Thursday, September 11, 2014

A Sudden Summer Storm

Mother Nature must have a strange sense of humor. Why else, after we spent a spring and summer of cool, wet weather in SE Alaska, would she greet our return to sunshine and warmth with this dramatic show?

Photo: Storm front approaches from the west

Photo: The view to the north as the storm front approaches.

Photo: The view to the east as the storm front approaches.
You know what followed, right? an end to the weeks of hot, dry weather on Vancouver Island. Central Coast B.C. welcomed a much needed downpour, the boats in the harbor were well-rinsed, and we just shook our heads and laughed.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Baranof Grizzly Bear Bonanza

Baranof Island wins top honors for the best bear-watching of the 2014 cruise. We shot thousands of photos, collected a fine store of memories and savored every moment. Hopefully we'll see some of the same grizzlies next year as they come to feast on the returning salmon. 

When we share a bay with brown bears it's tempting to linger and spend a few days on anchor. Most of our photography and bear watching takes place in a boat; the big boat, a dinghy or a kayak. Occasionally we hike the shore when conditions are safe, but not very often. Ashore at this site in late July it was comforting to have a stream between us and the bears. It also helped to have waves of returning chum salmon to attract the grizzlies and hold their attention. On our first day here we identified 17 different brown bear. Early the next morning we ran the dinghy to shore to see which grizzlies would reappear. The banks were empty when we arrived, but soon we spotted our favorite sow with her three active cubs. Those cute little guys, about the size of small herd dogs, already display different traits or personalities. One cub cuddled close to its mother, often nuzzling her muzzle or tucking under her belly to suckle. Another more adventurous cub would pause or bravely wander off to investigate an interesting scent, and then had to scramble to catch up with the family parade. The third cub tended to stir things up, always ready to pounce and tussle, to bat at its siblings or even steal their fish.

An impressively large adult, one new to us, approached the stream from our shore... hey, where did she come from?!... strode quickly into the middle of the water and plopped  down. This accomplished fisherman reached down with its enormous paws, snagged one fish after another with apparent ease, and ate them without ever changing location. She remained stationary in midstream until the sow and her cubs wandered up the bank into the rocks and disappeared around the point. Only then did the lone bear venture into the recently-vacated shallow area, a prime fishing spot with easier access to schools of fish. (No one messes with a mama bear.)

Another female with a very young cub wandered along the far shore, avoiding contact with the other grizzlies. The adorable little cub resembled a fluffy basketball with legs, bouncing along beside its solid, slow-moving, lumbering mother. That pair remained upstream, far away from us and the more popular fishing spot.

The action slowed, then stopped completely. The grizzlies went on about their business and we reluctantly returned to the boat to raise anchor and move on. Oh, those Baranof Bears!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Waiting Out a Storm

Lake Bay: a sheltered anchorage in a gale

Photo: Lake Bay by moonlight
We left Petersburg in mild, settled weather and enjoyed a routinely smooth passage down Wrangell Narrows but had to plan for forecasted stormy days ahead. Passing up several closer anchorages we headed directly for Lake Bay, a familiar, well-protected spot that would provide good shelter from the upcoming southeaster. If the predicted gale-force storm didn’t arrive, we could enjoy some fishing and shrimping opportunities.

Photo: our weather station reflected almost calm weather during our storm-caused stay inside Lake Bay

Stormy? Oh yes, the wind howled ferociously up Clarence Strait, while huge, ominous storm clouds piled high, their looming presence darkened the day far earlier than usual. Inside the anchorage our wind gauge registered steady 5-knot winds with mild gusts, never anything over 15 knots. No big deal. At the same time Lincoln Rock, six miles directly across Clarence Strait from our location, reported steady 48-knot winds gusting to 62! Lake Bay never felt so welcome.

We spent several days on anchor in Lake Bay, rocking gently in the barely discernible swells that wound their way around the point into the bay, and marveled at the continuing downpour – an “unseasonably wet” storm according to NOAA weather radio. I don’t know about that "unseasonable" label, we’re less than 50 miles away from Petersburg and they routinely receive about 109 inches of precipitation, half of that falling September through December. It feels like the deluge has begun a few weeks early. I'm commenting, not complaining, honest.