Vancouver to Sunny San Francisco

It was great to be back ‘on the road’ again although it was sad leaving British Columbia behind, another one of those places we felt we weren’t quite ready to leave.  But as always the weather dictates our movements to a large degree (and it had got so cold we were eating our dinner with woolly hats on) so we headed off with a narrow weather window to get south, in search of some warmth.  After leaving Canada our first task was to check back in to the U.S., with the new ROAM app and an internet connection underway we plugged in our details requesting entry as we crossed the sea border.  Jez was then interviewed by a customs officer via the app on our iPad, weird but very convenient as we were then emailed our clearance confirmation.  After a cruise through the islands and an overnight stop at Roche Harbour, San Juan, we had an early start to get to Neah Bay to refuel by the end of the day.  Another great display of Orca’s racing through the Juan de Fuca Strait which separates Vancouver Island & the US mainland along with the odd Humpback blowing just added to our enjoyment, especially as we had plenty of wind to sail. Bliss.

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The Coastguard hovercraft whizzes past at 40 knots as we leave Vancouver

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Back in US territory heading to San Juan Island

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Despite having read that the fuel dock in Neah Bay was open 24/7, when we arrived and plonked ourselves on the dock no-one was about.  The lights were on but there was nobody home…  At the head of the dock we found out that they had gone for pizza, so we waited and waited.  It was just starting to get dark when a very apologetic attendant arrived with some bad news, her manager wouldn’t allow her to serve fuel after dark. With no other choice we anchored off for the night, knowing this was shaving 12 hours off of our already narrow weather window,  but as we had used quite a bit of fuel since Port McNeil (and it was only US$2.95 per US gallon including tax here) we didn’t really want to head off without it.

So full of fuel (we have a keel tank so this also acts as ballast) and a good nights sleep we headed off around Cape Flattery, where wind accelerated to a lively 30 knots in the blink of an eye.  Once clear of the Cape light winds returned and, gazing out across the beautiful blue Pacific with the sun shining and a flat calm sea,  we commented how difficult it was to imagine that conditions here can get rough.  After a blissful 48 hours we were reminded of the reality, with winds in the early 30’s gusting to 36 knots and an uncomfortable sea running Joy as always did her best and romped southwards.

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Rounding Cape Flattery

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Luckily it only last for 24 hours and as things calmed down I could get back to dolphin watching in between reading (‘Erebus’ by Michael Palin, an absolutely excellent read about the history of the boat ‘Erebus’ and Sir John Franklin’s ill fated expedition of the North West Passage) and knitting (a nice woolly hat for Jez…well, I am half a century old after all and need to keep up the family tradition…thanks Mum for all the gear and refresher lesson!). The daily dolphin visits have been wonderful, the large ones ride the bow wave as the younger ones leap out to the sides, hearing their high pitched whistles gives you a sense of their excitement at having something to play with, and even better with an audience too.

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Another visitor to entertain me on the journey was Stanley, a hundred miles offshore was an odd place to have a starling come to stay.  With an offering of sunflower seeds and a bowl of water he was pretty content to ride it out for 24 hours, we were sad to see him go although it did mean we didn’t have to creep around the cockpit trying not to scare him.

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Stanley the Starling – such beautiful markings on his feathers and wings

Our wind sadly died as we headed in towards San Francisco, the level of that cheap fuel we had just purchased got a little lower as we motored towards the iconic bridge, The Golden Gate, just as the sun rose.  Our timing was perfect as it was just about slack tide, we stayed out of the buoyed channel to keep clear of the commercial traffic and a large cruise ship going in. The Golden Gate Bridge certainly was beautiful in the early morning sun.

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Our first port of call inside the huge and busy bay was the anchorage in Richardson Bay close to the pretty town of Sausalito (under the bridge and turn left) to see North Sails to make some long awaited adjustments to our new sails.

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A marina resident in Sausalito

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One of the rather stinky ferries leaving Sausalito for San Francisco

The anchorage is plagued by wake from the frequent ferries that arrive at Sausalito, making all the boats roll and buck every 20 minutes from very early morning to late at night, so when the sails were back in the loft we headed off to Clipper Cove at Treasure Island for some flat calm water to help retain some sanity. The Cove is nestled between Yerba Buena Island which supports the centre of the San Francisco to Oakland Bay Bridge and Treasure Island which has a lot of development going on. Doesn’t sound very appealing I know,  but ignoring the sound of diggers and the traffic noise from the bridge, the Cove has no ferry route going past it and that is a big plus in the bay. It was bliss not to be thrown from one side of the boat to the other while trying to hold down everything that comes back out whilst at anchor, like tools, computers and the sewing machine, and the sight of the beautiful bridge at night all lit up is wonderful.  A free anchoring permit is required at Clipper Cove for up to 96 hours but its easy to apply just by leaving a telephone message.

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Fog is a common hazard in the SF bay

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It was wonderful to see so many people actually using their boats!

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Alcatraz Island with the city behind

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Entering Clipper Cove with a view of the city in the distance

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The San Francisco to Oakland Bay Bridge is a stunning piece of engineering

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Joy anchored in Clipper Cove

This was also a convenient place to beach the dinghy and catch a bus into the city to explore.  We have returned to this Cove three times now in between sail adjustments, giving us the chance to see San Francisco city and experience the very busy Pier 39 and its resident sea lions. The sea lions started to arrive on ‘K’ dock in the marina at Pier 39 shortly after an earthquake hit San Francisco in October 1989.  Within a few months the number had grown to 300, and hit an all-time record of 1700 in 2009. Nobody knows why they just suddenly turned up, but the marina decided to allow them to stay (I don’t think they had much choice!) and now they have dedicated floating pontoons all to themselves. We watched the them for ages, on some pontoons they were laying two deep.  The sound of them barking (and the smell) filled the air as hoards of tourists watched on.

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Male sea lions can reach 390kg!

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We took a long stroll along The Embarcadero which runs along the waterfront on the eastern side of the city, bustling with people walking, cycling, skateboarding and scootering, all enjoying the sunny Sunday afternoon. There were lots of street entertainers too, among them a female ‘rap artist’ rapping from inside a play pen with a loud sound system and a small boy playing with his collection of toys!

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It’s nearly beer o’clock!

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The western section of the SF to Oakland Bay Bridge (from Yerba Buena Island to the city) is an impressive double-decker with eastbound traffic on the top layer and westbound on the bottom. It carries 260,000 vehicles a day!

Anchored back in Sausalito for some more sail adjustments, we had a nasty east wind blowing 30 knots and strong currents with a new moon, making conditions pretty uncomfortable for a few hours last Thursday, it even sank a boat in the harbour.  This strong east wind and very dry hot weather (we have not had rain since we arrived) caused a devastating wild fire in Butte County, 160 miles to our north east, and by the afternoon we had a cloud of smoke cover the bay which has remained ever since. Today, Sunday, the fire has now destroyed 109,000 acres and is only 25% contained with 23 reported deaths and over 6,500 structures burned.  The bay area remains hidden in a cloud of smoke.

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The smoke arrives at Richardson Bay

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A beautiful sun rise peeks out from the smokey haze

 

Posted in California | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Having a Whale of a Time in B.C.

We rounded Cape Caution, under motor of course, in an almost flat calm sea. The area is notorious for heaping seas and accelerated wind but we saw none of that, perfect for whale spotting infact as several humpbacks were fin slapping and one even tail slapped right by the boat. And we caught and kept our first salmon, thanks to the new fishing net!

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Leaving Fitz Hugh Sound

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A salmon at last!

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Smooth water at Cape Caution

Our first anchorage in the Queen Charlotte Strait was chosen as it sounded like a challenge and would probably therefore be deserted, we were right.  We picked our way through a narrow kelp-strewn channel surrounded by low rocks and entered the Murray Labyrinth anchorage.  Not as outstandingly beautiful as most of the anchorages further north, we have been particularly spoilt, but protected and quiet.  We decided to set our crab pot just outside the channel in deeper water and fought our way through the kelp in the dinghy to find a good spot.  The following morning we had 21 Redrock Crabs stumbling over each other inside the trap.  17 went back as they were undersize, but four good size crabs went into the pot adding three meals for two to the stocks.  We have eaten rather well on this trip, crab has been our main diet since leaving Prince Rupert and of course now we have delicious salmon.

After a couple more anchorages we crossed over to Vancouver Island to visit Port McNeil to reprovision and fill up on diesel.  To give you an idea of how much we have motored since arriving in BC, we are using as much fuel in two weeks as we would normally do in a year.  Ouch!  Port McNeil was an excellent stop, after re-fuelling the attendant offered us space on the dock free of charge to go to the grocery store, he also filled up our cooking gas bottle on the spot.  What excellent service, so we took up the offer before heading off the dock to anchor for the night.

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What do you do when your helicopter breaks down? Get a tow of course!

With a southerly gale forecast in a couple of days time we set off into the 68 mile-long Johnstone Strait to get down to Seymour Narrows while we could, several whale watching tour boats whizzed past us as we headed out of Port McNeil.  Sure enough it wasn’t long before we spotted a group of Orca’s feeding just south of Hanson Island.  This was our first good sighting of Orca’s, having only seen a glimpse of 3 fins in Alaska, now we were treated to several spy hops.

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Fog rolls in over Johnstone Strait

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We chose a great hidey-hole to shelter from the gale, Small Inlet is just north of Seymour Narrows, and it seemed a good place to wait for more favourable conditions. Shortly after setting the crab pot for the night the heavens opened, and it rained continuously for nearly 48 hours.  With 30+ knots blowing outside we hardly felt a breath of wind in the protected anchorage. An excellent spot made even better by the large Dungeness crab in our pot when we finally retrieved it two days later.

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Almost as big as the chopping board

Currents through The Seymour Narrows can run at up to 16 knots on a large tide, so timing a passage at slack water through this stretch is vital, it was reassuring to see a motor boat and tug and tow gathering ahead of us waiting to get through.  Despite being slack water we did experience some turbulent swirling water taking Joy off course at times, but we got through without trouble and then the wind suddenly appeared from the north west and we set sail for the first time in ages. It was glorious to glide down Discovery Passage, past the Campbell River and into the Strait of Georgia under sail.

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Looking back at Seymour Narrows

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Passing a huge log boom being towed by a Tug

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Lots of sea lions basking on the small island of Mitlenatch

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At last, a photo with some blueish sky, oh and some cormorants

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Spot the Black Oystercatchers

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More blue sky as we enter Desolation Sound

We headed to Desolation Sound for a few days hoping for some better weather and weren’t disappointed.  That shiny bright thing finally appeared in the sky, it felt as if we hadn’t seen it for weeks. Desolation Sound is a popular national park about 80 miles north of Vancouver and it’s very beautiful with steep rocky cliffs and snow-capped mountains in the background. Luckily for us it wasn’t very busy as it’s just out of season,  so we visited a couple of the most popular spots.  Teakern Arm with its impressive waterfall has very deep water right up close to the rocky cliffs so we dropped our anchor and backed up to the cliffs.  I took an aft line ashore in the dinghy and attached it to an iron hoop embedded in the rock. It was so nice and peaceful here we stayed a couple of days, and walked the trail to the lake taking a picnic with us.  It wasn’t quite what we were expecting, when we arrived at the top of the waterfall we found that we had to  actually cross it to continue the trail. So we carefully waded through the rushing cold water, then just when we thought we were back on track we came across a second slightly gentler but deeper body of water to wade through then some rock climbing and more wading before reaching a small opening above a steep rocky shelf with a view of the lake. We met another couple who, after a chat about sailing, said they were wanting to take a bath in the lake despite the cold water as they didn’t have a shower on board! So not wanting to invade their privacy we reversed the route and went back and ate our picnic in the comfort of our cockpit.

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The waterfall at Teakern Arm

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Joy tied to the cliff face at low water at Teakern Arm

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Crossing the waterfall at the top

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This little Red Fur Crab made it into our crab pot but luckily for him we put him back

 Then on to Prideaux Haven where we were the only boat in a small pretty inlet called Melanie Cove, this had a great hike over the hill to another small cove further north although it was more like an assault course with so many trees fallen, but it was worth it for the exercise and the view across Laura Cove at the end.

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At anchor in Melanie Cove

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Looking out across Laura Cove soaking up the sun

With a good forecast for a few days we took the opportunity to get down to Vancouver City, our alternator (new in Trinidad) had packed up and we needed to get this seen to, plus my Mum was paying another visit to help celebrate my birthday.  Vancouver City has an excellent waterway called False Creek (named so as it is actually a dead-end) where visiting boaters can anchor in the heart of the city with a free permit obtained online.  It was pretty surreal entering into False Creek underneath two bridges and be surrounded by high-rise buildings and thousands of people, especially after the last few months of remoteness.

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Leaving Desolation Sound

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Approaching Vancouver City

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Joy at anchor in False Creek, Vancouver City

It proved to be such a memorable stop, we are definitely not city people but this place we fell in love with.  Lots of parks and open spaces, and walkways as big as traffic lanes so its easy and enjoyable to walk just about anywhere.  We rushed our alternator in to the repair shop as it was late in the day Friday when we arrived, and it was fixed Saturday morning.  It made a refreshing change to get such an efficient service, and it has been one of the few things we have had repaired that actually works, and works better than it did before (touch wood).

Vancouver City is also a great place to have guests, we were a 2 minute walk from the Skytrain which connects with the airport so we could easily go and meet my Mum off the plane.  We visited the famous Granville Market, a fantastic vibrant and busy indoor market with just about any kind of deli food, cakes, crafts and fresh produce you can imagine.

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A colourful stall at Granville Market

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Even the silos and lorries are colourful

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We then spent a wonderful few days in Howe Sound just a few miles north of the city, with  some great hikes through the forests and a night at Snug Cove on Bowen Island to go out to dinner for my birthday. I chose a wonderful Italian restaurant called Tuscany, fine dining with an Italian twist, all our meals were plate-lickingly superb.

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Peaking out across Howe Sound from the peak on Bowen Island

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Snug Cove on Bowen Island

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Back in the City we took a walk to Stanley Park and followed the Lost Lagoon trail, it’s amazing to have this wonderful park with so much wildlife in such close proximity to the city.  The highlight of our late afternoon walk had to be the appearance of a family of raccoons who timidly came out of the undergrowth to get a closer look at us.  Then a brief sighting of a skunk, a little shyer than the raccoons, but another new experience for us.

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Autumn Colours

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Looking out at the anchored vessels in English Bay

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Mr and Mrs Wood Duck show off their beautiful markings, they look as if they have been painted with an artist’s brush

 

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“What does a raccoon have to do to get some privacy around here?”

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A skunk can spray a target 12 feet away so we didn’t get too close!

 

All in all Vancouver City is a fab place, we have thoroughly enjoyed our time here and I have had a truly memorable birthday week, as always we don’t feel quite ready to leave.  With our weather forecasts showing a steady succession of low pressure systems firing across the Pacific towards this coast in a weeks time, it is sadly time to say goodbye to Canada and head 800 miles south to San Francisco while we can.

 

 

 

Posted in British Columbia | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Feeling a little Crabby!

After clearing in with Customs by telephone at the Prince Rupert Rowing & Yacht Club we explored the town. A neat place with some useful marine & fishing gear shops, a good supermarket and the all important liquor store, the town seemed well cared for and the people were friendly. Sadly once again the persistent rain settled in along with a blanket of fog so thick we couldn’t see past the end of the docks. Not good conditions to be moving on in, so we stayed a couple of days which gave us the opportunity to explore a little and visit the excellent museum.

With fishing license, newly acquired folding crab pot and a sturdy fishing net on board we headed out of Prince Rupert as the fog finally lifted and rain temporarily subsided.

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Prince Rupert is a busy port

Our day-hop anchorages took us through the Grenville Channel, 45 miles long with beautiful scenery and three excellent anchorages to break up the motoring.

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Entering the Grenville Channel

My favourite was Baker Inlet which is vast and beautiful, after transiting the Watts Narrows the deserted inlet stretches 5 miles in to the head of the bay.  The narrows at the entrance form a dog-leg passage with steep-sided rocky banks covered in dense trees, so steep sided in fact that we lost our GPS position half-way through.  Although it is narrow, the channel is deep and with clear water I could see the rocky ledges to avoid from the bow.  Once through, we made our way to the head of the bay, a backdrop of tall mountains with numerous waterfalls leading down to streams which flow into the bay. This place is absolutely stunning and very remote, no other boats or inhabitants for miles, just how we like it. With more adverse weather forecast we stayed here for a couple of days while it passed over this very protected inlet. Our small crab pot caught eleven Dungeness crabs on the first night, we put seven back as they were under-size but the four we kept were delicious. Thank god for ‘The River Cottage’ fish book we have onboard, for instructions on how to kill and cook them, as this is a new experience for us.

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Crab pot retrieved

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Let me out!

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Such beautiful reflections in calm protected waters

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We shared the anchorage with hundreds of Moon Jellyfish

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If you look closely, you can just make out the entrance to the narrows from inside Baker Inlet

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Almost through the Narrows at slack water

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Looking back at the Narrows as we pass through

It was difficult dragging ourselves away from such an idyllic and secluded spot, although the next anchorage at Verney Falls was just as spectacular with plenty of wildlife.  We spotted a solitary seal beneath the falls hunting and catching salmon, when he surfaced we noticed he only had one eye. His left eye was missing with some tissue protruding, either an injury or perhaps a defect.  Either way it didn’t seem to affect his ability to catch fish.  When we left the anchorage the following day there were a dozen or so seals lounging on the rocks at the entrance, I wondered if our little fella was among them or whether he was an outcast because he was different. I have time to ponder these things when we are under motor!

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The beautiful Verney Falls

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Starboard side good

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Port side not so good

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This huge tree floated around the inlet, by morning it was making its way out into Grenville Channel

 

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Back out into the Grenville Channel in some settled weather (followed by the tree)

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Hundreds of Surf Scoters making their way south, can’t blame them

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The last day in Grenville Channel was spent in thick fog, feeling our way through the channel under radar supervision, not much good for sight-seeing. This channel is supposed to be a busy commercial highway, although we only passed two fishing boats and one ferry the entire length of the Grenville.  Once out of the channel the fog started to lift and the sun tried it’s hardest to burn through some lingering cloud, we crossed over Wright Sound and into McKay Reach then Fraser and Graham Reach with some wonderful humpback sightings.  Several groups of 4 or 5 whales were feeding along the rocky shores and we passed one fin-slapping, it was great to see so many after having had a whale-free couple of weeks. This is the first time we noticed ‘the smell’, when up close and personal their halitosis stirs thoughts of being at the zoo in the elephant compound (I would imagine).  It stinks, but is it their breath or the other end?  Something else for me to ponder on as we continue south under motor.  We arrived at our next anchorage in Khutze Inlet rather late in the day so didn’t have time to explore.  Another absolute beauty, reminding me of Cannery Cove in Alaska with a valley behind the drying head of the inlet and a lovely waterfall. The only thing spoiling the view were the other three boats sharing it, we’ve got rather used to our anchorages being exclusive! After setting our crab pot just before dark we heard a chilling sound echoing through the forested mountains.  Coming up on deck and listening again we realised it was a wolf howling his heart out, he carried on for ten minutes as we listened and watched, trying to pinpoint the location.  It changed pitch a couple of times, I couldn’t be sure if it was another wolf replying or the same one trying to make out he wasn’t alone. Another magic moment sealed forever in my memory bank.

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The entrance to Khutze Inlet

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What’s that smell?

Another great moment happened shortly after anchoring at Rescue Bay on Susan Island, we noticed a strange bubbling sound and then splashing.  It took me a little while scanning with binoculars to find the culprits, two humpbacks feeding and lunging themselves out of the water.  Luckily for us they were headed towards the entrance of the anchorage still feeding, it was too good an opportunity to miss so we hopped in the dinghy to get a closer look.  ‘That smell’ again filled the air, and the bubbling water gave us a split seconds notice of the lunging open mouth about to surface.

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As the whale lunges you can see the small fish jump out the water trying to escape his huge mouth (and bad breath)

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Looking at this series of photos, using a little imagination, you can see the huge mouth open and fill then snap shut

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Belly full

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As we watched the whales, the seals watched us

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The view looking out of Rescue Bay

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This family of Sandhill Cranes circled the bay several times on test flights. The parents are getting the youngster behind ‘flight fit’ before they migrate south for the winter.

 

The weather took another downward turn so we pushed on through Perceval Narrows and into the Seaforth Channel where we were overtaken by a huge cruise ship in persistent and cold rain, at last we had wind but it was on the nose and we weren’t in the mood for tacking.  Discovery Cove on Cunningham Island was our next hidey hole in time for a southerly gale coming up.  This large bay has several nooks to tuck into, having the place to ourselves we chose the east side of the bay believing we would get the best protection and have the most swinging room.  The first night was quiet, clouds raced overhead while we had just a slight breeze. We had an odd encounter in the afternoon when an anonymous creature screamed and gurgled from the dense forest. At first I thought it may be a humanoid playing tricks trying to scare us, but it continued on and off for a few hours and sounded like a creature choking on  something and clearly suffering. The thought of something being caught in a trap crossed my mind, especially as I am reading a great book called ‘Animal Stories’ by Alaskan writer Bill Sherwonit with  true tales of Wolverines being trapped, but we concluded it must just be a ‘monster’ and neither of us were prepared to investigate. As the blackness of the second night enveloped us and the BC (Bloody Cold) rain settled in again, a couple of random gusts rocketed down from the mountains blowing the bow off, setting us side on to the wind almost healed over.  We checked our instruments, all still looked ok and our position held.   It was a windy night with torrential rain, by morning the trickling streams flowing into the bay were raging torrents and the random gusts started again.  Fierce katabatic winds sent us over several times, sending things flying indoors.  We should of course be used to that in a sailing boat but have had weeks of motoring and flat calm anchorages so things aren’t stowed away. Instruments on again, only we weren’t where we should be, we were dragging the anchor. Braving the elements we re-anchored and set the anchor again but I noticed the chain came up almost clean with only a small amount of mud stuck on the anchor. Most of our anchorages have been thick sticky mud which takes a fair amount of hosing off.  Still the gusts continued and we immediately started to drag again. After a 100 metres of dragging we knew we would have to seek another spot in the bay, having explored it by dinghy the previous day we thought we would try a smaller nook tucked behind a little islet just around the corner. This proved to be a good move, although it was a tight little spot the gusts diminished and the anchor set well, we didn’t budge an inch and rode the storm out comfortably.  When we left the following day, there was thick sticky mud on the chain and anchor, perfect.

Back to light winds and motoring yet again, we plodded on through Lama Passage after a quick provisioning stop and overnighted at Fancy Cove.  It wasn’t particularly fancy, better described as cozy actually, requiring two anchors after we spotted an uncharted ledge of rock sticking out into the cove, but it did have a lot of wildlife.  Again the presence of salmon seems to dictate the level of wildlife, dozens of bald eagles, ravens, seals, kingfishers, Canadian Geese and another noisy test flight for four Sandhill Cranes.

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A Red-Rock Crab – it was his lucky day as we put him back

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Fancy that, we’re in Fancy Cove

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With the next few days forecast to be settled at last, we entered Fitz Hugh Sound and chose some wonderful anchorages taking advantage of the weather.

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Playing a game of “guess the whale body part”

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A heron takes advantage of a floating log in Fitz Hugh Sound

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Pruth Bay on the east coast of Calvert Island is a great stopover, the privately owned island houses a research foundation called the Hakai Institute and they kindly allow visiting boaters to use their dinghy dock to access trails leading to beaches on the Pacific side. The trails are excellently maintained, we trekked to West Beach and then north to North Beach of course.

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Interesting footprints in the sand

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We found this interesting set of bones, I think they once belonged to a Stella Sea Lion

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Fitz Hugh Sound was glorious, soaked in sunshine and drifting in flat calm waters we made our way down to Green Island Cove for our next anchorage.

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Exploring the cove by dinghy I spotted movement in the seaweed on a small island, we couldn’t believe our eyes when an American Mink emerged from the water and sat looking at us.  As we drifted in a little closer he sniffed the air and stood up on his back legs to get a better view of us.  Several times he ran into the undergrowth then back out to look at us again.  What an amazing find!

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Beautiful markings, a white chin and a diamond on his chest

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Almost dry, an encore for his human audience

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Wonderfully clear water

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Our last anchorage in Fitz Hugh Sound was tucked in to Fury Cove on Penrose Island.  As we arrived into the cove we could still see humpbacks feeding out in the sound, we had seen dozens of whales on the horizon blowing and breaching obviously having a great time rounding up their dinner.  A few other boats gathered in the anchorage after we arrived, this is a popular point to set off from to round Cape Caution and with a settled forecast we were all taking advantage.

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Views out to Fitz Hugh Sound

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The next leg of our journey will take us around Cape Caution and into Queen Charlotte Strait at the north end of Vancouver Island.

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Saying Goodbye to Alaska

Our last few days in SE Alaska were spent tucked up in a delightful little cove in Naha Bay about 18 miles north of Ketchikan.  It was a long, deep and steep-sided cove with rapids at its head and a small dock to access a trail to nearby Roosevelt Lagoon. With depths around 20 metres we set two anchors, fore and aft, to prevent us from swinging into the rocks either side.

So once settled at anchor on a drizzly, damp afternoon we took in the sights and sounds of the cove. A dozen or so harbour seals hunted in the foamy water appearing from the rapids.  Noisy Belted Kingfishers swooped from tree to tree occasionally dipping into the icy water,  Bald Eagles called to one another, easily spotted in the trees with their white heads, and playful salmon leapt out of the water making large splashes. We knew that this was a pretty special place.  The next morning we had a break in the rain and took the opportunity to walk the trail to the lagoon. Armed with bear spray and berry punnet we left the dinghy at the small dock and took a walk in the beautiful rainforest.   It wasn’t long before the punnet had been filled with red and blue huckleberries. We found the rapids which were creating the foam in the cove but not visible from Joy, a few straggling salmon were resting in the clear rushing water and a stalking seal floating, waiting to pounce on it’s weary meal.  The decaying remnants of a wooden track runs along the shore above the rapids, where small boats were once dragged up and towed into the lagoon, no doubt for a spot of salmon fishing.  Today the lagoon stands quiet and still, a few small skiffs upturned and unloved on the fringes, the trail around the lagoon needing some TLC in places, but it was nice to stretch our legs.

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It’s been a while since this bench has seen a picnic

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‘Hunter Gatherer’ enjoying some berry picking

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Red Huckleberries

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Back on Joy we spent time watching a few visitors to the cove taking advantage of the salmon, joining the seals were four huge sea lions and then a peace-shattering small sports fishing boat who caught quite a few fish with what I thought was a rather unsporting technique. They hurled a weighted hook into the schooling salmon and ‘snagged’ themselves a fish.

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Rain stopped play in the afternoon and the bay fell silent again with just the sound of rushing water and the occasional fish splashing. On our final morning in the cove, it was low tide and I was standing on the back deck in the drizzly rain, coffee in one hand and binoculars in the other, I watched a deer gingerly step across the rocky shore to look for food in amongst three bald eagles patiently waiting for their breakfast at the waters edge.  Our dozen seals were still popping their heads up, almost everywhere I looked there was a shiny head at the surface, the kingfisher was still patrolling his patch as noisy as ever and just when I thought it couldn’t get any better a black bear ambled across the rocks now showing at the entrance to the rapids. I knew I would remember this place and this moment for a long time to come.

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But time is moving on, the weather is changing and we must continue our journey south, so we reluctantly stopped in at Ketchikan to clear out with customs, refuel and reprovision ready for our short hop across the border to British Columbia. Customs gave us permission to anchor in Foggy Bay on our way down to Prince Rupert, BC, but as the wind was forecast to come round onto the nose the following day and we were enjoying sailing for a change with not a hint of rain, we decided to continue on overnight. As we passed Foggy Bay under sail we watched two other yachts motoring toward the anchorage, we were happy to continue at 4 knots with a gentle swell rolling in through the Dixon Entrance.  In the last few miles of Alaskan territory we hooked ourselves a huge salmon, the first salmon after weeks of trolling a line without success. I managed to gaff it and just as we were ‘dealing’ with the monster he did a last death throw and got off both the gaff and lure hook and plopped straight back into the sea – “Fish Overboard”. We were absolutely gutted, as Joy sailed on we watched him float away. With a waypoint placed on the chart plotter for the FOB we quickly furled the head sail, sheeted in the main and turned around on a mission to find our getaway salmon. He was nowhere to be seen, a fishing net was added to the shopping list. We only lost the wind in the last couple of hours and dropped the hook in a little cove on the other side of the channel to Prince Rupert in the wee hours.

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It was great to be under sail again with the sun shining!

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We say goodbye to Alaska as the sun sets

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British Columbia in sight under a pink evening sky

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A spectacular moon welcomes us to Canada

 

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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.

Posted in Alaska | 4 Comments

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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