Thursday, July 24, 2014

Starting the Journey South

For cruising in SE Alaska, Glacier Bay is the furthest north without taking the major commitment to poke your nose a ways out into the Gulf of Alaska.  We've not felt the calling to do so and we use Glacier Bay as our turn around point for our cruising season.

After we said good bye to Marcia's sister and brother-in-law at Bartlett Cove on July 6, we first visited Excursion Inlet, about 30 miles away but still technically in the park.  It turned out to be a real treat, a lovely anchorage that we had to ourselves.  From there we did a little fishing (two too small salmon) along the route to Swanson Harbor.  The rain found us there and followed us the rest of the way to Sitka (with an overnight stop at Appleton Cove) on July 9.

While in Sitka we met up with Wade Biggs (“Honu”) and David Cohn (“Shearwater”).  David has a Seahorse Marine Diesel Duck (a cousin ship to ours).  David brought the boat back from the factory in China on its bottom in 2013.  Wade crewed for David on that trip.  Wade and David buddy-boated from Puget Sound having left in early June.

The SE Alaska weather this summer has been generally wetter the normal.  For the month of June, both Sitka and Ketchikan had about twice the normal precipitation.  The fact that last year, 2013, was below normal precipitation and above normal temperature makes the contrast even more stark.  The table below shows the June monthly precipitation for a “normal” year and in the last three years.  We weren’t here in 2012 but when we were here in 2013, everybody talked about 2012 as the “summer that never was”.

  Normal 2014 2013 2012
Sitka 2.89 5.95 2.44 4.47
Ketchikan 6.60 12.25 4.65 9.85

When we saw a window of nice weather, we headed out on July 14 for some cruising south of Sitka.  We stayed at two new (to us, anyway) anchorages, Presidents Bay and Leesoffskaia Bay and one tried & true anchorage, Scow Bay.  Despite our best efforts, the fish eluded Marcia's fish hook.  We returned to Sitka on Thursday, July 17.

2014-07-138On Friday, we enjoyed a visit with Wade, David and Dave & Dorothy Nagle, who arrived on their Seahorse Marine Diesel Duck, "DavidEllis."  Dave Nagle also crewed on "Shearwater" for the Hong Kong to Hawaii leg of the crossing.

We took off Saturday, 7/19, for the next leg south.  Since the weather forecast suggested continued marginal weather, we elected to do a conservative protected water route over to Petersburg rather than a more open water route along the outside.

While we have no firm data, it seems like there are a more boats cruising SE Alaska this year than last.  Certainly it felt that way when we started towards Douglass Bay in Hoonah Sound after leaving Sitka and we saw five more boats behind us.  Since we are always the slowest boat in the "parade," we knew we would be the last to arrive.  We made a quick decision and changed our destination for the night to Pt. Moses Cove in Hanus Bay on the north side of Baranof Island.  We ended up sharing that with one other boat. 

On 7/20, we started off with the intent to reach Red Bluff Bay.  Partway down Chatham Strait, the light winds we had been experiencing increased to S15-20 knots with short choppy waves all on the nose.  While the conditions were perfectly safe, they weren't pleasant.  We again made the quick decision to change our destination to Takatz Bay, a five-star anchorage.

2014-07-145The next day, 7/21, the winds were light again and we headed into Frederick Sound with a stop along the way at Pt Gardner at the SW corner of Admiralty Island for some fishing.  Despite our timing the stop for slack currents, they seemed to running at least one knot which made fishing for halibut challenging.  No halibut grabbed the hook but Marcia landed a nice 30 inch Pacific Cod.

With fish in hand we headed into Cannery Cove in Pybus Bay on the SE corner of Admiralty Island.  We had been texting with some folks from our yacht club also cruising in SE Alaska.  We coordinated a rendezvous with Craig & Ann Wilbour ("Shot-8") and spent the evening sharing our cruises to date and plans for the remainder.

2014-07-164On 7/22, we used Cannery Cove as a base for a fishing trip out into Frederick Sound.  Marcia identified a likely area for halibut and after a couple of hours effort had two nice halibut (32" & 34") to show for it.  Back to Cannery Cove we went where Marcia spent the afternoon processing her catch.  Despite only a vague hint of precipitation, a steady rain hovered over our anchorage for the afternoon giving the boat and Marcia a fresh water rinse.

We like to arrive in Petersburg at high slack because the currents that speed through the docks there are minimized.  We’ve had enough near docking mishaps in Petersurg that we want as many of the controllable elements working for us. To get the right timing, we split the journey to Petersburg up and anchored the night of July 23 at Ruth Island Cove in Thomas Bay.

A leisurely start on July 24 got us into Petersburg at high tide and with the currents modest.  The forecast is for the winds and seas to kick up for the next few days so we may take a few days off from travelling.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Glacier Bay Extravaganza

2014-06-108Joining us for the next leg of our 2014 cruise was Marcia's sister Cindee and her husband Steve. Steve is an accomplished nature photographer but had not yet visited Glacier Bay National Park. In order to give him the greatest opportunity to capture images in the best light, we agreed that spending the entire 2-weeks of their visit with us in Glacier Bay made the most sense. Since the NPS only issues permits for a maximum of 7-days at a time, it took some effort (mainly by Steve) to obtain two permits back-to-back (the NPS allows vessel operators to have two permits at a time).

2014-06-161To maximize their time, Cindee & Steve flew directly into Gustavus, a 9-mile shuttle ride to Bartlett Cove, the NPS Glacier Bay Headquarters. We agreed to meet them in Bartlett Cove at the public dock.

2014-06-133All of the logistics worked fine and we arrived the morning of June 22 at the dock about the same time as their ride from Gustavus dropped them off. Alaska's "finest" weather (i.e., rain) welcomed them to Glacier Bay. After we attended the boater orientation, we tanked up on water and discarded our garbage and recyclable material and took off for our first night's destination.

As it turned out, the worst weather of our 2-weeks in Glacier Bay was the first day. We had steady 15-20 knot head winds with 3-4 foot head seas pretty much all of the way until we turned into the calm waters of the entrance channel into North Sandy Cove.

2014-06-269Since we had the time, we worked hard at seeing as much of the park as possible from a boat. We covered over 400 miles cruising through the various bays and inlets, used 8 different anchorages (2 of which were new to us). We saw bear (brown and black), moose, mountain goat, wolf, river otter, sea otter (lots), stellar sea lion (lots), puffin, orca and humpback.

2014-06-309The best whale viewing was in the Bartlett Cove anchorage, arguably the most developed part of the park. Both orca and humpback whales cruised by within 50 yards of our boat.

2014-06-339The weather was okay but often cloudy and moist. Fortunately, the winds were generally light to moderate (i.e., less than 10 knots).

2014-06-193The best weather day was the day we went to the head of Tarr Inlet where the tidewater Margerie Glacier terminates. We stayed the night before in Reid Inlet about 12 miles south so our early start put us at the glacier before the cruise ships, tour boats and other pleasure craft arrived. It is a special treat to drift in the water a quarter-mile off from the face of a cracking and rumbling glacier. The occasional ice fall from the glacier to the water and subsequent wake persuaded us to move a little further out where we drifted with engine off to fully appreciate the setting.

2014-07-063The two permits were separated by a day in which we anchored in Bartlett Cove. We used that time to walk the trails at the park headquarters, do laundry at the Glacier Bay Lodge and take a provisioning trip into Gustavus for some fresh food.

2014-07-096On the morning of July 6, we tied the boat to the Bartlett Cove public dock once again and said good bye to Cindee and Steve whose return flight left later that day. We headed out for the next leg of our trip, back to Sitka.