Monday, June 25, 2012

Sitka -- Chores and Sightseeing

Wednesday June 20 - Monday June 25

We arrived in Sitka last week and found moorage at Thomsen Harbor.

Reprovisioning (Urs is in the engine room)
The first day was taken up with provisioning, oil change and various boat maintenance items. We went to Radio Shack and bought a little iPod shuffle. Now I can listen to my audio books again!

St Michael's Cathedral
Eagles on St Michael's Cathedral
The Russians chose Sitka for the capital of Russian America in 1808 after several years of bloody struggle with the Tlingit, the fierce local native people. Their influence is still here. St Michael’s Russian Orthodox Cathedral is at the center of the town; the cathedral’s tower is a favorite spot for eagles! The Bishop’s house was built in the late 1840's for the very tolerant and knowledgable bishop. US Parks has beautifully restored it, making sure that the wallpaper, furniture, and tableware are as historically accurate as possible. The Russian cemetery is still in use; modern gravestones are in English, but some of the older ones are in Russian.

Russian Double Eagle on City Pole
Skunk Cabbage Rings Head of New Pole
Totem poles are in town parks showing the influence of the Tlingits. We visited the Totem Pole Park. As in other places, the old poles are inside; copies are outside along a trail in the forest. One of the poles told a tale about the origin of mosquitoes. After killing his wife, a man hid in the forest and killed anyone who came by. Finally, one day another man trapped and burned him. The ashes blew away and became mosquitoes. I guess terrorism is not new. The museum offers space for local artists. We talked with a young carver, who was very proud of the bowl that he was working on. We also chatted with two older men who were basket weaving.

Aleut Visored Hat and Fish-Skin Clothing
Helmet worn by Katlian
We spent two hours at the historical museum. Lots of artifacts which were gathered from Alaskan native populations the 1800's. We learned that the Alaskan Tlingit wore helmets and body armor in battle and we saw the helmet that the leader Katlian wore in the final battle against the Russians. We had never heard before about helmets and body armour being worn by BC natives. We also learned that the Aleuts and other hunters of water mammals wore visored hats to protect them from ocean spray and glare. They also stitched fish skins together for light rain gear; where the fins were cut, they inserted skin of another fish for variety of texture and color.

Tootsie, a Handicapped Saw-Whet Owl

Handicapped Eagle
 We walked to the Alaskan Raptor Rehabilitation Center. Saw the flight training hall where the recovering birds learn to fly again. Saw many birds whose injuries were too severe to be released.

People are very friendly. Even in the busy harbor, where boats leave and return at all hours, people stop to chat. When the woman at the post office outlet said I’d have to go to the main post office (miles out of town) to mail a package to Canada, the woman behind me offered to drive me out there and back to anywhere I wanted to go!

Mount Edgecomb and Raven Song in Glorious Sun
An enthusiastic saleswoman told us about Saint Lazaria Island, a bird sanctuary where puffins breed. So the next day of calm weather, we untied the lines and headed out. It was fantastic. Lots of puffins and murres close to the boat. Apparently several varieties of alcids (e.g., puffins, murres, murrelets, etc) will fly and flock together. Puffins fly slower than the other alcids, so are often at the front of the formation to keep everyone together. We put down the anchor, took hundreds of pictures, and had lunch before heading back. I love puffins.

Puffin Taking Off
The weather can change in minutes. We left one morning in glorious warm sun wearing shorts and sandals; we were freezing when we returned.

Tomorrow we head north toward Pelican Cove. We plan to stay the first night in Kalinin Bay. At Pelican Cove, we will try to get a permit to stay a week in Glacier Bay. Michael and Nancy will join us there.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Entering Popular Cruising Area

Wednesday June 13 - Sunday June 17

Wednesday, we successfully crossed "The Summit", the last part of Rocky Passage. There was at least 6 feet of water under Raven Song the whole time -- Urs said that would have been enough for us to walk under the boat!

We tied up at the harbor in Kake, a small Native fishing town. The docks were brand new; there was even a covered ramp from the docks to the road! However, the docks were pretty empty and someone said the town is having economic difficulties since the cannery closed. We walked 20 minutes to the store to resupply fresh veggies and fruit -- nice selection probably because the town has ferry service. We had hoped there might be internet access in town but no luck.
Tour Boat coming out of Red Bluff Bay

Thursday, we crossed Chatham Strait; no wind, flat water. Baranof Island was in front of us; wonderful picture of snow-covered mountains for as far as we could see left and right. As we approached the entrance to Red Bluff Bay, we saw a medium-sized, upscale tour boat (Safari Enterprises) coming out. The ruins of a cannery were near the entrance. There were lots of waterfalls cascading down the sheer rock walls. We could see the spray of one waterfall a long time before we saw the astonishing waterfall itself. At the end of the long inlet was an estuary covered with sedge for bears coming out of hibernation. We anchored on a narrow ledge formed by the river silt. Within 2 hours, three other boats had anchored near us and a National Geographic tour boat stopped at the mouth of the river for about 15 minutes. We were now apparently in the more popular cruising area!
Grizzly Bear 40 Feet from Raven Song

We saw lots of grizzlies in the estuary (there are no black bears on Baranof); one was either running away from something or frolicking in the mud. Saw a shy mom with two cubs. And we had our own private show 50 feet behind Raven Song: a mother with an older cub and a male who grazed for about 20 minutes while Urs was photographing him from the dinghy.

Just after the entrance to Red Bluff Bay, we put down the prawn traps. Over two days, we caught close to 350 prawns! With much sorrow, I emptied the freezer of crab bait to make room.
Prawns for dinner

Friday, it rained buckets, so we caught up on chores. All the waterfalls were pouring out more water.
Warm Springs Harbor

Saturday, we headed back to Chatham Strait. Wind was 20-30 knots and water was choppy with waves from all directions. Books and fruit slid onto the floor. Magpie disappeared into her favorite hidey hole behind the cockpit cushions. After we put out the jib, Raven Song settled a bit. Urs turned off the motor and we were sailing! But I still had 178 prawns to prepare for freezing, a job that could not wait. I probably looked like an ungraceful dancer or skater as Raven Song rolled on the larger waves.
Warm Springs

We came into the protected waters of Warm Springs Bay and anchored the boat in a side cove across from a spectacular waterfall. We took the dinghy to a dock at the foot of the waterfall and hiked up to Baranof Lake, the source of the water for the waterfall. Enjoyed the bog plants. We passed about 15 people on the trail -- more people than we'd seen for a long time. Then we went to the hot springs for a pleasant soak in the hot water. There were a series of pools: too hot at the top; too cool at the edge of the water fall. Yes, soaked right next to the roaring river and waterfall. It was raining steadily while we were wet getting dressed and hiking back and taking the dinghy back to the boat. But that's what we expect in Alaska.
Entering Sitka Harbor

Sunday, we went from Chatham Strait to Peril Strait on our way to Sitka. We had enough wind to sail and the sea was pretty flat! Had a pod Dall's porpoises playing at the bow for about 5 minutes. Later we came across a humpback whale who displayed his flukes while setting up for a deep dive. Anchored in Appleton Cove. We'll be in Sitka probably Tuesday and will stay there for several days to reprovision and sightsee and go to the internet --- to upload pictures to the blog.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Narrow Passages

Friday June 8 - Tuesday June 12
Bow Watch at Narrow Entrance to Devilfish Bay
Early Morning in Devilfish Bay
We have almost completed the second narrow passage which guide books caution about. Preparation for each transit was very intense. We studied the detailed charts. Looked at the tide table. We like to go through most narrows toward the end of a rising tide -- they say it's easier to get off a rock if the tide is rising and that makes sense! Then we calculated the time necessary to get to the entrance of the narrows. An hour before leaving, Urs studied the chart again. Going through, Judy was on the bow. Urs's eyes were glued to the chart, the plotter, the sounder, and the narrow surroundings. So far, all channels were well marked and at least 18 feet of water under Raven Song. One friend wished us at least 2 fingers of water under the boat, so I guess 18 feet was sufficient, though it's nerve wracking to see the sea floor.
Indian Paint Brush
Dry Pass in El Capitan Passage -- Passage only at High Tide!
We were disappointed in the scenery in El Capitan Passage; BC's Fjordland is much more impressive. However, halfway through, we had a wonderful anchorage at Devilfish Bay -- entrance was narrow and shallow, but we have a good bow watch and skipper. A native story tells that a devilfish rose out of the water there and washed away the entire village. The start to Saturday was foggy -- Urs got up at 5 AM and sat on the bow taking pictures until the sun came out. It was a glorious morning. 14 (56 F) degrees but t-shirt weather with the sunshine. When the clouds came in in the afternoon, we had to add a couple of layers; in such cases, I'm always reminded of a friend from Langara who said, "Boating is a fashion show!" We took a walk on the shore; saw beautiful Indian paintbrushes and other flowers.
Channel Markers at Dry Pass -- Red Right Returning or North
Saturday afternoon, we raised the anchor and picked up our prawn traps. We caught 39 prawns. Found an unusual recipe in two books: heat al dente orozo with fried onion, tomatoes, pitted and sliced Kalamata olives, pepper, and prawns (I added celery); put half the mixture in a baking dish; cover with crumbled feta; cover with rest of mixture; bake. Delicious.

We transited Dry Pass successfully. People had assured us that it does go dry but we had enough water. The narrowest part of this passage was only about 50 feet, impossible for us to turn around. Anchored in Calder Bay -- lots of wind but excellent holding ground for the anchor.
Shallow Bay near Devil's Elbow
Green Marker near Shallow Rock
Then we headed toward Protection Cove, which was said to have a store and lots of artists. It was a lumpy 3-hour ride in Sumner Strait. One pamphlet said that Protection Cove has 65 inhabitants. So when we arrived and found the store closed, we were not surprised. However, the cove is small with no anchoring room and the docks were full. We went out to a large bay and searched charts and books for another spot to stay the night. The next spot was back out across Sumner to a bay that the fishermen like. Well, we would have to cross Sumner at some point and the wind was benign. We entered Alvin Bay on Kuiu Island slowly with a bow watch and the sonar turned on. There is no detailed chart and the information we had showed two rocks near the entrance. We entered without any problem and drew our own detailed chart. A band of sea otters peeked up over the kelp.
Channel Markers at Devil's Pass
Bunch Berry
Monday, we headed to our next challenge, Devil's Elbow (a 90-degree turn to the west) in Rocky Pass. Leaving Alvin Cove, we tried to take a short cut and found that the chart didn't match what we saw. So we turned around and went the longer route. We worried that the time wasted would cause us to enter the narrows too late. However, the current was with us; our speed over ground was up to 9 knots (18 km/hr or 15 mi/hr). If we didn't slow down, we'd get there too early (ie, too much current in the narrows). Again the passage was well marked and we had no problems. We're tucked into a quiet spot north of Devil's Elbow, just before the next narrows: "The Summit" -- high sea floor is not good.
Rainbow over Devil's Elbow
Tuesday, we took the dinghy to see Devil's Elbow and got soaked in a sudden downpour. Came back to the boat. Sun came out. We visited the nearby Forest Service A-frame cabin. Beautiful location. It looks out on a very flat bay with fields of skunk cabbage, bunch berries, and something that I always call vanilla plant -- very fragrant. When we read the guest book, we understood why the bears are so very shy: almost all of the guests were hunters of bear, wolf, and deer. We hope that the pile of salt that we saw near the cabin was not to attract deer.

Common Murres Getting a Free Ride

We have hardly seen any other boats since leaving Ketchikan. One boat followed us through El Capitan Narrows. Otherwise, just one sail boat and a couple of fishing boats.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Wilderness Areas of SE Alaska

Tuesday June 5 - Thursday June 7
Chart of Maurelle Islands

Tuesday, the weather was calm and sunny. We decided to head toward the first of three designated wilderness areas in SE Alaska (maybe they're like Canadian marine parks?). The first was Maurelle Islands. We had to navigate through another minefield of rocks. Well worth it. Beautiful day and spectacular rocky shores.

Foggy Entrance
Wednesday, we went to Egg Harbor on Coronation Island. When we arrived, it was incredibly gloomy. We only later learned that we had both thought to ourselves: "Why did we bother to come all the way out here?" Thursday was a gorgeous day for exploring by dinghy and hiking along the beaches. We even hiked through the moss draped forest over to another bay, where we heard the roar of sea lions on a distant islet. We hiked into a couple of caves and along the creek. The sun lit up the treeless tops of several hills on Coronation. The snow covered mountains of Baranov filled the view toward the bay entrance. At low tide, we marveled at how far out the silt from the creek came; quite a hazard for the unaware sailor.
Bald Mountain
Sea Otter with Scraps from Lunch on Stomach
The boat was an excellent sea otter blind. They fed regularly as close as 30 feet from us. They were so close that we could hear the crunching on the shells. We could even see their use of their stomachs as a table and the mess of shells that they clear by simply rolling over. A mother with a pup also came very close. The pup stayed on the surface while the mother dove, often squealing for food? for mom to come back? It also seemed fluffier than the pups that we had seen diving and playing with their mothers. I'm wondering if it was younger than the others we've seen. When the mother smelled or heard us, she got her cub to sit / stand on her stomach and paddled rapidly away to a place that felt safer. Their large webbed feet allow them to swim amazingly fast on their backs. Later, two moms with a pup each were at the head of the cove. We decided that the reason our crab trap had come up empty, is that the sea otters do not respect the size limit on Dungeness!
Sea Otter with Pup
Dinner was halibut cooked in foil with sliced onions and lemons, and pesto sauce. Highly recommend it. Tasty and moist.

Capt George Vancouver named Coronation Island. He was in the area on Sept 22, 1793, the 33rd anniversary of the coronation of George III.
Sea Otter Pup Riding on Mom's Stomach

Also, on Sept 20, 1908, Coronation Island was the scene of the second worst maritime disaster in SE Alaska in terms of lives lost. The full-rigged iron ship Star of Bengal of the Alaska Packers fleet was being towed by two tenders. It was fully loaded with 50,000 cases of salmon and 132 people on board. A gale caught her at night on Coronation's lee shore. The anchors dragged and the tenders couldn't keep her off the rocks. Only 22 survived. Most of the dead were Oriental cannery workers.
Moss Draped Sitka Spruce
Thursday morning, the local weather stations were reporting very light winds. We pulled up anchor and headed to Warren Island, the third of the wilderness areas. We pulled up the sails as we left the bay. The winds seemed to be picking up. But after 15 minutes, the wind had died. As we crossed the entrance to Sumner Strait, the swells grew to 8-10 feet. There was a little wind, so we put up the jib to steady Raven Song. Urs really enjoyed the gentle slopes and was amazed when a high mountain was blocked from view by the water. Magpie and I think that swells are not swell. We anchored in Warren Cove. The swells are reduced but I know people who would be seasick at this anchorage! Crashing surf convinced us not to go ashore. Presence of sea otters means it's useless to put down the crab trap.
Sea Cave on Coronation Island
Urs thinks we should have a Raven Song Cookbook. So maybe I'll start including some ideas here. Tonight we had a casserole: layer of polenta; covered with a mixture of ground beef (300 gm) and package of frozen spinach and onions and pepper and nutmeg; topped with grated cheese; bake until done.
Beachcombing on Coronation Island
Sumner Strait was named after Senator Charles Sumner, who was very supportive of the acquisition of Alaska and of President Lincoln. He also opposed the annexation of Texas. Would Dell be a Mexican firm if Sumner's opposition to annexing Texas had been successful.

We'll head up El Capital passage tomorrow. It's supposed to be like Yosemite Park in US and Fjordland in the BC inside passage.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Cruising is Maintenance in Exotic Places

A Rash of Maintenance Issues: "Cruising is all about doing boat maintenance in exotic places."

We stayed two nights in rainy Klawok, to fix a number of issues.

1. The stuffing box (needed for cooling the drive shaft) needed to be tightened.
2. While working on the stuffing box, Urs cracked the vacuum pipe for my toilet; a couple of layers of silicon fixed that problem.
3. There was a small engine coolant leak; fixed with high temperature and high pressure silicon.
4. Bow roller (for anchor chain) was stuck, making it difficult to put the anchor down. Taken apart and fixed with a grease gun.
5. Judy's iPod, that had fallen into the sea earlier and flushed with fresh water, is now dry and works with an external power source. Needs a new battery.
6. Judy fixed the hood on her rain jacket so that it no longer covers her eyes.
7. The Sirius radio transmitter worked only if we avoided touching it. Urs soldered a loose wire.

And then we thought everything was fine. Judy did two loads of laundry, as we had power and water. But the washing machine didn't drain at the end of the second load. After much hassle draining the water and dirtying the towels from the first load, we found a handkerchief and a piece of plastic in the drain. With that clog removed it worked fine again. What a relief.

Klawok -- Totem Poles and Halibut

Friday June 1 to Sunday June 3

We arrived at the village of Klawok (pronounced Klo-wack)on Friday. The wharfinger was on holiday, so it took a couple of dockings to finally find a place with power where we could stay. And of course, the wind was against us both times. The first time, I managed to lasso a cleat and pulled us to the dock. In the end, the power on our neighbor's meter; he thought the Swiss chocolate was a good trade.

Double Headed Eagle Important to Russians and Alaskan Haida
Klawok and Craig are Tlingit and English town names in an area filled with Spanish names. While the Russians were slowly going southward along the coast, the Spanish were working their way northward. The Spanish arrived here in 1770. Most Spanish names are not in my coastal names book; however, Caldera and Madre de Dios must have interesting stories behind them. What is interesting is that in 1763, the Russian fur traders sighted Kodiak Island at the end of the Aleutian range for the first time. They had managed to keep their discovery a secret from all other nations. Catherine The Great, however, boasted to her N & S American ambassadors that her people were exploring the NW coast of North America. Immediately, Spain sent ships north to explore the NW coast. France sent LaPerouse (LaPerouse Banks in BC is good fishing). England sent James Cook. Cook had no idea how valuable the sea otter pelts were until he arrived in Canton with a few hundred pelts and were offered $10,000. The competition for fur and land was started.
Salmon Pole
Murre Pole

Klawock is named for Kloo-wah, a Tlingit chief, who moved his clan to the site, which had been a summer fishing camp. There is a large totem park with about 20 poles, some new; others replicas of ones brought from the old Tuxekan village. Twice we headed to the park when the rain stopped but it didn't stay dry for long. My book about the poles is very wrinkled from the water. A high mountain behind the village forces the water out of the air.

Klawock and Tuxekan are at the northern edge of the red cedar range, red cedar being the wood of choice for totem poles. Here the trees are smaller than in their southern range. These Tlingit people may have come to carving as late as the 1800's. Their poles were primarily mortuary poles. One pole represented the importance of salmon: at the bottom a weir to catch salmon for humans; at the top of the pole a bear with a fish after it had swum up river. Another had a pair of murres with twenty eggs in a variety of colors and patterns. Legend has it that murre parents paint their eggs so that they can recognize them when they return from the sea.
Halibut in Hot Smoker
We stopped to talk with some people cleaning 3 60-lb halibut. A couple from Fisheries was surveying sport fishermen to see where they caught the different types of fish and to take samples, especially of hatchery king salmon, to do genetic sampling. After a while, the fisherman asked us if we wanted a halibut fillet. Of course! He put it in the bag and asked if we wanted another! We went home with 10 pounds of halibut! He very happily accepted a bar of Swiss chocolate. Fresh halibut for dinner; the rest put in brine for the smoker.
Smoked Halibut for Dinner!
We left Klawock Sunday noon. It was a balmy 16 (60) degrees in the sun! Then it rained again -- maybe we'll be able to say that it rained every day that we were in Alaska!

Friday, June 1, 2012

"What do you do all day?"

Wednesday May 30 (by Urs)

We left Hydaburg on Wednesday morning after the gale abated. It blew quite hard all night and the boat heeled over at the dock -- had to lock the drawers shut. As we cruised through a narrow passage with twists and turns, a local Haida fisher on a runabout held up a salmon. What does he mean by that? Oh - he probably wants to sell it. So I turned Raven Song around. Judy was in the engine room hanging up the laundry for drying. The guy wanted $30 plus 5 gallons of gas. I said I had no gas, so he said "I’ll take the money." That was a very nice and quite large (probably 20 lb) spring salmon (king as they call it in Alaska). We had a deal.

Urs with King Salmon

After all the narrow passages, we turned into a good anchorage and then proceeded to process the salmon: cleaning it, filleting it, cutting it, vacuum packing and freezing some of it. We still had the salmon we bought from another guy a day earlier, that Judy had prepared in brine for smoking. So now it was time to convert our BBQ for smoking, by using our heavy gauge steel plate bowl and the wood chips. Unfortunately, the weather was miserable and the wind was howling and the rain pelting. After it blew out the flame a few times, things seemed to work and we ended up with the most delicious meal of BBQ'd salmon cuttings in miso sauce as well as the freshly hot-smoked salmon. Absolutely five star.

And people ask, “What do you do all day?”!

Weather continues to be cold. The thermometer reads 10, 11 or 12 degrees.  If the wind is blowing, it's 4-sweater weather; if not, it's 3-sweater weather.  Though the dandelions don't seem to care:  they are already going to seed!  And a neighbor reported that farther north, there is snow down to the water.

Tomorrow we are going on to Craig, where we plan to go to their dock and stay for a couple of nights.