Thursday, September 22, 2011

Black Bear in a Plum Tree

September 11
Lagoon Cove

We look forward to socializing with owners Bill and Jean and crowds of other boaters whenever we stop at Lagoon Cove. The daily Happy Hour is typically a noisy meet 'n greet event. This year we arrived late in the season and found just one other boat, Lady J, at the dock. No matter, we all made up for the small numbers with lively conversation and larger portions of appetizers. Piles of Peel 'n Eat Prawns, fresh oatmeal cookies and watermelon slices quickly disappeared.

The evening ended with an hour long photo op with a fat, glossy black bear. He climbed into the top stories of an old, multi-trunked plum tree and gorged himself on fruit while we observed from a nearby boardwalk. Seven noisy humans didn't worry this big bear, oh no. He kept on eating while we chattered and several cameras and smartphones clicked away. The bear kept an eye on us, monitoring everyone's position, but never slowed his pace. He gobbled the fruit, pits and all, using paws and claws to pull branches closer to his mouth. Branches creaked and bent, one major limb had already broken off the trunk from his weight, but he was drawn by the plums just out of reach. Jean may never enjoy any of her plum crop as the Cracroft Island bears happily harvest the nearly-ripe fruit too.

A second, smaller bear noshed away in the same tree the following morning. He was more timid, dashing down the tree and up into the brush as soon as he heard or smelled humans moving up the boardwalk. No Kodak moment with that little guy.    

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Leapfrogging: Harbor to Harbor

Leapfrogging? was that title just an excuse to feature my favorite hat?
Kumealon to Klewnuggit - let those names roll off your tongue, and be happy I didn't even mention Kxngeal. These names may be challenging, but they label harbors along the Grenville Channel that are welcome in any weather.

September 5-6 
Klewnuggit Inlet
Weather forecasts bumped today's wind predictions from gale to storm warnings in our region, calling for the first serious storm event of the season. Oh goody, notable nasty weather, not just the usual bad weather chunky stuff. We opted to move two inlets south, from Kumealon to Klewnuggit Inlet where we have previously sat out storms. It’s a well protected anchorage, but the surrounding high hills block out any VHF weather reports. No problem, we used the satellite phone to call EnvironmentCanada for recorded updates. Technology to the rescue!

The Capt works on the foredeck, while I supervise, warm and dry,  from inside the pilothouse.
Rain and more rain, buckets of rain, pouring down rain was in order for our two-day stay. Occasional wind gusts rocked the boat, but we rode it out comfortably. New waterfalls appeared all along the Grenville and inside Klewnuggit. Rain-swollen streams suddenly appeared where there had been none hours before. What happened to yesterday's sunshine and summery weather?

September 7
Rescue Bay
We cruised in rain and fog most of the morning, with blessedly little wind and calm water. Flat water was welcome but the fog was an issue. OMG! We were almost hit by a humpback whale in Wright Sound, near Whale Channel of all things. Ron spotted the whale when it first surfaced about 10 feet off the port side pilothouse door. He pulled the throttles back into neutral immediately, then reversed and we held our breath while the adrenaline rushed. I just saw the whale’s back as he slid underwater and disappeared - right under our bow. There was no contact, we never saw him again, not even a spout, and I cannot imagine why he chose to surface there. Too close. Don’t need to experience that again. We saw 8 more humpbacks in Graham Reach off Aaltanhash Inlet, but at a more comfortable distance.

Whale in the fog
Heli-logging along the route 
Heli-logging in the fog
I love our radar when we travel in the fog, and split my attention between scanning the water ahead for logs and watching the radar screen searching for other vessels. We saw a large blip on the screen slowly approach our position, the two courses converging unless one of us adjusted. We slowed and changed course slightly, enough to safely pass whatever the blip turned out to be. Why was it such a shock to see the B.C. ferry Northern Expedition loom high above us, appearing suddenly 1/4 mile away. The large radar dot was SO much larger  in real-time viewing. She passed without incident, disappearlng back into the fog. AIS, a vessel identification system, has just become more appealing.

September 8

Fog, fog and more fog for most of the day. This was serious fog, heavy pea soup fog, can’t see the water slow down below 5 knots kind of fog. Then the sun began to emerge, complicating things even further. Think about driving in the fog at night, and how high beams diminish visibility even further. That was the effect of the sun this morning. I had to don sunglasses to increase the contrast between ripples on water and solid objects.

The sun finally broke through after noon at Dryad Point and we enjoyed blue sky for the rest of the day. It seemed we had just cruised back into summer, with temperatures over 70 and sunshine all around.  

This fishing boat was one of the dots on our radar screen several hours ago. 

Dixon Entrance to Grenville Channel

Early September
We had a one-day weather window to make the Dixon Entrance crossing, just ahead of another major storm. Leave today or wait in port or nearby at anchor for another 5 or 6 days. Easy decision there; cast off just before dawn and motor south. The channel, Tongass Narrows, was pretty quiet at 05:15 with just a few fishermen heading out and two huge cruise ships heading in.

The Dixon Entrance is a body of water, open to the Pacific on the west, that is one of the few large, exposed crossings along the Inside Passage. There is no where to hide if the weather turns ugly, so mariners selects their crossing time carefully. I was aware that the U.S./Canadian border runs through this area, but didn't know that the exact boundary location is still disputed... according to a Wikipedia entry.

Stats: Water temperature 54 F. Air temperature 53 F. Low clouds or was it high fog?
We found 4 to 6 foot swells right away between Duke Island and Cape Fox. These dropped to 3 to 4 footers, then smoothed out to near calm by the time we finished the crossing and turned in to Prince Rupert, British Columbia. In record time (for us) it took a mere 12 minutes to clear Canadian Customs, receive our new cruising permit number, untie the lines and set out again in the sunshine! high cloud, blue sky, warm sunshine!

Prince Rupert is an incredibly busy transportation hub, boasting a terminus for the Trans-Canada Highway and for rail lines from the Canadian interior, a ferry dock, container dock and grain and coal shipping terminals. 

Prince Rupert's colorful container dock.
The cranes are incredibly fast at loading and unloading containers.
Prince Rupert Grain Terminal
The red waterline will hardly show when this ship is fully loaded.
With 5 hours of daylight left, calm water and another storm heading our way, we chose to keep moving. I said goodbye to thoughts of dinner in Cow Bay and we headed south into the Grenville Channel. A flotilla of fishing boats, mostly seiners heading home to U.S. waters, kept us company along the way. They continued on as we turned into Kumealon Inlet, a familiar and comfortable anchorage at the end of a very long day.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Rain, Wind, Fog, and More Rain, etc.

You've read the title, you get the picture. Our run south was gray and wet, but that's just the big picture. There were interesting moments along the route.

Petersburg Harbor bustled with activity as seiners and packers returned with holds full of salmon, and then set out again for the fishing grounds. 
Seiners filled these docks, but trollers and gillnetters were active too.
The canneries ran full shifts, filling the bay with foamy effluent and the air with the aroma of cooked seafood (and more). Schools of herring swarmed the waters and screeching gulls and eagles whirled through the air everywhere. Just picture eagles playing fighter pilot as they maneuvered in the harbor; twisting, diving and pulling up rapidly to avoid masts and rigging while they plucked herring from the water's surface or tried to steal fish from another bird. That was some air show.

Occasional small icebergs drifted past the docks, carried up and down the channel by the swift-moving current.

Wrangell Narrows is a crooked, doglegged waterway that is dotted with a maze of markers which indicate the navigable main channel and several side channels. Easy to transit in clear weather, it's a bit more challenging in heavy rain and/or fog. Our onboard navigation program and radar were much appreciated in August's changeable conditions.

You don't want to travel on the wrong side of a marker.
The view forward.
The view aft.
The view on the radar screen... somewhat later.
Here's an unfortunate vessel; did the captain misread the markers, or run afoul of a hard-to-see gillnet? That's a troller - trollers don't fish with nets, but there is one hanging over the rear quarter.

Click on the photo for a better look at the net.
High winds and rough water in Sumner Strait caused a change in the cruise plan. A long run was scrubbed in favor of a short dash across the strait into St. John Harbor. With extra storm lines added to the usual complement of mooring lines, we rode out the gale pointed up into the winds at a Forest Service dock. Forty-knot winds howled through our bay, 60-70 knot gusts were recorded nearby in Clarence Strait. While we were comfortable and secure, it was worrisome to watch two big boats anchored across the bay as they rolled and pitched, swinging in 180 degree arcs around their anchors.

Zarembo Island's streams ran fast and dumped muddy water and scads of debris into the bay. Here's one log chunk rushing past the dock - I hoped we didn't meet up with this one or any other as we traveled on. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Baranof Warm Springs

August 13-14: Baranof Warm Springs

We were delighted to find room to tie up at the dock. Blue skies and sunshine welcomed us to Warm Springs and stayed with us all day. Who wouldn’t prefer sunshine to rain for hiking the boardwalk up to the pools and beyond to the lake?!

Salmonberries come in a variety of reds and golds
A raft of seine boats... and two hanging fish
The seiners began to arrive late in the day, trickling in to offload fish at the packer and eventually rafting 4 and 5 boats deep across the dock from us. The packer and several other boats, seiners and commercial charters, anchored out in the harbor, their skiffs darting around like busy mosquitos as they ferried crew in to the dock. Most of the fishing boats were the smaller, older craft of the seine fleet, arriving at Baranof to use the pools and work on equipment repairs until the next salmon fishing opening. Note the two hanging fish in the photo above: I had a few thoughts (link) about that sight.

Slone and Peter departed by float plane, heading over the mountains back to Sitka. We stayed put for another day to do some boat chores and plan the next leg of the cruise. 

August 15
A weather system moved into the area; wind gusts of 37 knots rocked the boat, white caps topped the ocean swells that rolled into the bay, and float plane service was suspended. What happened to yesterday’s warm sunshine and settled weather? I can't complain, since we remained comfortable at the dock with access to shore, hot springs, hiking trails, and fresh water. As other boats arrived we heard reports of 55-60 knot winds, dragging anchors and miserable conditions outside the bay. Warm Springs never looked better, even in the rain. 

Red Bluff Bay

August 11-12: Red Bluff Bay

Fog and low clouds made whale watching a bit challenging, but we counted four whales on the cruise south along Baranof Island's east shore. The mountaintops and waterfalls surrounding Red Bluff remained hidden for most of the first day, peeking out one at a time as the clouds rolled through from the west.

Drat! Skunked again crabbing for Dungeness, though we may have found a snow crab nursery. Prawning was a bit more successful, with around 50 critters in two pulls. Though not plentiful, they were very tasty!

Highlights of Red Bluff include kayaking, spin casting for salmon and the on-going search for bear. For two days we watched bear roam the estuary to graze on tall grass along the shore and riverbank. One memory that lingers is a grizzly chasing salmon at the river’s mouth. He splashed along the shallows at low tide, romping, even swimming after those fish, catching one after another and ignoring our presence.

Peril Strait

August 9: Appleton Cove

Two humpback whales cavorted in Peril Strait near False Island. Their breaching and fin slapping continued until we got close enough to grab a few photos. A 600x lens just didn’t seem long enough, but the whales put on quite a long-distance show.

Seiner Archangel transits Peril Strait east of Sergius Narrows
What's so perilous about Peril Strait? It's not worrisome, IF you pay attention to the Tides and Current Tables and travel through Sergius Narrows at or near slack current. I had thought the English explorer Vancouver named this passage, but Wikipedia says otherwise:
When a Tlingit canoe party was going through the tide was going against them and they had to stop and camp there until the tide was right to go through. Háat means tide, Ishkáak means to sit down; eel'é is also referred to where the tide goes in and out really fast.
The strait was named Proliv Pogibshy by Russians because of a fatal incident during a fur seal hunting expedition led by Alexander Baranof in 1799. According to V. F. Lisianski, Baranof employed Native Aleut hunters, ate poisonous shellfish from the strait, which resulted in approximately one hundred and fifty deaths.[1][2] Beyond the strait are the points Poison Cove and Deadman's Reach, also named for the incident. Peril Strait is the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey translation of Proliv Pogibshiy.[2]

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Guest Log: August 7-14

Sitka Harbor to Kalinin Bay 
Slone and Peter arrived on the 9:00 a.m. flight and we were out of the harbor by 10:20, cruising through the outside islands south of town and heading north to Salisbury Sound. There was a brief pause around the Magoun Islands for a photo op with an obliging sea otter, then on to anchor in Kalinin Bay for two nights.

This latest Kalinin stay featured sunshine, fishing trips (catch-and-release pinks, some cod and 1 nice coho), frequent eagle sightings, a close encounter with a whale who surfaced about 200 feet away from the skiff, and a distant grizzly spotted on the beach after dinner. Nice start to an Alaskan cruise with guests.

Some afternoon sunshine encouraged a hike up the Sea Lion Cove Trail. 
We climbed up giant steps through forested hillsides,

 ... trod boardwalks across boggy muskeg and meadows, 

Why is there a diving board here? recreation for an aquatic bear?
... and trekked up boulder-filled and tree-root strewn paths. 

Finally, we stopped at the lake high above the bay, part way to the westside cove - I ran out of energy and enthusiasm at that point. No matter, the outing was still fun. Amazing how the downhill return to the bay went a lot faster than our ascent! 

There were a few scattered bear pawprints in the mud along the estuary’s saltwater shore when we arrived in the skiff, and piles of bear scat all along the trail as we hiked, but we had no actual bear sightings that afternoon. That was fine with me, I would rather see grizzlies when they are on shore and I’m not.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Salmon and Otter and Bear, oh my!

July 14-20
Sitka to Kalinin Bay

Click on the photos to expand the size 

Sea otters are the cutest marine mammals, endearingly appealing with their whiskery, grandpalike faces and silly antics. They are also extremely wary and typically stay just out of good camera range, unlike their cousins the river otters. Every year we hope to capture some better otter shots. This year it helped that we found a large otter that swam closer to the boat to watch us while we watched him. 

This critter rolled and turned repeatedly, twisting effortlessly while he floated along mid-channel. Every now and again he’d pop his head up higher and study us. Was he posing for the camera? How un-otterlike.

Another otter swam around inside Kalinin Bay, weaving in and out among the anchored boats without concern. I wondered, was he there to feed on crab or the schools of salmon that were returning to swim upriver and spawn? We saw him dine on a lot of small crab each day. This otter was definitely not interested in being photographed; he kept his distance.

Sitka deer romped along the Kalinin shore, chasing each other around in between periods of grazing. Two grizzlies roamed the same area, munching on the tall bear grass farther up on the shore. The bear sightings were infrequent, but close enough to our anchorage that it was easy bear viewing.

The larger bear had a scruffy coat, its hindquarters a patchwork of uneven colors and texture. 

The smaller bear looked less bedraggled, was more timid and easily startled, wandering back and forth between its sibling and the shelter of the brushy treeline. 

The water outside the bay was pretty lumpy, stirred up by storms offshore, so we turned back on our first two fishing excursions. The Capt fished solo on the third trip into Salisbury Sound and came back with two nice salmon and a big grin. The grin grew larger and so did the fish as the days went by. We ate a lot of salmon that week.

White gums are indicators of a coho salmon
I had a bad case of skiff envy. There were times we didn’t go fishing because the water outside the bay was too rough for comfort and safety in our 13-foot Boston Whaler. The guys in a 20-foot, enclosed cabin, aluminum skiff fished more often and caught more salmon, King salmon, than anyone else in the bay. I don't want to tow a skiff while we travel, but when we fish...  Skiff envy, for sure. (and that skiff probably had a head and a heater too!)

The weather was incredibly changeable, blowing and still, downpours and spots of sunshine (briefly), foggy and then clear… and all that in one day! That's summer in Southeast.

NO! that little spot of blue doesn't count as a sunny day