Petersburg, Sandborn Canal & Tracy Arm

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.


Swim down!  Trash cans full of frozen fish in the stern of a fishing boat along the dock.
A very friendly boat guard dog.  Gave those frozen fish a good lick!
The hard work of fishing.
Funny little Norwegian Viking ship pole topper..
And the Viking for the ship.  Sons of Norway Hall and the fisherman’s memorial with a Viking ship in the background.


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?


The slough on the other side of the wooden plank road from the harbor.


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.


The crab boats were all loading traps all weekend while we were in Petersburg, getting ready for the opening of the season.



Love the wooden bow.
Aptly named.
One of these is not like the others…
Kevin’s next boat name.


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.


A Petersburg home on Wrangell Narrows.


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.


You can see her Nordic fishing boat inspiration…
Zoe notes that we see these barges leaving Seattle all the time, loaded with everything from boats to trucks to refrigerated containers.  Cool to see them arriving.
Only sadness.


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.


Kevin and Zoe check out the sea conditions.



One of the many waterfalls on the shoreline, coming down from snow-capped mountains hidden by clouds.


Fishing boat along the route north.
This mini-cruise ship was in Petersburg at the same time we were, with a group of Stanford University alumni on a naturalist program. They passed us as we headed north.
Cool lighthouse.
Starting to see huge mountains, all around us.



Not the Admiral.
Misty approach.


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!


Not the canal entrance…but a cool spot just prior to it between islands.
Mist Cove and the tree in the middle of the canal approach.


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!


Misty evening.
Eagle friend.
Note scarf – for bugs flying into your face.  Tons of them here, the one downside to the beauty.
Beautiful and remote spot.
The scale here is amazing.  Red Rover is almost 35 feet tall.
Sunset (which does not imply darkness).
Contemplating the rain.
Hello Red Rover!


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.


Zoe sporting her bear bell.


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.


Zoe is fascinated by all of these water creatures.


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.


Sumdum Glacier, seen at the approach to Tracy Arm.
Baraka Bashad, from Sydney, B.C., who we will see more of in our travels! At Tracy Arm Cove.
A new favorite photo of mine, at Tracy Arm Cove.


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!


What dis?



Step 1 – Give it a hug.
Step 2 – give it a bath.
Step 3 – break it up.
Step 4 – pour bourbon on it and toast!


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.


Note Zoe hiding from scary icebergs.



It was hard to know which way to look.  We took over 700 photos.


Birds catching a cold ride.


Bergs ahead!



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.


This picture just doesn’t do it justice.
Sitting on the bow to ensure I could see if the bergs were bigger than we could see (they are much larger under water).
Mine field.
Icebergs as they appear on radar.



A gorgeous blue iceberg floats by.
Eagles snacking on a baby seal (poor thing).
Momma and baby seal resting.


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.


Sawyer Glacier with the charter boat, Alaskan Story.


Kevin navigating from the flybridge, glacier ahead!
Had to do a Nordhavn hat photo!  We are still about 1 nm away from the glacier.
Waterfall by the glacier. Opaque water…challenging!
Sawyer Glacier
Well we got the dog to look at the camera, but we blocked the glacier!
Grandma continues to make appearances.  This time on the flybridge with the glacier!
Air temp at the top right, 42.6 degrees, water temp below that – 36.6 degrees as we approached the glacier.


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.


IMG_20170614_120635 (2)
Red Rover sure looks small.
Red Rover!
Baraka Bashad


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.


I spy a berg.
Could this day be any more beautiful?
Going back seemed much easier.
South Sawyer Glacier as we retreated.
Who said we wouldn’t use the flybridge in Alaska?


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.  🙂


Iceberg in an oncoming storm.
Was it a williwaw?


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.


A last iceberg as we head north to Juneau.  Until we get to Glacier Bay of course!


7 thoughts on “Petersburg, Sandborn Canal & Tracy Arm

  1. Enjoyed reading about your Alaskan adventures! From your notes, you might enjoy stopping at Excursion Inlet, which is a small village off Icy Passage near the Porpoise Islands. It was a US military base in WWII, built by German POWs. There’s a small museum and a store I think you’d love! Chart is 17316, if you’re so inclined.

  2. Thoroughly enjoying your travels. And your glorious pictures. Here in Florida it’s nice to “meet” new Nordhavn friends as well as read the Facebook postings of other Nordhavn friends currently in French Polynesia.

    1. Thanks Diane! As we are still working “mostly” full time, our bigger cruises and associated blog posts ebb and flow… Looking forward to full time cruising soon!

  3. I really enjoyed your article! Great pictures and nice detailed text! I have a Glacier Bay boat, so I’m interested in your adventure even more.

    1. Excellent! Thank you for the nice note! I hope you have some awesome adventures planned for this summer.

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