Monday, July 28, 2014

Day 58: Yahku Cove to Craig

I’d planned on heading to Nagasay Cove in Esquibal Sound today. Getting their requires transiting Tonowek Narrows, a reversing tidal rapid. We went through a bit early, with three knots of current against us but little turbulence.

Just south of Warm Chuck Inlet we spotted a couple of humpbacks, one of them slapping the water crazily with his tail. I turned towards them for a better view, and the whale continued tail slapping for the next 15 minutes.
 
Amazing tail slapping...

Raft of sea otters.
Then we continued on. The rain intensified. When we got to Launch Passage it was apparent that it wasn’t easily transited. Kelp choked the entrance. Massive rocks loomed above the water. On to Craig.

I filled up with fuel in Craig since I’ll be heading to B.C. and the land of expensive diesel in a few days. From Juneau (last fillup) I traveled 327.86 nm in 45.98 engine hours (11 generator hours). I put in 100.4 gallons, for 3.27 nmpg, 2.18 gph, and 7.13 knots average speed.

I also changed the oil in the engine. I’ve got the routine down pretty well now, and can do it only spilling a few drops on the engine room floor. All was good until I started up the engine, and a quart of oil immediately squirted out of the top of the oil filter housing, completely soaking the oil absorbent pads underneath the engine and spraying an oily mist over half the engine room. I looked at the old oil filter. Yep, no gasket. Off the new filter came, along with the extra gasket and a bunch more oil. Then I tightened the new filter on again, a added another quart of oil,  and turned on the engine. No leaks. Then the hour of cleanup began…

32.28 nm today
1850.82 nm total

Day 57: Devilfish Bay to Yahku Cove

After a night of swinging wildly at anchor I was eager to leave Devilfish Bay. As soon as we got a few hundred yards from the anchorage, the wind died.

Our destination today is Yahku Cove, a snug, one boat anchorage. Thankfully nobody else was there when we arrived. We explored a lagoon by kayak and walked to a small lake, but otherwise had a pretty lazy day.

21.61 nm today
1818.54 nm total

Day 56: Hamilton Island to Devilfish Bay

El Capitan Passage is a lot like Rocky Pass. Narrow, shallow, and exceptionally well marked. However, it’s a lot shorter than Rocky Pass, requiring less than an hour of intense concentration to safely steer around every rock.

El Capitan Passage
We arrived at El Capitan Caves a bit before our appointed tour time and used the extra time to bundle up. Apparently the cave maintains a consistent 40-degree temperature throughout the year and the ceiling drips incessantly. Not to mention the downpour we’d have to tolerate for the dinghy ride to shore and the walk up 370 steps to the cave.

When we got to the small shelter at the beginning of the trail, nobody was there. No USFS ranger, no other visitors. A few minutes later three people, dressed in foul weather gear, trundled up. An older, obviously pampered woman, a man who seemed rather submissive, and a young guy with a radio remote slung over his shoulder—obviously the crew. I asked what boat they were from, and they indicated a 115-footer that was anchored on the other side of El Capitan Passage. They’d arrived by dinghy, explaining the extensive foul weather gear. I asked if the boat was a charter boat. The woman quickly explained that it was her boat before whipping out an ecigarette and puffing away.

Soon Benni and Jake arrived, our guides for the day. They’re both college students studying geology, up here giving cave tours as summer interns. They fitted us with hard hats and we set off for the walk up the stairs to the cave.
Benni and Jake at the cave entrance.
The cave system is extensive, stretching several thousand feet into the mountainside. Our tour only went in 500 feet or so, but it was enough to get a sense of the place. The guides did a good job of explaining the geology, but I can’t remember a whole lot of it beyond the fact that it has taken 400 million years for the cave to develop.

After the cave tour we headed for Devilfish Bay, which looked like a good, well sheltered anchorage. According to native folklore, a huge devilfish once rose up from the bay and crashed down, creating a wave the wiped out an entire village. Many subsequent visitors have reported supernatural feelings here.

I can’t vouch for any of that, but I can say that this is one windy anchorage. At the head of the bay we had consistent 20-25 knot winds, sideways rain, and a noisy chop slapping at the hull. The noise was so objectionable that I slept in the salon. Not my favorite anchorage…

15.61 nm today
1796.92 nm total

Day 55: Goose Bay to Hamilton Island

Rocky Pass today, which means our schedule is dictated by high water slack. It’s best to arrive at the middle of Rocky Pass—The Summit and Devil’s Elbow—right around high water slack. This ensures that there’s plenty of water underneath the boat and that strong current doesn’t push the boat out of the narrow channel.
 
A narrow section of Rocky Pass.
Rocky Pass turned out to be easier than I remembered. Really, just follow the buoys.

After leaving Rocky Pass I set a course for Port Protection, but didn’t like the weather forecast I was hearing for tomorrow and the next day. Sumner Strait was a bit choppy today, with 15 knots of southerly breeze. But the next two days were predicted to have 25 knots from the south.

We poked into Port Protection but decided to continue on. I didn’t want to get stuck in Port Protection for several days if the weather forecast further deteriorated. And once we got into the inner channels, we’d be basically immune from wind for the rest of the trip into Craig.

So we continued on, to an expansive but undocumented anchorage between Divide Island and Hamilton Island, just at the entrance to El Capitan Passage. It turned out to be a lovely spot, filled with sea otters that had the good sense not to crawl on my boat and use it as a toilet.
 
Anchored for the evening.
This new schedule presented a bit of a problem. I’d made reservations with the USFS for a Saturday tour of El Capitan Caves. Now we’d be passing the caves on Friday. I called the Forest Service office on the sat phone and they happily rescheduled our tour.

57.89 nm today
1781.32 nm total

Day 54: Gambier Bay to Goose Bay

Bugs! The boat is covered in bugs! I went outside to pull the anchor and couldn’t believe the thousands of bugs hanging out on the boat. Yeah, I don’t think I’ll do any kayaking or dinghying here.
Look at all the bugs!
We motored down to Kake, seeing quite a few whales along the way.

After a quick stop at the fuel dock to top off the water tank we moved offshore and dropped the anchor. We needed to grab a few groceries and also visit the liquor store. We checked off those two errands, then continued towards Goose Bay.

Hans and Terri on Mellow Moments recommended Goose Bay thoroughly. They’d seen bears and a moose here earlier this summer. We made it through the narrow, shallow entrance just fine and dropped the anchor, the only boat here.

We explored a bit by dinghy, but didn’t find any wildlife immediately. Later on, after dinner, Erik spotted a black bear sow with two cubs. We hopped in the dinghy and approached as quietly and close as we could. This is a particularly quiet anchorage. As we drifted in the dinghy watching the bears, we could literally here as birds flew overhead, their wings fanning the air.

Sow, after her cubs had scrambled into the woods.
51.34 nm today
1723.43 nm total

Day 53: Ford’s Terror to Gambier Bay (via Dawes Glacier)

Today we’ll head into Dawes Glacier before turning around and heading out to Gambier Bay.  A long day, made longer by the fact that we couldn’t leave Ford’s Terror until 11:00 a.m. because of the rapids at the entrance.

Speaking of the rapids…we cheated them a bit today, transiting exactly at high water in Juneau. About four knots of current ran against us in the channel, but the water was smooth. No overfalls, no whirlpools.

Ice was surprisingly sparse all the way to the face of Dawes Glacier. Still, we managed to hear, and then see, some significant calving. Somehow the sun even managed to peak out during the time we were at the glacier.
Seals on one of the few pieces of ice.
Hanging glacier
Another hanging glacier
What caused this?
Calving
Erik decided his swim yesterday wasn’t enough and he wanted to swim with the icebergs. Given the water was only 35 degrees, and knowing about cold water shock syndrome, I insisted he wear a lifejacket. He agreed, jumped off the top of the boat, and very rapidly climbed out of the water.

Erik jumping into the icy water.
The trip out of Endicott Arm and across Stephens Passage was easy, though long. We arrived around 9:00 p.m. and didn’t even bother dropping the dinghy in the water.

79.0 nm today
1672.09 nm total

Day 52: Tracy Arm Cove to Ford’s Terror

Mention Ford’s Terror to fellow Alaska cruisers and it’s sure to generate a response. Those who’ve been rave about magnificent scenery, sheer cliffs rising thousands of feet from secluded waters. Those who haven’t warn about the lack of charts and the narrow, shallow entrance through reversing tidal rapids with no published time of slack.
Humpback feeding in Endicott Arm.
Two summers ago I’d anchored outside the rapids. That was a stunning spot, but I wanted to go inside this summer. I culled the internet, found some anecdotes, and assembled a plan.

As we approached I maneuvered the boat to the base of the big multiple waterfall. Then I set a course for 290 magnetic, which took me between two shoals to the entrance of the rapids. I entered approximately 25 minutes after high water at Wood Spit (on an 11.7 foot high tide) and experienced virtually no current. Least depth was roughly 19 feet. Easy.

Calm water approaching the rapids.
In the rapids.
The scenery inside is awe-inspiring. Waterfalls, ranging from dainty ribbons to raging torrents, plunge from unseen glaciers and mountain lakes thousands of feet above. Beyond the massive rock walls snowcapped peaks loom. It’s as scenic as any place I’ve been, anywhere on the planet.

We were lucky to arrive on an unpredicted sunny day. With low clouds, the immensity of this place couldn’t be fully grasped.

Not having enough of a challenge for the day, I decided to anchor in the east arm, which requires crossing a shallow, uncharted, and unmarked bar. Not a problem ordinarily, since someone could stand bow watch. But here glacial silt is suspended in seawater, limiting underwater visibility to about six inches.

The depth sounder indicated as little as 10 feet of water, but we made it in. A lone sailboat was anchored near the entrance so we continued to the head of the bay and found somewhat tenuous anchorage off the mudflats.

Orca anchored near the entrance to the east arm.
After anchoring we hopped in the dinghy and explored all around. Absolutely magnificent. On our way back we visited with John and Kara, the sailors aboard Orca, who surprisingly were also in their 20s. Four and a half years ago, at 24, they quit their jobs and sailed to Mexico. Then across the Pacific, ending up in New Zealand, where they decided they might as well just sail all the way around the world. They ended up in Sitka last fall and are now working their way south to Seattle to replenish their cruising kitty.

Anchored at the head of the east arm.
Outstanding views in every direction.
River at the west arm.
Note how small Erik looks 
Black bear and three cubs
We returned to the boat a large sandbar alarmingly close to the boat. The boat, not 60 feet away from the sandbar, was still in 40 feet of water. But given the poor visibility, I couldn’t be sure where the drop off occurred. And since the low tide tomorrow morning is several feet lower than this low tide, I though it best to move. So we pulled the anchor and joined John and Kara in their anchorage. We visited more and enjoyed a fire and drinks ashore.
 
Enjoying a fire ashore
After a few drinks John and Erik decided a nearby rock, perhaps 15 feet off the water, looked particularly good for jumping. I joked that anyone who went swimming in this 40 something degree water deserved a hot shower. John, lacking a shower aboard, literally jumped on the opportunity. So did Erik. I picked them up in the dinghy and ran them out to the boat for their well-earned hot water rinse.

27.21 nm today
1593.09 nm total

Day 51: Juneau to Tracy Arm Cove

My friend Erik flew into Juneau this morning. After picking up groceries we wandered around downtown Juneau a bit before shoving off, destination Tracy Arm Cove.

NOAA predicted 15 knots of wind from the south (against us) in Stephens Passage, but they seemed to be wrong. Once out of Gastineau Channel the wind was more like 20-25 knots, with steep, short interval 3-4 foot chop. It was a wet ride to Tracy Arm Cove, though conditions calmed significantly after Port Snettisham.
The windshield wipers were put to good use.
Tracy Arm Cove was as busy as I’d ever seen it. At least 10 boats were anchored there, including two in the 120+ foot range. Still, plenty of room.

Tomorrow we’re forgoing Tracy Arm. Instead, we’ll head up Endicott Arm, turn into Ford’s Terror for the night, then continue to Dawes Glacier the next day.

42.92 nm today
1565.88 nm total

Day 47-50: Juneau

The usual…laundry, cleaning, a bit of wandering around town.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Day 46: Tracy Arm Cove to Juneau

After days in the wilderness arriving in a major port like Juneau is always jarring. Boat traffic intensifies and radio traffic increases. Sirens sound, hoards of cruise ship tourists wander about, jewelry salespeople try to woo you into their shops…

But I digress…our first stop in Juneau was the fuel dock, where I took on 225 gallons of diesel at $3.89 per gallon. Since the last fill up I ran the engine 106.02 hours (34.4 generator hours), covering 764.37 nautical miles. Fuel consumption works out to just over 2.1 gallons per hour and about 3.4 nautical miles per gallon at an average speed of 7.21 knots. Compared to the C-Dory, I’m averaging about half a knot faster and getting about 0.2 nautical miles per gallon worse fuel economy. But because diesel is cheaper than gas, and the longer range allows me to buy fuel at cheaper locations, my fuel costs are substantially less.

I’ll be in Juneau until Sunday, when a friend flies in and we head south for Craig.

43.36 nm today
1522.96 nm total

Day 45: Tracy Arm

Today started off foggy, again. We pulled anchor around 7:30 and started into Tracy Arm with decent visibility, but it quickly closed down to a quarter mile. Enough to avoid the ice, but not enough to take in the stunning fjord landscape.

The cruise ship Zaandam was five miles ahead of us, and I called them on the VHF and asked how the weather was. They reported clear skies, which was encouraging. Sure enough, they were right…as we continued into Tracy Arm the fog lifted and gave way to brilliant sunny skies. Perfect!
Catching up to Zaandam
Spectacular mountain scenery...
Not a bad view in any direction.
Getting to North Sawyer Glacier was easy, with very little ice to dodge. I got the boat within a quarter mile of the face of the glacier. The rest of the group got in the dinghy and explored around for a bit, then we made our way to South Sawyer Glacier.
 
Approaching North Sawyer Glacier. Not the lack of ice.
Yep, the glacier is receding.
Safe Harbour in front of North Sawyer Glacier.
Getting to South Sawyer was a bit more difficult, but not bad. I maneuvered past Zaandam, which was holding station over a mile from the glacier, and picked my way through the ice. Through the binoculars I noticed people standing on several of the larger icebergs. Then I saw a tour boat dropping people off and picking them up. It turns out a tour operator picks people up from the cruise ship, deposits them on icebergs for photos, and then picks them up. I’d always been under the impression that walking around on icebergs is pretty dangerous, since they have a tendency to shift unpredictably.
Dodging ice
As we approached South Sawyer a massive chunk of ice calved off the face, creating a geyser of spray several hundred feet high…a good reminder of why it’s important to keep some distance between the boat and the glacier.

A half-mile from the face of the glacier the ice final closed in, preventing further progress. I shut off the engine and dropped the kayaks in the water. Under beautiful sunny skies we spent the next hour puttering around the ice, soaking in the views. Tidewater glaciers are magical places, and all the more so on a sunny day.
 
Safe Harbour at South Sawyer Glacier. It is much larger than North Sawyer.
Kayaking at South Sawyer Glacier.
The trip out of Tracy Arm was easy. No fog, but a bit of wind. By 4:30 we were back in Tracy Arm Cove. Boating in the ice is exhilarating but also exhausting. I was ready for an early night after 8 hours of dodging icebergs today.

53.92 nm today
1479.6 nm total

Day 44: Pack Creek to Tracy Arm Cove

Another foggy morning. By the time we departed the fog had lifted a bit, but it closed back down as we made our way out of Seymour Canal. With light boat traffic, radar, AIS, and GPS, it was no big deal.

We did see more whales today, although not as close as we had on the trip in. The highlight of the morning was a small group of porpoises that played in the bow wave for a few minutes. Their ability to zoom and dart through the water is really amazing.

Tonight we’re in Tracy Arm Cove, also known as No Name Cove. It’s a nice anchorage, and strategically located for heading into Tracy Arm tomorrow. A few hours after we arrived Hans and Terri on Mellow Moments, whom I’d met last time I was in Alaska and kept in touch with, arrived. They’d been in Tracy Arm today and reported minimal ice at North Sawyer Glacier. We visited for a few hours and caught up…always fun running into familiar faces up here.

41.48 nm today

1425.68 nm total

Day 43: Pack Creek

I woke up at 7:30 to dense fog. The view all around was the same—white, the shoreline somewhere. We’d have to wait for the fog to clear before taking the dinghy ashore.

Luckily the fog lifted after breakfast and we headed for the dinghy landing area. Because bears can make quick work of inflatable dinghies, the rangers tie off dinghies to an elaborate rope system that takes the dinghies well offshore. The rangers then briefed us on the rules and we walked out to one of the viewing areas.

The first couple hours were slow. No bears in sight. But then a few emerged. One, a 29 year old female, had a mangled face and bad leg, but apparently still managed to intimidate many of the younger bears. One sow and two cubs went out on the flats looking for fish. Another bear wandered around on the mud flats, keeping far away from the other bears.
 
Mom and two cubs.
29 year old bear, with a bad right rear leg and mangled nose.
After lunch on the boat dad and I walked up to the observation tower along a creek. One bear was fishing when we arrived, utilizing a fishing method I hadn’t seen before. It waded around the river, and when it spotted a fish it ran violently toward the fish, trying to catch it. Despite trying for an hour, we never saw the bear catch a fish. I suspect it will do better once the salmon begin running a bit more.
 
This bear expended a lot of energy fishing.
He saw us in the tower, too...
More chasing salmon.
He didn't do any catching, though.
We went back ashore after dinner and watched bears on the beach a bit more. They weren’t terribly close, but they were engaged in the same type of fishing as the bear we saw from the observation tower.


All in all Pack Creek was a good stop. I’m not sure that I’d rush back there on future trips, since the permits are tough to get and it requires dedicating a few days of time. But I don’t regret going in the least.
Will it be foggy tomorrow morning?

Day 42: Pybus Bay to Pack Creek

Pack Creek is located about 23 nautical miles into Seymour Canal. The draw is brown bears. The U.S. Forest Service and Alaska Department of Fish and Game jointly manage the site and limit visitors to 24 per day. I had applied for permits back in February since they quickly sell out, and tomorrow is our day to visit. Today we’ll run up to Pack Creek and anchor out so we’re ready to visit when they open at 9:00 a.m. tomorrow.

The trip up to Pack Creek was easy, except for the dozens of humpback whales that were seemingly trying to block our path. I’d never seen as high a concentration of humpbacks as I did at the south end of Seymour Canal. In several instances I glanced out the window to see a humpback surfacing within 50 feet of the boat. One even breached directly ahead, perhaps 500 feet in front of us. I wish I’d had my camera ready…
Trying to impede our progress!
Anchoring at Pack Creek is a deep-water affair. I was fairly close to shore, still in 100 feet of water. Thankfully the bottom is sticky mud with excellent holding. With 275 feet of chain out the anchor set quickly and firmly.

In the evening a couple of young brown bears meandered down the beach digging for clams. We watched from the dinghy, then the boat. Hopefully this means we’ll see lots of bears tomorrow.

52.37 nm today
1384.2 nm total

Day 41: Red Bluff Bay to Pybus Bay

With five people on the boat, I was worried about water consumption over a 8 or 9 day trip. To partially allay these concerns, I decided to top off the water tank in Kake. This would also give us the opportunity to pick up additional groceries.

Chatham Strait was not as calm today as it had been the last couple of days. Wind was blowing about 15 knots from the south, generating enough of a chop to make for a rolly ride. I bumped the engine speed up to 1800 rpm to smooth out the ride and we made it across in good time. As soon as we got into Frederick Sound conditions calmed down and we had a smooth ride into Kake.

After groceries and water in Kake we headed for Pybus Bay. Another boat occupied my preffered anchoring spot, so we anchored in Cannery Cove. It’s a beautiful spot, but today was especially rainy. We didn’t even launch the dinghy.

Tomorrow we’re off to Pack Creek. We’ll anchor there overnight, then watch the bears the following day.

58.76 nm today
1331.83 nm total

Day 40: Ell Cove to Red Bluff Bay

Our first stop today was Baranof Warm Springs, about midway between Ell Cove and Red Bluff Bay. Unfortunately the lower hot spring pool (my favorite) was closed today because the locals were fixing some broken sections, but the upper pools were open.

Chatham Strait was calm again today. We spotted more whales, although none as close as yesterday.
 
Hanging glacier on Baranof Island.
Approaching Red Bluff Bay.
A mini cruise ship was anchored in Red Bluff Bay when we arrived, but it was well outside the normal pleasure boat anchorage. No other boats were present. No bears, either, but the sun was shining and we had a nice afternoon reading on the upper deck and kayaking around the bay.
 
Note how small Safe Harbour appears.
After dinner we explored the head of the bay by dinghy, hoping to see a bear. No luck. As we returned to the boat, a 32 foot center console fishing boat came in and idled around. Not long after a 130 foot Westport named Serengeti showed up. The center console is the tender.

Serengeti had been on the end of the dock I was on in Sitka. It’s a charter boat with a crew of seven. For several days they were non-stop shopping: groceries and more groceries, dock carts filled with flowers, and who knows what else. A one week charter costs $110,000.

Late in the evening I finally spotted a bear on shore. I hopped in the dinghy for a closer look. It was wandering around deep in the tidal flats at the head of the bay, and I couldn’t get too close. It was already getting dark, so no pictures.

30.2 nm today

1273.07 nm total