Saturday, June 30, 2012

Wrangell Narrows

Range Markers Matter

Wrangell Narrows, 20 miles of narrow tidal waterway, separates Mitkof Island from its close neighbor Kupreanof Island. In some areas Wrangell Narrows is barely wide enough to accommodate the Alaska State ferries and does not allow for the passage of larger cruise ships. The "Narrows" is famous for it many navigational markers. With tides that can range from a high of 19 feet to a low of -4 feet in one day, the water often rushes through the Wrangell Narrows adding to the navigational challenges. 
The Narrows forms one leg of our route from Ketchikan to Petersburg. Numbered and colored buoys and fixed channel markers litter this waterway, helping to guide vessels through the many twists and turns of the navigable channel.  These many navigational aids are well charted and show up on radar as well, but a moment or two away from the wheel can find even experienced captains aground in the mud, waiting for a rising tide.

Range markers are colorful, striped markers that captains use to  line up with the center of a channel and avoid shoals, reefs, and other not-friendly bottom features. They come in pairs, one higher than the other, should not be ignored. The suggested use is to aim at the lower marker, line up the higher marker behind it, and cruise cautiously keeping the markers aligned.
Range Markers are found in pairs with one higher than the other. Range markers indicate the center line of a channel by having them lined up as you pass through the channel. They will have vertical colored panels to assist in lining them up.
Care to know more about range markers? Click here for a link to a brief video demonstrating their use.

Range markers are useful tools, but they are not something I think about much. They're just, well... there. We have used range markers in B.C. to transit Chatham Channel where you have one set of markers off the bow and a second set off the stern. The stern markers are for travel in the opposite direction, but I like having both sets aligned and spend some effort swiveling my gaze fore and aft.  Range markers are useful  to cross the bar entering Comox Harbor as well, but now the often visited, eagle-topped markers in Wrangell Narrows have my vote as most useful and certainly "best decorated". Anything with an eagle on top is well-decorated, right?

Photo: lining up with range markers on the far shore
Photo: turning off the range, ready for the next channel marker
Photo: bedraggled bald eagle sits atop a Wrangell Narrows range marker

Meyers Chuck

No Crab… Don’t Care!
RL flew out of the bunk early, early-early, like 0430 early, ready to check the crab pots we had set in the back chuck. The previous evening we had planned to run outside around the point to Union Bay and drop the pots at the mouth of Black Bear Creek, 5 or 6 miles distant, but building winds and waves kept us in sheltered water. We found the pots still held most of the bait, plus one starfish, a small sculpin and several shelled sea snails of some sort, but no legal crab. The Capt. had a chance to try out his new pot puller - it's really going to come in handy when we put out the prawn traps with hundreds of feet of line.

The early morning light winds and low chop lured us outside to move the pots to Union Bay. Ohmigosh, stop the skiff! there were 4 humpback whales right outside the bay, cruising and fin slapping and putting on a show. We drifted a while, enjoying the display, but moved on when the wind began to puff. Our skiff bounced along the chop comfortably but white caps suddenly appeared up ahead. No, not white caps, those splashes came from a pack of Pacific white-sided dolphins. Over two dozen of those sleek mammals converged on the skiff, matching our speed and playing in the bow wake. WooHoo! they’ve done this before with the big boat, but this was the first time they’d surrounded the skiff. RL throttled back and they slowed to match our speed. He sped up and so did they, a few leaping out of the water alongside to throw a splash with their body, flipper or tail while others took turns passing underneath the skiff to surf the bow bubble/turbulence. We played with the pack for ages, until the building swells and chop reminded us that we did need to drop the crab pots and run the 6 miles back to the big boat.

The weather blew up and it was too chunky outside to return safely to the crabbing grounds that evening. Just after dawn the next morning we returned to pull the pots and find the bait was gone and any crab had escaped. Who cared? It was worth it to watch the whales and play with the dolphins. 

If only I had carried the camera with me on that trip!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Summer Weather

Be careful what you wish for. June 20 arrived, the official start of summer, and I was ready for some dry, warm weather. Cool and gray is fine, but warm and sunny is better. I can’t help it, I’m still a California girl at heart and thrive on an occasional hit of sunshine.

Days passed and then BAM! Two long days of humid, 85 degree+ sunshine hit like a hammer. The creosote on the dock planking softened and bubbled up, coating lines, bumpers and the soles of everyone’s shoes. No-seeums and black flies buzzed about and bit.  Projects slowed as people sought relief in the shade. Then it was over, a 30-degree drop in the daytime recorded high reminded us that it was SE Alaska and gray and misty is the norm. Today’s high temperature will be under 55 degrees, and that’s just fine. Now about the mist and the fog…

Friday, June 15, 2012

Khutze Inlet

Photo: Khutze is scenic, even in the rain

June 9, 2012       Rescue Bay to Khutze Inlet
Day 5
0715 departure. A small humpback whale cruised the waters just outside Rescue Bay, near the entrance to Jackson Passage, a visual treat to start the day. We traveled comfortably in sunshine on calm water along the east side of Princess Royal Island, then took a detour to explore fjordlike Green Inlet. Green was scenic to tour, but much too deep to provide a good anchorage possibilities. At the head of the inlet torrents of water rushed down an impressive stretch of rapids, outfall from a large saltwater lagoon about six feet above the inlet's high tide line. I wonder if that stretch of fast-moving water tempts many kayakers.

After Green we headed to Khutze Inlet for an overnight stay. We hadn’t visited Khutze for many years, and I hadn't thought about it much. Now I vividly recalled days of unending, heavy rain and dismal, heavy fog, a challenging spot to find secure anchorage and too many other boaters... Not my favorite place, can you tell?

Bright sunshine was a bonus this year when we dropped anchor in a prime spot at the base of a a snow chute with a cascading series of waterfalls. The fall's low roar filled the air with a steady, constant thrum.  This spot gave us a terrific view of the wide river estuary, fed by two rivers and ringed by high, snow covered peaks. If I were a grizzly I might choose a location like Khutze; and now we know that at least one sow and her yearling cub like it there. 

The next day it rained, but it didn't matter. Really. We put the RIB in the water and explored the northernmost river at high tide. 

A seal and her pup lazed on a rock, arched at tail and head, working to stay dry as long as possible. 

One river otter swam by to check us out, craned his neck for a better view and then retreated back underwater. Banks of wild flowers (chocolate lilies, cow parsnip, wild celery and others) were in full bloom and the meadows of grass looked abundantly lush. We know grizzlies eat a lot of grass and dig the root bulbs of skunk cabbage, but now I wonder if they enjoy the taste of flowers.

The riverbed was randomly littered with huge trees, some with impressive root systems, swept downstream during spring snowmelt or flooding after heavy rains, evidence that massive quantities of water move through this river system with great force.

Several spots along the riverbanks bubbled with hot springs, but any smell of sulfur dissipated quickly in the wind. We didn't stop to test the water for temperature.

 A mile or so upriver the water grew quite shallow, skimpy even for our inflatable and jet drive, and the tide had begun to ebb, so we turned around to drift downstream towards Rhapsody. A spot of brown, a bit of movement on the far bank caught my eye… omigosh it was a bear. No, there were two grizzlies, splashing along and gobbling up grass at the water’s edge. Can you spot the bear?

We clicked off about 350 photos in half an hour, in between long moments doing nothing but watching those captivating creatures. The sow and her yearling cub were aware of our presence, tracking any noise and lifting noses to sniff the wind, but they never stopped eating. No wonder they looked so healthy and well fed. 

From now on, I'll visualize grizzlies instead of dreary weather when I think of Khutze.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

One Last Part Arrives

That's it, the end cap for a heat exchanger, the very last part needed for one final project. Finning technician Bryan arrived at 7:45 a.m. on Saturday toting a box of Caterpillar parts and his very heavy tool box down the ramp to the dock.  Why is it always low tide when you have a heavy load? He set to work in a challenging spot in the engine room, a tight space with low headroom. RL assisted while I thoughtfully stayed well out of the way. The left-hand engine is now healthy and runs like it should. Rhapsody is good to go. 

Photo: the new end cap for a Caterpillar 3116 engine
Photo: the old end cap
Major thanks are due to Bryan and to Finning's Parts Dept. for superb customer service. We're a very small customer for a company that handles BIG equipment for major industries, but our needs were met in a very timely manner. 

Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Antenna Project

The big March storms proved too much for our VHF antennas, snapping them both and wiping out our ability to use the VHF radios. We depend on VHF for safety and distress issues, weather reports and general communication so this was a must-do repair project before we could leave the harbor.  Here's a brief look at the effort.

Photo:Two storm-snapped antennas

Photo:a bit of wire pulling on the upper deck

Photo:a lot of wire inside cabinets, under flooring, etc.
Photo:One antenna connected, one more to go!
Technician Tim from Sea-Com Marine Electronics brought skill, experience and humor to the boat as he and the Capt. installed the antennas and dealt with all of the wiring and connectors. The  VHF radios are functioning again. One more project checked off the list.