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!