by Charlotte Blytmann
Chapter 2. Alaska AdventureWednesday July 23rd - The clocks were set ahead an hour for Alaska time, so our departure was 9:50A.M. local time for a short sail to Ketchikan. At 12:00 noon we tied up to a rather unsatisfactory berth, on the outer edge of the marina, that was subject to frequent rolling from the wakes of the passing boats and ships. Since this was the only slip available at this time, we considered ourselves fortunate and put up with the conditions. It was quite a hike to town from the Bar Harbor Marina, but we sure needed the exercise. So, off we set, in the rain, to see Ketchikan.
There were three cruise ships in port this day and the downtown tourist-trap area was a real zoo. We just observed the scene with all its hustle and crowds, then walked all the way back to our boat in the rain, which turned into a deluge at times. I got to talking to a local guy while walking Koki and he said that on the previous Friday that three inches of rain had fallen on that day. Dinner was at "Kay's Gourmet Kitchen", which was stretching it a bit, but the food was fairly good. The owners daughter was our waitress and she told us a little about herself and the area. She had been born in Oregon, but has been in Ketchikan for fourteen years now. She said that they only have two seasons here. One, when the rain comes straight down, and the other, when the rain goes straight sideways. We were lucky, ......this was the straight down time of year.
Thursday July 24th - Departed Ketchikan at 11:00A.M. for a trip up Clarence Strait and anchored at Ratz Harbor at 5:45P.M. It has been raining most of the day. When we arrived it stopped for awhile, about thirty minutes actually, but enough time for us to go ashore with Koki. There were four other boats also anchored in the harbor. One of the boats was the "Jenneke" from San Francisco. On board was a couple with two young children, that were taking a year off from work, and were in the process of moving from California to Washington, to look for work. They were home schooling their children aboard their sailboat, and exploring Alaska in the meantime. They said that they had started in January of this year. How they could stay in such small quarters with the four of them, for so long, blew my mind. We subsequently saw the "Jenneke" several more times on our parallel journeys and I only caught one glimpse of the mother up on deck. I would have been ready for the loony bin trapped in her place. Maybe they had her chained to the galley. The dad was always out in the dinghy exploring with the older daughter and younger son. They had been out in their dinghy, before we arrived, and the dad said that they had seen a bear very nearby on shore, just before we had anchored. So far, we have not spotted one ourselves. I kept a close watch on Koki. I understand bears and dogs do not mix.
Friday July 25th - We got a rather late start at 11:15A.M. as we were waiting for the incoming tide to help our progress, on our way north, continuing up Clarence Strait. The weather had a big treat in store for us. The day was clear, warm and sunny, after the morning clouds burned off.
We all sat on the deck, enjoying the scenery in the sun, and were excited to watch two Dall's porpoises keep us company for awhile. Farther off, we could see many other groups of these delightful creatures. The excitement level rose still farther, when suddenly, just south of Snow Passage, we saw a whale surface a few times, fairly near the boat. This was very exciting for me as I had never actually seen a live wild whale before. It was one of the sightings that I had hoped would occur on this trip. About forty-five minutes later we saw two more individuals surface and blow steam spouts, but they were further away. We could not definitely identify the specie, but thought after reading the guide book, that they were most likely Minke whales.
The sun stayed with us the rest of the days sail and we dropped the hook in the evening, about 7:00, in the cove at Deception Point, on the south end of the Wrangell Narrows. We missed the bears again, I guess, because Koki found their skat and just couldn't resist a snack.
Saturday July 26th - After planning a very early departure at 5:00A.M. in order to ride the perfect tide north through the narrows, we awoke to find a very dense fog surrounding the boat. Visibility was about fifty feet and delayed our leaving until 9:10A.M., when Tage thought he could see well enough with the radar. Tides are very important in ones planning, as we only go forward about six knots and if the current is running the opposite direction, at say seven knots, you can see the boat going backwards.
The timing of the tide was now not ideal, but Tage calculated that we could still make it to the midway point of the narrows by 1:00, when the tide would turn and we could ride the outgoing tide to the north. No sooner had we started up the narrows, about a mile or two along, when Tage noticed that the engine temperature gauge was registering 225 degrees. When he checked below to find out what the problem was, he discovered that the main belt had frayed and broken. So, we had no choice but to anchor immediately, even though we were in the narrow fairway, to make repairs. Fortunately, Tage was all prepared and in a record speedy fifteen minutes, we were on our way again. We were relieved that no one else came along at this time and needed to get by us.
This stretch of water is very tricky to navigate and is very twisty and narrow channeled. At one point we nearly went aground, after inattention on the Captain's part, got us off the channel, into water eight feet deep. The "Kittiwake" draws seven feet, so it was mighty close to hitting the rocky bottom. Tragedy was averted, as the error was discovered just in time to get us back on track. The rest of the passage was uneventful and very pleasant in wonderful warm sunshine. Tage even took off his shirt, it was so warm. Along the way we saw many bald eagles, as many as six at a time, on the beaches.
We arrived in Petersburg at 1:45 in the afternoon to find a port that was a madhouse of activity. The fishing fleet was in port at this time, and all the berths were full of boats. Gulls by the thousands, filled the air around the three local canneries. As we were carefully maneuvering about the piers and the boats coming and going, a nice fellow by the name of Kirk, on a trimaran, offered to have us raft up to his boat temporarily while Tage saw the harbormaster about a berth. After an hours wait in the sun, watching all the busy activity about me, Tage returned with the news that they had room for us. So far on this trip, this berth was the nicest location we have had.
Petersburg now beckoned for us to come and explore. I managed to run through a lot of film and we found the town to be a picturesque, delightful, unpretentious, non-touristy place. It was settled mainly by displaced Norwegians and they pretty much wanted it to look just like home, which accounts for much of its charm. Everyone here was very open and friendly, even passing strangers on the street go out of their way to say hello to you as they go by, this is in marked contrast to the cool indifference we encountered in parts of B.C. It is a genuine working fishing village, uncorrupted by the tourists as yet. After touring the entire town, we went to the Harborlights, one of the few places to eat, and had a pizza. It was very good in my judgement.
Sunday July 27th - We stayed in Petersburg in order to take the rare opportunity to enjoy all of this nice warm sunny day. This "Little Norway" of Alaska has a lot of integrity and really appealed to us as a town. The place has an honest, low key, working, no tourist frills atmosphere that we really enjoy. They even have a Sons of Norway Lodge, so much like our own Poulsbo of the 1960's, but with the busy canneries and fishing boats added to the scene. It is neat, clean, orderly, with lots of flowers everywhere in pots, window boxes and gardens. Maybe, due to the long dark winters, every one want to see bright colors and grow things when spring arrives here. The long daylight hours up here, in the summer, sure do make the flowers perform well. The local drugstore even has the same old Rexall sign that used to grace the front of Carson's Drug in Poulsbo many years ago.
Monday July 28th - We explored around town and took some more pictures and visited all the small shops that were closed yesterday, Sunday. While we were walking along the waterfront, going to the grocery store, we had Koki on his leash and peacefully going along, when I spotted a large, rather ugly, beat up looking black lab, who was not on a leash, come straight for Koki. I tried to step in-between the two dogs, but too late, as the Lab latched onto the back of Koki's neck and actually bit hard enough to draw blood. At this point the careless owner yelled to his dog to get back over to their truck. At least he obeyed and he left off his attack and cringed back to his owner. Unfortunately the suddenness of the unprovoked attack, shocked Koki and made him release his scent glands in fear. We now had a very smelly dog to contend with.
We shopped for the provisions needed for the next leg of the journey at the local IGA and planned on leaving Tuesday morning. The plan is to try and see the LeConte glacier, but local information has it that the bay there is blocked with a lot of ice. Tage said, after coming all this far, we wouldn't want to let a little ice get in the way, would we! When all was done, and we got back to the boat, Koki had to have a little bath to make him socially acceptable, which he naturally would have liked to avoid at any cost. It sure is nice to have a hot shower on board.
Tuesday July 29th - In order to take advantage of the optimum tides we needed to leave very early at 5:00A.M.,.... but we awoke to heavy fog. This delayed our departure until 9:10, a much more civilized time to me. The day slowly cleared to be partly cloudy, and at least for the moment there was no rain. At 2:20 in the afternoon we approached the entrance to LeConte Bay. Navigation here to gain entrance is very tricky, as a rocky submerged uncharted reef comes out almost a half mile from shore on one side and on the other side, it is very shallow. In between is a narrow passageway. One has to be in just the right place. Two local fishermen hurried over in their small boat and offered to guide us into the entrance, which was very nice of them we thought. Tage had a pretty good idea where he was to go from talking to the Captain of a local tour boat operator, but just the same a little extra help gives one peace of mind.
Then we began our adventure, threading our way between the icebergs and bergies. The icebergs, which were the first I had ever seen, were extremely beautiful. They have a deep blue color where the ice is especially dense, that is hard to describe. The cameras were very busy at this time and you can't remember how many shots you have already taken. Oh well, I'll take just one more shot of that berg over there. Consequently, you would be amazed at the number of photos of ice bergs I had when I got home, I know I was. The boat managed to make it about two thirds of the way toward the glacier, before I absolutely couldn't get the courage up to press on any farther. We were careful, but we did manage to bump a few bergies, which are small, but big enough to worry me. I kept thinking we would put a hole in the hull and sink in the icy waters. A very disconcerting thought for me, judging the water temperature and the fact there was no one to help for miles, having the bay entirely to ourselves as we did. Even radio communication was not possible due to the blocking mountains.
When we could go no farther, Tage decided to get into the dinghy with the two cameras and the video for a photographic opportunity one does not find very often. I remained at the helm, trying to keep "Kittiwake" off the larger bergs. A heavy shower passed over us briefly at this time. After about two hours of coming and going with picture taking, we carefully picked our way through the ice, back to the entrance of the bay and then headed north to Thomas Bay. I was relieved to leave the ice behind.
The anchor was set here at about 8:30P.M. at the south end of the bay. As we were coming into the bay, we had a gorgeous view of the Baird's Glacier, bathed in the light of the setting sun. What a superb ending to a most memorable, exciting day. I could relax better in this bay though, as the glacier here does not any longer meet the sea, hence no icebergs to make me nervous. There were lots of snowy peaks and many waterfalls though. The "Jenneke" was already anchored here when we arrived. When I looked through my binoculars I saw an eagle and a raven feeding on something and the guy from the "Jenneke" said that it was a bear carcass they had seen from their dinghy. He also told us that the nasty little flies that have been raising such havoc with me are called "white socks" by the locals, their presence a fairly new phenomenon for them, and that he also had been made miserable by them. They were out in numbers here and I got to really studying them. When you got a close look at them, while they were energetically trying to bite you through your jacket, you could, indeed, see that their little legs were white and their little feet were black, making them appear to have white knee socks on. A cute name for a nasty little creature, sure am glad we don't have them at home. When I went to bed this night I must admit, visions of towering icebergs danced in my head.
Wednesday July 30th - The day dawned all socked in and a steady rain. Tage is napping on the couch, looks like a looooong day ahead. The rain quit at about 1:30 in the afternoon, and with a few very small blue holes in the sky, Tage decided to explore Thomas Bay's south end in the dinghy. Naturally the rain came back before he returned. Tage did manage to see a great view of the Pattersen Glacier and a very large waterfall, a short ways up a boardwalk trail. It was decided to up anchor and go to the north end of the bay, to see the Baird's glacier, at closer range. There was a break in the rain, as we traveled north, but a heavy gushing shower overtook us, as we approached Scenery Cove to stay for the night. What a place this is! The name is most fitting, as it is the most spectacular place that we have anchored in as yet. Now, if only the rain will cease, maybe we could even see it.
Our luck is with us, about 6:00P.M. the sun appeared. While I was preparing dinner, a helicopter came over us and landed at the head of the cove. Then all of a sudden, around the bend, came the tour boat "Spirit of Endeavor". She is a ship out of Seattle, that for about six or seven hundred dollars a day, takes people into all the narrow fjords to see glaciers that are inaccessible to the larger ships. It seems that they were filming a promotional piece, as the helicopter sprang into life and like an angry bee, maneuvered all around the ship. In about twenty minutes it was all over, they departed, and our peaceful serenity returned, being the only boat there. After dinner we took the dinghy for a closer tour of the glacier and the bay in general. It is quite cold here, with all that cold air dropping down off the glacier.
Thursday July 31st - We awoke to a cloudy cold morning. It was 55 degrees in the cabin and felt just like a winter morning at home. It sure makes one want to stay in their bunk, so Tage hit the little old thermostat located over his bunk and fairly soon the cabin was cozy warm. All the work and expense of installing a new convenient air forced heating system was now paying off. After breakfast, we managed to get underway at 10:35 for a passage north to Hobart Bay, the last stopping point on our push to get to Tracy and Endicott Arms.
The sun came out briefly, and during this time two Orca whales, a male and a female, passed by quite close. When I first saw the male, he was standing on his tail vertically in the water, with his eye out of the water, looking at us. I thought it was a black and white buoy until it suddenly submerged and I then saw his large dorsal fin protruding from the surface of the water as he proceeded to swim by us. They were going south, and the female passed by us, less than a boats length away, as Tage took some video shots of her. Shortly after this excitement, heavy showers enveloped us for the rest of the day. After what seemed like ages, we finally arrived at Hobart Bay, which is a remote logging settlement. We tied up at a small government dock in the bay on Entrance Island at 5:30 in the afternoon.
The dock lay near the backyard of a home that turned out to be owned by a couple that crabbed for a living. While we were ashore, walking Koki, they returned home from a day of checking their pots. Their catch was good, as the holding locker was chock full of nice fresh live dungeness crabs. On the dock pranced two adult pugs, that belonged to the couple. One was named Rocky and the other, Yo. They did not like Koki at all and were quite aggressive. There was no love lost on Koki's part either, after the greeting he received. The owner decided to put them in their dinghy to get them out of the way and trouble, but after a bit they both managed to fall overboard while trying to get back on the dock. He said they are always falling in the water it seemed, as he was hauling them out by the scruff of their necks. They were happy to sell us a couple of crabs for $10.00 and even cleaned them for me. I spent that evening cooking them in many small pots, as this was all I had on board. I noticed he had thrown in a third one free. We will enjoy them for dinner tomorrow night.
TAGE & CHARLOTTE BLYTMANN, CONTACT US Telefax: (1) (360) 697-6253. copyright ©, 1998 - 2003