Friday, June 29, 2018

Hanging Around Sitka

Over our past cruises, we’ve visited seven of SE Alaska’s communities that are accommodative of transient pleasure craft. Of those, Sitka is our favorite (although, they all have their charms). It is large enough that it has all the services we need while cruising but not so large that you can’t do everything by foot. It only gets 3 to 5 cruise ships a week versus 3 to 5 a day that Ketchikan and Juneau get. Lastly, it has the longstanding Sitka Summer Music Festival which focuses on chamber music and is in full swing during June.

Our Sitka schedule this year was to tend to boat chores during the day and then go out in the evening to a music festival event. The main venue for the formal concerts is the Cape Burunoff - Povorotni PointHarrigan Centennial Hall, a stunning setting that looks out over southeastern entrance to the harbor.

We arrived in Sitka on June 20 and departed on Saturday, June 23. After that we cruised and anchored out four nights in some of the pleasant anchorages south of town. While Sitka is on the outer coast of Baranov Island, you can travel nearly 30 miles south of Sitka over a route mostly protected from ocean swell (getting around Cape Buronof and Povorotni Point can get a little rolly). Three of the anchorages, Herring Bay, Kidney Cove and Leesofskaia Bay we had visited in the past. New to us 2018-Cruise-030xwas Jamboree Bay, a bit open to the northwest but it was pleasant enough.

On June 27, we returned to Sitka for more chores (oil change being the big one) and attended music festival events the two nights we were in town. On Friday, June 29 we headed out of town to continue our northbound journey.

Miles traveled this leg – 79.0; engine hours – 13.8

Total miles traveled – 1103.0; engine hours – 166.8

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Ketchikan to Sitka

Even though I had tested started the engine already, I still had a little trepidation when I turned the key to start the engine on June 13. The engine quickly started, and all was well as we headed north up Clarence Strait.

Since our goal was Sitka and the tides and currents favorable, we decided to route ourselves into Frederick Sound through Rocky Pass rather than the Wrangell Narrows. Our anchorage for the night was the entrance bight outside Red Bay on the north end of Prince of Wales Island. The conditions were calm so only the wakes of passing cruise ships rocked us overnight.

Devils Elbow RouteThe next day, we headed to Rocky Pass. We arrived, as expected, about 2 hours early so we dropped the anchor in the open area between buoys R6 and R8 for a couple of hours waiting for high slack at Devil’s Elbow. This was our fourth northbound trip through Rocky Pass (we’ve also done four southbound trips). We’ve found the key for uneventful trips is making sure you time your Devil’s Elbow transit for pretty-darn close to high slack and you are comfortable relying on your electronic charting. While there are navigational aids in Rocky Pass, it isn’t marked as densely as Wrangell Narrows and we have usually found two or more missing on each transit we’ve made. Also, I always have a route laid out in my navigation software so that I can see when and how I should turn as we thread our way past submerged rocks and reefs.

After passing through Rocky Pass and continuing up Keku Strait, we headed to Honey Dew Anchorage on the northwest end of Kuiu Island. We shared the anchorage with a local boat from Petersburg.

2017-05-071xThe next morning, June 15, we headed over to Gut Bay on Baranof Island. We were able to take the anchorage right outside the uncharted cove on the south side of the bay. While deep, it is protected and all that chain hanging down tends to keep you from drifting around much. The boat’s orientation does flip around depending on whether the inner basin is flooding or ebbing, but the view is lovely in all directions.

From here we headed to one of our favorite anchorages, Ell Cove, about 30 miles further north along the east shore of Baranof Island. We were surprised to have the anchorage to ourselves for the night.

2018-Cruise-021xThe next stop in our slow trip to Sitka was Douglass Bay in Hoonah Sound. We spent two nights here trying our hand at prawn fishing. The first haul was good but the second day, in pretty much the same area, was poor. The weather had improved so we speculated the sun and warmer weather caused the prawns to seek cooler and darker conditions (we, of course, have no real idea whether that is the case).

The last night, June 19, before heading into Sitka, was in the cove just outside the entrance to deGroff Bay on Krestoff Island. We like this anchorage over deGroff because it can be entered/exited at all tide levels and it doesn’t have the navigational challenges of the narrows at the south end of deGroff Bay.

The next morning, after a short 11-mile journey we were tied up in Sitka’s Eliason Harbor.

Miles traveled this leg – 309.5; engine hours – 48.6

Total miles traveled – 1024.0; engine hours – 153.0

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Arrived in Ketchikan and a departure aborted

The trip across Dixon Entrance on Saturday, June 9, was one of our best with only light winds and a low long-period westerly swell.  We departed Prince Rupert predawn (naturally) but were preceded by one boat and followed by a half dozen more through low water slack in Venn Passage.

Because of the poor weather in the preceding days it was quite a fleet of pleasure craft heading to Ketchikan.  We counted about 15 boats crossing, most of whom passed us at various points along the route (ah, the joy of being a slow boat). 

It was a real crowd in Ketchikan and you could tell that most of them were first time Alaska visitors based upon the exchanges they were having with the Harbor Master. The harbor crew did a great job and found space for everyone. Even though we were near the end of the pack, we were fortunate enough to still get a bow-in starboard tie slip (but without AC power).

We got our shopping and chores done on Sunday in anticipation of departing Monday with the forecasted light winds and favorable tides. 

Bright and early on Monday, with only 2 lines still on and all of the electronics operating I turn the key on the engine, hear a slight cough then only the low oil pressure engine alarm.  Another twist of the key elicits only the alarm.  Never a good feeling to be dead-in-the-water but at least we are tied to the dock and in Ketchikan where there are resources. 

2018-Cruise-007xWe go into diagnostics mode and after about 40 minutes of sleuthing we’ve determined the problem is with the engine starting battery bank, 2 AGM 4D batteries that are original with the boat.  With no load they show 25.5 volts, with the engine in the on position they drop to 17-20 volts and when the starter is turned they are are at 7 volts.  After isolating the bad batteries then engaging the house/start battery parallel switch, we easily start the engine with the house battery bank.

An internet search for “marine batteries Ketchikan” turns up Crowley Fuel (aka, Anderes Oil) as a source of marine batteries.  Marcia talks with the crew of a commercial fishing boat that confirms them as the place to go.  They open at 7 am and by 7:30 am we have a plan to take the boat down to their fuel dock where they’ll take our bad batteries and sell us 2018-Cruise-009xnew batteries.  With a plan in hand, I decommission the old batteries and we hoist them (each weighs more the 100 pounds) into the cockpit.

Once we are tied to their dock, they confirmed that one battery had failed totally and we have to fuss over the optimum solution to our situation (turns out that 4D batteries aren’t all the same size), but the folks at Crowley Fuel were extraordinarily helpful and accommodating.  By 5 pm that afternoon, we’ve got a brand new start battery bank consisting of 4 6V Trojan T105 golf cart style batteries in two battery boxes. 

We try again tomorrow, Wednesday June 13, to depart on our next leg with a destination of Sitka.

Miles traveled this leg – 87.3; engine hours – 12.9

Total miles traveled – 714.5; engine hours – 104.4

Friday, June 8, 2018

Port McNeill to Prince Rupert – More Pre-Dawn Starts

Despite the title of this post, the next leg up the coast actually didn’t begin with a pre-dawn start.  We departed June 2 at a civilized 7 AM in order to time the slack before the flood at Slingsby Channel.  A strong ebb at Slingsby meeting the incoming swell from the ocean can create choppy seas and we wanted to avoid that.

As we got out in Queen Charlotte Strait, the strong ebb current boosted our speed by about 1-1/2 knots which put us in front of Slingsby in the last half of the ebb.  We rerouted up Gordon Channel and crossed to Cape Caution from Pine Island which kept us about 5 miles outside of Slingsby and there was no problem.

While we had our stabilizer poles out, ready to drop the “fish” in the water to damp the roll, we ended up running without them, saving us the 1/2 knot penalty they exact on our speed. The winds were calm so the swell was smooth and modest except for the occasional set of swells that we start us rolling until our boat damped out by itself.  We pushed on to Kwakume Inlet for the night, sharing the ample anchorage area with one other boat.

The next day was a pre-dawn start and a long one to boot.  The weather was changing and we wanted to get around Ivory Island through Milbanke Sound before the swells built too much.  We had our poles out again in case we needed stabilization but because the exposed area is only about 6-8 miles (versus 25-30 miles for Cape Caution) we toughed it out by angling a bit more into the incoming swell until we could make a sharp enough course change that put the swell more on our stern.

Again, we had current working in our favor and we decided to exploit it by bypassing our original destination of Bottleneck Inlet and continuing to Khutze Inlet.  Another long day and the first time we ever broke travelling 100 miles in a day.  We shared the anchorage with a Nordhavn 55, Sequel.

On our next day, we started before dawn in order to hit Grenville Channel on the start of the flood current which sets NW up the channel.  The forecast was for a strong front hitting the BC coast with gale force winds for a day or so and we set our goal at Klewnuggit Inlet a very secure and protected anchorage where Grenville Channel opens up a bit.  We shared the anchorage with 4 other boats.

We took a storm day in Klewnuggit Inlet and watched the ample precipitation give the boat a good rinse.  Other than a 3 hour period of 15 knots, the winds were modest.

While the forecast in Hecate Strait was still for 20-30 knot winds, on June 6 we completed the final leg to Prince Rupert with one more pre-dawn start.  Fortunately, we saw mostly winds in the 15-20 range and generally on our stern running with the current.  We made good time and were able to secure moorage at the Prince Rupert Rowing & Yacht Club facility.

All during this time Marcia was struggling with a cold/sinus infection that first hit her in Gorge Harbour.  It had not materially improved in the 10 days since, so our first task was getting her seen and treated by a doctor.  With medications in hand, we crossed our fingers that she’d soon be on the mend.

Miles traveled this leg – 297.4; engine hours – 41.0

Total miles traveled – 627.2; engine hours – 91.5

At the End of Every Boater’s Rainbow, a Nordhavn

Nordhavn 55, Sequel, seen in Khutze Inlet, Princess Royal Channel


Friday, June 1, 2018

On the Move - Bainbridge to Port McNeill

One of the reasons we worked so hard to get out on Friday, May 25, was that the buildup for our yacht club's Memorial Day celebration at the Bainbridge outstation was occurring. It is a multi-day event with boats thickly rafted at the dock. It started on Friday and we knew if we didn't get out by early Friday morning we'd be stuck until Tuesday.

Fortunately, we'd done some provisioning in Port Townsend once the tenting around the boat associated with the bottom coating was removed. We worked hard at our chores and at 4:30 AM we cast off the lines to begin our cruise.

2018-Cruise-001xOur first night we made it to Sucia Island. The next day we ran up the Strait of Georgia to Nanaimo where we cleared customs. At the customs dock we were pleased to see our former Seattle neighbors, Jerry and Marge. They were on their own boat but staying at the city docks while Jerry recovered from a bad cold. Since we were going to anchor out we had to cut our visiting short and leave the customs dock before the afternoon rush from Dodd Narrows arrived.

We had another predawn start and continued up the Strait of Georgia to Gorge Harbour on Cortes Island. We stayed two nights here (one at anchor the other at the dock of the Gorge Harbour Marina) waiting for a break in the NW winds in Johnstone Strait.

We positioned ourselves for Johnstone by anchoring in Owen Bay on Sonora Island the night before. Another predawn start got us to the Port Harvey Resort on Cracroft Island before 11 AM.  It still being early season (although it seems late to us), we ended up being the only boater on the dock.  Dinner was one of George’s excellent pizza which he brought to the boat after it was cooked in their pizza oven.


One more predawn start got us to Port McNeill around 9:30 AM.  Port McNeill provides convenient provisioning and is an excellent jump off for rounding Cape Caution, our next milestone.

Distance covered – 329.8 miles in 50.5 engine hours