Thursday, July 21, 2016

Petersburg and Wrangell

As always, plans change. Weather, whereabouts of others we know, and "we're tired" or "we have a lot of energy today" intervene. Leaving Tracy Arm, we'd have liked to visit friends Jim and Robin on 49' DeFever "Adventures", full-time live-aboards who now are residents of Petersburg. But they're away at Glacier Bay taking friends on a long-planned visit there. And the hikes and activities Robin suggested we do in Petersburg lost their appeal when we spent one night at Petersburg and it was raining steadily. So we left for Wrangell.

All day today, it was foggy or rainy or dark gray and cloudy. So we arrived in Wrangell and treated ourselves to dinner out. With a stormy-looking if beautiful view. And at least it's warm-ish (high 60s).

And that's it for Wednesday and Thursday. Tomorrow we continue south hoping to connect with boating friends in Meyers Chuck and Ketchikan.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

North Sawyer Glacier, Tracy Arm

This day was gorgeous, fun, a unique-for -us experience, and adrenaline-producing.  We raised the anchor at 8am, and Soulmates followed close behind. The bay outside the anchorage was littered with icebergs that calve off the glaciers and drift 24 miles down Tracy Arm. 

Continuing east, icebergs became more numerous, so we throttled back and steered more aggressively, remembering that 10% of an iceberg floats above water, and the rest is unseen below. We don't want a Titanic experience.

And then we came to understand the term "bergie bits", which our Captains training in 2012 in Florida didn't prepare us for.

These are much smaller remains of icebergs that have mostly melted, are clear instead of blue because there's no air in them, and depending on the lighting, they're almost impossible to see until very close. And sometimes a wave makes them suddenly pop up out of the water. The one above is 2 feet across, not big enough to sink a boat, but so hard they damage a prop if you run over them, or scrape up your gel coat. And they're so numerous in places that we traveled at idle speed (4mph) or even in neutral, bumping one engine at a time in and out of gear to be able to slowly steer a course between bergie bits. We even used reverse gear once, and occasionally thrusters, willing to damage them if necessary, but not our main props. Fortunately we went all day without hitting anything. Soulmates was 2-3 boat lengths behind, benefitting from the narrow but clear path Phoenix left.

Bob's long arms and strength were occasionally called upon to stand bow watch and "sweep" bergie bits away from the hull when there was no clear path.

Finally, North Sawyer Glacier (South Sawyer Glacier was completely packed in with ice, so no boats could go there).

Bob saw 3 large chunks of glacier calve off during the time we floated nearby. 

And then we headed west, back to the same anchorage, Soulmates leading the way and clearing a path for us this time. 24 miles each way took 9 hours round trip. Back at the anchorage, we rafted up with Soulmates, as they invited us for dinner. John is the chef.

He and his wife Sherrie own a 38-foot boat too, but are still working, so flew up to be guests on Ed and Sharon's boat for two weeks. 

What a trip!

Wrangell to Petersburg to Whitney Island

Rising early as daylight hours are still long, we cast off from Wrangell headed for Petersburg 68 miles north. The plan was 3 days to Sawyer Glacier, then up Tracy Arm, but this morning's long-range weather forecast said we might not get back across Frederick Sound southbound (big water) before the next weather system arrived. Time to recalibrate. Very originally named (!) Two Tree Island greeted us early in the day.

We traveled 24-mile Wrangell Narrows, reminiscent of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway we transited in 2012, except making a navigational mistake here would mean hitting rock, not sand.

Coming into Petersburg we saw the most crowded buoy marker we've ever seen, with 8 seals, barking and batting at others who tried to come aboard. 

After fueling up in Petersburg, we continued into Frederick Sound headed north where snow-capped mountains, partial blue skies and calm waters greeted us. Along the way we saw many distant whales and their "blows", but too far for photos or identification. 

Late afternoon when Cathryn was at the helm a huge gray whale suddenly surfaced 50' in front of the boat, she yelled to get Bob's attention, and put the engines in neutral, worried we might run over the whale. By the time Bob arrived in the pilothouse, the whale was 20 feet in front of us, then 10 feet off our port side. Cathryn wondered aloud whether it might surface under the boat, bumping and rocking us, as we've heard occasionally happens. Not today. 

And then it disappeared. 

89 miles after our day began, we dropped anchor at Whitney Island anchorage, with blue skies and calm water. We sat in the cockpit with a glass of wine before dinner, listening to "whale blows" and occasional echo-location songs from whales padding nearby, heard on the speaker attached to a hydrophone dropped overboard. 

We cut a day out of our schedule to get to the glaciers and back to Petersburg, so hope this was a good adjustment to the planned itinerary.

Whitney Island to Tracy Arm Entrance Cove

At anchor, we hear lots of hull slap, water lapping loudly on our hull as wind, tides and current move the boat around while we sleep. Here's what the boat's track looked like on a recent night:

Raising the hook early, we headed for an anchorage at the Tracy Arm Entrance, our planned furthest northern point. North Sawyer Glacier and South Sawyer Glacier lie 20 miles east, and we'll explore them Tuesday.

We traveled up Frederick Sound, a big, calm (today) body of water, and came upon dozens of whales, mostly too far away to photograph or identify, but not Orcas, lacking a big dorsal fin, so perhaps Gray or Humpback.

Frederick Sound is completely encircled by snow-capped mountains, all 360 degrees.

For over an hour we kept peering at a big white boat in the distance, checking AIS targets to see if it was a cruise ship, ferry or something else. 

Finally our biggest binoculars answered the question: an iceberg!!!

Sadly, in a funny way, icebergs became like zebras in Africa: the first time you see one in the wild, you stop and take 70 photos; then over time you come to realize they're like mosquitos: they're everywhere!!! So you take a bunch of photos . . . then stop.

We dropped anchor, put a kayak in the water, and Cathryn went kayaking while Bob took care of a couple boat chores. 

Cathryn brought a tiny bergie bit home for Bob, to smash and use for drinks at Happy Hour.

And then we met Ed and Sharon, John and Sherrie, anchored nearby on their 53' Eagle, folks from Saint Helens, OR near Portland. They invited us for drinks, we dinghied over, and a good time was had by all. We also agreed to buddy boat the 24 miles to the Sawyer Glacier tomorrow.

There were 17 boats in the anchorage, 11 of them big sailboats who were caravaning together from Puget Sound to Alaska, and we last saw that group three weeks ago in Pruth Bay. And the full moon was out!

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Anan Bear Observatory, near Wrangell, AK

The Forest Service manages this place on Anan Creek where salmon run thick, bears and eagles are abundant, and they built observation deck railings and a blind where a limited number of folks get permits daily to observe the bears. Spencer took us there, equipped to protect us if the need arose. 

We walked 1/2 mile in, got a briefing from a Forest Service employee, and spent 3 hours watching bears and eagles fishing, close-up but safely behind a rail or in a blind.

First bear we saw was a Grizzly swimming and fishing in the stream.

Next up was many black bears within 10 to 150 feet from where we stood. 

We always felt safe, but occasionally our guide told us to step back in case the bear took a swipe at us from the railing. 

There were 7 of us with our guide, and we all declared it a major highlight of our trips. 

Some bears were really good at catching fish, others less so. 

I have numerous 30-second videos of bears in the stream, actually catching fish, but Blogger won't let me post videos. Or maybe I just don't know how to make it do that. 

Thanks Wrangell! It's been a great stop. 

Friday, July 15, 2016

Wrangell, AK

We planned to fish Thursday, then have Happy Hour with Al and Nancy who own a cabin in Meyers Chuck, friends of our Gig Harbor buddies Bob and Debi who also did the Great Loop. Our dinghy was in the water, rods were set up to mooch for salmon, and we decided to listen to the VHF weather channel before taking off. Uh oh! Big wind and waves were now forecast to begin that night and stay for a couple days. So we stowed the rods and dinghy, and took off for Wrangell instead, having a non-negotiable commitment there Saturday. Goodbye to Meyers Chuck; we'll return southbound.

The 58-mile "back route" to Wrangell transits The Narrows which sounded tricky in the write-up, but wasn't. Despite narrow, winding, shallow rocky segments with a 90-degree turn, the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway prepared us well. We throttled down and had no trouble. 

We're tied at the end of a dock adjacent to the fish cleaning station. Saturday morning Cathryn approached two fellows cutting up salmon there, seeking local knowledge about nearby fishing spots. Wes and Pat regaled her with Alaskan fishing and bear encounters, all hilarious or terrifying. Bob joined eventually, and Wes and Pat encouraged us to try halibut fishing. But our light-weight rods aren't suitable for halibut, so Pat handed us one of his halibut rods, Wes rigged it properly while showing Cathryn how, and they told us where to find them to return their gear in the evening. Really? To strangers? Below are Wes and Pat, headed out for a day of long-line halibut fishing with 250 hooks to set.

We dropped the dinghy, pulled bait out of our freezer, and off we went with Pat's halibut rod to the suggested location. Sadly, 3 hours later we'd only caught some debris on the bottom, and it was beginning to drizzle, so that was the end of our halibut attempt. But we had fun and learned some things!

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Meyers Chuck

We have 3 sets of boating friends who have been to tiny Meyers Chuck, and all loved it, so we had to include a stop-over. There are 12 year-round residents, a couple dozen more who own cabins and come for the summer, and a small community dock with no electricity or other amenities which is free for tie-up by cruisers passing through. 

The 48' Nordhavn docked in front of us has 4 folks from Seattle aboard. Two other boats on the dock are inhabited by folks from the Port Orchard Yacht Club. Small world, we keep finding. 

We wandered the trails in the woods of Meyers Chuck which take you to a beach and past each cabin, offering surprises in the form of whimsical art installed by residents. A heron caught a fish (with Phoenix in the background on dock).

A spider web with a crab at its' center instead of a spider. 

The community art gallery was open briefly, and we picked up a unique "Christmas tree" decoration formed by wood turning, made from rough wood with bark intact. 

Sweet dreams, til tomorrow, Meyers Chuck!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

S.W. Basin near Yes Bay Lodge

This is our last stop as part of the Misty Fjord National Monument tour. We could easily spend a week instead of 3-4 days, but we have other places we want to see too. So many coves, so little time!

Today we covered 64 miles, ran the watermaker (a mini de-salinization plant Captain Bob Smith installed in March) to re-fill the water tanks, and performed monthly cleaning of the shower sump. It was cloudy and misty (be-fitting the name) early in the day, sunny later in the day. 

We only saw two small sailboats all day until nearing the anchorage, close to the Yes Bay Fishing Lodge and only a one-day cruise from Ketchikan. We won't return to Ketchikan now unless we develop a boat problem we can't handle on our own.

After 7 hours of travel we dropped the anchor in Southwest Basin at 3:00, not another boat in sight.

Relaxing in the cockpit, an eagle watched over us from a nearby tree. A seal circled around Phoenix several times. Five loons warbled nearby. All we need is a bear or two to complete this picture. We dropped a crab pot off the side of the boat, tied to the mid-ship cleat. Maybe we'll have crab for dinner tomorrow night?

Following a common pattern, the morning was misty, then cloudy, and the afternoon turned to sunshine, weather suitable for sitting outside in bare feet and short sleeves. We remain happy and well.