisers should toggle between channels 11 and 78 to track traffic and to announce their presence in fog. (In our case, we have three VHF radios and can monitor all at once. The reason we happen to have three radios is that in 2014 the handheld failed mid trip. Once back home we purchased the the same model, as it continued to get good reviews. Then we found the new charger charges the old radio charges perfectly well.)

Version 2We get past Cape Caution so fast that we suddenly have a new option. Jack’s conventional wisdom is this: if we’ve been beaten up by twelve hours of rough water, we turn into Fury Cove. If we’ve still got energy, we continue north to Green Island Anchorage. Southbound Fury Cove is preferable to Green Island because it gives a head start on the Cape. Going northbound, Allison is preferable to Blunden Harbour for the same reason.

The new option is Pruth Bay at the north end of Calvert Island. For years I have read about the Hakai Institute, looked longingly at the photos of the georgeous Pacific beaches, and perused charts of all the tiny islands in the Goose Group and in Hecate Passage. In fact the entire Hakai Luxvbalis Conservancy Area has hundreds of small western-facing islands in addition to the two main ones: Calvert and Hunter. This huge, protected, undeveloped provincial park extends nearly to Lama Passage.

So we head to Pruth Bay and have the hook down by 3pm. David and I deploy the dinghy, jump in and row to the Institute dock. Nearly a dozen of their boats range from solid inflatables to aluminum research vessels to small, fast passenger ferries. Several young researchers loading gear say they’re looking at oceanography and nearshore geology. The Institute, run by the Tula Foundation in a former fishing lodge, also studies First Nations culture. There are no services for outsiders apart from a welcome kiosk, a restroom, wifi and a path to the beach.

The Pacific beach is extraordinary, more beautiful than what you sail past as you leave Tofino. I don’t take camera or phone in the dinghy but David does – by accident it seems – and before we return slurps up the latest news on wifi.

Can your mind be free
If you need answers now?
Screw your devices!

Tues 31 May – Shearwater 52º08.8’N 128º05.3’W

We rout David from his slumber in the V berth to raise the anchor. I’m eager to go and bring the chain up in a ten second bights, which results in it getting stuck in the tube. I swear, tug from below, run up on deck, tug from above until I heard the tumble down into the bow. The David gets up in the bow, his foot on the switch, his eyes on his Apple watch stopwatch. We’re still not coordinated.

Anchor up, we’re off into Fitzhugh Sound, waveless, wind-less, whale-less. Gorgeous but disappointing. On clear still days like this you can hear whales splash and blow and flumes of mist linger in the air a bit longer.

leaving Hakai

We’ve never had a shorter passage to Shearwater. Seven hours later, we’re approaching the float, Christophe there to take our lines. Expectations are high: there’s wifi, water, public phones, a pub, and a chandlery. With luck, we’ll be able to charge our now-empty phones, iPads, and laptops as well as batteries for Jack’s scooter and the Milwaukee wrench. Shearwater is the only place between Campbell River and Prince Rupert where cruisers can stop to get things fixed.

While we are comparatively undaunted, David is mystified at the succession of problems we’ve faced. “Can’t you just read Consumer Reports and find a boat that’s reliable?,” wonders David. A skipper from Portland in a UofO cap finds this hilarious, thinks for a minute, and recounts – day by day – equipment failures and maintenance required on their similarly sized sailboat.

The guys go shopping and come back with an inverter that is a tenth the weight and three times the capacity of the old one and a double USB plug for the cigarette lighter. An hour later everything is recharged.

After doing laundry and slurping beer and election news at the pub, Jack needs some downtime. So I explore Bella Bella with David. The tin can ferry is terrifyingly fast – dock to dock in less than five minutes. Bella Bella is one of the largest native villages on the coast, the home of the Heiltsuk Nation. As we stroll through town a woman greets us, excitedly offering the first salmon berries of the season. At the fishing port and the solid waste center, we’re among hundreds of eagles, many flying just above our heads. I realize they have a variety of calls, not just the familiar multi note downward trill. The town has everything: a large school, a hospital, a tribal center, social and environmental non-profits, a good grocery, and variety of colorful totem poles. I am surprised that the wastewater treatment plant is on a hill. Good in a tsunami but it must need powerful pumps and efficient electricity generation.

Thur 2 June – Khutze Inlet 53º04’N 128º3’W

Leaving Shearwater, I bring up the fenders but drop the biggest one overboard. As Jack brings the boat around, I head forward with the fending pole and tell David to fetch the extra one from the shower. I belly down on deck and crawl out over the bow, held by the jib-sheet looped around my foot. One swipe and the fender i.e. retrieved. Thirty seconds. We could not have done that a few years back. Everyone is impressed.

We’ve always loved crossing Milbanke Sound and seeing the pretty light stations south and north of it. This morning however, it’s rough, beats us up, keeps David below, pretty miserable. Then we get the waves behind us and it’s a different day.

Oh, Great Pacific!
You throw us mighty waves.
Ha ha! We surf them!

Once we get in Finlayson Channel, I go below to start some soup. By the time we get to Klemtu, it’s ready so I turn off the gas as we approach the fuel dock. The attendant is not to be found: we call, ask around, have lunch. Finally I get a woman at the grocery store to call. “He’s in a family meeting,” she says. Which means someone has died and there won’t be anyone to pump diesel today.

We set out again, motoring up Graham Reach to lovely Kurtz Inlet. Rather than go on to where the Inlet shoals out into a bear beach, we drop the hook in the shelter a notch near the mouth.

Friday, June 3 – Hartley Bay 53º25.4’N 129º15’W

There is no stretch of wilderness less inhabited and more spectacular than the east coast of Princess Royal Island. This is where you find the tallest trees, the boldest waterfalls. It’s the land of the spirit bear, revered by tribes and adventurers alike and off limits to trophy hunters. Maybe someday we’ll see one.

Where Graham Reach turns into Fraser Reach we stop to take a look at the ruins of the old Butedale cannery. The rickety docks and likely fouled bottom of the bay there have prevented us from every spending the night. But while the decay continues, despite the efforts of a recently retired caretaker, a new aluminum ramp signals that things may improve in the future.

Butedale

Hundreds of canneries have been reclaimed by sea and the forest, however, and maybe that should happen here. (And how many have been saved. Port Edwards near Prince Rupert is the most extensive restoration and hardly anyone goes. Hoonah has turned one into a nice interpretative center and south of Craig one functions as a classy fishing resort. Astoria Oregon has saved a few buildings. Anywhere else? In the Pacific Northwest, weather and wilderness just take over.)

Icy old fingers
Scrapped earth, left waterways
For migrants. Whales. Us.

Liquid silk on stone
Mountain hearts open to showers
Rainforest cascades!

Mackay Reach. Slate grey
With white dots and dashes.
Weather’s Morse Code

By the time we’re in Mackay Reach the color of the water and wave action have changed, as if to tell us something. Wright Sound is rough. We take the waves on various quarters, with a couple of good rocking on the beam. David, having earned, is in the cockpit. We find standing, letting sea legs strengthen works. As we approach the channel into Hartley Bay, Jack says “Oh, no, the depth gauge seems not to be working.” A check of the chart, however, shows we have 1600 feet under our keel! At this depth soundings are impossible and useless. With a few minutes we are back to normal, cruising with 160 feet of water under our keel. Around the bend is the First Nations village of Hartley Bay, population 165.

HartleyPort

We’re barely tied up at the fuel float when the attendant welcomes us and sends down the diesel hose from the dock way above. She suggests I use the long handled hook laying on the dock to grab it and avoid falling in. As the diesel flows, she calls out our progress: 70 liters, 80 liters until I slow to listen for the bubbling that shows our take is full.

I go up to pay and ask to leave the boat a few minutes while I scope out 40 feet of dock space. At the moment there isn’t but it’s busy. We’re the only rec boat but local boats are coming and going including the RCMP -the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Then the fuel attendant reappears and within earshot of the Mountie says, “If that RCMP boat could squeeze into that 37 foot space you could go there. I can’t ask, but you might.” Before I know it, the petite blond has moved her boat, leaving the best spot at the docks for us. So Hartley Bay and so Canadian. I am moved.

As soon as I step down to get one of Aurora’s lines on the new toe rail, I hear loud barks followed by a sustained and barely audible growl. A splendid young husky. I can’t help looking her in the eyes because one is blue and the other brown. When I feel the light touch of teeth through the many layers of cloth on my leg, I tug the second line under the rail and, bitter end in hand, jump back to the safety of the boat.

Later in the evening there’s a knock on deck. I emerge to this picture. The dog, her owner, Kyle Clifton, and an enormous crab he’s brought as a peace offering. Seems the elders told him about the dog drama.

Kyle

I dive into the lazarette for the 12-qt crab pot that hasn’t been used all season because we’re too busy to crab. Crab looks delicious. Huge scary claws, even looks too big for the pot. I ask Kyle if he can break him in two to clean him but he’s a purist, comes with the traditional recipe. I invite him on board to do it right.

Kyle is in charge of a team of wildlife specialists who monitor vast expanses of the Spirit Bear Coast for the Gitga’at First Nation. We pepper him with questions. He tells us where the whales are. We learn that approximately a third of brown bears here are albinos, Spirit Bear. No, there’s no store in Hartley Bay. Folks fish and hunt and provision groceries in Prince Rupert 60 miles away. If they run of sugar borrow from a neighbor. Everyone is in touch on Facebook. We wonder about the new houses along the boardwalks. Earthquake safe? Yep, says Kyle, they’re on still rods punched into the muskeg. Just waiting for folks to new furniture and move in. We hear the history and learn why there are places named Metlakatla north and south of the international border. What about Enbridge? Won’t the pipeline go through now that Keystone XL is stopped? Kyle is fairly confident it won’t. The evidence is in, the legal work done. The Hartley Bay Band of the Gitga’at Nation has been fighting for years. This is where we first heard about this impossible threat, where we got the bumperstickers and posted them on the port side of our salon.

Bumperstickers is probably the wrong word. Hartley Bay has no cars. Apart from several new houses it’s barely changed since our last visit seven years ago. Modest affluence. The foot ferry from Prince Rupert calls twice a week, tying folks here to their kin in the burg of 13,000 sixty miles to the north. Kyle’s family is there and will join him on his boat as soon as school lets out. His wife, who also works for the the tribe is East Indian, via South Africa and Vancouver. We figure that with grand-parentage from Kerala and Calcutta and the Tsimshian and Haida First Nations, nobody but nobody is “more Indian” than Kyle’s kids. Maybe we’ll meet the whole crew on our trip south.

Saturday, June 4 – Kumealon Inlet 53º25.4’N 129º15’W

With Davy still enjoying his zzzz’s, we cast off and get a smooth start on long narrow Grenville Channel.  There’s almost no traffic save a couple  of tugs pulling huge southbound barges with 40 foot containers of frozen fish stacked six-high plus equipment, vehicles, and boats on top of them.  As the second one approaches we hear, “Hailing the northbound sailboat!” on the VHF.  We switch to another channel for instructions on how to pass but the pilot – this must be a hell of a lonely job – just wants to share news of a pod of orcas ahead.  “I got some great video!” he says. I put down my book and focus intently, wearing my eyes out for the next half hour until I see a couple of spouts. No creative orca play but it’s good to know they are there.

A string of small gillnetters passes as does Sleighride, the Ducks from Portland we met at Shearwater.  We encounter them when we turn ino Kumealon Inlet, one of the few good anchorages along Grenville.

Kumeleon

Forgot spring ebb! Oops!
Watch anchorage walls close in!
Twenty-four foot drop!

Of course we should have looked at our tide tables before being tempted by that tiny little cove. We even make fun of Sleighride for dropping anchor in a less picturesque spot the middle of the bay.  We relax, take well deserved naps, pour drinks, go up on deck  and watch the tide roll away.  And it does. In this part of the world we have two high and  two low tides a day.  And this we’re coming off a big spring.  Yikes!  A 23.81 feet drop in maybe six hours:  that’s about a foot every quarter hour.   Like  someone has has pulled the plug.  We scramble to re-anchor a quarter boat length away from shore.

Sunday, June 5  – Prince Rupert 5 59º19.2N 130º19.2’W

SkinnyFloatLanding at one of the skinny metal finger floats at the ancient Prince Rupert Rowing and Yacht Club with current ripping below is challenging. So, too, must be keeping anything in place over 150 feet of water. But someone is waiting to take our lines.

Bald eagles swoop overhead. We have the tallest mast around and in a matter of time one perches on our windex, bending it, immobilizing the vane. We can live with this. We’re sailors and we don’t really need a wind vane to know which way the wind blows.

Prince Rupert’s deep water port has turned it into the biggest city on the Northern BC coast.  Of course, there’s no competition. We discover that the Alaska State Ferry calls there and both picks up and drops off passengers. This happens just after midnight so on our ferry trips we just hadn’t noticed.

Rupert

Wed 8 June – Foggy Bay 54º56.9’N 130º56.3’W

We head out in the fog, me on the bow blowing the horn, rousing David from otherwise undisturbed slumber. We navigate Venn Passage on a low but rising tide and head out into open water. Beautiful morning. We cross the border, haul down the Maple Leaf flag, and pick up some bars of AT&T. Jack calls Customs and Border Protection in Ketchikan to get permission to anchor just over the border, rather than continuing on all the way to Ketchikan. In the afternoon, we wind our way among the rocks through the hidden entrance to Foggy Bay.

It’s a perfect evening and so we hang out on deck. I do a photo shoot of David with Jack for the folks back in Pittsburg.

DavyJack.jpg

Thurs 9 June – Ketchikan

David cheers. We’ve arrived!  We snug into Thomas Basin behind enormous cruise ships. Within minutes the customs officer appears from her office in the federal building overlooking the harbor and were free to roam.  In the monsoonal rains the city is famous for, we do our laundry, bring on a few provisions, and celebrate David’s last day with a trip to Totem Bight.

The Race to Alaska

No, S/V Aurora is not racing anywhere and not even going all the way to Alaska. We’re completely slowed down, gaga over the Race to Alaska, a human-powered trek up the Inside Passage with basically no engines, no support, and almost no rules. The first prize – which should be claimed by the time this blog is posted – is $10,000. The second prize is a set of steak knives, and it will be hotly contested. After that a bunch of singular triumphs.

Normally we’d have left on our summer cruise north mid May. But this year the pull of the race start, of seeing the boats and meeting the teams, kept us in Port Townsend. And although we’ve now definitely cast off, we’ll be nursing this Race to Alaska obsession for the next few weeks, until the last competitor crosses the finish line in Ketchikan.

We’ve been riding the buildup to this singular competition for months, ever since NW Maritime Center Director Jake Beattie announced it at the Wooden Boat Festival, long before the $10,000 prize was crowdsourced on Kickstarter. The original hope was for a handful or two of teams but in the end, the spirit of adventure and a great deal of innovative boat-building took over.

On Wednesday, June 3, Jack and I worked the information tent at the welcome Ruckus for the 57 teams that eventually showed up, their motley craft laying about on the grass at Pope Marine Park, on the beach and along the Point Hudson docks. Before dawn Thursday morning, 600-700 Port Townsend folks showed up on the waterfront to see them off. On Friday, S/V Aurora sailed to Victoria, entering the Inner Harbour along with the last competitor in – two old guys from PT in an 11’11’’ SCAMP they built themselves! On Saturday, we hung out on the docks in front of the BC Parliament taking it all in. Throughout the four days, 90% of the utterances heard were almost uniformly ‘I’m so excited!’ or ‘This is really exciting!’ The other 10% were ’They’re nuts!’ or ’This is crazy!’. Upon learning the race was on the front page of the New York Times sports section, Jake Beattie, in whose fertile imagination the plan was hatched, sat down on the toerail next to S/V Aurora to enjoy the infectious excitement and anticipation as it spread. On Sunday at noon the 31 full-race teams gathered under the statue of Captain Cook for a LeMans start, racing to their boats and rowing them, paddling them, peddling them through the Harbour until the point where those with sails could put them up. Then out into the roiled, confused waters of what Jack calls Cape Victoria, the southern tip of North America’s largest Island.

Here they come out of Victoria's Inner Harbour, small boat first because they were the last to squeeze into the docks where we all spent the weekend..

Here they come out of Victoria’s Inner Harbour, small boat first because they were the last to squeeze into the docks where we all spent the weekend..

How's this for innovative boat building.  Char crew member lying down to pedal while made rows from rear pontoon.

How’s this for innovative boat building?  Kohara crew member lies down to pedal while mates row from rear pontoons and a competitor in an out-rigged kayak follows.

Team Discovery is a multihull built of wooden by products with a weird sail and two intrepid crew.

Team Sea Runners is a multihull built of forest industry by products with a weird sail and two intrepid crew. (Yes, these cropped pics are blurry. Don’t worry; it’s not your eyes.)

This proa is South Pacific in origin. It has  neither bow nor stern, just a pivoting hull with an outrig. It neither tacks or gybe but

This proa is South Pacific in origin. It has neither bow nor stern, just a pivoting hull with an outrig. It neither tacks or gybe but “shunts”.

Team Grim women looking prim in straw hats and semi-open monohull on right.

Team Grim women looking prim in straw hats and semi-open monohull on right.

Version 2

Team UnCruise is a father, his daughter and her boyfriend. Race has got to be good for family cohesion. Note comfortable pedal stations on back of pontoons.

And then there's Team Soggy Beavers, all Canadian students under 25. They'll go the distance.  With attitude to spare.  On arrival in Victoria they changed into dresses to greet other teams. They have loud speakers to learn German during the long hauls. And on days like today when not hurrying seems advised.

And then there’s Team Soggy Beavers, six Canadians under 25. They’ll go the distance. With attitude to spare. On arrival in Victoria they changed into dresses to greet other teams. They have loudspeakers to learn German during the long hauls. And on days like today when not hurrying seems advised.

This big cat is from Nevada but has a crew member from coastal BC crew member.  Team Golden Oldies were fastest in first leg from PT to Victoria.

This big cat is from Nevada but has a crew member from coastal BC crew member. Team Golden Oldies were fastest in first leg from PT to Victoria.

Everyone thought there might be a winner in a week or so. As it happens, Team Elsie Piddock pulled into Ketchikan this afternoon after a mere 5 days and 55 minutes at sea. A couple of other boats are safely around Cape Caution. A few are struggling through the wrong way wind tunnel of Johnstone strait. Most are hunkered down waiting out 40+ knot winds in the Strait of Georgia. There have been drop outs at every stage, saving boats, limbs, lives. There’s been the odd rescue but most tough it out one way or another.

Trio on this well turned out cat borrowed our drill to make a modification only to be dis-masted in the Strait of Georgia. Did they call the Coast Guard?  No! Limped to nearest safe harbor.

Trio on this well turned out cat borrowed our drill to make a modification only to be dis-masted in the Strait of Georgia. Did they call the Coast Guard? No! Limped to nearest safe harbor.

Right now we’re sitting in a cafe on Nanaimo’s Diana Krall Plaza (next to a Portland Loo, the third we’ve already visited this trip). waiting out the 40+ knot winds on the Strait too.

Log: The Embrace of the Wilds, the Sweetness of Towns

An uncharted island of ancient ice in Stephens Passage.

We’ve been moving between bergs and burgs. You never leave the wilderness here in Southeast Alaska, even when you finally see other boats or get cell service,  If anything, you grasp the of the wild when you tie up somewhere and talk to folks who have carved  out a life within it.

In the rest of the Pacific Northwest, we talk about resilience.  Here that’s a fundamental given; the skills you need are for subsistence.

Another of my misconceptions fell and broke just this morning.  I’d been under the impression that the subsistence lifestyle was that of Alaskan Natives, the folks here from American pre-history, many of whom self describe as Indians. But it’s far broader.  Any rural Alaskan has access to fish stocks and game populations “customarily and traditionally” used for subsistence.  Take pukka Petersburg, founded in 1896 by a handful of Norwegian pioneers led by Peter Buschmann, who emigrated to Port Townsend and headed north. Norwegian flags still fly here.  Employment is mostly commercial fishing and federal, state and local government jobs.  But with only 3000 people and no road connections to any other place, Petersburg is one of the subsistence communities we’ve visited: people proud of their ability to live off the land and sea. (More on legal aspects of Alaskan subsistence here and  here.)

Sunday, June 15. Appelton Cove, Rodman Bay, Peril Strait. 57º28’N 135º15.7’W  We leave Kake at 5:15 am in anticipation of Frederick Sound and Chatham Strait. Isn’t this supposed to be all about strong winds? Not for us. Strong seas for sure, especially where the two large bodies of water meet at Point Gardner, the south tip of Admiralty Island. We rock and roll, taking it wide, too far off shore to see the sea lion rookery on the island just south of the point. We give Baranof Warm Springs – and the promise of a warm soak – a miss and continue up the Strait.  In time, the sun burns off the mist on the Baranof peaks, improving the scenery but dampening chances of a breeze and making us feel sleepy.

An eventful day ends with a 10:16 pm sunset on Peril Strait.

Sunset after 10 pm ends eventful day on Peril Strait.

But then comes the narrow Peril Strait that separates Baranof and Chicagof Islands and a swimming mammal show that doesn’t quit. First we pass a pod of orcas on port, right where they were when we went by two years ago! We give them some distance only to see a group of spouting humpbacks on starboard! There are six of them and they are bubble feeding as they move into the strait. We make sandwiches and enjoy an hour-and-a-half lunch together, humans and humpbacks all moving along at a lazy 3.7 knots. With remarkable regularity, every 4 to 6 minutes, they perform a 60 or 90 second show. There’s spray, a ruckus of glistening grey backs, splashing and churning as they sound, their marvelous flukes in the air.

In the course of our transit of Peril Strait a pair of frolicking sea otters swim past, harbor seals play the shallows, a solitary sea lion powers through the current looking a bit like a bear and three large mother deer who, at the narrowest part of the strait, walk into the water to cross. And then the sudden sound, a snort, a nasal rush of air. Midships starboard. I rush forward to see the first one announce its presence. Suddenly there are five synchronized swimmers diving into our bow waves. A celebration of explosive joy. In a minute or so, they are off. What are they? Pacific wide-sided dolphins with short attention spans? Or the larger, more powerful Dall’s porpoises, also at home in these waters? A cameo performance but I can’t identify the actor. (Note to self: To learn to discriminate among waterborne choreographies, try YouTube. Oh, and get some video from our lunch with the whales up soon.)

Crew says farewell to Sitka and photographer Gus.

Crew says farewell to Sitka and photographer Gus.

Monday, June 16. Sitka.  57º03’N 135.21’W There’s too much to say about Sitka.  Above what I’ve said before here and here and here. This is largely thanks to Cruz’s old friend Gus and our new friend Sara and stepping into the world of normal/exotic Alaskans.

So I won’t say anything except that after a Sitkan had asked where we were from, I commented that their town was “the second best on the Inside Passage”, only to be corrected. “But we’re on the Outside.” Yes, remote, far away, outlying, off any track, beaten or otherwise. Peripheral, almost extraterrestrial in sense that Sitkans are half oceanic.

Sunday, June 22 Appleton Cove, Rodman Bay, Peril Strait. 57º28’N 135º15.7’W  One amazing sail across Hoonah Sound. Gusts to 25 knots and the rail practically in the water. Rough, invigorating. But then we lose sight of a sailboat we’d seen dangerously over powered. We search with the binocs. Then in the distance along the far shore, we spot the little boat (maybe 25 feet?), bare poles now. An hour later, Canadian flag flapping, it passes us! Is this some magical back eddy? Is that outboard supplementing a diesel engine? What about hull speed?

The next morning, we raise anchor before 5am and see the sail covers on the little vessel, its dinghy drawn abeam covering half the length of the hull, its astute crew sleeping off their adventure. We look for the but do not see them again.

Tenekee Springs, population 98.

Tenekee Springs, population 98.

Monday, June 23 Tenakee Springs. 57º46.69’N 135º12.22′ Travel took us east out Peril Strait to Chatham. then north, then west 9 miles to Tenekee Springs, population 98. The tiny city is stretched out along the shore on either side of the mid-town: the dock, the float plane landing, the store, the bakery, a cafe, and the bath. There’s no natural harbor here, just nice wide floats behind a couple of floating breakwaters. You write your boat’s name on a used envelop crossing out the previous name, leave some money and write yourself a receipt. It’s a rather expensive for Alaska $0.60 a foot. We forego electricity, which costs another $20 because Tenakee has to make all their own, currently by diesel generator although they are going to supplement with micro hydro. Other infrastructure: a combined city hall and library, a fire station and a school, which closed last year when a family decided to home school but which will open in September as there are again enough kids. The bakery serves breakfast 9 to 2. The Blue Moon café serves food “when Rosie feels like cooking”, according to an old Southeast guidebook and “on several hours notice,” according to Rosie, a fixture here for 58 years.

At the library, I join another reader, settling in with an intriguing mid-century biography of La Pérouse and a collection of essays on Alaska by Alaskans, designed to counter dubiously informed views such as mine. “Two readers of real books!” exclaims the librarian, most of whose other interactions are chat about the latest films on DVD. I’m actually there to learn about this strange, endearing town, so she gives me a fat three ring binder with several years copies of The Store Door. Issued by the Tenakee Historical Society, it includes obituaries, historic photos, excerpts from old newspapers and current projects, the most ambitious of which is the recent renovation of the bathhouse.

Tenakee Springs' only public toilet.

Tenakee Springs’ only public toilet.

Tenekee sprouted up in the 1870s or 80s, balm for discouraged Gold Rushers. Seems today it provides respite for Juneau folks weary of cruise ships, part-timers though with admirable kitchen gardens. The ferry calls twice a week, going to and coming from Juneau. Passengers only; Tenekee is carless.

Some of the year rounders, like the librarian, live “off grid”, that is a mile or so by skiff beyond either end of the path. Everyone is high on the place. It seems to have just the right diversity of age and Native blood and, like Meyers Chuck, a balance of tiny and not so tiny houses. Gentrification-immune, it has the usual amount of surplus stuff, charmingly overgrown with salmonberry bushes and cow parsnip.  An outhouse on a dock above the beach behind the fire station is its only public toilet.

After supper, I hear snorting and take my book up to the deck. A humpback is swimming in the opening between the breakwaters.  No wonder, herring are jumping out of the water all around the boat.  I wait to see if the beast will come into the harbor but with bounty everywhere, there is no need. I watch him  blow through the former-nose-evolved-to-the-top-of-the-head until the light dies and I turn in, closing the hatch to block out the snorts.

Wednesday, June 25 Funter Bay, Admiralty Island. 58º14.6’N 134º52.9’W A rare perfect wind took us up and across Chatham Strait on a broad reach. Lines taken by Bea, half of the crew of Salty, a tiny, well-used, outboard from Juneau that was drying out after a wake wave had drenched sleeping bags and everything else in the boat the night before. She’s Asian, Brian a blue-eyed blond, celebrating 20 years together. When I awoke from an I was sad to see this welcoming, upbeat couple had pulled out, presumably to drop the hook in some romantic anchorage known only to them.

Funter Bay has a nice 150′ government float, though a bit too shallow on the shore side to get out on the next morning’s spring low. So we switched sides and took Salty’s place behind two larger boats. A Juneau banker – and climate change denier – remarked nostalgically that back when the state floats were built, they’d accommodate far more boats. 21′ footer s like Salty being more the rule.

June 28, 2014

Auke Bay has splendid views of the Juneau ice field.

Thursday, June 26. Juneau 58º18’N 134º25.7′ An early morning departure takes us up Chatham into Lynn Canal. The Fairweather, the catamaran ferry that links Juneau to Sitka, As we turn into Auke Bay, as we turn into Auke Bay. For once we run into it in ample waters, although we’re so taken with the hanging glaciers we hardly notice. Since the day is still early, we decide to go around Douglas Island and up Gastineau to Juneau rather than tie up with the big boats at Auke Bay. It’s a quick decision we will later reevaluate.

The route along Douglas is long and Gastineau seems endless. The weather’s been hot and the seas calm so there’s no excuse for impatience. It’s just that 11 hour days are tiring. In fact, it’s almost worse without the adrenalin of facing continual challenges or simple driving rain that calls for hourly soup, ginger tea or hot chocolate. You find yourself complaining, like a spoiled child.

We’re barely by the cruise ships, when Jack hails the harbor master and Cruz and I get the fenders and lines ready. Remembering the strong currents we encountered entering the Harris docks four years ago, I note it’s slack and ought to be okay. We pass smoothly under the bridge that links Juneau to Douglas, but what’s that scraping sound? Yikes. It’s a high slack and this is Alaska! We tie up and assess the damage. Gratitude that it’s minor mixes with alarm at my/our, well, mindfulnesslessness and I start to cry like a child.

Thanks, Cruz, for going up there to fix that.

Thanks, Cruz, for going up there to fix that.

Within minutes, Cruz has rigged the bosun’s chair and we hoist him up the mast using our two spare halyards. (The tallest mast north of the bridge, we now note.) He bends the wind vane so it rotates again but has to remove the 10 inch cylinder that contains the white anchor light and the tricolor for sailing nights off shore. The plastic attachment ring has snapped, sacrificially. A sailor from Bellingham comes from across the docks to send up the tools we lack. We let Cruz down, he spends the rest of the afternoon fashioning a fix with epoxy, and – after a night on the town – goes up the next day to put the light in place.

By then I’m off hiking. I arrive at Mendenhall Glacier on the first bus, determined to get a good leg stretch. A girl in a National Forest Service uniform gives me a photocopied trail map and I’m off. The 3.5 mile circle route is lovely I pass only four people: a young Tlingit couple and an Alaskan grandmother pointing out her grandchild how far the glacier has receded. I’ve add another two or three miles by branching off on the Nugget Creek Trail, where I find myself crawling across fallen trees. When the trail meets a lake above the waterfall and I’m even farther away from vistas above the tree line so I retrace my steps, figuring the NSF greeter must be a summer intern.

Selfie with falls and glacier

Later, a mature ranger says, “Nah, nobody much does the Nugget Creek Trail. Brown bear up there.” As for the the loop trail, it’s designed to be short enough for cruise ship visitors. I mention I didn’t see a single one “They just get overwhelmed.” Yeah, I get that. And down near the lake, I see a lot of strollers and hear a lot of Japanese and Hindi. But a couple or three miles of wheelchair able trails that make a 13-mile blue glacier accessible to everyone? You can’t knock that.

The Mendenhall is special and everyone should visit. And it’s especially special to the residents of Juneau, despite a their abundance of outdoor options. How good to see bathing-suited families lying on the beach, kids building glacial silt castles, toddlers splashing around in water liberated after thousand of years in the ice field. I want to return to Juneau in the winter and join these folks in their little sliver of daylight to drive along a city street to the lake to walk or skate among the blue bergs to look the glacier right in its towering face.

Saturday, June 28. Snug Cove on bay behind Gambier Island off Admiralty Island. 57º25’N 133º58’W.

The scenery along Stephens Passage south of Juneau is overwhelming.  This is the Alaska of the State Ferry  and the big cruise ships if the weather is perfect, with just a few clouds for effect.  As I sit on the spinnaker box, leaning on the mast, wandering, wondering musings take over.  This  is no time to write.

We puzzle about a couple of large islands in the middle of the passage that are not on the chart.  They turn out to be ice bergs, better known as “bergie bits” since they’ve calved from glaciers.   They are not at all bitty but big.  The one in the photo has about fifty Glaucous Gulls on it and they are big birds – over two feet from head to tail.

Southeast Alaska's symphony of blues.

Southeast Alaska’s symphony of blues along Stephens Passage.

Our attention turns to navigation as we approach Snug Cove, a little nook on a bay in Admiralty Island behind Gambier Island and a string of reefs.  It’s a  wonderful place with good mud holding the anchor. Real wilderness. A day from Juneau and a day from Petersburg, with nothing but wildlife in between. Would like to spend a week here sometime.

Early morning departure from Snug Cove on Admiralty Island.

Early morning departure from Snug Cove on Admiralty Island.

Sunday, June 29 Petersburg. 56º48.8W 132º57.6’W. Yet another 11 hour day motoring on flat seas, though broken by encounters with humpbacks.  By now, the Captain knows he can push the crew so rather than drop the hook and laze around Portage Bay, we press on through Frederick Sound until dropping south into Wrangell Narrows.  We call the harbor master as we wind thought the northernmost aids to navigation, including red 63, a sea lion bunk bed buoy.

It’s barely and hour after high slack so Peterburg’s legendary currents should be relaxed.  (The last time we were here the stream has slammed the Alaska State ferry into its own dock, disabling it; other errant ice bergs have ripped through pylons)

Sea lions bunk bed  buoy.

Sea lions bunk bed buoy.

At that moment it begins to pour. Straight down hard.  We head into our slip and find the opposite half empty.  A blessing as the current pushes us to the wrong side.  No problem, Aurora’s worn teak rub rails are in the right place for the new docks.   We back out and try again, succeeding with the help of extra hands which suddenly appear on the finger to catch our bowline.   When I go to register, and express my surprise at the current, the harbor master explains that all the rain rushing into Hammer Creek suddenly flows into the harbor.  A large power cruiser with bow thrusters doesn’t even try to come in, but spend the night outside on the end float.

Nonetheless, the new docks at Petersburg are generously designed with lots of space.  Broad tenders share space with slender wooden schooners.  Lighting, fire hose connections, electrical outlets are state of the art.  At night the place looks more like my idea of Saint Tropez than the rough and tumble fishing port that it is.

Doesn't Petersburg look posh with its new docks?

Doesn’t Petersburg look posh with its new docks?

 Tuesday, July 1.  Wrangell   56º27.8′N 132.22.9′W   We had a civilized morning today waiting for slack before navigating the 70 or so aids to navigation that guide us through the Wrangell Narrows.   It’s low tide, in fact a negative tide.  The crab pots are sitting on the mud next to their buoys.

At last we emerge into the open waters of Sumner Strait and the peaks of that tower over the Stikine River Valley come into view.  The Stikine ice field, which is shared with Canada, has the southern most tidewater glaciers and is even larger than the Juneau ice field (which is the size of Rhode Island.)

The Wrangell docks finally have some rec boats in addition to transient fishing boats of all kinds.  This week there are openings for seiners, gill netters and crabbers and the ubiquitous trollers seem to fish all the time.  There’s no room for us near town so we tie up across the way.

Wrangell has the best laundromat in Southeast, it’s open until 9 pm and I’ve got three weeks worth of dirty clothes and linens.  I get on my bike and ride past houses festooned with bunting and  bows for the Fourth of July.  I mentioned, didn’t I, that Wrangell claims to have the best celebration.  Wish we didn’t have to move on, but we’ve miles to go.

 

Sailing Fishing Boats

Tango loading lumber in Portland, 1942.

Not too long ago nearly all working boats sailed.  I keep this photo at the ready to remind myself of that. The year is 1942 and the magnificent six mast schooner, Tango, is loading its cargo at a Portland wharf.  Steam-driven passenger ships and new vessels with diesel and gas engines would be moored nearby.  But the War has abetted Tango’s longevity.  I like to think that Rosie the Riveter and her Portland girlfriends have walked past on their way to the Kaiser docks to build Liberty Ships.

This puts my life in a new pocket, a different frame of reference: I arrived on the planet shortly after the end of an age of sail.  As I exit, sometime toward the end of the short Age of Fossil Fuels, sailing working boats will likely have made their comeback.  At least, that’s what I’m thinking.

Along the bountiful North Pacific coast where so many souls fish and so many souls sail there are certainly memories of doing both at once. Joe Upton, a superb writer who fished commercially for decades, says that Alaska’s gillnet fleet was not allowed to use power until the 1950s. Regulations favor fish and motors do not. Somewhere in the minds of old fishermen lie the memories and knowledge of wooden boats rigged with both sails and gillnets.

Sailing fishing ketch Tora in Kake, Alaska

Halibut schooners are still around, though no longer operating under sail. There’s one at Sitka and we’ve chatted with the crew during their long hours of baiting hooks and arranging them artfully around the edge of the baskets (or are they plastic drums?) on top of the coiled longlines. While the schooner had been missing a mast, by this summer the bow spit – a magnificent 40 foot yellow cedar – had broken off.  But she’s still pulling her weight.

Michael Crowley fell in love with halibut schooners as an aspiring greenhorn deckhand in Alaska in the late 1960s. When the docklines of the 65-foot schooner Attu were being thrown off and its cook hadn’t appeared, Crowley began his first of many seasons on halibut schooners out of Seattle. Not a single one was built after 1927 and most came from Ballard where he says “they were shaped with adzes, slicks, steam-powered ship saws, and the brute force and ingenuity of square headed ship carpenters and designers.”

S/V Blue goes fishing

But I only started thinking about sailing and fishing after Tora caught my eye.  It was in the sleepy but well laid out harbor of Kake, Alaska.  What is that?   A sailing ketch with a trolling rig on the aft mast.  Wow!   That was on our northbound leg.  (Coming southbound, on the cusp of salmon season, we followed Tova out of Kake Harbor into Rocky Pass toward the famous fishing grounds off Prince of Wales Island near Point Baker.)

I doubt that it’s efficient to simultaneously sail and operate a commercial troll, which involves managing a couple of dozen individual hooks and handling each salmon with respect.  But sail boats are lightly powered and work well at the 4 knot trolling speed.

Blue with her long trolling poles

In any event, my eyes were opened.  I started to look out for these hybrids.  And Alaska revealed them (while British Columbia did not…probably having to do with commercial fishing regs).

Leaving Sitka – no one leaves Sitka without a smidgen of wistfulness – we spied a small sail wooden sailboat.  And lo and behold she was rigged to troll.   At Baranof Warm Springs, balm to all commercial fishermen, we saw S/V -F/V Blue raft up to a seiner at the dock.  We never got to meet the skipper, who must have headed for a high altitude hot soak, but we learned Blue has a female captain.

When our Aurora made fast at Craig on Prince of Wales Island, an attractive neighbor captured my attention.  Abundance is a triple whammy: a steel boat (I have a thing for steel boats), a sailing ketch and a fishing troller.   I hung around, making numerous trips along a very long float to Craig Harbor’s laundry, showers and restrooms, hoping to get a glimpse of the captain.  My heart sank when I looked up from my boat work to see Abundance leaving the harbor.

Abundance returns to unload her catch.

But the next day, she was back!  Not at dock, mind you, but selling the catch at Craig’s packing plant.  It must have been good because it took a while.  I know because I watched and waited, hoping to welcome Abundance back at the dock.  But the sailing troller just turned around and went back out to fish some more!

Sources:  The photo of the Tango is, I believe, from the archives of the Oregon Historical Society.  I got it from the Facebook page of the Oregon Maritime Museum, which is on the waterfront in my Portland neighborhood.    Joe Upton educated me about trolling and gillnetting in Alaska Blues and about the Alaskan crab industry in Bering Sea Blues. Michael Crowley’s story “Greenhorn” appears in Leslie Leyland Green’s wonderful book Hooked!)

“Road trips are really hard on a car”

In Southeast, transportation takes a backseat to all other uses of a car. For panhandle Alaskans, their vehicles have other roles. Waterproof shopping carts. Dog kennels. Moveable offices. Giant toolboxes. Ad hoc shelters. Bumpersticker racks.

They certainly have enough cars. Someone in Sitka said there were over twenty thousand vehicles in that town of barely nine thousand souls!  And Alaska’s fourth largest city has a mere 23 miles of streets and roads. They go nowhere really. People in Hoonah brag that they have a road that can take them 14 miles out of the village to hunt and freshwater fish. But like the state capital, Juneau, most towns in Southeast are landlocked. You just can’t get there – or out of there – by car.  Cars come and go only by barge, or by the ferries that make up the Alaska Marine Highway.

(The exceptions are the Southeast towns of Haines and Skagway, which connect with the AlCan Highway. Ambitious folks from British Columbia and the lower 48 arrive via the outposts Whitehorse and Dawson Creek to join car totting ferry passengers and the busses that meet the cruise ships. The result is to turn these two otherwise charming, walkable towns into parking lots.)

Prince of Wales Island is where inhabitants are really proud of their roads.  Most of the communities of the third largest island in the US (after Big Island Hawaii and Kodiak) are connected to one another by road, the exceptions being Point Baker and Port Protection. This means a locksmith in Hydaburg can respond to a call in Whale Pass, a family from Hollis can buy groceries in Coffman Cove, and pet owners from most parts of the island can drive to Craig on the third Friday and Saturday of the month when the vet is in town.  Roads bind Prince of Wales communities into a common local economy.  “More than 2000 miles of roads reach into Prince of Wales Island.” boasts the 2012 Chamber of Commerce brochure.  Then it goes on to say that only 105 miles are paved!

By and large, however, Southeast Alaskans go places on boats and planes. Your car is a runabout, a utility vehicle. It is enough trouble to keep it registered, licensed and insured. Indeed, driver lapses fill the police blotter of every small town newspaper.

So it was not surprising to overhear a Wrangell bar patron say, “Oh. Road trips are really hard on a car”. The bartender had mentioned that her sister wanted to borrow her car, take it by ferry down to the lower 48 and then drive to Montana!   It just wasn’t feasible, was it?    Her customers were utterly sympathetic. Use a car for a road trip?  What would happen to the car?  Just not part of the culture.


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