Friday, July 31, 2009

#54 - Petersburg to Keene Island

After a day on the town we said goodbye to Petersburg and turned south down Wrangell Narrows to an anchorage near Keene Island. The Narrows is a 21-mile long waterway that is used by nearly all north and south bound boat traffic. Large ferries, small cruise ships, big fishing trawlers and tugs with barge tows find their way through the slim channel using the 60 navigational markers. You need to keep a sharp lookout for the marks and oncoming traffic.

We left on the last of an afternoon flood tide which pushed south with us. The same flood tide flowing in from the south end of the Narrows meets in the middle. About halfway down the Narrows, the tidal current was slack, and as the ebb tide began, we benefited from the current push south. After just about 2 hours we dropped our anchor just ooff to the side of the Narrows in a quiet spot.

Our route down Wrangell Narrows to Keene Island anchorage.

The Narrows causes boats to pass at close quarters.

Halfway down the Narrows is the small, quaint community of Green Rocks, where every home is built on waterfront property.

The view from Keene Island anchorage.

Sunset at Keene Island anchorage.

Before we left today, Pat and Jinx had filled the ship's stores after grocery shopping in Petersburg. We've told all visiting crew to bring along their favorite halibut and salmon recipes and Jinx had a great one: spicy Thai halibut with peas and bamboo shoots! We paired this with a chilled sauvignon blanc. Just amazing!

Jinx's spicy Thai halibut with peas and bamboo shoots. Wow!

Tomorrow we move just across Sumner Strait to St. John's anchorage.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

#53 - Petersburg

Today a new crew arrives from Hollywood: it's Peter and Jinx Stazicker our sailing friends from the Cal Yacht Club. Alex met Peter during mid-1980's while sailboat racing in Marina del Rey. Short of crew for a Wednesday evening race, Alex stopped his sailboat at the fuel dock, a hangout for last-minute crew. Among the many looking for a ride was Peter, holding a cold 12-pack of cold Heineken. Those green bottles told a lot about Peter's sailing qualifications, and his taste in beer!

His crewing ability kept Peter sailing aboard Alex's boats for many years. Peter now campaigns his own sailboats, a Martin 242 and his Beneteau 40 named Flash Packet. A retired architect, and an ongoing English gentleman, he and Jinx are in the process of moving to Ojai in So Cal.

Peter and Jinx our crew for the week.

Upon arrival aboard, a cold Alaska Summer Ale, or two, was popped open for the new crew. Unlike last summer's cold Alaska sojourn, it's warm now and been continually in the high 70's and 80's for over a week. The diesel heater has been deactivated, something unthinkable last year. It's shorts and t-shirts weather, and Pat has yet to put on her long underwear this season. It's even been mild during the few lows that has passed through Southeast Alaska.

Petersburg looks pretty under the bright sun of summer.

After the new crew plays a day in town a bit tomorrow, we'll motor down Wrangell Narrows to an anchorage near its southern end. Goodnight.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

#52 - Entrance Island to Petersburg

Today we are off to Petersburg, a clean and neatly laid-out town famous for it's Norwegian heritage. Because it lacks a deep water port, the large cruise ships don't call here, so the town has retained its friendly, unhurried character. Petersburg's economy depends on the fishing fleet and seafood processing plants, it being the largest fish processing center in Southeast Alaska.

Our route takes us south, around Cape Fanshaw, through Frederick Sound, down the east coast of Kupreanof Island, and finally, we turn into the narrow channel between Kupreanof and Mitkof Islands. This channel is misnamed Wrangell Narrows, in my opinion, as Petersburg is located at it's northern end, not Wrangell. The town of Wrangell is located on the northern end of Wrangell Island, at the end of Zimovia Strait. Oh well!

Our route to Petersburg

Just as we turn into Wrangell Narrows, a couple miles from Petersburg, a large hulk of a ship is coming at us. It's a huge square catamaran, moving fast, and we need to give it room to pass in the Narrows. It's the Cape Fairweather, the 35-knot fast Alaska Ferry ship.

The Cape Fairweather needs room to pass in the Narrows

This boat's lines look a bit too utilitarian, and somewhat anti-nautical, but it is FAST!

The Wild Blue crew this week has been gaming a bit. The six of us have enjoyed a strange dominoes game called Mexican Train. The game comes with a really strange set of dominoes, actually a double domino set, from double-zero to double-12. The dots on the domino are also strangely colored. And to top it off, the first several nights we played using someones strange “oh I remember” rules. Finally we read the rule sheet. Wow it's a different game when you play it per the written rule. Different and fun, and based on a tiny bit of skill, with a huge amount of luck. I'm not sure who won for the week.

In a heated game of Mexican Train. Undole amigo!

We have three nights here in Petersburg near the fish processing plants. You easily absorb the sounds and aromas this town: fish boats moving at all hours, the backup beepers of busy forklifts, noise of refrigeration motors, the smells of flushed fish tanks. It's a busy 24-7 fish town with nice people.

Fish processing continues round the clock in season.

After a week of “Mexican Train-ing”, we've come to enjoy Peterburg's La Fonda, a fine bar and Mexican restaurant. Beside great food, they have a great beer selection, and the fastest free wi-fi connection imaginable. The most creative Alaska Blog posts originated here at La Fonda.

The Fontes and Frenchs head back to California cowboy country on Thursday. It been fun with this group, although I'm not sure they ever want to see another glacier. We've viewed 20 plus glaciers this past 10 days, so much that a couple of the crew have given up ice cubes for good!

Monday, July 27, 2009

#51 - Tracy Arm to Entrance Island

We pulled the crab traps, which were empty, and our anchor, which was still attached to the chain, and steered for the exit to Tracy Arm, planning on a boost from the ebbing tide. We hadn't been moving but a few minutes when we heard “Wild Blue, Wild Blue this is cruise ship ZuidenDam calling” on the VHF 16. Obviously our AIS transponder was showing up on ZuidenDam's chart plotter. The 900-foot long ZuidenDam was 20 minutes away from entering Tracy Arm and wanted us to be clear by then. The ship's captain also wanted a port-to-port passing at Harbor Island, so that meant we would be need to give him lots of room for his turn. We obliged, and thanked him for the call, happy to not be surprised by the mammoth ship's sudden course change.

Our original plan was to cruise about four hours up to Cape Fanshaw, anchoring for the night in Cleveland Passage behind Whitney Island. Last year our crew hooked a gigantic halibut on the island's east end which we were unable to land. We thought we'd try our luck again, but then located inviting Hobart Bay just ahead, and altered course for Entrance Island. This calm anchorage included a dock which was deserted.

Our route to Entrance Island in Hobart Bay

On our way Chuck tried to stare down this eagle. He lost.

Greater Hobart Bay is a logging area. The dock at Entrance Island cove is totally protected, is state maintained and a large house is located just ashore. Although it looked to be recently occupied, we investigated and found the house eerily vacant. Flotsam and jetsam such as floats, traps, nets, life rings, etc, had been collected and used as landscape decoration. The site was the perfect setting for a Stephen King novel.

All alone at the Entrance Island cove dock.

Anyone whose been around Vince knows of his talent for creating tasty pasta dishes. We've already enjoyed his fresh Alaska prawns and linguini, as well as his pasta carbonara. Wonderful! Today, Vince labored all afternoon to create meatballs and sauce using his Italian mother's recipe. Pat created a fresh Alaskan salad and the dinner was complimented by a bottle of Opus One, thanks to Dick Squire's shopping spree in Sitka. Fantastic!

Thanks Dick for this fine bottle of vino.

Tomorrow we moor at Petersburg, Alaska, a small fishing village known as the “Halibut Capital of the World”.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

#50 - Taku Harbor to Tracy Arm

Before leaving for Tracy Arm this morning, we pulled our traps and found two large male crabs, eager for a hot bath. We cleaned the claws and body meat, and immediately dropped them into a pot of boiling seawater, liberally seasoned with Pappys. With boat-made wasabi tartar sauce, we enjoyed these specialties of the sea.

Chop crab in half, pull body from claws exposing luscious crab meat, rinse remains in seawater, drop fresh claws into boiling seawater seasoned with Pappys.

Serve with wasabi tarter sauce.

After all our crabbing around, we finally got underway about 8AM. It will be a long day, 8-hours in the boat. Humpback whales blow off along the way down Stephens Passage. We time our entry into Tracy Arm at 11AM slack tide, as the skinny channel can become a rapids. Once inside, we check out Tracy Arm Cove, and because we are crab-crazed, drop our traps in the Cove in hopes for this evening's dining delight.

Our route to Tracy Arm and the Sawyer Glacier

The entrance to Tracy Arm

By 1:30 in the afternoon we were in lots of ice but still able to steer around all but the smallest pieces. The big pieces show nicely on the radar, but I wouldn't want to navigate the Arm at night.

We are able to steer around the big ice so far.

This would NOT be fun at night, even with radar.

Unlike last year, we saw no cruise ships in the Arm. Several yachts and smaller day boats were enjoying the ice follies. On VHF, we hailed one 40+ foot trawler who said they couldn't make it to North Sawyer Glacier, the ice was too thick. Instead of curtailing our advance, we pushed onward.

Yacht Crystal passes close abeam, port to port.

About 1 mile from South Sawyer Glacier we stopped in thick ice along the southwest edge of the Arm. Just then a 40-foot excursion boat motored around the corner doing 10 knots and pushing ice with it's bow wave. He easily avoided us and we hailed the boat on VHF. The operator said the ice was a bit thick here, but once around the corner it thinned. We pushed onward.

Thick ice stopped us until we talked to another skipper who said it would thin out ahead.

A tense skipper points to dangerous ice.

Even in the thin spots the bow team of Marianne and Pat recommend a clear route

With Pat sweating bullets, and Marianne using the boat hook to push ice chunks away, we inched our way forward, using forward, reverse, bow and stern thruster. We wiggled forward until there was a thin spot then cruised withing ¼ mile of the face of South Sawyer Glacier. It was quite a sight!

At last the face. Now that really was worth it!

These gull families seem to be enjoying the boat versus ice show.

After a few minutes near the face, we take a few photos and begin to worry about getting back out of the ice. It's slow going again as the path we came in on has been erased by moving ice, so we blaze a new trail, foot-by-foot. By near 6PM we drop anchor in Tracy Arm Cove with a few other intrepid “icebreakers” too exhausted to pull our crab traps, but ready for libation lubrication.

On the hook at last.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

#49 - Auke Bay-Juneau to Taku Harbor

We stayed and played until late afternoon in Auke Bay. Then returned the Rent-A-Wreck and departed for Taku Harbor, located about 20 miles south of Juneau. It is a 3½ hour motor around Douglass Island then south into Stephens Passage. Taku is an Alaska State improved park with about 400 feet of dock space plus a large anchorage. It's Saturday, near to Juneau, sunshiny, and so room at the dock will be hard to find.

Our route to Taku Harbor

After an uneventful cruise, we arrive about 7:30PM, note the absence of dock space, and drop anchor with about eight other boats. We also drop our crab traps near last year's hot spot. It was mid-June last year when we collected a huge haul of crabs, but that was just before the commercial crab season had opened. We note many commercial crab floats dotting the surface.

The Taku dock is full, so we anchor instead.

Even the anchorage is busy.

We're already thinking about tomorrow. It's another long day of cruising into Tracy Arm up to Sawyer Glacier. Last year we were stopped by the thick ice flow 3miles from the face. We'll see what happens tomorrow.

Sunset at Taku.

Friday, July 24, 2009

#48 – Swanson Harbor to Auke Bay-Juneau

After last night's pasta extravaganza with too many glasses of wine, the Wild Blue crew slowly awakened to the bright daylight at 8AM-ish. Swanson Harbor was quiet, the fisherman having left in their fast sport-fishers earlier in the morning. Today we'll cruise to Auke Bay just outside Juneau. Sarah is waiting, one day before her departure from the State Capitol.

We exit Swanson at 9AM-ish expecting to make Auke Bay by noon. We turn left around Point Couverden up towards the Lynn Canal and turn right at the Point Retreat Lighthouse.

Our route to Auke Bay

The Point Retreat Lighthouse with Mendenhall Glacier in the upper left background.

Auke Bay has one good-sized marina that's easy to access from the west, as opposed to Juneau, which has many marinas but requires another 3-hour motor around Douglass Island to reach them. The marina is about 10-miles by car from Juneau, so on our arrival, we contact Rent-A-Wreck, the preferred auto rental firm.

Mendenhall Glacier looms just above Auke Bay.

Pat organizes a supply run and heads to Costco and Fred Meyer with crew. On their return, the crew surprise Alex with a new camera from Costco: a Panasonic-Lumix with 12X zoom lens, a way-better camera than Canon's SD750. Now the Blog can continue to picture Alaska, in great detail, even without the crew's $40,000 cameras and lens aboard.

A business and email update is needed and we find fast internet service available in Juneau at the old Alaska Hotel. Pat takes us on a tour of Juneau's residential districts and we are surprised at the quaint Victorians, as well as modern architecture. These housing areas are inviting and much tidier than the commercial streets. Even Sarah's home seems open and friendly, even on her last day in office. We top off the day with a tasty dinner at the Twisted Fish restaurant, just a few steps from the cruise ship loading ramp. The linguini with fresh clams made it special.

Alex bellies up to the bar at Hotel Alaska.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

#47 – Reid Inlet, Two Finger Cove, to Swanson Harbor

We've enjoyed a few days here in Glacier Bay National Park, and in doing so, we've consumed supplies at a high rate. We need beer, wine, food stuffs, and a new Alaska Blog camera. So it's off to Juneau where there is a Costco and Fred Meyer. It'll take us a couple days so we will stay the night in Swanson Harbor just at Point Couverden. But, due to the tidal currents, it's going to take us awhile to get out of Glacier Bay.

The flood current at the 1/2-mile wide channel entrance, known as Sitakaday Narrows, will reach almost 7 knots today at the time we exit. The current will be against us, so at our 9-knot cruising speed, it will take about an hour to traverse the opening. The option is to stop, anchor somewhere close, and wait for the current to subside. We like this option and anchor at Fingers Bay just in time for lunch, and a few photos.

Today's exit from Glacier Bay and route to Swanson Harbor

Fingers Bay was busy with Surf Scooters. They entertained us over lunch: ours and theirs! Normally mollusk consumers, today fish was the Scooter's choice.

Surf Scooters feed on clams, mussels and other mollusks

But here, they seem to be looking for for something more?

Awe, yes! This Surf Scooter has mouthed a fish. Now if he can just get airborne again.

Wow this fish sure is heavy.

This will sure taste better than clams.

At about 3PM we decided we could deal with a 3-knot current and began again for Swanson Harbor. We scooted through Sitakaday Narrows next to Diamond Princess, a 900-foot cruise ship, whose driver seemed a little excited. He hailed us over VHF 16 to insure we wouldn't be crossing his bow, then passed us at 1/8-mile off our port without incident.

We pulled into the float at Swanson around 8:30PM and quite hungry. Vince had been at work prepping pasta Carbonara, the smells dominating the cabin. Pat harvested fresh herbs and lettuce from the Wild Blue garden. We scrounged up some Paso Robles Petit Sarah for an awesome dining experience.

Pat's fresh Alaska garden salad.

Vince's pasta Carbonara.

The complete spread.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

#46 – North Sandy Cove, Marjorie Glacier, Johns-Hopkins Glacier, Lamplugh Glacier, to Reid Inlet

Another day, another three glaciers! Today it's the Marjorie, the Johns-Hopkins and the Lamplugh. And again it's a long, long haul from our Cove up to the first Glacier. We nap our way to Tarr Inlet, wake up, then notice a large sailing yacht and a cruise ship already exploring the glaciers. Today's weather is gloomy, light rain and fog so we'll need to get close to the glacier's terminus to see anything.

Today's route up Tarr Inlet to Marjorie Glacier, then Johns-Hopkins Inlet to Johns-Hopkins and Lamplugh Glaciers. Thanks to Google Maps.

Rosehearty is a 120+ foot beauty which Google says is owned by Rupert Murdock.

Holland Cruise Lines plies Alaskan Seas in search of its glaciers, and sort of startled us coming out of the fog.

At the end of Tarr Inlet, we moved the boat to the 1/4-mile recommended distance from the face. Closer could mean problems if a large chunk of ice calved off. The falling ice creates a wave, a mini-tsunami, sized according to the size of the calving ice. 1/4-mile is supposed to give you enough time to react to the situation, assuming you pay attention, which we did.

Paying attention to Marjorie's face.

Up close with Marjorie.

This week's Wild Blue crew at the Glacier: Marianne and Vince Fonte, Chuck and Carolyn French.

The crew for the next week are from San Luis Obispo. We know The Fontes and the Frenchs via the local Wednesday night poker game. In fact, in many ways due to poker, we are indebted to each other. Vince and Chuck like “cowboying” and cards, especially when money is involved, and they seem to be upholding these Central California traditions admirably.

After lunching on Pat's tortilla soup in front of Marjorie, which seems somewhat rude, we motored back down Tarr Inlet and up Johns-Hopkins Inlet. J-H is closed until mid-July due to seal birthing/rearing, and we are excited to see if any seals and their pups remain. Besides, son Ryan has a degree from Johns-Hopkins so it's obviously our duty to pay homage to the glacier namesake. We were able to get about a mile from the face before the ice became too thick to continue.

Johns-Hopkins Glacier

One of the few remaining seal pups posed for Chuck's 3-foot lens with attached Nikon

On the way out of J-H Inlet the Lamplugh Glacier protrudes from the south shore. Two cruise ships were positioning their boats so passengers could view the face, as we anchored around the corner in Reid Inlet.