Friday, July 16, 2010

Baranof Warm Springs

Photo: Extreme low tide looking at the Warm Springs main dock, boat grid and two of the cabins pushed downhill by a winter snow slide.

July 10-16

What a happening place this week! More than two dozen seine boats used the bay in between their twice-weekly Sunday/Thursday fishing openings. Some boats rafted three deep at the dock and the rest dotted the bay and adjacent coves at anchor, using their big seine skiffs for shore runs. 
There was a lot of traffic in the bay, at all hours of the day and night, but it wasn't quite as busy as in some previous years, when it seemed the entire SE seiner fleet gathered in Warm Springs Bay.

2008 Photo: Salmon spotter plane for some of the Petersburg seiners.

Abundant fresh water at the dock adds to the attraction of the hot spring pools that border the top of the waterfall, and the more accessible enclosed soaking tubs shoreside. The lake behind the falls was popular with fishermen and hikers too. 

Photo: Japanese soaking tub at Warm Springs. 

Photo: The view from inside a tub room.

We always look forward to a stay in beautiful Warm Springs, hoping to score moorage at the dock and enjoy the lively sociability there. The nearby coves are peaceful and scenic, but it’s just more fun at the dock. The Capt’s timing was perfect: we arrived just as two boats were leaving the dock, so we slid right in and tied up. 

Photo: The dock just after our arrival - it really filled up when the seiners returned!

This year’s stay had the added bonus of visiting with old friends Lee and Diane (M/V Sonata), as well as getting to know several other cruising boaters and some of the commercial fishermen. We shared dinners and happy hours, played Mexican Train, traded books and stories, and walked the trails to pick berries. There was even a guitar serenade and an evening of fireworks.

Bonus: I traded a small, fresh-from-the-oven homemade pizza for a large bag of cracked, cleaned, and already cooked Dungeness crab. I just love “dock fishing!!"

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Red Bluff Bay

Note: click on the photos to view larger images

July 8-11
The run west in Frederick Sound to South Chatham Strait is always a time of anticipation, waiting to see how much snow still blankets the rugged peaks of the Baranof mountains. In good weather the display is especially impressive, and we were lucky to have such a sunny morning for cruising.

Drat! the sunshine was fickle. Red Bluff weather turned foggy, gray, wet and cool, and that made bear watching more challenging. I could wipe the pilothouse windows and the binocular lenses, but nothing would clear away the fog and low clouds that obscured everything from bear meadow estuary to mountain peaks. The -4.4 low tide added another challenge, preventing our dinghy and kayaks from approaching the streams where the bear frequently feed. So we kept our distance, practiced patience and hoped for bear, high tide and clear weather to coincide. Once a bear appeared, we grabbed the cameras, sprang into the dinghy and quietly moved in for a photo shoot.

Shrimping was good, so we didn’t suffer while waiting for bear sightings. (Thanks Steve, M/V Maximo, for sharing your secret spot and some extra bait). Running back and forth to set and check the pots we surprised a family of mergansers. First mama merganser rushed her flock to shore, hiding behind a tangle of branches. Unhappy with our presence, she led them off into a sheltered nook, keeping a wary eye out for circling eagles.


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Chapin Bay

July 5-7
 Chapin Bay is the best (most protected) anchorage along Frederick Sound. It’s also notable for an unusual hole-in-the-mountain rock formation above our traditional anchorage. 

On several previous trips we’ve tracked a cinnamon-colored grizzly bear as he grazed his way along the rocky shoreline. Intent on his foraging, he pretty much ignored us as we trailed him in the dinghy. One year we were surprised by a lone humpback whale cruising on the surface inside the bay, circling the boat. When you’re anchored close to shore in a shallow bay that’s a big surprise.

This year there were no whales circling and no bear grazing. While fishing outside the bay we finally did spot five humpback whales across the channel, and later saw a grizzly feeding on bear grass in nearby Eliza Harbor. 

We'll settle for a quiet stay in a scenic anchorage, but spotting wildlife is always a welcome bonus.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Petersburg Celebration

July 2-4     

Provisioning is so easy in Petersburg. The closest grocery store is a short half block away from the Harbor Office, but I usually opt for the luxury of van pickup and delivery from the big Hamar & Wikan grocery uphill near the airport. It's a lovely mile-plus walk up to the store in good weather, but not so much fun lugging bags and boxes back to the boat... in the rain, with soggy groceries, and besides, Joe the van driver is entertaining to visit with enroute.

Following a grocery visit we always spend a few hours online at the library, check out their giveaway bookcase, and then head down Sing Lee Alley to buy too many books at one of my favorite independent SE bookstores (the other one is in Sitka).This year's recommendation was Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. Last year it was A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian. I'm always surprised yet delighted at the suggested titles.

We had barely arrived in Petersburg when we received the gift of six Dungeness crab. Woohoo! They were even delivered to the boat, cracked, cleaned and ready to cook. (thank you Norm) I quickly got on that job, and then spent a lot longer picking the body and leg meat out. That’s not a complaint… I’ll welcome fresh crab any time, but it is a lot more fun to share the picking task with someone else.We enjoyed Crab Louis the first night, crabby enchiladas (link) the next, and countless snacks and stolen tastes just because it was available. How much do I love crab? check out last year's love note to crabby cooking (link)

Fourth of July Fun

The harbor emptied out during our stay, with the small gillnetters and big purse seiners away on various fishing openings. One of the local canneries has not opened this season, due to projected light salmon returns, but everyone is hopeful. Even without the fishing fleet at home there was still a terrific crowd in town for the 4th of July parade and street party… and on a gray, dreary drizzle of a day. Petersburg floats were decorated with colorful plastic ribbons rather than the flowers or crepe paper streamers seen in the lower 48: a good choice considering the typically unpredictable weather. Some of the participants wore clear plastic bags (fish sacks?) over their costumes, others braved the rain, and everyone sported a big smile… both times around the route. Petersburg is a small enough town that parades make two loops of the downtown main street to guarantee full enjoyment for everyone involved.

 Following a fine chicken and ribs barbecue at the Moose Lodge’s party tent we wandered down to the harbor to watch the log rolling competition. Guy vs guy, gal vs gal, and the grand champion roll-off guy vs gal. Susan, a local multi-year winner, won again! Can you imagine tumbling into 45 degree water, and coming up with a grin?! 

I heard one of the young and shivering quarter-finalists mutter, "If I'd known I had to do it again I wouldn't have won the first round." His buddies laughed and no one believed him. After the final roll-off the crowd was surprised to see another young couple step on the log... what gives? They both had planned to enter the contest, but the Alaska State Ferry delivered them an hour too late to make the start. So they competed against each other, just for the fun of it. Fun of it????? Ah, youth.

The skies cleared enough to have the fireworks as scheduled, unlike Juneau and Sitka who chose to postpone theirs due to very low cloud cover. It was tempting to go to bed before an 11:00 pm fireworks start, but friends dropped by late and stayed to watch the display with us. We just love small town celebrations in SE.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Ketchikan to Petersburg

photo: at the Forest Service dock in Roosevelt Harbor (note the milky-green glacier water)

July 1                  Roosevelt Harbor
Day 11                 34 nm                                                                            
A pod of 20+ porpoise joined us in Clarence Strait, surfing in the bow wake and seeming to dare each other to get closer, closer still, pushing one another out of the lead position. Just the thought of them leaping and playing around us as we traveled brings a smile. Any photos just show splashes, places where porpoise used to be as they were quicker than the photographer’s reflexes. Maybe next time.

Roosevelt Harbor, Zarembo Island was a new stop for us. We usually head for St. John Harbor on the other side of the island. Close to Wrangell, each of these harbors has a Forest Service dock and access to miles and miles of roads/trails. Nope, we didn’t take the 21-mile hike to look at St. John; we just enjoyed a shorter photo walkabout closer to the dock.

photo: scarlet paintbrush

June 30                    Burnett Inlet                                                               
Day 10                     24 nm
Our usual Burnett anchorage has changed, sort of. The actual location is still the same beautiful, sheltered and quiet place but the newly updated Nobeltec charts now show our favorite spot colored in green not blue! No way! we had more than 50 feet under the hull at a near-zero low tide. 

This photo is a bit blurry, shot at an 80x digital zoom on a pocket camera without a tripod, but it does highlight the distinctive white head of a bald eagle. We can spot them easily as they perch high in the evergreens, We just look for big white golf balls. This big guy, and his buddies, kept us company in Burnett Inlet, swooping from rock to tree to rock... and squawking their peculiar cry.

June 27-29              Meyers Chuck                                                      
Day 8-9                    38 nm
Meyers Chuck seemed unusually quiet with few residents and fewer transients in evidence and the commercial fishing boats out chasing salmon. Two or three chimneys puffed woodsmoke each morning and evening, an occasional chainsaw or hammer broke the silence in the harbor, and the skiffs that appeared from the back chuck zipped past the dock infrequently on some important mission. Postmistress Cassie P. flew in on mail day and there was a brief flurry of activity at the post office. Dock neighbors included small WA tugs, CA sailboats, WA trawlers and a 24’ aluminum fishing boat from MT… but not all on the same day.

It was way too blustery to run the dinghy outside the harbor and fish, so I settled for a walkabout to visit the spiderweb, peek in the gallery windows, and see what had changed. Nothing major. In previous years I’ve rambled on at length about this wonderful place, it’s charm and it’s people, so I won’t repeat. The Chuck remains one of our favorite stops.

June 25-26                    Ketchikan                                                               
Day 6-7                         35 nm
Ketchikan was wet, off and on, and always when we were out and about on errands. We hiked north to the post office, south to purchase fishing licenses and check out the new location of Tongass Trading Co. marine hardware store - it didn’t matter, it poured and blew. Each evening it felt good to stay aboard rather than climb into rain gear and hike to nearby Bar Harbor or Oceanview Restaurant, my two favorite Ketchikan eateries. How lazy is that? 

Floatplanes are a routine part of Ketchikan life, background music to the other harbor sounds.  Conversation paused while this Beaver flew low overhead, and there's never just one plane it seems. 

Check out the unusual, experimental ferry boat at the shipyard drydock. The Capt knew all about it's design process and purpose, while I just thought it looked strange.