Thursday, July 16, 2009

An otter rookery

June 2 Kell Bay

Wind and water blew up so we diverted from our Cape Decision route and ran to Sumner Strait to anchor in Kell Bay. Talk about a scenic postcard pretty site! The tough decision was whether to choose the sunny cove with a peekaboo view to outside water or the more shaded cove with a picturesque, snow-capped peak looming above it. We opted for sunshine and scenic dinghy runs to view the mountain.

Kelp beds rank high on the list of positive things this week. Kelp fringed the edges of the barely navigable channel twisting through Nagasay’s Launch Passage and helped guide our entry. Kelp beds decorated a string of reefs just outside Kell Bay where we paused to watch a humpback whale and her very tiny calf surface cruise the area and occasionally do a shallow dive and spout. Mom whale surfaced trailing kelp fronds from her broad back, glistening leathery scarves that dropped as she traveled.

But the best kelp beds were the ones at the far end of Kell, the kelp beds that housed a raft of sea otter and their new kits, an otter rookery. Otter everywhere! Moms floated on their backs, cuddling youngsters on their chests as they cruised in the sunshine. Some had their feet sticking up out of the water, others moved rapidly though effortlessly as they paddled with those strong, webbed appendages. We (and they) kept our distance, but just the memory of our visits brings a smile to my face. Finally, an otter photo.

June cruising

June 1, Mon Nagasay
We passed one lonely otter floating near a kelp bed on the circuitous exit from Klawock Inlet. As usual he kept just out of range for a good photo with the 400mm lens. How do they know?
VHF weather reports a strong high stationary over the Alaskan panhandle and calls for unseasonably warm weather for this week, 15 to 20 degrees agove normal and in the low 70s for coastal waters. If the winds don’t shift this could be the year we finally get to make the trip north to Sitka along the west side of Baranof Island. We have a couple of decision points along the route (including one at Cape Decision) before we commit to outside waters.

We entered Nagasay through shallow, rocky, kelp-strewn Launch Passage. I’d rather do this in the dinghy! No luck fishing today, but it was a lovely whale-watching cruise. One Sandhill crane landed in our cove for a photo-op.

Otter and whales and bear, oh my!

May cruising - Prince of Wales Wilderness Area
It’s been three weeks since we cleared US customs in Ketchikan, and what beautiful country we’ve seen. As I enter this on approach to Craig Harbor we’re only 50 miles west of Ketchikan, but have cruised about 140 miles around the south end of Prince of Wales Island to get here.

The Chamber of Commerce info pamphlet notes that POW Island...
“is 140 miles by 45 miles--third largest island in the U.S. The shoreline is 990 miles of rock cliffs, promontories, palisades and beaches of broken stone or sand. Countless smaller islands dot the coast, offering even more tempting coves and inlets. A day’s tidal range (high to low) runs 16 to 22 feet and a few narrows produce impressive tidal flows - of interest to slow cruising boats. A network of more than 2000 miles of roads reaches into the island.”
Only 105 paved miles connect the five major settlements and a ferry dock, 150 improved gravel roads extend along northern shorelines and into the mountains, and the rest are unimproved logging roads that criss-cross the forest. We just see the shoreline and hike the roads and trails close to town.
The southern third of the island is Prince of Wales Wilderness area - no development, no roads, just wildlife and rugged country. Black bear, sea otter, seals, killer whales, humpback whales, porpoise, eagles, heron, Sandhill cranes, marten… the list goes on. We love it here!

Black bear sightings

May 14, Thurs Ruth Bay/Prince of Wales Is

Wow! Ice on the forward deck this morning… what happened to Spring? On the chart Ruth Bay Cove looked like the perfect well-protected anchorage. We preselected a 26 foot hole as THE anchor spot and plotted an approach, a winding course through a few charted rocks. No way! The soundings noted on the chart appeared correct, but there were a lot of unmarked reefs in between. We did a slow, careful exit with me on the flybridge reading the keel-mounted backup depth sounder and stirred up a little mud but didn’t contact anything solid. Plan B: anchor just outside the cove in the larger space and deeper water of Ruth Bay.

The Ruth Bay highlight was a sighting of three black bear on the beach as we approached the anchorage. We were surprised that this family of mom and two two-year-old cubs was so fat and healthy looking this early after a long, hard winter. One more bear showed later in the day.

May 19, Tues Kasook Inlet/Sukkwan Island

A solitary dead evergreen provided a striking silhouette against the island’s background screen of green. It held a huge eagles nest and two adult bald eagles perched separately on nearby branches, preening and posing for our camera work. Inside the inlet three Sandhill cranes stalked the marshy shore, clambered over drift logs and did a few fly-by tours during the day. Their cry is an unsettling, raucous rattle. The Capt stalked the cranes, camera in hand, while Jerry and Tanya found beachcombed treasures. What terrific photo ops today, and the results looked good in the camera’s preview screen… but now the card isn’t readable. DRAT!

Three black bear entertained us all day Thursday as they rambled along the rocky shoreline. The sow was the fattest, glossiest black bear in memory. Her coat glistened and rippled as she ambled along the rocks, balanced on drift logs, and grazed on pockets of grass just above the high tide line. One cub bounced along in all directions, investigating everything in its path while the other cub stayed close to mama and took every opportunity to plop down and relax. Hooray, the bear photos DID make it onto the computer.

The camera crew at work in Jericho's dinghy, trying to stay downwind and still get close enough for some good shots.

Kasook has been a terrific anchorage with many bays and inlets to explore on dinghy excursions, even when it’s blowing and choppy outside in Cordova Bay. It’s always fun to watch the wildlife, and to watch the wildlife watching us. Kasook must not have many visitors - the animals either seemed curious or ignored us. One weasely varmint (marten? fisher? mink?) popped up in the Capt’s path, stood up on its hind legs and cocked his head from side to side as he peered at the yellow-coated human looming large six feet away. The resident deer and bear seemed unconcerned as we floated by close to shore. Only the Sandhill cranes, migrating north on the flyway to the tundra area, were wary.

NOT kidnapped by pirates

Sitka, Alaska July 15, 2009

You may have noticed a lack of 2009 entries… so what happened to the blog on this cruise?

* unprecedented good weather led to excessive playtime

* we cruised for weeks at a time in remote locations with no wi-fi access

* we had fun guests aboard and spent time cruising, not in town

* in town the cruise ship traffic jammed up cellphone and internet access

* sporadic inertia - no excuse for that!

* weak wi-fi access that dropped connections during photo upload

* did I mention fun in the sunshine instead of blogging on gray days

Enough with the excuses, we’re having a ball on this cruise and I haven’t posted even a tiny bit of what we’ve seen or done or who we’ve spent time with. My apologies to anyone who has checked the site to see where we’re at or what we’re doing. Whenever time/internet/ambition/the planets all line up just right, I’ll transfer my journal notes and some of the hundreds of terrific photos to the blog for you to share. Until then, we’re enjoying the 2009 Alaska cruise to the max!