Friday, July 29, 2016

Hartley Bay

We raised the hook early and left Baker Inlet before 8am. Grenville Channel is a 45-mile long, fairly narrow channel connecting Arthur Passage in the north with Wright Sound in the South. Flooding tides meet in the middle, so today was our lucky day and we got a 1-2 knot current boost all morning, then arrived at the point where tides flow the opposite direction, only to benefit from a 1-2 knot boost again as the tide turned the other direction. Love it when that works out!

We arrived in Hartley Bay, a First Nations village of the Gitga'at tribe or band. The only person we know from here is of the Tsimshian tribe, but we tried to find him this afternoon and learned he left for Victoria a while ago.

Hartley is a colorful place with boardwalks instead of roads, and ATVs instead of cars. It looks like everyone owns a fishing boat. A totem pole and attractive Big House adorn the waterfront. 

We're at a Government Dock, which means a free place to tie up and also dispose of garbage. It's a small marina, crowded tonight with only 3 recreational cruisers like us, but many mid-size fishing boats, local and from all over.

Baker Inlet off Grenville Channel

This spot was so pretty and relaxing we decided to stay two nights. We dropped the dinghy in the morning to explore the coves and several miles of shoreline.

A look back at Phoenix anchored at the head of the cove from the dinghy.

We stumbled across the remains of a skid road foundation from the logging days of the past. Trees aren't allowed to grow this big anymore!

And we ended the day, after completing several minor boat projects, enjoying wine and dinner in the cockpit.


Cow Bay Marina, Prince Rupert, was a nice stop. Tidy town with groceries, hardware, and marine shop within easy walking distance, and a friendly Harbormaster. 
The guy who came in last place in this year's "Race to Alaska" (R2AK), was docked nearby in his 15-foot sailboat rigged for rowing: a 40-ish guy with great biceps who rowed 80% of the way from Port Townsend, WA to Ketchikan, AK, approx 750 miles over 22 days, because wind and channels are rarely suitable for sailing. 

We slept in this morning and departed after Bob made a run to the hardware store to fill one of two propane tanks. These fuel our galley's stove which was (happily, we feel) changed out from the original electric stove by Ralph, a previous owner. Much better for anchoring without having to run the generator for electrical!

And the sun was out.

46 miles later we turned into the difficult-to-find entry off Grenville Channel leading to Watts Narrows for the Baker Inlet anchorage. Watts Narrows is 80 feet deep, only 30-50' wide, (Phoenix's beam is 15'), currents run up to 6 knots, and it has two blind dog-legs, so prudent boaters call a "Securite" on VHF Channel 16 as there's no room to turn around or pass another boat, especially at low tide when we entered. 

The 58-74-foot deep anchorage (16-foot tide swings tonight, bigger at new or full moon) is well-protected from wind, and scenic with 3000' granite peaks rising above, and noisy streams running down through the forest. Our 225' anchor chain is barely long enough to make us feel comfortable sleeping with just under 3:1 scope. We may add another 75' before next season.

Lovely evening sitting in the cockpit with wine, prawns (gift from Greg and Terry in Ketchikan), kale, music and books. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Dixon Entrance and Prince Rupert

Dixon Entrance is the body of water that separates Canada from Alaska. It's wide open to the Pacific Ocean and can have very big seas and wind at times, calm as a backyard pool at others. It's 94 miles from Ketchikan, Alaska to Prince Rupert, Canada and crossing the Dixon Entrance is part of it.

Monday night the weather forecast called for 15-20 knot winds on Dixon Entrance with 6-7 foot seas. We don't like that. But it was calm inside our marina and we were skeptical of the forecast, so set the alarm clock for 4am.

Tuesday morning the new 4am forecast was a little more benign, it was still calm, and we left the dock at 4:45am to poke our nose into the big water. And it was dead calm!

So off we went, running at 1600 rpm instead of the usual 1400 rpm, hoping to complete the crossing before afternoon winds came up.

And it stayed great all day! Neither waves nor swells exceeded 3 feet, wind never above 10 knots, and at 2:30 Ketchikan time (now 3:30 in Prince Rupert) we arrived at the Canadian Customs dock. Our NEXUS cards allowed for quick clearance.

We continue to feel so fortunate to be finding good weather windows for bigger crossings. Three weeks in Alaska was fantastic. Southbound here we come.

Eagles like to perch at the top of sailboat masts in Prince Rupert.


It was a good 3-night stop, especially after Saturday's downpour ended. We did laundry, grocery shopped, bought stuff at the hardware store, re-filled a propane tank, and ate the fruits and other food we're not allowed to carry into Canada. 

And we changed 12 gallons of oil in the two Volvo Penta engines that inhabit the engine room. This would be any easy task, except the oil filters on each engine are on the engine's starboard side: easy to reach in the center of the room on the port engine; but the filters on the starboard engine are between the engine and the hull, in a very tight spot to climb into. Bob is too tall, too big and too inflexible to get back there, so Cathryn has to do it. 

That's why Bob calls this Cathryn's oil changer pump, and why he secures the hose with a pink Velcro strap when not in use. Amusing guy, isn't he?

And he invested a small fortune in filter wrenches to find one that would overcome Cathryn's relative (to him) lack of strength, so she can remove the 4 tight filters without his help.

And he helps carry the three 5-gallon buckets of used oil up the steep ramp from the dock to the disposal shack.

The last night in Ketchikan, Greg and Terry, staying in the same marina, came aboard for dinner.

These are the friends from Port Angeles, WA who took us for two weeks on their 60-foot pilothouse trawler to travel the Inside Passage to Alaska in 2009. That experience altered our lives, in that it fired our imaginations about new possibilities now that we were retired. We never imagined we'd be able to make such a trip alone, in our own boat. So we're grateful to Greg and Terry for their role in showing us what ordinary people like us can do, with hard work and lots of learning.

We had a wonderful evening together.

Saturday, July 23, 2016


Ketchikan is situated in a rain forest and gets 152" of rain annually, almost twice as much as Wrangell (79") which gets twice as much as Seattle (38"). So it was no surprise as we moved south from Wrangell we saw fog, rain, mist, and eventually, high wind (20-25 mph gusting to 30) and waves 5 feet. Two hours on Clarence Strait just before entering the Tongass Narrows where Ketchikan is situated was uncomfortable but not scary. Lots of banging around and putting loose objects on the floor purposely, to avoid their falling and breaking. 

Coming into Ketchikan you steer out of the path of Cruise Ships as they're over 1000' long, travel twice our speed, and aren't as maneuverable as Phoenix.

So we tied up in Bar Harbor North, one of three basins run by the City of Ketchikan. It's lousy weather for hiking or fishing.

Even inside the marina, it's windy, and the boat is rocking. We're snug and dry inside, working our way down the chores list and eating up fruits and meats we can't transport into Canada when we leave here in a few days. 

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!