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

Saturday, July 23, 2011


July 9-13
Looking south in Crescent Harbor
There are so many things to see and do in Sitka, so many that we can’t begin to do them all in one visit. We always find time to walk the several harbors and check out the boats, large and small. 

Two colorful vessels in Crescent Harbor
We manage at least one long walk to town for an historic tour and photo shoot.

St. Michael's Russian Orthodox Cathedral

2011 was also our year to revisit the Totem Park, a 113-acre National Historic Park at the southeast end of town. It holds an amazing collection of Haida and Tlingit totem poles, displayed in a natural setting. You just happen upon them while hiking the park's loop trail. Most of the totems are replicas of 100-year old originals, though several old poles are on display inside the park's visitor center. The old poles are well-preserved in a museum-like setting, but we chose to visit the standing totems scattered throughout the woods. Weathering shows in fading paint and softening of the carved figures, and the poles seem to belong in  amongst the towering Sitka spruce and hemlocks. 

The shrimp/prawn at the bottom of this pole seems unusual.
 In the midst of this quiet forest...

... it was startling to turn toward the water and see a cruise ship at anchor and an Alaska Airlines jet ready for takeoff across the channel. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Lets Go On A Bear Hunt... With Cameras

July 8
Appleton Cove

Our 0518 departure from the Baranof dock felt really early, but it was worth it to enjoy more time at anchor in Appleton Cove. We spent most of the day in the skiff, cruising along the shore and looking for bear. We found a few. Oh yes, we found some bear.

As Rhapsody entered the cove we spotted one large grizzly grazing in the beargrass on the far shore. He slowly ambled back into the brush and disappeared. A second sighting, or perhaps a second bear, came just after we picked up another couple for a bear hunt. This grizzly was cautiously aware of us, nervously moving away when the skiff engine was running. He seemed more comfortable with our presence when the engine was off, calm but aware.

Click on this photo - doesn't he look like a cuddly teddy bear?
Maybe not so cuddly after all.
The end. He's out of here.
After several hours of bear watching we returned to the big boat to review our photos… and saw two more bear at our end of the cove. Forget the projects when bear are nearby. We hopped back into the skiff to spend a few more hours enjoying the antics of this new pair. 

Grizzlies eat a LOT of grass.
Cruising along the rocky shore.
Making tracks for the underbrush, this pair traveled fast.
Now that was a beary good day!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Hike at Baranof Warm Springs

July 6-7
Baranof Warm Springs

Heading for Sitka, on the west coast of Baranof Island, the decision is always the same: “Do we run the 110 miles around the north end of the island, our familiar, sheltered route through Peril Strait? or is this the year to cruise the 130 miles around the south end in outside waters?” The marine weather forecast made the decision for us, again. Travel the inside, protected waters.

We raised the anchor at 0600 and crossed into North Chatham Strait - destination Baranof Warm Springs. When we arrived in the bay, three and a half hours later, we found room at the dock just long enough for Rhapsody. It’s good the Capt is skilled ‘cuz there wasn’t much extra water or space to maneuver in (low tide and the shore side of the dock). 

The unexpected day of sunshine prompted an afternoon hike, uphill to the hot spring pools and then on to Baranof Lake. My new knee easily handled climbing the trail, scrambling up hillsides and descending again without complaint. Hooray!

We began the hike with a photo shoot at the bottom of the waterfall.

Just imagine carrying groceries and other supplies UP, and trash and stuff DOWN this staircase

Portions of the trail are comfortable planked boardwalks and steps...

...while other sections are dirt, gravel, rock and root.

The boardwalk trail crossed boggy meadows and plant-filled ravines.

It bordered several  hidden grottos.

We scrambled up his steep side trail. It leads to hot springs pools at the top of the  waterfall cascade.

Piles of clothing signal that the pools are occupied.

Just imagine a soak in this scenic spot, alongside a river at the top of a waterfall.

Parts of the trail looked more random and subject to instant revision.

We ended our hike at Lake Baranof, but the trail continued on.
Baranof Warm Springs is such a special destination. We look forward to a visit or two every year. Sometimes the bay is full, crowded with seine boats and the lively energy of their crews. At other times it is empty and peaceful. This was a quiet trip, a time to relax and hike as well as enjoy the company of a handful of trollers, boaters and local cabin owners. 

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Chapin Bay

July 3-5
Chapin Bay

The clouds flew low, too low for us to see the landmark hole in the mountain when we anchored, but lifted briefly to allow a quick view of this feature after a few hours. If only the Chapin Bay cinnamon bear was still around to greet us, or we had another visit from the humpback whale that once circled the boat in this bay. Today the shoreline was empty and the water’s surface held only the splash of raindrops rather than the wake of a whale.

Without a bear or whale to enjoy, we settled for watching the eagles circle the bay, occasionally swooping to surprise a mass of herring that roiled the surface. The wind howled outside for several days, but the water inside Chapin remained unruffled.

Too rough outside in Frederick Sound to go fishing, we filled the days with projects, route planning, photo work, reading, blogging, cooking, knitting, etc. Every now and then we paused to hoist our binoculars and scan the shoreline, the treeline and the grassy estuary, looking for wildlife. 

Cannery Cove, Pybus Bay

June 30-July 2
Cannery Cove, Pybus Bay, Admiralty Island

We haven’t been here in several years, so it was a treat to find our preferred anchor spot available. Better yet, four grizzlies wandered the estuary several times, grazing on the bear grass along banks of the river channels. The large sow and her three cubs appeared only at low tide, which meant we couldn’t get very close with the skiff or kayaks (or cameras!). I discouraged Ron from hiking along the shore to get within good camera range - grizzlies can run incredibly fast and you don’t want to annoy a mamma griz!

Three deer made occasional appearances, remaining very wary while they grazed the grass along the river bank. 

The Capt. donned his heavy duty gear to stay warm and dry while he cooked crab. I wimped out and chose to shell crab in the galley. We cruising cooks are delicate, you know. (grin)

The bears kept their distance, low clouds and fog hid the surrounding mountains, rain beat down incessantly and then the wind came up, driving the swells from Frederick Sound into the cove. It was time to move on.

Petersburg: Around the Harbor

June 25-29

This was a rainy stay in town, with time to enjoy some good conversations with old friends and meet new cruisers, visit one of my favorite SE bookstores, and check out the changes in town.

The harbor seemed quiet and empty when the seiners, gillnetters AND crabbers all had openings at the same time. The eagle tree at the top of the south harbor ramp was anything but quiet!

This noisy fellow, a Stellar sea lion, was a frequent noisy visitor. He checked in with each fishing boat as it docked, looking for snacks. He ate well but didn't really need handouts. He did just fine on his own, dining on the local herring and salmon.

Do you think your local electrical inspector would approve this creative 440 volt "fix"?!