Fogust

Now that we are well into August, the fog that is typical of Alaska and northern British Columbia has become a usual morning and sometimes all day, occurence for us. The locals call this time of year “Fogust”.

Looking out from Blunden Harbor. Fog banks roll in and out with regularity now.
Departing Blunden Harbor in the early morning. Heavy fog in the anchorage.

We use radar and lots of peering into the mist to navigate. Sometimes we have to call up other boats on the radio to clarify intentions to avoid collisions, but for the most part its not been a problem. It can be quite stunning to see whisps of fog lying over islands with sun shining above.

Fog was prominant for our crossing of Cape Caution. We had a long foggy but calm day, and ended with an overnight stay in Blunden Harbor. ONce we entered the bay, the sun came out and the fog remained outside.

Blunder Harbor is the site of a former First Nations summer village and we can still see signs of the long house and the shell midden on the beach. The First Nations group still uses the site but doesn’t live there any longer.

The beach at Blunden Harbor. There are remains of a long house in the grass above.
More remains of the longhouse.

It was too windy for kayaking but we did a dingy trip up the long inlet to see if we could cross into the hidden lagoon, but found the entrance too shallow and some overfalls which would have made for an exciting ride. It was beautiful in the sunshine though after a day of fog!

Can’t really see the overfalls here but the narrow entrance has a very shallow bar that we decided not to brave.

Fogust…

All of the Canadian marine weather bulletins define fog as implying visibility of less than 1 NM. We’ve certainly been experiencing plenty of that coming down around Cape Caution into the Broughton Archipelago, with visibility often less than 1/8th mile.

It started In earnest coming out of Shearwater to Pruth Bay. It continued the next day around Cape Caution to Blunden Harbor. And then more the following day down the Queen Charlotte Strait to Lagoon Cove.

A wall of fog

Actually, it cleared up for a bit in Queen Charlotte Strait the other day, but then we saw this wall of fog shown above guarding the entrance to the Broughtons.

Fortunately it tends to dissipate in the afternoon, revealing views like this.

View from the deck at Lagoon Cove.

We are in it again this morning, heading down Johnstone Strait to the Octopus Islands. The good news is that, in our experience, winds tend to be low and seas calm in foggy conditions.

Sleeping Whales

We spend a lot time underway watching out for and avoiding logs. Especially during this last week as we have been making long runs and the tides are high, sweeping driftwood and logs off the beaches and back into the waterways. But those are not the only things that can be lurking under the water.

I am used to looking for blows from whales and seeing them in the distance is always a happy occasion. But after an up close and personal experience the other day, I really don’t want to see them up close!

My preferred viewing of whales – I need to use my maximum telephoto lens and crop the photo to get a good one!

I was piloting while Larry and Miranda were down in the salon reading and hanging out. The sun was slanted across the water from my left, making it a bit difficult to tell exactly what was coming up in the water. There were spurts of many logs at times, and other times seaweed – which I feel silly avoiding but do it a lot out of concern for a lurking log. I had relaxed as we had entered a log free zone for a while, and was sitting back in the helm chair rather than perched on the edge of my seat or standing up. I saw a slight difference in the wave ripples ahead but nothing breaking the surface. I wondered what it was and decided to turn slightly to port to avoid it “just in case”, but I really didn’t think it was anything significant.

As I started the slight leftward turn, a whale dorsal fin appeared in front of me, just off our bow pulpit. A large humpback headed for our starboard side. I freaked out and yelled, pulled back on the throttle and then put it in neutral. The whale turned tail up and dove just off our starboard bow. There was no contact, and he must have taken a big breath in without breathing out, because there never was any blow that I saw.

We sat in neutral for a while as I regained my composure. I was so very glad not to have hit the whale. After that I have been hyperalert for sleeping whales. We saw one two days ago in Queen Charlotte Sound, but this one was sitting on the surface with a visible dorsal fin. It clearly was asleeep – not moving, not blowing. We had good clearance from it on our port side.

I did a little research and found this article on how whales sleep from Scientific American. Apparently they sleep with half their brains and alternate eye at a time. This must be how the whale I encountered woke up enough to avoid us as much as I avoided him. I can see how they don’t have time to avoid boats traveling at high rates of speed. The speed restrictions that were in place in Glacier Bay in the whale feeding zones make complete sense to me.

Breaching whales in the distance from the bubble feeding pod we were observing. This is a very cropped photo – I honestly was so focused on what was happening closer to me I didn’t notice the breaching whales as first.

Riding the Ebb down Grenville Channel

Friday night we anchored in beautiful, remote Klewnuggit Marine Park, about 50 miles South of Prince Rupert off Grenville Channel. It is a few miles up the inlet, so is not visited by many boats transiting the channel. There was only one other boat in the anchorage, aside from us and Sanwan.

Our goal for the following day was Khutze Inlet, another 65 miles South, so we planned our departure to take advantage of the strong predicted ebb current down the channel.

We don’t see this speed very often…

As you can see, it worked. You can see in the picture that we are making 12.5 knots (SOG – right side of the chart plotter display). You can also see the current graph open showing a predicted ebb of 5.5 knots at that time of day. In reality, it was just about 4 knots at that point – our boat makes 8.6 knots over “flat water”.

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and the ebb weakened a mile or two South of Lowe Inlet. We still had a decent push for most of the day, which turned out to be sunny and warm. We were visited by another pod of playful Dall’s Porpoises along the way, and enjoyed a beautiful, 75 degree afternoon in Khutze… although we did not enjoy the gigantic horseflies!

Anan Bear Observatory

This was a highly anticipated stop for us.  The Anan Bear and Wildlife Observatory is one of the few places where you can see both black and brown (grizzly) bears feeding on returning salmon in their natural environment.  Only 60 visitors are allowed a day during the high season of July and August. You can’t leave your boat unattended in Anan Bay so we took a high-speed tour boat to get there. The boat trip was led by two experienced guides who provided lots of wildlife knowledge and regional history and also protection (they were both armed with guns and bear spray) and guidance walking up the 1/2 mile path and boardwalk to the observation deck and blind.

The path we walked to get to the observatory is shared with the bears.
The bears are totally accustomed to the observatory. They walk up to, around and under it.

This is the time of year that salmon are returning to spawn in huge numbers. The bears get first pick, eating only the brains and the roe – the high fat content areas. Then eagles and other wildlife get the remains. We did notice it was getting a bit stinky from the accumulating remains. The guides said we were lucky to be there now and not in a few more weeks when it would really reek.

The dark mass of salmon waiting to push upstream.
Baby followed mom very closely.

When we first arrived there were at least 4 to 5 black bears feeding in the stream and walking around the observatory. Later we were very lucky that a brown bear, who the guides had named Scuba Sue for her atypical behavior of diving fully into the stream to catch fish, walked up the stream bed. The black bears scurried away in a hurry when they saw her – a good lesson in how fast bears can run uphill! They seemed to feel safe enough on the opposite bank of the stream, but clearly kept a close eye on her. She was incredibly efficient at catching fish, we watched her catch and eat at least a half dozen compared to the black bears who took much longer to catch one.

Scuba Sue preparing to dive into the water
Enjoying one of her many catches.
Waiting for his turn at the salmon.

The guides said no one had ever had to discharge a firearm against a bear in the history of Anan, which I think is a testament to the experience and the thought that goes into how visitors are brought into the area. They actually have more problems with people falling on the trail and boardwalk than anything else.

Pensive bear, after a good back scratch on the tree.

A wonderful way to spend one of our last days in Alaska.

Takatz Bay from the Drone

I only had a couple of opportunities to fly the drone this summer, and was foiled in Ford’s Terror by the control software asking me to log into a cloud-based account…. where there is no connectivity. Finally got a chance to fly on a beautiful day while we were in Takatz Bay.

Quick video of the anchorage in Takatz Bay revealing my meager iMovie editing skills…

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.