Seattleites seeking world adventure on the water. Zoe, our black lab mix pup is looking forward to stabilizers. Kirsten, our college kid is a bit befuddled about her parents' desire to live on a boat, but as a water girl herself will be happy while afloat. Mike, our Colorado kid will have to come get his water fix!
Whew! What a weekend. The “Great Seattle Boat Show” weekend is always a fun one for us – something we look forward to much as others likely look forward to Christmas morning. We love wandering the aisles of the show, looking for things on our “list,” walking aboard vessels on Lake Union and seeing friends who come out for the show. It’s the gathering of the tribe of boat nuts.
Last year we were shopping for nav system “stuff” with the help of Larry from Emerald Harbor. We weren’t planning to do the giant project for a few years, but alas, we did as evidenced by the gleaming Furuno screens now residing in the pilothouse. This year we are looking for new auto pilots (again with Larry’s help), an updated Waggoner Guide (our smallest purchase for sure), a new sea kayak that is meant for NW waters vs. our existing warm water sit-on-top-kayak, and we are considering trading out our dinghy. Hours of fun!
The weekend started with a fun gathering on Red Rover of friends Dale and Glenda (of N43 Serenity) down from Alaska for the show, and some local peeps with extensive Alaskan knowledge – Sam, Laura and Kevin of Slow Boat fame.
On Saturday morning, we hosted our first Nordhavn Dreamer open house. What fun! I think we might have to do that again. We decided to have a little dreamer open house after a lot of banter on the Nordhavn Dreamer Groups (a message board of sorts) about the Seattle Boat Show, people traveling to see Nordhavns (only one in the show) and a long story about wife “eye rolling” around this Nordhavn thing. Well that eye rolling commentary got me going. If you’ve read this blog you know that I have no intention of being “the Admiral” (I call myself the Deck Boss) and that I was actually the one who said, “hey let’s live on this boat.” Enough with husbands saying their wives are rolling their eyes already. So….we had an open house. With mimosas of course. It’s Boat Show time of year – celebrate! We had 11 guests all of whom were so delightful to chat with. Some of them even left exchanging contact information with one another. Completely consistent with the Nordhavn community that is a big part of owning this boat. We love our boat to distraction and talking about her with other Nordhavn enthusiasts? Nothing more fun than that!
Saturday afternoon was spent wandering the indoor show. We went to one Boat Show University class but found that perhaps we were more graduate student level boaters. More wandering. And a new kayak purchase – an Eddyline Skylark that will be perfect for exploring the bays and inlets that Red Rover brings us to. Surprisingly I opted for the blue hull (not red? Gasp) and will pick up my new boat and Werner “Puget Sound” patterned paddle at the end of the show. So excited!
On Saturday evening we went to the Nordhavn owner’s event at the Seattle Yacht Club Elliott Bay outstation, hosted by PAE. Now Kevin and I are extroverted introverts. We don’t traditionally do well in large parties and tend to run and hide. But our friends Tom and Linda (N57 Meridian) and Dale and Glenda (N43 Serenity) were going to be there as well as Scott and Brad from Emerald Harbor who we think are the bees knees. So we figured we’d be ok. We walked up to a building with almost 100 Nordhavn owners in it. Amazing.
The event was fun! In fact, Kevin was probably one of the last owners there. I dragged him out as Dan Streech (President of PAE, which is the parent company of Nordhavn) was plugging in a vacuum cleaner. (Hello, he is behind the vacuum? I love that – a president title and not above helping with clean up.) I have to say, we have wanted to meet Dan for many years, ever since we became Dreamers. We first watched the Nordhavn North Atlantic Rally (NAR) video back in 2008(ish) and learned about Dan and his partner in PAE, Jim Leishman. And we were hooked. Big time. I think we’ve watched that video over 50 times since then. Most recently last week sitting on Red Rover. Seriously. So meeting Dan was just fantastic. He is as honest, down-to-earth, interesting, kind and knowledgeable in person as he comes across in the video and his interactions on the Dreamers and owner’s sites. What a pleasure. He probably thought I was a little silly as I told him all of this but he did give me a hug, so apparently I wasn’t too nutty.
Anyways, we talked to other owners, the ever- incredible-Lugger Bob (who had previously spent a day on our boat, in our engine room), our friends at Emerald Harbor and some of their spouses for the evening. It went too quickly. What incredible, smart, interesting and down-to-earth people. It felt like talking with people we’d known our entire lives. It’s all about a shared passion – these amazing world-traveling trawlers. But I think it is also about a personality type that lives behind the boat owners – people who are curious, thoughtful, kind and not hung up on themselves. I mean these are people that own boats that are valued from over $500K to many millions of dollars. But that doesn’t matter. These are real people who are open and wonderful. It was amazing. We can’t wait to go to the PAE 40th anniversary party in Dana Point in April.
We always get a kick out of the reactions that we get when we tell people we live on a boat. A boat, really? You mean a houseboat. A floating home, like Sleepless in Seattle, right? Oh is this a cost-saving strategy since the price of homes in Seattle is so high? So just temporarily, right? I mean, you must be between homes?
Once they realize that yes indeed we do actually live on a boat, the questions continue… so do you go up and take showers in the buildings in the marina parking lot? How can your dog live on a boat? Aren’t you cold? How will you make it through the winter? Don’t you feel like you live in a storage yard? Can you actually cook on that boat? How do you and your husband possibly manage to live in such a small space together? How many “bedrooms and bathrooms” does your boat have? But your house was so gorgeous… why would you ever do this (accompanied by a sigh).
This all comes from one group of people – those firmly rooted on dirt who work to buy a house, spend all of their time and dollars on said house and can’t imagine that we have this crazy plan to head out around the world. And that’s totally ok – we all like different things.
Another group of people immediately imagine blue tarps. dirty decks, many, many, many plants, a variety of items cluttering the dock next to the boat, old lady grocery carts and a smelly, sinking, leaking vessel. In other words: LIVEABOARDS. Yep.
The next set of people say things like: that is so cool, you must feel incredibly connected to nature. You’ve inspired me to figure out what my dream is and take steps toward it. You are the most interesting person in this room. How did your husband convince you to do this? (Note: Kevin tells people we live in a gated waterfront community.)
And then we talk to the full-time cruisers and we feel immense…jealousy. We aren’t yet able to leave and cruise on a full-time basis. We are…. WORKING. Argh!
In talking about all of the conversations we’ve had about the fact that we live on a boat, we thought we’d write up a little story about what it is actually like – to live on a boat and to cruise some of the time, and work a lot of the time. So here it goes.
We bought Red Rover a bit early in our plan, but the time seemed right to sell our house and to downsize our life, all with the ultimate goal of “untying the lines” in mind. We probably would have waited another 5 years, but all of the pieces in the puzzle just came together. It’s a compromise solution. We have the dream boat, we get to take some terrific cruises, both of significant distances as well as short weekend trips where we just take our house out for a ride. Sometimes we simply go to Bainbridge Island for lunch. At the same time we spend a lot of time commuting to work and gazing at our Nordhavn calendars in our offices thinking…if only we could just go NOW!
So what’s it like?
We live in a cluster of three liveaboard boats at the end of the dock and we love our neighbors. We probably got to know them a lot faster than if we pulled into a driveway and went inside each night. Darren and Lisa and their kids Kelton and Keeley live on their 65 foot boat, Anomalous about 24 inches away from us. We hang out in our respective cockpits and laugh, appreciate the sunsets, share a glass of bourbon across the fenders, and more. When there was a boat fire in the marina, it was Lisa who woke us up and we stood together wrapped in blankets and worriedly watched the fireboats, fire engines and police boats show up at 1 am. Darren shares his salmon that he catches in the evenings, and he even was one of our crew members to Alaska this past summer. Many of Red Rover’s electronics that were replaced this past spring now live on Anomalous – neighborly re-use. 🙂 Brad, Sheena and their small son Remy live on the 54 foot steel ketch, Impossible, just across the dock from us. Zoe plays fetch on the dock with Remy, and we all enjoy the laughter of a small child in our neighborhood. In the summer months we love watching Brad hop on his paddle board for a watery commute to work. All of us leave during the day to go to our professional careers and come home to our dock neighborhood at night.
Shilshole Bay Marina has the largest liveaboard community on the west coast. There are P-patches, a liveaboard organization, impromptu events for kid get-togethers, planned events for the whole community, a nearby dog park, a beach and a long walking trail that connects us to the retail core of Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood. A school bus picks up kiddos each morning.
We do feel closer to nature and to the weather. In fact, I don’t think I ever noticed which way the wind was coming from each day when we lived in our water view home. Here, we note that the wind/storms come from the north in the summer and the south in the winter. As such we dock the boat accordingly so as to enjoy the cockpit without wind. We spend an enormous amount of time outside, year round. Well not tonight as it is raining sideways. Ick.
RAIN: Speaking of rain, that is one of my only big issues with this boat. Nordhavns are designed in PAE’s offices in Dana Point, California. I think that they lose sight of the fact that many of us cruise/live on these boats in colder, wet climates. There are many Nordhavns in Seattle. Yet there is not a good solution for drying wet jackets, rain pants, etc. in this boat.
When we moved aboard we bought top-of-the-line Gortex jackets and rain pants, rain boats, winter fuzzy Crocs for nighttime dog walking, more down jackets than geese in the Northwest, a dog rain jacket and dog sweaters. Yes, dog clothing for a Labrador Retriever. The dog rain jacket reduces the amount of water that is shaken off of the black dog all over the teak interior of the boat.
THE DOG: Zoe gave up her dog door and huge fenced back yard. But she goes on lots of long walks with us (good for us and for her) and she loves swimming at our many weekend destinations. Zoe is fascinated by the seals in the marina that we call “Aqua Puppers.” She walks along the dock peering over the edge, looking for her seal friends. In the past several months, she has a new seal acquaintance, a small teenage spotted seal that sleeps on a dinghy raft at night. We see this cutie each morning as we walk up the dock to work. Zoe used to bark at the seal but now they just stare at each other, tilting their heads in curiosity.
COOKING: We have a Subzero fridge, a chest freezer, a full-sized GE profile oven, a 4-burner propane cooktop, a microwave, a trash compactor and a Bosch dishwasher (small, but it is there!) in our galley. We cook as we normally have, perhaps with a few less tools as we did downsize the kitchen gear from the house. A boat smells fantastic with the scents of cooking roasts, pies, soups and chowders. Mmm!
LAUNDRY: We often get asked if we do laundry at a laundromat. Nope. See the story on our blog about the replacement of the full-size washer and dryer.
SHOWERS: One of the things that we really wanted was a walk-in shower in the master bath. That was not to be. We have a gorgeous tub surrounded with marble complete with a shower. We have never taken a soaking bath in that tub – not sure that it will fill with the water heater size, but it might! I have to remind myself to step up and out with my blurry no-contacts vision in the morning, but it works. I do miss my heated bathroom floors but they come back when the boat is running! We have another full bathroom and a day head (powder room).
STORAGE: This boat is just loaded with storage. In fact, even after almost a year and a half of living on Red Rover, we keep discovering new drawers, storage areas and hidden pockets. The best thing though is the basement. Hidden under the “office” area in the bow is a full basement. The watermaker lives down here as does the hot water heater and the bow thruster. But other than that it has a glorious amount of space for tubs of extra stuff, luggage, wine and extra bottles of bar goodies. We have to figure out a better organization system for the basement but we are delighted it exists! Closets are another story. Our daughter Kirsten goes to college in Tennessee and is home during breaks. When she isn’t here we take over all of her stateroom’s hanging closets. And drawers, and basically all of the storage space in the forward stateroom. All of our clothes fit but we did a huge downsizing of our closets before we moved onto the boat. It’s likely time for another round.
ENTERTAINING: We went through a phase of large parties at our old house, which we designed and built to easily host a crowd. So now we have small crowds. Couples over for dinner, a day trip to the Harbor Pub on Bainbridge Island with friends, cocktails in the cockpit on a sunny summer afternoon. And we do sometimes still have big crowds. Kevin and I take all of our employees (from each of our companies) out for Seattle’s signature SeaFair event each summer to see the Blue Angels fly over Lake Washington. So that’s around 30-35 people. Everyone fits and it is a great time inclusive of swimming, floating, and general sunshine happiness.
GOING TO WORK: Some days I go to work in full rain gear as I am drenched by the time I reach my car in the parking lot. I then change into a more professional get-up at the office. Kind of like a bike commuter. Other days I walk down the dock in heels on my way to a meeting. People heading out boating look at me oddly.
DOES THE BOAT MOVE? Yes and no. The boat weighs 130,000 lbs. It takes a lot to make it move. Tonight we’re having a small windstorm with 35 knot winds and we’re moving a bit. But not a ton. We like to sit in the pilothouse and watch the wind speeds. Geeky, yep. Most of the time the boat is very still. You would think you were in a building most days as it sits quietly in its slip. Most people ask us if it rocks us to sleep. Sadly no!
ARE WE COLD? Ha! This boat has a serious heating system. I could walk around in a bathing suit inside and still be hot sometimes. And it heats up super fast. It is not drafty – it is air and water tight – a serious little ship. No whistling air, no cold drafts, nada. In the summer when everyone was so hot in Seattle we had overnight guests who came to enjoy the cool water breezes and the frigid A/C inside.
THE HOLDING TANK: We hate pumping out. It’s gross. We have a pump-out service that comes every Thursday. The cost of this? It’s just under $100/month. Money well spent.
WASHING THE BOAT: So we’re spoiled. We have a gentleman that washes the boat each month and does a major wax once a year and a small wax touch-up half way through the year. He does a great job and it is delightful to come home to a clean boat. Speaking of a clean boat, we asked our house cleaners if they wanted to come clean the boat every now and then (about 2 times a month). They figured it was worth a shot after a 15 year relationship with us, and now bring their stuff on down the dock and onto the boat. We would have missed them!
TV & INTERNET: We aren’t really TV watchers. Well, we watch football to be clear. More specifically the Seahawks. GO HAWKS! We don’t miss a game. When we first moved aboard we had a Comcast Cable account where we attached a cable to the shore power pedestal on the dock. We’d detach it when we left obviously. We then found that we just weren’t watching enough TV (we did have the SEC Network then so we could watch UT). Now we have a over-the-air HD antenna for TV to pick up local channels in HD. That does the trick. Otherwise we have a Pepwave branded hot spot that we use for WiFi with 2 sim card slots so we can change out service providers as we travel. We also have an Iridium Go satellite hotspot but that’s not necessary sitting at the dock.
WHAT DO WE DO IF WE DON’T WATCH TV?!? Funny question that we are asked all of the time. We enjoy evening cocktails in the cockpit when we get home. We make dinner together. We take our dog for long walks. We listen to music and talk to each other. We take our dinghy cruising with cocktails in hand and watch the sunset. We enjoy being on the water and being outside. We read books, and I enjoy my hammock. And we take our house out for a cruise – a day, an evening, a weekend or 6 weeks to Alaska.
All in all… It’s a dream. A dream that will only get better when we take this boat and head out for a many year adventure. In the meantime, we’ll enjoy our curious liveaboard status and our shorter but still amazing adventures on this absolutely incredible boat.
No, the R/R isn’t for Red Rover this time… Remove and Replace! This past winter, the dryer started squeaking pretty good and got louder over time. I had a repairman come by to look at it and provide a bid for repair. “Just” one boat unit ($1000). The Bosch set had been in the boat since new back in 2005 and we didn’t want to spend 2/3rds the cost of a new set just to repair a 12 year old dryer. Although I probably could have waited a while, our 6 week trip to Alaska was approaching and I didn’t want to have a “service opportunity” out in the middle of nowhere! I researched washer and dryers to see what would fit. We landed on the GE vented dryer set as the online specs led us to believe they would fit in both the locations as well as make it down the engine room and thru the engine room door frame. The biggest thing that needed to have done was to change the wiring up on the washer to 120v from 240v. I had our marine electrician come in and perform this change in the middle of the R/R.
First things first, remove the salon table, pull up the salon floor and cross supports, remove the port side engine grab rail plus air filter and take off the engine room door – this is the route for the old machine to come out. Both machines were relatively easy to remove from their homes and bring thru the engine room and up in to the salon by two people. Another hop, skip and jump, they were out on the finger pier. Wow! This will be easier than I imagined!
Yup, never say it is going easier than imagined… The actual width of the new machines were larger than the online specs. When do you ever get more than you ask for?!? This made the skinniest dimension 1/8″ wider than the door frame opening. UGH! As I did not want to disassemble the machines, my only option was to remove the door frame. After removing a few screws, I learned that we were fortunate enough in the build process the factory used approximately 7 tubes of 3M 5200 to adhere the frame to the wall… About 4 hours were spent running a blade between the wall and the door frame and carefully applying pressure with a “unique” jack setup while using pry bars on the other side. As the frame was so close to the ceiling and the cabinetry, I was not able to fully cut the adhesive in those areas. I ended up using power tools to carefully cut the plastic laminate that the 5200 was stuck to and the PLam then released from the plywood wall, attached to flange of the frame.
Once the frame was removed, the new washer and dry had “plenty” of room to go in! Although we didn’t have any performance issues with the Bosch machines, the new GE washer and dryer is working better than the old ones. One thing I found on the dryer replacement, when the dryer was pushed back in to place, the vent hose was squished and reduced flow by 50%. With the washer, I was able to crawl in to the area where the starboard stabilizer is to access the back of the machine. This allowed both the electrical and water connections to be a breeze.
After the two were hooked up and made to be operational, we reassembled the boat. With the engine room door frame, I used silicone on the flange to keep it air tight vs the 5200. My hope is to never remove the frame again, but if needed, it should come off easier next time!
One last note, I have seen other N55s have cabinet doors that enclose the W/D. Red Rover did not come to us with them, a previous owner removed them at some point. The laundry area is not overly roomy so I could see where not having them installed is a bonus. It does work well with the new GE machines as they are touch deeper – those doors would not close in our new scenario.
Well here it is, the end of November and we’re finally writing the last chapter of the Alaska adventure. We got back from Alaska in July and found ourselves flung back in the hustle and bustle of our day to day lives. And we’d say to each other, “Hey let’s write that last story…” and then we’d take the boat out.
When we last left off we were enjoying the beauty, albeit rainy beauty, of Takatz Bay. What a gorgeous spot. Wish we were there now!
This last chapter of the 2017 Alaska cruise had some ups and downs, some sad moments and some times of great joy in new accomplishments. Here’s the story!
Takatz Bay to Roche Harbor (with a few stops) 829 nm
Our plan was to leave Takatz Bay in the morning and cruise over to Portage Bay on Kupreanof Island to meet Eric Bescoby of Sprezzatura, a N40. Kevin and Eric had been chatting for a few months comparing notes on Alaska and we planned to spend a few days cruising together. We left Takatz Bay under low grey skies and headed around Point Gardner at the southern tip of Admiralty Island. We saw a N47 cruise north past us, waving out of their pilothouse doors as they glided silently by. Shortly after passing the point the VHF radio came suddenly to life. “Mayday, mayday, mayday” said a panicked young man’s voice. He was obviously very close to us as he sounded as if he was sitting on the settee next to me. We listened with rapt attention to the conversation on Channel 16 with the Coast Guard. The story goes that the young man had left Kake, on Kupreanof Island with his father that morning. Father and son, members of the tight-knit Tlingit community in Kake, a town of about 750 people, were going fishing on Dad’s 30+/- foot commercial fishing boat at Point McCartney, about 13 nm from the docks in Kake. The 20-something son went to sleep in the bunks, telling Dad to wake him up when they arrived at the fishing spot. Son woke up when the boat ran aground on the beach in Herring Bay on Admiralty Island, about 21 nm away from the fishing spot. Dad was nowhere to be found sadly. The son was confused and incredibly upset and alone on a boat sitting on the beach, talking with the Coast Guard. The boat had been on autopilot and as such ran a straight course onto the beach, just a few hundred feet from rocky ledges that would have spelled trouble for the sleeping young man. It seems that his Dad had a heart condition and while it is unknown what happened, perhaps this was a factor in his falling overboard. We listened to the coordinates for his location and saw that we were the closest vessel. And, as it is our responsibility as boaters to help each other, we had a 2-second conversation and turned the boat toward Herring Bay and away from our day’s destination. Kevin talked with the Coast Guard as well as the Search and Rescue team from Kake, comprised primarily of family and friends of the missing man and his son. I can’t imagine their anguish in this search. The Alaskan people are incredibly strong. We arrived at Herring Bay to find that the rocky bottom wasn’t anchor friendly. At the same time, the rain was coming down in buckets and the wind was whipping itself up, consistently over 20 knots with gusts in the 30s. We decided that we’d put the dinghy down and that Kevin would go to shore, and I’d stay with the boat (and Zoe of course). We lowered the dinghy and Kevin headed into shore, talking with the young man on the VHF, still on channel 16 as he was in shock and couldn’t switch channels, even on the Coast Guard’s request. I have never been more proud of my husband. He told the young man how sorry he was about his missing Dad and talked calmly while he approached the shore. The young man came out of the boat and stood on the beach, shoulders hunched, horrified and terribly sad. Kevin got the dinghy up on the shore and got out and gave the young man a big hug, which was reciprocated. The two got in the dinghy and started out toward Red Rover. At this point, Kake Search & Rescue arrived, but due to the draft of their boat couldn’t get any closer to shore than just beyond Red Rover. Kevin delivered the young man to the Search & Rescue boat where he was immediately enveloped in a huge hug by 5 people on the boat, one of whom appeared to be his mother. He began sobbing in their arms. So very hard to watch. Soaked to the skin, we got the dinghy back up on the boat and told each other we’d talk about this once we were safely underway and out of this bay. We had a good cry, ate some tomato soup and spent the next couple of hours talking with the Coast Guard and listening to the search. The Coast Guard launched their search helicopter from Juneau, a good hour’s flight away. The pilot was so impressive, communicating kindly and respectfully with the Kake Search & Rescue team. At least 30 other boats poured out of Kake and the area fishing lodges, searching for the missing man. Sadly, the man’s body was found a few hours after the search began. We learned more about him in the paper in the following days.
We continued onto Portage Bay where Eric was listening to the Coast Guard side of the exchange and kept hearing Red Rover mentioned. He couldn’t hear us and was very concerned about our safety as we were significantly behind schedule in our arrival. The sat phone rang and Eric was calling. We assured him that we were fine, but that we had quite a story for evening cocktails. We pulled into Portage Bay and anchored, took Zoe to shore and had Eric over for margaritas and tacos. We felt fortunate to be warm, dry, alive and on an adventure. The difficult day reminded us of the power of the ocean and Mother Nature, not to be taken lightly.
The next day we decided to make a quick hop back to Petersburg where we would do two things: 1) try to sign paperwork to close on our beach house that was completing construction back in Washington in our absence and 2) enjoy some of the Independence Day festivities that are a huge, huge deal in small Alaskan towns. We did both after a goose chase. If you ever need to find a notary in a small town in Alaska, try the local newspaper editor. Yep. She patiently helped us sign well over 100 pages of homeowner responsibility. After signing, Kevin hiked out to the post office to ensure that the paperwork would make the Alaska Airlines flight back to Seattle, and then a truck out to Grays Harbor County, Washington. Eric and I watched the local fishermen battle through some fun contests in the middle of the street – awesome! Eric made Kevin, Zoe and I an amazing dinner on Sprezzatura and we all enjoyed each other’s company for the evening.
Our pre-departure deposit was not enough… needed a bit extra to close!
On the 4th of July we headed south down Wrangell Narrows, now aware of its not-so-challenging nature, and worked our way toward Exchange Cove on Prince of Wales Island. The thought was that we’d be in a remote, beautiful anchorage far away from the fireworks that Zoe hates. Hmmm. We pulled into the pretty bay to find a group of pick-up trucks and tents setting up on the beach, having driven logging roads to access the bay. Argh. Fireworks were of course on their agenda. No matter. We dinghy cruised, swam Zoe, had a barbecue and some adult beverages and toasted our good fortune and the holiday.
On the 5th of July we awoke to an incoming fog. Thick, thick fog. We decided to head out and take it slow. In about an hour and a half the fog gave way to gorgeous SUNSHINE! Sunshine! An uncommon sight. We cruised south, seeing humpback whales, seals, porpoises and happy fishermen along the way. Thorne Bay on Prince of Wales Island was our destination, a former large-scale logging town. Thorne Bay is an interesting spot, accessed through a series of narrow channels between small islands. Floating homes that include sprawling outbuildings and stately fishing lodges line the large bay. We talked to the Harbormaster prior to entering the bay and she assured me that we would have room and that we should tie up “close to the large blue boat.” When I asked where I’d find this boat she said, “If you can’t find it you have bigger problems.” Well… ok. It turns out that the marina was very small and the big blue boat was an American Tug that had been anchored next to us in Blue Mouse Cove in Glacier Bay National Park.
After a wander around town and another great dinner, eaten in the sun on the flybridge, our fleet of two Nordhavns headed back to Ketchikan the next day. Kevin and I were gearing up to head home to Seattle, and needed to gather up some groceries as well as top off our fuel tanks. While we could have made it home without fueling, we wanted the weight and the certainty that full fuel tanks provide. On July 7th we left Ketchikan for Foggy Bay, just to the north of Dixon Entrance. Foggy Bay is the destination of choice for cruisers waiting to cross the notoriously rough passage (which was like a lake on our way up to Alaska!). We pulled into Foggy Bay to find another Nordhavn, Island Greeter, a N62 that used to be on our old dock in Anacortes. Funny! We did a little exploring, ate a feast of King crab legs and prepped for the next day’s journey. Large rolling swells greeted us, and Island Greeter who was just ahead of us as we left the bay, and stayed with us for several hours. The water flattened out as we entered Canada, and the sun came out. Lovely!
From Prince Rupert, we headed south to Cameron Cove just off of Camaano Sound. We had talked with our weather router and conditions were excellent for a southern passage on the outside of Vancouver Island, if we got going and stayed ahead of a front. We decided that we’d do this southern passage by ourselves, our first multi-night run all alone, without additional crew to take turns on watch. We’d stop briefly for Zoe to have rest stops if we couldn’t get her to use the potty patch (which she hadn’t used yet). We’d get some good rest and head out of Cameron Cove at 4 am. Seemed like a good plan. Until the windlass failed. Kevin spent hours trying to rebuild the windlass that evening and at about midnight we thought we had success!
(Kevin writing now)
The next series of photos are after we anchored and found that we had an issue… When Alison was deploying the anchor, the windlass shut down and a major fuse failed. I initially found two issues, the bolts holding the gearbox together had backed out creating a 3/8″ gap and the fuse issue. I suspected that after tightening the bolts up and replacing the fuse, we would be fine – thinking the loose bolts allowed some sort of binding to happen in the gearbox. I had to pull the windlass apart top and bottom to get at the bolts. After a few hours, these tasks were done. I did a quick test shortly after midnight to see if we were operational – it worked, or seemed to….
Dawn calm before we knew the windlass wasn’t going to help out.
In the morning we took Zoe to shore, loaded the dinghy and I stepped up to the windlass controls to bring up the anchor. Whine, whine…. die. FANTASTIC. So, after trying to bring up 400 feet of chain (did I mention we were anchored in 80 feet of water??) we managed to get to 320 feet back on the boat and the anchor swinging above the bottom of the bay. Heavy. The aluminum bar, which had been deforming was now bending. And then it was BENT. DONE. No longer useable. We sat and looked at what we could do. We tried rigging up a system with the dinghy davit but the angle was all wrong and was dangerous. Ultimately, we decided we had to cut the 175 lb. stainless steel CQR style anchor free. Kevin tied the anchor off with a line, and then cut the chain with a grinder, saying “I was wondering what I might use this tool for on the boat.” We then looked at each other sadly and said goodbye to the anchor as Kevin cut the line and a very expensive anchor became bling on the bottom of the ocean. At that very moment a pod of humpback whales surfaced just off of the port bow, cavorting in the water just beside us. It was like they were saying “thanks for the pretty jewelry!” We were too upset to take any photos, but if we had they would have been amazing. The whales were so active and RIGHT next to us. Zoe barked at them and ran up and down the boat. They were not phased by this small black dog!
(Kevin here – I changed the fuse again, just to be sure before we did the manual retrieval. Back in Seattle we learned that the electric motor failed. It would run for a moment but an extended run would kill the fuse. I suspect the gearbox binding up did something to the motor. The windlass was serviced and a new electric motor was installed and the system works flawlessly again. We also put 500′ of 1/2″ chain and a new Rocna anchor on board)
We unearthed our back-up Danforth anchor and prepped it should we need it in an emergency, but without a windlass, it was now time to cruise home without any stops. We told Zoe she was going to learn to use that potty patch!!
Exhausted, I went to sleep for a bit and missed Kevin’s few hours of incredible wildlife including pods of Orca whales, humpbacks, porpoises and more. When I awoke my first watch was on! We had some lumps crossing Queen Charlotte Sound but the sun was shining and the boat handled beautifully, as always. On my later watch, after midnight (somehow I seem to get the late night shifts?!?) we approached Cape Scott, known to be turbulent. The tides were changing and the water at Cape Scott was confused, and interestingly, very busy with multiple large scale commercial fishing boats. We switched captains and Kevin navigated us around the point, then handing the helm back to me. I love the early mornings during my watches – seeing the sun rise, hearing the quiet swishing noise of the water as the hull moves through the ocean, and seeing wildlife awake for the day. Such as special time.
We cruised down the west side of Vancouver Island, taking turns at watch and enjoying truly calm water with swells to five feet, but on 12-18 seconds in a stern quarter sea that then became a following sea. Awesome. We moved around small fishing boats, commercial fishing boats and saw a sailboat or two, but otherwise it was us, the ocean and the sea critters.
Zoe, on her first overnight open ocean passage ended up being a champ! She did wait 35 hours to use that potty patch though. We had a big party when she finally used it – for a long, long time. GOOD DOG!
We arrived back at the western entrance of the Strait of Juan de Fuca in the early morning hours, with me at the helm once again. I have never been quite so happy to see the Strait! And in our cruise that day we also saw another fun sight – the new Nordhavn 59 Coastal Cruiser with the Nordhavn principals aboard, moving the boat down to Dana Point. We had a little radio chat with them, which was fun, and pointed our bow north vs. south to Seattle. Why go home so soon? Roche Harbor, here we come! The good folks at Roche Harbor understood that we didn’t have an anchor to hang out in the bay and helped us into a slip, 55 hours after we left Cameron Cove. YES! A new accomplishment for us, the first of many multi-night trips to come by ourselves. We were proud. And exhausted. And Zoe was really excited to see grass. Really, really excited. We took a walk, made some cocktails (best drinks ever), talked to Tom and Linda of N57 Meridian who were also at Roche, and went to bed with giant smiles on our faces. What a trip. What a journey. What an adventure. What a crazy fun life we have started for ourselves buying this boat and changing our lives.
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.
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!
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!
We just realized that we had not posted this Guest Interview by James with Pendana, a 62 Nordhavn. James, Claire and their two daughters are traveling the world in their Nordhavn. They left Australia about 4 years ago and we had the pleasure to meet and get to know them while they spent this past winter in Seattle. They are a hoot! The Guest Interview was fun to do – take a look when you have a moment!