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!

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