Wrangell to Labouchere Bay


O.M.G; we awoke to sunny skies this morning. After a breakfast of scrambled eggs with sweet sausage, onions, green peppers, fresh rosemary sun-dried tomatoes and cheddar cheese (our last meal before dinner, so it had to last) we walked into town for the last time to find some more long underwear for Karen. Despite multiple layers, she’s been cold, so another layer is in order to make the remainder of our journey more comfortable.

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The Reliance Docks in the sunshine

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Main Street Wrangell

As we returned to the docks we passed our new friend Ken, talking with Uncle Roy on Coastal Messenger. We stopped to say goodbye and soon the conversation turned to everyone’s next destination.

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Uncle Roy of the Coastal Messenger

Petunia from the M/V Coastal Messenger invited us onboard to show us their pictures of our next destination, Labouchere Bay, or as the locals call it “Lab Bay”. After seeing the pictures and hearing the stories about the logging camp that was once at the north end  (now removed, with a road over to Port Protection the only remaining evidence that it ever existed), we were truly excited about our choice of anchorages for the night.

Petunia also brought a chart from the wheel house and pointed out the best place to anchor. She went on to inform us that as we round Point Baker we should be on the lookout for humpback whales. Apparently they always spot them as they round the Point.

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Saying farewell to the crew of the Coastal Messenger

After clearing the entrance to harbor at Wrangell we took a southerly detour to visit the new docks at Wrangell. There are behind a massive breakwater and are large, with lots of power, water and the wonderful look and feel of “new docks”. The only problem is they are twice the distance from town as the Reliance Dock. I’m not certain the best way back into town; walk, cab, dinghy? I’ll leave that up to the industrious Wrangell Port authority to work out the details of making these docks both appealing and convenient.

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Wrangell from the decks of Arctic Star

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What a picturesque setting for the town of Wrangell

Our trip today is about 50 nautical miles or about 5 and a half hours. Karen and I split helm duty into two hour shifts. The time certainly passes much faster when you’re “off duty” and reading or working on this blog and sitting and watching the Alaskan wilderness pass by.

As predicted by Petunia, as we rounded Point Baker, we saw three humpbacks. No big show from these guys, just a blow or two and a half hearted peek at their tails.

The wind had picked up and the waves also, but not enough to make for an uncomfortable ride. We did turn on the stabilizers for the last third of the trip and everything settled down.

The anchorage in the Southeast end of Lab Bay is very beautiful. You look back though the trees to Sumner Strait. There is a nice stretch of beach and you can walk it on the inside and look over to the outside beach. The wind was still blowing 15-20 knots so we did not launch the dinghy to go explore as was our original plan. We waiting all evening for things to calm down but they never did.

Upon our arrival we did spot a single Kayaker who had just landed on the inside beach I mentioned. Sea kayaking is close to an extreme sport around here, but doing it solo is too much from me to consider. An hour or so later we watched as our neighbor launched his kayak, went out into the Strait and went fishing. I guess you must catch what you can’t carry.

We were joined by a small Nordhavn that anchored about 180 yards to our northeast. Like us, it took him two attempts to set the anchor.

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Our neighbor in Labouchere Bay in full cruising regalia

The remainder of the afternoon and evening we caught up on reading and writing. The wind never did die down enough to launch the dinghy.

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Lots of room in this anchorage

Dinner was marinated pork tenderloin accompanied by a mixed rich to which I added toasted pine nuts and dried craisins. I waited for the sunset that was good but not great for photos.

A sea otter give us some welcome entertainment as he lay on his back and floated while devouring whatever he had brought up from the bottom. As the light faded we spotted three Sitka Black Tail deer grazing on the shore line. Karen called it Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. As least she checked off the sea otter on her critter list for this trip.

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The day is coming to a beautiful end

We were still spinning on the hook when we went to bed around 10:30. Tomorrow we have some weather-related planning to do as the forecast is predicting the winds will start to blow toward 25 knots just about the time we want to go to Coronation Island.

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Mustard Glazed Grilled Pork Tenderloin with wild rice, pine nuts, and dried cranberries

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It doesn't get much better than this. Although you have to stay up late in Alaska to see a sunset this time of the year. And a 4am sunrise is out of the question.










Today our main activity was a trip to the Le Conte Glacier via jet boat. As our departure time was not until 4pm, we busied ourselves with tasks around the boat and Wrangell.

The day before, John from Alaska Charters and Adventures, www.AlaskaUpClose.com, had offered to let me draft off his wireless in order to download the upgrade patch for my Nobeltec. We waited until 12:30pm, when the visitors from the cruise ship were back on board and walked the length of town to his office and his wife’s gallery.

The patch download and installation went without a hitch and we were now equipped with Nobeltec software that should perform as advertised.

As the download process unfolded, John told us tales of hunting, fishing, trapping and catching or shooting all manner of wildlife. All of which were butchered by him and consumed during the year. In the summer, they have three large gardens at their cabin on the Stikine River where they grow and then put up vegetables for the winter. In Alaska, even in one of the top ten populated towns in Alaska, the citizens still live off the land.

We made our way back to the boat with stops in the various shops in town. Souvenirs were on the list along with a couple of fresh produce items.

The trip on the jet boat was much anticipated. Our original plan was to take the trip up the Stikine River to see the wildlife, but the river was too low to get to the spots they usually visit. The snowfall was light this winter in the mountains and the resulting limited runoff had left the river very low.

Eric from Breakaway Adventures suggested we try the 4-5 hour trip to the Le Conte Glacier instead. We were at bit disappointed as we had visited the glacier at the head of Tracy Arm in 2006 on our Grand Banks. This seemed it might be a bit “me too”, but we’re always game for adventure.

Norm and Karen and I set out in the little jet boat at 4pm. We had to cross Dry Strait (mud flats) at high enough water and must return back across before 8pm in order to have at least a foot of water in the lowest spots. The jet boat only draws 6 inches but sometimes that is not enough in these tidal flats. Norm was more excited about this trip than the “river” trip. He said we picked the best one. We were still a bit skeptical.


Norm at the helm of the jet boat. It steers like an air boat. Push the lever forward to go right.

The traverse over the flats was interesting. Given that they constantly shift and move, it was great to have an experienced captain skilled in finding his way in the shallows. Our doubts quickly faded as we approached the entrance to Le Conte Bay and spotted a half dozen freight car sized glaciers stuck on the shallow terminal moraine. These were huge. Many times the size of anything we had experienced in Tracy Arm. And that beautiful blue color that signifies glacier ice.


The first sign of icebergs


As big a freight cars is not an understatement

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Karen and Norm picking out their next berg to visit


Got to get the picture


More glaciers guarding the entrance to the La Conte Bay


I could sit and look at these for hours. There are endless variations and details.

After taking a few pictures, we began the seven mile trip up the bay to the glacier. I was surprised to see the density of the ice before us. Glad this is not my boat! And I had no idea how we were going to get very far based on the amount of ice I saw.

Norm did a masterful job of weaving his way through the thinner distributions and when it got thick, he slowed done and bumped his way along from bergy bit to bergy bit.


This was the easy stuff to get through. I would have turned around right then.

This is a very impressive valley, carved by millions of years of glacier activity. I lost track of time, but I suspect it took us an hour to go the seven miles in a boat that travels 33 miles an hour in open water.

Norm pushed on. His goal was to get in a position so we could see the complete face of the glacier. Long after I thought we could go no further, Norm found a way. “As long as you can see water, we’re OK!” Norm’s definition of water and mine diverged. I thought a spot of clear water the size of your fist might be the right unit of measure. I think Norm’s definition was more a thimble.


Good to go for Norm and his jet boat

As you’ll see in the pictures, the trip exceeded our every expectation. It was a true adventure. A trip we could never have made on our own. No dinghy, no Kayak could have made it as close as we did to the face.


Approaching the glacier

I forgot to mention that Norm has a cell phone with God’s number in his speed dial list. As we proceeded up to the glacier face, the clouds continued to dissipate and the sun shined bright across the ice. We enjoyed blue skies and light winds. After almost a week of Alaska cloudy skies, it seemed a miracle.


The glacier's face


Sitting in the ice, admiring this glacier and the valley it carved over the millennium


Ice, ice everywhere. I had no idea we could go though this stuff.


The record shot, just to prove we did it

We sat for about a half an hour taking pictures and listening to the low rumbles from the glacier that echoed though the valley and just sitting in awe of such a site. 

On our return we stopped and took pictures of the numerous seal pups and their moms peppered throughout the ice fields.  


Moms and pups were hauled out everywhere


Who you looking at?


I would love to know what they said about us


We passed one lone immature eagle on the ice. Seal pups beware!


The ice is starting to thin our as we made our way back to the entrance of the bay


We revisited some of the “big boys” on our departure from Le Conte Bay


Do you think the seagull in front thinks he's the Captain of the iceberg

We stopped briefly at the seal trappers’ cabin remains to stretch our legs before heading back.


Back on the boat after our stop. This gives you a good look at the jet boat.


Perfect end to a perfect day of glacier exploring

Dinner? Nachos at the Hungry Beaver and 2 Alaskan Ambers!


Madan Bay To Wrangell

At my usual sunrise (4am) trip to the head, there were light showers. By the time we awoke for real at 7:30am, the rain had stopped with a low cloud deck hugging the mountains at about 1000 feet. I love to watch the clouds play among the pine trees as they make their way carried by the soft winds of morning.

We have observed so far on this trip that the amount of critters is noticeably less than in the Broughton Archipelago, the Gulf Islands or the San Juan Islands. We see the occasional Bald Eagle or a sea gull or two. We hear the passing raven and spot an occasional Murrelet and a few other small water birds. It will be interesting to see if this holds true for the entire trip or is just a function of where we are. Remember this area is considered a temperate rain forest. That may well account for the limited populations.

Madan Bay was a very peaceful anchorage. The wind lay down as sunset approached and we enjoyed a quiet night. The holding is good in silky mud with small shells in 40-50 feet of water. The land drops quickly into the water so you’ll anchor within 150 feet of shore without problem. We found no hidden obstruction in our little portion of the bay. Probably a good thing, as the charts for the bay have no depth soundings!

The trip to Wrangell was uneventful.  Karen drove most of the way. We did a little sightseeing as we approached Wrangell. A few homesteads along Eastern Passage provided some diversion. It’s always fun to scope out the locals with the binoculars. At the head of Eastern Passage you see the Wrangell airport. At the north end, they removed half a mountain to make room for the runway. We spotted two airplanes taking off. It was different to see aircraft with wheels rather than floats.

Wrangell is a busy harbor. When we arrived, the docks were mostly full with commercial vehicles and a spattering of pleasure craft. We found a spot at the south end of the Reliance docks. They offer full services with water and electricity. However, these are the only docks we’ve ever visited that had individual meters for the electricity. Our location was perfect to see all the traffic in and out of the harbor, and also for Eagle Watching. There are many to watch in the harbor.

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The Grid in Wrangell. It's a hard working port.

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The aluminum work in Wrangell is a work of art


Even the small aluminum constructions area work of art. I think I'll have my tender built here.

The harbor master, LaDonna, is a highlight of Wrangell. She’s friendly and knows everything there is to know about Wrangell and what to do.

The provisioning is very good here. Bob’s IGA is OK but we did best at City Market. They also deliver to the boat. One thing we have noticed is that everyone is very friendly. Sometimes the people in remote locations can be a bit standoff-ish. That is certainly not the case in Wrangell.

We walked around the town for a while. It has a nice main street flanked with some stores and several bars. 



One of many murals in Wrangell

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Everyone in Alaska wears Extra-tuf's. They are referred to as Alaskan Sneakers.

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No Karen, that is Not Johnny Depp

We walked out to Shakes Island to see Chief Shakes Tribal House and the totems.

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Chief Shakes house

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Check out the size of the door into Chief Shake's House.

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Check out the size of the totems on Chief Shakes Island

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The Reliance Docks at Wrangell as seen from Chief's Shake's House

We also saw a house burning down off the inner harbor slips…apparently, it was a planned burn, but it certainly got our attention.

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That got our attention before we found out it was a planned burn

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Make certain to visit the Museum. It also has a great book store inside with lots of Alaskan material.

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Karen wants the boat that goes with a prop this big

If you do find yourself in Wrangell, be certain to look up Alaska Charters and Adventures. (www.alaskaupclose.com). They offer exploration trips to see glaciers, or up the Stikine River and fishing trips for Salmon and Halibut.  John Yeager and his wife Brenda Schwartz (the watercolorist famous for local scenes done on marine charts) will certainly take good care of you.

Walking the docks is always a great way to meet people. We met Uncle Roy, Petunia and Gloria aboard the Coastal Messenger, a missionary ship that is based in Chemainus, BC. This mission is about to celebrate its 30th anniversary…the area they serve runs from Olympia, WA up into SE Alaska. The stories they have about their experiences ministering to the logging and remote communities are fascinating. They know all the folks in the Broughtons that we’ve gotten to know, as well as many, many more. We also got a tour of the steel boat, which was designed by Uncle Roy and was really well thought out. You can find out more about their mission and www.CoastalMissions.ca.

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The crew of the Coastal Messenger: Uncle Roy, and Petunia

We also saw the Krogen out of Comox enter the harbor. This was the same boat we saw anchored in Santa Anna Inlet. The captain was singlehanding, so we went out to help him tie up. His name is Ken, and he is cruising for a while before meeting his wife in Juneau. He knows Don from Comox Valley Kayaks, where we normally rent kayaks for our trips to the Broughtons. Small world!!

Dinner was chicken fajita pizza and Alaskan Amber ale at the Hungry Beaver, a great local bar and pizza joint with some really good pizza.

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The Hungry Beaver, the best pizza in town

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Pizza is not cheap in Alaska

The highlight may have been the Hummer in the parking lot complete with antlers and some sort of drunken sailor on the hood with a boat’s wheel attached to the grill.

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Options you can only order for an Alaskan Hummer

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 He claimed he was the proud owner