Sunday, July 31, 2011

Heading out to explore Sitka, Alaska.
Totem Park
Enjoyed a nice salmon dinner the other night aboard s/v Jessia E a Tayana 55'. Thanks to our hosts Michael and Terrie hailing from Santa Rosa, California.

We also met some French sailors Regis & Jeenee aboard s/v XE pronounced "Che" whom recently made a Pacific circuit and that included Easter Island, French Polynesia, Hawaii with landfall in British Columbia. They are again headed to the South Pacific so I'm sure we'll see them many times in the next few years.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Sea lion considers boarding LightSpeed in the Icy Strait near Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska.

Sitka Farmer Market

Kathy fills a bag with fresh locally grown Chard also know as Swiss Chard. At the market we also picked up fresh carrots, snap peas, rhubarb, kale, garlic and lettuce.
This photo is notable as it was taken well after dark a notable feat here in the higher latitudes with long summer days.
Sitka, Alaska. Sitka in the native language is Tlingit for "by the sea". This is a shot of the inner harbor. As I write there are two bald eagles sitting on the top of the adjacent sailboats mast. How they can both fit up there is a bit of a mystery, but the location is perfect for the eagles to swoop down and snatch fish out of the water just feet from out boat.

Sitka Alaska

July 29, 2011

Overnight the winds were strong out of the South so lots of swell to contend with on the open water portions of our journey today toward Sitka. We utilized another of the tricky 'inside passages' by taking the shortcut through Piehle Passage which was pretty simple since we transited at low water and all the hazards were readily visible or marked by patches of kelp. Once out of Piehle Passage, but still in shallow waters the seas were heaping up pretty good making for a bit of a rough ride. It was a long day, but we pushed on toward Sitka as the next day was to be the Sitka farmers market. Sitka only has four farmers markets per year and we are definitely low on good produce so it made for almost perfect timing to stock up.

Arriving in the afternoon we enjoyed watching a 119 meter Russian sail training ship leave the dock.

Tied up in Sitka we set out to explore the town and find a burger for dinner. Ended up at the Pioneer Saloon which was a good choice for local color. Ordered chineese food from next door and had it delivered to the bar where we sipped on Alaska Amber. Being a small town we ran into Emily from s/v Seaboy whom we'd met in Pelican.

Headed out the door to the Saturday market.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

July 28, 2011

Spent the night in Double Cove off Khaz Bay before heading ontoward Sitka, Alaska.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

July 27, 2011 Mirror Harbor to Chichagof

July 27, 2011

Threaded the needle back out of Mirror harbor we then proceeded toward the abandoned village of Chichagof located on Klag Bay. Heavy rain and fog traveled with us the entire day as we explored some of the less treacherous 'inside passages' avoiding most of the strong southerly winds that buffed the coastline with their accompanying white crested swells. Despite a few challenges identified by the cruising guide it was really an easy day having the treacherous entrance of Mirror Harbor in our wake. Arriving at the head of Kalg Bay, fish were jumping everywhere so despite a torrential down pour we managed to land four salmon and get soaked to the bone and half frozen. However, the thrill of catching fish after fish on light tackle was well worth braving the rain. Canning a few of the fish we settled down to a night of pounding rain. This morning the rains have diminished to solid mist and the ruins of the old gold mining town ashore beckon. With a small gold miners prospecting pan aboard we intend to do a bit of poking around in the old tailing pile and explore one of the few remaining buildings that's not yet collapsed into ruin.

Just got back from our shore side foray; Trees, brush and brambles have nearly retaken the former town site of Chichagof. Only the most hardy and durable relics of the past mining efforts remain. Steel tracks leading from the mine, a few ore cars and some discarded equipment from a more recent effort include a bulldozer and lots of empty fuel barrels. We also noticed some new surveyors flags so it's likely that someone has again staked a claim hoping to strike it rich.

Some pinks caught on light tackle from the dinghy.
Cleaning the catch for canning.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

July 26, 2011 White Sulphur Hot Springs

July 26, 2011
White Sulphur Hot Springs

Motoring down Lisianski Strait from Pelican in rain and fog we caught a glimpse of a small pod of Orca whales heading the other way. Surprisingly, this pod is one of only a few encounters we've had with Orca whales in the last months. In comparison Humpback whales are so prolific it much more likely to see ten Humpbacks than one sailboat. The coastline of Yakobi Island and Chichagof Islands are inhabited with a vast number of sea otters. The otters go about their business unperturbed until the boat is within as little as thirty feet. Hearing the boat then they move from a floating on their back position to a heads out of the water to look around position. At this point we are very close together and the curious otter looks us over closely and seems to give us a 'what the heck are you doing here look' before diving briefly beneath the murky waters.

Upon reaching the 'full on' waters of the Gulf of Alaska, ocean swells and rain filled gusts of wind swept our decks. The large number of off lying small islets and rocks afford some relief from the crashing undulating seas for those brave or foolish enough to weave a course between them and the rugged windswept surf pounded rocky shore. A few of these 'inside' or more aptly named 'suicide' routes are listed in our cruising guide so we very judiciously tried out a few on our way to Mirror Harbor.

Arriving at the entrance to Mirror Harbor I looked at the entrance with a large degree of skepticism as the running swell swept 'Fairway Rock' with foamy crashing vigor. Having already triple checked the chart, guidebook and sketch, I checked them a few more times before proceeding into what appeared to be a kelp and weed chocked dead end.

Rounding Fairway rock and keeping close to Point Schultz we quickly found our path blocked by thick bull kelp in quantity enough to quickly ensnare the propellers, keels and rudders with their slippery slimy tentacle like arms. Stopping and backing up, I again considered the sanity of our position so close to the boiling churning seas as they rumbled and crashed against the jagged basalt shoreline. Appraising the flowing, ever moving mass of kelp I spotted an opening closer to the opposite shore and backing up and spinning the boat we aimed for the modest path that ebbed and flowed in sinister swirls. Once deep into the kelp choked path the swells began to abate as did the anxiety of being in such close proximity of rocks that would render our boat into a floating pile of kindling and flotsam in short order.

Ahead lay a labyrinth of closely spaced rocks with notes in our cruising guide that suggested the channel to be 30' wide ahead. Recall our boat is over 23' wide so with a margin of a little of two feet to spare on each side we slithered ohh so carefully amongst the rocks making a dogleg turn here and there, then nearly running aground as Kathy yelled from the bow that the bottom was far to close. I had turned a little too sharp around one of the many rocks along the serpentine path to the anchorage and nearly scraped the hull. Arriving unscathed we were surprised to see another boat anchored in the choice center position. Relegated to the margins of the anchorage we dropped the hook with six feet of water under the boat with the prospect of the tide dropping five feet overnight. Given the rocky bottom this was a bit too close for comfort that would made for a fitful nights sleep.

Launching the dinghy we headed for the trail head for our next major challenge of trying to avoid being eaten by a Grizzly bear as we walked the mile plus to the White Sulfur Hot Springs. The trail was a dilapidated single track boardwalk or better described as a mile long wet and slippery log walk. And yes, it was still foggy and raining with vigor. We set out with a bit of trepidation and began to sing a few rounds of 'Jingle bells' as we slipped and slid along the wet boggy and loggy trail. Why Jingle bells? I have no idea, but for whatever reason it seems to be the only song remaining in ones bear fear induced brain when faced with the likely prospect of running in to a Grizzly in the wilds of outer island Alaska.
Grizzly bear doo doo on the boardwalk.
On more than one occasion very real crashing of bushes was heard and on another several grunts were heard from far too close by. Arriving at the hot springs we were all too ready to relax and really enjoy a good mind numbing hot soak in the pools. Two other sailors were their enjoying the outdoor pool and they shared a story of meeting a Grizzly on the trail on their way up to the pools. Better them than us! After a good soak and soap we made our way back to the boat and kept the bears appraised of our position with a few rounds of a new song Kathy made up. It goes something like "Were going on a fishing trip and here's what were gonna catch" You then proceed to name types of fish in alphabetical order repeating the choices each time a new fish is added. Albacore, Barracuda, Coho, Dog Fish, Eel, Flounder, Grouper, Halibut, Inky Squid, Jack Trevalli, Krill, Ling cod, Mackerel, Nudibranch, Octopus, Parrot Fish, Quahog, Red Snapper, Salmon, Tuna, Urchin, Voluptuous Fish, Wahoo, X-Ray, Yellow Tail, Zooplankton. Safely back in the dinghy we explored the connecting bay before heading to the boat and off to bed early, being exhausted from the hot springs.
Kathy enjoying the view from the indoor pool at White Sulphur Hot Springs.

Monday, July 25, 2011

July 25, 2011

July 25, 2011
Pelican, Alaska
Docked at: 57°57.5534 N 136°13.6948 W

Stopped in Pelican, Alaska for a few nights to take care of some routine maintenance like changing the engine oil and water pump impellers. We found a nice side tie in the town marina for $18 per night amongst the troller fishing fleet. Pelican is a tiny town with a central elevated boardwalk running over the shoreline. Actually the entire town is built on pilings over the shoreline in the inter tidal zone. What this means is that every home and business is located over the water for part of each day. Pelicans' cornerstone fish processing plant has failed and the town subsequently has gone into a drastic decline losing maybe two thirds of it's population. We mostly met seasonal residents during our stay whom fell broadly into the category of fishermen or retires or a combination of the two. We made an obligatory stop at Rosies Bar for a beer. Locals like 'Red', a retired cop cum fisherman shared many stories, hot spring tips and even stopped by the boat with a venison round roast. Likewise, Hans a 30 year resident shared many a tale and has a historic home for sale on the board walk if someone is interested. We invited neighboring salmon trollers from f/v 'SeaBoy' over for coffee and some interesting discussions on the health of the oceans, sea otter populations and travel. Otherwise we walked the length of the town boardwalk twice, ate at the Lisianski Inlet cafe and even walked up the short section of road to the dump to look for bears. Mostly we just worked on the boat and enjoyed talking with fishermen. A worthwhile and interesting stop to be sure.

Yes, the entire town is along this boardwalk.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

July 24, 2011 - Heading South

July 24, 2011
Underway Lisianski Inlet
Position: 58°02.7736N 136°22.5623W @ 1:30PM

Surround by pristine wilderness, we watched otters and dolphins through mist covered windows this morning as we sipped our coffee. Calm conditions in our Graves Bay anchorage spoke nothing of the drubbing we got just a few hours later. The first order of business was to check our shrimp and crab traps. We'd been busy trying for a Tanner crab and after checking the pot last night around 9PM I moved the pot out to a new location off Graves rocks about 4 miles from our anchorage. The days are still pretty long up here with sunrise around 4:30AM and sunset around 9:45PM. Excited about what might lurk in the chilly waters below we got underway in the morning and headed to pull the traps. Winds, mist and fog shrouded the surrounding peaks and the low cloud ceiling left little contrast between grey blue waters and the low clouds. Straining to spot the pot floats I relied heavily on the GPS as the 6 to 8 foot swells would only allow an occasional glimpse of the floats. Around 1/4 mile from the float I spotted the huge tail of a hump back whale as he plunged into the deep and momentarily my imagination considered the possibility of all nature of whale encounters. Grabbing the float in the now 20 knot winds and driving rain took an extra try as the boat blew off at the last minute leaving me to scramble to get back on station. Meanwhile Kathy was heroically scrambling eggs in the galley making a delicious kale egg and cheese omelet as the building swell and wind chop did it's best to deter our continuing interest in breakfast. Pulling the trap with our power halyard winch makes setting the pots in 350 of water possible as under these conditions it would have taken two very motivated men to haul in the line with the boat being blow by the 20 knot winds and hammered by the swell. At times the power winch would even give out a groan as the boat lifted on a extra big swell. Hauling the line requires quick hands to coil the 450 feet of line into a tub as it spools off the winch in mostly tidy coils. The shrimp trap was a bust with only one pink shrimp. My modified dungeness crab trap (with a new bigger door for tanner crab) held an unlikely catch, a 10 pound halibut! He made his way into the trap, so despite my disappointment in failing to catch a tanner crab we did score a nice halibut. With the fish bled and lines coiled and secure we spent the remainder of our morning and well into the afternoon getting hammered by Southerly winds as we made our way South across Cross Sound. The Gulf of Alaska bared it's teeth and gave us a little growl of wind and waves that slapped us around pretty good putting more green water on our decks and over the house than our rounding of Point Conception last summer. Kathy and I alternated watches as we exchanged stints lying on our settee with our eyes closed to combat the feelings of sea sickness. Yes it was rough! Now in calm waters we are motoring down the Lisianski Inlet toward a town by the name of Pelican. We understand there is a colorful bar there that's not to be missed.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

July 23, 2011
Dundas Bay to Graves Bay

We started our day deep in the Northwest Arm of Dundas Bay having spent a nice calm night anchored in a little visited section of the Glacier Bay Park (that doesn't require permits). As usual I was anxious to check the crab and prawn traps and we did make a decent haul on the prawns, but only a tiny tanner crab in the crab trap. Moving out of Dundas Bay we enjoyed the antics of at least 20 sea otters and an equal number of sleek black porpoise. With salmon jumping non-stop it wasn't long before I caved in and put out some lines. After a short try at catching with no immediate success we headed toward a noisy colony of sea lions with several huge humpbacks feeding nearby. We didn't want to get too close to the sealions for fear of causing a panic and instead enjoyed the whales as they repeatedly dove close to the shore in pursuit of some sort of feed below. Drifting with the fast current we were soon among a bivvy of sea lions that were feeding off the point of the nearby island. It seemed groups of 4 to 6 sea lions were working in tandem to secure their lunch. Before long two curious beasts came over to LightSpeed for a look. In the flat calm crystal clear waters under brilliant sunshine we enjoyed watching the huge mammals swim around and under the boat. With each pass they would come a little closer then stop, pop their heads out and take a good look. Sitting on the stern of the boat with my video camera I was both waiting for a great close up shot and at the same time guarding against the inevitable boarding attempt. Clearly these guys were looking for a convenient haul out location close to the chow. Kathy guarded the other stern as the beasts sniffed out their options. Time and time again they would nuzzle up to the stern resting their chins on the first then second steps as we got some great shots and then shooed them away. With a full scale boarding imminent we decided it was time to go. With such beautiful weather we headed out of the Icy Strait and Cross Sound heading North along the shore line. With tons of whales, exotic sea birds and sea otters we had quite a time before holing up in Graves Bay for the night.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

LightSpeed at North Sawer Glacier.

Ohh how I would like to catch one of these beautiful Red King Crabs.

Sockeye salmon in a stream near Juneau ready to spawn continuing the cycle of life.Kathy giving North Sawyer Glacier a wave as we head out of Tracy Arm.
Up close and personal with ancient glacial ice.

North Saywer Glacier up and close. The glacier face might not look too big in this photo, but I'm sure it's well over 15 stories high maybe even 30. At one point what looked like a tiny chunk of ice fell from the top striking the water it gave off a rifle like report. My guess it the tiny chunk was not so small after all. Shortly there after we decided to put a little more room between us and the teetering glacial ice that looked all too ready to calf off creating a 25' tall wave.

Kathy prepares to fend off some ice as we try to make our way up Endicott arm. Unfortunately, the ice flows were too thick and after a few to many bumps into bergy bits of ice we bailed.

Iceberg viewed from the toasty comfort of our pilot house Atlantic 42 'LightSpeed'.
Some strange looking prawns, but oh so tasty.
Donovan provides a VIP tour of Alaskan Brewing. Reconnecting with Donny a old Bremerton High buddy was a great treat. Thanks to the Neil's for the use of their car while in Juneau, Alaska.


Had a great stop in Juneau where we tied up to the transient floats at Auke Bay. One of my high school buddies Donovan lives in Juneau and works at Alaskan Brewing so stopping in Juneau was high on my priority list since last speaking with Donovan last summer at our 20th high school reunion. It wasn't until a few hours out of Juneau that we picked up a cell signal, but Donovan and family made a visit to the boat on short notice and were so kind as to loan us their truck to run errands. A huge thanks to Donovan for the truck! We quickly knocked out laundry, shopping, lunch and sightseeing all in one day which would have taken us two or three using public transportation. Dropping the car at Alaskan Brewing Donovan entertained us with a VIP tour of the brewery, the highlight of which was grabbing a delicious Alaskan IPA beer off the bottling line as the bottles shot past. Very cool. Thanks Donovan

In Juneau we were also fortunate to make the acquaintance of Tom Matheson a long time sailor whom had been following our travels via our blog. Tom was nice enough to not only give us a lift back to LightSpeed from Alaskan Brewing, but also to show us some of the best anchorages in the area. Including a hand drawn sketch of Mirror Pond which likely kept us from losing some bottom paint on the way in. Tom also took us out to dinner and entertained us with tons of great stories. Thanks Tom!

Tasty salmon topped with fresh prawns with a side of broccoli and cheesy gnocchi.
lots of bergy bits make navigation through ice chocked waters very demanding.
View from the galley port hole as we pass yet another berg.

A pail of glacial ice, bowl of fresh boiled prawns and endless scenery.

Bucket of ice and the small bergy bit I corraled to break of the bits.
Prawns on glacial ice.
Icebergs provided the imagination endless opportunites to see all sorts of creations... sort of like laying on the grass looking at the clouds when you were a kid and imagining all sorts of creatures, faces and whatnot.
Upclose with a deep blue berg that likely came from the bottom of the glacier.

A tiny berg I brought back to the mothership to stock the beer cooler.