Swanson Harbor to Auke Bay, Juneau

It’s almost over. Today is our last day on the water. In fact, it’s only a half day, because the boat is due back at noon. We got an early start, and with the weather and tides cooperating ,we had a nice ride to Auke Bay. Karen and I trade duties at the helm; an hour at the helm then an hour packing. Whenever Karen took the helm, though, the waves would get rougher and the traffic more dense. Go figure.

Our hopes were that we would see some humpbacks as we turned the corner around Point Couverden. But they were nowhere to be found. We did see a little activity as we approached Auke Bay near one of the green cans, but it was just a couple of blows and we did not stop. As we were in that area, though, we once again spotted Northern Song and chatted up Captain Mike as he headed to take a look at the whales before also going to Auke Bay.

Our first stop at Auke Bay was for fuel. There are two fuel docks, but we only saw the one that’s visible as you pass the harbor entrance. The dock was extremely small, and was full except for the area around back. Karen thought there was no way I could get Arctic Star into that dock, but I did. There was one young man on the fuel docks with his nose buried in his high school math textbook. He finally did come out from the “fuel shack” and helped Karen tie up.

We indicated that #2 diesel was what we wanted, but he just stood there. He finally informed us that he was not allowed to hand us the fuel nozzle because they did not want the liability of putting the wrong fuel in a boat. In fact, all he could say was “the green handle was our friend.” Silly, and in my opinion, a lawyer would have a field day with their approach if it ever came to that.

After we took on 300+ gallons of diesel and a couple of gallons of gas for the dinghy, we called our friends at Northwest Explorations to see if they had a preferred spot they where they wanted us to tie up. Auke Bay is a first come, first serve harbor, so we did not know what to expect. The day before when the Mother Goose boats arrived, there was very little space and they were spread all throughout the harbor. Just this morning they were able to move the boats and consolidate their location. Luckily, they also had a great spot for us.

Bill Douglass and Emmelina helped us tie up. Bill demonstrated a new method to tie up to the bull-rails that you find everywhere in the Pacific Northwest. It was shown to him by another cruiser, but since I did not catch that person's name, I call it the Douglass Hitch. It will become our preferrd method to tie up. Here a video of Bill's demonstration.

Brian Pemberton and Bill then greeted us with the replacement control head for the stabilizers in hand and a new fathometer for the helm station. The next charterers would have absolutely everything in perfect working order!

As they began their repairs, we began the process of unloading. Brian was kind enough to take me and my 35 pounds of frozen fish to a Jerry's Meats & Seafoods so I could have them pack adn ship it to my home. Next, he took me to the airport to pick up our rental car. Now that's a full service charter company.

I had rented from Budget, but later found out from Brian that Rent-A-Wreck is the way to go. Their cars are not wrecks and they deliver to the docks and the price is right. We hung out with the Mother Goose fleet for a while longer, then headed off to our Hotel, Grandma’s Feather Bed, a cute Victorian not far from Auke Bay that is actually part of the Best Western Chain. We offloaded and then drove over to the Mendenhall Glacier to scope it out for more exploration the following day, followed by a quick walk through town and a drink at the bar in the Westmark Baranoff hotel. We capped off a great day with extremely tasty pizza and Alaskan Amber on Douglas Island at The Island Pub, which was very laid back indeed.

Bartlett Cove to Swanson Harbor

We enjoyed a good night at anchor in Bartlett Cove. We rose to a pretty morning, bid farewell to Glacier Bay, and started the forty mile journey over to Swanson Harbor.

Saying goodbye to Barlett Cove. Left to right: The Lodge, the docks and the fuel dock.

We follow one of our fellow cruisers out of Glacier Bay

It is Friday, and as Swanson is a favorite spot for the local Juneau-ites, we wanted to get there early so we could find a place on one of the public floats. We ticked off the miles without much activity. We looked for whales, but except for a few spouts, there was not much exuberant activity to see. There was the occasional halibut fisherman, jigging on a pillar that rose to about 150 feet in the channel that averages over 600 feet.

Halibut fisherman punctuate Icy Strait

To our surprise, we did pass a raft of otters. As with most of their brethren, they gave us a look, but continued on with their lives without a care.

Pretty darn cute. But they just need to stop eating all the crabs.

When we arrived at Swanson, there were only two boats on one of the floats and the other float was empty. I set course for the uninhabited float and tucked Arctic Star at the end, with the bow set for an easy departure tomorrow. The floats at Swanson Harbor are humble but functional.

The tide was low and the water on the shore-side of the float looked very thin indeed. We have been assured by others who have done so, that there is plenty of water for a Grand Banks our size (draft 4.5 feet) to dock on the shore-side, but I happily chose the deeper side. The disadvantage of this side is that as the wind comes up from the west, you’re sitting abeam the fetch and you do get rocked a bit. Swanson Harbor is divided from the other rocky bay on Couverden Island by a ledge that is hugely visible at low tide and home to an eagle that simply sat and watched us, barely moving for the longest time.

The "other" float in Swanson Harbor at high tide

As time passed, the “locals” began to make their way to Swanson Harbor. Eventually five almost identical 27 foot boats tied up on our float. Out came the portable chairs, barbecues, coolers, and kayaks. The dogs, the beer, the kids — all added to the commotion that descended upon the previously serene docks. Having said that, the people were friendly and we shared a common love of the water and Alaska. Plus, I made their day by giving them soy sauce and fresh garlic to marinate their salmon.

Somewhere between the arrival of the first three small boats and the last two, a 72 foot Delta yacht decided to make our float his destination. He was definitely out of place. The other large boats in the harbor set their anchor on in the west side of the harbor, in the lee of the land. The captains of the small boats grumbled out loud a lot, insinuating that the large Delta did not belong on this float. Eventually, as the last small boat arrived, the small boat owners moved the large Delta to the bitter end of the float by walking it forward, and all were accommodated.

Full float at Swanson Harbor

Our time was split between relaxing and packing. We’ve found that if we spread out the packing over a day or two, it’s a lot less stressful. Nothing signals that your vacation is coming to an end as much as packing and cleaning up the boat. What I never understand how it seems that there is less room when you’re packing to return home even though you’ve not bought anything during the trip.

We broke up the afternoon by enjoying Alaskan Amber Ale up on the flybridge and taking in our last night on the boat in Alaska.

Captain Chef Bob at the helm galley