Monday, June 20, 2011

Crabapalooza 2011 – June 12 to June 19

In 2010, we hung around the Ketchikan area for about a month before rendezvousing with our friends Dorothy & Dave Nagle and their vessel the DavidEllis. During that time we explored a number of areas and identified some worth repeating. Specifically they were worth repeating because we were able to catch crabs.

This year we came equipped for more serious crabbing with three pots instead of only one. We stood pat with only one prawn pot since they are dropped much deeper (i.e., more line to store and handle) than crab pots. Additionally, we both bought Alaska fishing permits instead of only Marcia as we did last year. That means I can drop and retrieve pots instead of Marcia having to do it while I chauffeur her around in the dinghy.

We left shortly after 8 AM on June 12, and motored in pretty calm conditions through Clover Passage, out into Behm Canal and into Yes Bay. We made our way to the same spot as we used last year, at the head of the innermost cove. The two passages joining the outer bay to the 1st inner and the 1st inner to the 2nd (and furthest) inner are narrow but deep. Stay to the east shore and you’ll be all right.

By about a quarter to 3 pm, the anchor was down and engine off.

The day’s mileage was 40.6 bringing the cumulative distance to 720.1 miles. The anchor location is here.

2011-Cruise-073xThe next day, June 13, in the rain we went out and checked the pots and found 3 keepers among the 5 total crabs in the 3 pots. Most of the bait was intact so we just reset the pots with existing bait. The afternoon check came up blank so I moved the pots to new locations. We also set our prawn pot in the first/outer Yes Bay near where we saw pot floats as we entered. The depths were about 200 feet there.

2011-Cruise-079xOn the morning of June 14, the pot pull was as dreary as the weather with zero crabs in them. The prawn pot, though, had 20 spot prawns worth keeping. The photo right shows the now headless prawns waiting to be cooked.

We start the engine shortly after 10 AM and head to location on Behm Canal we did not visit last year but with reportedly good crabbing. About 3:30 PM we are anchored in Fitzgibbon Cove. Since we pulled our dinghy behind us, we were able to get crab pots quickly after we were anchored.

The day’s mileage was 26.0 miles bringing the cumulative distance to 746.1 miles. The anchor location is here.

Expectations are high the morning of June 15 as we motor over to the first pot. Up it comes and 5 crabs are doing the Muhammad Ali rope-a-dope in the cage daring me to reach for them. With careful jabs and pot jostling to disrupt their footwork, we get them into the plastic buckets.

The next pot pull brings up 8 crabs. After culling the sole female crab and another barely legal (6-1/2 inches across the carapace  in Alaska), we take one and leave the others in the pot. Alaska regulations allow only 6 in “possession” at a time. Once the crab is processed into a form able to be preserved 15 days or more, it is not in “possession” any longer. For us that means frozen and stored in the freezer.

Marcia gets busy, killing, cleaning, cooking and picking.

2011-Cruise-081x 2011-Cruise-082x 2011-Cruise-084x 2011-Cruise-077x

After the first set of six are processed and frozen, I go out and check our 3rd pot. Four more keepers there. I add two from the crabs waiting in pot number 2 and bring the “lucky” six back to Marcia (see photos above). Processing crab is a lot of work and Marcia is pretty pooped after the second set of six, so we call it a day.

The next morning, June 16, shows only the three crabs in pot number 2 that have been patiently waiting since the day before. I feel badly for one (the smallest) and toss it back. The other two return with me and, eventually, there meat goes into the freezer. Before we start the engine for our next anchorage, we decide 14 keeper crabs makes Fitzgibbon Cove worth another visit in the future.

The next destination is Fire Cove in Neets Bay. The previous two anchorages were pretty big so finding a suitable spot with plenty of swing room was not a problem. Fire Cove is more intimate and an uncharted rock that is revealed on 5 foot tides complicates things. After some fussing, we anchor in a location and fashion that both Marcia & I can sleep well with. With the freezer more full than when we started despite nearly three weeks of travelling, we put only two pots down for an overnight soak.

Today’s mileage is 33.0 bringing the cumulative total to 779.1. We are anchored here

The next morning, June 17, we dinghy over to the pots and pull them. The first pot had five crabs, all legal. The second pot comes up with 9 crabs (actually 8 inside and one hanging on the outside of the pot). Processing six crabs was all that Marcia signed up for so we keep the six biggest and throw the others back for next year. All that “free” time gave Marcia the opportunity to make fresh bread to accompany the crab casserole she made.

On June 18, we get an “oh-dark thirty” start to catch favorable currents out of Behm Canal and up Clarence Strait. It was reminiscent of our earlier trip north because we covered over 80 miles. Fortunately conditions were good and the hardest part was staying awake from the early start.

The trip through Kashevarof Passage was lovely. The water was glassy. The Blashke Islands to the right of the passage look like a great place for kayakers to explore and camp. For a large power boat, they would be a nightmare of hidden rocks and tricky route-finding.  We anchor a short distance beyond in Exchange Cove. The entrance and the anchor field was dotted with commercial crab pots which required some effort on our part to avoid. Shortly after 4 PM we are anchored.

Today’s mileage is 84.1 bringing the cumulative total to 863.2. We are anchored here.

Our previous plan had been to continue counter clock wise around Prince of Wales Island to Hole-in-the-Wall anchorage. Since we will probably head south via that route, we decided to forgo that extra leg and head over to Wrangell.

On June 19, we start the engine at 8:30 AM to catch the flood east up Sumner Strait towards Wrangell. The trip there was pretty benign and by 2:30 PM we are tied up to Reliance Dock in Wrangell.

Dinner tonight is with our friends Dorothy & Dave Nagle who are with their boat in Wrangell where it has been since February having work done on it.

Today’s mileage is 36.9 with the cumulative mileage at 900.1. We are moored here.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

June 11 – Photos at Last!

Since we have been moving north pretty relentlessly, we haven’t had time to take many photos. To liven up the text posts I have done to date, here are some photos.

A panorama of about 150 degrees taken in Gorge Harbor. As the dark clouds hint, a rain storm rolled through later.


A panorama of about 180 degrees taken in Lowe Inlet. As the clear blue sky shouts out, it was a lovely day. Probably the best weather day of the entire trip.


2011-Cruise-070xShip’s provisions acquired in Ketchikan.  To save you the math, that is 21 liters of wine and 48 bottles of beer in the photo.

The term the “dog watch” is a well defined nautical term. I fear if a similar term was defined for the “cat watch”, it might be as a pejorative.





The NW Explorations 2011 Mother Goose Fleet passed us.



Friday, June 10, 2011

June 3 to June 9 – Ketchikan or Bust

A little catching up to do as we haven’t been anywhere with Internet since we left Campbell River. Below is a chronology of the trip since Campbell River.

Date Activity Mileage Position
June 3 An “Oh-dark thirty” start from the Discovery Harbor marina in Campbell River in order cover the 11 or so miles in the waning flood and hit the 0620 slack before the ebb at Seymour Narrows. We and a half-dozen other boats (fishing and pleasure) arrived right on schedule.

Travelling through Seymour was fine and we soon begin riding the ebb current down Johnstone Strait. It worked very well. We didn’t hit the incoming flood until we approached Cracroft Island. Once we struggled through Blackney Passage at just about max flood (lots of eddies and 4-5 knot adverse currents), things eased out. We crossed Blackfish Sound, rounded Swanson Island and headed straight north to Cullen Harbor on Broughton Island for the night.

We shared the anchorage with one other vessel. It took two attempts to hook the anchor because of lots of kelp on the bottom.



June 4 We are starting here rumblings on the weather radio that a quasi-stationary offshore high is going to start sending strong NW winds towards the coast in a couple of days. Our motto this year is that you go when the weather is good and that means go long.

After confirming that the seas at the West Sea Otter buoy are only 1.2 meters we decide to get an early start and round Cape Caution and head up Fitz Hugh Sound. We started to pick up westerly 15 knots in the afternoon but the seas weren’t building to anything uncomfortable.

For our anchorage tonight, we try a new (to us) place, Kwakume Inlet.  It proved to be very pleasant and I would recommend it to others and use it again.



June 5 On account of the forecasted increase in winds, our expectations started low. Just past Bella Bella, you have to poke yourself out into Milbanke Sound which is exposed to ocean swells. We identified a lovely anchorage (“Anniversary Cove”) with bomber protection to wait out the winds.

As we motored along and listened to the weather, the reports indicated the winds were delayed by about 24 hours. We stayed true to our 2011 motto and decided to keep pushing. Anniversary Cove will wait until a later time.

Conditions were good through Milbanke Sound, only bouncy for an hour or so. Once into Findlayson Channel conditions were fine. The treat for us was seeing our first humpback whale. We saw it twice (we assume it was the same one) separated by about an hour.

Our anchorage for the night is our old foul weather standby, Bottleneck Inlet. Unlike our previous two visits the weather as we entered was warm and sunny (it has always been rainy and cloudy), and it was unoccupied (always several other boats hunkered in as well).



June 6 The day started lovely. We left about 0800 in order to not hit Hiekish Narrows at a reasonable adverse (ebb in this case) current. The winds still were moderate at around 15 knots on our nose.

While going through Hiekish Narrows, we were passed (everybody passes us) by the five boats in this year’s NW Explorations "Mother Goose" Flotilla. They all have AIS so I saw them pop up on my chart plotter well before I saw them. Seeing five boats strung out in a row is not a common sight.

Shortly after Hiekish Narrows, we saw a humpback whale again. Don’t know if it was the same one we saw the day before or not.

From here, the route goes up Princess Royal Channel and then Grenville Channel (the “ditch”). By the time we were exiting Princess Royal, the winds were blowing 25-30 knots, pretty much as a head wind. In addition, the current was generally against us so it was slow going.

We were somewhat hopeful that as we entered Grenville Channel, the winds would lie down a bit and we’d start to pick up a bit of flood current. Neither of those two items happened. While not extraordinarily rough going, it was painfully slow. It just kept getting slower, going from 5 knots to 4 knots to finally 3 knots (4 knots of adverse current!!!).

We finally pull into Lowe Inlet, the first anchorage along the route up Grenville, about 2130 (9:30 PM). The saving grace is that it is a beautiful setting. 



June 7 A rest day and a beautiful one to boot. We sleep in and Marcia prepares asparagus and cheese omelets. Later when we start the generator to charge the batteries, Marcia bakes bread in the toaster oven.

The chore we set for ourselves is launching the dinghy and testing the outboard. The launching goes fine but starting the engine is a no-go. Probably the absence of my performing winterization has a lot to do with it. I keep my cool because I know that right near Bar Harbor in Ketchikan is a marine service center specializing in Honda outboard motors.

After letting the motor sit for 30 minutes after my first 20 minutes worth of yanking on the starter, the motor begins to catch with my pulls. Finally I keep it going and I let it idle to fully warm up.  Marcia and I then take it out for a spin around the inlet. Life is good again.
June 8 Fully rested, we finish off Grenville Channel and actually pick up a bit of favorable current. We speculate the current problems we were having in Grenville on June 6 were because of the Skeena River, which is at the north end of Grenville, overwhelming the normal ebb and flood current cycles with outflow.

Again we monitor the weather as we are going along. The worst of the winds are over and things seem to be laying down. We decide to go to an anchorage on Dundas Island that puts us in good position for the crossing of Dixon Entrance and getting to Ketchikan.

The three other boats with whom we share the anchorage had the same idea but the place is quite large so there is no problem. Probably a half dozen more boats could have come in before anyone would have had to work to find a spot with enough swing room.



June 9 A first light start gets us and two other boats, Maritime (Selene 47) and Banyan (Krogen 42), into Dixon Entrance early. It is a little bouncy because the ocean swell is coming from the west but the wind wave chop is out of the east.

We consider dropping a stabilizer fish in the water (the poles were already down and ready to go), but decide to tough it out as the fish take a knot or so off your speed. That proves to be a good decision as about 3 hours after starting the seas are getting less choppy the further up Revillagigedo Channel we go.

The most stressful part turns out to be in Ketchikan proper. After the relative calm of the inside passage, the ruckus of cruise ships, tour boats, sport fishing boats and sightseeing float planes is almost overwhelming. Additionally, there is no space for us at our preferred anchorage in Bar Harbor. We end up docking in Thomas Basin on our non-preferred side (port) in winds pushing our stern around. Marcia did great and I didn’t.

The next day, June 10, we are able to move to Bar Harbor.



In Ketchikan, we are doing laundry, provisioning, getting fishing licenses and preparing for the next leg of the trip.

We are leaving on Sunday, June 12 to head up Behm Canal to visit some of the places we hit last year that were productive for crabs. We’ve added two more crab pots to the one we had last year. Since both Marcia and I have fishing licenses our limit is higher. We hope to do some major harvesting. Additionally, we’ve outfitted our dinghy with a downrigger. Marcia got a halibut last year and she is really-really trying to get a salmon this year.

Our plan is to head next to Wrangell. We may bump into our 2010 buddy boat, DavidEllis, and friends Dorothy & Dave Nagle. They came up to Alaska in January (read their blog for the details) to have work done on the boat in Wrangell. On July 4, our friends Ginny & Ken Crowder will fly into Wrangell. They’ll accompany us on our trip from Wrangell to Sitka.

Cumulative Mileage – 679.5

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

June 1 – Campbell River

We are tied up in Discovery Harbour Marina in Campbell River after a short passage from Gorge Harbour. 

Our next challenge is Seymour Narrows about 9 miles upstream from Campbell River. Typical max ebb or flood current is 10 to 15 knots. By a slow boat like ours it can only be transited at slack current (the interval between tidal currents changing direction). While slack current typically occurs four times a day, we want the slack before the ebb (i.e., the slack between the change from flood current to ebb current). Seymour ebbs north so transiting then will allow us to ride the ebb current through Johnstone Strait. When you have a slow 7 knot boat like ours, picking up 1 to 3 knots makes a huge difference. Likewise, fighting a 1 to 3 knot adverse current can add hours over the course of a day. 

Since we don’t like to travel in the dark, we are waiting in Campbell River for Friday, June 3, when the slack before the ebb at Seymour Narrows occurs at 6:20 AM.  After the transit, we hope to make a long run to the Broughton Islands at the south end of Queen Charlotte Strait. When we are able to make the rounding of Cape Caution (one of the two crossings open to ocean swells), we will continue to make long days in order to get to Alaska quickly.

Campbell River works out well as our major Canadian provisioning stop. It is a major community for both the locals and has a thriving tourist economy(salmon fishing and whale watching). Pretty much anything we might need is available locally or could be flown in if not available.

Today’s Mileage – 15.6

Cumulative Mileage – 214.9

Current Position