Saturday, July 26, 2014

Baranof Warm Springs: a stay in the south cove

The Baranof Warm Springs dock was full of pleasure boats, without a single seine boat in sight. That shouldn't have been a surprise since we hadn’t noticed any seiners working in Chatham Strait either. Where are they fishing this month? [update: the Petersburg seine fleet ran to openings in the outside waters near Craig & Noyes Island instead of the inside channels where we've seen them in past years] We anchored at the head of the scenic south cove, close to shore but in 80 feet of water. This lovely spot feels like we’re sitting in the middle of a high mountain lake surrounded by peaks and alpine meadows, but of course we’re in salt water at sea level. We threw on the raingear, jumped in the skiff and ran across the bay to the dock to visit, to hike the trail uphill, and for me to pick berries. Ripe salmonberries, blueberries and huckleberries were plentiful in easy-to-reach patches. Score! I restrained myself and only nibbled on a few salmonberries while I harvested – that's easy to do when you know it's the blueberries that often house tiny worms. Worms ick! No problem. If you don’t want the added protein, toss the blueberries into a bowl of cold water and the worms come wiggling out.

Courtney Hann of the Alaska Whale Foundation shared her knowledge and enthusiasm for a citizen involvement project she initiated this summer. Check out the foundation's website, it's loaded with fascinating stuff; research reportsvideos, recordings and fascinating factoids. Besides project information, Courtney also shared a jar of her delicious homemade Blueberry Jam, and I gave her a container of my sourdough starter and an herb bouquet. Mmmmmm, the jam and sourdough starter were a dynamite duo for the next morning's Belgian waffles. 

It’s been too wet, windy and lumpy to run the dinghy back to the dock, but I really want need Courtney’s recipe for those Blueberry Preserves. (note: days later when we moved to the dock Courtney shared the secret – lemon zest and a touch of cinnamon.)

Drenching downpours, 25-knot winds and white-capped swells rolling inside the main bay kept us anchored for several days, comfortably tucked around the corner in our sheltered cove. It rained so hard that wispy waterfalls turned into thundering torrents and new streams appeared everywhere carrying the sudden runoff. Even the eagles hunkered down on limbs and drift, looking miserable instead of majestic. (Click on the photo above and see if you agree.)

We processed a gazillion photos from a major grizzly viewing adventure (more about that later in another post), Ron worked on boat projects, I baked French bread baguettes and a batch of  Cruising Cookies and - What? - Is that a new rock? - The rock moved! Ron had spotted a bear moving quickly up the creek. We’ve never seen a grizzly here before, but one appeared briefly in the stream at the head of south cove. Recent rains account for new waterfalls and increased flow in the shallow streambeds, but what brought a bear?! Was he looking for pink salmon, checking to see if any had returned yet (they haven’t). Or did the fruit-laden berry bushes attract him? Heavy rain, low clouds and fog, the distance to shore and a fast-moving bear made this more of a viewing moment than a photo op, but the photo shows there WAS a grizzly in Baranof Warm Springs’ south cove this year.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Tenakee Springs

Day 65 
Photo: The Capt lays out 250 feet of connected hoses to reach the fresh water outlet             
Water and power management are everyday matters when you’re cruising remote. You quickly learn to monitor consumption and plan ahead. Our Northern Lights 12kw generator provides more power than we need at anchor, power for charging the batteries, heating the water tank, supporting the draw for electric appliances and lights, etc. Today’s price for marine diesel is $4.10 per gallon and the generator burns roughly .75 gallons of fuel for every hour it runs. Doing the math with those numbers has encouraged me to multi-task when the genny is running, for example run a load of laundry while the oven is on. When we’re at a marina or city dock, paying a flat fee for shore power is usually a bargain in comparison.

Rhapsody carries 525 gallons of fresh water in three separate tanks, a huge capacity compared to the single 10-gallon tank installed in our first boat so many years ago. Do you pay attention to your daily water consumption? Cruising boaters do, even though we live in a watery environment, floating in salt water and enjoying the rainfall that keeps SE Alaska so green.  It’s a shame have to run to a town for water when you’d much rather stay out longer, photographing bear or watching whales, or fishing, kayaking, exploring, etc.  The Capt uses freshwater to wash down the anchor chain each time we hoist the anchor. This helps to hold down mud and marine growth in the chain locker, but as I watch gallon after gallon pour out of the water tank I mentally calculate how much that might shorten our time out.

RL called the Tenakee Springs harbormaster ahead of time to inquire about moorage and water availability. Assured of fresh water access and plenty of space on the transient dock, we side-tied on the inside of Pier D and tracked down the aforementioned water. Yah sure, you betcha… available several piers away and accessible if you strung together 4 of your own hoses… and no one else in the marina wanted water to clean fish at the same time. No problem, it was an opportunity to chat with some of the neighbors. Tenakee Springs attracts visitors with its community hot springs bath house which features warm water with a high mineral/sulfur content. The dock water held traces of a sulfur smell and a flavored taste as well. We only topped off one of the water tanks, to hold as a reserve “just in case”, happy that Rhapsody has three separate tanks to draw from. I might not choose Tenakee water to brew tea, but it could come in handy for washing down the anchor chain.

Kadashan, Tenakee Inlet to Pavlof Harbor

Days 61-64                  21.4 nm

Hah! Who needs to run rivers to see bear? On the way out of Tenakee Inlet we paused to watch a sow and her older cub chase salmon in the shallows and pools of Kadashan Bay, a huge estuary totally filled with low, marshy ground and mudflats. 

This pair lumbered along the flats, occasionally putting on bursts of speed as one or the other splashed through the shallow water to bite or swipe at a salmon. Their fishing technique wasn’t always effective, but it was fun to watch.

Surprise! Pavlof Harbor was empty when we arrived, so we had our pick of scenic spots to drop the anchor. We headed for our favorite location, away from the reefs and rocks but with a great view up the slot to the waterfall and fish ladder, backed by tall timber and the mountain looming tall in the distance. In past years the best bear watching has been at the base of the falls or the fish ladder, but this year we saw grizzlies more often on the gravel beaches and trails around the small harbor. It was interesting to see how how the bear timed their appearances after several more vessels arrived.

This grizzly ambled along the favored hiking path immediately after one group of cruise-ship hikers had rounded the bend and before the next group had arrived on shore via inflatable. 

Several hours later the bear sauntered along the grasses on the favored “dog-walking” and “stretch-your-legs” gravel beach, disappearing over the berm into a stream outlet every now and then. I was content to stay afloat, ignoring the chance to go hiking with a Pavlof brown bear. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Crab Bay, Tenakee Inlet

Days 59-60                  65 nm

M/V Rhapsody at anchor in Crab Bay, Tenakee Inlet

SE Alaska’s ABC Islands - Admiralty, Baranof and Chichagof - are renowned for their high concentration of grizzlies. Chicagof's Pavlof Harbor, one of our “special” anchorages, was the original destination, but VHF radio chatter indicated this location would be full of charter boat activity all day. With scores of kayakers dotting the water and waves of hikers wandering the shore, the bay would be far too busy for any bear watching. We needed a Plan B. Our recent VHF conversation with Capt. Dave of M/V Grocery Boy, and his casual mention of grizzlies with new cubs, sent us off to explore a new-to-us anchorage, hoping to discover a new “special” place.

We were alone in Crab Bay during the days we hung out on anchor and watched bear... and more bear… herds of seals… squadrons of eagles… a plague of jellyfish… and occasional billowy white clouds puffing over mountain peaks that still sheltered polka dot patches of snow amidst sparse forests and high meadows. It was quiet, peaceful, and just plain gorgeous territory on Chichagof Island. I’ll admit, days of sunshine and light winds added to the enjoyment as well.

Soon after we anchored one fat, light-brown sow and her good-sized cub appeared suddenly on a near shore. They settled in that one area, almost hidden by the tall grass as they munched away. Our skiff was already in the water so we grabbed the bug spray and camera gear and set off to drift closer. This pair seemed as interested in us as we were in them. What a terrific introduction to a new bay!

Back on board again, still smiling over the successful photo shoot, I glanced across the bay at the far shore and spotted some dark “spots”. Did they move? I grabbed my binoculars to investigate since all too often some intriguing dark spots turn out to be bear rocks or bear stumps instead of real bear. Bear rocks again? Nope, bear bear. These moving dark spots were a very dark brown/almost black bear with 2 small cubs! Wow! Back into the dinghy and off we went for a close look. This sow was very wary, we we never got too close and she didn’t stay exposed in the grass for very long. Black bear or extra dark grizzly bear? The two don’t often hang out together in the same area, so I’m guessing grizzly.

What an afternoon! Later that evening the light-colored sow and her cub wandered the shoreline of the main estuary and two other adult grizzlies grazed along the river farther upstream. Low light and distance made this a viewing opportunity rather than a photo op, but it didn’t matter. Lengthy bear watching on the first day, in a gorgeous new anchorage, in the sunshine – that’s a combination to enjoy.

One lone youngster roamed the river bank in the estuary, occasionally galloping along the bank as he raced to catch up with a slow-moving salmon. The humpies (pink salmon) were running in ever-increasing numbers and the bear switched their foraging efforts from grazing to fishing. Our shallow-draft dinghy took us close to the river mouth, but this bear moved farther upriver as he followed the returning fish. We stayed outside in the somewhat deeper water of the delta, grabbing a photo whenever the bear climbed up on the bank. I’m too timid smart to run up a narrow, shallow riverbed with steep banks, tall grass and winding curves at low tide when bear are active in the area. Nope, don’t ever want to surprise a grizzly!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Two Grizzlies, One Beach

Where are the bear cubs hiding this year? We haven’t seen one yet in any of the usual spots, neither black bear nor grizzly bear cubs. Bear sightings in general were scarce during our trip north, but that could mean we weren’t alert enough, or in the right place at the right time. Ah, location, location… etc. Finally we've anchored in a bay with at least three grizzlies that wander the shoreline almost daily to graze on the lush grasses. 

The same grassy meadows are frequented by five black-tailed deer, but never when the bear are dining. Deer are herd animals, often appearing in a group, but the several wandering grizzlies are definite loners. Each bear cautiously sniffs the air, looks over his/her shoulder frequently and displays an overall alertness while feeding. Interesting that they don’t seem to mind passing skiffs, though they are obviously aware of human presence.  

One afternoon two grizzlies appeared on the same side of the bay, grazing in adjacent coves, separated by a rocky promontory, and each out of sight of the other bear. Neither bear was aware of the other’s presence for the longest time, and then things changed. The larger bear, one we call The Boss, raised his nose and hurried uphill to shelter under overhanging tree branches, all the while sniffing and turning his head side to side.

The other bear, called Buffalo Bear because of his distinctive shape, looked nervous, but not nervous enough to quit feeding. Perhaps alerted by some noise, this bear slowly moved farther along the shore, repeatedly looking over his shoulder after each mouthful of grass.

Then The Boss rounded the point, increasing speed and racing up the rocks as he spotted the other bear. Buffalo Bear sprinted for cover, crashing through low brush and heading into the dense forest beyond. Both grizzlies disappeared from sight, but considerable growling and roaring came from the woods. And then all was quiet. No more bear, no more noise, and no idea how it all ended. We haven’t seen either bear in the two days since that encounter.