Ketchikan to Kasaan

After yesterday’s gale that blew through Ketchikan, this morning is calm and clearing for our departure.

We had sympathy for the Celebrity Infinity whose docking yesterday in the gale was made famous on YouTube. The current as we left Thomas Basin lived up to its reputation. Although we had a close encounter with the pilings as we made our way into Tongass Narrows, we did not suffer the fate of the Infinity that is now sporting a large scrape on her boarding side. I wonder if the Captain had the mishap painted over while the passengers were enjoying the lumberjack “competition” in town.

While there were a few cruising boats leaving Ketchikan as we departed, including the smile-inducing Disney Wonder, we soon parted ways as we crossed Clarence Strait to make our course to Kasaan. Kasaan is one of two Haida Villages in Alaska (the other is Hydaburg).  Kasaan is home to the only standing Haida longhouse in the United States, the Chief Son-i-Hat Whale House. It is in the last stages of renovation with a planned re-dedication in September, 2016. Historically, the docks at Kasaan were best described as “awash”. That is now not the case, with the open harbor now enjoying beautiful new docks worthy of a much larger city.

A sure sign your have arrived in Kasaan

Not all signage is traditonal

The shore comes up quick here and with the 20 foots tides, and a minus 5 foot low, we chose to tie on the outside. The inside of the docks would be fine in high water, but our morning departure would be delayed waiting for enough water to get between the docks and the shore. Out on the west end, we never saw less than 27 feet on a minus 5 foot tide.

Mind the tides

We saw only one other boat on the docks, a local couple that was about to head out for some time on the water. They pointed us in the direction of the long house, and asked “Are you carrying?”  While Karen was slow to catch on, I immediately understood that they were strongly suggesting we carry some sort of bear protection!

Follow the signs to the long house

It’s a 1.75 mile walk to the long house. About 1/3 of the journey is on local roads and the remainder on one of the nicest forest paths I have ever seen. Karen commented that she thought you could push a wheel chair along the tree-lined path it so flat, wide, smooth and free of obstacles.

Great path on the way to the Chief Son-i-Hat Whale House.

At the transition from the road to the path is the Totem Trail Café. Set up to serve the mini-adventure cruise boats that visit the area, it looks as if it could seat 100 people. Open from 7am until 3:30pm Tuesday through Saturday, they have a full menu and are very friendly. We stopped briefly on our way back and I can vouch that their smoothies are delicious.

We were not expecting to see such a modern facility as the Totem Trail Café.

Inside the Totem Trail Café.

The work on the long house was almost complete. There are some amazing restored totems inside the longhouse.

Inside the Chief Son-i-Hat Whale House

Surrounding the compound are a wide range of totems dating from the 1930’s to more contemporary installations. It represents one of the best selections of intact and restored totems you will find in Southeast Alaska.

 A very traditional styled totem

A not so traditional totem. Have the guides tell you why this totem is topped with this figure.

Anybody else see Bozo the Clown in this totem.

There is a view to the beach, and a short trail that allows you access to walk along the shore. It’s easy to imagine the Haida landing their canoes!

Guided tours are available by contacting O.V.K. at 907-542-2230. 

We had a very quiet night. The weather was calm, and we were they only transient boat on the docks, with just a few local skiffs and some eagles for company. The views down the channel were lovely, with the only traffic being the Inter-Island ferry on its way to Hollis.

OceanFlyer on the new docks at Kasaan.

The name Kasaan come from the Tlingit word meaning “pretty town”. We definitely agree.

Sitka to Klag Bay

We’re off!

We’ve been contemplating this journey to Prince William Sound for almost two years now. We’ll be traveling farther north than we ever have before. We’ll have longer legs, some 24 hours long; that too will be a new experience. And we’ll be exploring areas that few pleasure boats visit.

We have lots of confidence in our boat and in our preparation. Now, with a little cooperation from the winds and seas, we should enjoy these new waters as they pass under our hull.

Heading north out of Sitka, we worked our way through Olga Strait and then through Whitestone Narrows. These “shortcuts” are well charted and well-marked, allowing you to cut off many less-protected miles in the ocean. The weather was gloomy with only 2 miles visibility and rain that vacillated between light to moderate.

Fresh fruit does not last long, so we "eat it up" in the first few days of the trip. Strawberry, blueberry, granola and Greek yogurt parfait for breakfast.

We passed the M/V Explorer, a National Geographic tour vessel.

The range in the Narrows was one of many well positioned aids to navigation.

Simple construction, but it gets the job done.

After making our way between Klokahef Island and Chichagof Island,  we emerged to enter the ocean which was confused to say the least. The seas, at four to six feet plus the occasional “surprise” wave, kept the boat in motion and gave the stabilizers a workout. We were truly grateful for the stabilizers!

OceanFlyer rode well, and our new GARMIN nav system was awesome, but as we turned into the entrance of Piehle Pass, it turned out we would be in for an interesting ride. Why does that always happen when you have the toughest navigational challenges and smallest fairways? We watched Deception and Patos ride the waves through the pass with no issue. But just as we crossed the bar, a roguish wave gave us a big roll and jog to starboard. Karen, sitting in the alternate portable (but quite sturdy) helm chair in the galley, was thrown out of her seat. The chair went flying, and she landed sprawled across my lap at the helm. No injuries, but what a surprise. Once we were inside the pass, the waters calmed just as fast as they rose. Karen’s pride, however, took a few more minutes to return fully.

Deception took the lead as we entered Klag Bay through “The Gate”. As we approached the head, suddenly, Brian came on the radio and said that they just “touched” bottom. We all noted Deception’s location on the chart using his AIS target, and modified our course to avoid going where they touched. It was not charted to be shallow there. Fortunately it was soft mud, so it was no more consequential than a rude wake up for the Deception crew.

Give the rock and shallows on the west side a respectful distance. NOT FOR NAVIGATION

Talking with Brian later, he was amazed they found a shallow spot as he had been to Klag Bay many times and traveled over that same “spot” without incident. It’s a good lesson on how the bottom can shift and change over time.

Klag Bay is very well protected and offers a good holding mud bottom in 15-20 feet. After we all set anchor and settled in, it was a short dinghy ride to explore the old abandoned gold mines with Emily and Rowan from Deception and the crew of Patos.  

Klag Bay landing party.

Emily, the naturalist, looking for gold.

Finding lots of derelict and rusty machinery, we enjoyed trying to determine what each piece of equipment may have been used for in the mining operation. Some of them were really interesting and would have made great “garden art”! As part of the shore party climbed a bit higher they reported some fresh bear scat so they quickly rejoined us at the lower mine entrance. After all, you only need to be able to run faster than the next slowest person, so we all found safety in numbers.

The abandoned gold mine site in Klag Bay.

We had appetizers and drinks on Deception to get to know everyone a little better and talk about tomorrow’s run to Elfin Cove.  We were too lazy to redeploy our dinghy, so we hitched a ride over to Deception with Lance on “Little T”. As the sun was “setting”, a term we use very loosely in these high latitudes (given that we did not stay up until 11:30 which is the time of official sunset!), the clouds started to break up. Maybe that’s a good omen for tomorrow.

Deception enjoying the "sunset" in Klag Bay.

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

Reid Inlet to North Sandy Cove, via Glaciers

Reid Inlet provided us with a most welcome peaceful night, and we caught up on some of the sleep we lost in Blue Mouse Cove. In the morning, we watched the crews of Northwest Explorations’ Mother Goose fleet get underway. I called the lead ship Deception and offered to take some photos of her with the glacier in the background. As the Grand Banks came abeam Arctic Star,the captain chose to make a disparaging comment on my attire; I was still in my “jammies.” His mistake. As they passed I lowered my camera, turned around and mooned the crew. Not exactly how they expected to start their day.

Deception departs Reid Inlet after being "mooned"

One of the big cruise ships (only 2 allowed in per day) passed Reid Inlet on their way north to see the other glaciers. Shortly thereafter a second big cruise ship headed up the same way. We did some calculations and decided to have breakfast before we set off for the same destination. We hoped they would be leaving as we arrived. For the past week, Karen had been watching the weather in hopes of timing our day at the glaciers so that we had the best weather of the week; sunshine was in our hopes. Her calculations and prayers worked. It was a beautiful morning. There were clouds in the area, but where we were, the sun came out and started to dominate the view.

Granite and clouds define the landscape...until the sun comes out

When the clouds retreat, the mountains advance

We left Reid Inlet with a final farewell to this cool glacier and lovely anchorage. The anchor came up covered in thin, sticky glacier silt. Karen had her hands full getting it clean. We decided to head to Lamplugh Glacier first and take a look down Johns Hopkins Inlet (closed to motorized vehicles at the present time) before heading up Tarr Inlet to the Margerie and Grand Pacific Glaciers.

The Coral Princess makes its way from glacier to glacier

As we neared Lamplugh, we saw one of the large cruise ships coming out. I called him on VHF 13 to learn his intentions and set up a port to port pass. This was the Coral Princess, heading from Lamplugh up to Tarr Inlet, and she would be no factor for us. We thought we’d have this area all to ourselves when we heard the 2nd cruise ship call the Coral Princessand arrange a port to port pass as well in Tarr Inlet. That told us that the 2nd cruise ship was likely to be coming into our view shortly.

We spent some time at Lamplugh Glacier, drifting in front of it and snapping away with the cameras. It was so sunny and bright, and the glacier was quite attractive with some snow covered hills in the background. Shortly thereafter, the Norwegian Pearl poked her nose around the corner on the far shore from where we were. I spoke with the captain about his intentions, and we arranged it so that he would follow the far shore to Jaw Point, hover there to afford his passengers a great view, and then we’d kind of trade places. We enjoyed watching him maneuver, and we suspect that many of the passengers took photos of our boat. We were lazing about at idle, with Karen lying in the sun on the bow, one head on a fender as a cushion. Pretty nice.

Lamplugh Glacier's blue is striking against the granite grey and snow white mountains

Waiting for the cruise ship to move on so we can get a good view of the Johns Hopkins glacier

The Johns Hopkins Glacier and its surrounds

It's hard to resist taking lots of pictures around here

Caught you!

You too!



What was even nicer was the view down Johns Hopkins. Wow…it looked like the Matterhorn in the background with a lovely glacier spilling down to the sea. We took lots of pictures before heading north up Tarr Inlet. As we headed North, we passed the Coral Princess again (she was southbound now) and a small pocket cruiser…and then we had the two glaciers all to ourselves for the entire 2 hours or so we hung out there.

The Grand Pacific Glacier at the head of Tarr Inlet is massive at over 34 miles in length and 2 miles wide at its face. However, the face looks like a big pile of dirt; not very photogenic. really unattractive and extremely dirty…it looks like a dirty wall rather than a glacier. Only from a distance can you see the ice “road” of the glacier.

The Grand Pacific Glacier has a very dirty face

Luckily for us, the Margerie Glacier was just off to port, and this was the glacier Karen noted was the primary photo opportunity. It is much more of what you expect in a glacier. White with glacier blue and a sheer face that calves and launch bergie bits into the water with a resounded retort.

Margerie Glacier is the most photogenic of the lot

It was gorgeous, a pretty blue with big spires of ice. We worked our way through all the bergie bits to get close enough for photos and we drifted for a long while, watching the glacier, taking photos and watching some calving. We also noticed that the sun was deciding to go away, and clouds were moving in, especially back down the way we had to depart.

One of the nice features of the glaciers in Glacier Bay is that the approached as not typically clogged with ice. It is not difficult to approach and most of the ice is small and widely spaced. You can do all the glacier watching you want here and never leave and of your hull paint or gel coat behind.

Not hard to understand why we do this, is it?

Karen must have had too much sun today. She's getting goofy.

So around 2, we headed southbound to check out a possibly anchorage at Russell Island, not far from Reid Inlet where we had spent the prior evening. A quick check showed that this was “OK” but not super, and so we decided that we might as well head south to North Sandy Cove. This would allow us to get well south of Blue Mouse Cove, and should also provide some bear watching opportunities. There wasn’t much wind, so the southbound travel was quite pleasant rather than slamming into the wind and seas as we had seen other boats do earlier in the week.

About 7:30 or so we arrived at North Sandy, to find not only our Mother Goose friends, but two other boats. We saw a black bear ashore as we checked out anchorages, and finally dropped anchor in about 35’ of water at high tide. We chatted briefly via VHF with Brian on Deception, and watched some of the dinghy activity going on around us while we had a late dinner and a great bottle of wine. We settled in for a quite night with plans to explore the cove in the morning before heading south to Bartlett Cove.

North Sandy Cove has a lot to recommend it, including the views