Wednesday, July 30, 2014

2014-22 Craig to Ketchikan via Bear Country

July 22nd through July 30th

Tuesday, July 22nd:  Today the rest of this week's crew couples have arrived from SLO Town.  Chuck French ushered his wife Carolyn, Vince's wife Marianne, and Alex's wife Pat to Craig.  The Fonte's and French's have cruised with us many years now.  In a 2008 cruise they suffered through 7-foot seas and 25-knot winds for 8 hours as Wild Blue pushed it's way from Prince of Wales Island's southwest coast, around Cape Chacon to Ketchikan.  The crazy weather made for chaotic boat rocking and rolling, while large waves crashed on and over the boat. See the 2008 Alaska Blog for that story.We thought they'd never talk to us again, let alone go cruising.  This is their sixth cruise since then.
Front: Chuck French, Carolyn French, Vince Fonte, Marianne Fonte
Back: Alex Benson, Pat Benson
From our 2013 cruise in Northern BC
Wednesday, July 23rd:  Vince and Alex have been crabbing locally claiming almost three daily limits for 15 total crabs.  There's a great spot just north of Craig near a fish processing plant. Chuck likes crab so we catch'em and cook'em, and Chuck picks'em.

Today we left early to pick up the traps again and get through El Capitan Passage on a plus tide.  There are great views in El Capitan and a cool cave you can visit.  There are especially calm waters and some narrow passages.  We exited the Pass at just after 2pm and eventually anchored in the bay just across from the north end of  Middle Island in Shakan Bay.

Our anchorage for the night.
This Bay has some inhabitants ashore.

Thursday, July 24th: Early this morning we wiggled our way through the shallow narrows above Middle Island and pointed west into Shakan Bay.  Our goal is to provision in Wrangell, then anchor some where closer to Anan Bay.  Tomorrow we have a date with the bears of Anan Creek!  It's going to be a long day of motoring.

After leaving the Bay, we motored north, then northeast, then east through Sumner Strait passing over the top of Prince of Wales Island.  We continued past Zarambo Island, Vank Island arriving at Wrangell Harbor at 2pm.  We provisioned, walked around the town then all met back at the boat for a 5pm departure.  Once again underway, we steered south into Zimovia Strait, then through the Zimovia Narrows S-Turn, anchoring just south of the Narrows between two islands protecting us from the southerly winds.

The view southwest looking out of Shakan Bay.

Friday, July 25th: The US Forest Service operates a bear viewing facility on Anan Creek.  The creek is located on the southern edge of the Bradfield Canal in the upper Cleveland Peninsula. The facility is hugely popular so a reservation system allocates access.  Alex was able to secure four reservations two days before by quick-fingering the keyboard while on the Tongrass National Forest website.

We left our anchorage early arriving in Anan Bay and anchoring in 100 feet of water depth.  Pat stayed aboard as watchman while our group rode the tender ashore.  Once there we met a ranger who briefed us on bear safety.  Clapping, singing and loud talking are good deterrents.  Don't provoke the bears and remember when you encounter a bear, "Let them cross the boardwalk first!"

The boardwalk is an elevated wood and dirt trail about 2/3 of a mile long up to the bear observatory platform.  Sometimes a guide with loaded shotgun accompanies groups up the trail, but apparently there were no worries as the bears bellies were full of salmon, indicating the tourists were generally safe.  Of course, that realization didn't deter our clapping, singing and very loud talking!

"Bears like tasty tourists best" said our guide.
After a 20 minute walk, we arrived at the platform entrance and waited. The US Forest Service officer there gave us the "all clear" sign and we quickly entered the viewing platform.  We immediately noticed we were surrounded by black bears, sitting, scratching and doing other ursidae things.  Some were just a few feet away.  One was rubbing his back against on the bottom side of the platform floor we were standing!

Just inches away!
Mommy bear and baby cub just across the creek.  Whose been eating my pourage?
Even the eagles get in on the fishing action.

Bear catches salmon

Bear with cubby.

Small bear poops on deck to let us know he's coming down the tree!

Bear enjoys salmon inches from our feet.

Eagle dines on his own catch.

After several hours of viewing, we followed the trail back to the tender and eventually the Wild Blue.  Thankfully Pat had lunch ready so we dined then pulled the anchor.  

We headed southwest looking for an anchorage protected from the southeast as SE gale force winds were in the forecast.  We passed several anchorage options, but decided upon Meyer Chuck in hopes we could tie to a dock.  The winds and seas built as we rocked and rolled our way into the protected harbor only to find the dock full.  Just as we began to lower the anchor a voice came on the radio: "Vessel entering Meyer Chuck, this is Gold-finger".  Gold-finger offered to allow us to side-tie to their boat which was on the dock.  We did and had a pleasant evening securely tied up. 

Saturday, July 26th: 50-knot winds were swirling across Southeast Alaska and the seas in Clarence Strait were nasty, so we opted for a second day in the calm waters of Meyer Chuck. Vince and Chuck dropped a baited line next to the fish cleaning station and promptly pulled up a good sized halibut.

Sunday, July 27th:  Early this morning, one of our crew got quite ill and it appeared the hospital emergency room would be needed.  So we departed Meyer Chuck at 430am bound for Ketchikan, a 4-plus hour motor.  Clarence Strait was still messy with yesterday's gale hangover leaving lumpy seas.  We were prepared to call the Coast Guard rescue helicopter if necessary, but our patient seemed to be holding up.  After a couple hours of rocking, all was better and the emergency was no longer.  We arrived in Ketchikan at 9am.  We rested at the dock.

Monday, July 28th: With everybody feeling fine, we're off to cruise local George Inlet. George is southeast of Ketchikan.  We travel about 20 miles almost to the Inlet's end anchoring in Tsa Cove.  It's deep so we anchor close to shore and near a rock barely showing above the water at high tide.  Soon after lunch a local resident fisherman comes by and we trade a good bottle of SLO wine for a fresh caught rockfish.    We dined on rockfish and halibut.

George Inlet Lodge rests on the shores of the spectacular George Inlet waterway!
As a former cannery bunkhouse, it was built in the 1940's and housed primarily
 the upper echelon of commercial fishing. After the cannery's unfortunate closing
in 1970, two local businessmen, in an epic undertaking, had the lodge jacked up
from its foundation and lowered onto a log raft. Towed for over 70 miles, the log
raft crossed the waters of the Inside Passage from Hidden Inlet, located
on the Portland Canal.

Sunday, July 29th:  We slept-in today.  All the crew were enjoying a lazy breakfast.  Pat began noticing the boat swinging on anchor as the tide changed.  It continued to swing towards the small rock from yesterday, which was now quit large at low tide.  As the boat rotated around the anchor, the rco loomed quite close aboard. "Alex, get up here" called Admiral Pat in a not so quiet voice.  "We are going to hit the rock!"  Alex, now stumbling out of the shower, wasn't concerned enough to leap on deck without clothes.  He dressed and groomed, eventually appearing on deck noting many a wide-eyed crew, and a giant rock close aboard.  Pat was ready to lower the fenders as the rock was just 2 feet away, when Alex thrustered sideways.  Apparently the anchor had pulled up and reset overnight placing the boat much closer to the rock.

The tiny rock became a huge rock at low tide.  Luckily it was shear-sided
with deep water alongside.  We probably could put out the fenders and tied up.
This photo was taken after we thrustered out of danger.
We cruised back into Ketchikan to find that all the moorage was occupied by fishing seiners on a break.  So we motored out the north end of Tongass Narrows and turned easterly towards Knudson Cove.  There was no moorage available so we dropped the hook just outside the harbor for the night.

Monday, July 30th:  Our crew is flying home today.  We're off the hook by 6am bound for Ketchikan airport.  Ketchikan airport is on an island across from the City, so it has a dock,  At 7am we dropped our crew with luggage at the airport.  It is always good times with the Fontes and Frenches!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

2014-21: The San Luis Obispo Cowboys are Back!

July 8th through July 20th: Sitka to Craig

Tuesday: July 8th:  Those cowboys from San Luis Obispo arrived today for almost two weeks of cruising in Alaska.  Vince Fonte, Marvin Dee and Bob Silva are Wild Blue veterans each having served aboard from 3 to 8 cruises over the years.  In SLO town they ride horses and play poker.  They seem to be better at fishing than cards than horses!

The cowboys arrived around 1pm and immediately headed to the tackle shop and supermarket for spares, fishing gear and provisions. By late afternoon we were on our way southbound towards Whale Bay.  We decided to anchor in beautiful Scow Bay at Beauchamp Island, just off our route.  We threaded our way around the shoals and rocks deep into Scow where the winds died and the water glassed off.

Entering deep into Scow Bay,
Cowboy Bob locates rocks hopefully before we smack them!
There was just enough leftover fresh salmon for Bob to craft delicious first dinner.

Tuesday, July 9th: Today we fished the Whale Bay hot spots including the Northern Shoreline, Port Banks entrance, Krishka Island, and King City.  We boated plenty of fish attempting to complete each fisherman's daily limit.  

Wednesday, July 10th: We had enough fish to get processed and we needed time to get down to Craig Alaska by July 19th, so we motored back to Sitka.  

Thursday, July 11th: Today we completed a round trip fishing Salisbury Sound, Kakul Narrows, and the Shark Hole.  Cowboy Vince caught a nice Yellow Eye and Ling Cod.

Friday, July 12th: Stayed in Sitka. We had the fish caught so far processed, bagged and frozen for shipping home.

Saturday, July 13th: Again today we completed another round trip fishing Salisbury Sound, Kakul Narrows, and the Shark Hole.  And cowboy Vince caught a nice Pacific Cod.  

Alex has been around boats and boating since about 1976.  Over those years he met many sailors, boat maintenance workers (BMW's), yacht club folks, harbor masters and boat brokers.  Twice this season in Sitka Alex met old friends from his boating past.

Alex noticed some familiar voice similarities while chatting with the Captain of a neighboring 100 foot mega-yacht.  As the conversation progressed, the name "Tim" came to mind.  Tim was foredeck crew on Ricochet, Alex's Schock 35 racing yacht from the 1990's.  They had a nice chat about competitive sailboat racing in Southern California some 23 years ago.

The second "voice from the past" occurred while dining at the absolute best restaurant in Sitka, and arguably all of Southeast Alaska:  Ludwig's Bistro.  As a new group of diners were seated behind our table, another set of "voices from the past" tweaked Alex's memory.  Within just a few minutes, he turned around and welcomed Steve and BJ Curran to Alaska.  Alex purchased his J-36 Greyhound from Steve in 1980 and BJ was a regular crew aboard.  BJ met Steve after a race and later were married.  It really is a small world!

Ludwig's Bistro Sitka, Alaska "The Best of Southeast"

Sunday, July 14th:  This was our final day in Sitka for the 2014 season, having arrived on June 2nd.  Again we headed northerly bottom fishing in the top end of Neva Strait.  Timing Sergius Narrows for slack water, we transited Peril Strait eventually anchoring for the night in Hanus Bay.

Coast Guard crew maintains light in Olga Strait north of Sitka
Deer on Partofshikof Island in Neva Strait
Monday, July 15th: We got going early from Hanus Bay, rounding Catherine Island then fishing off its southern tip in Chatham Strait by 8am.  The weather was OK so we continued south to Chatham's intersection with Frederick Sound.  We fished off Yasha Island boating a halibut, but the current was building.  So we moved south and fished Tebenkof Bay boating a few more bottom fish.  By 6pm we had set the crab traps and anchored deep inside Gedney Bay on Kuiu Isl;and in Sothern Chatham Strait.

Tuesday, July 16th: There were no crabs in Gedney Bay this morning, and they weren't in our traps either.  By 7am we were moving south along Kuiu Island's west coast.  We timed our arrival for 1020am slack current at Cape Decision.  We fished Decision Passage then anchored between a couple of the Spanish Islands for lunch.  The fishing today actually sucked for the first time in many days!  We eventually gave up, anchoring in Port McArthur on Kuiu's east coast at 2pm.  Marvin slipped a baited hook over the side and we all went for a nap.  

After about 90 minutes, some of us awoke to the loud whizzing sound of line spinning off a big reel.  Luckily Cowboy Marvin made it to the rod before the all line was gone.  He quickly began fighting a big fish.  After almost 15 minutes, all crew was in the cockpit ready to relieve an exhausted Marvin, and soon all helped land a 60 pound halibut!

Wednesday, July 17th: We headed further south today crossing Sumner Strait to a bottom fishing spot off the south end of Warren Island.  No luck so we continued on towards St Joseph Island.  Just off its northwest end we spied a 10 boat charter sport-fishing fleet.  The kings were running and we joined the group dragging our watermelon lures.  In short order Cowboy Bob had a heavy king aboard,  After a couple more we headed into Craig.

Thursday and Friday, July 18th and 19th:  We fished locally a bit southeast of Craig in Bucareli Bay. Several small fish were returned to the seas and a couple good sized coho salmon were boated.

The "Cowboys in the Boat" had great fun this year and we hope they're ready for more.  We had so many rock and bottom fish this week it was time for another taste test.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

2014-20 The Midwestern Crew arrives in Sitka

Saturday, June 28 through Sunday, July 6:

On Saturday our son Max Benson and his fiance Katie Patterson arrived from Chicago. Although they love their city life, the cooler, less humid Sitka environment suits them fine at this time of year.  They enjoyed our moorage position in front of the Totem Square Hotel near downtown as we dined and shopped nearby.  Katie was able to continue her marathon training, running to and from Sitka airport.

We stayed close to Sitka fishing the local waters with day-trips to the Rock Pile, Biorka and surrounding islands. We had a great overnight stay at Herring Bay anchorage on Elovoi Island.  We capped of the week with the July 3rd 11 pm triple fireworks show and July 4th parade.  The kids left with 50 pounds of frozen salmon and halibut fillets for family and fiends in Chicago.  Whenever the family crews, time flies.  We're looking forward to many more cruises with the mid-west Bensons.

The National Geographic Explorer operates small cruise ships in Alaska
in summer and Mexico in winter.
Max shows Katie his tender handling abilities.
Katie shows Max her tender handling abilities.
It was much easier to get on a plane with Max in the bow!
Sunset from the Totem Square Hotel Marina looking Northwest.
4th of July in Sitka
4th of July in Sitka

Later in the Fall we gained a beautiful daughter-in-law!