LINGERING IN WRANGELL

This morning I decided to stay a couple of extra days in Wrangell.  It’s a friendly little place so it’s no chore to linger a while longer.  I also want to get a couple of stainless bits made up for the boat for an autopilot modification I want to try out.  The handy engineer guy here is very good, I don’t expect to get better elsewhere so it makes sense to get the job done here.

Wrangell Harbour at low water. Photo Ray Penson
Wrangell Harbour at low water. Photo Ray Penson

Today in have been trying my hand at fairing in the shaft strut using epoxy filler.  I am not the most skilful in this sector, the result so far looks very amateurish.  I am hoping that by tomorrow the filler will have set rock hard to allow me to sand it into a fairer hydrodynamic shape.

This afternoon I managed to get some fresh lemon from a lady selling organic produce.  Part of it is now floating around in a rum and coke – got to get vitamins somehow.

I went for a walk around town, literally around the outside of the town.  People kept stopping their trucks asking if I wanted a lift.  I have noticed that people don’t tend to walk to places in Alaska.  Some of the houses here have well-kept gardens, you don’t see much of that in Alaska, at least not the parts I have been to.

I am scheduling to launch Truce back into the water on Wednesday morning.  The plan is then to resume the voyage southward down the inside passage and stop off at Anan Creak to see bears catching and feeding on Salmon.  One of the guys here told me there are so many salmon running up the stream that both Brown and Black bears come to fish at the same place.

Anan Bears here I come.

HEADING SOUTH TO VICTORIA

This morning Ngozi departed Truce on her way back to New Zealand.  The Harbourmaster at Hoonah very generously gave her a lift up to the airport.  I am now alone again and have missed having company today.  And no, it’s not just to have help with the cooking and cleaning!

The voyage from Canoe Cove to Glacier Bay has been a great experience for me.  I have experienced rain, cold, headwinds, glorious days, calm nights, wildlife, interesting people and made new friends along the way.  Truce has proved to be a wonderful little boat, well built, comfortable, capable of looking after me and tolerating my mistakes.  The next voyage to the south will mean a bit of backtracking but I will try and avoid visiting previous stops.

I was a bit lazy this morning, probably a bit flat after Ngozi departing.  Eventually I managed to get off the dock and headed out into Icy Strait, still not sure what route to take south, only knowing I was heading east first.  Once I got into the Strait a westerly breeze picked up and I set all sail, so relaxing to be sailing and switch the motor off.  At the east end of Icy Strait, the wind shifted to the south, blowing up Clarence Strait.  My route was now decided, I was not going down Clarence Strait, I sailed up Lynn Canal with a good following breeze.  I will now head down Stephens Passage, into Frederick Sound and Wrangell Narrows.  This is all new territory for me.

The weather was very warm today with clear visibility.  I was sailing in just a pair of shorts in brilliant sunshine, sparking seas with vistas of snow-capped mountains and glaciers.  Magical.  There was a lot of boat traffic about today, fishing boats, sports boats, tourist boats, the most I have seen in Alaska.  Auke seems to be the centre for boating out of Juneau.

After sailing for seven hours today, mostly not too fast, I have anchored in Auke Bay for the evening.  In the anchorage there is another yacht, a French yacht also heading south.  The anchorage is a bit bumpy due to all the boat traffic passing by at high speed, also a bit noisy with 3 jet skis buzzing around and music coming from the shore.  This place looks like a holiday destination with nice homes doted along the shore line.  Total voyage distance 41.4 miles.

ELFIN COVE ARRIVAL

My new friend Red stopped by last night with a beautiful thick piece of King Salmon.  I cooked it for lunch today – I am stuffed.  There is still more to eat, what a chore.

Sea to Plate in an Hour. Photo Ray Penson
Sea to Plate in an Hour. Photo Ray Penson

Last night in Roses Bar I met a lady from Anchorage who has 57 dogs for pulling sledges.  Interesting to hear how they work and travel.  The dogs can cover fifty miles a day easily, camp out at night and do it again the next day.  Its not a good idea to fall off the sledge as the dogs don’t stop.  A bit like falling overboard when the boat is on autopilot I suppose.

I enjoyed my stay in Pelican, described as ‘a drinking village with a fishing problem’.  I have seen other places in Alaska described the same way.  They certainly do catch a lot of fish.

This morning was raining, wet, overcast, misty and generally damp all over.  Gradually it cleared and this afternoon I had a spectacular view of Glacier Bay mountains and the Brady Glacier in the distance across Cross Sound.

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This morning we crossed fifty-eight degrees North.  It sounds a lot but in reality it’s the same as North Scotland, I used to work much higher latitudes in the North Sea.  It’s just the topography here make sit so unique in close proximity to the mighty North Pacific Ocean and its massive weather systems.

On the trip up from Pelican I saw a whale ahead.  I was standing in the cockpit looking ahead for him and he surfaced next to the boat.  The first I knew was when I heard the explosive sound of his exhale, I nearly jumped out my skin.  I saw the first Puffins today, my book tells me they are Horned Puffins and not tufted Puffins.

Yesterday I was doing a bit of cleaning up and contemplating where all the hair and bits come from.  It’s the human body of course, constantly shedding skin and hair.  I then got to thinking that the boat is a bit like a spaceship, self-contained, life support systems on board and you can’t get off once underway.  Now on a boat all the body bits get swept up and dumped overboard, its easy.  But what about in a spaceship or a spacesuit?  Could a stray clump of belly button fluff shut down a spaceship?  I bet NASA know a lot about body bit management and how to stop stray hairs fouling up oxygen generators.  Maybe that was why the first astronauts were all clean shaved before a mission.  The Russians must have cracked the problem early, they sent a hairy monkey on the first flight (Imagine trying to shave a monkey).

Seaplane landing next to boat entering Elfin Cove .Photo Ray Penson
Seaplane landing next to boat entering Elfin Cove .Photo Ray Penson

Anyway, Elfin Cove looks like an interesting place.  Its built on boardwalks around a double cove.  Like Pelican the winter population shrinks to about fifty or sixty hardy souls.  There is a school, post office, store, fuel dock and bar-restaurant.  Holiday homes and fishing lodges are springing up around the cove.  At the moment its buzzing with fishermen.  Tomorrow I may head over to the North side of Cross Sound towards Brady Glacier – weather dependent.  Total voyage distance 1,343.1 miles.

Logged 30th June 2016

CHICHAGOF ISLAND

Many times when crossing the North Pacific by ship I have looked at the chart and wondered about Chichagof Island.  In my mind the name has a mystery and provokes thoughts of early Russian explores and traders.  Well, I am here now, although I have yet to set foot on its wet soggy ground.  All I have seen so far is mist, low cloud, a few thousand tress and lots of rain.

This morning I set out in the hope of a good sail up the coast, there was a small craft advisory issued with South Easterly winds, 25 knots.  The first hour was fine sailing and we had all sail set making good time.  Then the wind died and a lumpy sea from the quarter and swell from the beam made life unbearable, we had to motor as there was not enough wind to fill the sails.  Neither Truce or I like the sea from the stern quarter, she squirms and rolls and I hang on swearing at anything and everything.  Then it started raining in a fashion that inspired Noah to take up shipbuilding.

After a couple of hours in the blender we made smooth passage and chugged up, wet and bedraggled, to the anchorage for the night.  This is typical Alaska, two or three glorious days followed by a couple of shockers.  No sun again today.  It’s funny how the mind works, after a short time you forget the horrid days and just remember the good ones.

The whales made an appearance again today, one was breaching, coming out of the water vertically and then arching over onto its back.  It gave me quite a fright at first as I saw the splash ahead and thought we were running into breakers, we were running in-between breakers and rocks at the time.

Once at anchor I dried off and warmed up with a brew.  Then got to making some bread, a couple of hours later the cabin was warm and full of the smell of fresh bread, lovely.  I am anchored in Kimshan Cove on Chichagof island.  There are the remains of a jetty and some buildings on the shore, part of an abandoned gold mining venture on Dooth Mountain close by.  No sign of humans ashore now, just some deer feeding on the grass between the trees and water’s edge.

Tomorrow I will make an effort to get to White Sulphur Hot Springs.  A fisherman told me about them, supposed to be fantastic with a newly build cabin and hot pool.  The only access is by boat.  Entry into the anchorage is tricky and requires local knowledge but my fisherman friend says it’s not too bad and most of the rocks are visible.  Of course it’s the visible rocks that you don’t normally bump into!  I will plan my entry for low water.  Total voyage distance 1,284.7 miles.

Logged 26th June 2016

HUMPBACK BREACHING

Thank you Warm Springs Bay, I had a most enjoyable stay and the weather has been fabulous.  But after three nights alongside the dock it’s time to move on.  My friends, Steve, Bob and Noel have departed north and south and I was in the company of fishing boats and their crews last night.

We sailed at eight this morning to ride the tide up Chatham Strait.  The forecast was for southerly winds ten knots.  As it was a light wind forecast I left the dinghy in the water.  When we got out into the strait the wind picked up and the short seas from the quarter made life very uncomfortable.  It was obvious the dinghy had to get on deck or she would be lost.  I ran for shelter into Takatz Bay and in calm water hoisted the dinghy on deck and set off again.  What a relief not to have the pig dragging behind threatening to destroy the self-steering.

Once out in Chatham Strait again the wind increased and the rain arrived.  I knew it would rain, the forecast said ‘Chance of showers’ in Alaska that means it’s going to piss down.  Under the jib with wind from astern we made six knots and this attracted the Dolphins who came to play around the bow.  These were the Pacific White-Sided Dolphin variety, real show offs.  They stayed for about twenty minutes, I say on the bow shouting and whistling at them, which I am sure they appreciated and enjoyed.

A little further on I was surprised to see a Humpback Whale breach about a mile ahead.  A few minutes later it breached again but closer, we were sailing towards the whales who were moving slowly in the same direction as us.  I got a couple of photos, but when the whale breached very close by the camera didn’t take the shot.  Maybe I was too excited and didn’t tap the screen hard enough.  What a shame it would have been an excellent close up shot.

Humpback Breaching Photo Ray Penson
Humpback Breaching Photo Ray Penson

In all my time at sea I have never seen a Whale breach.  Being on a small boat close to the action makes you realise what a huge event this is.  The power required to launch that huge body out of the water is immense, the splash on re-entry is huge and the sound like thunder, crump.  A truly awesome experience and I feel privileged to have witnessed it.  I don’t know why but Dolphins and Whales make me feel so happy.

Tonight I have anchored in Appleton Cove at the top of Baranof Island.  Tomorrow I will plan a transit of Peril Strait and then down towards Sitka.  Total voyage distance 1,173.9 miles.

Logged 20th June 2016

CROSSING CHATHAM STRAIT

This evening we are anchored in Reb Bluff Bay on Baranof Island.  The cruising guide describes this bay as a spectacular location – it is!  The bay is surrounded by high snow-capped mountains with cascades falling down the steep sides for hundreds of meters.  This is a room with a view.

This morning we pulled the abhor and motored in flat calm and sunshine.  In the distance I could see fog lying over Frederick Sound and as we passed through some small islands the fog enveloped us.  Visibility was down to about 50 meters and I was rock dodging, not nice.  After an hour the fog cleared and the wind set in from the South West.

The engine went off, the jib unfurled and we were off on port tack across Chatham Strait.  The wind backed to the south and the wind vane followed it around and we managed to lay the entrance to Red Bluff Bay without tacking.  The sea in Chatham Strait became quite boisterous, in about forty minutes a nasty short chop had built up, made worse by wind against tide.  Unfortunately, my coffee plunger took a dive and cracked.  The box said it was shatterproof, obviously not crack proof.  I will have to devise another method for brewing my morning coffee.

On arrival at Red Bluff Bay there were two small expedition vessel anchored with boats out doing tours and passengers paddling about in kayaks.  They both departed in the early evening and a large, good looking, American Motor yacht arrived.

Of the three route options this morning I went for the west.  I will now work up the east side of Baranof Island.  Tomorrow I will try to get up to Warm Springs Bay.  I just hope there are actually warm springs there, a warm spook would be welcome.  Total voyage distance 1,114.8 miles.

Logged  16th June 2016

PIT STOP IN KAKE

Alaska turned on the heater today, a beautiful warm, sunny and clear day.  After a peaceful night is Steadman Cove we started late and motored up to Kake with the tide on flat calm water.  After seeing no other boats yesterday suddenly they were everywhere.  At one stage I had ten showing on the AIS.

I found the fuel dock, it’s not marked and easy to miss.  Its connected to the local store and gas station.  I took the opportunity to top up on diesel and also wanted to fill up a propane cylinder.

I found the propane station in an adjacent yard but the guy didn’t want to fill the bottle as it does not have a OPD (overfill prevention Device).  This is a problem as in the USA gas bottles must have a OPD.  I need the gas bottles for cooking so must find a fix to the problem.    It will be a larger town where hopefully I can get new valves fitted to the existing bottles or new bottles.  In the meantime, I will go easy on my remaining half full gas bottle (or is it half empty?).

On leaving Kake there was a bit of wind so I ghosted back the way I had come in the morning and found a nice anchorage in Hamilton Harbour.  Tomorrow I could go east, west or north, I don’t really mind.  East will take me to Petersburg and gas service, shops and chandler, North will take me to Admiralty Island and West will lead to Baranof Island.  If there is a breeze in the morning I will take it whichever direction.  Total voyage distance 1,079.7 miles.

Logged 15th June 2016

A REAL SAILING DAY

Last night was horrid.  The island where I anchored seemed to have its own evil micro climate going on.  The wind came in shrieking squalls, the rain was incessant and the sea came in the bay from around the corner.  We dragged anchor in the early hours – its always the early hours – but it caught again.

That’s the thing about anchorages, they may look good on the chart but it’s the surrounding topography that creates shelter, wind funnels and wave reflectors.  You just don’t know until you have tried it, or you get some local knowledge.  I wont be going back to warren Cove.

At first light we departed, glad to be free of the place.  I waited for first light as there are so many logs about in Sumner Strait.  The new logs are easy to spot, it’s the old gnarly rascals that have been around for years, they barely show above the surface but are very solid.

We had wind for a change, quite squally at first and with rain all day.  But it came from a direction we could use.  Truce got in the groove, put her shoulder down and surged through the waves.  The speed rarely dropped below five knots for hours on end, we sped past our planned stopping place, not wanting to waste the wind.  Tonight it’s another open anchorage called Seclusion Harbour on Kuiu island (don’t ask me to pronounce it).  Fingers crossed the wind and rain abate when the sun goes down.

I was reading the visitors guide to Prince of Wales Island this morning.  June is actually the driest month with less than four inches of rain on average.  That compares with thirteen plus inches in October.  I reckon this June must be an exception, its still raining now and I have bailed about two feet out of the pig in the last two weeks.

Tomorrow I will have a look at Rocky Pass or Keku Strait.  My book says the coastguard have removed the navigational aids to deter people from using the Strait as its dangerous.  Doesn’t sound right to me.  No harm in having a look anyway.  Total voyage distance 1,031.9 miles.

Logged 12th June 2016

KEKU STRAIT AND ROCKY PASS

I spent a peaceful night with no disturbances.  Seclusion Harbour is well named, just the place to get away from it all.  Sun rise was just after four, the animals were up and about early and making noise.  The morning was flat calm and sunny as I picked up anchor and headed over to the south end of Keku Strait.  We dodged a few rocky patches on the way and sea Otters were all around, it felt great to be alive on such a beautiful peaceful morning.

Keku Strait separates Kuiu Island from Kupreanof Island and is a direct route from Sumner Strait to Frederick Sound.  My guide book says ‘The Coastguard removed all navigational markers to discourage its use’.  That’s a bit like saying ‘this road is dangerous so we will remove the road signs and lane markers’ not a responsible thing to do.  Anyway, the book was clearly wrong as all but two navigational markers were in place, one of the missing marker was a pile and the other was a buoy that had broken lose and washed up on the shore.  The strait is very well marked and passage through is straightforward for any competent boat owner.

The buoyage system here is IALA B.  That is to say that in general when entering port you leave the red buoy or marker to Starboard and green to Port.  In the Keku Strait the tide floods from both ends and ebbs from somewhere in the middle.  The markers remain the same side throughout the strait so there should be no confusion.  I marked my right hand thumb with red ink as a reminder in case I became confused.

The strait is spectacular, dotted with islands and meadow areas.  The backdrop is rolling wooded hills with snow-capped mountains away to the west.  Half way through the strait after a twisty section called The Devils Elbow I found a spot and anchored for an hour, had an early lunch and savoured the scenery.  The only other people about were a group of kayakers going north through the strait.  I do like waving to kayakers as they have to stop paddling and put the paddle down before they can wave back.

Logged 14th June 2016

PULLED A SICKIE TODAY.

I woke up this morning not feeling too chipper.  A blinding headache and lethargy.  I had a cup of tea and lay down on the salon settee and slept for another two hours.  Last night I cooked up a concoction of pasta, pizza topping and salami (sounds awful but tastes quite good).  The salami was on special in Craig supermarket, I reckon it did me in.  I had dreams last night and that is a sure sign that I have ingested Monosodium glutamate – must have been in the bloody salami.

Anyway it was raining and miserable so I decided to have a day off.  Not had a sick day yet.  Turned out to be a great decision.  By lunch time the sun was out and all damp oilskins, boots and stuff was drying off nicely in the cockpit.  I was a cleaning machine in the galley and all is sparkling again.  I took a late lunch in the cockpit, wearing not much as nature intended in brilliant sunshine and flat calm.

The forecast is for westerly winds so in the afternoon I moved anchorage to a position where we should have more shelter from the west.  The place I had selected turned out to be rocky with numerous uncharted shallow patches.  We came quite close to the bottom.  A little further down the coast I found a small indentation that looked calm and sheltered.  After some sniffing around and numerous turns to find the shallow spots and rocks I dropped anchor.

Happy in the new anchorage and enjoying the warm sun I set about changing out the main halyard.  I spliced in a thimble into the new halyard and after measuring the old halyard (twice) cut the new line to size.  Its all rigged now and awaiting its first trial.

What a beautiful spot I am in.  Sheltered from the west but looking out to the east at a tremendous view of sea, islands and snow capped mountains in the distance.  Sunrise should be good.  Wow, I had dinner in the cockpit at eight this evening in warm sunshine and a picture postcard setting, in total silence apart from the animal noises from the forest and sea otters crunching shells.  Dinner was washed down with a couple of Alaskan Icy Bay IPA’s (how bizarre drinking India Pale Ale in Alaska).  I am feeling quite healthy again and really enjoyed my ‘day off’.

In the morning I am planning a transit of Rocky Pass (unless I see a big closed sign).  According to my chart the controlling depth is 4 feet.  As we are drawing 6 feet we will need to go through with some tide underneath us.  Should be fun.  Total voyage distance 1,037.3 miles.

Logged 13th June 2016