Saturday, June 25, 2011

More Fish

June 22-24
Lake Bay, Prince of Wales Island

We had to weave our way carefully into the anchorage, zigzagging through the maze of gillnets set in the waters from Coffman Cove to the entrance to Lake Bay. It was almost a game, with binoculars required, to spot which red buoy belongs to which boat. It’s important to match up boat with buoy, since there’s a net strung in between them. Some gillnetters keep one end of their net attached to the boat, others detatch from their net and drift away, or patrol back and forth between the red buoys at either end. Small white or yellow floats line the top of the net, but they’re hard to spot unless you are right on top of them and the water is flat calm… it was lumpy today.

After the gillnetters' opening ended we ran out in the skiff to see if there were any salmon left in the area. The good fishing put a smile on the Capt’s face and put 2 more salmon in the boat, a fat coho at 5:00 a.m. and a nice king at 5:00 p.m. We’ll be eating a lot of fish this week (never a problem)!

Check out what the salmon eat...........

Continuing North...

June 19-21
Meyers Chuck

Surprise, there was room at the dock when we arrived - always a bonus here.  We met interesting people, like this long-distance kayaker,

...and enjoyed good conversations, lazy beach strolling and easy trail hiking through the woods. We love The Chuck and usually stop on the way north and again on the return home.

RL took advantage of the sunny days to do some repair work on the teak trim and I did a little cooking and cleaning. Mainly, we just enjoyed being there. The new cellphones received voicemail alerts on the boat, but we had to climb up the long ramp to the high dock for a stronger signal in order to connect. Lazy me, I ignored the phone at super low tide and also when it rained hard, just to avoid that uphill trudge. Some days it feels good to stay disconnected.

Behm Canal, North Arm

June 17-18
Forss Island Float, Helm Bay in Behm Canal

We ran to Neets Bay, hoping to find some good salmon fishing. Instead we ran log-watch exercises in Behm Canal, bumped through choppy water and saw no fish on the fishfinder. Zero. Zip. Nada. None. Another boat occupied our pre-selected anchorage, so Phooey! we retraced our route somewhat and headed for another new-to-us location, Forss Bay, not too far from Tatoosh Is. We did see one bear on the way out of Neets.

We arrived at Forss Island in a drizzle to discover 2 small boats at the state float, with plenty of room for us and more. It’s good the Capt. checked the depth and the tidal range. The -3' tide the next morning certainly changed the landscape. We did just fine on the outside of the float, with the depth sounder reporting 9 feet under the keel at low water. However the inshore side of the same float was too shallow for comfort for Rhapsody.

The Blair family welcomed us with friendly Alaskan hospitality, and generously shared their crab catch and some freshly-made crabcakes with spicy sauce, still warm from the stove. Yum! They had booked the Forest Service cabin for several days, so we visited on the float and on the boat.

Our fishing expedition yielded no salmon. No problem, we’ve got crab and lox to work on.

Leaving Ketchikan

June 16
Tatoosh Island, in Behm Canal

As we cruised slowly along Tongass Narrows at the prescribed no-wake speed, we were startled to see two orange Coast Guard RIBs roar by at top speed. The speed was surprising enough, but in each boat a Coastie manned a large pedestal-mounted 50-caliber machine gun. The radio crackled with transmissions informing the captain of the cruise ship Zuiderdam that his ship would be met by USCG Security Escorts and accompanied to its assigned berth. What?!! should we be worried? It turned out to be a drill.

Click on the photo to get a better look at Homeland Security in action.
Tatoosh Island anchorage was peaceful and deserted when we anchored, but we had entertainment throughout the day. A kayak touring company operates out of the bay, zipping back and forth to Ketchikan in several large RIBs to transport boatloads of cruise ship tourists, all eager for a wilderness adventure. 

The best part of the day was a brief fishing trip, 45 minutes from start to finish. RL caught a really nice salmon - and I did a super job of netting it, of course. Now that’s my kind of fishing trip, short and effective. Iron Skillet Salmon (link) for dinner and a big batch of lox (link) in progress. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Whales at the Dock

Humpback whales inside Ketchikan Harbor - click on any image to view it full size
I’ve grown accustomed to the sight of eagles swooping and soaring past the salon windows. Cruise ships frequently fill up the view out the harbor entrance. All types of boats cruise past our slip as they enter and exit the harbor. But tonight, as we lingered over a glass of wine after dinner, two whales came to call.

The Capt. first noticed the smooth surfacing and then the blow of the first whale, soon followed by a second humpback. RL grabbed his camera and raced up to the boat deck; I reached for my Canon and ran outside to the aft deck and then the dock. There was no time to don rain gear, but who cared? Whales! In the harbor! In 36 feet of water! And so close to the boat!

Schools of herring massed, dimpling the water as they rushed about in the main harbor channel. The whales might have followed them in… or not. We enjoyed four whale surfacings as the pair quietly circled the water between our stern and the rock breakwater. Suddenly they were gone. Wow, that was a treat, and some of the easiest whale watching ever - and this time we have a few photos to share.  

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

At the Dock - Seine Boats

Ketchikan Harbor was bustling and crowded when we arrived. The final weekend of a fishing derby brought a lot of boats - no doubt the $10,000 in prize money and bragging rights were attractive lures. Cruising boats of all sizes were in Ketchikan to clear Customs and provision on the way north. Seiners from Washington and Alaska were readying boats and equipment for a king salmon opening.

Some of the seiners sported new paint jobs, even some awesome varnish work. Others hadn’t bothered. There was a lot of equipment tuning and net repair going on everywhere.

Several seiners still had to load nets - what appeared to be acres and acres of nets - onto their empty sterns. Foot by foot the noisy power blocks lifted nets while crew members inspected every bit of them for needed repairs. Occasional shouts filled the air as experienced crew encouraged the new guys with directions on appropriate methods for handling floats and stacking nets.

Seine skiffs buzzed about the docks, like so many noisy mosquitos... and no, they aren't equipped with mufflers. Some of them were loaded with stacked piles of boxed groceries, others ferried crew members on latte runs.   

Then the seiners began to pull out, a few boats at a time, traveling north along Tongass Narrows as they headed out to the fishing grounds. By the next morning only a handful of seiners remained at the dock. I wonder, when and where the king opening is scheduled? And will the few remaining boats get organized and head out to participate?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Ketchikan weekend

Sunday, June 12

I’m sitting at a deli counter in Ketchikan's Safeway store, about a half mile away from the boat. The picture window in front of me frames the boat traffic in Tongass Narrows; cruise ships, coast guard vessels, power boats, sailboats, fishing boats, skiffs and even the ever-present float planes taxiing along. The view is interesting enough to make me forget the rainy walk to get here, today’s closest internet access. Note: The harbor office said they do have wi-fi in the harbor, but we’re not moored where we can receive it. Something about being at the end of the pier, surrounded by steel-hulled boats… whatever! Note to self: Walks are healthy exercise after nine days afloat. 

On to Alaska

The Tree Point Light, an Art Deco classic, is a welcoming beacon to Southeast Alaska.

June 10
Lowe Inlet to Foggy Bay

It was an easy run up the Grenville Channel, with sunshine and positive currents pushing us along throughout the day. The conditions were too good to pass up, so we continued on across the waters of Dixon Entrance and crossed the border into Alaska. It meant another long day of cruising, but we covered a lot of miles. This may have been our fastest and smoothest crossing ever. U.S. Customs/Ketchikan granted us permission to overnight at Foggy Bay before we officially checked in at the dock in Ketchikan. Once again a very low tide dictates entrance/exit times through the narrow channel leading into the inner bay. So we get to sleep in an extra hour tomorrow.

I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s short cruising day, and a weekend in town with a terrific grocery, cell phone and internet connections. Hopefully the replacement iPhone 4 will be waiting for us at the Post Office. Maybe the HotSpot device will work as well. Maybe. (Note:It underperformed!)

Raincoast Cruising

June 9
Rescue Bay to Lowe Inlet

Each calm, gray day ranged from pleasingly light gray, filled with misty ribbons of low clouds, to gloomily dark with sudden and complete downpours.

Wow? What prompted this cheeky raven to join us during a rainstorm? He landed noisily on the bowrail with a squawking kerfluffle of feathers, shouting insults or challenges at some unseen follower. A few minutes later he flew off, just as suddenly as he had arrived.

Spring’s abundant rainfall combined with snowmelt from the year’s heavy snowpack to decorate the hills with hundreds of waterfalls. Some were powerful, thundering into the channel with a force that pushed our bow around. Others appeared as thin ribbons formed high up on the cliffs, then disappeared in the trees and reappeared as multiple threads farther down the hillside. This is a beautiful section of British Columbia, its Raincoast label aptly descriptive.           

At the helm, I was surprised by a huge whale splash about 50 yards off the port side. Then the fin of a second whale cruised by. And then it was over. The two humpbacks did surface a few more times behind us in the channel, but there were no real displays. Once again it happened too fast to grab the camera. But we were ready later on in Fraser Reach, where connects with McKay Reach. A school of white-sided Pacific dolphin played in the bow wake for about 10 minutes. Remembering the image of those sleek, leaping forms rocketing through water and air still makes me smile. This time there’s video footage to share - after we deal with editing and posting issues. Better yet, come aboard and visit to see the video.

Rounding Cape Caution

June 5
Farewell Harbor to Allison Harbor

The first humpback whale of the trip surfaced on the north side of Malcolm Island. Later on in the day I glanced out a side window and saw a small black fin go by, within 50 yards of the boat. Too small to be an orca, it might have been a dolpin or a porpoise. Why do the exciting wildlife moments happen so quickly? and not when I'm holding the camera?! Bring on the wildlife, but slow down the action please.

The sun was shining and the winds were peppy. That “quasi-stationary” high parked outside the offshore waters and a trough over the B.C. interior sent winds roaring NW to SE over the whole coast. Strong wind warnings changed to gale warning and even storm warnings off the northern tip of Vancouver Island. Predicted wind-wave-and-swell heights were impressive. We chose to ride this one out in Allison Harbor… for 3 days.

June 8
Allison Harbor to Rescue Bay

The morning weather forecast and the actual numbers from buoys and lighthouses sounded improved, even tempting. We were tired of hanging out in Allison, so at 0435 we upped anchor, planning to run as far as it was comfortable. Initially much improved, the seas grew quite lumpy abreast of Cape Caution with disturbed currents, heavy swells and a short, steep chop. The autopilot worked hard on that leg of the trip. The boat rode well at a slower rpm, but slower than 9 knots seems really slow on a long crossing. Once we hit the lee of Calvert Island conditions improved. In much calmer water we kept on going, …and going, …and going… to Rescue Bay.  Note to self: waiting in Allison for one more day might have made for smoother travel.

Finally, We're Cruising

The green line with arrows shows our route up Discovery Channel as we begin the trip.

June 4
Discovery Harbor Marina to Farewell Harbor
0650 departure.

Bleakney Pass was active with a 5-knot current running against us as we entered. Whirlpools formed all over the place, but the Capt quickly moved us to the far shore to minimize any twisting and turning. We focused on suddenly turbulent water ahead. It wasn’t a whirlpool, so what caused all of the splashing?  A sea lion surfaced with a salmon flopping in its mouth. Two seagulls circled around his head and harassed him with no effect. Suddenly an eagle swooped down and grabbed a piece of the fish. The sea lion lunged upward after the eagle, thrusting the upper third of his body into the air before crashing back into the water. But the eagle pulled up sharply, soaring away as he used his beak to tear into that strip of fish held in his talons. Where did the birds come from so quickly? All of the action took place within seconds, not minutes, as this drama unfolded.

Several cruise ships traveled through Bleakney Pass at slack current, without the excitement of any whirlpools. I wonder if current impacts a huge ship in the turns through a tight passage. Here’s a view of the Celebrity Century seen from our inside anchorage in Farewell Harbor.

Eager to Depart

The Capt. spends a lot of hours below deck in the engine room. Does he have a recliner and TV hidden down there somewhere?

April 28 - June 3
Discovery Harbor at the dock

Some major, unplanned projects accounted for the extra weeks in Campbell River. Shipping delays were to blame for several weeks of waiting around as parts came from across the U.S., but the work itself went well. Rhapsody is now running smoothly - too bad the new iPhone died and the new Verizon HotSpot won’t work in Canada.

A high-pressure ridge is building offshore with sunshine and high winds predicted for the next 4 days. We’ll see. Environment Canada is very conservative when it comes to marine weather forecasts. I hope they’re right about the sunshine and wrong about the winds.

Quick Ketchikan Note

Hooray! We crossed the border and have arrived in Ketchikan... and do I have some stories and photos to share. But first I have to find a stronger wi-fi connection. The Harbor internet isn't working this weekend, and our mobile Verizon HotSpot isn't connecting. I might spend a lot of time sipping coffee at Safeway while trying to post some updates from the deli counter, or I'll catch up in Petersburg some other day. Catch you later.