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.
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!
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.
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)|
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
We left Sitka on the 29th, heading out again to time to Narrows.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
Onto more Alaskan adventures!