Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Pokin’ around Sitka – July 19-25, 2011

The day after our guests, the Crowders, departed on July 18, Marcia and I also left Sitka. We didn’t go far though. Last year we thoroughly enjoyed the leisurely times we spent cruising the Ketchikan region while waiting for our buddy boat for the season, the DavidEllis, to join us. This year, we thought we’d take advantage of the time between the Crowders and our next set of guests, Sharon & Craig Rowley, to poke around Sitka.

Map picture
Sitka is located on the west coast of Baranof Island. While tucked into Sitka Sound with a goodly number of islands sheltering it, if you venture west, you know you are on the coast. Fortunately, for at least the first 30 miles south from Sitka, islands continue to offer a protected route along the coast. Beyond that point, safe travel depends on having good weather conditions and being able to tuck into protected anchorages should the weather deteriorate.

On July 19, our first day of travel we covered those 30 miles south and anchored in the very sheltered Scow Bay. In some areas, you are traveling a route through submerged rocks. When you do that, you have to have confidence in the charting done by NOAA and the accuracy of your position as reported by your GPS. In those areas, we traveled along with our chart plotter set to show the results of the depth sounder. You make sure that the bottom reflects what the chart says you ought to be seeing.

One of the purposes of the cruise was for Marcia to do some serious fishing. The next day, July 20,  we started slowly back north and covered the relatively short distance to Herring Bay. Marcia tried her hand at fishing for halibut from the stern of Alpenglow. She had one good bite but it got away without being hooked. The fish also got away with Marcia’s octopus bait.

We remained a second day in Herring Bay and tried fishing from the dinghy. Marcia hooked a dog fish that not only thoroughly swallowed the circle hook but also wrapped itself in the line to the point that we had to simply cut it loose. Our efforts with the prawn trap were equally unsuccessful. We cut our losses and dropped the kayaks and went paddling. The entrance to Herring Bay had several sea otters in residence so we paddled out there. The sea otters seem more bashful of our kayaks than our power boat.

On Friday, July 22 we continued north and returned to a lovely anchorage we visited last year, Samsing Cove. The cove is less than five miles from Sitka but we had it to ourselves and never would have known we were near a community except for the Alaska Air jets on approach to Sitka airport. The weather was sunny and warm (by SE Alaska standards).

The next day, July 23, we motored north across Sitka Sound and revisited the Magoun Islands Marine Park. When we were here the week before being cowards about the shallow and narrow entrance to the inner cove, we anchored outside. Having scouted the channel with the dinghy, we felt comfortable entering the very lovely inner cove.

After anchoring, we launched the dinghy and tried fishing in nearby Krestof Sound. A rock fish was the unlucky catch of the day and it served as a component of fish tacos. Our friends the Nagles and their daughter were anchored in the bay just to the east of us and dinghied over for a visit. The weather remained sunny and warm, although a change was forecasted.

We were all prepared to try more fishing on Sunday, July 24, but the weather became windy with occasional showers. We spent a leisurely day swinging at the end of our anchor chain.

The next day was calmer but definitely wetter. The wind had done a wonderful job of setting our anchor and we had to power several seconds with the chain taut in the opposite direction the anchor was set in order to pop it loose. We were back in Eliason Harbor in Sitka shortly after 10 AM.

The total distance covered during the six days was 90.1 miles, bringing our summer cruise to 1757.6 nautical miles.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Sitka Roll-up – July 5 through July 16

We arrived in Sitka on Saturday having completed our trip from Wrangell to Sitka. Rather than a day by day journal, I’ll give a description of the highlights with photos. At the end will be a log of the anchorages and distances traveled.

2011-Cruise-389xFor this leg of our trip, joining us were our friends Ginny and Ken Crowder. They had never been in Alaska before so we set so goals for the trip:

  1. Get the Crowder’s safely to Sitka
  2. Experience some of SE Alaska communities
  3. Experience the slower pace and quiet of cruising
  4. See whales
  5. See ice
  6. See bears
  7. See sea otters

After the 4th of July celebrations in Wrangell, we started off towards Petersburg via Wrangell Narrows. We anchored out in Deception Cove at the south end of Wrangell Narrows in order to time the current correctly for the next day.

Before we docked in Petersburg we gave the Crowder’s another boating experience, that of boat problems. Since we passed by Petersburg at 6:30 AM, we went out into Fredrick Sound to kill some time and sight-see. As we were traveling along, we suddenly heard a very loud fan-like noise unlike anything we’ve heard before. After a minute of panic trying to figure out what it was, we identify it as the bow thruster. Flipping the breaker off solved the immediate problem. Some quick diagnosis, isolated the problem to the bow thruster control at the upper helm. As best we can figure it out, the control unit failed and sent signals to the bow thruster motor causing it to operate in a mode it ought not to.  A replacement was ordered and will be picked up in Sitka.

2011-Cruise-344xAt the parking lock adjoining the docks was a tree adorned with 14 eagles. There are several seafood processing plants in Petersburg and apparently the eagles find easy pickings from the seafood waste released.

2011-Cruise-361xFor whales, in the area just north of Cape Fanshaw, we were fortunate to watch for over a half-hour two humpback whales feeding nearby. They dived repeatedly and resurfaced five minutes later only a few hundred yards from where they went under.

Humpback whales remained common occurrences the rest of the trip and we even added porpoises surfacing our bow wake and a pod of orca whales to the cetacean list.

2011-Cruise-399xFor ice, we headed into Tracy Arm where the tide water Sawyer Glaciers pumps ice into the water. The South Sawyer Glacier where we visited last year was too choked with ice to get to but the area in front of the North Sawyer Glacier was nearly wide open.

Most SE Alaska tide water glaciers are receding. In the case of the North Sawyer, it is nearly 3/4 of a mile further back than the nautical charts show. It is a little disconcerting to see your charted position as being somewhere on a glacier. While bobbling in the water a 1/2 mile from the glacier (we are cowards), we did see a big chunk of the glacier fall off producing a significant swell which struck us several minutes later (photo courtesy of Ken Crowder).

2011-Cruise-556xAfter Tracy Arm, we headed towards the Pack Creek Bear Viewing Area near Windfall Harbor in the Seymour Canal. Last year we went to the Anan Wildlife Viewing Area. The two have different feels. Anan is very intimate because the viewing platform is only 50 yards or so directly above a plunging stream. At Pack Creek, you are more distant and the surroundings are more open. 2011-Cruise-591xBoth are worth the trip.

2011-Cruise-627xFrom Pack Creek we headed towards Sitka via Peril Strait, enjoying several quiet anchorages along the way.

2010-08-004xOn the last day of the cruise, instead of going directly from our anchorage in the Magoun Islands to Sitka, we threw in a loop out into Sitka Sound around St Lazaria Island, a protected island for sea birds. On the way back in, we got the last item on the to punch  list of things to see, sea otters.

  Date Destination Distance
  7/5/2011 Deception Cove 22.5
  7/6/2011 Petersburg 44.9
  7/7/2011 Sandborn Canal 55.0
  7/8/2011 Tracy Arm Cove 38.9
  7/9/2011 Tracy Arm Cove 49.5
  7/10/2011 Windfall Harbor 43.6
  7/11/2011 Windfall Harbor 0.0
  7/12/2011 Henry’s Arm – Pybus Bay 49.8
  7/13/2011 Ell Cove 45.0
  7/14/2011 Appleton Cove 31.4
  7/15/2011 Magoun Islands 39.0
  7/16/2011 Sitka 30.4
    Total miles (nm) traveled this leg 450.0
    Total miles (nm) traveled to date 1667.5

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Independence Day Holiday in Wrangell

At the Seattle Boat Show some of the smaller Alaska communities send representatives from their ports to encourage recreational boaters to visit. While talking with the Wrangell Harbor master, she claimed that Wrangell had the best 4th of July celebration in SE Alaska.

After spending the extended holiday weekend in Wrangell, we can’t say their the best since we haven’t seen other towns but Wrangell sets a pretty high bar for the others. If they can work on the weather, they’d be hard to beat. Here is a collection of photos from the events we saw.

They had a “trash fishing” tournament for kids and anything caught with a hand line at the city dock counted.

2011-Cruise-310x Of course, there was a parade down main street.
They had a logging contest involving various cutting skills and a log rolling contest (brrrr!).2011-Cruise-327x 2011-Cruise-335x

The festivities culminated in a fireworks display over the harbor done by the fire fighters that was pretty impressive.


Our friends, Ginny & Ken Crowder, flew in from Seattle the morning of the 4th and experienced a true small-town Alaska celebration.

From Wrangell, we head north through Wrangell Narrows, spend a night in Petersburg, and work our way to Sitka where the Crowders will fly back home.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

June 21 to July 1 – Exploring the the Area

Our first set of guests are arriving in Wrangell on July 4.  We want to be in Wrangell on July 1 to get the boat cleaned and  to enjoy the holiday celebrations (the Harbor Master advised us that Wrangell takes its Independence Day holiday pretty seriously). We used the days before our return to Wrangell to explore areas we passed through quickly last year en route to Juneau.

2011-Cruise-145xOn June 21, we left Wrangell after lunch to travel a short distance to St John Harbor on the north end of Zarembo Island. The route from here goes through the Wrangell Narrows, a sometimes busy, narrow and shallow channel to Petersburg. A slow boat like ours ought to time its transit near slack, as well. We could have done it that evening and spent the night in Petersburg but we elected to do it the next morning and spend the night at anchor in St John Harbor. We did get to stare regularly at a derelict hull washed up on the shore. We don’t know its history.

The day’s mileage was 20.8 with the cumulative total at 920.9. The anchor site was here.

2011-Cruise-156xJune 22 was an oh-dark thirty start to hit Wrangell Narrows as we planned. The trip through was a bit easier than last year because the visibility was better and the current was less. We continued past Petersburg and aimed for Thomas Bay. A few miles north of Petersburg we were hailed on the radio by Josh, the captain of Ursa Major. Marcia spent about seven weeks on Ursa Major in early 2006 crewing a transit from Baja to Seattle. Ursa Major is a 65-foot wood trawler that takes guests on tours in Alaska and Baja. We crossed paths with Ursa Major about four times last year.

2011-Cruise-162xAt the northeast end of Thomas Bay the Baird Glacier has receded back from the water’s edge but still is visible. The aptly named inlet called Scenery Cove is a short distance from there. Unfortunately, the depths here were a bit deeper than we like so we continued to the south end of the bay and anchored in the cove at the SE corner of Ruth Island.

The sun was bright and the boat warmed up nicely. I took a nap in the afternoon (on account of the early start, of course) while Marcia did her fish gear fussin’. We did not bother with our crab pots because commercial crabbers had amply covered the area with their pots.

Distance traveled today was 52.6 bringing the total to 973.5. We anchored here.

2011-Cruise-206xOn June 23 we continued our voyage up the east shore of Frederick Sound and rounded Cape Fanshaw. While we saw a few humpback whales in the distance, we didn’t get show that we did last year with a pod of whales actively feeding relatively near.

Wanting to explore areas we hadn’t been, we headed east into Port Houghton just north of Cape Fanshaw and anchored in Sanborn Canal. While the Douglass “Exploring SE Alaska” describes this area as seldom visited it speaks well of it. 2011-Cruise-209xWe shared the anchorage with three other boats.

One of the boats had a styling similar to the classic George Buehler Diesel Duck with which our boat shares a heritage. As it turns out, we saw Gray Pelican in 2007 on the extended cruise we did that summer on our previous boat.

The rain began to fall shortly after we arrived and continued steadily through the night.

We traveled 54.0 miles bringing us to 1027.5 total nautical miles since leaving Seattle. Our anchor site was here.

The next morning, June 24, the rains became less steady and more “occasional.” We crossed Stephens Passage towards Gambier Bay. We saw more whale activity but nothing very close. Based on the positions where we observed the whales diving, they were feeding at the upwellings associated with underwater terrain changes.

The entrance to Gambier Bay is very scenic, the route working its way through many islands. The bay itself is quite large and Snug Cove, our anchorage, was hardly what I would call snug. It could easily hold a dozen boats at good anchoring depths and ample swinging room.

The trip was 30.3 miles, increasing the total miles to 1057.8. We anchored here.

Having been on the move steadily the last several days, on June 25 we took a rest day. We dropped two crab pots amongst the commercial pots also scattered throughout the cove, our prawn trap and went fishing. Of all those activities, only the fishing was productive. Marcia pulled in a 25 inch halibut (weight undetermined). After cleaning, Marcia got three 2-person portions from it. One went into the freezer and the other two were retained for consumption in the next couple of days.

We motored the next day, June 26, southwest towards Pybus Bay. We to the scenic route between the Brother Islands and inspected, from the outside, the anchorage on the west side of the West Brother. Josh on the Ursa Major speaks highly of it but the charts are poor and rocks are around so we wanted to eye-ball it before trying it sometime in the future.

2011-Cruise-241xWe continued on to Cannery Cove in Pybus Bay. A fishing resort is at the entrance to the cove but the anchoring site is a mile or more further in. Later we were joined by two other vessels. But were bigger than we were so they stayed further out.

The cove is quite scenic with a large mountain cirque rising above a meadow. During our time there, we saw bears twice. The first time was a sow with two adolescents. Since Cannery Cove is on Admiralty Island, the bears were brown bears (aka grizzly) since those are the only type of bears on the island. Later we saw it a solo bear. Based on its color (it was darker), it was a different bear than seen earlier.

We covered 32.8 miles (a total of 1090.6) to get here.

2011-Cruise-242xWe remained at anchor June 27 to again try our hand at catching local seafood. In a reversal of our experience in Snug Cove, the crab traps gave us one nice keeper crab, the prawn trap gave us 16 prawns (8 spot and 8 striped) but fishing drew a blank.

While we were harvesting local seafood, another “crew member” was harvesting horse flies. We aren’t sure where we picked up our spiders, but after their display of ridding us of flying pests we are glad they came aboard.

2011-Cruise-260-275xThe next day, June 28, we departed across Frederick Sound to another area we hadn’t visited. We tucked into a lovely anchorage called Honeydew Cove on Kuiu Island. This certainly met my definition of a cove as you’d be hard pressed to put more than two boats in here. 

While we didn’t visit the beach, it looked lovely and inviting for a later trip. A rock cliff at the end of the beach even had a stone arch to add to the ambiance. The only draw back, which we were not to discover until the next day, was huge amounts of kelp on the bottom. Fortunately our anchor apparently penetrated it as when we tested the anchor before shutting down the engine, it was fine.

The day’s journey was 25.7 miles for a total of 1116.3. We anchored here.

2011-Cruise-280xWhen we hoisted the anchor on June 29, we had extra 8-10 minutes to clear the kelp from the anchor and chain. When the anchor cleared the water, you couldn’t see the anchor through all of the kelp draped over it. Raking the kelp off with the boat hook eventually cleared most of it off.

Keeping with the spirit of exploration on this loop, rather than returning to Petersburg and the Wrangell Narrows, we used Rocky Pass to go from Frederick Sound to Stephens Passage. We read the various guides, reviewed blogs and accounts posted on the Internet and studied the charts ahead of time. We timed our transit to hit a key section, Devils Elbow, at high slack (i.e., high tide before the water begins to ebb out).

2011-06-29 Devils ElbowThe chart clip to the left shows the tight turns through the navigation markers. The circles around the route waypoints are 100 yards in radius (200 yard diameter). The numbers on the chart show the zero tide depths in feet not fathoms (6-feet). Since we draw nearly 6 feet, at zero tide we’d only have 3 or so feet under the keel. Fortunately, we had an extra 12 or so feet on account of it being high tide but seeing only 16 feet on the depth sounder does give you pause. The route is well charted so using electronic aids made the route feasible for us.2011-Cruise-281x

As we exited Rocky Pass, the wind increased to the 20-25 knots on our nose. While not uncomfortable, pounding our way through head seas to our anchorage in La Bourchere Bay on Prince of Wales Island was tiring. Our distance for the day was 51.2 miles bringing the total distance to 1167.5. Our anchor site was here.

After listening to the weather radio on June 30, we expected another bouncy ride but they never showed up, although we did have some heavy rain showers. We could have made it to Wrangell but we elected to anchor again at St John Harbor on Zarembo Island. We want to find space on the Reliance Dock in Wrangell and it fills up more in the afternoon. We figured a mid-day arrival would give us a better chance.

Distance traveled was 29.1 miles, a total of 1196.6. The anchor site was here, less than two boat lengths from our June 21 anchorage.

The wind was blowing pretty briskly as pulled anchor on July 1 and made our way to Wrangell. Fortunately, we got on to the Reliance Dock during a lull as the direction of the wind was blowing us off. We covered 20.9 miles, a total of 1217.5. Our position on the dock is here.

During the eleven days of our Fredericks Sound loop, we covered 317.4 miles while putting on 53.3 engine hours.