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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.