Tuesday, July 31, 2018
Monday, July 30, 2018
Point Retreat at the intersection of Lynn Canal and Saginaw Channel is a busy place. As Thankful approached the point yesterday we came first upon a fleet of trollers working the shore for king salmon. We could see a number of them pulling in fish so we also stopped to give it a go. The current was carrying us north past the point though, so fifteen minutes later we had left the trollers behind and were now drifting into the next set of boats that were watching humpback whales bubble feeding off of the point.
There were about a dozen whales working as a group to force their prey to the surface. All of the whales would disappear for a minute or so, then come bursting up en masse with their jaws agape. Thousands of seagulls fed on the bait fish that the whales had forced up. The whales would sit on the surface swallowing, breathing, and reorganizing for another minute and then repeat the process. The commercial whale watching boats competed with each other to get closest to the whales, and many of them were well within the 100 yard minimum legal distance away.
We pulled in our fishing lines and powered away from the madness and into the Saginaw Channel. It was like entering another world. For the past couple of weeks Thankful has been traveling in wilderness. We'd pass other boats occasionally and come upon a small village or outpost. Even Sitka was relatively tame. Once in the Saginaw Channel on a sunny Sunday afternoon though, things had changed. Planing speedboats were everywhere stirring up the otherwise glassy waters. Planes and helicopters flew overhead. Houses appeared along the shore. We were approaching Alaska's capital, and it was a busy place.
The traffic continued to increase as we approached Auke Bay and the speedboats heading into and out of that busy port swerved to avoid us.
The two outermost floating piers in the harbor are fist-come-first-served transient docks with room for about a hundred visitors. The harbor staff doesn't even attempt to assign slips; there is too much coming and going. We found a choice spot with a power hookup (most slips don't have power) and grabbed it. I wondered how they police the place to ensure all the boats pay for their moorage. I found out early this morning when I saw marina staff walking around and recording the names and numbers of all the boats in the harbor.
Last night we found a bar overlooking the harbor that served food and was located above a self-serve laundromat. Perfect. The ladies were kind enough to manage the laundry between beers. Matt and I needed the rest after changing Thankful's oil earlier in the day.
After dinner we wandered the docks and admired the eclectic group of boats moored here. They ran the gamut from small derelict wooden fishing boats to 200+ foot mega yachts. There were a lot of local boats but most appeared to be visitors from points south like ourselves.
Sunday, July 29, 2018
Saturday, July 28, 2018
0800 position 58-27N 135-57W. Headed out of Glacier Bay.
Thankful moseyed south yesterday passing the spot where the massive glacier that once filled the bay ended in 1860 and continued on to Fingers Bay. This seemed like a good spot to stop for the night, and it also looked like it had halibut potential. Along the way we stopped to fill our ice chest with glacier ice from the floating bergs. This was our last chance to get natural cocktail ice for some time.
The entrance to Fingers Bay has a dangerous rock mid-channel, but we made it in without incident. In addition to the cruising guides, we have Don and Sharry's GPS tracks from three of Starr's voyages to this part of the world on our navigation computer, and they had entered Fingers Bay. When you follow the path of a larger, deeper vessel it is unlikely that you will run aground.
Once inside Fingers Bay we stopped to fish. Matt and Vicki did some bottom fishing for halibut and I used a "buzz bomb" to try to snag a salmon. I managed to hook something small and inedible. Matt and Vicki engineered a bait guaranteed to tempt even the most discriminating halibut. They took a herring, sewed some salmon scraps around it with needle and thread, and ran a large hook through it. Sure enough, something took the bait and headed out for the entrance of the bay. There was much debate on when Matt should try to set the hook. Whatever had the bait was taking line at steady rate of about 1 foot every 2 seconds. Matt let her run for about 3 minutes and then tried to set the hook. It looked like he had it hooked, but the line went slack after about ten seconds. At first we thought it must have been a halibut, but when a sea otter popped to the surface near where the hook had travelled we figured he had grabbed the bait in his little hands and let go when Matt tugged on the line.
Thankful headed in to anchor, and once settled in the southwest corner of the bay, we found ourselves surrounded by wildlife. Three stellar sea lions were working their way around the bay eating dinner, and they were shadowed by a small harbor seal. We grilled pork ribs for dinner, and when the sea lions smelled the sizzling pork they all surfaced near Thankful's transom seeking a handout. Two shy tiny harbor porpoise were also cruising around the bay, A flock of seagulls disagreed loudly over ownership of the scraps as they worked the surface above the sea lions. Eagles soared and a murder of crows squawked in the trees around the cove. I caught a salmon, too small to keep, with the buzz bomb while larger fish jumped just out of casting range. It was another stellar evening aboard M/V Thankful.
We just passed through the narrowest and shallowest part of Glacier Bay, and Thankful's speed over the bottom hit 11.3 knots with the ebb tide behind us. This speed boost was not accidental. The crew set their alarms to get up early this morning to take advantage of the current.
We are heading back to park headquarters at Bartlett Cove to fill water and get rid of garbage before departing the bay this morning. This is the first time on Thankful that we've had to deal with fog. Visibility is just under a mile. The radar is on to warn us of approaching vessels and we are keeping a careful lookout.
Friday, July 27, 2018
The mighty Thankful enjoyed stellar weather again yesterday as she powered towards the far end of Johns Hopkins Inlet. The cruise ships aren't allowed in that inlet, so one of them turned around at the entrance ahead of us, and we had the three mile deep bay all to ourselves.
Once again the surface of the water in Glacier Bay was glassy, but Thankful started to rock and pitch in the small swells coming from the shifting and calving ice as we approached the glacier at the head end of the inlet.
Ice bergs, which at first were a novelty to see, became so dense that it was difficult to make progress toward the Johns Hopkins glacier without hitting them. Thankful dodged and weaved her way in, and at noon she was floating silently a half mile from the glacier face.
We sat there, mesmerized by the seemingly living ice for two hours as it calved and shifted providing continuous entertainment for the crew. The cracking ice sounded like rifle shots and calving like explosions that echoed off the fjord walls. Bets were taken on where the next calving episode would take place on the 200 foot high by half mile wide glacier face. The swells produced by the glacier were almost continuous.
Seals, which pup on the bergs near the glacier, were present on nearly every flat berg, and they were occasionally knocked off by the swells.
At 2PM another boat appeared at the mouth of the fjord and we decided to move on. We picked our way out and turned left into Tarr Inlet where we headed for Margerie Glacier at its head end. It is remarkable how different two glaciers can be. Margerie was clean blue ice where Johns Hopkins was dirtier ice full of stones and soil. Margerie appeared to be moving slower as well. It also produced swells and calved, but less frequently while we were watching. After an hour there we turned around and headed for our overnight anchorage off of Russell Island.
The Thankful crew was exhausted after our trips up the ice filled fjords. Dodging the floating ice was like playing a never ending video game for the helmsman, and the consequences of loosing would be a scratched hull or bent propeller. Matt, Vicki, and I each took a share of the duty. It would have been difficult for one person to concentrate for so long.
The crew continues to be awed by the sheer size and distances of the features in the park. The air is so clear and there is nothing man-made that provides perspective. A wall of ice that we think is fifty feet high turns out to be many times higher. What appears to be a half mile away ends up being five times that distance.
We found the anchorage at Russell Island to be just outside the limit of the floating ice so Thankful enjoyed a restful evening in a protected cove.
This morning we are headed back out towards the entrance to Glacier Bay fifty miles distant. Thankful will likely exit the park tomorrow.
Thursday, July 26, 2018
It takes a long time to get up to the head end of Glacier Bay, and M/V Thankful is taking a couple of days to get the job done. We spent most of yesterday working at it, passing Stellar sea lion covered islets, hanging glaciers, and a couple of cruise ships headed in the other direction. As we got deeper into the bay, the waterway narrowed and the surrounding mountains got higher.
Ice bergs started to appear, and we corralled one to harvest ice from for our after dinner cocktails. Nothing compares to a glacier ice cooled cocktail.
Our destination for the day was Reid Inlet, a small bay on the side of the fjord. This ice carved bay has a large glacier of the same name sitting at the head end, and after getting Thankful anchored the crew piled into the dinghy to have a look.
Size and distance are very difficult to judge here. From Thankful the glacier looked like it was a half mile or so away. We powered in the dinghy for at least a mile, and after landing had to walk at least another half mile to reach the glacier's face. From there Thankful was just an unrecognizable spec on the horizon.
The glacier didn't move as we goofed around beside it, but it did drop the rocks it carried a few times a minute and they splashed into the stream running beneath it. After we turned around and headed back to the boat we heard a loud crack as some part of the glacier shifted.
The tide had been falling during the hour that the Thankful crew was ashore, and as we headed back to the dinghy Lori discovered the tracks of a very large bear in the glacial silt headed in the same direction.
Of course, panic ensued and all eyes searched for the bear which we were sure was nearby. When order was restored to the now fully alert crew, Vicki noticed that there were also human footprints that none of us had made in the cement-like silt near the bear tracks. We were the only people in the bay, so the footprints, human definitely and bear probably, weren't new. This area was submerged when we went ashore so we hadn't seen the prints earlier.
Back aboard Thankful, the crew celebrating cheating death one more time over glacier ice cooled cocktails, and they were good.
Wednesday, July 25, 2018
The weather gods continue to smile on M/V Thankful. Our crossing of Icy Strait yesterday was made in gentle winds and flat seas. The only bumps we felt were the wakes of boats headed in the other direction.
We crossed a shallow bar at the entrance to Glacier Bay, and on the chart it looked like an ancient glacial moraine. It turns out that's what it was. Back in the late eighteenth century, sixty five mile long Glacier Bay didn't even exist. It was one huge four thousand foot thick glacier that extended out into Icy Strait. The glacier has been receding ever since and the only permanent ice that remains is in the northernmost arms of the bay. That's where we are headed, and it will probably take us a couple of days to get there.
All maritime visitors to Glacier Bay National Park are required to go through an orientation at park headquarters near the entrance to the bay. We made it there just in time yesterday for the 2PM session, and afterwards we wandered around the lodge and visitors center for a couple of hours. We needed to kill some time so we wouldn't end up bucking an ebb tide heading up into the bay. Matt traded our crab for some halibut that another boat at the visitor's dock had caught earlier in the day.
At 5PM Thankful cast off from the visitor's center and headed north towards Beartrack Cove. We thought it would only take us two hours to get there, but we still had a little bit of tide against us most of the way and the distance was further than we had guessed. We passed humpback whales, otters, two cruise ships, and a dead seal and found Beartrack Cove empty when we arrived at 8PM. It was quiet all night long except for the nearly continuous sound of whales breathing in the bay outside of our anchorage. It is likely that we will continue to find mostly empty anchorages. Only twenty five boats are allowed into the park at any one time. Matt was lucky to score a five day pass for Thankful.
The crew of Thankful continues to overeat exquisite cuisine. Last night Matt did an expert job grilling short ribs that had soaked for a couple of days in a superb marinade that Vicki made. The sunset over the Fairweather mountain range to the west during dinner was stunning.
Glacier Bay is glassy this morning and the sun is shining as we continue north towards the ice. We will be passing close to Marble Island in a few minutes so the crew can look for Stellar sea lions on the rocks.
Tuesday, July 24, 2018
When the crew of Thankful came on deck yesterday morning we found Island Queen in a slip across the harbor and her skipper, Dick Moller, a good friend of Matt's, coming over for coffee and a visit.
Dick has a vacation house here in Hoonah, and he invited us over to do laundry. We all piled into his truck, got the laundry started, and then headed over to the old salmon cannery that had been converted into a tourist trap for the visiting cruise ship passengers.
We had heard that sleepy little Hoonah transforms when a cruise ship comes in, but weren't prepared for what we found ashore yesterday. The population had doubled overnight, and the streets were full of gawking tourists wandering around taking photos of mundane objects.
Over at the cannery we found overpriced restaurants, bars, and stores full of absolutely nothing you need. Amazingly, Lori found something she needed there and made a contribution to the local economy. They did have a very well done cannery museum that showed how salmon used to be processed there. Matt's first job out of high school was in a similar salmon cannery in Alaska, and he showed us the machines he used to be responsible for.
The cannery sits on the shore beneath a 1,500 foot mountain, and the proprietors have made use of it to install the longest zip line on the planet. The zip line is more than a mile long and has a 1,300 foot vertical drop. We watched the screaming tourists ride it for a while, but the $150 price tag seemed a little steep for only a minute and a half of entertainment.
Hoonah set a record high temperature for the day yesterday of 80 degrees. It felt like we were home in Hawaii.
At 6PM the tourists disappeared along with the cruise ship and sleepy little Hoonah returned to normal. The new brew pub in town, which was closed the day before, remained open though so we all enjoyed some smoked salmon pupus and craft brews.
This morning there is another cruise ship in town, but we won't be there to witness the chaos. Thankful is on her way north to Glacier Bay. The skies are clear and the forecast is good for our crossing of Icy Strait. We should be arriving in Bartlett Cove, where we will check into the park, at 1PM.
Monday, July 23, 2018
who was also a member of that club.
Sunday, July 22, 2018
The mighty Thankful is now on a mission to get north for our appointment in Glacier Bay on 24 July, so we are spending a couple of long days headed in that direction. We motored up Chatham Strait for eight hours before we got tired and looked for a place to hole up for the evening. Pavlov Cove looked good on the chart, but we found three other boats in there when we arrived, too crowded for our tastes, and headed further into Freshwater Bay in search of a more secluded anchorage.
A mile further along we found Cedar Cove, a beautiful spot protected by a couple of offshore islands. We had it all to ourselves. Matt thought it looked like crab territory so he put out the trap while Vicki, Lori, and I went hiking on the offshore islands. We figured the chance of a bear encounter would be lower on the small islets than on Chichagof. Bear encounters remain high on the list of our concerns. Lori read in the cruising guide that Chichagof Island has the highest concentration of brown bear in the world, up to two per square mile. No wonder we've seen so many.
After our hike, Matt and Vicki deep fried the fresh halibut we got the day before. It was quite a production to set up the deep frier, bread, and cook the fish, but was totally worth the effort.
Matt's instincts were good, and this morning we found three large Dungeness crab in the pot. We were dealing with the crab on Thankful's poop deck when peaceful Cedar Cove was invaded by a fleet of a dozen or so kayaks. The paddlers all jealously eyed Thankful as they passed.
As we departed this morning we found what looked like a National Geographic tour vessel, the kind that carry about eighty passengers, anchored in Pavlov Cove with the rest of the fleet. It was clearly the source of our kayak invasion.
Today Thankful is headed for Hoonah, a town on the north end of Chichagof where we will prepare for our assault on Glacier Bay. Hoonah is a small native settlement that has a marina and stores where we can provision.
Saturday, July 21, 2018
Yesterday's destination was the hamlet of Baranof on the east coast of Baranof Island. It is a collection of a dozen or so homes next to a waterfall and a public dock at the head of Warm Springs Bay. The attraction there are the hot springs next to the waterfall that are perfect for soaking.
This was a popular spot but our timing was good and we were lucky enough to find an empty space on the floating dock along with seven other visiting boats. We also lucked out on the weather for the day. It was crystal clear and sunny, unusual in this part of the world. After getting tied up just before noon, the crew of Thankful enjoyed a brunch of spam and egg musubi expertly prepared by Matt. It was perfect fuel for an afternoon hike.
The hot springs are a series of three pools that drain into the rapids a quarter mile above the hamlet. The pools were big enough to easily accommodate the Thankful crew. There is nothing like a cold climate to make you appreciate a nice soak in a hot bath.
Lori and I continued on past the hot springs to Baranof Lake a half mile further up. The crazy lady had to go for a swim in the lake, of course, which she always does when we are hiking in cold climates. I won't even put my toe in the icy water.
The community of Baranof has also installed three totally private two person bath tubs next to the public dock. The hot spring fed tubs are free to the public, and they overlook the dock and waterfall. The Thankful crew enjoyed a couple of hours in the tubs during the afternoon. We all felt like jelly afterwards, and it was difficult to walk back to the boat.
The other visitors to the public dock were an eclectic group that were entertaining to watch. There were the twenty something year old gun toting fishing boat crew that got drunker and drunker as the day progressed. Guns and alcohol don't mix well so we were careful not to say anything that might offend them. The crew of the motor yacht behind us, "Hula Girl" , had never been to Hawaii, so Lori offered to teach them a hula. One young crew member off of a fishing boat was jonsing for some alcohol, so Matt traded a half bottle of whisky to him for three pounds of fresh halibut. Lori bought two large Dungeness crab from the boat next door and we enjoyed them for dinner. It was a bit noisy overnight with the generators running on the fishing boats and crews reveling into the wee hours, but we were happy to be there.
Friday, July 20, 2018
Yesterday afternoon, as we were powering along between Baranof and Chichagof Islands, I went outside to relieve myself and was mortified to find a fender dragging along beside Thankful. We had put it out overnight between the dingy and the mother ship and had neglected to pull it in before departing Kalinin Bay. We subsequently passed a number of boats headed in the other direction, and I know exactly what they were thinking when they saw our fender dragging along in the water..... "Losers"....
It takes more than a little seamanship faux pax to destroy the fantastic morale aboard Thankful. Undaunted, we poked out into Chatham Strait after forty miles of narrow channels and turned south to head for Kelp Bay. On the way there Matt saw salmon hitting the surface and decided to stop to try to catch one. It seems the Noodle fishing curse may finally be broken. I was lucky enough to catch a nice three pound pink salmon Crew consensus is that catching the salmon more than negates "the fender incident" and that perhaps we can now consider ourselves "Winners".
Yesterday was a stellar wildlife day. We saw orcas, seals, eagles, and a lot of humpback whales. Thankful stopped as she entered Kelp Bay so the crew could watch a purse seiner retrieve his net. Matt estimated that the seiner got about 100 salmon in that set, a pretty weak catch.
We had a peaceful overnight stay in Kelp Bay and we are now heading south in Chatham Strait for Baranof Hot Springs where we plan to do some soaking in the ground heated baths.
Thursday, July 19, 2018
We stopped for an hour outside of Kalinin Bay to fish for halibut and salmon, but all we managed to snag was a couple of rock fish, which were thrown back.
The cruising guide said that there was a dangerous submerged rock at the narrowest part of the entrance into Kalinin Bay. Thankful crept in slowly past where the rock was supposed to be and anchored in the shallow inner bay in company with a couple other boats. We never saw where the rock was, and I'm not sure that's a good thing.
The first thing we noticed after anchoring was a grizzly bear in the grass by the beach. A kayaker with a rat sized dog aboard paddled in near the bear, and we watched closely to see if the bear was going to enjoy some canine pupus. No luck as the bear, which Matt later saw had two cubs in tow, departed the beach as the kayak approached. We later saw a second brown bear on another part of the shoreline.
The kayaker later came by to compliment Matt and Vicky on their boat. She had once owned a sistership to Thankful, a Transpac Marine Eagle Forty. It was her favorite boat. She also said that she hadn't noticed the bear on the beach.
There were fish, chum salmon according to Matt, jumping everywhere in the bay. I tried casting for them while Matt and Vicki bottom fished for halibut, again without success. We also put out a crab pot overnight but found just a single pathetic undersized one clawed crab in it this morning so we threw him back.
I am usually a pretty lucky guy, but not when it comes to fishing. Don and Sharry caught both salmon and halibut on Starr, fish that had eluded us the whole month that I was aboard, two days after I left the boat. I am hoping that my bad luck in fishing is not contagious. It is still early in the voyage of the mighty Thankful though. We shall see.
We had hoped to head north outside of Chichagof Island to some hot springs near the northern most end of the island but the wind and waves have come up which would make that route uncomfortable. We opted instead for the inside passage where it will be calmer.
Thankful just successfully negotiated the potentially treacherous Sergius Narrows, the skinniest part of the channel between Chichagof and Baronof Islands. The current can smoke through the narrows at up to nine knots, but we timed it for slack low water to avoid any unnecessary drama. We don't need that kind of adrenaline rush while the new crew aboard Thankful is still green.
It is amazing that large islands like Chichagof and Baronof, both more than fifty miles long and almost as wide, are separated by long narrow channels that are sometimes less than a quarter mile wide. This part of Alaska is full of islands and channels like this which provide beautiful scenery and protected cruising waters.
Skipper Matt hasn't decided yet on our destination for the day. He plans to ride the tide between Chichagof and Baronof until it is no longer helping us along and then find a hidey hole to anchor in for the night.
Wednesday, July 18, 2018
We got a lot done while we were home. Besides mowing the lawn, cleaning the bottom of Moku pe'a, and seeing doctors, we got to visit with friends and family. We attended a fun and memorable wedding on the Kaneohe Bay Sandbar last Saturday morning, and today we are powering north through the fjords of Alaska. The contrast between the these two favorite maritime locales is striking, and we are thankful to be able to enjoy them both.
Our arrival back in Sitka started off on the right foot. When we climbed out of our taxi at the New Thomsen Marina we found Matt standing at the head of the dock pretending to be an airport chauffeur holding a paper sign that said "Leary - Lloyd" on it. The laughs had started already and we weren't even aboard the boat yet.
We spent the evening catching up with Matt and Vicki and getting familiar with their trawler "Thankful", our cruising home for the next two months. She will be a comfortable vessel for exploring the Pacific Northwest and it will be a fun and compatible team. The four of us cruised together for a couple of weeks each in Tahiti and Tonga aboard Moku pe'a in 2011 and 2014, and we had a blast. We are looking forward to more of the same aboard Thankful.
Monday, July 2, 2018
Lori and I will enjoy one more day as tourists in Seward before we fly back to Hawaii on 7/3. We will spend a couple of weeks at home in Hawaii before returning to Sitka on 17 July for Chapter 2 of "Noodle and Lori's Excellent Alaska Adventure". We'll be joining Matt and Vicki Dyer aboard their trawler "Thankful" to explore the waterways of SE Alaska before we work our way back towards Seattle.