Monday, July 2, 2012

Day 28-Auke Bay to Gustavus

I had planned to get out of Auke Bay early in the morning and set my alarm for 5:15, but ended up waking up without it at 4:45 and headed out soon after.  The docks at Auke Bay were pleasantly quiet that early in the morning, with just a few sport fishermen getting ready to leave.  During the day the docks had been swamped with people.  Many of the excursions for the cruise ship passengers leave from Auke Bay, and these cruise ship passengers invariably huddle underneath the covered walkway leading from the shore to the floats to avoid getting rained on.  This can make getting to and from the floats difficult.  But at 5:00 am it’s not a problem.

The morning weather report looked perfect wind-wise for the trip over to Gustavus.  Winds light to 15 knots depending on location and mild sea conditions.  As I have come to expect, the clouds hung low, dropping rain most of the day and obscuring the view of anything beyond a few miles.

I did see quite a bit of marine life.  Two humpbacks near Point Retreat, three or four just off Rocky Island, and another in Icy Strait.  I also saw a big group of porpoises that hung around the boat for five minutes or so, and of course the usual smattering of bald eagles and seals.

Entering Icy Strait I was met by about 30 fishing trollers.  My radar screen lit up, and the horizon was gunwale-to-gunwale boats, it seemed.  I don’t know much about commercial fishing, but I do know that the trollers don’t have nets that stretch out for 1800 feet behind them (and are nearly invisible to other boats) like some other types of fishing.  This makes it much easier to get through the fleet of boats.
Radar screen navigating through the fishing fleet
And the view out the window

An interesting thing I have noticed on the radio is the tendency of fisherman to scold boats for cutting too close to them, cutting them off, or being in their way.  They typically seem to just yell onto channel 16 (everyone monitors this channel, it’s used for hailing and distress calls) something like, “You’re running over my gear, asshole,” or, “That’s the second time you’ve cut me off.”  They rarely identify who they are, or who they are calling.  This makes it impossible to know if you’re part of the problem.  I don’t think I’ve been on the receiving end of these nasty calls yet, but who knows?

For comparisons sake, I heard an Alaska Marine Lines (AML) tug with tow call another boat today in a much more professional manner.  “White sailing yacht off Point Augusta, this is tug [name of tug, I can’t remember] with tow.”  When the sailboat responded, the AML skipper informed the sailboat skipper that they were on a collision course and the sailboat needed to move.  The point is, the AML skipper identified himself and who he was calling so there was no ambiguity about the vessels involved.  This makes VHF communications infinitely more valuable.
The best view all day
Anyway, I got to the dock in Gustavus around 3:15 and quickly set off to see what’s in town.  I made it about a half mile from the dock when a couple of guys pulled over to see if I wanted a ride into town.  Given that I had no idea how far it was, it was pouring rain, and these guys didn’t seem too threatening, I gladly accepted.

One of the guys, an older fellow who lives on the couch in the back of the van I was picked up in identified himself as Stevie Wonder.  He’s a local chainsaw carver and had just returned from a couple of months in Juneau, where he’d picked up his new home and van.  Stevie was apparently excited to get back to Gustavus, and despite the early hour was already making terrific progress towards inebriation.  Thankfully, he wasn’t driving.

That task was left to Nicolai, a 13 year old from Arizona up in Gustavus for a month while his dad is doing some commercial fishing.  Apparently there aren’t any cops in Gustavus, so Nicolai could cruise around in the van with total impunity.  Since Gustavus has just a few miles of paved roads, none of which allow speeds of more than about 20 mpg, I figured the risk to my life was minimal.  Besides, Stevie assured me that his liability insurance was current, although he did express doubts about its’ validity if Nicolai was driving.

I got a complete tour of Gustavus from Stevie Wonder and Nicolai, which consisted of a trip to the post office, two grocery stores (one of which is exclusively stocked with Costco branded merchandise and named Toshco), the local school, library, liquor store, and Stevie’s “studio.”  At one of the grocery stores Stevie kindly offered to buy me whatever I needed, since he has a bunch of food stamps that are expiring in the next few days, but I declined his offer figuring that they might be more valuable to him than me.

I got dropped off at the boat about 45 minutes after my tour commenced and spent the rest of the evening reading and watching a few TV shows.  It’s been really rainy all day, which makes kayaking or walking along the beach (which is sandy here) less appealing.

For boaters out there I’ve got a performance dilemma.  My boat is powered by a Honda BF90D.  That’s the 90 horse Honda that is fuel injected.  The published WOT RPM range is 5300-6300, and today I ran the boat up to WOT and could only get about 4900 RPM out of the engine.

I have a few theories why.  First, the boat has been in the water for nearly a month and surely has a bit of growth on the hull, increasing drag and slowing me down.  Second, it’s heavily loaded with food, fuel, water, personal gear, and all the other stuff I need for months of living on the boat.  Third, I think the engine is mounted too low on the transom (2nd hole).  When on plane the cavitation plate is totally buried in the water and I think it should be closer to the surface.  Fourth, I think the prop (13.5” x 15” x 3, aluminum) is a bit much for the load that the boat has.

So, I’m going to try and find a place in Sitka that can haul the boat out (the lower unit needs an oil change anyway), raise the engine one hole, and hopefully let me try out a 13.75” x 13” x 3 prop.  If no place in Sitka can do this I’ll see if Wrangell, Petersburg, or Ketchikan have shops that can.  Regardless, I’d like to sort this out before the higher speed runs on my way south.  Cruising up here at 5 knots the issue of prop selection and engine height aren’t as big a deal as they are when traveling faster.

The only other noteworthy thing today was my Nikon 18-200mm lens broke, again.  I didn’t drop it, get it wet, or do anything else to it to warrant it not functioning.  But it no longer zooms.  The whole zoom mechanism is stuck.  This same thing happened a couple of months ago.  I sent it into Nikon a month before leaving for a trip to Costa Rica, hoping I’d have it back in time.  Nikon ended up taking a month and a half to repair and return the lens, which I though was pretty outrageous, but as it turns out, they don’t seem to have actually repaired it.  Camera gear always seems to break at the worst time.  The last time I had a piece of gear break was in a helicopter over Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, when my D300 had some kind of electrical meltdown…  Thankfully I have quite a few other lenses with me, but it’s sometimes annoying to carry three big lenses to take the place of the small and light 18-200.

Off to Bartlett Cove in the morning to check in with the National Park Service, then wandering around the park until Tuesday when Peter and Grandma arrive.

52.3 nm today and 1212.9 total

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