Catching more than we bargained

Petersburg lies at the northern entrance to the Wrangell Narrows, a channel that winds its way between the islands of Mitkof and Kupreonof and out into Sumner Strait.  We timed our exit from the harbour berth at slack water and entered the narrows as the current started to run south on the ebb. The 21 miles were covered pretty quickly with a 3-4 knot current pushing us along at 8-10 knots most of the way.

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Currents run strong through the Wrangell Narrows

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After spending a quiet night in a crab-pot filled bay called Deception Point Cove, we headed across Sumner Strait in beautiful conditions and started to bay hop our way further south.

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Passing a floating perch in Sumner Strait

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My Mum had told us about humpbacks fin slapping and so hoped we would see this on our journey. Well today was the day, three humpbacks situated in different positions in the Strait were fin-slapping repeatedly.  What an awesome spectacle, apparently they do this to communicate to other whales in the area.

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Tolstoi Cove is a great little protected cove just south of Thorne Bay and it beckoned us in and made us stay a couple of nights.

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The fishing rod as always comes out at anchor and we caught a couple of small flounders – we thought they were halibut but apparently they weren’t! – with some squid as bait.  Jez called home and as he was chatting the rod went off again, only this time the line was running away. Ending his call quickly we both ran out to see what we had and started to reel it in.  Then something awful happened. A harbour seal popped his head up and looked across at us with a confused expression, much the same as our look back at him.  Our hearts sank, the hook was through his bottom lip.  We have been watching and marvelling at these beautiful creatures for weeks, never thinking that one would mistake our bait as a mid-morning snack.   Our immediate reaction was to get him in close to the boat and assess the lip piercing, it seemed so wrong reeling him in but necessary.  Once alongside he did a few small dives trying to free himself and then popped his head up and looked at us each in turn, it seemed as though he was thinking the same thing as us, how the hell were we going to deal with this one!  We decided the only sensible option would be to try and cut the hook as far down the shank as possible, hoping the rest would fall out. This meant Jez getting up-close-and-personal with our sharp toothed slippery little friend.  I grabbed the extra sharp snips and Jez dropped the dinghy into the water and went around to him as I held the rod.  Holding his head above the water Jez bravely got to the hook and cut it off as close as he could without catching his lip.  With an almighty splash our catch was gone, back into the deep water of the bay leaving us amazed and bewildered at what had just happened.

Thorne Bay was our next stop, our cruising guide suggests strong currents in areas of the narrow entrance but we entered with no problem at all, and anchored just off the small town in the enormous bay.  We were given a friendly welcome from Ron the Harbourmaster and some advice on where to hike and what shops the small town has to offer. Although the bay is busy with float planes landing and taking off several times a day, we found this a great little stop over with an excellent grocery store, hardware store and fishing tackle shop.  The ‘heathy heart’ hill trail (or ‘heart-attack hill’ as the locals call it) allowed us to stretch our legs and get the tickers pumping for two hours and pick some juicy huckleberries on the way, they are like a cranberry but not so tart. No bear sightings but plenty of ‘fresh evidence’. They only have black bear on Prince of Wales Island and there are supposed to plenty of them as they are not competing with the browns.

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Fresh Bear evidence on the trail

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Huckleberries are delicious with homemade granola and yoghurt

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This deer and her baby were grazing right by the roadside, we walked past just a couple of feet away and she just looked up then carried on munching.

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Another deer just hanging around town

Gary who owns the tackle shop kindly gave us lots of tips on how and where to catch a halibut, so we spent an afternoon off Tolstoi Point outside the bay trolling for halibut.  We hadn’t had any luck when a local boat came over and offered us some of their catch, it was a gentleman named Dave we had met in Thorne Bay when we stopped to admire the rather smart fire engine truck outside the volunteer fire service station.  With our donated chunky fillet of halibut we decided to give it five more minutes then pack up and head in. Three minutes later we had a bite and successfully landed our own 10 pounder.  Gary had also kindly offered to show Jez how to fillet a halibut, so he took it in to his dock for a lesson.

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Success at last!

It was difficult to tear ourselves away from Thorne Bay, the people here made it a wonderful and memorable stop for us. The halibut was delicious pan-fried with chips and salad, courtesey of Dave and family!

Kasaan Bay is the next major inlet heading down the east coast of Prince of Wales Island and after a quiet night in Kina Cove we took Joy over to the small Kasaan settlement on the northern shore of the bay and docked on the free public dock.  Here there is a short trail through beautiful forest to a totem park and recently restored Whale House. This house was built around 1880 and housed Chief Son-I-Hat and his family who had relocated here from their original settlement at Old Kasaan further south on Scowl Arm. The original settlement of around 500 Haida people was reduced to around 80 with the small-pox epidemic in 1862. Chief Son-I-Hat moved to the new location to be close to a Christian mission in the area, and built the house (nick-named the ‘Whale House’ because of the pole carvings inside) to house his family.  In 1892 a copper mine camp, post office and sawmill were built here, followed by a salmon cannery which operated from 1902 to  1953.  The house was lived in until 1915, then restored in 1938 and again in 2016. After a great lunch in the Totem Trail Cafe and some beach combing we walked back towards the public dock and were invited in for a beer and a chat with a lovely couple Pam and Bill from Nevada who live here during the summer.  Pam had seen an orca in the bay heading towards Joy shortly after we had stopped to talk to them on our way to the trail a few hours earlier. They very generously shared some coho salmon with us, and suggested we try cooking it on a plank on the BBQ.

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A zillion birds congregate on the water in the entrance to Kasaan Bay

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The recently restored Whale House is the only Haida longhouse standing in the U.S.

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Inside the beautifully restored Whale House

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After a quiet night on the dock we headed off to another very special anchorage in Kasaan Bay at the head of the Karta River.  The holding is said to be ‘fair’ as it’s a little rocky but we managed to get a bite and as the weather forecast was settled for a day or two we stayed. Our intention was to find the trail that follows the river through the Karta River Wilderness area which is home to bears and wolves, we found the cabin at the head of the river and beached the dinghy. Armed with ‘bear spray’ (this is not something bears use to make them smell good, it’s a large can of mace spray for us humans to use to deter bears in the unfortunate event of an attack) and a knocking stick we noisily made our way along the start of the trail.  Unfortunately part of the trail had disappeared in a land slide and meant a very dodgy clamber over some enormous tree stumps hanging over the river bank, once we had negotiated these obstacles the narrow overgrown trail disappeared deep into the forest and it wasn’t long before my nerves sadly got the better of me.  Fuelled by the enormous amounts of bear poop and knowing that this trail couldn’t be used very often, not by humans anyway, I begged we turn around and go back.

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 Instead we decided that maybe a fishing expedition  in the dinghy might be safer and armed with rods and beer we anchored the dinghy mid river and sat enjoying the peace in the relative safety of our inflatable. Just the noise of bald eagles calling, the occasional wing beat overhead, the hum of dragonflies across the surface and the big splashes as salmon leap out all around. Heaven, especially with beer in hand and sun streaming through the canopy of trees lining the river.  It was getting around 5pm and nothing, not even a nibble on the dead defrosted herring ‘swimming’ in the stream on the end of my line. The salmon were more interested in, well, frolicking and occasionally jumping clean out of the water. So time to give up and go back to Joy and BBQ the salmon that Pam and Bill had so kindly given us and enjoy the rest of the sun.  I hoisted the anchor, we started the engine and headed back out, I stood up to get a good view of all the salmon in the river when I glanced back. Something that my Mum taught me, always look back – you can get some great photos from views behind you – so I do. A black bear stood on the bank staring back at me just a few metres from the river. ‘Stop, Bear’ I spurted as I wobbled in the dinghy trying to locate my camera. I took a couple of shots as Jez turned the dinghy around and we re-anchored.  It was low-tide and several dead trees were blocking the navigable path so we watched and waited. Another appeared from behind a small island in the centre of the river, dripping with water he opened his mouth as if yawning, I got a good look at those salmon-munching teeth! We saw three in all and two of them were pretty big. We backed off when they disappeared and headed back out to the entrance of the river rather pleased with our sighting, and as we rounded the last bend I caught sight of a black ball of fluff on the river bank in front of us. It was a mother and two tiny cubs, what an amazing sight!

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Our salmon cooked on a soaked plank on the BBQ was delicious, it was a beautifully warm evening and we were still in T-shirts and bare feet at 11pm.  With a break in the recent heatwave forecast we decided to head back to Kina Cove the following day and the security of some good sticky mud holding, but not before another trip up the river this time at high tide. It was midday and we gently idled further up than before, now that water covered the dead trees. It is so beautiful and peaceful here that we just wanted to enjoy it one more time, when Jez suddenly whispered ‘bear’ and further up river a huge black bear walked along a dead tree laying along the bank.  Wow. Jez switched off the engine and I was just getting my camera out when another bear came out from behind the small islet just a few metres in front of us, gliding through the water toward the bank. I nervously shot a few photos as Jez paddled against the stream to keep us in position, he sniffed the air (the bear not Jez) and had a good look at us then carried on to the bank. Phew, I didn’t have the bear spray on me!  He climbed the bank then peered over at us one last time before disappearing silently into the vast forest.  This is most definitely prime bear country and it can be ‘bear o’clock’ any time of day, but one thing I have learned from these recent bear encounters, they are not comfortable with our presence and are more likely to avoid us than seek us out.

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A good hiking companion

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Two Bear Bums in Alaska

The last three weeks in Alaska have been jam packed full of new discoveries; 60% amazing wildlife, 30% spectacular scenery and 10% chocolate.  On our first day travelling from Sitka through the Sergius Narrows to our anchorage at Deep Bay in Peril Strait, we had sightings of humpback whales, sea otters, harbour seals, eagles and deer.  As we were hanging about at the narrows entrance waiting for slack tide we watched a single humpback whale surfacing and diving around the bay, then he headed for Joy like a torpedo through the water and dived underneath us, resurfacing the other side a few minutes later. When we reached our anchorage I started to drop the hook when I glanced back at the cockpit and noticed Jez and my Mum had abandoned stations and were standing on the aft deck with binoculars looking at the shoreline.  We thought we had ticked many boxes in one day, but adding brown bears to the list went one unexpected step further.   Not just one bear but three, grazing on grass in different areas of the shoreline as the tide dropped.   After taking a few photos of them once the anchor was set, we decided to get in closer on the action and launched the dinghy.  With now only one bear visible we slowly edged our way in as close as we could get, the tide was going out and the mud flats were drying quickly and sadly prevented us from getting close.  When we got back to Joy, Mum and I reviewed our piccies. “Have you got any good ones?” Mum asked, “No, all I seem to have is a bear bum”. We did laugh especially when she said she had a bear bum too!

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Two humpbacks say farewell to Joy in Sitka Sound

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The sea otters are just adorable

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A wave and a round of applause!

 

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A family outing, a baby otter is being carried by one of its parents

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A seal comes to investigate the intruder in his fishing patch

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Thick fog in Salisbury Sound on the West coast of Barinof Island

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A Humpback dives under Joy

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Entering Sergius Narrows where currents run strong, we timed our transit at slack water

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Day two of our expedition was even more rewarding, as we entered Hoonah Sound in Peril Strait we spotted several humpbacks blowing and as we were almost at our lunchtime anchorage we decided to slow down and hang around for a while.  We could see a lot of splashes in the distance and before long a pod of striking Pacific White-sided Dolphins left their feeding frenzy for ten minutes to race around Joy, absolutely magical.

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As the dolphins departed we started to watch a humpback not too far away just laying quite still on the surface of the water, cameras poised at the ready convinced he was going to dive and give us a tail fluke.  It was a total shock when he suddenly disappeared under the surface and launched himself out of the water in just a matter of a few seconds. We weren’t expecting a breach, what an awesome sight!

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Ready…

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Steady…

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After such an amazing morning we were able to get the sails out as a gentle north westerly wind set in, glorious sailing in a flat calm sea.  After a very brief glimpse of three Orcas racing on by, we continued out of Peril Strait and into Chatham Strait and hopped along the east coast of Barinof Island staying in some wonderfully protected anchorages. Every anchorage had spectacular scenery with flat calm water and an abundance of bald eagles, sea lions, seals and a couple more bear sightings.  Some even had waterfalls, a dream to explore in the dinghy at all states of the tide.

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Anchored in Ell Cove

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Such clear water

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The narrow entrance to Ell Cove makes it very protected

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We paid a visit to Barinof Warm Springs after finding a beautiful secluded anchorage close by.  As we left the dinghy on the public dock we noticed a sign warning of a resident bear that browses the berry bushes along the boardwalk to the springs.  It didn’t stop us berry picking along the way, calling ‘Hey Bear’ all the while as I had forgotten the airhorn and intruder spray doubling up as bear deterrents.  My days in the girl guides are long gone and I’m not often well-prepared. The dock’s moorage pay envelope came in handy though as a berry holder, we found salmonberries, blueberries, raspberries and something similar to our blackberry.  The short hike through the woods to the springs was worth the bear-dodging efforts. Mum and I both said we definitely weren’t going to climb the rocks above the falls, but with some encouragement and hand-holding from the more adventurous Jez we clambered across anyway and were rewarded with amazing views.

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The falls generate hydro-electricity for the few residents here

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Anchorage in a small cove at Warm Springs Bay

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A stunning anchorage surrounded by so much wildlife

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Not quite dinner for three!

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Watching a Bald Eagle catch his supper right by the boat

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I never expected to see so many jelly fish in cold waters

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and they are huge!

 

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We watched this Murrelet for ages circling a fish ball and diving, the water was so clear we could see him swimming under water amongst the fish and catching his prey.

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More exploring in another stunning anchorage

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Anchored in Takatz Bay, Barinof Island

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Watching another brown bear in the binoculars catching a salmon for his breakfast

 

 

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Red Bluff Bay

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Bear hunting up the river early morning

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Tucked up in a small cove in Red Bluff Bay at low water

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This is the second Bald Eagle we have watched collecting grass and moss for their nests

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After several warm sunny days reaching 26º C we had an unusually chilly day sailing across Chatham Strait and into Frederick Strait heading for our next anchorage at Honeydew Cove on Kuiu Island.  A whale surfaced right in front of Joy and I shouted at Jez to change course and (apparently) jumped for joy!

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Thermals and woolly hats back on!

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Good shelter from a clocking wind

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A Pigeon Guillemot takes off

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We decided to stretch our legs in the late afternoon sun so beached the dinghy on the small beach for a walk, but after tying up to a tree we noticed some bear prints in the sand and after a little deliberation we decided to back off and retreat.  Just half an hour later whilst embracing beer o’clock back on Joy, Jez noticed a black bear appear out of the woods onto the beach. It was bear o’clock. We were pretty pleased we hadn’t gone for our walk.  That evening a late visitor arrived into the tiny cove, it was the charter boat “Snowgoose’ – the very same boat my Mum had been on the last time she came to Alaska several years ago!

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Sailing away from Kuiu island across to the north shore of Frederick Sound we passed a few sea otters bobbing along on their backs riding the current into the bay. A few more sitings of humpbacks too.

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When we reached our next anchorage called Cannery Cove and rounded the point into the bay, I thought we had arrived in heaven.  The name certainly doesn’t do it justice (the Cannery has long gone) the valley at the head of the bay is stunning with several small waterfalls leading down from the melting snow remaining on the peaks and joining the gentle stream which meanders across a meadow.  The stream was alive with salmon, bringing dozens of Bald Eagles, gulls, seals and sea lions in for their dinner.  We stayed an extra day here just because it was so special.

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Looking out of the bay, what a view

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A Golden Eagle swoops from a tree

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Early evening mist rolls in across the bay

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The resident seal was much more successful at catching salmon than we were

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A fishing boat checking his crab pots

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Even the flies are beautiful in Alaska!

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On the road again – getting closer to the glaciers means a chilly wind but spectacular scenery

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Two sea lions fishing in Frederick Sound

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The cold waters of Frederick Sound affords good fishing and attracts Humpback Whales, we had many sightings in this stretch of water

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Anchored off Ruth Island in Thomas Bay we explored the river which runs from the Patterson Glacier.  Currents were strong and the river full of debris with no visibility in the opaque green glacial water so we turned back. A family of seals came to investigate us so we drifted in the dinghy for a while and watched them. Priceless.

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Our next stop was the small town of Petersburg, we took a berth at the marina as there isn’t a suitable anchorage close by and we wanted to do some exploring.  It was not only the end of my Mum’s holiday but the end of our cracking spell of hot weather, with drizzly rain forecast for a few days. It was a shame to discover that there is no restaurant open for evening dinner in the town, so we made do with a wonderful lunch at the Salty Pantry and a very late afternoon halibut and chips.

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One of the three harbours in Petersburg at low tide

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The town was founded by a Norwegian and is proud of its heritage. This memorial was dedicated to all the towns folk who had been lost as sea, it was shocking to see hundreds of names all around the boardwalk.

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This Rufous Hummingbird migrates from Mexico for an Alaskan summer, apparently they return each year to the exact same plants to feed

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Discovery Park didn’t have much of a view with thick fog and drizzle in the air

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The last three weeks have been the best days of my life, discovering Alaskan wildlife and remote protected anchorages, witnessing the daily feeding routines of a variety of sea birds, Bald eagles, seals, sea lions and whales all going about their business not only unaffected by Joy and her crew but seemingly unaware of our presence.  Sharing all of this with my Mum who has the same interest and passion for wildlife and photography has made it extra extra special.

The next part of our Alaskan discovery will take us through the Wrangell Narrows continuing south towards Ketchikan.

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Sizzling in Sitka

Our day today started with thick fog, as it burned off mid morning with glorious sunshine for the rest of the day we set off to explore Sitka with a walk through the forest and a visit to the Alaska Raptor Centre where they rehab birds of prey ready for release back into the wild.

 

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We spotted this Bald Eagle in a tree overhanging a boardwalk trail to the forest

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The Raptor Centre has 21 Bald Eagles in their impressive rehab centre where they get them flight fit again before release, we could view them through one-way glass to keep them from too much human contact.  Most of the injuries are caused by collisions, airplanes and power lines included. They also have several birds including owls in  permanent residence as their injuries were too bad and have affected their hunting abilities.

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Bald Eagle in permanent residence

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This Golden Eagle had collided with a power line, his right wing was so badly damaged they had to amputate part of it.

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Hey Bear!  Pleased that this was the only bear we encountered today

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Shivering in Sitka, SE Alaska

Arriving early morning into Sitka Sound after just 18 days at sea from Hawaii was pretty magical, although low lying clouds hid most of the snow capped mountains the sudden increase in wildlife made up for the visual loss.  Three humpback whales surfaced several times in the distance, tufted puffins bobbed on the surface in Joys path reluctant to move out of the way, sea lions stretched out lazily on a navigational buoy and bald eagles circled over head.  What better welcome than that?  The last few days of the passage were a difficult down-wind run with strong winds and an enormous sea, waves building from behind higher than our solar panels on the davits. Keeping sails full in these conditions is a challenge, when not directly in sync with the direction of the swell the roll can be violent.  It’s times like these you discover all the loose things knocking about in cupboards, usually during the night. So land was a very welcome sight.

After anchoring in Jamestown Bay which is a couple of miles east of the harbour we took the dinghy into town escorted by sea lions swimming alongside, a little scary as they are easily as big as the dinghy. The harbour was heaving with fishing boats offloading their catches, fishing is obviously pretty good in these waters. It was great to stretch our legs and find some fresh produce. Of course our main interests when coming ashore are always groceries, hardware and marine stores but I indulged myself in The Harbour Bookstore and bought a field guide to Alaskan birdlife.

The thing that strikes me the most about Sitka is the silence, it is so peaceful in the anchorage that I can hear our clock ticking, something I have never noticed before.  The waters are still and calm and the wind is light, when the cloud and fog lifts during the morning the snow-capped mountains come into view and the sun raises the temperature to a toasty 17 C.  We have spotted sea otters, whales and bald eagles from the anchorage and our daily runs into town are always amongst sea lions and seals busy catching their lunch. This morning we passed a sea otter lying on its back on the surface, I’m in heaven here.

We are all stocked up again with goodies, have caught up on sleep and are gradually getting used to the chill when the sun sets at about 9.30pm. I’m excited as my Mum arrives from the UK today to spend some time with us and after a little exploring here we will set off to cruise the remote inland waterways down to Petersburg over the next couple of weeks.

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One of my favourite parts of offshore sailing has to be the visitors

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Albert the Albatross followed us for a while

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A Fogbow

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Dolphins playing in the fog

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A whale blows in the distance

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Hawaii to Alaska – Day 11, 1560 nautical miles

Sailing away from Oahu, Hawaii in the calm waters protected by the island was glorious but short lived. Makua bay lies just a couple of miles from the north west point and once past this the full fury of wind and waves slammed into us like a runaway freight train.

We did a radio check with a local sailing boat who had come into the bay the day before, they informed us that our AIS position was not being transmitted and in fact last shows us leaving Panama City, and our VHF broke up at 2 miles off. We had suspected a problem with the radio as the marina couldn’t hear us calling when we arrived to refuel, so it’s likely we have antennae problems on both. With all the lightening storms around and over us leaving Panama it’s really not surprising. Just another job added to the list for Sitka.

It’s amazing how exaggerated wind and sea can get when interacting with land, so we settled in for a rough ride until we were into deeper water. Sure enough after 50 or so miles the sea state eased and the wind resumed its trade characteristics. The wind eased for the next couple of days and we had some great sailing and our first encounter with a Black-footed Albatross, a huge dark brown bird with a wing span of around 7 feet. Albert followed us for a whole day, catching us up and coming in to land in the water beside us with his huge webbed feet dangling down beneath him. We would sail on past and he would sit on the water and watch us, looking as if he was either wondering what the hell we were or whether we were going to throw him some scraps, then an hour or so later he had caught us up again. Perhaps he was envious of the two birds sitting on the bow, one on the pulpit rail and the other on the dolphin seat. I think they were another variety of booby, a pure white body with brown edging on their wings, pale blue beaks with a pink edging at the base and orange feet and legs. They hitched a ride for a full 24 hours, preening their pure white fluffy feathers continuously (the down side of being white I guess) and occasionally taking off and doing a circuit or two of the boat before coming in to land again. I got very close to them, with the calm conditions I could do a spot of cleaning and they took no notice of me on the foredeck. I wondered what it would be like to stroke those soft white downy feathers but thought that would be pushing my luck. We thought that if they both took off for a bit we could set up the GoPro on the bow as a ‘Boobycam’ but there was always one present as if they were guarding their rest spot.

The weather deteriorated shortly after the birds took off for the last time fully rested, they were probably far enough away from their hunting ground and perhaps knew what was coming. The wind picked up to 25 knots gusting to 30 and the sea state changed with waves in quick succession. Lightening flashed in the cloud cover ahead of us as waves crashed over the bow. Our ‘Boobycam’ would have been a ‘Wavecam’. It was a sleepless night cocooned in the comfort of the pilot berth and the watches were cold and wet. The following morning during breakfast a loud bang announced a chafed jib sheet. After replacing the sheet the sail came back out again reefed as waves were still crashing on the deck. The only glimpse of the sun was as it descended in the sky and peeked through a gap in the thick cloud cover shortly before sunset, it was beer o’clock and we were engrossed in our daily Suduko challenge. Another loud bang made us jump, the second jib sheet had exploded. We rigged up a much heavier line this time as we still couldn’t put the full sail out in the conditions, hoping this would last the night. Our original sheets were old and pretty well worn so it was about time they were replaced. At 2.30 am a large rogue wave landed on the foredeck, tearing two of the four straps holding down a sail bag with our light-air reacher sail (wishful thinking, having a light-air sail ready to deploy on this passage!) and furling gear inside. Half the bag and contents went overboard, I woke the captain with the bad news and in full wet weather gear we clipped on to the bow and heaved it in, regularly doused in very cold salty waves. Sodden with water this huge sail is damn heavy, it took all we had to haul it back on board and along the side deck, lashing it down on the aft deck out of harms way. This was number three of our ‘bad things happening today’ and surely the last.

The transition from ‘bikini, shorts and bare feet’ to ‘thermal leggings, waterproofs, woolly hat, socks and Musto boots’ came quite abruptly. I had imagined the need to add layers gradually as we sailed north away from the heat of Hawaii, but this was not the case. Overnight it felt bitterly cold, the first sign was when we found the coconut oil had solidified at popcorn making time, when we got the thermometer out we scoffed at the 18°C reading, that couldn’t possibly be right, could it? Are we that soft after four years in the Caribbean?!

After 3 days of ‘orrible conditions but another two juicy tuna added to the daily fish menu, as predicted we entered the eastern edge of the centre of high pressure that had been moving west above us for the last week. This meant no wind but a much nicer sea state, and visibility was reduced to 1/4 mile in some thick fog patches. We motored through this patch for about 12 hours and as the high continued to move west we were out the other side and into the westerly flow of wind in the northern section of the high. I hate motoring but it was actually nice to spend the day relatively upright and get a few jobs done and catch up with some sleep.

The westerly winds settled in nicely at first but the easy conditions were short lived. After a few hours things became lively once again with near gale force winds gusting up to 35 knots. In the patchy visibility the radar and AIS first spotted another vessel during the morning, a huge car transporter ploughing east. He came into view at about 5 miles and passed behind us about a mile off. It seems we are receiving AIS signals at close range but not transmitting. Another very wet and cold night as waves broke on the side of Joy and forced themselves under the canvas of our cockpit enclosure. Dolphins leaped out alongside, oblivious to the conditions above sea level. After 24 hours the wind eased to 20’s and backed from WNW to SW, with the wind and waves aft of the beam we could ease sheets and run with the swell instead of against it. Rolly, but a much more comfortable ride. By nightfall last night the thick pea-souper rolled back in and more dolphins appeared perhaps as many as 100 surrounding Joy, leaping out playfully for a couple of hours as the radar kept watch for us once again. Today the strong winds have returned gusting to 37 this afternoon.

Our course is gradually arcing north eastwards towards Sitka, skirting around the high now returning eastwards beneath us and the lows and fronts above and to the west. Between a rock and a hard place, with 955 miles to go. As much as I am enjoying eating fish every day, I am now dreaming of hearty stews and warming whiskey macs.

Position report: 03:00 GMT 10/7/18
48°26.7N
155°45.9W

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Saying Goodbye to Hawaii at Makua Bay, Oahu

Our last anchorage in the Hawaiian Islands was supposed to be for one night while we got the dinghy and outboard motor packed up, but when we arrived into the stunning Makua Bay on the north west of Oahu we just felt the need to stay a little longer.  Clear blue water, a long sandy beach with volcanic rock dotted about and the grand Makua Valley behind all add to the spectacular scenery here.   During World War II the military took over the Makua Valley for a bombing range and still use this valley today.

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An afternoon’s entertainment watching this helicopter collect water and dump it inland

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Clouds roll in to the valley late afternoon

It was great to have our last swim and snorkel in warm waters before heading to Alaska, and yesterday morning Jez swam over to a group of spinner dolphins across the bay and got to snorkel with these beautiful playful creatures.

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Jez heading off in search of dolphins

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Snorkelling back to the boat escorted by dolphins

 

What a great way to end our visit here, now we are packed up and ready to move on. The duvet is out and ready along with thermals and wet weather gear, next stop Sitka in South East Alaska 2600 miles away.

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Maui, Hawaii

The beautiful mountainous backdrop to the harbour was certainly a welcome view, after anchoring up in the designated area in the commercial harbour the wind returned and blew 15-20 knots almost from the moment we arrived.  We had quite a big shock when we relaunched the dinghy, discovering Joy had picked up and nurtured a nice crop of gooseneck barnacles on the five week sail, we have never seen anything like this before!!

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The harbourmaster and his staff welcomed us and encouraged us to stay a little longer than planned, they organised a place for us to leave the dinghy in the restricted commercial docks and allowed us to use this every day as well as park our rental car inside the secure compound.  What delightful staff, everyone has been so friendly and helpful and our thanks go out especially to Shayna in the harbour office who went out of her way to assist us, what an absolute star. So we stayed four nights and this enabled us to reprovision, get the essential SIM card for our internet connection and explore the island by car. With two shopping malls and at least four supermarkets close to the harbour we were able to find everything we needed, it was great to have fresh produce again including locally grown salad leaves and pineapples.

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The view from West Maui mountains to ‘Up Country’ 

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Honolua Bay is a popular snorkelling destination for the many tourists on this island

We left the harbour on Saturday morning after watching the canoe races off the small beach here, these guys have been practising all week and I got quite worn out just watching them.  They row around the large harbour dozens of times battling against the strong winds and choppy sea, super fit people.  Our next anchorage was on the north of the island in a beautiful bay called Honolua, the sail there was lively with a capital L.  With 25-30 knots of brisk trade winds and some pretty heavy swell these waters give some exhilarating sailing conditions. After doing some research on where to refuel, not many places in the islands have fuel docks instead you have to use jerry cans from the fuel station, I found a marina in Oahu who had a fuel dock and a good price so we made the decision to sail over to Oahu the following day.  Another very lively sail down the channels in-between the islands, Molokai to the north of Maui and Lanai to the west, then across another channel to Oahu and around to Waikiki Beach just south of Honolulu.  More 30 knot winds and breaking waves as the water is forced up between the islands into shallower water.  A great 12 hour sail, we arrived off Waikiki Beach just as the sun was going down.

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Kaluhui Harbour canoe races

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Leaving the West Maui mountains behind us

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Coming in to Honolua Bay

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The island of Molokai in the distance 

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Rounding Diamond Head on Oahu

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The city of Honolulu in sight

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Anchored off Waikiki Beach, a long way off actually as the water shoals quite rapidly

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After an awful night rolling from ear to ear, side on to a southerly swell, we moved on to the marina further up the coast to refuel.  A much more sedate sail in 15-20 knots on the lee side of Oahu was pretty awesome and we found our last anchorage at Makua.  We now have some organising to do and the dinghy and outboard to put away as we have a semi-reasonable weather window for the next passage to Sitka, Alaska.  It’s been a very fleeting visit to these beautiful islands and I really hope one day we get to return.

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One of the many warships on exercise outside Pearl Harbour

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Land Aloha!

As night fell on day 35 at sea an orange glow appeared on the horizon. Just over 70 miles away, the lava flow on Hawaii ‘The Big Island’ was burning bright.  By daybreak land was in view, although we were 35 miles or so offshore mainly because the wind and current had taken us that way. The southern part of the island remained completely hidden behind thick ‘vog’, through the binoculars we could see steam rising from the ocean in various places.  The dormant volcano on the Northern part of the island was visible though and pretty impressive, even from a distance.

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Lava flowing into the sea creating a cloud of steam and gases

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Mauna Kea is a dormant shield volcano at the north of The Big Island, with 4,207 metres above sea level most of it is under water. Measured from its oceanic base it is over 10,000 metres tall which makes it the tallest mountain in the world. An impressive sight from 32 miles away!

By mid afternoon the wind had completely died on us, with less than 5 knots of wind and a mirror calm sea we were going nowhere and the sails were flogging badly.  Reluctantly we turned on the engine and furled the sails away, always an anticlimax. I sanded down and restained the teak cap rail which had been stripped of its protection by 5 weeks of salt and sun, and Jez put out the rod again. Very shortly he had caught another Mahi Mahi for supper, the fishing on this passage has been excellent and we have eaten fish every day for the last month.  By dark we were approaching the notorious channel in-between The Big Island and Maui and the lava flow glowed its beautiful orange yet again.

The wind sadly didn’t return, so under motor we arrived into Kahului Harbour on the east coast of Maui around 11am on day 37 having travelled 5,141 miles from Panama.  The sight of the dramatic mountains on Maui was a welcome sight after nothing but sea and sky for five weeks.

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Leaving a very stormy Panama behind us

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Las Perlas Islands made a quick stop over to clean the prop

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Saying goodbye to land under an orange sky

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This frigate bird, a few hundred miles offshore, attacks another seabird in an attempt to steal his catch

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This booby flew straight into our shrouds!

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A cling-on on the starboard bow

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A feeding frenzy, spot the dolphin leaping!

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A beautiful Red-Footed Booby takes a welcome break from fishing

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A fishing boat passes us north of Galapagos Islands, our last sighting of another boat

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Spectacular sunsets

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Maui just in sight as the sun goes down

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Maui’s dormant volcano, Haleakala (3,055m), looked beautiful in the early morning sun. We could see numerous waterfalls along this eastern coast.

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The mountains of West Maui make a beautiful back-drop to the town and harbour at Kahului

 

Joys Track Panama to Hawaii

Joy’s route Panama to Hawaii – 37 days and 5,141 nautical miles

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Isla Taboga (Panama) in Pictures

While we were Pacific side in Panama we spent a few glorious days on the small island of Taboga, here are some of my photos (better late than never!).

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Panama City still in view from the island

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Day 29 at sea – 4,035 miles

A walk around deck at first light reveals the treasures that Neptune has offered up during the night hours. For the first thousand or so miles we were given squid, silent visitors slipping in on a wave unnoticed. Then came the usual flying fish, launching themselves onboard in the darkness with a loud thwack against the cockpit enclosure followed by lots of thrashing. Thank God for the new enclosure which we shut on the windward side each night (we’ve become soft sailors) if the gate crashers end up on the aft deck they are easy to push off back to sea almost unharmed with the boat hook, if they land in the side deck then that’s their lot. They are impossible to get hold of to chuck over board as they thrash about shedding their slimey scales everywhere. We would have had half a dozen land not only in the cockpit but probably on our lap one night without the side panel closed. I brush the fish scales off the canvas most mornings.

Other than a wicked late evening encounter with a large pod of dolphins whizzing through the water lighting up like fluorescent torpedoes as they collide with phosphorescence in the water, sailing west underneath the ITCZ was pretty unremarkable. The sunsets and moon rises were spectacular though, must be an equator thing. When we reached 127° west it was time to start heading up closer to the ITCZ ready to cross it. For the first time since we have been watching its position which changes daily, there was an area of ‘moderate to strong convection’ 120 miles south and 90 miles north of 128°, just as we reached 128°, typical. The five days previous had shown this area to have slight convection and only a narrow passage across it, now quite the opposite, too late to change our minds though. So we encountered torrential rain for about 36 hours, periods of no wind which we motored through and then one enormous squall which lasted for hours but meant the sails could come out again and the engine off. For two soggy nights we had feathered friends take refuge, the first night was a small petrel who landed on the winch by the cockpit and nudged the plastic window looking a little peeved that we had shut him out. Good job we had the window shut, it wouldn’t have worked out well for either of us, we were just tucking in to mahi mahi and rice. He wobbled off the winch and went onto the foredeck looking rather bedraggled. The next night was a slightly bigger bird than the petrel, not as daring to try and get into the cockpit, he huddled on the foredeck right by the staysail sheeting track. Not a good place either as when the wind veered we had to roll it away, trying not to disturb him, then a squall about 3am meant a reef in the main and a change again in sail trim. Then a couple of hours later no wind with sails flogging, sails away and motor on, the steaming light giving away his position. The rain continued to bucket it down during all of this, and in a greater quantity than the spray hood and cockpit enclosure could cope with. It was one of those nights, and it wasn’t just the stowaway that didn’t get much sleep. The wind eventually settled from the NNE and the skies cleared early morning, we had come out the other side of the twilight, I mean convergence, zone and into the north east trades. Phew.

We have been keeping a close eye on the weather as always, in the last week two hurricanes, Aletta and Bud, have developed off of South America and there are numerous lows with gale force winds tracking relentlessly eastwards across the North Pacific. They shouldn’t directly affect us on this passage other than ‘mixed swell’ which we are experiencing now. That means it’s coming from more than one direction, not just the wind direction, making it feel at times like we are beating into a sea when we are on a broad reach. Not the most comfortable of seas, but with a steady 15-20 knots of wind we are back up to cracking off 170+ miles per day following a rhumb line to our stop over island of Maui…now only 1,000 miles away.

Only two things I would change right now, a larger selection of chocolate and perhaps a crossword book (I have almost been tempted to tuck into one of the sticker and colouring books I have in stock for the kids on the Pacific islands). My life would then be complete.

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