Saturday, September 22, 2012

Fall and Fog

    The fog comes
    on little cat feet.
    It sits looking
    over harbor and city
    on silent haunches
    and then moves on.

    Carl Sandburg
    Fall fog arrived this morning, blanketing harbor and city, but forgot to move on. I awoke to its presence early, well before sunrise, as the first ferry of the morning sounded a series of 60-second blasts on its deep-throated horn while it traveled across Discovery Passage. Might as well get up, since the ferry travels back and forth across the channel every 30 minutes, all day. Other horns sounded at random intervals during the morning, and this cacophony of blasts, toots and wails has continued into the afternoon; intermittent and audible, almost routine enough to become a background of white noise to the usual harbor sounds. Routine only until a quick sequence of 5 blasts alerted the entire harbor to a potential problem of some sort. "Danger! Danger!..." it warned of a situation nearby, somewhere just outside the breakwater. Hmmm, what was that about? 

    Foggy days have their own beauty, but this morning I really missed the cloudless blue sky and sunshine of yesterday, the last official day of summer. Somewhere after 3:00 pm I looked up and saw a few scattered patches of blue in the sky. The fog had thinned, the day warmed up and I realized this summer to fall transition wasn't so abruptly unpleasant after all. I'm ready to check out some fall color as we drive down island soon.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Seaplane Trip

Our Alaska cruise ended weeks earlier than usual this year as we returned for a scheduled haulout at the shipyard to rework the finish on the teak caprail. Well-finished brightwork is beautiful, the jewelry so to speak decorating a vessel, but  ours needed work, a lot of work. While the boat rested in a shed up on the hard, I flew south for several appointments and a few house projects. 

I traveled via Kenmore Air in a deHaviland Otter, flying from Campbell River, B.C. to the north end of Seattle's Lake Washington in 2.5 hours, and that included a brief stop in Nanaimo. That was tons more fun than driving for 6+ hours to get home. My return flight was even more fun, landing at 3 locations in Desolation Sound to drop off other passengers before depositing me back at the seaplane base on Tyee Spit. Refuge Cove, Manson's Landing and Gorge Harbor look so different from the air, small patches of development dotting the many islands that pepper this coastal area. Omigosh, I love seaplane flights, especially ones with 5 take-offs and landings! 

Photo: Seattle and Puget Sound on a sunny morning

Photo: Puget Sound islands look so different from the air.

Photo: Mt.Baker rises above the clouds.

Photo: A Canadian mountain range looks young and jagged.
Photo: Busy Nanaimo Harbor
Photo: Taxiing into Campbell River at Tyee Spit

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Finally... the Coho are Running

All season long we have heard "the fish are late". Reasons (or guesses) ranged from the believable " the water is still too cold so they stayed offshore longer", to the more fanciful "the hatchery-release of fish had been devoured by whales 3 years earlier", or... Whatever! The reality is that fishing was slow earlier in the spring. Fish were caught, but not in great numbers. But now, oh my, the coho are returning in BIG numbers and it's Fish On!

Photo: a fine catch of coho salmon
Photo: cleaning the catch takes time
Photo: JS demonstrates his fast filleting technique
Photo: these coho fillets are destined for the barbecue
Photo: Save that carcass for crab or prawn trap bait!
RL loves the fishing, and I get pretty excited about netting a big salmon. Note: I'm even more enthusiastic about the cooking and eating that follows.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Returning An Eagle's Fishy Gift

Fog and driftwood kept us alert until we left Reid Passage and entered Seaforth Channel. Then the fog lifted and we spotted a flotilla of small boats clustered around Idol Point, all trolling for salmon. Ooh, it must mean the coho are running! Friends in their fishing skiff greeted us at Idol Point and led the way through Rait Narrows, yet another shallow-water, skinny, serpentine passage. Reality proved the run less intimidating than the Nobeltec chart view, so we’ll return comfortably to this anchorage again. Nearby Kynumpt Bay has been a destination in the past if we opted to anchor out instead of mooring at Shearwater, but Rait's South Cove is better protected and a lot more attractive. We rafted up, caught up on the highlights of the past two months, and then launched our skiff and went fishing in the late afternoon sunshine. The fishing was so good we stayed a few days.

As we arrived at the cove an eagle flew past the boat, struggling to stay aloft with his talons holding a large salmon. Oops! he dropped the salmon and it sank near the rocky shore. Tanya quickly grabbed a gaff, scooped up the fish and tossed it uphill onto the rocks, ready for the eagle to swoop down and retrieve it. With any luck we would have a terrific photo op of  the eagle snatching his fish. No such luck, that cautious eagle remained perched high in a tree, warily watching us and his fish for a v-e-r-y long time. By late afternoon the salmon was gone and so was the eagle.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Laredo Inlet

Laredo Inlet holds several interesting bays to explore, but strong thermals kept us inside one bay, Bay of Plenty, for most of our stay. We did venture a skiff run to neighboring bay, Mellis Inlet, late in the morning to set 3 prawn traps, setting out at 25 knots and returning at about 7 knots on a bumpy, uncomfortable ride over increasingly chunky water. Crabbing inside Bay of Plenty netted us 1 legal-sized male, along with a mob of females and undersized males to return to the water. Drat!

Hurry up, then wait describes the following day. Just after dawn we hurried up to retrieve our prawn traps in Mellis Inlet before the winds came up and chop developed. Pot 1 yielded 6 medium prawns, pulled from around 270’. One independent critter was halfway out the entrance gate, making a break for freedom. How many others escaped overnight? I know it took more than our 6-prawn catch to devour all of that bait! Pot 2 yielded 36 jumbo prawns, pulled from about 380’. The pot-puller made this retrieval a much easier chore than the old manual method; an investment well worth the price for speed and sore muscle prevention. 

Pot 3 was empty, but all of the bait was gone, every last morsel. Oops, operator error; the large door on top of the trap was still hooked open. We had provided a nice snack for some overnight visitors who ate and left. All in all, an adequate effort and enough prawns for two meals. (click to link to Lime and Chili Prawns recipe)

Hurry up some more to rinse and put the prawning gear back into Rhapsody’s cockpit, clean and hoist the skiff and then pull anchor and get underway. I cleaned the prawns while we traveled, RL had a lot of time to organize and stow gear later in the day.

Wait soon came into play later in the morning as we changed to an inside route, approached Thistle Passage and realized we would be too early to comfortably transit Meyers Passage. 6 feet of water at a zero tide is not a good choice when the boat draws 5’. We dawdled along, ran on one engine and finally just shut down, drifting in Kitasoo Bay while we waited another hour for the incoming tide to add a few more feet to the channel. There was a slight “pucker effect” when the 10’ alarm sounded, but the Capt. was right on course and we had no unplanned excitement.

Princess Royal is renowned for a large concentration of rare white kermodi bear, but none showed during our stay. We haven’t seen any bear since we left Red Bluff Bay, black, brown or white. I realize that salmon aren’t running, but don’t Canadian bears eat shoreline bear grass?! 

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Grizzly Bears and a Whale: Red Bluff Bay

Excerpts from my cruising journal...

Awoke to rain, then fog. Miles of closely-packed swells on the 30-mile run down South Chatham Sound made for an uncomfortable ride. WOW! A humpback whale led us into the final 1/3 of the Red Bluff entry passage, continuously blowing, finning and feeding close to the surface. His course was a bit erratic - always exciting when you share space with a whale in a narrow channel! 

The bay was empty, so we tucked into our favorite spot in a snug little cove with a view up the river and across the wide estuary. 

1 grizzly wandered the meadow as we arrived, next came a sow with 2 cubs, followed by a second sow with 3 cubs. What an amazing wildlife day – and its still afternoon. By late evening we had tallied up 5 to 7 adult bear and 5 cubs. Most of the grizzlies wandered in the estuary meadow, grazing on the lush grasses. One lone bear ambled along the shore at high tide, passing about 100+ feet off our stern as he searched for ripe berries. 

The next morning at breakfast that same lone bear headed back in our direction, long before he could smell the sizzling bacon and sourdough waffles cooking in our galley. Blue sky, snow-capped mountains, more waterfalls than we could count, bear and birds all over the place – can it get much better than this?!

Two other cruising boats had joined us in Red Bluff late in the evening, and two large charter boats brought their guests in late in the morning. Only 2 grizzlies roamed the meadow at low tide, but the bay itself was dotted with colorful kayaks, rubber inflatables and several dinghies. Everyone loves Red Bluff, especially when the sun is out and there are grizzlies to watch. We have visited 8 times in our 13 years of cruising SE Alaska, typically staying 3 or 4 days. I’m certain we’ll be back again and again.

Photo: Merganser family paddles past a strolling grizzly
Dee kayaked along the shore, following the lone male as he strolled by on Day 2. Ron photographed Dee and the bear. On Day 3 we ran the skiff up to the estuary at high tide to photograph the sow with 3 cubs and our now-familiar scruffy, lone bear. Later in the evening two young males entertained us for 10-20 minutes, sparring in mock battles and chasing each other across the meadow, then settled back to hang out quietly in the same area. Teenage boys of any species like to roughhouse…. 

On Day 4 (early evening, high tide) we both kayaked along the shoreline up to the mouth of a secondary stream, arriving just as two grizzlies raced in our direction, running away from something at the far end of the estuary. Grizzlies swim slowly and run very, very fast! Exciting? Yes, but what an amazing photo op as this pair stopped directly ahead of us and settled down to graze along the shoreline. We floated, barely drifting and sitting absolutely still, about 200 feet offshore and shot over 600 hundred images. Here are a few shots from that special "Kodak moment". 

Note to self: One of these days I should organize a gallery of Baranof Bears, a collection of our shots from the past twelve years. One of these days...

Update in 2013: we now have a slide show to share on the computer!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Grizzlies at Hidden Falls/Kasnyku Bay

Photo: Grizzly Fishing at Hidden Falls
We cruise past every year, stopping to anchor in nearby bays but never pausing here. The bay is deep, it can be crazy crowded during a seine fishing opening; and those are just two of the excuses we’ve used to to keep moving. Then we met some of the Hidden Falls crew while we were at Warm Springs and they invited us to drop by for a visit and tour. The invitation overrode any excuses… and that’s a good thing. 

Photo: Salmon schooling at the hatchery 
We had a terrific time on Ben's guided tour, chatted with several of the “fish people” about their work, and later visited with other residents. We enjoyed our time with this friendly group ...and then there were the grizzlies. 

Two youngsters semi-successfully caught salmon in the river, a mom and cub appeared and disappeared in between their meals, another grizzly strolled nonchalantly down the boat ramp and turned up a path past the houses… and on it went all day. Oh yes, there were bear; they knew a good spot to dine. 

While this Hidden Falls fisherman did actually hook a chinook salmon from his perch high up the ladder, the bears were considerably more successful! (I couldn't resist adding this photo - it seems the extra height makes it easier to spot the fish and cast into a promising spot)

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Takatz Bay

So many factors influence my memory of a specific locale...
·      Was it a comfortable anchorage?
·      Why were we there?
·      What did we do during our stay?
·      Were other boats in the bay - who else was there?
·      What was the weather?

Photo: Fog rolls in at Takatz Bay
Photo: Calm water at Takatz Bay
This year we saw the tops of the surrounding peaks before low clouds and rain rolled in to hide them again. Years of visits to Takatz merge into one colorful filmstrip in my mind. For example…

One year The Capt ran the skiff up to a tall bank at high tide so I could pick huckleberries from the water side of the overhanging bushes. I stood on the bow of the dinghy to harvest on my side, while some large unseen critter tromped noisily around the uphill side of the same berry patch. A bear? I thought so. Afterwards the skiff was a mess, thoroughly littered with twigs and leaves and its formerly white interior stained huckleberry-blue, but I had a generous quart of berries. Imagine my surprise when I tossed the fruit into a pan of water and little green worms wiggled out of some of those berries! Ugh. Of course we ate the berries… after I skimmed the worms off the water. That was the first and last time I was encouraged to pick berries from the dinghy; oh, the skiff cleanup took ages. I have found some other locations where the kayak works for berry picking, but it has never been as interesting as here in Takatz.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

In Between Openings...

...some seine boats hang out at Baranof Warm Springs. 

Here's the sight that greeted us as we arrived at 0730, a dock packed full of boats that were rafted 3 and 4 deep. No room for us this early, so we anchored across the bay. 

Shortly after we anchored, a few seine boats began to leave. We raised our anchor in record time and moved over to the dock. 

Baranof is a popular spot with working boats and cruisers alike. While fishermen are here at the dock or on anchor, they can enjoy the hot pools at the top of the waterfall, fish in the lake, soak in the shoreside  tubs, or work on boats and equipment. 

Although some boats left in the morning, several others remained to finish essential projects. There was some heavy net repair work going on. A whale (more than one??) had cruised through a deployed net, causing major damage. The torn net had to be recut, reshaped, whipped together and rewoven to salvage a workable solution for the next day's salmon opening. 

Whipping two lengths of net together

There's a lot of net to piece together.
The stitching may not be pretty, but it works.
With floats and lead attached, this net looks ready for action.
Look closely at these "oars" - red ice shovels do double duty.