North Bight, Neka Bay to Hoonah

(Karen writes) We arose to see that our “neighbors” were up and going early. The black Nordic Tug Augenblick had already departed. Some of the others (Pursuit and In Search Of) were headed out of the bay. We had breakfast and watched as the folks from Miz Giz (of the broken generator) and his friend on Xanadupulled up their crab pots before departing for Juneau and repairs. Luckily for us, they didn’t want to deal with fresh crab while headed to Juneau…so they dinghied over to us and offloaded 6 large and lovely Dungeness crab. We were really happy about that. The crabs were really fresh…we offloaded them into a bucket and one tried to make an escape before Bob could shell them. Bob won the battle, of course! Bob’s new name is “Crab Slayer”, which he earned dealing with these crab. Despite being from the East Coast, neither of us has ever caught or “slayed” a crab. It was pretty funny to watch. Nonetheless, Bob did a great job (should I say “killer job??”) and soon the crabs were boiling away as we weighed anchor and decided to snoop a bit around Neka Bay before we headed for Hoonah.

Now What?

Bob about to dispatch another crab

Chimney Rock Island is just outside North Bight. You'll see this formation a lot in this area if you look close.

We left the North Bight and saw spouting near where we had seen it the day before, so we headed over to take a look. The whale was fairly shy, so we didn’t spend too much time trying to watch. It was a bit misty as we headed for Hoonah.

The good news was that a Celebrity Cruise Lines Ship was anchored at Icy Strait Point, which meant that if we got to Hoonah in a timely fashion, we could head out on foot to “ISP” and see what the cruise ship people get to do when they disembark. As we entered Hoonah, we were assigned a slip from Harbor Master Paul and we quickly got settled and headed off to see ISP.

There is a shuttle to ISP from the inner harbor – you buy tickets ($5 one way! Ouch!) at the Misty Bay Lodge. Still, because we wanted to get to ISP before the cruise ship departed, we gladly hopped aboard for the 1.6 mile ride. When we arrived at ISP, the cruise ship mania was winding down…it was about 1:45 and the last tender back to the cruise ship was at 2:30. This meant that we could look around without encountering large masses of people which suited us just fine. ISP was fun to walk around, and we saw the zip line (the world’s longest they claim) and though about it for a few minutes before the high price tag (Over $120) turned us off. It’s nicely done, ISP, and there are lots of shops and things to entice cruise shippers to part with their hard earned cash. We helped the Hoonah economy when Bob bought a frozen yogurt. We sat outside and watched the people returning to their ship, and saw a whale quite close bubble feeding. Bob thinks this whale is hired by the cruise ships to be part of the planned entertainment. Me? I’m not so sure. Still, it was fun to watch.

We take a stroll along the ISP boardwalk

The ravens are everywhere. These guys are looking for handouts.

Tourist time

As the last of the Celebrity Cruise folks from the Millennium were leaving, we started walking around.  Another Celebrity Cruise ship, the Mercury, came in before the Millennium left, ensuring that ISP would remain open until 9pm or so. We timed it perfectly, between the crowds from either ship.

About as close to a cruise ship as we're likely to get

Only one road in town, but the bureaucrats placed a sign just in case

We walked back to town and stopped to pick up a few provisions at the Hoonah Trading Company. It was well stocked other than with protein.  Then we headed back to Arctic Star to “pick” the crab that had been boiled earlier. As the mist was pretty much done, we put two chairs on the back deck and grabbed crab “crackers” and “picks” and got to work. It took us 1 hour and 2 beers to pick all the crab.  We filled a large bowl with the succulent meat.

Time to pick the crab

Then we went back to Misty Bay Lodge to enjoy the famed Halibut Pizza, which was good but outrageously filling. We walked the docks and talked to the folks aboard the Nordic Tug Augenblick, Sherrie and Bill from Anacortes, WA. They were super nice, and we enjoyed meeting them.

Misty Bay Lodge is the home of the not to be missed Halibut Pizza

The docks at Hoonah

Fisherman are a breed to themselves and they are proud of it.

Red Bluff Bay

The sun is in control today. The skies are clear. It’s amazing. Our plan is to wait for high tide and paddle the kayaks up the river as far as we can.

Karen woke quite early, and was up at 5:30am to see what was going on in the anchorage. About 6am, a tender from the Maple Leaf sailboat was filled with 10 people and headed to shore, disappearing into a swale for some sort of hike. Karen was quite happy to be warmly ensconced in our boat, sipping on coffee and waiting for me to awake.  Not long after the tender returned to the sailboat, both it and the wooden boat Discovery headed out to find greener pastures. Given that the small sailboat “Summer Wind II” had also departed early, we had this glorious anchorage to ourselves for a while.

About 9:45am, Karen spotted a grizzly on shore, our first-ever sighting. The bear was quite camoflauged against the reddish low tide shores, but we were able to watch for a while before he disappeared at a trot up that same swale the passengers from Maple Leaf had walked a few hours earlier! And then around the corner came…Sonata!

While we waited for the flood to come in, Karen set up camp on the foredeck with her Nook and consumed a couple of more books. She is up to 33 books read so far on this trip. Only the horseflies drove her back inside.

As the tide rose, so did the winds. We launched the kayaks with 15 knots of winds quartering from our sterns with light chop in the bay. We made good courses that kept the waves quartered on the bow. This was a non-direct course, but a much better paddle. Once near the opposite shore, the relative wind and waves were astern and we paddled the entrance to the river.

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The entrance to the river at the head at Red Bluff Bay

We made our way up the river, riding the flood tide for about a third the distance. Then we found the outflow from the river creating turbulence where it met the tide, so we started to paddle harder. We managed to get within 50 yards of the navigable end, when the current got the better of us. No matter our stroke, we could do no better than hold our position.

After a quick 180 degree course reversal, we joined up and rode the current out. As we approached the end of the river and the entrance to the bay, we ran into headwinds again and more chop. It was a hard paddle back to Arctic Star. We’ll chalk this up as our daily exercise session.

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Our friends on Sonata arrive in Red Bluff Bay

The rest of the afternoon was spent relaxing, looking for more bear (unsuccessfully), watching other boats come in (like the Nordic Tug Kirkwall), doing fuel calculations to determine our route options and generally enjoying the perfect weather conditions.


Dinner of Beef Bolognese over penne




Gut Bay to Red Bluff Bay

Mickie’s Winter Basin in Gut Bay proved to be a spectacular place. The morning started with the usual overcast, but the sun soon started to part the clouds. After seeing me running all over the decks of Arctic Star with my camera, Lee from Sonata came over in his tender and offered to drive me around for some better angles. That’s the kind of people you meet while cruising.

It was low tide, so we went over to the entrance to take a look and snap a few images for future reference. I managed to take a couple of nice photos of Sonata and Arctic Star. I wanted to get a really nice “portrait” of Sonata for Lee that I could send him in thanks.

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Sonata sits in front of the large waterfall

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Sonata looks majestic against the backdrop of granite and waterfalls

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Sometimes Arctic Star looks big, and other times, as here she looks small

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Arctic Star in Margie's Winter Basin

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It doesn't get much more spectacular than this

As we wrapped up our photo mission, Lee suggested that we go out and check his prawn traps in the large Gut Bay around the corner. We swung by Arctic Star and let Karen know our plans and also picked up Dave from Sonata, and off we went. As I mentioned, it was just coming up off of low tide so we only had just enough water for Lee’s tender to make it though with only one bump at the bow. Going though at low tide gave us all a great mental picture of the narrow passage that would come in handy later when we departed at high tide.

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Checking in with Karen to let her know “the boys” are off for a little adventure

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Leaving the entrance to Mickie's Winter Basin near low tide give you a good look at the contours of the passage

I’ve been out with a few people before to tend to prawn and crab pots, but Lee definitely has it figured out. The wide beam of the boat combined with the electric retrieval wench made easy work of hauling in 300 foot of line with two prawn pots at the bitter end. I took notes of the technique for using floating line with weights to prevent the line snagging on rocks. All in all, a great learning experience, and by-the-by, the pots did contain a nice harvest of prawns. Apparently, while I was gone having fun, Karen cleaned the boat and opened it up to get some fresh air inside after all the rain. Wonder who had more fun?

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Lee mans the hoist to retrieve the prawn pots

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Transferring the catch to the awaiting bucket

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Sonata's tender is a great way to get around

Waiting for high tide that was predicted for around 1 pm, I continued to take pictures of this beautiful place as the clouds and light danced across the mountains, trees and water.

Critters have been a little scarce in this bay. The beach is perfect for bear, but all that we have seen on the beach is a Sitka Black Tail deer. I did manage to spot a Bald Eagle landing on the shore line and then eating a catch from earlier. Not very pretty, but interesting to watch.

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A Bald Eagle working on a tasty morsel for and earlier catch

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Karen polishes off another book on her Nook

As high tide approached, we lifted the anchor, along with a lot of sticky mud and some kelp. It’s a pain to clean off, but makes for a secure night’s sleep. Of course, as we departed, the wind started to funnel in through the narrow opening, making for some additional fun.

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Blue skies make an appearance at Mickie's Winter Basin

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Good holding in Mickie's Winter Basin

The narrow entrance to Mickie’s Winter Basin was traversed by following the course we used coming in. The area that was nothing but large rocks and rapids when I saw it this morning at low tide in Lee’s tender was now smooth with a moderate outflow. We passed over those same large boulders that were now just below the surface.

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Leaving Mickie's Winter Basin at high tide makes for a safe passage

Our destination was not far. We decided to anchor at the head of the adjacent large bay at the mouth of the river. Into the kayaks we went to enjoy a paddle up the river. From the end of the open portion of the river we made it another 100 yards into a large 1 foot deep “pond”. This area will dry quickly when the tide goes out only leaving the narrow stream, but for now it was tranquil. However, I didn’t want to dally long, as I had no intention of portaging my kayak if the tide got too low. We reversed course and rode the river’s flow into the receding tidal flow.

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Karen paddling around the shallow “pond”

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Karen playing around the head of the river. The area is a rocky falls when the tide recedes.

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Gut Bay is large but beautiful

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Karen is dwarfed by the surrounding mountains

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These boulders sit “on the beach” at low water

When we returned to Arctic Star, we had been joined in the anchorage by our friends on Sonata. A quick pass by in the kayaks and fond farewells were exchanged until we meet again.

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Sonata and Arctic Star anchored in Gut Bay

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Saying goodbye to Lee on Sonata

There is an interesting phenomenon that we witnessed in this area where fresh water runs into a body of salt water. The fresh water sits on top at a depth of six feet or so. At the top of saltwater layer there forms a layer of algae. When you look into the water you think you are seeing the bottom, but it’s only this thin layer of green life. I’ve never seen this before, but we have now observed it a couple of times on the last few days.

With the kayaks on board, we headed north to Red Bluff Bay. This is a similar alpine feeling location to Gut Bay, but one that is much more popular. There are a couple of spectacular waterfalls in the entrance channel and the drying beaches are known to be frequented by brown bear.

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The entrance to Red Bluff Bay

There was only one sailboat in the anchorage when we arrived. Karen was predicting there would be six boats, so we felt lucky. Around 7:30 pm a classic motor vessel Discovery anchored. They look as if they do “adventure cruising” in this 1930’s-ish motor yacht. The passengers were all on deck enjoying the views as the vessel approached and anchored. But as soon as the anchor was set, all hands disappeared to the main salon, presumably for dinner.

Another hour or two passed when we spotted a two masted steel sailing vessel. The Maple Leaf out of Canada made her appearance. The passengers on this ship where also out on deck. However they were all bundled up as if they had spent most of the day on deck in the elements. Such is the differences between a sailing and a motor vessel. She also anchored and we enjoyed watching the alpenglow over the mountains before heading off to bed.

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Another beautiful sunset in Red Bluff Bay

Dusky Cove to Goat Island

This morning was only half fog with the sun working hard to break through. I awoke early so we could launch the kayaks at low tide.  This is a great cove to explore when the water is low and the drying mud flats attract the gulls and other foraging birds for breakfast.


Exploring the mud flats with the gulls

It’s always amazing to see dry land at low tide at the same place you came through at high tide in the dinghy. We paddled around the various islets that guard Dusky Cove exploring the drying shoreline. Crabs, a few sea stars, clams and a few small fish were the highlights of the shallow water. Our friends the seals never made an appearance, much to the disappointment of Karen.


Lots of islets to explore in and around Dusky Cove


Heading back to Arctic Star

Once all were secure again on Arctic Star, we listened to the whaleboats in order to find out what the Orcas were up to at Cracroft Point. Our plan is to go sightseeing for Orcas and Humpbacks and then determine where our anchorage is going to be for the night.

Our quest was realized as we found Humpback whales in Blackfish Sound first and then found ourselves surrounded by Orcas in Broughton Strait. The area in Blackfish was almost exactly the same location we had seen humpbacks the last two days. Same for the Orcas, they are mostly local pods, so they frequent the same areas every day, making the whale watching business a success in this area. All and all, we spent a couple of hours watching both species of whales.






Where you find whales, you'll find gulls...Lots of gulls


Modern whale watching boat


Classic whale watching boat

After all the communing with the marine life we pointed the bow of Arctic Star to Goat Island to enjoy a quite night in one of our favorite anchorages. Maybe we’ll spot the same bear we saw a few days ago!