Sitka & Baranof Island

Sitka & Baranof Island

Glacier Bay National Park to Hoonah, to Appleton Cove, to Sitka and back to Appleton Cove:  207 nm / Critter Count:  38 humpback whales, many sea otters, 8 seals, multiple sea lions, 5 porpoises, 5 deer and 1 grizzly bear!

After a fantastic visit to Glacier Bay National Park, we found ourselves looking at the calendar and saying, “hey we should probably put a plan together for our remaining weeks!”  How did that happen?  After simply going where we felt like going, it was time to actually have more of a plan.  Hmm.

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We’d better stop being footloose and get a plan!

 

We knew we wanted to visit Sitka, and the weather reports for the west side of Baranof Island were not favorable for a comfortable trip down the west side of the island.  Sadly, we would miss Elfin Cove and Pelican – two small communities that we’ll definitely get to on our next Alaskan adventure.  Instead, we would head back Icy Strait and down Chatham Strait to Peril Strait and over to Sitka, which is located on the west coast of Baranof Island, and not on the way to anywhere.  That’s probably part of what makes it so charming!

We left Glacier Bay, letting the NPS staff know we were headed out, and started on our way back to Hoonah, where we would spend the night.  We called the Harbormaster in Hoonah when we were a good ways out still and he began to work on where to put our 60 foot selves.  Funny thing, we ended up in our same spot, right in front of Alaskan Eagle.  It was a bit of a gathering of the tribe as we saw a number of folks we knew, or were getting to know through our travels.  Akeeva, a 50 Nordhavn was in the house and we finally said hello – a funny instance as they live at Shilshole Bay Marina as well, just a few docks over from us. After an evening of dog walking, blog posting and cocktails in the cockpit we readied ourselves for an early morning departure.  The 22 foot tide swing (22 feet!!) the next morning would put us at about 4.9 feet below zero tide.  We would have all of 1.5 feet under the keel and neither of us felt great about that.  Up early and out!

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Zoe slept through the rainy transit.
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Kevin, always the chef, made prosciutto eggs benedict as I drove us south.  Ultimate man I tell you.

 

We cruised south in a misty rainy morning, where visibility was sometimes less than ideal.  As we moved down the coast we suddenly saw a tremendous density of “targets” on the radar ahead, with AIS triangles all over the screen.  What could be going on?  With the giant tide swing it seems that there was a huge opportunity for fishing.  Seventeen plus fishing boats – seiners, gillnetters and trollers were clustered around Point Augusta, taking turns with a sweeping motion through the water.  They were conversing on the VHF by first name, not boat name, giving each other the go ahead to take a turn.  It was like a misty boat ballet.

The whales of course found this movement of dinner through the water to be equally as interesting.  While they weren’t after salmon or rockfish, they do eat the small bait fish that the larger fish eat as well.  Where there are many fishermen there are often whales.  At this point we were starting to believe that seeing humpbacks every day was just a part of our life.  We didn’t realize how much we’d miss these giant elegant creatures later.

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As we moved down Chatham Strait the sun started to try to come out, but when we turned into Peril Strait, off it went again.  Back to the mist.  We hit Peril Strait at slack current so Kevin decided to participate in a survey by another Nordhavn owner, Peter Hayden, who owns the 60 Nordhavn, Tanglewood.  Peter was interested in studying the fuel burn at different RPMs of various boats to see what could be learned about optimum performance.  As there wasn’t any current, and there weren’t any other boats around, this seemed like a good time to record our findings.  I’ve included them below as I know if Kevin were writing, he certainly would.  As a side note, while the N60 is only 5 feet longer than the N55, and is basically the same boat in terms of layout and hull (the same mold is used in construction), there are all kinds of other potential differences in terms of engine HP, propeller (we have a 5-bladed propeller on Red Rover), etc.

RPM Fuel Burn: Gallons Per Hour Speed Over Ground (knots)
802 1.4 5.1
904 1.9 5.7
998 2.5 6.2
1101 3.1 6.7
1201 4.0 7.3
1306 4.8 7.9
1401 5.9 8.3
1502 7.6 8.7
1613 9.7 9
1701 11.8 9.2
1798 14.4 9.5
1870 17 9.7

We entered our anchorage, Appleton Cove, to find that it was scattered with crab pot buoys.  Ugh.  The boat responsible for the pots was also in the house – a commercial fishing boat earning a living for multiple families.  We decided not to feel so badly about the pots and instead wish him luck. A sailboat with a Seattle Yacht Club burgee was also anchored in the well-protected bay.  We anchored the boat in close proximity to the sailboat to avoid the crab pots and in the process noted a grizzly bear wandering along the shore!  Dog walking would occur in a different location for sure.  We found that the super low tides created a nice dog running spit, and with our bear spray and bear bells in tow, we let Zoe run and splash for a bit, getting rid of some energy.  A rainy night created a still yet beautiful anchorage, and in the morning we were off to Sitka!

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Misty Peril Strait.
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At anchor in Appleton Cove.

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Bear bell – make those bears aware!  Doggo in the house.

Peril Strait is 39 miles from the entrance off of Chatham Strait to Kakul Narrows and Salisbury Sound.  We had a head start due to our anchorage, but the entire trip needed to be carefully timed due to strong tidally influenced currents at Sergius Narrows, part-way through the twisty strait.  Apparently, currents can run in excess of 9 knots in Sergius Narrows with standing waves.  Fabulous.  Interestingly, the book that made such a giant deal about Wrangell Narrows and our need to print out the waypoints and shout them out to one another said very little about Peril Strait and Sergius Narrows.  The narrowest part of Sergius Narrows is about 100 yards wide and this route is frequented by tug boats, the Alaskan Ferry and other large, sometimes fast moving commercial traffic.  We found ourselves following a tug and his tow through the strait and the narrows, and therefore had a nice track to follow.  Not a problem even with some fog, some wind and a big tide change and the currents that went with it.

Peril Strait took us to Salisbury Sound which is open to the Gulf of Alaska.  We quickly crossed the Sound which had good sized rollers coming across the bay.  Nice to be in a Nordhavn!  Smaller boats were having quite a ride.  From Salisbury Sound we made our way down Neva and Olga Straits, more narrow and tight passages.  Again, these were beautiful and smoothly transited.

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Eagles along the water’s edge, just chilling.
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Here’s hoping we don’t end up like this!
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Or this?  Waterside crosses – first I’ve seen (like highway crosses).
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The many islands and small passages on the way to Sitka.
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A passing doggo on a fishing vessel.  Maybe a lookout for fish?
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Elegance in fishing.

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Arriving in Sitka, we read that the Harbormaster was exceptionally good at finding moorage for visiting pleasure craft, except likely the week of the 4th of July or the week prior.  Guess what?  No room at the inn.  The Harbormaster was incredibly friendly and helpful though, and felt badly that he could not accommodate us.  Had we been 50 feet long we would have found a slip.  One of the challenges of a bigger boat.  We spent the night anchored behind the breakwater with a bunch of commercial fishing boats that were also unable to secure moorage.  It was blowing and we felt uncomfortable leaving the boat other than to walk the dog. Sitting in the pilothouse, I read a story about a Sitka based boat, the F/V Eyak, that had delivered the mail to remote communities on western Baranof Island for many years.  Early one morning while underway, with the captain, his dog and three crew aboard it hit rocks and sank.  No one was injured but the captain who had lived aboard was homeless, and the remote communities that relied upon him were left isolated and stranded.  The communities banded together and helped the owner/captain raise the Eyak and bring it to a shipyard to try to bring it back to life.  The story resonated with all that we had been learning in our visits to small, remote Alaskan towns.  People are independent and strong, but they help each other when help is needed.  Community safety net.  For real.  We were excited the next day when we saw the F/V Eyak in person, back to work and looking renewed and refreshed!  A happy ending.

 

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The view from our anchorage – waiting along with the fishermen.
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F/V Eyak!

The next day we were happily assigned moorage in the marina and set out to explore Sitka.  Sitka is a cruise ship port of call but is not as frequently visited as other towns in SE Alaska.  Sitka is a “city” of about 9,000 people, and was originally settled by the Tlingit people more than 10,000 years ago.  In 1799, the Russians settled in Sitka, looking to create a trading outpost and a city.  The Tlingit were to “harvest” the sea otter pelts for the Russians who apparently could not get enough of their warm fur.  Sea otters have 1 million hairs per square inch or something crazy like that in order to keep them warm in the very cold Alaskan waters.  Well, the Tlingits didn’t really care for the Russians and in 1802 the Tlingits destroyed the Russian settlement and killed most of the Russians.  The Russians were not to be stopped however, and in 1804 they returned to Sitka with a soldiers to reclaim Sitka.  Which they did.  And then they re-established the town as a new settlement called New Archangel.  The Russian’s influence can be seen throughout Sitka today – from architecture to fur shops to shops that sell Russian stacking dolls and more.  The Russians came to an agreement with the Americans in 1867 to sell Alaska to the US for $7.2 million.  The transfer ceremony took place in Sitka.

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I am not a fan of this, humans!

We explored the town with and without Zoe, walking everywhere.  We both agreed that we could probably live in this nifty town.  Amazing marine stores, good restaurants, arts and culture, and natural beauty.

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Why is this poor dog sitting in a box promoting a children’s book series about him?

And in the marina, we continued to watch the energy of the fishing fleet.  The reason we could not obtain moorage the first night was that the fleet was preparing to leave for the Bering Sea and also for more local waters – there were some big opening dates coming up and the boats and crews were getting ready.  It is amazing to watch this activity.  Huge loads of groceries being loaded down ramps, carts full of Coke and Sprite.  Chips, snacks and vegetables.  Freezer packs of beef – all of the parts of a cow one can imagine, flash frozen and packed ready for your fishing boat freezer.  Crews were practically running up and down the docks when they weren’t cleaning, painting or exercising on-board equipment.  We saw some of the boats we’d noticed in Petersburg and Ketchikan in Sitka, laying over and prepping for the hard work ahead.  Alaskan fishermen are strong people.  Supporting strong families.  I have so much admiration for their craft and their tenacity.  I read a story about how something like 80% of the seafood consumed in the US is imported from other countries.  Why?  I’ll never buy farmed fish or fish from outside the US again.  Let’s support our US-based fishing industry.

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Zoe wanted in on the fishing boat action.
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As seen on a bumper sticker on one of the many pick-up trucks in the parking lot.
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Argh the Kraken!

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A little laundry?

A few fun experiences in Sitka:

  • We went to the grocery store. Exciting, huh?  This grocery store had the most amazing view from its waterfront parking lot.  Crazy use of real estate.  Inside, we met a fun young man who had moved to Alaska from the east coast.  He was originally a chef on a yacht and then worked at some high-end fishing lodges.  Ultimately he settled in Sitka and is now creating pretty amazing concoctions at the meat and seafood counter at the Sea Mart Quality Foods grocery store.  We spent way more than we were going to and filled our fridge and freezer with some truly awesome creations.  Including king crab legs. YUM.  The grocery store advertised that they would pay for your cab ride back to the marina if you spent over $150.  No problem.  We walked out of the store to see a cab sitting right out front!  No driver however.  Kevin decided to call dispatch.  A cell phone rang in the driverless car.  Yep.  Alaska.
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The view from the grocery store parking lot.  A developer’s dream.
  • We walked to the Sitka National Historic Park which is a national monument that commemorates the Tlingit and Russian histories in Sitka. The park has a stunning hiking trail scattered with totem poles.  Gorgeous.
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The walk from the town center to the National Historic Park.

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The totem pole trail.

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  • We had two great dinners! The first dinner was with our friends Rita and Vaughan from Baraka Bashad.  After taking our dinghy through town to make for a speedier trip to food, we walked to the Sitka Hotel for dinner with these two and two other sailors from B.C. that they had been buddy-boating with previously.  A fun evening was had by all!  More halibut for me and elk for Kevin.  Yum.  The next night we went out to Ludvig’s Bistro, about a 15 minute walk from the marina.  Ludvig’s had been highly recommended by Peter Hayden from M/Y Tanglewood and we thought we’d give it a try.  What an exceptional, romantic, intimate, fabulous restaurant.  Love.
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What a handsome guy.  Glad he’s all mine. At Ludvig’s.
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There was a great dog park by the marina – Zoe did some serious fetching before we headed out!

We left Sitka on the 29th, heading out again to time to Narrows.

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Time for some Grandma Rohlman selfies – Grandma and her husband (Grandpa!) lived near Sitka for two summers.

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After an uneventful passage we arrived back at Appleton Cove in time for a dog run and dinner.  A Coast Guard helicopter was circling the bay as we arrived.  It seems that one of the sailboats within the bay had run aground earlier in the day and now with the tide coming up, the concern was about taking on water and sinking.  Thankfully all was well with the boat and it came back up with the tide without further challenges.  In the morning we explored the mud flat that was usually underwater, except in these very low tides, and found all kinds of interesting creatures.

Appleton Cove to Ell Cove, Waterfall Cove & Takatz Bay 42 nm / Critter Count: 10 humpback whales, 2 deer

With all of the mileage to get to Sitka (keep in mind that we travel at about 8 kn/h) and back we decided to have a few more leisurely days exploring some of the coves on the east side of Baranof Island. Unfortunately for us, the weather was just wet.  Wet. And more wet.  But it was still beautiful.  We first went to see Waterfall Cove, which was not an anchorage, but a visit.  A huge waterfall gushed into the small cove, where we were the only occupants. Despite the rain and the wind it was gorgeous.

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Zoe wants to know what that is?!?!

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We then tucked into Ell Cove, which is just adjacent to Waterfall Cove.  More waterfalls, a sandy beach at the mouth of the cove (not commonly seen in SE Alaska) and a pretty little spot for lunch.  We put the anchor down and had grilled cheese and tomato soup in the salon, enjoying a bit of warmth on this cold icky day.

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Ell Cove entrance.

From Ell Cove, we decided to head south a few more miles to Takatz Bay, a destination we had heard about from multiple cruisers.  We headed in the entry to the bay, which wound around until we came around the corner to an absolutely stunning anchorage.  GORGEOUS!

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Waterfalls cascaded down to a completely protected, beautiful cove.  We put the anchor down next to a waterfall and the only sound was the crashing of the falls as it met the bay.  We were sharing the cove with three other cruisers and a commercial fishing boat that hailed from Gig Harbor, WA.  The fishing boat raised their red solo cups to us as we came into the bay – either because they liked our boat or they liked our Seahawks flag that we proudly fly from the mast. Either way, it was National Mai Tai Day and Kevin felt that while we couldn’t make Mai Tais (not enough ingredients), we could make a relatively distant cousin drink, the Hurricane, and deliver some beverages to the hard-working fishing crew.  He hopped in the dinghy with his hurricanes in more red solo cups, inclusive of glacial ice, of course.  The fishing crew was delighted at our “neighborly-ness.”  Fun!  Zoe was able to explore a small bear-free island and dinner by the waterfall was unforgettable.  The fog rolled in and out and the anchorage was magical.

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Coming into Takatz Bay.

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One of the waterfalls as it neared the bay.

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Doggo photobomb.

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I spot a Red Rover!

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Waterfalls coming down to the bay in the mist.

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Mist and rain, beautiful.

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Our fisherman friends check their crab pot – dinner!

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The next day we thought about simply staying put.  It was just so pretty….  But I had this desire to head 4 nm south to Baranoff Hot Springs.  I was dying to sit in the natural hot springs next to a raging river.  So off we went.  We arrived at Baranoff Hot Springs in short order to find that the dock was full and that the bay was experiencing 20-25 kn winds.  Anchoring and leaving the dog on the boat was not a good idea.  So… we left and I didn’t soak in the hot springs.  Next time.  We went back to Takatz Bay and re-anchored in our same spot.  As a consolation prize for no hot springs I decided to go kayaking.  I put on my rubber boots, my rain pants, my long underwear and both my down and gortex jackets along with a life jacket and a handheld VHF radio.  READY!  The funny thing is, we had not yet used this kayak that came with our boat.  We have two other kayaks that we need to either sell or do something with, but since this one had a rack that fit it perfectly, we just hadn’t done much with it.  Our other kayaks are sit-in kayaks and this is a sit-on-top kayak. As this boat used to live in Mexico, the kayak of course is oriented to warm weather and water.  Not Alaska.  We launched the kayak with the davit and I went to crawl on top, only to notice that water came up through the foot rest area (it was supposed to – cool off the kayaker you know).  51 degree water… but with all of my clothing and my XTRA TUFF Salmon Sisters boots I was all good.   I kayaked to the bottom of each waterfall and back into the shallow mud flats surrounded by meadow and then quickly, steep rocky faces of mountainsides.  So stunning.  I did just use that word again!  I didn’t fall in and all was well.  But, we’ll be getting a new kayak here in the coming weeks.  That is for certain.  3 kayaks will be up for sale!

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Explorer doggo.
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Kevin working on getting the drone up and running.  Of course, it needed an update that required more WiFi.

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Onto more Alaskan adventures!

Glacier Bay National Park

Glacier Bay National Park

About 8 years ago when we owned our 4788 Bayliner Pilothouse we decided that we’d take that vessel on the Inside Passage to Alaska.  (Yes, we owned a Bayliner named Island Dog and no we didn’t run with our fenders hanging out – it was a great boat for a family with dogs and teenagers and we loved it.)  We plotted out our route and noted destinations and fueling stops along the way.  The ultimate destination was to be Glacier Bay National Park, about 1100 miles north of Seattle.  And then the recession hit and our bigger concern became simply surviving through it, and coming out the other side as unscathed as possible, with two small businesses in the real estate industry.  The Alaska plan was scrapped.

 

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One of the many spectacular views at Glacier Bay National Park.

 

In 2015, when several Nordhavn owners got together and announced a rally in Alaska for the summer of 2016, the Alaska plan started up again.  This time with the purchase of Red Rover, N5505, our beloved Nordhavn.  But we couldn’t make all of the timing work to be in Alaska for that rally.  We’d have to settle for the San Juan Islands – a couple of summer trips, a bunch of upgrades and maintenance on the boat, moving into the boat, and not nearly as exciting activities as cruising to Alaska.  We were at the FIDO Fuel Dock at Cap Sante Marina in Anacortes making the fuel pump do unnatural acts when every other boat that came in asked us, “Ohh… a Nordhavn, where are you off to?  Alaska?  Mexico?  Hawaii? South Pacific?”  Um, no, just Reid Harbor on Stuart Island.  And then we have to go back to work on Tuesday, but we’ll have a lot of fuel. Disappointed looks from fellow boaters ensued. We were definitely not supporting the world-traveling brand of Nordhavn.  Bad.  That evening swinging on the anchor at Reid Harbor with bourbon in hand we decided that we’d put the Alaska plan back in action, for the summer of 2017.  After approaching my business partners and Kevin’s team about us being out of touch for six weeks, we committed to making it happen!  Six weeks we thought, wow!  I’ve never taken that much time off in my adult life.  Apparently however, six weeks is extremely limited in “Alaska time.”  Everyone we meet up here says, “oh, well yes, we’ll probably head south sometime in September… you know, we left home in early May.”  When we say we are here for 6 weeks we get sad looks.  Agree, it is sad, as we’d love to spend our entire summer up here.  But we still work… so it is what it is.  This won’t be our last trip to Alaska.  A few photos to get this story started follow:

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Hoonah to Glacier Bay National Park:  30 nm / Critter Count:  10 sea otters including one momma with a baby, 10 humpback whales

Needless to say, after all of the lead-up to Glacier Bay National Park, finally heading out of Hoonah and winging our way down Icy Strait (at 8 knots – that’s winging you know) toward this long-sought-after destination was pretty exciting!  All of the excitement caused hunger.  Every other day when we are running we take turns making lunch.  It started simply, with ham sandwiches and apples and chips.  And then the bread was toasted on the sandwiches and a cup of soup was added… simple still.  Somewhere along the line the lunch game elevated sharply.  And on this day, Kevin brought the game to a whole new level. As I was at the helm, he was the Lunch Man.  I smelled delicious scents wafting up from the galley.  Grilled halibut tacos with lime-marinated and seared cabbage and onions, tomato, cilantro and a sprinkle of cheese.  Accompanied by roasted corn salad.  Of course.  This is what everyone eats when in the middle of nowhere Alaska, cruising along with the humpback whales slapping their tails in the water around the boat.  Right?  Right. Fabulous!

 

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I am a lucky girl.
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Just a view out of the salon windows as we cruise toward GBNP.

 

When Kevin took over the helm I decided that I’d whip up some dessert – fresh baked cookies and milk served in the pilothouse.  Not much of a response to the taco throw down, but it was a start. We are not having a diet trip it seems.  Ah well, you live once.

Back to Glacier Bay.  Before you enter Glacier Bay, between Point Gustavus and Point Carolus, you have to call the Bartlett Cove Ranger Station to gain permission to enter as well as to receive instructions on how they would like you to proceed through the “Whale Waters” that are located just inside the mouth to the bay – apparently an area where the humpbacks like to hang out.  We of course never saw a whale in the whale waters but we did see a ton of humpbacks in other locations.  The friendly ranger on the VHF asked for our permit number and confirmed that we were on their list, starting this day for a duration of 7 days.  She then explained that we should maintain a center channel course, ensure that we were never closer than 1 nm to the shore, and maintain a speed of under 20 knots.  Not a problem in this boat that maxes out at 10 knots unless we are riding a giant tide change current!  We then should proceed directly to the dock at Bartlett Cove, taking a 90 degree angle to the dock to ensure our movements were specific and predictable.  We then were to attend the 5 pm required boater orientation.  Boater orientation is required annually for all boaters visiting Glacier Bay.  As mentioned in our last post, there are only 25 permits for private boats available each day at Glacier Bay National Park.  In addition, two cruise ships come in and depart each day as well as what we think is a max of 5 charter boats which includes small “cruise ships” holding say 20 passengers such as the National Geographic cruise boat we later saw at Bartlett Cove.

It was sunny and calm as we entered Bartlett Cove, passing a small boat with blissed out occupants simply relaxing in the sun.  We decided that as we were going to spend the night in Bartlett Cove prior to proceeding further into the park that we should anchor instead of tying up to the dock, which has a 3 hour stay limit per 24 hours.  Of course, when anchoring a squall appeared.  Love that.

Bartlett Cove consists of a small ranger station with an even smaller meeting space, closed off from the front desk by curtains, a shower/bathroom facility, a campground, the Glacier Bay Lodge which has a Park Service visitor’s center and a restaurant as well as cabins, and the new Tlingit Huna Tribal House that was constructed last year and dedicated on the 150th anniversary of the National Park Service with great ceremony.  The ranger station has a covered patio that has, yes, WIFI!  And a sign to use it sparingly and to share with others.  There were many campers and boaters there sharing.  🙂

 

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Welcome to Glacier Bay!
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Two black bears had been seen wandering around the ranger station daily.  This stuff, who knows, but it made us feel better!
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Zoe, with bear bell, helping Kevin check his email at the ranger station.

 

The orientation started with a quick film about the beauty and cultural significance of Glacier Bay National Park – both to inform and to educate you about why it is important to follow the many, many rules.  A very sweet and young ranger then gave us an overview of more of the rules, appropriate anchorages, updates on ice in the water near the glaciers, and a bunch of information on wildlife.  For example, Johns Hopkins Inlet by the Johns Hopkins Glacier is closed to boater traffic because the seals were giving birth in that area.  Seal pups rest on ice floes and if knocked off, could lose their mother (out hunting for food) and die.  I immediately became very concerned about any and all seal pups.  Anywhere. After completing the orientation, we signed our permit and that we understood the rules and regulations and headed out, only to be stopped by two young men from the University of Utah doing a survey to help the National Park Service better understand the needs and motivations of visiting boaters, kayakers and campers.  As Kevin heckled from the sidelines that I should make sure I was getting all of the answers down correctly, I completed the survey (I love a good survey).  The survey had interesting questions about our motivations to visit with potential answers such as:  to connect with nature; to experience peace and stillness; to bring peace to my emotions; to engage in an activity that others may find risky; to have an adventure; to be alone with the environment… and more.

We have had many boaters tell us: 1) Tracy Arm is way better than Glacier Bay National Park; 2) All of the rules of GBNP make it a hassle – not worth it. 3) Skip it and spend time elsewhere.  Our answer to this, now that we have been to the Park – Tracy Arm is spectacular – absolutely stunning.  But so is Glacier Bay National Park.  GBNP is enormous and the scale is just incredible.  The mountains, the color of the water, the wildlife, the quiet – all off the charts.  Wouldn’t miss it for the world.  We’ll be back to experience even more in the future.

Glacier Bay was formed by the Little Ice Age, which reached its peak in 1750.  Glacier Bay was a wall of ice.  When Captain George Vancouver visited in the late 1700s the ice had retreated 5 miles up the Bay.  When John Muir traveled to Glacier Bay in 1879, it retreated an additional 40 more miles up the Bay.  The park contains over 1,000 glaciers, but the distance is now 65 miles from the mouth of the Bay to reach one of them.

Glacier Bay became a National Park in 1980 when President Jimmy Carter signed the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act into law – a park encompassing 3.3 million acres.  It is my personal hope that our current US leadership can see beyond their ego-centric ways to support and maintain our national parks.  What a gift to all of us who visit and to the creatures that call these special places home.

 

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Red Rover at Bartlett Cove.

 

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Glacier Bay National Park – Shag Cove, Tarr Inlet, Blue Mouse Cove and more / Critter Count: hundreds of sea otters, hundreds of puffins, 1 black wolf, 2 grizzly bears, 1 black bear, at least a hundred sea lions, 2 porpoises, 50 humpback whales including a breaching whale!

We didn’t get started until the late morning as we ended up needing to use the WIFI to deal with a few things back home. We’re closing on our new Seabrook beach home (which will be a rental home – we aren’t moving off of the boat!) in early July, so there is a lot of paperwork going back and forth at the moment.  As such, we decided that we wouldn’t try to push quite as far into the park as we had initially planned.  We cruised through Stikaday Narrows and the Whale Waters (still no whales) to South Marble Island where we began to see what this place was all about.  Whales, sea lions, puffins, sea otters!!  South Marble Island was one of the park’s protected islands and we could approach to 50 yards off of the south shore and otherwise 100 yards.  We were not to go closer or to access the island.  We could hear the boisterous chatter of the Steller Sea Lions from many more yards away – what funny, talkative creatures!  Zoe was uncertain of what they were and gave them a bark or two, which they completely ignored.  They probably couldn’t hear her over their conversations.  These silly giants are endangered but thankfully the population is growing in Glacier Bay.

 

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We could hear them (and smell them) before we could really see them…
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Such chatter – what were they talking about?

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“I’m the king of the mountain!”

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South Marble Island

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A humpback just next to South Marble Island puts on a show.

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And goodbye!  See you soon Mr. Whale.
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Hello Mr. Puffin!

 

In reading my many guidebooks, I noted that Shag Cove, off of Geikie Inlet sounded like it was a stunning destination.  I should note here that anchoring in Glacier Bay is a bit of a challenge as most of the waters are extremely deep, or have rocky bottoms, impossible to sink an anchor into.  Other anchorages are in protected waters, closed to motorized boats at different times due to wildlife needs.  So even though there are only 25 permitted boaters in the Bay at any one time, many of the anchorages will have more than one boat within them.  We decided to head to Shag Cove – here’s an excerpt of the description in the Exploring SE Alaska book:  “Shag Cove is a classic U-shaped alpine valley.  Glacier-polished granite walls rise 1,000 feet; numerous waterfalls tumble down these walls, and small bowls that hold year-round snow nestle here and there.  The water throughout the cove is turquoise blue glacier wash.”  Sounds good, eh?

We decided to spend the afternoon and the evening anchored in the bay and to explore the larger Geikie Inlet by dinghy.  But first, we anchored, in 80+ feet of water!  400 feet of chain was deployed.  And note, we were super close to the shore.  But all good, we were the only ones here! Kevin fixed another awesome lunch (chicken quesadillas) and we sat back with bug spray and binoculars to watch the shore, hoping to see bears or a moose.  Nope, but we did see a Gray Wolf walking around the bay – quite quickly.  Handsome guy! The afternoon and evening were lovely, and we were able to experience our first 22 foot tide change.  22 feet!!!  That’s a lot of water moving in and out.

 

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Heading into Shag Cove.
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So very green.
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Anchored and it’s time for a Grandma Selfie!
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Scenery from the cockpit.
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All alone in the anchorage!
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Red Rover at Shag Cove.
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Dinghy exploring Shag Cove.

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That little white spot is Red Rover at the head of the bay.
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Zoe looking at the snow that is still on the beach.
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Zoe loves a good dinghy ride.  Coming back to the boat at Shag Cove.
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We do like to take photos of Red Rover!

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What do you mean we are going back?

 

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Gray wolf wanders the shore.

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All of that red painted chain means caution you are getting to 400 feet!
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About 11 pm.

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In the morning we headed out, with a plan to see a few of the glaciers and enjoy the day of exploring.  The sun came out and the world was glorious!  Humpbacks were everywhere – eating and cavorting in the water. An interesting note on the humpbacks.  In our family we have a tradition of “Tropical Christmas” where we go to the beach for the holidays each year.  Maui is a frequent destination and we always see the humpbacks visiting from Alaska – also enjoying their winter holiday.  These may well be the same whales.  We learned that most Glacier Bay whales migrate to Hawaii each winter – a 2,500 mile trip that takes them about a month to complete (each way).  The whales mate and give birth in Hawaii – a whale party!  They do not eat the entire time they are in Hawaii.  The Pacific Whale Foundation in Maui once told us that the waters in Hawaii lack the rich nutrients that the Pacific Northwest waters have.  At Glacier Bay, apparently, the whales come back to a food fiesta and spend their entire summer eating, eating, eating!  The humpbacks are 40-50 feet long and weigh over 35 tons so that’s a lot of seafood intake!

 

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This whale appeared right next to the boat!
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Heading down.

 

In our travels up the bay, who appeared, but Baraka Bashad!  Oh hey there Rita and Vaughan!

 

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Hello Baraka Bashad!

 

We continued on our journey to see hundreds of sea otters, gathered together in what looked like sea otter school – moms and dads and little sea otter kids floating around on their backs together.  The sea otters are also protected as they were extensively hunted for the Russians who once owned Alaska, and who desired their pelts.  In 20 years their population has gone from almost zero to over 9,000 in Glacier Bay.  And you see them everywhere!  Curious little guys.

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Hey there cutie!

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Sea otter school!

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I made lunch as we motored along (prosciutto and cheese grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato basil soup) and came back to the pilothouse to find Kevin blasting, I mean blasting a Scorpions album as we approached the Margerie Glacier.  I guess glaciers make him feel like a little hair metal?  Who knows.

 

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Our wake in the gorgeous turquoise waters.
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Travel view out the pilothouse window.
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Glacier approach.

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Margerie on the left, Grand Pacific ahead.
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Of course the flybridge will come in handy in Alaska!
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Now that’s a panorama!
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Margerie glacier.
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Red Rover, meet Margerie.  Not too close though!
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Bow selfies.
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Zoe loves taking photos with us.
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A quick look behind us.
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Back deck selfie too!

 

We moved up to the flybridge to experience the glacier, which was calving much less ice than we found in Tracy Arm.  An easy approach!  We of course needed to also gather some glacial ice for the freezer – can’t just have ice from one glacier!  Nope.

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Of course you need a YETI for your glacial ice!

 

The Grand Pacific Glacier, which was the granddaddy glacier of Glacier Bay is next to Margerie and at first was hard to discern as a glacier.

 

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Grand Pacific.

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Sea otters hanging on an ice floe.
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Puffin!
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Ice that is calving is said to be about 200 years old.

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Just an eagle catching a ride.

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After spending some time with the glaciers we move along to see some more!  Lamplugh Glacier was creating its own weather as we approached – and the world went from flat calm to windy and cold.  We moved along and saw Reid Glacier which has retreated back so that it is no longer a tidewater glacier – yet still impressive!

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The humpbacks came out to give us an amazing show as we cruised along toward Blue Mouse Cove where we would anchor for the evening.  Blue Mouse Cove carries an additional restriction of “quiet hours” with no generator noise from 10 pm to 6 am.  As we had been told, Baraka Bashad was in the anchorage, and they were not alone!  A grizzly bear was walking the shoreline picking up giant rocks as if they were playthings and searching under them for crustacean appetizers.  Finally!  A bear sighting!  We ended up seeing two grizzlies and a black bear in this cove.  Nice.  We visited with Rita and Vaughan, had a little ice wine and commented on how spectacular this evening was.  I’ll let the photos describe it.

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Blue Mouse Cove – so gorgeous.

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Another vista from the cockpit at Blue Mouse Cove.

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And yet another view from Blue Mouse Cove.
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It was cold.  But too gorgeous to be inside.

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Baraka Bashad has a furry friend!

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In the morning, we decided that since it was such a spectacular, sunny, cloud-free day that we would sit and soak it in – enjoying the vistas that surrounded us.  Another grizzly bear came out, seeking more snacks and we watched him or her for an hour or so.

We had determined that we could not spend a full 7 days in Glacier Bay and make it to Sitka, and see all that we wished before we needed to head south.  As such, we decided to check out a few coves and inlets, visit the sea lions and puffins again and take a leisurely cruise back to Bartlett Cove that evening.  It was a stunning afternoon.

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This lazy fellow just kind of hung out next to us for a bit.

 

 

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Bow riding doggo.

 

We were passed by a cruise ship when I was at the helm.  AIS was very concerned about a potential collision, but all was fine as they passed us and created a bit of wake.  As we were coming into Bartlett Cove, the second cruise ship of the day was also arriving at the mouth of the bay.  An interesting note here – the cruise ships pick up rangers at Bartlett Cove who are a resource for passengers.  They then tour the bay and drop the rangers back off.  Simple, right?  Not so much.  The transfer happens at 7 to 8 knots.  The ship slows down and the Park Service drives their 30 foot tender up against the cruise ship where the rangers slide on and off.  We watched the transfer happen as we gave way to the cruise ship to allow an easy process for the rangers.  That’s a job hazard, huh?

 

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Oh hey there Cruise Ship!

 

We took Zoe for a long walk around the ranger station and enjoyed a good dinner and a cold beer at the Glacier Bay Lodge.  A successful journey!

 

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Beer and dinner at the Glacier Bay Lodge.
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Tree carving on our walk.
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A gorgeous sunset to complete a beautiful visit to GBNP.

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Red Rover loves Alaska.