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