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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Thorne Bay to Prince Rupert

Thursday June 17 11:50 am. We are docked at the city harbour, Thorne Bay, Alaska.

The current community evolved from a Ketchikan Pulp company’s floating construction camp in 1960and soon became the world’s largest logging camp. Through the “Big time Logging Era” of the 1960s and 70s with up to 600 residents, as the major logging operations shifted to other camps, Thorne Bay’s role shifted to a transportation hub where log rafts were delivered, scaled, graded, sorted and remanufactured. At the heart of this operation was a 47,000 pound grapple which hoisted and later gently returned whole bundles weighing up to 200,000 lbs to and from the salt water. The “Claw” still remains in the City of Thorne Bay.

Incorporated in 1982 as the City of Thorne Bay, the city supposedly had many convenient services. We questioned this, as now within the sleepy town, we find a post office/coffee shop, school, well stocked grocery store, and a small liquor store.

Friday June 18th 6:00 am. Departed Thorne Bay bound for Ketchikan. -Back to the busy city with float planes

Wayne BBQs lunch as the cruise ships go by.

Then off on the bikes to Wal-Mart – 2 ½ miles up 3 long hills only to ask on our arrival – What was it we came for? Think of something – jeans for $12.00. Too much exercise after sitting doing nothing for days. You know you’re getting old when everything hurts. And what doesn’t hurt doesn’t work. The ride back was a speedy one, with brakes a smoking. Can be a little dangerous peddling your butt around on the very narrow streets of Ketchikan, especially the way Wendy rides a bike! There are three choices, the oncoming vehicle, the mountainside or the beach.

5:00 pm. Enough Shopping as it is Happy Hour on the SV Dilligaf. They had spent the night in Myers Chuck and are re-provisioning for their journey over to the Queen Charlottes. It was so nice to meet them once again in Ketchikan, as we did in May. We traded great Alaska stories.

Back to set up the computer to get the latest NOAA weather maps.

Sunday June 20 4:45 am. Happy Fathers Day! Steel Eagle departs the bustling city of Ketchikan and slowly weaves her way past the two cruise ships coming in. It’s just another close encounter with big boats. They have the right of way ALL THE TIME!

Our next jump is back across Dixon Entrance and we will run all the way to Prince Rupert if the weather permits. But just in case, we familiarize ourselves with all the bailouts. You have to respect these big bodies of water, even in the good weather of summer. And cross we did all the way back to the welcome feeling of Canada. We had crossed Dixon twice with no more than 10 knots of wind. This goes to prove nothing.....other than the Mikkelsen’s have been 2 times lucky. Our friends Lou and Mary had waited 12 days, a few years ago, for the seas to calm down.

1:00 pm. Only blowing 4 knots out in Chatham Straight and this is good thing for some. As it turns out, the tug pulling his large load of containers has to put on the brakes and change his course, as a sports fisherman has had engine problems. We did a dose -doe with the tug to trade positions and I’ll bet he had a few choice words for the fisherman. He probably wished the fisherman the best of luck... but not in those words.

5:30 pm. Transit the busy Venne Passage, with fisherman galore, the derby is on and they are on the move.

We put our call into the Canadian Custom Office to see if we are allowed back into the country only to find out, from the gentleman in Ottawa, that we must put in on the dock in Prince Rupert and wait 15 minutes, if no one shows up to check us out, we are free to go.

Prince Rupert. It’s different than when we were here in May, the Prince Rupert Yacht Club has a full house.

6:30 pm. After another long day at sea, we picked Pilsbury Cove, as it is the closest anchorage and would allow us to dingy to town for supplies if needed.

We will stay here a few days. Giving us time to do some work on the Steel Eagle, read, watch movies, and practice our singing as we are the only ones in the anchorage. Our singing sounds pretty good to us but has been described as something of a cross between a Saskatchewan coyote, turkey gobbler and someone using the barf bag on a 747. It never was original but now it’s more like aboriginal.

We will work on the boat, painting, staining floors, etc.

It’s boat the work never ends!! While awaiting our guest we decide enough work, time for a break so we take the dingy into Prince Rupert for some supplies and on the way out we play cat and mouse with the Norwegian Star that just pulled in to harbor.

Must do some more charting as soon it will be time to head south!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Friday, June 11. 3:50 am. Departed Appleton Cove-bound for Baranof Warm Springs. As the saying goes, the early bird catches the worm, or in our case, the early vessel beats the wind. Our goal is to beat the impending storm. 5:00 am. Calm seas in Peril Straight. Once again we spotted the Humpbacks, such amazing animals. We slowed Steel Eagle to an idle and just watched the performance as their ballet unfolded. They are very difficult to catch on camera so we just watched from the distance in awe!

6:00 am. We entered Thatcher Channel and the wind, once again is not in our favour, 18 knots on our nose. SE Alaska is not for the avid sailor. 7:00 am. And out into Chatham Straight; wind 20 knots, on our nose. We just have to beat into the waves, there is no turning back.

10:00 am Approached Baranof dock but there is no room, so plan B is to drop the hook in the nearest bay. 12:30 pm as luck would have it, Beverly and Jerry aboard Silver Star, are already on the dock. Realizing, we are anchored in the bay, they sent out a radio call to advise us that a spot was now available and we could join them. We spent the next two days tied safely to the dock, out of the storm, while enjoying the great company and the very inviting Baranof Warm Springs.
On the dock we had the opportunity to meet one of the summer locals, Vic, and his puppy Lola. We shared some guitar jamming in the cockpit of his boat Allegra.
Saturday June 12. Still blowing; up to 38 knots in the harbour. We will stay put today and test the warm springs.
Sunday June 13. Still blowing strong! Wendy searched out the children on the dock. Dusty, age 13 and Blue, 9,( celebrating her birthday today. Back to Steel Eagle to bake some chocolate chip muffins for a birthday treat on board. The girls were traveling with their parents Kip and Dawndie, and live in Whitehall, Montana. Nice Family, What Fun!
Monday June 14. The sun has finally shown his face once again. Steel Eagle and Silver Star decide it is time to poke their bows into Chatham Chanel. The storm has passed. We decided to travel together for a few days and check out the sites.
12:30 pm. Dropped the hook in Chapin Bay .This anchorage is locally known as “Hole in the Wall”.

Tuesday June 15. Left Chapin Bay at 6:00 am, so we could stop in at the new docks at Kake to rid ourselves of some garbage and stretch our legs. This Tlingit community, (used to be 715, now may have 320 residents) boasts Alaska’s tallest totem pole, at 132.5 feet. Not only is it the tallest, but can boast as having traveled to Japan to the World’s Fair. As we walked the mile and a half toward town a Durango passed us heading the other direction but soon was back and Clarence, a local native, offered to give us a ride. He toured us through the entire village giving an informative talk of not only past but present, and then dropped us back at our initial objective the store/hardware. He then hurried off to meet his wife for their anniversary lunch. Shopping done we did the one way hike back to our boats.

2:45 pm. We slipped the lines and departed to catch the rising tide to Summit Island in Rocky Pass. This passage has been our greatest navigational challenge and is not recommended by some of the cruising guides. At low water the channel has a least depth of five feet. The maze of Islands would make traditional navigation almost impossible.
PICTURE-Devils Elbow
Do not go here without a chart plotter and a recent paper chart. We anchored in Baidarka anchorage, half way through Rocky Pass to await high tide again the next morning. Sunday June 15 at 4:00 am we were off again to catch the ebb down through the Devil’s Elbow. The question is, where is it safe?
So nice to travel with Beverly and Jerry, on Silver Star. Local knowledge is always the best. They have been traveling these waters for close to 20 years. Thanks Silver Star.
6:30 am. Smooth sailing out on Sumner Straight.
7:30 am. We were rafted beside Silver Star in Port Protection. The town is still asleep as we slide onto the docks. Time for a nap!
Anchored inside Port Protection is the MV Georgia Lee. So if you don’t like the view from the water mates, just bring along your own helicopter.

2:15 pm. We decided the seas were just too calm to sit idle. Off again, as humpbacks feed happily
4:45 pm. This time we will spend the night in Exchange Cove and watch the crab boat pulling its pots!

5:00 am. Started the engine and we departed the captivating Exchange Cove to point the bow south.
11:30 am. Tied to the dock at the City of Thorne Bay?!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Klag Bay, Sitka and Peril Straights

Monday June 7th 4:00 am depart (Chichagof Village) Klag Bay.... run The Gate at slack... transit Smooth Channel and out into the Gulf of Alaska....beautiful morning with 3 knots of wind and 2 foot swell....Life is good!!!

Sitka’s natural beauty captivated us even before we were docked...the harbourmaster assigned us a slip in the Eliason Harbour. Moorage is on a first come, first served basis. The harbour can accommodate up to 320 fishing and pleasure vessels. We were surrounded by fish boats frantically working to ready themselves for the season and the music next door blared. I don’t like rap music, but I don’t mean to denigrate those who do. And for the people, who like rap music, denigrate means “Put Down”.
Sitka (Tlingit for “by the sea”) may be the most popular of Southeast Alaska destinations. It’s lovely setting, native culture, Russian history, museums and shops draw thousands of tourist who arrive by air, cruise ship and pleasure craft. The town of 8900, whose economy thrives on tourism, lost one of its major employers when its large pulp mill closed down in 1997.
First order of business was to pick up the auto pilot part we had ordered, which resulted in a long, long walk through town and over the bridge to the West Marine Store. Not that we don’t need the exercise, but long walks of that proportion should be reserved for people who annoy us.
Mount Edgcombe -the inactive volcano.
Now as any boater knows when you walk into West Marine, you always walk out with more than you intended to buy. Just our luck the folding bikes were on sale. We had looked at them many times in the past, in Sidney and the price today was irresistible, a two for one.

Now we had wheels and could spend the next two days visiting the sights. On one of our many stops, at the liquor store, we struck up a conversation with a local native who came over to admire our bikes; he said that when he was a kid he used to pray every night for a new bicycle. Then he realized that the Lord doesn’t work that way, so he stole one and prayed for forgiveness....Ya....our new bikes slept the night in the forward berth.
We spent the next morning plumbing the new auto pilot motor, and to our worked!

Back on the bikes, and off to the Sitka National Historical Park. This park is one of over 390 parks in the Alaska National Park System. Here we found on display one of the finest collections of Totem Poles on this coast.
The Totem Trail (a two mile loop) consisted of 18 poles which have been part of the Sitka story since 1906, when a collection of poles donated by villages from Southeast Alaska, were shown at national expositions in 1904 and 1905 then shipped to Sitka and erected. Traditionally the poles were allowed to deteriorate naturally, and many of those we see today are replicas. When they tell the story of Sitka....they remember the land of plenty.
Along the trail we came to the old fort site which is the location of a decisive battle between colonist Russians and Tlingit Indians in 1804. This battle marked the last major native resistance in Alaska to European domination. Here the Tlingit and Russians met, fought, and uneasily coexisted for six decades.

June 9th after laundry in the morning, it was on the bikes and back up town to view the St. Michael’s Cathedral, built in 1848 by the Russian Orthodox missionaries.

The Russian Bishop’s House also served as a seminary and school for native children. This house of 2800 square feet is impressive architecture for that era.

The Sheldon Jackson museum is an absolute gem, displaying artefacts’ from Alaskan culture, collected in the 1880’s. Displays include masks, carvings, watercraft, authentic clothing and hundreds of tiny treasures.

Along side is the Sheldon Jackson College.

June 10 depart Sitka bound for Appleton Cove. Transited Olga Straight, safely through Whitestone Narrows, motored on to Neva straight, another peek out at the Pacific and was hit by the swell and 27 knot winds coming into Kakul Narrows. Steel Eagle performed at her best once again doing 5.1 knots through the narrows, dodging the many fish boats kept Wendy busy at the helm.

Sergius Narrows next....we got it wrong!!??? We have managed to commit about all the dunderhead mistakes a skipper can make and we just made another one. We arrived at Sergius Narrows at the peak of the ebb. We both read the tables wrong. Change course and drop anchor in Schulz Cove for 3 hours and wait for slack!!!! All good, needed a nap anyway....7:00pm on Peril Straight...smooth as glass...7:30 pm drop the hook in Appleton Cove....What a day. Baranof Hot Springs here we come!!!
Veteran skippers will tell you to cross at the crack of dawn, which at these latitudes, in June can crack mighty early. Up at 3:15am and on the go, as we head to Baranof Warm Springs ahead of an impending storm.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Tuesday June 1 2010 6:00 am: Depart Auke Bay-Juneau, for Hoonah. Very quiet today, our guests: Bev, Larry and Gayle have all returned to Canada.
As we traverse Saginaw Channel once again, passing “Point Retreat” lighthouse.

This will be the farthest north that Steel Eagle will take us on this trip.

After turning into Icy Straight, we arrive at the village of Hoonah, the name meaning “Where the north wind doesn’t blow”. It is a mostly native settlement of 800 people. Like all others, very friendly. The village is busy when we arrive, as two cruise ships have also dropped the hook outside the bay. We decide to stay here for two nights and a local, Phil Jones, volunteered to drive us out to see the bears
Wednesday 7:00am Phil, from Bears Paw Lodge, takes us on a tour to snap some pictures of the many bears they have in the area.
Now, Alberta has one Grizzly per 50 square miles in the mountains. Chichagof Island has 2 per square mile!
Prairie people never worry about bears much. They sleep with their mess kits under their pillows, convinced that just banging their spoon on it would send a thousand pound grizzly running frantically away into the night. Bears scare the hell out of me. I had a friend, who had been chased by a bear in Swan Hills....he refused to walk by so much as a shelterbelt on the prairies after that. Had nightmares where his wife had to wake him up and assure him they were safe at home.
Bears can run faster than Ben Johnson, they’re big, and they eat people!
As we meandered down the road we got close to them...

Well at least he headed away!!!

For the record, during the first 85 years of this last century, only 20 people died in bear attacks in Alaska. In the 10 years 1975-1985, 19 people in Alaska were killed by dogs.
The presence of these majestic creatures is a reminder of how privileged we are to share some of North America’s dwindling wilderness. We saw the above 2 year old, a 1000 lb boar that split for the bush before his photo opportunity and a sow and cub at a distance.
Our tour also took us out to the beautiful Fresh Water Bay.

”Mr Eagle” just sat on his perch ready to greet us!!

We met Wendy and Aldwin of Hoonah Fish Company and just our luck, fresh White King Salmon is in. Guess what’s for supper? Life is good. Love that fresh fish!!!

The next 3 stops were the most interesting and picturesque of the journey so far.
The trip to Elfin Cove took us through South Indian Pass and out into Cross Sound briefly before turning into the quaint community with its boardwalk, that circles around town and into the inner harbour. We had been told of the town’s character and were not disappointed. Sitting on our docked boat looking out at Brady Glacier across Cross Sound makes it all too clear why some are drawn north to stay. The lure is compelling.

Pelican is also a boardwalk town located in Lisianski inlet, our next stop. We too were drawn to Rosie’s Bar and Wendy took her turn signing her name on the roof. But she was prepared and the pants didn’t come down.

The following day, departure was at 5 AM, timing the entrance to the open ocean via Lisianski Straight. A washing machine ride it was, as the swell builds when the water shallows (the tsunami effect) at the entrance. Then rock and roll for 2 hours until we entered Imperial Passage and the safety of the inside route through Portlock Harbor, Surveyor Passage, Ogden Passage. Elbow passage and the safety of Klag Bay where we anchored in front of the abandoned gold mine town of Chichagof. We both agreed that this was the finest wilderness cruising we had ever experience. Not a single other boat in sight for 2 days now and we passed many, many potential anchorages. The west side of Chichagof deserves at least two weeks of exploration and should be a cruising destination in itself. Desolation Sound, The Broughtons and The Broken Islands back in BC hold nothing over this area. And this area has its own spectacular hot springs at White Sulphur. Saddened to have to move on but Sitka is in our sights.