"Our Voyage to Alaska"

by Charlotte Blytmann

Chapter 4.  Whales

Tuesday August 5th - The morning dawned with a slug-belly sky and we set out for Stephen's Passage at 10:35, after our conversation with another couple on the "Hawthorn", a Mason 44, from Portland, Oregon. They were just going into Tracy Arm; then planned to go on north to Glacier Bay, and we briefly considered doing the same. This would mean another day of travel for us, each way, and even though we were told that passes to enter Glacier Bay were still available at this late date, had decided that we had seen just about all we had come to see and more. We couldn't imagine that anything could beat what we had experienced already.

At the entrance to the Tracy Arm, a huge blue ice berg, bigger than two houses, grounded on the shoals during the night, which gave us a lovely sight to watch as we bucked the tide rip, in our struggle to leave the arm. Stephen's Passage was as flat and smooth as a mirror, as we progressed southward toward Cape Fanshaw. Because it was so flat, we noticed a ways off in many directions, steam spouts in the air from the numerous whales in the area. The smooth water made spotting the whales very easy.

We were very excited to see so many whales, and decided to guide the boat over to a pair that were basking on the surface. On approaching closer, we determined them to be a cow and a calf of the Humpback whale specie. The mother was very large and had knobby bumps on her nose and barnacles and moss on her back. They paid us little attention and continued to relax on the glassy surface, in the small area of sun, that had broken through the clouds. Tage took many minutes of video, as I maneuvered the boat, without disturbing them. I had run out of film at this point of the trip, so could only wish I could be taking a few pictures as well. After we exhausted the photo opportunities we headed south again.

Not long after this encounter, more spouts of steam appeared off our port bow, and a slight change of course took us up very close to two more adult Humpbacks. They were swimming close together in parallel and surfaced only feet off our port beam. After some maneuvering on both our parts, the two of them were actually heading straight for us. They went under on our port side and visions of "Moby Dick" flashed in my head. All was quiet for what seemed like ages, but was really quite a short while, as we waited, a little tensely I must say, and wondered where they were and what they were doing. Suddenly the wait was over, as they both surfaced together on our starboard side, having slipped under our boat. They were so close at this point that you could have touched their backs with a long pole. They were absolutely huge and black, each about 35 - 40 feet long. We could see the knobby bumps on their snouts and got a good look at the dorsal fin conformation. Their final treat for us was their sounding and putting their giant tails in the air, so that the white areas underneath were plainly visible, as they dove for the deep.

We then continued on south as intermittent showers overtook us, but the excitement of our whale encounters stayed with us, and we hardly noticed the rain. We made it to Portage Bay at about 8:00P.M. Koki was glad to see shore, even as muddy and gooey as it was, at low tide. Our boots sank into the ooze and practically got stuck there. I had to dunk Koki's feet and legs in a bucket of water, before we could bring him back down in the cabin, a procedure considered a great torture in the dog world.

Wednesday August 6th - More slug belly skies and intermittent rain, as we made our way to Petersburg from 10:00 in the morning to 1:45 in the afternoon. We managed to get the same berth again #553, that we had tied up to the last time we visited here. It sure felt good to stretch the legs, as we walked about town getting more film, a few more books to read on the way home, and some fresh provisions at the grocery store. On our way back to the boat, arms loaded down with the groceries, the rain came down again, with a vengeance, a real gusher.

In the evening we decided to "dine" at the Harborlights again, and had another one of their pretty good pizzas, followed by hot fudge sundaes. Boy, am I going to have to get some discipline when I get home. I called home on the way back to the boat after dinner and managed to get Ellen to answer. She said all was fine with them and that they had just gotten a new dog named Sasha, an Eskimo dog about one year old, adopted through Paws. Now she has three to contend with. Also, a short time ago, Tiami adopted two more kittens.

Thursday August 7th - A cloudy morning and we made preparations to leave with the tide at 2:00P.M. and go south through the Wrangell Narrows. I managed to get a call through to Tiami and she said all was fine with our house and garden. She was nursing her two new kittens back to health due to a kind of cold. Apparently they were having a two for one sale on kittens at the Humane Society, due to a huge over supply. Tiami of course couldn't resist, egged on by Ellen naturally. Upon leaving, we experienced some difficulties getting the boat turned around out of our berth due to wind on her bow. After some awkward bumping of the dock on the stern, another sailing couple helped to get us turned around and on our way. We then got some diesel and departed Petersburg. An uneventful day, with no rain for a change, and at 8:10P.M. we dropped the hook in Roosevelt Harbor. A lovely view of the Wrangell area as we entered the small harbor.

Friday August 8th - Cloudless sunny skies and sparkling water greeted us this morning. We managed to get underway at 10:00 and spent the day relaxing, reading and enjoying the lovely views on deck. Toward evening, the wind came up from another quarter, so we had a beat to windward and then a crossbeam roll, my very unfavorite, on our way to Meyer's Chuck for the night. We tied up to the local government dock at 7:00P.M. and took a stroll through this strange settlement with no streets. All they have are narrow pathways through the woods and along the shore that connect one part of the village to the next, house to house. Cute place, really.

Saturday August 9th - Wow, another clear day, I was not quite ready for. While I was sleeping blissfully, Tage suddenly jolted me awake. He had gotten itchy feet during the early morning hours and had decided to get underway at 5 A.M. He said the tides were with us and the seas were calm, so off we are, heading for Ketchikan to await the next favorable tide. We arrived already at 10:30A.M. and got our old berth on the rolling outside. While we were docking, the huge P.& O. "Crown Princess" came into dock also. Earlier, we were overtaken by the Holland America's "Veendam". She was also at the cruise docks by the time we arrived.

Koki was glad to see the shore and we decided to play tourist and go sightseeing all around the old historic part of town that we had missed, due to the rain, on our previous visit. The most quaint part of the tour was to the old "red light district" of Ketchikan's past. Prostitution was legal around these parts up until 1954 and there were about thirty brothels in town when the practice was finally banned. Now these buildings are all converted and gussied up into gift boutiques and tourist souvenir shops. Norwegian Cruise Lines "Windward" was also in port on this warm, sunny day and that made for a lot of tourists on the streets. On one corner, the town had erected a liquid sunshine gauge that said the average rainfall in Ketchikan is 167 inches a year, and one year they had 202 inches. On the other end of the scale, they had a real drought in 1982 when they only had 87 inches come down. At home we have 32 inches average, and sometimes that seems a bit much, I can't imagine how they keep their sanity up here.

Sunday August 10th - Well, we bid goodbye to Alaska and left Ketchikan at 7:00 in the morning. The day was absolutely clear and quite warm. There was no wind, so we motored south in the Revillagigedo Channel, until we got to the East Dixon Inlet. Here we had some wind come up and Tage put up the sails, which gave us a couple of knots of extra speed. The weather here this day was in marked contrast to the weather on the trip north up this stretch of water. I remembered, as the fella that we met from the boat "Compromise" had put it "It was rough as a cob out there." The skipper of the Compromise with his little Schipperke dog had trailered their boat all the way across the country from Florida, so that they could make this voyage to Sitka starting from Seattle. I couldn't have agreed more with his assessment of that day and certainly was glad to have this nice calm passage southward, as it was one of the places I was not looking forward to returning to.

Koki was on deck with us all day and seemed to enjoy it all, at least until the sails were raised. This procedure, with the clatter and flapping of the sails, never failed to send him into a shivering fit, but after awhile he would settle down, get used to the experience and began to relax again. We had planned on just keeping going as long as we could this day in order to bypass Dundas Island with all its many voracious flies. So on we pushed, down Chatham Sound toward the Venn Passage that led to Prince Rupert. When we arrived at this shallow, narrow, rock strewn passage, a fairly heavy bank of fog had developed there, due to the very warm day. So, we doused the sails and began to slowly pick our way ahead. I was manning

the helm, Tage was studying the charts and watching the radar, and with the aid of two sets of binoculars, the two of us were straining our eyes to spot the many essential buoy markers along the way. Also, there was some concern at this time about the now rapidly fading light. We finally made it all the way through and into a small harbor, opposite Prince Rupert at about 8:30.

We were very pleased with ourselves at having met the challenge of the fog and all the other navigational difficulties and still be able to come through successfully on radar. It was a close call though, if we were a little later, we would have lost the light and if the fog thickened,

either or both things would have prevented us from spotting the buoys. When we left the boat, in the dinghy, to take Koki to shore, we could hardly see the Kittiwake, as she was enveloped in the thickening fog and approaching darkness. It was good to get down below for the night and it turned out to be a very quiet anchorage.

Monday August 11th - The fog hung around until about 11:00. in the morning. When we could finally see Prince Rupert across the bay, we proceeded to the dock at the Prince Rupert Yacht Club. It seems to be our misfortune to always get stuck with the outside berths that are so subject to the rolling due to the wakes. This was the case again as we tied up to a very exposed berth. In the afternoon, when the sun came out, it became quite hot actually, and the wind came up sharply, keeping us pinned to the dock and grinding into it.

It was very uncomfortable, sitting on the boat, so we decided to take Koki and go for a walk around town. While walking through the streets, we came to a small park next to the courthouse, and we stopped to admire the many flowers. Erected in the garden was a slightly larger than life-size bronze statue of Charles Hays, the founder of Prince Rupert. Koki noticed the strange man in the flowerbed and instantly took great exception to it. He put his hackles up and started barking continuously at this scary person. No amount of reassurance, on our part, did any good. The only solution for the situation was to haul him away from the area as he continued to voice his disapproval over his shoulder as we left the scene. We really had a good laugh over the whole thing.

I needed a new battery for my watch that had stopped during the trip, Tage needed some beer from the liquor store, and we needed a few groceries. We had a quick lunch at the Dairy Queen, did our errands and returned to the boat to spend the rest of the afternoon rocking about at the dock. At about 7:00, we decided to go out for dinner ashore. The choice of places to go was very limited and we wound up at a family diner, nearby to the marina.

After a rather mediocre meal, we returned to the boat and found two men studying the "Kittiwake". It seems that in our absence, a fishing vessel named the "Larissa", was trying to leave port to go fishing. The boat was being navigated by a very young, green, skipper. He had only been put in charge of the boat in March of this year, after being a deck-hand on her for three years. The owner had retired and put this guy in charge, which was too bad for us. He did not know how to handle the boat in strong winds and the force of the wind blew his boat toward the row of pleasure boats, docked on the outside finger of the yacht club marina, as he backed and tried to leave. Our boat being one of these sitting ducks.

The crew of the "Larissa" had fended her off all the boats, as she made her way backwards. By the time they reached the "Kittiwake", they were pinned hard against her by the strong beam wind, but they continued to try to move off by working their fenders and with the help of the many people that had gathered on board our boat. The "Larissa" finally became wedged with her stern on the corner of the dock and her sides against our port bow. Had he quit at this point, no damage would have occurred, but against everyone's advice, he gunned the engine and tried to go forward. His trolling board caught in our pulpit and ripped it off the deck, bending and breaking it as well. We fortunately missed seeing all this and returned to find the marina personnel and the hapless skipper, who was very apologetic, waiting for a representative of the local police to arrive. A short while passed and an officer arrived, took down the necessary information and got statements from the witnesses. I must say, Tage took the whole event rather calmly I thought, considering how much the "Kittiwake" means to him. There were many witnesses, all of whom wanted to tell us their versions of what had happened. After all information was completed, Tage called his insurance company, and the "Larissa" left port to go fishing. The irony of the situation was that about twenty minutes after the collision, the wind completely died down. A little patience would have avoided the whole situation.

Tuesday August 12th - We now had to figure what would be the best next move. After a second call to the insurance company and a complete assessment of the damage, Tage decided he could jury-rig a fix on the damaged pulpit, so that the lifelines would be secure enough to sail. Then we departed the port at 1:00P.M., after taking on water and fuel. I sure was glad to be out of there. The trip this day started out rather foggy and then it lifted to become cloudy with a few sun breaks.

Going down Grenville Channel was uneventful and we only passed one cruise ship all day. She was the Norwegian Cruise Lines "Windward" and we had seen her before. Today she was heading for Ketchikan again. The "Windward" was in port in Ketchikan on July 23rd, when we were there. In the meantime she had gone north then south, unloaded and loaded a new batch of people and is back already. Would that we could travel that speedily. I am looking forward to being home on firm land for a change. We got to Baker Inlet through a narrow twisty entrance and went all the way to the head of it and anchored at 7:40 in the evening. The minute we stopped the local population of "white socks" swarmed all over us. I have found from past experience that their bites produce big itchy bumps on me that last for over a week, so I guess that I have an allergy to them, as Tage did not seem to have as much trouble. Before they could suck all my blood out I ran for the DeepWoods. At least this held them at bay from the two of us for awhile. In a short while after our arrival the fog closed in on us and blocked the views of the spectacular surrounding mountains and waterfalls, much to our disappointment.


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TAGE & CHARLOTTE BLYTMANN, CONTACT US Telefax: (1) (360) 697-6253. copyright , 1998 - 2003