Posts Tagged 'whales'

Log: 2017 Salish Sea Circle Cruise

Saturday, July 22, 2017 Watsmough Bay. 48º25.9’N

“Watsmough Bay: The most scenic anchorage in the San Juans?” asks the cover of the May 2015 issue of Pacific Yachting magazine. We think so. What’s more it’s the San Juan destination closest to Port Townsend. But never is it more beautiful than when hear an anchor drop and discover it’s Martha. Captain Robert Darcy waves. This century old schooner which recently did the TransPacific race lives in Point Hudson in front of the boat shop in the Northwest Maritime Center where owner Darcy is lead shipwright.

Martha.jpg

The century old schooner and recent star in the TransPacific race normally lives right in Point Hudson near our house.

Thursday, July 20, 2017. Bellingham 48º45.4’N122º30’W

Bellingham is a much bigger place than the Fairhaven district where we boarded the Alaska Ferry years ago.  Indeed the waterfront is vast and forever changing as the city tries to meet the demand for housing.

At the Squalicum Harbour office, where we pay our 75 cents a foot there is not so much as a free map. Figuring out Whatcom County’s capital, visiting friends and exploring its cultural sites will have to wait for another trip. I spend Friday at the library, trying to tie up the week’s loose ends. A stop on the way at the Chamber of Commerce nets an excellent pile of maps and information about the town.

Georgia Pacific.jpg

The old Georgia Pacific site on Bellingham’s long waterfront has just been cleaned up and is ready for development.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017 Sucia Island 48º45.8’N 122º54.4’W

Have we not been to Sucia since a trip with Kinza years ago? Spanish explorers named northernmost of the San Juan Islands “sucia”, or “dirty” because of the the many reefs surrounding it. We tie up at a buoy and sleep through a bouncy night. To get Washington State Parks’ $15 per night fee to shore we hail a family with a dinghy.

Baker from Sucia

Our view out the wide mouth of Echo Bay on Sucia Island includes Mt Baker and a sweep of other snow-capped Cascades.

Monday July 17, 2017 Point Roberts 48º58.6’N 123º03.9’W

We raise the main among the 18 gigantic cargo ships anchored in English Bay and head out into the Strait taking the swells uncomfortably on the beam. toward the then rock and roll across the delta of the mighty Fraser River swollen with snow melt from far away BC peaks.

Of Point Roberts, Washington, a visitors’ guide writes this:  Locals call it “The Sigh.” You drive through the border, turn right onto Tyee Drive with it towering evergreens and “The Sigh”involuntarily escapes you. Point Roberts is an island of serenity next to the bustle of the Vancouver metropolitan area.

Point Roberts.jpg

Carved into a salt flat just a mile south of the Canadian border, Point Roberts is home to boats from all over the world but has lots of space when many are out cruising.

 

This sleepy, 5-square mile scrap of land that protrudes south of the 49th parallel, is home to 1500 people, many of them dual nationals of Canada and the US.  Point Roberts is an isolated enclave that boasts forests and farms and a sandy salt flat with a tear-drop shaped marina carved into it. The enclave borders Tsawwassen, whose busy port accommodates large ships and the BC ferries that connect Vancouver with the mainland.

Friday, July 14, 2017 Vancouver’s Coal Harbour

Howe Gambier Is.jpg

In Vancouver’s back yard, Howe Sound is especially peaceful before the business day begins.

It’s been more than three years since we docked at Coal Harbour. Our Alaska cruises rarely leave time for it and two years ago smoke from the first fires flowed down the channels to blanket the city. Coal Harbour lies between Stanley Park and Canada Place surrounded on two sides by the city’s renowned promenade, which fills with skaters, skateboarders, walkers, joggers, cyclists and buskers.

 

We get active. Friday night we do to the entire waterfront – under Lion’s Gate Bridge, into the hot sun setting over English Bay, around Stanley Park, past little sand beaches, the bathing beaches adjacent to the vast public pool and back into downtown on Denman Street for our traditional Mongolian Barbecue. Saturday night, we cross downtown to Granville Island on Vancouver’s new separated cycling lanes before heading up the narrow sidewalk on Granville Street Bridge with its spectacular views. Have a bite (and refresh the scooter batteries) in the place adjacent to the theatre overlooking the dock with the tiny colorful foot ferries and the rest of the Saturday evening parade. One the way back to the boat we ask some cyclists about Burrard Street Bridge. They tell us eastbound line is still under construction but we can and should use it. Wow. Burred Bridge has full-sized separated non-motorized paths in both directions, with cars relegated to a single lane. On Sunday we ride through Chinatown and turn south on Hastings beyond Skid Road as check thrift stores for flatware to replace the remaining plastic at September’s Wooden Boat Festival in Port Townsend.

Gulalai and Habib come down to the boat bearing luxurious provisions from land-locked Afghanistan: dried white mulberries, giant golden raisins, enormous walnut halves and a season’s supply of figs. We catch up on the last seven months. Everyone is well except Gulalai’s mom, aging with paraplegia suffered in a hospital mishap several years ago. All her kids and grandkids live nearby but she is a quiet woman who loves to read. Gulalai is trying to find her recorded books in Pashto but Dari will have to do

Thursday, July 13, 2017 49º24’N 123º28’W Keats Island

We rock and roll down the coast. The motion of the water on the hull is enough to clear the barnacles and other gremlins from the knot meter, which suddenly – on day 36 – springs to life! We’d tried to pull the through hull and clean it off – always dramatic when the fountain of seawater covers the sole of the salon – but find that the sea creatures have cemented it in place. As the chart plotter gives us SOG – speed over ground – the knot meter is not essential. How nice to have something just fix itself like that!

We’re headed to the spectacular Howe Sound. Jack hands me the Waggoner Guide and says, “You choose.”  I expect the nicest wilderness coves on Gambier Island now have real estate. I eschew any waters that are constantly rocked by the many ferries that bind the Sound to the City. Samammish and the high peaks around Whistler are too far, better to save it for a future trip.

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Plumper Cove from stem to stern.  At right are new floats for boats that arrive too late for a buoy and the expansive views of Howe Sound and the Coastal Range.

So I opt for a mooring buoy in Plumper Cove Marine Park with its great view up the Sound. In addition to the seven mooring buoys, there are new floats on the dock. The family of Canada geese still come up to boats expectantly at supper time. We watch them cross the cove strategically to visit any boat where people appear in the cockpit, exercising their preference for barbecuers and children. Ah, the weedy creatures of civilization!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017 Smuggler Cove 49º30.9’N 123º57.9’W

Lovely place but as Jack remarks in his log: “Stern tie from hell.”

Bow to stern panorama of Smuggler Cove, a gem of a safe anchorage off often angry waters.

Monday, July 10, 2017 Pender Harbor 49º37.8N 124º02’W

We fly down Malespina Street with only the jib, poled out.

We pole out the jib and fly down Malespina Strait. Dave and Jennifer’s Fisherman’s Marina is now part of John Henry’s grocery and fuel dock. The marina manager is an enthusiastic young women from New Brunswick named Randy. We cross the little wooden bridge to the Garden Bay Pub, where service is slow. I count ten other tables without food and only one with it. But it’s pleasant and a huge portion of french fries begs to be taken home for tomorrow’s poutine.

Jack wants to visit Garden Bay by dinghy. I know I’m up to rowing because another time, long ago when the electric outboard was working, we ran out of juice in a lovely estuary between the mountains off the Bay and I had to row back. This time, the plastic oarlock fails, though toward the end of the journey. If rowing an inflatable is hard work, have you tried paddling?

Friday, July 7, 2017 Powell River 49)49.9’N 124º31’W

I’m not eager to leave Desolation Sound but Jack proposes the Salish Sea circle: we head down the coast to Powell River, the Sunshine Coast, Vancouver, cross the Fraser delta and spend some time in Bellingham. Powell River, a town we have passed many times without stopping, is getting great reviews. We soon learn why.

No we didn’t take this picture. It’s from a poster invitation to Powell River, where active outdoor recreation rules. The Tin Hat hut, one of 15 along the Sunshine Coast Trail, is visited year round by locals.

The people of Powell River are fitness freaks and outdoor recreation nuts. The town spreads out on either side of the very short Powell River and its famous mill. There is no natural harbor. Westview Harbour is simply a very long seawall with a ferry dock in the middle. Mill operations are protected by the “incredible hulks”. Log booms and barges of sawdust are protected by a barrier of hulls from nine World War II battleships. As spectacular as is the shore with views of Vancouver Island and the north end of Taxeda, it’s really the town’s backyard. For the people of Powell River, their front yard is the mountains and lakes beyond and hundreds of miles of hiking, biking, and kayak trails that link their favorite destination. Powell River’s tag line “Coastal by Nature” is apt.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017 Laura Cove 50º08’N124º40’W

As the Gorge Harbour docks empty out after the double holiday long weekend, Tom and Terri move from boat to car, leaving thoughtful offerings of coffee, Wisconsin cheeses, pasta, and milk. Across the float, Wyatt and Janet’s tiny antique wooden Monk cruiser rocks as their kids jump on an off. More offerings. “Would you like some red snapper? Or ling cod?” They insist and pass us a three enormous snapper for the freezer. “We’ll just catch more on the way home.”

Flag flags, sails remain unfurled but Desolation Sound is as spectular as ever.

We head out, around the south end of Cortes and up into the spectacular Desolation Sound. There are a couple of boats in Laura cove, including a noisily happy one with about a dozen children. They splash around, perform stunts on the SUP, swing out over the water on a rope hung high in a tree. We drop anchor near the cove entrance with a view of the mountains of West Redonda. Much as we’d like to leave it there and just swing with the winds and currents, we stern tie, which Jack says is required. After all this is British Columbia’s most beloved and spectacular marine park and you can squeeze in a lot of boats.

We settle in with our books, taking turns in the bow on the zero-gravity folding recliner that was a Father’s Day special at Henery’s Hardware. The kids go home and do not reappear. I wonder if this mobile summer camp is regularly dispatched to a different cove everyday so that parents whose work falls so heavily in the summer can actually work.

Rereading the first chapter of Curve of Time brings me to dreamy tears before I start into Naomi Klein’s new No is Not Enough.

Saturday, July 1, 2017. Gorge Harbour. 50º 06.3 N 125º11.7’W

No sooner do we wind our way through Uganda Passage and shoot straight thought the narrow granite faced channel into Gorge Harbour, than it’s a homecoming.  Jon and Steph kayak over from Strangewaves’ anchorage in the bay and Terri and Tom  park their car after an all night drive from Portland and walk down the dock.  Cold beer for our reunion on the hottest day of the year and Canada’s 150th birthday!

Gorge

Tom and Terri have a car and take us to visit the spectacular Cortes Island beach at Smelt Bay.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017. Von Donop Inlet. 50º08.5’N 124.56.6’W

After a lazy morning at the spit we make the short but spectacular passage into to the wild heart of Cortes Island. Before the tied drops too low, we enter the long narrow Von Donlop Inlet, also known as Hathayim Provincial Marine Park.  More books to read.

VonDonop

We drop anchor near the trail to Squirrel Cove. As they paddle by before the 10 km hike, Rhonda and Jim stop by to say they are members of the Port Townsend Yacht Club.

Sunday, June 25, 2017. Rebecca Spit. 50º08.5’N 124º11.7’W

Another calm sunny morning with a very light wind. As we enter new territory to the east of Cape Mudge, four male orcas suddenly cross our path about 150 feet off our bow. Jack kills the engine and we watch them swim off toward Campbell River. One has the longest, tallest dorsal fin I’ve ever seen. It towers over those of his kin. In time a whale watching inflatable with passengers in red survival suits appears out of no where. Are these whales tag to tell their whereabouts? Have the whale watchers hacked into an orca’s geotag? Or do they just have good eyes?

We pass a large shellfish operation marked by yellow buoys before reaching the pristine Rebecca Spit which bounds Drew Harbor and provides some protection to Heriot Bay and the ferry dock. Note those coordinates: they are the perfect place to drop anchor.  We read books.

Thursday, June 22, 2017. Comox. 49º40’N 124º55.5’W

Light NW winds on calm seas take us Georgia Strait. We turn east behind Denman and Hornby and take Baynes Passage seemingly forever to the guest moorage at Comox Valley Harbour’s Fisherman’s Wharf.  We tie up in the basin that nestles in the spit. At low tide neighboring boats with good water under their keels appear to be in the middle of a desert dune.

Low tide along spit.

Low tide along Comox spit.

Finally the weather turns its back on winter. Jack’s favorite place is deck near the bow in his new zero gravity chair.  We also tour the town, work out at the Rec Center, enjoy the Seafest catamaran races.

Jack

The broad glacier-headed Comox Valley stretches out to the west beyond the Fisherman’s Wharf

Tuesday, June 20, 2017. Boho Bay on Lasqueti. 49º29’N 124º13.7’W

Calm seas. Some sailing through the lovely colors of dawn on Georgia Strait with Whiskey Golf inactive.

BohoBoat

Trim is a halibut boat built in 1945 and fitted out for comfortable living by Royce and Penny of Vancouver. Stabilizers kept them balanced in strong evening gusts.

 

Sunday, June 18, 2017. Nanaimo 49º10’N 124º56’W

After a pleasant transit of Dodd Narrows, we up among the fishing boats in what should be the thick of things. Dreadful cold keeps everyone inside.

NanaimoCoal

The coal mine at the Nanaimo Museum gives an unforgettable glimpse into the labors on which the town was built. Mined coal seams under the sea joined the city with Protection Island.

Thursday, June 15, 2017. Ladysmith. 48º59.8’N. 123º08’W

Ladysmith is always wonderful but the weather continues its bad behavior.  Still Ladysmith never disappoints. (Lots more in previous blog posts.)

Ladysmith

Mark at the Ladysmith Maritime Society Community Marina, says a member of his board designed their lovely floating cafe and boathouse. Showers, laundry and elevator to community room are in the rear.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017. Cowichan Bay. 48º44.5’N 124º37’W

Great sail around the light house and up Haro Strait. The Sidney Spit boring buoys are tempting but we can’t find enough water under our keel. Figure the winter storms have rearranged the sand. Later we learn that in the best of times there’s only one approach and it has a couple of doglegs in it.

We head to Cowichan Bay, recommended to Jack by Erica’s nephew Peter, who skippers the wooden ketch Thane in both races and twice daily summer sailings for visitors. Peter’s rightly distressed that the Victoria waterfront has lost its feel for maritime history and says Cowichan Bay still has it.

It does. Downright scrappy waterfront at the end of the road with a lethal lack of parking. People come for the fine bakery, cheese store, the community-rooted Maritime Center and a marine science center where dozens of kids, liberated from their school deals, were joyfully tracking low tide critters.

Cowichan

The Cowichan Valley community has preserved old marine ways as a museum and traditional working boatyard.

We tie up at Fisherman’s Wharf in the shadow of the bow of Arctic Fox, an old wooden fishing boat newly painted bright red. Soon Wharfinger Marc Mercer appears, musing that he must have been on the pot when we’d radioed. He’s a big handsome guy who spent his career piloting tugs, with a couple of years off to captain a two year sailing cruise up and down the coasts of the Americas timed to be in the Pacific during hurricane season in the Atlantic. Now he live in the vast fertile Cowichan Bay Valley and canoes to work.

Friday, June 9. Victoria Inner Harbour. 48º25.3’N 23º22’W

Close down the house, hop on my bike and catch up with Kinza on her way thought Boat Haven to Aurora. leave at dawn on a sail that’s just about perfect. Full sun, light to moderate winds, balanced helm, wing and wing until we make a single jibe to close haul right at 7 to 8 knots into the troubled waters at the entrance to Victoria Harbour.

Moor at the Causeway floats in front of the Empress and Parliament, after clearing customs. Jump into my Race to Alaska Minion tee shirt and onto my bike and head to Whitefish ?. This small boatyard that produces kayaks, paddle boards, and ocean rowing boats is hosting the party. I’d worked (picking trash) at the big pre-race Ruckus on Wednesday in PT; this party is for the teams and their groupies. After setting up to feed and float with drink a couple of hundred people, I join Penny and Kathleen at the merch table and discovered I love selling swag!

Spend the next day figuring out how each of the Race to Alaska boats worked and talk to crews about strategies. On one tour of the floats I look only at rowing stations; on the next only at pedaling stations. Every year there are smarter innovations. Amanda, Jeff and Ryder stop by. Jack hasn’t seen Ryder since his birthday party and asks Ryder what me remembers. “Alexa!” Ryder shouts. In the evening Kinza comes for supper with Nelson and Mona and a whole bunch of stories.

Vic

Lovely to look out the portholes on the British Columbia Parliament.

The Le Mans Race start is always thrilling. After watching the last SUP head out we turn to diagnosing what’s wrong with the solenoid switch for the propane, which had gave out only after dinner was ready. It’s a Sunday – such problems normally present on Sundays are when breakdowns happen – but we gamely bus around to hardware stores, whose clerks laugh at our ancient switch box. We pay another day moorage and are at TroTec Marine when they open at 8am. They order a rocker switch that fits the ancient housing that fits into the teak panel near the store and agree to have it solder up by COB. I pick it up, get clear on how to rewire and pay a grand total of $4 Canadian ($3 US). An awesome business! They were so busy with R2AK racers – who got seriously beaten up on the first leg – that next year they’re providing a shuttle.

Bus 11 every 15 minutes works for us. As soon as the switch is installed I get back on in the other direction and go out to Cadboro Bay to visit Erica, who I find installed in the garden drinking red wine and supping on Alan’s weekly rare cheese. Erica’s had a stroke and is mad as hell that they took her license away so she can’t drive up the hill to U Vic, but otherwise seems pretty fine.

Things You Cannot Find on a Nautical Chart

This is partly a review but the list is getting longer.

Vessels. These may be moving or stationery. The only vessels charted are shipwrecks. One of those little shipwreck symbols can instantly de-euphorize any great passage. By the way, did you know this?   If you drop an anchor on a steel shipwreck, “galvanic action can strip the zinc off the anchor chain in a matter of days!” (Thank you, Nigel Calder)

Marine mammals. It took us an afternoon of terror in Fitz Hugh Sound to figure this one out. Sure we were very tired from our first rounding Cape Caution and the surf had come up and froth was sloshing up against every little rocky island. Still, the effort we put into searching our charts for all those frothing rocks around us! Then, ah ha! Whales! Eventually we figured out “How to Tell a Rock from Large Mammal.”

Yes, we're going to hit that fog bank.

Yes, we’re going to hit that fog bank.

Fog banks. These sneak up in magical ways. Sometimes you can see them coming toward you, sometimes they descend from the blue heavens, sometimes you have to bang right into one to avoid banging into something harder. When you hit one, your eyes hurt. In the blinding light you gradually go blind. Then your mind, rather than your eyesight, takes over and starts telling you what you are seeing. Phantoms, dangerous and disorienting.

The two guys standing in the 12 foot boat. It’s not the vessel that counts here. The boat has less footage than the guys plus no radar, AIS, fog siren canister. Until this year, our worst day of fog was July 23, 2011.  It was the opening Sunday of salmon season between Port Renfrew and Sooke on the SW coast of Vancouver Island. Ten miles offshore hundreds of little boats heavy with humans, joy and anticipation. I stood in the bow, listened for voices and told Jack when to jog to port or starboard.

Aids to Navigation. Specifically the buoys, lights, reds and greens added since publication of the chart. Or since the release of electronic substitutes with data misappropriated from said chart. Like 16A in Wrangell Narrows. Which southbound you can mistake for 16, northbound for 18. Either way, the consequences are not pretty.

Hardscape. Scan any cruising guide for the term “uncharted rocks.” See?

Icebergs. The summer of 2014 followed a dry, moderate winter. We cruised among green peaks that other years had remained white and through clear waters that we’d expected to be clouded with silt and sprinkled with bergie bits. No reason to be on the look out. And yet there they were, proud survivors of glacial calving, the largest with a waterline diameter of several times our boat length.

Mirages. “See those two islands in the middle of the channel?” Everyone does. They’re far enough distant to still appear blue grey, their steep cliffs astonishing. And yet as we continue through Stephens Passage past Holkham Bay, they’re gone. Several weeks later later we decipher the deception with the help of Kevin Moran’s Local Knowledge. When the very cool air spilling down from the glaciers through Holkham Bay meets meets the warmer air in the channel  it may produces a mirage in which distances appear shortened and low lying islands “smear” vertically.

The direction you are headed. When you’re reading a chart in the library, you’re going nowhere. Maybe I’m just being cranky. But consider the on-board alternatives. Are they any more mindful, despite being in-the-moment?  The chart plotter says you are going toward the top of the chart plotter and gives you a heading based on the Magnetic Pole.   The radar screen tells you you are moving up a straight line in the middle of a bunch of concentric circles and gives you a True heading, which in the Inside Passage is off what your compass says by anywhere from 15 to 20 degrees. One plus for charts: east, west, north, south seem to be where they should be.

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.

 


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