Travel Log Aboard the Mighty Sea Spirit - 2008
Cruising from Sitka to Juneau
July 11, 2008 Sitka (Eliason Harbor)
Today I had to bid a sad farewell to my lovely wife Jennifer and my spunky little, outdoorsy, fishergirl, wildlife watching, daughter Arianna. Alas, they had seen their quota of bears, whales, dolphin, and those annoying -- oddly not endangered in Alaska -- bald eagles. Fearing that the wildlife might be plotting against them, they boarded a flight and headed south to the land of outdoor heat and indoor non-manual, non-hand pump plumbing. Why anyone would want to leave the Mighty Sea Spirit after only three weeks, I do not know. (Read on.)
While waiting for my next crew to arrive, I did ship's laundry. Apparently, clothing must be washed, even when in Alaska, although from broad observation, it appears that it can be worn far more frequently between washes up here. I have observed many folks in Alaska who look like their clothes have gone through almost a full lifecycle with but a few -- or maybe less than a few -- trips around the inside of a washing machine. Also, by order of the health department and by special request of those beasts with honed senses of smell, I even washed all of the ship's sleeping bags.
For the next week, I welcome my good friend Jeanne Manese aboard as crew. Jeanne arrived at the boat around 1 AM on the 12th. We chose to spend the day of the 12th in Sitka to sightsee and to provision and to enjoy a meal at one of Sitka's finer eateries. Not counting McDonalds, Sitka has three finer eateries. We ate at Ludvigs. The meal was excellent. Worth noting that the dress codes for even the finest restaurants, allows the wearing of fishing boots.
July 13, 2008 Sitka to Appleton Cove via the Peril Strait and the Sergius Narrows. 57 28.7N 135 15.8W Distance Traveled: 50 Miles
As with the trip to Sitka, our trip back to the Chatham Strait would take us through the Sergius Narrows. As we had done before, we timed our day around the plan that we arrive at the Narrows at slack tide. Twenty minutes either side of the slack and the current would be in excess of 2 knots. (NOTE: We got the time of slack from three sources, which gave us a range of times spanning 20 minutes so we went at what we thought was the most reliable time and still ended up fighting a 2 knot head current.)
We departed Eliason Harbor at 9 AM and headed back up the Olga and Neva Straits toward the Narrows. As we arrived a little early , we made our way to a small and quite pretty anchorage named Shultz Cove where we set the hook for about forty minutes before pulling anchor and heading to the narrows. Even with a strong head current, we made the passage without difficulty. Minutes later, the fast Ferry from Sitka to Juneau shot through the narrows (which are so narrow that he consumed the whole channel). After surviving the ferry's wake, we navigated for the next several miles up the Peril Strait by following in the Ferry's foam.
Our day, although far too long, proceeded pretty uneventfully. Around 6 pm, we set anchor in Appleton Cove, off of (Dennis) Rodman Bay, some 15 miles up the peril strait from the Chatham Strait.
The highlight of the evening came as we got to listen to a vessel seeking a doctor or nurse in our cove to deal with the severed toe belonging to a child on board. Personally, I became quite concerned that it might be a severed child and they were trying to save the toe. Well, perhaps they were exaggerating a little or perhaps these were the manliest of fisherman (or perhaps drunkest) ever. As the story developed, it seemed that the toe wasn't severed (or it had reattached) but was merely cut down to the bone. Then we learned that the kid was watching a DVD quietly and that they had reattached his toe with a butterfly bandage. Heck, I was worried that they were going to return to fishing and use the toe as bait. At no point did anyone contact the coast guard nor did the coast guard show any interest in the banter on the radio. After about an hour, a float plane set down, picked up the kid and probably whatever part of the toe was not being used to bait a crab trap and flew off to Sitka. Dad and the crew returned to fishing. Salmon only run occasionally but the kid probably had nine remaining good toes and besides, you can reattach a toe anytime. For at least the duration during which the toe saga unfolded, I did not miss my DirecTV. That lucky kid was probably going to spend the evening in a warm bed and have access to hospital cable. Made me kind of want to wack off one of my toes.
July 14, 2008 Baranof Hot Springs (Baranof Island) 57.05.32N 134 49.9W (My Dad's Birthday. Also International Drive a Buffet into Bankruptcy Day.) Distance Traveled: 39 Miles
We started today at 4 AM with the plan to get to Baranof Hot Springs early enough to hopefully get some dock space. When we arrived at around 9 AM, we found that the Seiner Fleet was four or five deep at the dock and at least another 20 boats were anchored in the deep waters off the dock in front of the raging Baranof Falls. Much to our surprise and pleasure, there was 40 foot stretch of dock that had just opened up and which no one had yet pulled anchor to grab. With the help of a few fisherman, I managed to get the Sea Spirit in the space. (The space rapidly closed in as another boat (Brad and Darlene of El Bucanero) side tied to me and a few more Seiners and their giant skiffs tied to the boats near me. Virtually, dock-locked, I knew that I would be there for a while -- which as it turned out was really a good thing.
The Seiner fleet of about 140 boats was waiting for the season to open. Instead of burning very expensive fuel returning to their home ports, they find refuge in the best coves along the islands. Baranof is a great place as there is a four item General Store (noting that if you sell four items for enough money, you don't need to sell anything else), a dock, and of course, those wonderful hot springs.
Sleepy little Warm Springs Cove took on a party atmosphere. Of course, with 40 fishing boats in close proximity, everything smelled like fish. The cruisers on the boat across the dock made cookies and put them out for anyone passing by. There was a guy on the dock whittling (presumably for sale) wooden masks. The festivities seemed to continue until I awoke the next morning. The sound of fireworks, skiff engines, and of course the sound of fisherman readying their boats for the season filled the dock and the bay. To me, it was a lullaby to sleep too.
We made our way up the boardwalk, past the free public baths (water from the hot springs is piped down to several individual private rooms (stalls is perhaps a better word), each with a big galvanized tub where the overflow merely drains off into the bay below), past the four item general store (open for two hours a day whether the public needs it or not), up the hillside walkway, and down a muddy path to the rock hot tubs. The tubs are nirvana with just a little too much sulfur (as is proven by my now blue wedding band.) You can pick from a "Goldilocks and the Three Alaskan Brown Bears" assortment of tubs to find one that is at a temperature that is "just right." Whichever you choose, the view of the raging falls passing by the rock tubs makes the perfect experience just a little more perfecter. Of course, the ten minute walk back to the boat wearing a wet bathing suit, reminds you that this is Alaska and that while clothing shrinks in hot water.... well, we have all seen the Seinfeld episode.
Wine and cheese with our neighbors on El Bucanero and dinner aboard the Sea Spirit and I slept like a log, barely noting the fish smell, fireworks, voices, engine sounds, and other wonderful noises of the night among the Seiner fleet.
July 15, 2008 Pavlov Anchorage (Chichagof Island) 57 50.6N 135 01.7 W Distance Traveled: 43 miles
To steal from Captain Ron, "Dawn comes early on a boat ... everyday around sunrise." Just before 5, El Bucanero headed out. They radioed back that the Chatham Strait (contrary to the weather report) was flat calm. By 5:20 we too were also underway.
Our run to Pavlov anchorage was quite enjoyable. The seas were flat, the winds none, and the scenery incredible. We had an encounter with dolphins and along the way, we saw several humpbacks. Two even passed close to starboard.
Pavlov anchorage, chosen purely as a convenient stopping point, is a few miles inside Freshwater Bay. It turned out to be a gorgeous and quite protected location. At the head of the anchorage was a waterfall of stunning beauty which grew in height as the tide fell.
The highlight of the anchorage however was the presence of Alaskan Brown Bears. We were able to sit on board for hours and watch bear (or bears -- we were not certain if it was two or perhaps just one that commuted around the anchorage a lot) play for much of the afternoon and into the evening. (We call it playing. I suspect for the bear, it was just about waiting at the water's edge for food to come ashore from the anchored boats.) Whatever the number of bears, each time we saw a bear, it was following the same route along the beach until it would disappear into the woods. It was kind of a one way bear highway along the waterfront. Ahhh yes, those crazy bears. They look so darn playful loping along the beach and eating grass and the occasional small animal. If it wasn't for the teeth, the claws, and the un-bathed for a lifetime smell, you might want to give those cuddly bears a big bear hug.
July 16, 2008 Funter Bay (Admiralty Island - Mansfield Penninsula) 58 15.3N 134 53.7W Distance: 28 miles
After a lazy start (7AM) we headed out of Freshwater Bay and north along the west shore of Chatham Strait until we were almost north of Chichagof island. We then started to veer toward the eastern shore (being the west side of Admiralty Island) as we made our way across the Icy Strait. The weather although not great, was not too bad but the seas became progressively more uncomfortable, as the swell rotated from on our nose to broadside. After a bumpy 10 mile ride across the open water, we made our way into the relative safety of Funter Bay.
Throughout our travels we were treated to the presence of several Humpback Whales. Two even paralleled the boat in the narrow southern entry to the bay. Another excellent day for whale watching.
We found our way to the same dock that Jennifer and Arianna and I had visited on our trip out from Juneau. Throughout most of the day, the winds blew and there was annoying chop in the bay. It was the kind of day that one truly is happy to find room at a dock.
SERIOUS SIDENOTE: Cruelty at Funter Bay: I learned that Funter Bay was the site of a WWII Aleut Internment Camp. The Aleuts were taken from their homes in the Aleutians when the Japanese attacked and occupied the island chain. Sadly they were treated very badly with many dying as attested to by the presence of the neatly maintained cemetery that we found in the woods a distance back from the beach. For more infromation, visit: http://www.nps.gov/aleu/historyculture/unangan-internment.htm
Tomorrow our destination will be Juneau -- Auke Bay.
July 17, 2008 Auke Bay 58 22.9N 134 38.9W Distance Traveled: 24 Miles
I awoke early to the sound of waves slapping against the hull of the Sea Spirit, a sure sign that weather was building. At 5 AM the wind was blowing 15 to 20 and Funter Bay was pretty choppy with west winds (that I surmised were being funneled up the Icy Strait and jogging along the Chatham Strait (actually, the very south end of Lynn Canal) to Funter Bay. The weather report was pretty gloomy for the next few days with all indications suggesting that if we did not go now, we would be Funter Bay residents for a while.
Weather in Alaska can be very scary and should be treated almost as seriously as the bears. Captain's choice --- Go or no-go? I finally decided to take a peak out in the strait (1.5 miles away) to see what it looked like. I could always return to the dock.
Although my crew's travel plans should not factor into these decisions, Jeanne is leaving in two days and my cousin Mark and his son Max are coming. These external influences explain the look-see. Under other circumstances, I would have spent the day (or days) enjoying the beauty of Funter bay and waited for unambiguous weather.
Upon entering the Lynn Canal (might still be Chatham strait here), I encountered uncomfortable sees running north. The winds were light and I took the gamble that the weather window would hold for the 10 miles until we diverted into the more protected Saginaw Channel. Although the seas did not improve, as luck would have it, the current flowed with us approaching 1.5 knots at points. The next two hours while uncomfortable were tolerable. Once in the Saginaw Channel, the seas calmed down for the remainder of the trip to Auke Bay.
At Auke Bay, we refueled and headed for the dock to charge our batteries, take on water, and enjoy hot food and almost equally hot showers.
POSTSCRIPT: The choice to leave Funter Bay proved wise as the cweather continued to build for the next few days making even such a short trip dangerous. (Auke Bay for two or three days was filled with boats hiding from the big seas and bad weather.)
Part IV Will begin when Mark and Max Arrive.