Thursday, September 11, 2014

A Sudden Summer Storm

Mother Nature must have a strange sense of humor. Why else, after we spent a spring and summer of cool, wet weather in SE Alaska, would she greet our return to sunshine and warmth with this dramatic show?

Photo: Storm front approaches from the west

Photo: The view to the north as the storm front approaches.

Photo: The view to the east as the storm front approaches.
You know what followed, right? an end to the weeks of hot, dry weather on Vancouver Island. Central Coast B.C. welcomed a much needed downpour, the boats in the harbor were well-rinsed, and we just shook our heads and laughed.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Baranof Grizzly Bear Bonanza

Baranof Island wins top honors for the best bear-watching of the 2014 cruise. We shot thousands of photos, collected a fine store of memories and savored every moment. Hopefully we'll see some of the same grizzlies next year as they come to feast on the returning salmon. 

When we share a bay with brown bears it's tempting to linger and spend a few days on anchor. Most of our photography and bear watching takes place in a boat; the big boat, a dinghy or a kayak. Occasionally we hike the shore when conditions are safe, but not very often. Ashore at this site in late July it was comforting to have a stream between us and the bears. It also helped to have waves of returning chum salmon to attract the grizzlies and hold their attention. On our first day here we identified 17 different brown bear. Early the next morning we ran the dinghy to shore to see which grizzlies would reappear. The banks were empty when we arrived, but soon we spotted our favorite sow with her three active cubs. Those cute little guys, about the size of small herd dogs, already display different traits or personalities. One cub cuddled close to its mother, often nuzzling her muzzle or tucking under her belly to suckle. Another more adventurous cub would pause or bravely wander off to investigate an interesting scent, and then had to scramble to catch up with the family parade. The third cub tended to stir things up, always ready to pounce and tussle, to bat at its siblings or even steal their fish.

An impressively large adult, one new to us, approached the stream from our shore... hey, where did she come from?!... strode quickly into the middle of the water and plopped  down. This accomplished fisherman reached down with its enormous paws, snagged one fish after another with apparent ease, and ate them without ever changing location. She remained stationary in midstream until the sow and her cubs wandered up the bank into the rocks and disappeared around the point. Only then did the lone bear venture into the recently-vacated shallow area, a prime fishing spot with easier access to schools of fish. (No one messes with a mama bear.)

Another female with a very young cub wandered along the far shore, avoiding contact with the other grizzlies. The adorable little cub resembled a fluffy basketball with legs, bouncing along beside its solid, slow-moving, lumbering mother. That pair remained upstream, far away from us and the more popular fishing spot.

The action slowed, then stopped completely. The grizzlies went on about their business and we reluctantly returned to the boat to raise anchor and move on. Oh, those Baranof Bears!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Waiting Out a Storm

Lake Bay: a sheltered anchorage in a gale

Photo: Lake Bay by moonlight
We left Petersburg in mild, settled weather and enjoyed a routinely smooth passage down Wrangell Narrows but had to plan for forecasted stormy days ahead. Passing up several closer anchorages we headed directly for Lake Bay, a familiar, well-protected spot that would provide good shelter from the upcoming southeaster. If the predicted gale-force storm didn’t arrive, we could enjoy some fishing and shrimping opportunities.

Photo: our weather station reflected almost calm weather during our storm-caused stay inside Lake Bay

Stormy? Oh yes, the wind howled ferociously up Clarence Strait, while huge, ominous storm clouds piled high, their looming presence darkened the day far earlier than usual. Inside the anchorage our wind gauge registered steady 5-knot winds with mild gusts, never anything over 15 knots. No big deal. At the same time Lincoln Rock, six miles directly across Clarence Strait from our location, reported steady 48-knot winds gusting to 62! Lake Bay never felt so welcome.

We spent several days on anchor in Lake Bay, rocking gently in the barely discernible swells that wound their way around the point into the bay, and marveled at the continuing downpour – an “unseasonably wet” storm according to NOAA weather radio. I don’t know about that "unseasonable" label, we’re less than 50 miles away from Petersburg and they routinely receive about 109 inches of precipitation, half of that falling September through December. It feels like the deluge has begun a few weeks early. I'm commenting, not complaining, honest.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Petersburg Harbor and the Fleet

Petersburg, reported to be one of SE Alaska’s most productive fishing ports, is very active and D Dock in Petersburg’s South Harbor vividly illustrates this fact. D dock is packed with seine boats and fish tenders - when they are in port on the days in between openings.

This same dock looks deserted when the commercial fishing boats are away, busy fishing or traveling on days when there is a scheduled opening..

Other docks in Petersburg's South, Middle and North Harbors hold more of the fishing fleet, and their routine comings and goings vary. Seiners, Longliners, Gill-netters, Trollers, Crabbers and Dive fisheries (sea urchin harvesters, etc.) fish different openings - for different species - on different schedules - or according to IQRs (individually regulated quotas). It sounds complicated.

Charter boats, cruise boats and larger visiting yachts often fill some of the empty D Dock slots for a night or two on a temporary basis, but it’s evident that Petersburg's working harbors are homeport to a large, successful and varied fishing fleet. 

The local visitor’s guide notes the following fish-related factoids for Petersburg Borough's population of 3,273:
  • Petersburg is home port to 591 commercial fishing vessels.
  • Petersburg fishermen hold over 1000 fishing permits for a variety of fisheries conducted statewide.
  • Fishing is the economic force that drove the creation of Petersburg and continues to be a driving force in today’s economy.
  • According to a 2012 survey, Petersburg generated $50,000,000 in fish landings, the 20th most in the nation.
  • The community is ranked 24th in millions of pounds landed with 52 million pounds landed.
  • The town’s seafood processors employ a total of about 1,100 people during a busy summer season.
Lots of interesting Petersburg facts, but we enjoy the town for the setting and the wonderful welcoming people.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Bear, Bear. Bear Everywhere

"Where are the bear?" In spring it seemed the bear must still be denned up (they weren't) or in hiding, since bear sightings were rare and we didn't see a single cub. Cruising along Baranof Island in July changed all that. Finally we have seen grizzlies of all sizes and ages as they gather at the mouths of creeks, streams and rivers to feast on the returning salmon. I'll share some bear-watching stories in a later post, but here are a few photos of my current favorite bears.

These are just teasers, c'mon by and see the really good photos.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Baranof Warm Springs: a stay in the south cove

The Baranof Warm Springs dock was full of pleasure boats, without a single seine boat in sight. That shouldn't have been a surprise since we hadn’t noticed any seiners working in Chatham Strait either. Where are they fishing this month? [update: the Petersburg seine fleet ran to openings in the outside waters near Craig & Noyes Island instead of the inside channels where we've seen them in past years] We anchored at the head of the scenic south cove, close to shore but in 80 feet of water. This lovely spot feels like we’re sitting in the middle of a high mountain lake surrounded by peaks and alpine meadows, but of course we’re in salt water at sea level. We threw on the raingear, jumped in the skiff and ran across the bay to the dock to visit, to hike the trail uphill, and for me to pick berries. Ripe salmonberries, blueberries and huckleberries were plentiful in easy-to-reach patches. Score! I restrained myself and only nibbled on a few salmonberries while I harvested – that's easy to do when you know it's the blueberries that often house tiny worms. Worms ick! No problem. If you don’t want the added protein, toss the blueberries into a bowl of cold water and the worms come wiggling out.

Courtney Hann of the Alaska Whale Foundation shared her knowledge and enthusiasm for a citizen involvement project she initiated this summer. Check out the foundation's website, it's loaded with fascinating stuff; research reportsvideos, recordings and fascinating factoids. Besides project information, Courtney also shared a jar of her delicious homemade Blueberry Jam, and I gave her a container of my sourdough starter and an herb bouquet. Mmmmmm, the jam and sourdough starter were a dynamite duo for the next morning's Belgian waffles. 

It’s been too wet, windy and lumpy to run the dinghy back to the dock, but I really want need Courtney’s recipe for those Blueberry Preserves. (note: days later when we moved to the dock Courtney shared the secret – lemon zest and a touch of cinnamon.)

Drenching downpours, 25-knot winds and white-capped swells rolling inside the main bay kept us anchored for several days, comfortably tucked around the corner in our sheltered cove. It rained so hard that wispy waterfalls turned into thundering torrents and new streams appeared everywhere carrying the sudden runoff. Even the eagles hunkered down on limbs and drift, looking miserable instead of majestic. (Click on the photo above and see if you agree.)

We processed a gazillion photos from a major grizzly viewing adventure (more about that later in another post), Ron worked on boat projects, I baked French bread baguettes and a batch of  Cruising Cookies and - What? - Is that a new rock? - The rock moved! Ron had spotted a bear moving quickly up the creek. We’ve never seen a grizzly here before, but one appeared briefly in the stream at the head of south cove. Recent rains account for new waterfalls and increased flow in the shallow streambeds, but what brought a bear?! Was he looking for pink salmon, checking to see if any had returned yet (they haven’t). Or did the fruit-laden berry bushes attract him? Heavy rain, low clouds and fog, the distance to shore and a fast-moving bear made this more of a viewing moment than a photo op, but the photo shows there WAS a grizzly in Baranof Warm Springs’ south cove this year.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Tenakee Springs

Day 65 
Photo: The Capt lays out 250 feet of connected hoses to reach the fresh water outlet             
Water and power management are everyday matters when you’re cruising remote. You quickly learn to monitor consumption and plan ahead. Our Northern Lights 12kw generator provides more power than we need at anchor, power for charging the batteries, heating the water tank, supporting the draw for electric appliances and lights, etc. Today’s price for marine diesel is $4.10 per gallon and the generator burns roughly .75 gallons of fuel for every hour it runs. Doing the math with those numbers has encouraged me to multi-task when the genny is running, for example run a load of laundry while the oven is on. When we’re at a marina or city dock, paying a flat fee for shore power is usually a bargain in comparison.

Rhapsody carries 525 gallons of fresh water in three separate tanks, a huge capacity compared to the single 10-gallon tank installed in our first boat so many years ago. Do you pay attention to your daily water consumption? Cruising boaters do, even though we live in a watery environment, floating in salt water and enjoying the rainfall that keeps SE Alaska so green.  It’s a shame have to run to a town for water when you’d much rather stay out longer, photographing bear or watching whales, or fishing, kayaking, exploring, etc.  The Capt uses freshwater to wash down the anchor chain each time we hoist the anchor. This helps to hold down mud and marine growth in the chain locker, but as I watch gallon after gallon pour out of the water tank I mentally calculate how much that might shorten our time out.

RL called the Tenakee Springs harbormaster ahead of time to inquire about moorage and water availability. Assured of fresh water access and plenty of space on the transient dock, we side-tied on the inside of Pier D and tracked down the aforementioned water. Yah sure, you betcha… available several piers away and accessible if you strung together 4 of your own hoses… and no one else in the marina wanted water to clean fish at the same time. No problem, it was an opportunity to chat with some of the neighbors. Tenakee Springs attracts visitors with its community hot springs bath house which features warm water with a high mineral/sulfur content. The dock water held traces of a sulfur smell and a flavored taste as well. We only topped off one of the water tanks, to hold as a reserve “just in case”, happy that Rhapsody has three separate tanks to draw from. I might not choose Tenakee water to brew tea, but it could come in handy for washing down the anchor chain.