GOODBYE STEPHENS PASSAGE

Entrance Island proved to be a perfectly protected little cove, no wind or sea came in, I had a relaxing night and a chat with my neighbours from the American yacht.  This morning I sailed at four to catch the tide down the remainder of Stephens Passage and into Frederick Sound.  There was a small craft advisory issued for south easterly winds, yes on the nose.  I figured that if I got away early I could get to Portage Bay before the wind got too bad in the afternoon.

The day started out overcast and grey with rain and cold.  I am back in thermals again and have had my oilskins on all day.  The weather stayed the same, just got more wind thrown in.  I made good time down Stevens Passage and hit the wind coming towards me in Frederick Sound.  A long tack down to the south side of the sound helped gain some ground, but progress towards my destination was slow and wet.  Eventually the tide picked up and I was able to make the entrance to Portage Bay just after noon.

I saw the Humpback Whales again and more Orca’s.  The Humpbacks were supposed to have been hunted to near extinction but now they seem to be everywhere, incredible.

The anchorage at Portage Bay is open to the south between the hills and a good breeze is coming through whipping up the waves.  Happily, the bottom is mud and I don’t have to listen to the anchor chain rumbling across the rocks.  All is well on board, the fire is burning, it’s nice and warm and snug in the cabin.

My next destinations are Petersburg and Wrangell.  I am looking forward to getting ashore to do the tourist thing.  The forecast is for the same wind again tomorrow, on the nose 25 knots.  If that’s the case I may have a day off.  Total voyage distance 157.7 miles.

STILL PLUGGING AWAY DOWN STEPHENS PASSAGE

Last night was quiet but the occasional sound of the anchor chain dragging over the rocky bottom and the thought if ice floes circulating in the anchorage wasn’t conducive to a peaceful night’s sleep.  This morning started with foggy patches and low cloud type rain.  By eight the visibility started improving and I departed the anchorage at nine.

State float at Entrance Island. Photo Ray Penson
State float at Entrance Island. Photo Ray Penson

On my way out of the anchorage I saw the icebergs that I had been dodging around in the fog last night.  Scary stuff.    The forecast southerly wind didn’t arrive, in its place we had mist, rain, fog and more rain.  I saw a couple of my old friends, the logs, in the water today.  There is always something floating around here that needs dodging.  The sea was pretty calm and although we were going against the tide made reasonable progress with the engine.  This bit of the inside passage is quite busy with cruise ships, I saw a couple more today.

Ice not seen in fog. Photo Ray Penson
Ice not seen in fog. Photo Ray Penson

The Orca’s turned up today.  First one by himself came over to have a look at me.  A few minutes later I came across five hunting as a pack close to rocks inshore.  I was also close to the rocks, trying to keep out of the current.  They are the most beautiful animal, so sleek, powerful and fast.  One of nature’s finest designs.  These were the first Orca’s I have seen on the west coast.

Ice at entrance to Tracy Arm Anchorage Photo Ray Penson
Ice at entrance to Tracy Arm Anchorage Photo Ray Penson

I had another close encounter with a Humpback Whale as well.  There were two large Humpbacks feeding ahead.  They were both sounding and staying down for three or four minutes each time.  I was watching them and trying to calculate where they would pop up.  One popped up to starboard as expected but the other didn’t show.  As I was looking ahead I was startled to hear a whale surface very close astern.  A huge magnificent creature, did he surprise me on purpose?  I have noticed that after they have dived deep two or three times they seem to need a rest, they swim slowly on the surface and don’t blow out big streams of air.  The whale I saw close alongside yesterday was just moving slowly and didn’t blow when he surfaced next to the boat.

This evening I have tied up to a rather decrepit little float in a small cove on Entrance Island.  Entrance Island is at the entrance to Hobart Bay.  An American boat with a couple of old boys on it has tied up astern of me and the float is full.

The weather forecast for tomorrow is even worse than today, on the nose again 25 knots.  I reckon it may be OK if I get away early.  Total voyage distance 126.1 miles.

ICY STRAIT TO PORT FREDERICK

Last night was uncomfortable, gusty winds into the anchorage, nothing serious just disturbing and restless.   Today we moved east down Icy Strait and into Port Frederick which is just past Hoonah.  The cruise ship Noordam came past the anchorage at six this morning and I encountered a few more cruise ships on the way.

Once out the anchorage the weather went flat calm and the wildlife came out to play.  Humpback Whales, Porpoise, sea Otters, Seals, Sealions, and all kinds of birds kept me entertained.

Just past Hoonah the wind filled in and it was possible to ghost with the jib for a couple of hours down to the anchorage in Port Frederick.  The inlet where I have anchored for the night is littered with crab pots, it was hard to find a clear spot to drop anchor.

The anchorage is also home to a few million small insects, sand fly type things that bite and itch.  I am not complaining, the anchorage is calm and looks like a good night’s sleep tonight.  Total voyage distance 1,427.8 miles.

Logged 5th July 2016

ARRIVED PELICAN

Porcupine Cove provided a peaceful night.  The waterfall woke me up a couple of times, I thought it was wind one time and another time thought it was a boat coming alongside.  I think I was sleeping lightly due to all the action yesterday and frustration at not making it to White Sulphur Hot Springs.  By six we were heading out past the breakers and around into Lisianski Strait.  This section of coast is spectacular, wild and rugged and no place to be in bad weather or fog.

Pelican City hall Alaska. Photo Ray Penson
Pelican City hall, Alaska. Photo Ray Penson

The trip up Lisianski Strait was under motor in calm waters.  There was a lone Humpback Whale working along the tideline and a couple of porpoise turned up for a couple of minutes.  What is wrong with porpoise; they just don’t know how to have fun, they are like depressed Dolphins.  I think they need to lighten up and start frolicking a bit more.

By lunchtime we were alongside the dock in Pelican, I have parked just next to the Seaplane dock.  The place looks interesting and a quick trip ashore proved that the inhabitants are very friendly.  A fisherman gave me a beautiful piece of Salmon he had just caught; it will last me for a week.  I pan fried the first piece for a late lunch and am cooking the remainder now as I don’t have a fridge on board – a special cooking technique using an ancient Thai recipe.

 

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Tonight I will try the world famous Roses Bar.  Rose is apparently in her eighties but still makes it behind the bar despite a couple of slips recently.  Total voyage distance 1,324.2 miles.

Logged 28th 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

DRIFTING WITH HUMPBACKS

Nice soft continuous rain from early morning to around nine.  Then it cleared up but was cloudy all day.  I went to explore the ruins of Deweyville this morning.  The Suzuki outboard is humming along nicely now and is a happy starter.  I couldn’t find the ruins, I found a couple of old sheds but they had plywood in the construction and I don’t think Dewey had access to plywood.  I looked for young undergrowth and other sign of a town.  After fifteen minutes, being nice and wet by this time, I decided that I wasn’t really interested in seeing the ruins anyway.  I have seen plenty of ruins before and even sailed on a couple.

Whaler Bubble Curtain. Photo Ray Penson
Whaler Bubble Curtain. Photo Ray Penson

When time came to depart the anchorage I had trouble getting the anchor up.  It was fouled on something pretty solid.  After a combination of heaving and motoring ahead and astern I managed to get the anchor up to the surface and found it was fouled with a heavy steel cable.  I got a line around the cable, hung it off and freed the anchor.  The cable is now back on the seabed waiting to catch some other unfortunate sailor.  That was my morning workout.

From Deweyville we headed around El Capitan Island to visit the small Indian village of Tokeen.  When we arrived dock space was pretty tight so we carried on, it didn’t look very interesting anyway.

This detour to visit Token meant we had to use Skookumchuck pass to get back on our route south.  On entering the pass a large whale blew right in front of the boat.  I stopped the engine and drifted with the current through the pass.  For the next hour I was treated to a whale show with at least four humpbacks, one blew very close astern, a great explosive exhalation and plume of fine spray.

Flipper Beating Whale. Photo Ray Penson
Flipper Beating Whale. Photo Ray Penson

The pass is quite narrow and the whales were diving very close to the shore, just a few meters off the rocks.  They were also doing the bubble ring thing but not surfacing through the bubbles.  One of the humpbacks was raising a fin and bringing it down on the water with a loud thud and splash.  The sound of their blowing is awesome when there is no background noise, it’s a funny feeling to know such massive creatures are swimming just under the boat.  A truly magical experience and so unexpected.

After the whale experience I didn’t want to use the engine so sailed in a fickle wind for the next couple of hours.  We didn’t make many miles but enjoyed the sounds of the eagles and otters without the engine blocking everything out.

Winter Harbour Anchorage, Prince of Wales Island. Photo Ray Penson
Winter Harbour Anchorage, Prince of Wales Island. Photo Ray Penson

This evening I am still on a high from the whale experience.  To be drifting in complete silence with them was something I never expected.  I tried getting some photos but missed the real close up ones.

Tonight we are anchored in a place called Winter Harbour.  It has a gravel road running down to it and I went for a walk in the early evening.  Didn’t see much apart from trees.  Tomorrow I set off early towards Craig, the largest town on Price of Wales Island.  Total voyage distance 923.6 miles.

Logged 9th June 2016