We just realized that we had not posted this Guest Interview by James with Pendana, a 62 Nordhavn. James, Claire and their two daughters are traveling the world in their Nordhavn. They left Australia about 4 years ago and we had the pleasure to meet and get to know them while they spent this past winter in Seattle. They are a hoot! The Guest Interview was fun to do – take a look when you have a moment!
Time to catch up again! We’ve been in Glacier Bay (which will be in our next post as it deserves its own post entirely) and the scenery kept our eyes busy. No time to look at a computer screen. I wrote this as we took a 3.5 hour ride from Glacier Bay back to Hoonah for a quick night on our way toward Sitka. And now we are in Sitka, boy are we behind!
But enough about that for now, back to our Juneau, Funter Bay & Hoonah visits.
June 15 – Tracy Arm Cove (No Name Cove) to Juneau: 44.5 nm.
As I may have mentioned in our last post, we weren’t planning to go to Juneau at all, as we had heard it was super touristy and full of gold and diamond stores targeted at cruise ship passengers. This isn’t really accurate. There is one area of the downtown that resembles this remark but there is much more to Juneau. We also read that the residents of Juneau are exhausted by all of the cruise ships and aren’t as friendly to small boat cruisers as other Alaskan communities. NOT true at all. We encountered super friendly people who helped us immensely.
As our Maretron weather station failed in the Williwaw storm the night before, we needed to get a new part and Juneau was the destination. Kevin had a satellite phone/email chat with the good people at Emerald Harbor Marine and we then noted that we would reconnect when we achieved real cell service. That didn’t happen until almost 2 pm on Thursday. Larry, the owner of Emerald Harbor and Kelly in the office ran around to make magic happen. As it turns out, you can’t simply overnight a package to Juneau from Seattle. What what?!? Nope, you need to do what is called FedEx Same Day Service in order to get it there the next day (which of course was Friday to complicate things and shorten the window to get the package vs. a Tuesday delivery). And you can’t deliver it to a FedEx office. No of course not, that would make too much sense. Instead, you have to have an address to deliver to. An address? Well, how about the marina (Port of Ketchikan). Nope, they suggest the Post Office, General Delivery. Well, it is FedEx. Unlikely that the USPS will receive our package with open arms. And, to add to the fun, they are only open for an hour. Extremely convenient. We tried some Mailbox, Etc. (not specifically one of these brands) type places. Also a NO. We were starting to believe that people were indeed not very nice in Juneau. Until we called Visit Juneau and explained our plight, wondering if they might have a suggestion? They kindly offered to receive our package for us! They explained that of course, being Visit Juneau, saving the day for visitor vacations was totally in their wheelhouse. J Wahoo! Phew. Thank you thank you thank you Visit Juneau! With that figured out, and after more scrambling from Larry and Kelly on our behalf, we knew that our package would be coming in to Juneau on Alaska Airlines (#iflyalaska) the next morning. Back to having fun!
After a few nice chats with Dennis, who was managing the harbor that day, we came into Harris Harbor Marina and tied up. Zoe was itching to explore Juneau and who were we to disappoint her? We wandered into town to see a mix of government buildings, cruise-ship oriented tourism destinations (trinket shops and jewelry stores), restaurants (again with broad menus!) and a very cool tram that apparently offered amazing views of the area. Of course it was very overcast and drizzly so there wasn’t too much to see on this day. But having seen the mountains around Juneau since then, I am sure it would be an amazing ride. We took advantage of the opportunity to sit outside in the drizzle and enjoy some halibut tacos and Alaskan White beer. Mmm.
On Saturday we decided that we would rent a car and explore the area while waiting for the package to arrive. After retrieving the car, Kevin went into Travel Juneau and had a fun 30 minute chat with Cara and team who gave all sorts of fun recommendations and were truly interested in our travels. I think Kevin convinced them to go to Petersburg for a girls weekend! Sitting in a car after a few weeks of not traveling at more than 15 mph felt fast! And Kevin seemed to think that the stripes on the road were “suggested guidelines.” Hmm. First, we hit the local Petco with Zoe. She needed to find an additional dog bed that would be comfortable in the pilothouse. She tried a few out and selected one.
After a lunch of halibut and chips and a trip to the local outdoors store for more Smartwool socks and a pair of XTRA TUFF “Alaskan sneakers” for Kevin, we drove up to see Mendenhall Glacier. About five busloads of people arrived just after we did… which is now overwhelming as we have been accustomed to being alone most of the time. That said, it was a very beautiful spot. We took the trail to the overlook and then decided to walk the trail out to the waterfall. Along the way we saw a monument honoring Romeo, a black wolf that roamed this area. Zoe paid her respects, of course. It was funny, as we were sauntering down the path people would pass us at a high rate of speed – rushing, rushing, rushing. Got to get to the waterfall. Take a selfie. Rush back. Hurry! I think we’ve slowed way down. We’re not in much of a hurry to do anything!
Random caption bar I can’t make disappear.
We then drove out “the road” – there is only one – for about 25 miles or so to see the scenery and the lush, green vegetation that this rainforest climate creates. Beautiful vistas. Oh and we saw a marsh with maybe 50 eagles sitting in it, just hanging out like black and white gnomes dotting a field. Did I get a photo? Nope. But it was cool, trust me.
And then, of course, a trip to Safeway was in order. I had a long chat with an Alaskan native at the fish/meat counter. He was remembering when Alaskan residents had recreational king crab permits. He told me a story about how they would eat king crab legs all the time, sitting around the table, saying to themselves, “I wonder what the rich people are eating?”
June 17 – Juneau to Funter Bay (Admiralty Island). 51 nm. Critter Count: 12 humpbacks, 1 sea otter
On Saturday morning we left Juneau, heading toward Glacier Bay without too much of a plan, knowing that we had a bit of a wait until our permit began. It was rainy and misty and actually, just not a lovely day but we had hot coffee and a warm boat. So off we went! We headed south, rounded Douglas Island and motored north into Lynn Canal, only to make a sweeping turn around the Point Retreat lighthouse and head south down toward Icy Strait. The scenery was beautiful, even with the less than beautiful weather.
We spent the night on anchor in Funter Bay, located at the intersection of Lynn Canal, Chatham Strait and Icy Strait. Zoe did some swimming and some beach combing and we checked out the bay in the dinghy.
June 18 – Funter Bay (Admiralty Island) to Hoonah via Neka Bay (Chichagof Island). 40 nm. Critter Count: 2 deer (land critters), 5 porpoises, 1 sea lion, 10 humpback whales and a field of cows (more land critters).
On Sunday morning, which of course was Father’s Day, we left Funter Bay and headed toward Port Frederick. The sun was coming out, which was alarming to our eyes and delightful to our minds. What a gorgeous ride! We cruised across Chatham Strait and on up into Icy Strait. A perfect opportunity to continue some Grandma selfies with our cut-out of Grandma Rohlman. Sounds like she is enjoying seeing these photos at home!
We passed Hoonah and headed up Port Frederick looking to anchor in either Neka Bay or North Bight and spend some time swinging on the anchor in the sun, cook up some steaks for Father’s Day, maybe read a book, go dinghy adventuring and basically chill out in the sun (yes I said it twice, there was sun!). We arrived to these two stunning anchorages to find hundreds, literally hundreds, of crab pots and buoys. And the crab boat that put them all there. Absolutely impossible to anchor in that mess. Crab season just opened though and this is their livelihood. Onto Plan B.
We motored back toward Hoonah and once we were about 30 minutes out, gave the Harbormaster a call on the VHF. We chatted with Jeff, who is the Assistant Harbormaster and who is currently in the lead for the award for nicest person we’ve met in Alaska. Jeff was busy but noted, “I’m thinking we can work something out,” and so he did!
We pulled into sunny, warm Hoonah Harbor and saw our friends Vaughn and Rita on Baraka Bashad! Rita sat on the bow and in the sun and said, “Oh hello Red Rover, Come on Over!” After docking in front of an absolutely enormous and spotless Northern Marine vessel named Alaskan Eagle, we spent some time chatting with Jeff who was full of information. He provided us with a brochure about the town, hooked us up to 20 amp power (the fridge ran on it basically), told us about different highlights of Hoonah and noted that there would be a cruise ship in town the next day.
An eagle sat right next to the boat, as if to welcome us to town. Kevin took a bunch of cool shots. A few of them below!
But back to the cruise ship factor. In Hoonah, cruise ships visit one at a time, and tie up out at Icy Strait Point, which is a development that was created to service the cruise ships. An old cannery is the basis for ISP and it has been restored to include both a museum and shops. Adjacent to the cannery is an event hall/lodge that has been built in a manner similar to a tribal house. There are a few restaurants, a fire pit where visitors are encouraged to share a chip of wood and a wish (I wished twice – both times for sunshine and calm seas), and yes, oh yes, a zipline. A zipline? In Alaska? Indeed. Looks very cold.
Icy Strait Point is about 2 miles from the harbor and the town of Hoonah. While ISP is a bit Disney-esque, it is nicely created. And Hoonah itself is a friendly, chill town. It is a small, hard working, very real town that is the largest Tlingit community in Alaska. The Tlingit people have resided in the Hoonah/Glacier Bay area and lived off of the land and waters that surround them for thousands of years. Originally settlers of Glacier Bay, the Tlingits had to move as the Little Ice Age (1700s) and a large glacier (the Grand Pacific Glacier still in Glacier Bay) advanced and destroyed their villages. Hoonah provided a refuge. In fact, Hoonah has a Tlingit name – Xunaa which translates in the Tlingit language to “Protection from the North Wind.” Today Hoonah has 734 residents, working in the fishing industry, timber and now, tourism.
On Sunday evening, after a visit with Rita and Vaughn, we wandered through town, which was mostly closed down for the evening. Zoe took the opportunity to engage in the arts.
As it was a beautiful evening, we too, took advantage of the opportunity to engage in our own arts – a bit of photography.
On Monday morning, Kevin called Glacier Bay National Park to see if it might be possible to move up our permit. Glacier Bay only allows 25 private vessels per day, all of which must have a permit. We applied for our permit 60 days ago, as required. Only 12 of the 25 vessels receive advance permits and the remaining 13 permits are available with 48 hours notice. As we had been noticing that we seem to be early in the cruising season in Alaska, we thought we might see if we could possibly move the permit dates up. SUCCESS! We could enter Glacier Bay National Park the next day! Wahoo!
After that happy phone call, we set off for Icy Strait Point, accompanied by Rita and Vaughn. It was pouring rain. We had thought we’d walk the few miles, but Rita, being the engaging person that she is, flagged down a whale watch transport van, figuring that they were likely going out to ISP. Indeed she was! And she was happy to give us a ride. She told us a bit about the town, her education at SPU in Seattle where she met her husband, and their business here in Hoonah. She also told us about her husband’s book, which is a thriller set on Queen Anne Hill in Seattle. How fun!
At ISP, we walked through the cannery museum displays, visited a few shops, watched a gentleman carving ceremonial masks and had few tiny donuts. Rita and Vaughn said their goodbyes, heading back to their sailboat in order to catch the tide into Glacier Bay. Kevin and I continued on, walking by the zipline and ultimately deciding to enjoy a morning “walktail” at the bar in front of a warm fire. AHH.
We then walked back to the lodge building for a “cultural show.” The cultural show was fun. Run primarily by high school students it was a mixture of teenage honesty, Tlingit stories and dances, music and yes, a little kitsch, mostly provided by the people also in the audience. Prior to the show starting, one of the teenagers, a rising senior in high school, answered questions about the lodge, the tribe, his school, etc. Some fun facts from this “chat with Jeff.”
There is a school in Hoonah that serves K-12.
Students learn their native language in school as a supplement to English.
Jeff’s graduating class will have 10 students. Last year’s graduating class had 9, 8 of whom went onto college and 1 went to work at Glacier Bay National Park as a ranger.
All of the students in his class are related, so there isn’t any dating. Kind of a bummer.
There are four main clans of the Tlingit community in Hoonah, with the two primary clans being Eagle and Raven.
Eagles marry Ravens, etc. They don’t marry within their clan.
The Tlingits are matrimonial and the family follows the clan of their mother. This was interesting as they introduced themselves as child of X father and grandchild of Y grandfather. Yet the clan follows the Mom. Go Mom.
Of the 10 performers, 8 were high schoolers. This is their summer job.
Hoonah has 3 sports – basketball, volleyball and cross-country. The high schoolers travel for up to 36 hours on the Alaskan State Ferries to play other teams.
Some of the audience members were having trouble wrapping their heads around this and asked Jeff questions as if they were visiting a planet full of Martians who were unfamiliar with Planet Earth vs. a small town with Native American heritage in the US State of Alaska. That awkward feeling… At any rate, the show was fun. We learned quite a bit and enjoyed watching the teenagers tell the stories of their people. Such confidence. I love seeing that.
After the show, we took the shuttle bus back into town where everything was alive. The cruise ship was in town! Having read about the local brewery and an awesome thai food stand in Jeff the Asst. Harbormaster’s literature, we were ready for lunch. We stopped on the sidewalk and chatted with Srisa for a bit. Srisa is a beautiful Thai woman who was inspired by her mom, who also ran a food truck in Thailand. Srisa offers a very limited and very tasty menu of spring rolls and shrimp or chicken pad thai. She is also a sunny personality and delights in her work. We settled into our bar stools at the Icy Strait Brewing Company with our pints of locally brewed beer and Srisa floated in, providing the tastiest lunch we’ve had on this trip! Icy Strait Brewing Co. uses many ingredients found in SE Alaska and seems to have a local following as well as a tourism fan club.
Zoe was of course dying to get off the boat and do some exploring herself after a morning siesta in the boat. So off we went with the Zo, wandering through town. The rain came back and drove us back inside and blog writing commenced!
It’s a rainy afternoon here in Hoonah, and once again we need to catch up on the blog! We’re here waiting to be able to enter Glacier Bay tomorrow. It has been a lovely day in this small interesting town, but now we have a bit of time to enjoy a good glass of wine, some photo review and blog writing.
Sooo… back in time to Petersburg, where we last left off.
In Petersburg, as in Ketchikan, we were once again “hot berthed” in a slip that usually belongs to a commercial fishing boat. We love this as the fishing boats are really interesting, and their captains and crew are hard at work, but take the time to say hello and smile. Petersburg is a community of approximately 3,200 people, with fishing as the backbone of the town’s economy. Apparently Petersburg “landed and processed over $50.9 million in seafood in 2015. And you can tell, as everything in town points to fishing. One of our guide books notes that the average income in Petersburg is about $66,000. It is a thriving and friendly community. And…it is a community with Norwegian heritage, which can also be readily seen throughout the town and its fair-haired residents. The town founder, Peter Buschmann came from Norway and found that Petersburg reminded him of home. The steady supply of fish and the ice from the nearby glaciers made it a great place to create a fishing-focused community.
Kevin is getting subjected to my “let’s learn about the town” style of travel that is the basis of my company and its work. So we learn a bit more in each place than your average tourist likely does. And we ask odd questions of the people we meet. J We’ve found that people throughout Southeast Alaska are: friendly, willing to help us however they can, go out of their way to be supportive of our needs and are generally very direct and open. And no one seems to wear bicycle helmets. I think they figure they have bigger issues to worry about than a lump on the head. Oh and yes, there are 12s everywhere. Alaska is a part of the Seahawk nation. In a big, big, bold green and blue way. GO HAWKS! AND, of course, everyone seems to love Zoe. How could you not?
As we had been on the get-up-and-go every day plan, we decided to spend a couple of days in Petersburg, wandering the town, going on dog walks and dinghy cruises. We settled into the South Harbor and wandered up to meet the Harbormaster who had been such fun on the VHF. The Harbormaster explained that he had a stressful day coming up the next day with 11 boats coming in, including two yachts over 90 feet. And, that these traveling boats were always asking things like, “I’d like a bow-in starboard tie please,” which made him just shake his head as if boy, these people are high maintenance. He asked us, “why don’t they just back in if they want a starboard tie??” (Future note to self should we decide to ask similar questions: don’t.) This is a fishing community after all. The fishing captains drive their boats as if they are an extension of their body – it is second nature. Mad skills. Impressive to watch. And the boats themselves? Full of personality – whether new and huge and bold or vintage and crafted. Trollers, crabbers, seiners, long-liners and more.
When asked where to find a good burger, the harbormaster told us that the moose burgers at his house were his personal favorites. Very lean, kinda like bison. And then he suggested we check out the Elk Lodge or the Moose Lodge. We haven’t been to one of the lodges yet in this trip, but I’m thinking we need to as they appear to be a fixture in every small town. To entertain ourselves we came up with a bunch of ideas about how the Moose Lodge came about. Did someone get kicked out of the Elk Lodge and decide to go with the “larger mammal” for their own, new lodge? We should research that one.
Petersburg is a mix of fishing and hippie and outdoor adventure. There are yoga clinics and USCG license recertification destinations and a high-end outdoors/outfitter shop with everything Patagonia and Royal Robbins makes in town. There is an upcoming controversial marijuana store and a shop that will deep freeze your fish. As with other small towns, there is a general store that sells everything from XTRATUF boots to papayas to ceiling fans to guns. These stores fascinate me. I like to wander the aisles and see what the most unusual thing I can find might be. In Petersburg, I’d say it was the selection of recliners.
We left a few dollars in the outdoors store, as well as at the great bookshop. The bookshop kindly sent father’s day cards to our dads, along with a bit of Alaska – mystery books and a fishing hat. We also spent a bit of time with the fisherman’s memorial in town. It is a personal and moving tribute to the hard-working men and women of the town. It made me wonder, what would a plaque with my name on it say? If your life was summed up in a few words, what might those words be? I hope mine wouldn’t be, “work was her life.” But then again, we wouldn’t be able to do this great adventure if we had not been working at the level of focus that we have been for the past many years. Maybe “the ocean called to her?” Kevin’s would likely be, “He became one with his Nordhavn.”
After a long walk with Zoe we went on a dinghy ride to see the wreck across from the marina, which I found to be creepy. And sad. I hate to see boats in neglect or in a sad state. Boats should be happy places.
On our second night in Petersburg we met a few folks from the Slow Boat Flotilla, a group of Seattle-area boats traveling together. Seemed like they were having good fun! We gave a little tour of Red Rover as well, which we always enjoy as we love this boat to distraction. It’s great to share a love of boating with people – you have an immediate connection.
Petersburg (Mitkof Island) to Sandborn Canal: 53 nm
On the morning of the 12th, we left Petersburg and headed toward Tracy Arm, our next major destination. Lots of critters in this trip! Critter count: 21 humpbacks, 2 seals.
We decided to skip the more popular anchoring spot on this route and check out a recommendation from one of our guide books – Sandborn Canal, which is located at the head of Port Houghton. The book notes that this area isn’t well documented or detailed, but that after a narrow entry point, we should find a spectacular canal where we would likely see bears and moose. Bears and moose? We need this! So off we went. The scenery on the way was impressive, even in the pouring rain.
When we arrived at the mouth of the canal, there was a tree sitting in the middle of the channel, which gave us a bit of pause. At the same time, we were super excited that we were finally going to be anchoring in an Alaskan cove, all alone. And then… the VHF radio sparked to life with a voice that sounded as if it was right next to us. “Red Rover, Red Rover, Red Rover this is Mist Cove.” Um, hello? As it turns out, Mist Cove was planning to come into Sandborn Canal too. Ah, so much for being alone. Mist Cove did provide some “local knowledge” that the tree had been there for a few weeks and that there was plenty of water. Not to worry. He explained that he was taking his parents out for a few nights, going to do some crabbing and fly fishing. He was super friendly and nice. All of this was on the VHF and we could not yet see his boat. He was just a triangle on AIS. And then he came around the corner, all 157 feet of him! I guess we should not have worried about that narrow channel’s depth!
We moved into Sandborn Canal and anchored close to the head of the bay, with Mist Cove coming along behind us and anchoring in a larger area, closer to the entrance. We saw them launch a tender and put out crab traps, which we assumed was an extended family. How nice, we thought!
In the meantime, we hooked a bear bell on Zoe’s collar, and took the dinghy to shore, with our bear repellent spray (kind of like mace for bears I think) in hand. I sang loud songs hoping to hurt the ears of the bears so that they would not come see the tasty snack called Zoe. It seems to have worked. No bears or moose to be found. Likely due to the singing.
After a peaceful night at anchor we awoke to see a fleet of four aluminum center console boats loaded with people wandering by us to the head of the bay. Hmmm… that must be a big family on Mist Cove. Or perhaps that captain has many moms and dads? Perhaps “I’m taking my Mom & Dad out for a couple of days” is code for “I am a mini-cruise ship.” Guides taught the guests to fly fish and others went off to hike the meadow at the head of the bay. So much for being all alone.
We later looked Mist Cove up. I think that if we didn’t have our own boat, I might choose to take one of their adventure cruises, recommended by Orvis. Mist Cove is one of the two boats owned by the Boat Company, out of Juneau. Mist Cove was designed and built to replicate the look and feel of the other company vessel, which is an historic vessel.
As we left Port Houghton, the critters came out to say goodbye.
Sandborn Canal to Tracy Arm Cove: 40 nm | Critter Count: 3 seals, 5 baby seals, 1 sea lion, 23 Dall porpoises, 24 humpback whales
And now, we were on our way to Tracy Arm! We were super excited about this, having heard that Tracy Arm is a highlight for many cruisers, and that many people feel it is better than Glacier Bay. It did not disappoint.
We arrived at Tracy Arm Cove (also called No Name Cove) in the late afternoon of Tuesday, June 13. Tracy Arm Cove sits at the entry to Tracy Arm, and is accessed after crossing the bar into the bay. The bar is actually a glacial terminal moraine, a pile of dirt and rocks that was left on the bottom of the sea when the glacier receded, creating a shallow area that stirs up the water (simply put). The crossing was super simple and smooth and we followed a steel-hulled motorsailer into the bay. Several other boats were anchored in the bay and we joined the crowd to waves and hellos. After taking Zoe to shore (bear bells on and tinkling) we took the dinghy out to check out the multiple icebergs floating by. And of course, to obtain some of the much-sought-after glacial ice to make cocktails. Zoe, who loves the dinghy, was highly alarmed by the icebergs. She started shaking and tried to climb up the side of the dinghy, looking at us like, “Humans! Do you see this? THIS IS NOT RIGHT.” Kevin broke off a hunk of berg and put it in the dinghy, much to Zoe’s distress. After a few minutes though, she must have decided, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em as she started licking the berg. Mmm… ice cold!
On Wednesday morning, we started up Tracy Arm with our new friends in the steel sailboat, Baraka Bashad (hailing from Sydney, BC) following about a mile or so back. Armed with coffee and cameras, we successfully avoided stray icebergs and oohed and awed at the snowcapped mountains and streaming waterfalls at every turn. The water and air temperatures dropped and the canyon narrowed. One of the guidebooks noted that this was like “traversing Yosemite valley in a boat.” I can see that.
As we motored around a corner we found that the icebergs and “bergie bits” became more and more thick. The good news? The new radar showed every one. What was a quiet cruise became a slalom/game of frogger. A stunning one though. With wildlife – two eagles floating on a bergie bit eating a baby seal. A momma and a baby seal enjoying a rest on an iceberg. Blue (very dense ice) bergs and eagles. More and more eagles. Just gorgeous.
Red Rover, aka ice breaker Nordhavn (not really, ice avoider is more like it) made it up to the Sawyer glacier to find a small cruise ship and a charter boat by the North Sawyer Glacier. (We saw the South Sawyer Glacier in the distance but the approach was ice-choked). We joined the two other boats to watch in awe as the glacier calved. Zoe, we now know, is not a fan of calving glaciers and the loud noises that accompany them. The captain of the small cruise ship called on the VHF to let us know his intentions for turning and moving out, after which he noted, “By the way everyone over here loves your dog.” Zoe was staring at them from the bow, with many people waving back at her. Such a funny dog, this one is.
In short time, we were joined by our Tracy Arm Cove anchor-mates, Baraka Bashad and the Selene, Pairadice with the crew of Alaskan Sea-ductress aboard as well. We took turns photographing each other with the glacier, shouting that we’d get together later to swap photos.
The sun came out and our world was perfect and special. We cruised back on the flybridge for awhile, with our “ice confidence” up quite a bit from the trip up the Arm, after which Zoe and I felt the need to have a dance party on the bow, one held with absolutely no one around as we motored quietly through the canyon and ice.
Anchoring in Tracy Arm Cove again, we took Zoe for a glacial swim and spent some time chatting with our fellow boaters who had returned to the bay at this point. But all of this was cut short as a squall moved into the area, accompanied by what we believe were “williwaws” which are strong, sudden winds that build off of the glacial canyons and mountains and swoop down into the bays with terrific force. Williwaw! A fun word. I think, a great name for a Labrador retriever. 🙂
Unfortunately, the williwaw, which was accompanied by thunder and lightning, seems to have had an impact on our new Maretron weather station. Or perhaps it is a coincidence. Who knows. But the weather station was now not functioning. Argh. This is our second station in a matter of 2 months. So we’re curious. Kevin climbed up to the top of the stack (35 feet up) in the weather, and unplugged the offending device. We tried a few work-arounds, but at the end of the day, realized that we had a dead device. And that we’d need to head to Juneau to pick up a replacement. After a satellite call to Emerald Harbor Marine in Seattle (who are amazing people who moved worlds to get that component up to us), we determined that we’d leave for Juneau in the morning vs. heading to Ford’s Terror, which was our original plan. We’ll get Ford’s Terror on another trip. This will not be our last experience in Alaska, that’s for sure.
Well, we’re behind on the blogging again. So much to look at vs. a computer screen + so very little cell service (which is actually quite lovely) = no updates from the Jeffries. So we’ll cram some time in here as we head north on Stephens Passage on a misty morning.
After a last trip to Safeway for some more La Croix water and vegetables, we headed out of Ketchikan mid-morning on Thursday, June 8. About 30 minutes into our trip we saw a pod of humpbacks working their way along the shore. Generally, we don’t try to photograph whales as they are tricky to catch in a shot and you end up missing the whole experience. More of a “keep it as a memory” type of thing. But, Kevin was intent on capturing the grace of these gorgeous creatures so here are some shots!
We decided to keep a “Critter Count” on a day-by-day basis. On our trip up the coast from San Diego, Grandpa Darrel (Kevin’s dad) would come up the stairs after a nap and say “Any critters?” And since then, we have critters. We’re not counting eagles by the way – we’d be at a thousand by now. We see these incredible birds at every turn. Here in Alaska they aren’t simply up in the trees or flying overhead, they are walking in their odd little bird walk down the beach, sitting on a rock at the water’s edge or stretching out their feather clad legs to reach a tasty looking prey. I think they look like they are wearing white fuzzy pants. 😊
The critter count for the 8th ended up at 13 humpbacks, seen in three different instances.
The day became rainy with low clouds and mist, creating an almost dream-like environment. We saw very few other boats and no signs of human inhabitation on the islands after we were about an hour out of Ketchikan.
The day’s course: Ketchikan to Tongass Narrows to Clarence Strait to Meyers Chuck | 33 nm
In the late afternoon/early evening we reached the day’s destination: a small hamlet called Meyers Chuck. In the 2000 Census, Meyers Chuck had 21 residents. We’re not sure it still does, although the three residents we met were super friendly. Once inside the tight entrance to the bay, we worked our way over to the float to tie up. Lucky for us, we had the last spot. A very nice man, who turned out to be one of the residents came over to add a hand to our docking, after which he told Kevin it looked like he’d been doing that forever! He then returned to his boat, Provider, to clean rockfish for dinner. “Fish taco night!” he exclaimed. An additional boat arrived while we were getting settled, Lucky Stars, a Seattle Yacht Club boat with a friendly crew who rafted to a fishing boat. Two other cruising boats were tied up, a tug from Port Ludlow who left their 5 dogs at home and therefore had to give Zoe lots of love, and a sailboat also from the SYC who took the opportunity to join their clubmates for G&Ts. We headed up the steep steel ramp to explore the shore. Zoe, who is not a fan of high docks with see-through steel grid flooring, ended up needing to be carried (all 58 pounds of her) to shore. Which is where we met Carol, another resident who wanted to “Meet the man who carried the big dog to shore.” As it turns out, Carol is married to the gentleman preparing dinner at the boat, and lives in the large house just off of the dock. Carol is also the owner of the Meyers Chuck gallery, open upon request, just up the path through the woods. We peeked in the windows and saw beautiful textiles, pottery and woodwork.
While we were wandering two kayakers came to shore, greeted by Carol in the pouring rain. Carol took them to a cabin where the residents were not home and offered the covered deck as a camping spot for the night. The kayakers were delighted! We then spent some time chatting with them, to learn that they were from England, and were kayaking from Skagway to Seattle. And then somehow to Ontario. They had been underway for a month so far. And their primary comment was how nice and kind everyone had been to them as they traveled south. Also that wind-swept seas in a kayak can be exciting. Kevin said to me, “And to think that some people think it is amazing that my wife will live on a boat – can you imagine if I asked you to kayak for months in Alaska in the cold and rain?” I will tell you, this is unlikely. A long weekend, sure. Months in 45 degree weather and rain? No thanks.
Meyers Chuck also has a welcome sign near the dock, inclusive of this invitation to call for made-to-order, personally delivered cinnamon rolls. This became my fixation. We MUST obtain cinnamon rolls. Of course, our cell service was so low that we couldn’t seem to get the call to go through. Or texts. I don’t know why we didn’t use the satellite phone, but for some reason that didn’t cross our stubborn minds. Thankfully the crew of Lucky Stars came to our rescue and called Cassy the baker to order our buns. At 8:15 am the next morning, Cassy knocked on the hull, standing outside in a deluge with warm rolls. After treating the Lucky Stars crew to their morning rolls and devouring ours (yes so tasty we didn’t take a photo) we were underway again.
One of the upgrades that Kevin made to the boat is a new sound system throughout, including in the cockpit. This should be enjoyed at any opportunity. Rain gear is of course optional.
Speaking of music, we have a lot of time to listen to music underway! Sometimes I think about if we were to create a video of this whole experience, what might be on the soundtrack? A few thoughts so far:
Crosby, Stills & Nash – Southern Cross
Chris Stapleton – Tennessee Whiskey and Traveler
Dixie Chicks – Wide Open Spaces
Jimmy Buffett – One Particular Harbor
John Denver – Annie’s Song
Luke Bryan – That’s My Kind of Night (substitute rolling on a 55 vs. the 35s)
I’ll be adding to that list for sure.
The day’s course: Meyers Chuck to Ernest Sound to Zimovia Narrows/Zimovia Strait to Wrangell | 53 nm
After cruising north in again a misty, beautiful and solitary environment we arrived in Wrangell, a small, hard-working community that is said to be the friendliest town in SE Alaska. The harbormaster greeted us like old friends and found us a spot on the US Fish & Wildlife dock where we continued to learn about the hard work of fishing in Alaska. We walked around the harbor to town, and found what we now know to be a pretty regular small town SE Alaska assortment of stores: one or two shops that the occasional tourist would find interesting (small cruise ships come to Wrangell on an infrequent basis as well as the Alaskan Ferries); one or more hardware stores that also sell housewares, dog food, linens and more; a restaurant or two (maybe) that serve a very wide variety of food and don’t seem to be open often; a bar (or two); an espresso shop/stand; and an Elks Lodge that is busy. This Elks Lodge was having meatloaf night which seemed popular.
We finished our 5 mile walk and settled into our deck chairs with a bit of bourbon to watch the world go by. A gentleman and his wife walked down the dock to chat with us. The Nordhavn gets a bit of attention everywhere we go, and Wrangell was no exception. His story was fun. Originally from the Seattle area, he left to do a three month tour of the Inside Passage in his boat, and landed in Wrangell for a night, just as we did. He decided to stay for a few days after everyone was so nice to him only to meet his future wife. And now he’s been in Wrangell for two years! He said he used to cruise in the San Juans, and then in the Gulf Islands and then in the Broughtons and Desolation Sound but that there were more and more people as the years went by. So he kept going north. And now he’s not going back. It’s a common theme we hear from the cruising community, and the land-based community here – getting farther away from crowds and traffic and back to nature is a shared goal.
Oh yes, critter count for the 9th: 15 porpoises, 1 seal and what appeared to be 1 sea lion. No whales.
The morning of the 10th arrived and with it, a quick boat project. Kevin installed the new Raymarine Dragonfly chart plotter on the dinghy. The existing device chose to die just prior to our departure from Seattle, prompting the purchase of a new unit. Of course! We were planning a late morning start anyways, as we were heading to Wrangell Narrows, a 23-mile passageway that was said to have tidal current conditions that could be less than delightful. In addition, we wanted to time the currents so that we would catch both the flood and ebb currents that met in the middle of the Narrows to catch a nice push from Mother Nature.
I have about 6 guidebooks in the pilothouse, all of which offer different opinions on anchorages, towns, sights and more. They also provide stories from various individuals and their Alaskan experiences. All of these books made a big point about Wrangell Narrows, currents, tides and what read to be a massive concentration of commercial traffic that should be expected in the Narrows, forcing smaller pleasure craft into the shallows or just about onto the rocks. All with giant currents. Sounds like fun, no?
The primary guidebook proceeded to explain that we should print out and color code the navigational marks in the Narrows (there are 62) and that the “crew” should count down the buoys and day marks to the captain as we headed through the Narrows. Oh and that we should study very hard before entering the Narrows, knowing exactly where we could get out of the way of the Alaska Ferries and large barges in an emergency without getting swept away by the current. It also noted that we would feel “a great sense of accomplishment” when completing this passage. I envisioned a 23-mile version of Deception Pass, not quite at slack tide, and this began to make me a bit nervous. Kevin made some chicken nachos to ease my angst and we found ourselves following a fishing boat up into the Narrows. That seemed like a good omen – local knowledge ahead.
We entered the Narrows and I had all of my books and binoculars and charts at the ready. I even had a tablet with my own chart so I could duplicate Kevin’s three different screens of charts, two radars, etc. This all seems a little ridiculous now I must say as this was a super easy, beautiful ride up to Petersburg. No large traffic encountered, no scary currents, nada. Just us and a bunch of people fishing in small craft as well as a few commercial fishing boats. So instead we had some fun with it. I would yell out the number of every mark in my loudest voice to Kevin (just to be sure he heard me you know) and we ran around taking photos and enjoying the trip. Zoe rode out on the bow for awhile too – so she could feel pleased with herself as well, having braved the Narrows.
A word about tides in Alaska: each day we routinely see anywhere from 11 to 15 foot tide swings in 12+ hours. So that does have an impact. It feels like it happens very quickly as well!
In the late afternoon we arrived in Petersburg, a small fishing town located at the northern end of Mitkof Island. Petersburg was the location of last year’s Nordhavn Rally where over 30 Nordhavns got together here in Alaska. This rally was one of the prompts to move our dream forward when we did, but alas we did not make it up to Petersburg last year. We did this year though! More on Petersburg in our next post!
After a whirlwind few weeks that involved flying to Tennessee to watch Kirsten race in the Big 12 Championships, some focused effort on work (the real work – not boat work), finishing boat projects, taking a 4 day trip to the San Juan Islands with 2 college kids, a dog and the new electronics, and some hurried provisioning we were finally ready to head to Alaska:at 10:45 the night before we left.Anything we didn’t have, I guess we didn’t need!
As we wanted to maximize our time in Alaska, we chose to take the “Outside Passage” heading out the Strait of Juan de Fuca, banging a big right and heading up the western coast of Vancouver Island. The cruise would take 78.5 hours, running 24 hours a day.To ensure the safety of this trip, we worked with a weather router to pick a window with the best conditions.To make this easier and more fun we took along a few crew members.Our next door liveaboard neighbor and friend Darren (I like to say we live 18 inches apart) said YES immediately on being asked.Somerset, who Kevin met when taking his Captain’s class several years ago, joined us for a second appearance having been crew on the San Francisco to Seattle run about a year ago.And, Matt, another captain friend of Somerset’s rounded out the group.Matt and Somerset delivered a sailing yacht from Seattle to Tahiti and know each other quite well. While Matt and Somerset are primarily sailors, they find the trawler cruising style to be acceptable as well – with a distinct focus on the trash compactor.It’s just fascinating for some reason.😊
We had previously created a weather window of June 3 – June 12, hoping to be able to leave at some point during this timeframe.After talking multiple times with our weather router, we were surprised and delighted to learn that indeed we could leave on Saturday June 3!And waving goodbye to Lisa, Darren’s bride, we left our slip at Shilshole Marina in Seattle at 4:45 am that morning.
The morning was still and beautiful with barely a ripple on the Sound.Three cruise ships were just arriving back in Seattle as we were leaving, having traversed the same route we were about to follow.We rode the outgoing tide up to the Strait and turned to head out toward the mighty Pacific.The first couple of hours of the Strait were lumpy and chunky, as the Strait often is.As we approached Port Angeles it became just lovely with sunny skies and fairly calm seas.Three more cruise ships passed us heading to Vancouver, BC before we reached the Pacific.Huge glowing islands.
We had a little cheer as we turned out of the Strait, around the SW tip of Vancouver Island and into the Pacific, at about 6 pm.The swells worked their way up from about 3 feet to 6 to 8 foot swells around 8 pm which created the perfect opportunity to turn the cockpit speakers on and enjoy a little water and Diet Coke at the stern, watching the waves roll by.Gorgeous.
The night was quieter and uneventful with a glowing moon overhead keeping the watch standers company.As there were five of us, we had a super easy watch schedule that allowed everyone a lot of sleeping time.Staggered night time watches ensured that no one was alone in the pilothouse during the darkness.Not that we had a lot of darkness as we headed north.
Sunday was fairly smooth, as our weather superstar predicted, with a mix of seas anywhere from 4-6 feet from the west, to 6-10 feet from the south/southeast to 4-6 feet from the southeast with 8-11 second periods.We saw several pods of humpback whales, out enjoying the water right alongside us.But not nearly as many as we saw off the coast of California last summer.Still, such majestic creatures.And I love when we are visitors in their world.Without a crowd of whale watch boats straining to get closer.
At about 9 pm on Sunday, we arrived at Cape Scott at the northern tip of Vancouver Island, an area that was once described to me as “the most awful, challenging water on the planet.”Fantastic.And guess whose watch we arrived on? Mine.We arrived 3 hours early, as we had continued to make excellent time up the coast.What looked to be a tiny passage between islands on the chart was actually about 5 miles wide in reality. From a distance we could see waves crashing on the rocks on the shore. But out where we were, the seas were 4-6 feet from a mix of the west and south/southeast (a little confused) and really not bad at all.We passed smoothly into Queen Charlotte Sound and with our turn, we had a solidly following sea.Perfect sleeping conditions.
Mid-Monday morning the seas became a bit choppy in Queen Charlotte Sound with overcast skies and rain.Our weather router had predicted this as well as the winds that were rising out of the southeast.As such, we decided to take Principe Channel north and miss the weather in Hecate Strait.Principe Channel was beautiful, and uninhabited – no people, boats, or homes.Oh except the Canadian Coast Guard cutter doing what appeared to be exercises with their helicopter.Hopefully it was an exercise.
On Monday evening around 9:30 pm we came out of Principe Channel into north Hecate Strait and Browning Entrance, just south of Dixon Entrance.We knew that our smooth ride in the channel was to end for a bit, with 5-7 foot following seas.Luckily for me, the seas laid down when I came on watch at 3 am.Darren and Kevin were sitting happily in the pilothouse when I came up the stairs, noting how it really wasn’t dark at all – we must be almost there!The next few hours were just stunning, with the “marine twilight” of the far northern skies turning to sunrise over SE Alaska.When we crossed the US/Canadian border we celebrated with coffee and cereal.Wahoo!
The next few hours were uneventful, crossing the waters of Dixon Entrance in seas that could have easily been a flat lake.So much for that dreaded crossing!Or I should say, thank goodness for the smart man helping us with the weather on this trip!
Riding up between the islands into Ketchikan was beautiful, and felt like an accomplishment.As I missed the SFO – SEA run last summer (and only had the nausea-inducing San Diego to San Francisco BASH) this was the longest overnight passage I have done to date – 4 days and 3 nights.As they say in Tennessee, brick by brick – we’ll keep learning and gaining offshore experience.Speaking of nausea, I used this trip to try out the Relief Band – a device that, worn like a watch, sends small electric shocks that disrupt your system basically and tell your brain that you aren’t sick at all.A strange sensation but it worked!
At about 10 am Ketchikan time (an hour earlier than Seattle time) we pulled into Ketchikan and were assigned to a “hot berth” at Bar Harbor Marina, about a mile and a half north of the main town where the cruise ships are.Basically, a hot berth means taking the slip that belongs to a fishing boat while they are out fishing.Ketchikan is a busy fishing and working town, and mooring alongside the working fishing boats was fascinating. Hard, hard work by entire families.And really cool boats.
Like many Alaskan harbors, Ketchikan has a grid, which is a do-it-yourself version of a haul-out.Center your boat on the grid, tie up and wait for the tide to go out.Quickly!Do your work before the tide comes back.I think I’d be a wreck.Really neat to watch though.
After a day of washing the boat, eating halibut and chips and steak and having a few beers, we all had an awesome night of sleep, tied securely to the dock.
On Wednesday morning, Kevin, Darren, Matt and Somerset took the ferry over to the airport and flew the 100+/- minute flight to Seattle while I spent the day wandering Ketchikan. Kevin flew home to pick up Zoe who never has learned to pee on the boat.She thought that the fabulous potty patch that Kevin made for her was a portable yard meant to lie in the sun on.Um no.So, the combination of open ocean seas and a dog that won’t pee on board meant that she got to stay with Uncle Jim + Uncle Bud and fly to Ketchikan.What a princess this dog is.Good thing we love her.
Ketchikan is interesting.It is a mix of hard working people and cruise ship tourism.A few things that struck me:the Alaskan people were incredibly nice, the first people culture is alive and well and truly interesting and the development in Ketchikan, mostly based on piers in the water or stilts and retaining walls in the mountains, looks super challenging.
I greeted Kevin and Zoe back at the boat with yet more groceries. Zoe is a bit confused about how her “house” got here, and where are we really?But she’s getting the hang of it. A Manhattan in the cockpit and we were truly on vacation.
The stats (Kevin insists so here we go):
Shilshole Bay Marina, Seattle, Washington to Bar Harbor Marina, Ketchikan, Alaska
486 gallons of diesel
8.2 kn average SOG
1 case of diet coke, 2 packs of Red Bull, 5 cases of La Croix water, a couple bags of beef jerky, a giant bowl of snacks and approximately half of the contents of the freezer aisle at Trader Joe’s
It has been a while since I first started the demo work on Red Rover’s electronics. I am just now posting the install/completion story, not that we just finished it up, but we have had our nose to the grindstone working to prepare for our trip to Alaska. I am starting this story while having a cup of coffee in the pilothouse looking out over the marina in Ketchikan. Looking back over the last week of coming up the west coast of Vancouver Island from Seattle, we appreciate the upgrade more than ever. Our first outing with the upgrade six weeks ago was definitely information overload vs what we had before. But now as me are getting a handle on what we can pull up when it is needed, we truly understand the value of the tool we’ve just brought on board. The other reassuring thing that I am noticing (again) is how many of the commercial/charter ships in this harbor have Furuno equipment installed. No kidding, at least 95% of what is mounted is Furuno. Reassuring on the choice of manufacturers.
Once I had 90% of the old equipment removed, Brad with Emerald Harbor Marine had a fairly clean slate to start working. He first set out to clean up the power runs and pull new power for all the new equipment. He also tidied up the 120v power that was behind the dash.
To wrap up, I am glad that I was as involved as I was for this upgrade. I learned an huge amount about wiring, Red Rover’s hidden areas, the electronics packages inside/out and what modern day navigation equipment is all about. I enjoyed the work and look forward to using/learning more about our new tools as we explore SE Alaska.
I would also like to give a shout out to Larry, Brad and Scott with Emerald Harbor Marine (again). They were more than open in allowing me to assist with the project. They gave great advice throughout the project. And what was stellar was I received multiple calls/texts/emails from each of them leading up to our Alaska departure as well as communications from them during the trip seeing if we needed anything, had questions or any issues. I have no doubt that they would bend over backwards to assist us with anything that popped up (with the new system or any other issue that could arise). We will be updating the autopilots sometime after we return to Seattle, probably early winter. This should be a pretty straight forward project compared to what we just completed.