Petersburg Part 2 and Wrangell Narrows

We kept to our original itinerary plan which was to spend a couple of days in Petersburg (recall we had unplanned days there early in the trip due to mechanical issue).  On our return we found a somewhat different level of activity at the dock and much different weather. 

Fishing was now in full force in the rain, with the cannery next to the North Harbor dock working hard 24/7 with boats unloading fish and flushing their holds into the harbor.  This led to a pronounced fish smell over the marina for most of the time we were there.  I had a bit of a hard time with that.  It is the smell of money for the area, but a bit difficult on my nose and stomach. 

I spent a few hours at the local laundromat which is well run by a friendly couple.  They were impressed that I knew the secret of using vinegar for fabric softening and odor removal and we compared notes about buying bulk laundry supplies at Costco – which they have to go to Juneau to do.  I listened in on lots of conversation between fisherman doing their laundry – it is a terrible season for them, which is sad to hear. Year over year declining fish returns continue.  This is what we’ve heard all over, along with the severe budgetary woes in the state.  Alaska is facing some significant challenges. 

Beachcomber Lodge and restaurant, on the banks of Wrangell Narrows. A former cannery, it operates seasonally.

A new discovery was a lovely place for dinner out of town a few miles looking over Wrangell Narrows in an old cannery called the Beachcomber Lodge.   We had a terrific dinner the night before departing.  We ran into folks we had met at my friend Tom’s in Point Baker at the table next to us, so it felt like we were a bit of the local scene for a moment.   

The next day we headed south down Wrangell Narrows, which is a narrow channel providing a main north-south direct transit, but not accessible for cruise ships.  It has 60 aids to navigation along the way marking very narrow areas and has some sharp turns.  Eagles seem to love to perch on them.

It wasn’t more difficult than our passage through Rocky Pass, but we did have a close encounter with a tug and barge coming the opposite direction in the narrowest part of the channel. 

The tightest point of navigation. We passed between red markers on the port side and green on the starboard. In the distance you can see the tug and barge that will pass us within this channel – they move fast.
Passing on our port side, we pulled as far to the right (starboard) as we could.

Fortunately while it was raining, it wasn’t foggy, which would have made it a nerve-wracking trip. 

Crazy tour group that jet skiis their way around Alaska. We ran into them almost 2 months ago in Nanaimo as they headed for Ketchikan. They caught us by surprise in the Narrows.

Larry was excited about trying some fishing in a good spot before we were to pull into Wrangell.  He uses downriggers which are mounted on the back of the boat, which help get the lines down to where the fish are supposed to be.  I drive the boat when he is fishing using the wing engine to troll very slowly.  We arrived at the prime location, noticed it had a bunch of crab pots laid out but thought we could maneuver around them.  No luck for the first hour and drifted toward an area with no fish on the fish finder so I turned around to head back to the better area.  Driving between crab pots which seemed well spaced out, warned Larry about it but he thought it was ok, when suddenly the port downrigger completely popped off and was flying off the boat – 15 pound ball, large piece of equipment and the rod. 

Downrigger setup. Usually also has a 15 pound metal ball at end of it. Rod goes in the middle black holder.

He rescued the rod but the rest was gone to the bottom in seconds.  Our friend Ted then had a similar experience and found that there were submerged crab pot floats and they were all connected on a line across the bay.  We felt lucky not to have gotten lines in our props or anyone hurt with heavy equipment flying around, so we called it a day and headed for Wrangell.  Stiff cocktails were in order. 

Warm Springs Cove

After Takatz Bay we headed to Warm Springs Cove to check out the hot springs and the waterfall. There is a small public dock that is very popular so we weren’t that optimistic we would get a dock space. We arrived mid-morning hoping we would be lucky though, and we were!

Wonderful fellow boaters on the dock, including a very nice family who were giving away halibut fillets because they had caught a 60 pounder but had no way to keep it all. Larry made the best halibut bits we have ever had that night for halibut tacos, and we have 3 more pounds in the freezer. Yum.

Miranda enjoying a brief dip in the super hot water! Gorgeous view of the falls.

We followed the boardwalk and a hairy path to the hot springs overlooking the waterfall and had a sulfury hot soak in the evening, after the crowds that had come in from transient super yachts came and went. The benefit for us is the rain had let up and the sun poked out.

The Warm Springs community has built boardwalks and some beautiful cottages on the waterline, and also built a bath house that pipes in the hot springs to 3 individual bathing rooms. Very nicely done and a great bath opportunity – we were happy to put some dollars in the kitty to support it.

The next day was very rainy and foggy. We headed out to Portage Bay, a convenient stop on the way toward Petersburg and Wrangell Narrows as we start heading back south.

Another spectacle of whales bubble feeding in Frederick Sound- we saw one pod close to us and another in the distance. It is amazing to me that the whole effort is so quiet – they make almost no noise that we heard when they come up.

There must have been well over 10 whales in this group.

Portage Bay was huge but lined with lots of commercial crab pots. It was storming hard as we anchored so we just stayed cozy and warm in the boat that evening, but I did get some good photos during a few sun breaks – here it can be sunny and raining at the same time.

A brief moment of sun in torrential downpours.
A family of loons enjoying the rain.
Peaceful moment before bed. Sunset is late here – photo taken around 10pm.

Cellular data and Connectivity

We are finding two challenges in staying connected while up here in Alaska. The first is obvious – in many places, there simply is no cell service. Completely understandable. The second is a bit more frustrating… we spend several hundred dollars a month on cellular data plans, and we continue to “run out” of data.
I’ve commented on this before, but am still irritated that we have “unlimited” data plans on both Verizon and T-mobile, but basically have no data from either – they simply don’t cover Alaska. Verizon has been available in Ketchikan and Juneau only, and T-mobile’s “unlimited” data is actually roaming on another plan which gets cut off at 200 Mb (about 5 minutes on our boat). We also have SIM cards for our boat’s cellular router with Google Project Fi and AT&T. Both have been very good, but we have burned through our allocation (15 and 18 Gb respectively).

The problem, I think, is the way our devices “see” the network. We have a combination WiFi/Cellular router on the boat, which creates a “boat” WiFi network that is connected to either an external WiFi network (rarely) or to a cellular network using a cellular modem and SIM card. Our devices, all 10+ of them including laptops, iPhones, iPads, Apple TV, etc, then connect to the boat WiFi network and “think” they have unlimited connectivity, happily chugging away, downloading, updating, etc. There are no provisions that I know of that allow control of WiFi data for IOS apps the way they can be controlled for cellular data usage. Our WiFi network software can show traffic and data consumed, but doesn’t have an easy way of identifying or controlling usage by device. I suppose I could configure the firewall to block ports associated with various data consuming services, but I haven’t investigated that just yet.

For now, we are limiting the connections to the boat WiFi network and waiting for the next Project Fi billing cycle for our next ration of data.

Update:

Back to Ketchikan and we finally have some Verizon connectivity. Last day in Alaska, off to Prince Rupert BC on Thursday August 1.

Now, that’s more like it!

Ell Cove and Takatz Bay

We have spent the last couple of days in Ell Cove and then Takatz Bay on the East side of Baranof Island.  Takatz is an absolutely gorgeous anchorage, second only to Ford’s Terror in our Alaska experience.  It has plenty of room for many boats, good protection, good holding for the anchor and lots of wildlife, primarily Eagles, returning Salmon (Pinks, I think) and Sea Lions.

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Looking from Miss Miranda to the West and what’s left of the snowfields.

 

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You can just see the Glacier to the North of the head of the bay.

And we are by ourselves in Takazt Bay. We came in yesterday as a fishing boat and another trawler were coming out and there were no other boats here. We are spending a second night here and so far no other boat has entered. Update: A couple of other boats found their way in on the afternoon of the second day here.

All alone in Takatz Bay.

There are a couple of waterfalls visible in the anchorage, and Gwen and Miranda found the “hidden falls” well up the stream at the head of the inlet on a Kayak expedition near high tide. The tide swing here exposes a huge drying flat at the head of the bay at low tide, with a small creek draining from the hidden falls. You can’t get all the way up there at low tide, even in a Kayak. At high tide we were able to take the dinghy all the way up to the falls. There are incredible numbers of Salmon in here – must be thousands – but none are interested in taking bait. We did no have any luck, nor did the group of 5 fly fishers that came in and were fishing just below the falls.

The falls at high tide.

What is NOT here is the Hidden Falls fish hatchery described in the otherwise excellent “Exploring Southeast Alaska” guide by Douglass and Hemingway-Douglass. We have the new third edition of the guide, but clearly the entry on Takatz Bay has not been updated. There apparently IS a fish hatchery in Kasnyku Bay between Cosmos Cove and Ell Cove (where we anchored the day before yesterday). Our friends Sarah and Ted told us about visiting that hatchery in 2014, so I am wondering if it may have relocated from Takatz Bay.

There are many eagles hanging out in the cove, waiting to catch one of the salmon returning to spawn who are jumping like crazy, but not interested in taking a hook. The salmon have beautiful reddish bellies and distinctive markings and its fun to watch them swim through the water while we are kayaking.

We spent the night before this at Ell Cove, another beautiful location. On our way there, we had another bucket list nature viewing occasion – about a dozen whales were bubble feeding at the junction of Peril Strait and Chatham Channel. It was amazing site – they coordinate diving deep down, apparently as deep as 1,000 feet, then bomb straight up in a tight formation to force the fish together and surface with a powerful leaps. Then of course they rest and breath on the top for a while before doing it all over again. We watched for some time before moving on.

Bursting out of the water with mouths wide open.
Diving together. The distinctive tail markings are how researchers identify and track the whales over time.
Kasnyku Falls, in Waterfall cove, one over from Ell Cove. It’s hundreds of feet high.

Service Opportunity Karma

I am thinking that maybe I should not have made the service opportunity blog post. It seems to have prompted new service opportunities. The current one has to do with the… shall we say… sanitation system. Most of us living on land rarely give this topic a thought, but it is very important on a boat. In our home cruising grounds all Marinas have pump out stations, where we can remove waste that accumulates in our holding tank.  That is not the case way up here.  Therefore, boats are equipped with an overboard discharge pump, which does exactly what the name implies, of course only in locations (offshore, deep water) permitted by Coast Guard regulations (and common sense).

So, what to do if said pump does not appear to be in working order? Check all of the easy possibilities first… maybe the vent is clogged, maybe the through hull is blocked, maybe the tank tender is not reading correctly. When that is done, you recall that you had the system serviced in May, wanting to avoid just this situation… and you also recall that you do not have a replacement pump or spare parts on board. Uh Oh. Fortunately, we have both phone and data service where we are, so I was able to look up the model numbers for the relevant parts and call Piston and Rudder in Petersburg to see if they can order the pump and/or parts for me. I feel that I am getting to know them quite well, since they also ordered the generator fuel injector pump for me.

We should find out today if they can order parts, and we plan to be in Petersburg by Thursday or Friday. Then the real fun can begin…

Meanwhile we are enjoying beautiful Takatz Bay (post coming) and a couple of sunny days.

Sitka

We finished 3 days in Sitka on Friday. Sitka is definitely our favorite town so far in Alaska. It is the most picturesque of all the towns we’ve stayed at with multiple mist shrouded islands off the mainland and beautiful vistas, a number of excellent museums and wildlife facilities and terrific hiking trails to explore.

A scene on the walk next to the harbor downtown.

The Sitka National Historical Park has a lovely trail with 18 totems collected over the years from around Alaska. The main focus is the history of the area, first with the Tlingit settlements and then the Russians. The pole below is about the battle in the early 1800s between the Tlingit and the Russians, which the Tlingit lost.

At the presumed site of the Tlingit fort.

The Raptor Center for rehabilitation of eagles and other raptors was fascinating. They have a flight training center for the birds large enough for them to live in full time with realistic landscape, openings to the weather and a running stream to mask human sounds so they have as little exposure to humans as possible. They put out lots of dead fish for food so the birds don’t fight with each other. Birds were there recuperating from multiple types of injuries, including one hurt in a bear attack! They also house raptors that are permanently unable to fend for themselves in the wild. I loved the owls.

There is a fish hatchery at the science museum in the downtown area. We got a tour and then saw all the pink salmon leaping in the harbor – apparently the heavy rains has them thinking it’s time to spawn so they are coming in. The hatchery had to close the waterway so the fish don’t come in early.

We also toured the Sheldon Jackson museum with innumerable artifacts and exhibits collected and preserved from all the native groups in Alaska in the late 1800s by this Presbyterian minister. I was impressed with level of detail and artistry in the implements used in daily life for sewing, cooking etc. I was somewhat horrified by the idea of wearing clothes made from fish skin, even if they were waterproof. The most surprising item for me was this complete suit made from oogruk (bearded seal) that was waterproof and somewhat bouyant. It was worn for whale butchering since the whale was left in the water while being harvested. A precursor to our modern dive wear.

Maintenance and “Service Opportunities”

Routine (and not so routine) maintenance is part of the joy of boat ownership. For instance, our main engine requires an oil and filter change every 250 hours and our generator requires the same every 200 hours. We carry the necessary spares and supplies, and I did the generator in Hoonah and just did the main engine the other day in Sitka. They are both plumbed into an oil change pump, so it is really easy to do – the biggest issue is properly disposing of the used oil and filters. Fortunately, most Alaska ports have oil disposal tanks.

While doing the generator oil change I noticed some fluid collecting on one of the motor mounts. Not sure of the source, I cleaned it up with an absorbent pad and decided to keep an eye on it. In Sitka it became clear that it was a fuel leak coming from the injector pump.

The injector pump assembly. The pink stuff on the lower right, under the bolt, is diesel fuel. This is a “service opportunity”.

Coincidentally, I had gotten a call the day before from Northern Lights diesel guru “Lugger Bob” Senter to discuss an inspection of Miss Miranda in preparation for the CUBAR rally. I called Bob back and he was able to diagnose the problem over the phone. The cause of the leak was likely that the inner o-rings on the pump became stiff and lost their ability to seal. Basically, time to replace the injector pump and have this one rebuilt, as the o-rings are not user-serviceable. I did not have a spare on hand, but called the local Northern Lights dealers. The dealer in Sitka probably could have gotten a replacement here in a day via “Gold Seal” delivery – basically putting the part on an Alaska Airlines flight, but at a cost of $100+ in shipping. I elected to have the part shipped to the Petersburg dealer, as we will be there in a week.

The only other “service opportunity” we’ve dealt with recently was with the ABT Trac stabilizers, which mysteriously went into “SAFE MODE”. Trac service Guru Dave Wright was able to diagnose that issue as a failed “roll control” unit, which we had shipped into Juneau while we were there. That was a very simple part swap and configuration job.

I’m glad that our scheduled maintenance is behind us, and am hoping that we don’t have any more service opportunities.

Update: Self-inflicted “service opportunities “

So, getting ready to depart Sitka this morning, go to start the engine and…. nothing. Crank crank crank, no start. Almost NEVER happens with a Diesel engine. And almost always a fuel issue. So, I checked all the obvious things, and even some difficult to get at non-obvious things (bleeding the injectors) and still nothing. Oh, and I was missing the proper wrench for the injectors. Fortunately, another Nordhavn owner was able to lend both a tool and some experience. Two things. 1) There is a manual fuel pump to prime the system after changing filters, but it only works if the crankshaft is in the right position. 2) it is best to only bleed one or two injectors and not try to do all six. Finally, metric 17 mm for the injectors, and better yet a “crows foot” wrench… look it up. End of story- engine started, all good, now underway. Thanks, Jim!

Tenakee Springs

We left Hoonah a few days ago and headed down the east coast of Chichagof Island toward Tenakee Inlet. The weather was rainy and the trees were dense on the sloping walls of the island. Often we didn’t see any boats for long stretches of times, and there were no homes at all. It was beautiful. At one point we did see a number of purse seiners all working close together off a point.

The weather picked up and things were getting choppy when we saw at least 10 whale blows near the shore, so despite the choppy waves we stopped and watched for a while. Then we turned into Tenakee Inlet to head to the village of Tenakee Springs.

Tenakee Inlet

I was beginning to think there was no village after all when suddenly the community appeared behind a rock outcropping. The town has about 120 year round residents, and is a vacation spot for folks from Juneau.

The village of Tenakee Springs

We pulled into the harbor and tied up at what we were fairly sure was the transient dock since no one mans the harbor office, and paid at the honor system box. We walked into town to explore. There is a single dirt road leading through the village, lined with some pretty nice homes and in the center of town the key post office, shop and hot springs building. One side of the road is the shore side and the other goes steeply uphill into dense woods, so homes on that side are built into the hills with steep stairs and sometimes tram systems to get supplies up.

The general store – and the stoplight! We didn’t see it turn green.

We walked a long way so did need to use the public toilet.

People were quite friendly and told us about the hot springs – its community run and has been there for many decades, one man said he didn’t think the community would be there if it weren’t for the hot springs.

We all took advantage of a soak the next morning before departing during our respective gender hours. It was great – very hot and relaxing. The water flows at a good pace out of cracks in the rocks around which a cement soaking tub was build, and around that is the building with nice cedar changing room.

Glacier Bay – Sandy Cove

After Blue Mouse Cove we headed further south in the Bay to Sandy Cove.  This area has several islands and coves to anchor in, and shallow shore ledges where whales like to feed.  We anchored in North Sandy Cove and spent the next two days watching incredible amounts of wildlife from our deck and by kayak and dingy. 

During the first evening we were visited by a sea lion who spent a half hour next two our boat surfacing and diving repeatedly and breathing hard, working on something down below. We speculated either there was an epic battle going on underneath us or he was just feeding really hard.   

The birdsongs from land were also the richest I have heard on this trip.  I could pick out at least 10 different songs – although I have no idea what birds they are from.  This was a wonderful difference from some other areas where the crows seem to dominate.  In a previous anchorage they were quite irritating – I want to tell them to let the other birds get a chance!

Larry tried putting down a crab pot in an area two coves over, but we should have known that the presence of curious otters meant there wouldn’t be any crab left.  When we went into the area, one very curious otter watched us and would dive down then surface a little closer to the dingy each time, standing way up in the water – they use their flipper feet to propel their upper bodies up to get a good look at things.  Wished I had my camera.  He finally spent a few seconds just a few feet in front of us looking at us, then dove and swam away. 

Otter buddies

When Larry went to get the empty crab pot the next morning by himself, he had a close encounter with whales.  He was surrounded by two humpbacks surfacing and one breeching very close to him, one on each side.  Nowhere to go but sit and bang on the dingy to make sure they knew he was there.  Humpbacks don’t have echolocation so if you are silent they don’t know you’re there, so advice is to make noise.   

We kayaked around the area watching eagles and other sea birds.  Before dinner we spent an hour out in the Bay in the dingy just watching the whales – they were all around near the shores.     Still quite smoky so I didn’t take much in way of photos – just absorbed it all instead.   

On our last full day we headed back to Bartlett Cove.  On the way we stopped alongside Marble Island  – a sea lion and sea bird refuge.  Boats are allowed within 50 yards so it was easier to get some good photos.  The one thing the photos can’t capture is the noise of the lions barking and grunting and groaning and the birds all calling – it was intense! 

Glacier Bay – Glaciers and Blue Mouse Cove

Back to the Glacier Bay week….

Last Monday dawned even more opaque with smoke.  We could barely see Reid Glacier a mile away.  The weather prediction was for smoke and low winds the next several days. We determined we would press ahead on our plan and see what happens. 

Puffins!  I got my wish – orange beaks appeared in the haze, the two birds floating on the water.  These would be the only puffins we saw during the week. 

We negotiated through many icebergs in Tarr Inlet on the way in to Margerie Glacier, particularly to avoid the smaller chewed up bits from the cruise ship in front of us.  They reflected the sunlight in otherwise murky haze and appear like white beacons in the grey.   

For scale with the cruise ship in front of it

Cracking sounds were fairly frequent but no calving happened while we gazed at the glacier for an hour or so, although some ice did fall. 

On our way out of Tarr Inlet we picked out seals lounging on icebergs, but sometimes what we thought were seals turned out to be very dirty ice.  We really didn’t see any good examples of bergie ice to harvest for drinks this time. 

We then headed into Johns Hopkins Inlet to see Lamplugh and Johns Hopkins Glacier.  Lamplugh was easy to see with very few icebergs around it.   It had a distinct blue tinge and an amphitheater of ice carved out of its’ face. As we approached Johns Hopkins though, the ice in the water became pretty dense and we decided the better call was to turn around rather than risk our propeller. 

By the evening we made our way into Blue Mouse Cove, one of the recommended anchorages encompassed within a grassy and wooded cove made up of two islands and a peninsula.  We anchored alone and woke up alone.  Two cruise ships a day are allowed in Glacier Bay, and a total of 25 private vessels are allowed to be present on any given day, so we have not seen a lot of boat traffic.

Larry spotted a black bear disappearing into the woods in the evening, and I stayed up late listening to whales outside the cove and seeing their spouts.  The greenery around us gave some contrast to the smoky hazy air around us and made us feel like it was not such an apocalyptic landscape.