Monday, August 23, 2010

Santa Anna Inlet Welcome

Set the anchor, scan the shore to check out the neighborhood, and STOP! put the skiff in the water 'cuz there's a bear on the beach. 

There were fish jumping all over the inlet, running up the creek to spawn. Waterfalls gurgled and splashed, providing background music. Eagles and heron glided above while kingfishers darted from tree to tree. But it was really all about the gorgeous black bear today, our official welcoming committee. 

Sunday, August 22, 2010

It's a Contest

Can you tell me what this is? Do you know it's purpose? Hey, I'll send you an Alaskan gift package if you get it right. (limit 3 winners, though I'm not expecting too many entrants)

Saturday, August 21, 2010


How's this for a Welcome-to-Wrangell greeting?

It has been far too many years since our last visit to Wrangell. We always seem to rush on by as we cruise north and south, choosing other routes to travel from Petersburg to Ketchikan. 2010 was the perfect year to revisit the town, especially since friends Pat and Frank R. were in residence this week. Omigosh, what a fun-packed three days in town.

We hiked the north beach...

... spotted this cool benchmark, with its information and warnings...

(remember to click on any photo to see it full-frame)

... and then found the famous Wrangell petroglyphs. Here's a sample of just two of the many we spotted (and who knows how many we missed?)

Wrangell has a new award-winning museum, and it's quite impressive. The structure is well-designed to highlight the collection and reflect its heritage. Visitors walk through Wrangell history, with a background of audio prompts to complement the signage. We loved everything, from the tiniest baskets to the towering totems, with Pat's tour narrative adding more local color. 

Next we toured the uplands of Wrangell Island. We don't often have a chance to see the waterways of SE Alaska from above, a hillside view to savor. 

High bush cranberries were prolific everywhere in the hills, or so it seemed. That glossy red fruit has quite a puckery punch when nibbled straight from the bush. Rumor has it that HBC make great jelly or sauce, but I'd want to add a lot of sugar to the mix.

Talk about attractive fruit! these apples were fresh-picked and came out of one of Frank's greenhouses. All three of his three structures were filled with roses, fruits, vegetables and trees. I got so involved exploring the greenery that I forgot to take any photos.

Is it the long hours of sunshine each day? Is it the unusually warm Spring this year? or is there some other magic in Wrangell that explains the glorious riot of color on this houseboat in Heritage Harbor? Some locals credit the effect of a seaweed (fucus) mulch.

More photo-tour of Wrangell at some later date. Can you tell how much we enjoyed our stay?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Icebergs... well, bergettes

Check out how much of this iceberg's mass is underwater!
It happens every year, somewhere near Petersburg I am surprised by the presence of icebergs floating down the channel. Sometimes, way off in the distance, they look like an entire flotilla of skiffs, all clustered together like participants in some chilly fishing derby... nope, just icebergs. Occasionally they are beached, caught along the shoreline when the tide falls. This week there were just a few small bergs, peacefully bobbing in the calm water of Frederick Sound. 

I love the colors that hide deep within the ice, brilliant blues, greens and all shades in between. The technical explanations of light absorption, refraction, prisms, optic this and that are interesting but it's really all about the color. Color and shapes. 

Monday, August 16, 2010

Farragut Bay

What an amazing place, and how could we have missed it during the past ten years of cruising in SE Alaska?! We usually cruise the southerly side of Frederick Sound, hugging Kuprenof Island, for a more direct route into Petersburg. This year we explored the mainland side of the channel, following a handful of whales and poking into new coves and inlets.

Farragut Bay felt huge, wide open to south winds from Frederick Sound and north winds and williwaws whipping down the mountains and through the river valleys. It was sunny and calm during our stay, but “just in case” we were securely tucked inside a small cove behind an island.

Our skiff excursion around Farragut and up to the river estuary was thwarted by extensive shoaling and scattered rocks that turned up in unexpected places. We found one other cruising boat inside the bay, and a storage raft for a crabber’s supply of Dungeness pots.

Just look at the boundary where the ice-melt freshwater pours out of the river and meets the salty seawater in the bay. It was pretty dramatic. Ron did a taste test, and confirmed that the river outflow was fresh water and the bay water was salty.

The water was milky, an opaque celadon green, and I’m using that as our excuse for not hooking a halibut or a salmon. Hmmmm, cloudy water didn’t stop the hundreds of surf scoter and white-winged scoter from locating and feeding on baitfish.

The hundreds of scoter were not interested in participating in my photo op.

Sunset was spectacular, and it was tough thinking about heading back into town the next day. Sitka to Petersburg via Peril Strait is a 160-mile trip. We cruise at 9 knots, so that distance translates to three comfortable cruising days, or a bit longer if we choose to linger along the way. This year it took exactly two weeks, and it was tempting to spend even longer. Two weeks in Paradise! Was it the sunshine that put a smile into each day? or perhaps the frequent whale sightings? or the relaxing stretch of carefree cruising without any weather challenges? It was all of that and more.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Bear? or Bear Rock? or...

We keep busy while we're cruising, scanning the water for whales and checking the shoreline for bear. It becomes automatic, and exciting whenever a whale spout is sighted or a grizzly is spotted. But all too often that animal ashore turns out to be a bear rock or bear stump instead of the four-footed variety.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Whales in Frederick Sound

Buddlington Range, across the water of Frederick Sound

Frederick Sound instantly became a favorite cruising destination with glorious sunshine, impressive scenery, and whales. Whales! not many, not even a large pod, just six individuals doing their thing. But there were whales! 

I really wished we could get closer... but not too close.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Baranof Warm Springs

After a week or more of cruising I begin to monitor the water gauge and the fruit bowl… well, provisions in general. Should we head to a town to refill the tanks and refrigerator, or stay remote and have some “creative” menus? Easy decision: we opted to stay out longer and just work the water issue. We returned to the dock at Baranof Warm Springs with it’s beautiful scenery, hot spring pools and abundant dockside supply of fresh water. Laundry and longer showers won out over fresh produce or wi-fi connections.

Southern regions have now opened for commercial fishing so there wasn’t a seine boat in sight this week, though we did see a few trollers still working the inside waters locally. The absence of seiners meant we had our choice of spots at the Warm Springs dock. This was a very relaxing three-day stay.

Highlights of this Warm Springs visit:
o     We enjoyed days of unending sunshine, balmy weather and light breezes that keep the bugs away.
o     The sheer beauty of this unique setting is a delight with towering peaks, small isolated coves, hot mineral pools adjacent to the top of a thundering waterfall, and greenery everywhere. 

o     Tempting blueberry, blackberry, huckleberry and salmonberry bushes thrive in sunny spots everywhere around the bay. The berries were huge and plentiful, picking was easy and I have berry-stained fingers and a purple smile to prove it. Other people bake pies, I eat berries. (You have to specialize, right?)

o     Late one afternoon a humpback whale circled the bay, startling everyone with noisy spouts and splashes as it cruised near the falls and passed close to the dock. At the same time a Stellar sea lion kept a wary distance and worked the opposite side of the bay.
o     We met interesting people; cabin owners, a biologist taking an animal inventory of nearby valleys, a pilot on a contract project to survey the condition of SE floatplane docks, and a number of charter boat, fishing boat and private cruiser crews. (I kept busy socializing and forgot to take many people pictures)  

Most birds in the bay kept their distance, but this heron agreed to pose for a photo. I wish the whales and otter were as cooperative.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Pavlof Harbor

Just the name Pavlof floods my brain with vivid memories from this special location. We usually anchor within sight and sound of the waterfall where several species of returning salmon jump and splash noisily, non-stop throughout the bay, and deer and grizzly frequent the shallows and the shore. There’s always the expectation of great fishing and endless photo opportunities.

Well, the weather was calm and the fishing was hot! On our first fishing trip we ran about 3.5 miles outside the bay in the skiff, hooked some rockfish, caught five salmon (drat! lost a big one), and brought three large coho back to the big boat. All that in less than three hours.

Three big coho - that’s the good news. The freezer is almost full - that’s the not-so-good news. We need to eat a lot of fish before we go fishing again. We’re up to the challenge with barbecued salmon for dinner, salmon salad for lunch, and lox curing in the refrigerator for snacks and appetizers in the days ahead.

Salmon jumped all over the bay, dotting the surface with splashes like popcorn kernels exploding in a hot skillet.

Ron couldn't resist the lure of all those the jumping salmon and had to bring back just one more coho. Check out that smile as he singlehands the fishing and netting.

Hundreds of returning pinks and coho fought their way through the shallows and leapt up the steps in the concrete fish ladder, battling the torrents of water rushing down from Pavlof River and Lake. All of those fish, and only one grizzly?! I fear that popularity has spoiled changed this special place.

Pavlof has become a heavily scheduled destination for small cruise ships and smaller charter boats. We observed 75-passenger ships anchor by 8:00 a.m. and efficiently launch a handful of large rubber rafts and a flotilla of kayaks. The rubber rafts transported the guests ashore to hike to the falls, take a naturalist-guided walk to the lake, kayak around the bay, hopefully photograph some wildlife, and generally enjoy an Alaskan wilderness experience. By 1:00 p.m. the guests, kayaks, and rafts were recovered and the ship cruised out of the bay. Evidently grizzly bear are not fond of crowds, since they hid and didn’t join the party.

We did see one lone grizzly, a youngster, who chased salmon each day at dawn and dusk. His capturing skills needed a lot more practice.

Do you suppose the bear have moved up the canyon, where the streams run into Pavlof River, to feed undisturbed by all of us visitors? Has hunting made them more wary along the shoreline? Are they still inland, eating berries and grass due to late-returning salmon runs?  I especially wonder what happened to the sow and her two beautiful blond cubs that we saw last year at this time. 


Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Baby Bear Bay

We spotted two humpbacks on the thirty-mile run from Sitka Harbor to Baby Bear. One whale worked the currents east of Kakul Narrows and the second one was feeding east of Sergius Narrows, close to Deep Bay. No surprise, we frequently spot a lone whale in both locations. Note: Baby Bear pops up frequently in the cruise notes, and with good reason. It's a convenient spot to moor and wait for slack current at Sergius, or to anchor after a late-in-the-day trip through the Narrows. It's also a nice bay, and conveniently located across the channel from great crabbing and bear watching in Deep Bay.

Early Wednesday morning, just minutes after we upped anchor and navigated a careful exit from Baby Bear Bay, I was on the bow for photos of an approaching tug with barge as it cleared the Middle Point channel markers.

It was a still, quiet morning with only a low rumble of boat engines breaking the silence. Surprise! a whale surfaced and spouted noisily right next to the boat. One more blow and then he was gone. It took a few minutes for my racing pulse to slow back to normal. That was a great way to begin a day, but I wish I had captured more than whale spray in a photo.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Sitka Harbor

A working harbor is a busy place. When the seine boats are tied up, in between openings, there is a major focus on maintenance and repair. A neighboring seiner's crew spent long hours over a couple of days working on their net, checking for tears and repairing each hole by hand. What a lot of net area to check, typically 1200 feet long by 40 feet deep, but nets are an expensive and critical piece of equipment.

In the midst of net repair and boat prep, there's always time for fun on board when the family comes to visit.

What happens to all of the salmon that are hauled aboard in a seine net? Most seiners transfer their fish to a packer (also called a tender). This pair were busy doing just that inside Sitka's breakwater. 

Photo: packer Peggy Jo on the left, seiner Defiant on the right

Photo: the large vacuum tube sucks water and fish out of the seiner's hold and pumps them into the packer. 

A working boat of a different type, this tour boat utilizes underwater viewing ports to give its passengers a glimpse of aquatic life. A scuba diver will frequently rendezvous with the boat and hand feed a variety of fish. It's a popular tourist attraction, and keeps busy when the cruise ships are in port.

We do spend some time away from the docks (and not just at the grocery or the marine supplier). This year we  revisited the Sheldon Jackson Museum
"If there were a museum for museums, the Sheldon Jackson Museum in Sitka would be part of the collection. It is the oldest museum in Alaska and is located in the first concrete building in the state. Construction began in 1895 and it has been occupied since 1897. The building was placed on the National Historical Register in 1972.
While the building may be as old as some of the items in its collection, its exhibits reflect recent renovation and a dedication to professional museum standards. The Museum's collection has been called a jewel in the crown of Alaska ethnographic collections."
The collected artifacts were interesting and well displayed, but we most enjoyed the time spent with Margaret, a traditional beadwork artist, and the several docents on duty who added so much life to the experience.

 Photo: traditional Tlingit headpiece with abalone shell and ermine tails