Frustration and Patience

We left Ketchikan with the intent of sailing to points on Baranof Island and then on to Sitka. We enjoyed our first day out as we motored up Clarence Strait to a little bay called Meyers Chuck. The entrance is a little tricky but once inside it’s a neat little spot. We tied up to the State dock there for the ridiculously cheap price of $8.13 per night and it was a great structure not some beat up or run-down wharf. We had heard that moorage in Alaska was very reasonable. The most prominent building on the waterfront is the post office. Guide book states ” the post office is open Tuesdays from 11 – 2 and Wednesdays for 1 hour after the mail plane arrives.”


Exterior decoration

The next morning it was off to Exchange Cove on Prince of Wales Island where we were the only boat in a big bay. This was a good point to set ourselves up for our upcoming transit of Wrangell Narrows.

Wrangell Narrows is a 22-mile passage between Mitkof and Kupreanof Islands. It is a short cut to the northern portion of South East Alaska and is used by all types of marine traffic. Everything from the small cruise ships, large tug boats and tows to pleasure craft like ours. In places its less than 30 feet deep and some of the dredged areas are less than 300 feet wide. There are more than 60 navigational markers you use to make sure you are in the right place. Just to make things more challenging, the tides sweep around the island and come into and out of the channel from both ends and meet in the middle and they can create currents that run up to 4 knots.
Local knowledge says, arrive approximately 2 hours before high water slack and you will get the current with you to the midway point, then the tide will change, and you will have the ebb current with you for the last half. We did, and with Barb keeping an eye on the charts on the iPad and me watching the charts on our plotter and both of us watching the water ahead for the markers and oncoming traffic and behind for faster moving traffic overtaking us we made it without any extraordinary excitement.

Wrangell Narrows – the skinny pass on the right side

Just before we entered the passage there was a tug and barge lining up. I radioed the Skipper and asked if his preference was for us in front or behind him in the channel. He replied behind and am I glad I had this conversation. The tug and barge was 395 feet long and 100 feet wide and he shot down the middle of that channel at almost twice our speed. I would not have wanted that chasing me through there!

The north end of the channel ends at Petersburg, also known as little Norway. A quaint town built on the fishing industry with hundreds of fishing vessels of all types based out of here and the fish processors on shore. We spent an extra day just walking the town and seeing what was there.

If it floats it fishes
Seafarers memorial outside the Sons of Norway Hall
Original part of town built upon and around the slough

We were preparing to continue towards Sitka but when I checked the saildrive oils prior to departure I discovered water mixed with the oil in one. This is disheartening. While the repair itself is not complicated it does require that the boat be lifted out of the water. Petersburg does not have the ability to do that. I called Sitka and they can not haul us either. We need to turn around head back down the narrows and over to Wrangell. They have a machine large enough to lift our boat. Its not the length we have issue with but rather the width (beam) at 22 feet we need a lift designed for much larger mono hull boats of the same beam.
The run back down the narrows is uneventful with no large commercial traffic encountered and we arrive in Wrangell.

Downtown Wrangell

We have contacted a repair mechanic and have ordered parts so now we sit and wait. Anyone who knows me will tell you I don’t do “wait” very well but I have no choice. When you are “out here” that’s just the way it is. Overnight shipping is 3 days.
The fishing fleet is at the start of their season, so the mechanics are understandably, focused on their “bread and butter” customers and the forth of July is just around the corner so everyone is gearing up for and shutting down for the holiday. It could take as long as 2 weeks for us to get the repair done.
The frustrating part of this is that part of our pre-departure work done to the boat was to have these seals replaced. They are normally good for at least a thousand hours of use. This one has less than 300 and has failed prematurely.
On the plus side Wrangell is know as the Friendliest City in SE Alaska and everyone says that Wrangell is the place to be for the 4th of July. So far we can attest to the friendly part. Barb and I were at the post office looking at our map and we had three different people ask if we needed help and offering to drive us back to the marina if we wanted. The 4th of July is a big deal here. At one of the shops we were given the 2-page list of events starting on June 30 and carrying on right till the 4th. Even if the boat get fixed before, it may be worth hanging out just to see what the festivities are like. We’ll let you know.

Alaska at Last

Some of you may have noticed the pictures of Ketchikan on our Facebook page, so you know we made it not only back across Hecate Strait but also across Dixon Entrance and are now in Alaska.

Wow! Now it feels like we have accomplished something. We’ve completed the major crossings, Johnstone and Hecate Straits, Dixon Entrance and we are officially in a foreign country.

Crossing back from Haida Gwaii to Prince Rupert was “interesting”. We were watching the weather. (Have I mentioned how much time we spend watching, reading or listening to weather forecasts.) We hear that this Saturday’s weather calls for winds of up to 25 knots and waves up to 2 meters, after that its winds up to 35 and waves up to 3 meters for the next 4 days. If we leave early in the morning we might be able to get half way across before the afternoon winds build. That way we will only have half a day in uncomfortable conditions. If we don’t leave we could be here for another week.

Who ever invented the saying “sail off into the sunset” was a liar. We spend way more time sailing into the sunrise. As Robin Williams said in the movie Good Morning Vietnam, “Do you know why 4 am is called Oh 400? Its Oh my gawd that’s early”. We decided to make a break for it. The sunrise is beautiful, and the weather is as predicted so we have a rather lumpy but great sail back to the Mainland. Setting the sails once out of Skidegate Channel and sailing 60 miles across Hecate Strait. No easy button on this one but we got across without incident. We overnighted in the Spicer Island group then headed to Prince Rupert the next morning.

We spent a couple days in “Rupert” before making the Dixon Entrance crossing. This one qualified for the easy button with only light winds and calm seas. After an overnight in Foggy Bay, we’re in Ketchikan Alaska. We made it!

Preparing for these crossings is both physical and mental. The physical is prepping the boat. Checking oils and other fluids, tying down and stowing everything and just making the boat ready for the trip. The mental part is often tougher to deal with as the brain starts with all the “what if” questions. Just before you set off its most like what people would call “the butterflies in your stomach”. A nervous anticipation of what you are about to do. We cast off when we are confident in the readiness of the boat and ourselves.

Ketchikan was interesting after being in the secluded places we have been. When we arrived in Ketchikan there were 2 cruise ships in town the next day there were 5, so we basically toured Ketchikan with 15,000 of our new friends.

I don’t think I’ve seen a total of 150 people in the last 3 months. That seems so odd that a guy coming from a city of a million and a half people only 3 months ago would find this so busy but I did.

Maybe it was the concentration of people in a small space or the frantic pace in which they were all moving. They only had 5 hours to see the sights. We had the luxury of time and we were able to slow our pace so we went to the Totem Museum, the Forest Service’s Discovery Centre Museum, The Tongass Historical Museum, walked the “tourist” area by the cruise ship terminals. We checked out Creek Street, the original Ketchikan with a very colourful past, most of which involved red lights.

Creek Street – The Original Ketchikan

We sat on a park bench eating ice cream and watching the cruise ship passengers line up to get back on the boats. We were actually quite surprised at how little time they had in port before they were off again.

Chillin just like us

When we departed Ketchikan the next day, we saw 2 new boats in the harbour and we passed 4 more coming in as we sailed out. We are about to work our way north to Petersburg then west to Sitka. TTYWWHWFN (talk to you when we have wifi next).


Pavlov’s Dogs

Wow! Talk about your conditioned responses. Here we were 8 full days without a cell phone signal. We are happily sailing along and out of no where comes this “Bing” incoming text message alert. We are both positively giddy. WE HAVE CELL!

Its like heroin to an addict. Quick jump up, grab the phone catch up with the world before we lose coverage again. What an interesting response. How hooked do they have us? How happy are we to have this option?

The answer to the last question is obvious. We are very happy.
Today’s technology is quite remarkable when you think of it. We can quite literally be in the middle of the ocean and stay connected if we so choose. We have the ham radio from which we can send and receive emails. We have the cell phone/ smart phone which allows us to send and receive emails, access the web and make phone call  when cell coverage is available (coastal cruising) and we have a satellite phone from which we can do both voice and data from any spot on the globe.

We also have AIS (Automated Identification System) a radio system that allows us to track and identify other likewise equipped boats and all commercial vessels and they can track and identify us.

We have a radar system that will see “targets” in the darkest of nights or thickest of fogs.. Its nice to know where everybody is when you cant see due to fog or darkness.

We have GPS (Global Positioning System) that will generally identify your position with an accuracy of about 9 feet nearly anywhere on the planet.  We even have a satellite radio receiver, so we can listen to / fight over what music we have on and catch the occasion hockey game.

Really makes you appreciate how the explorers and others did it before all of this technology. And we though we were so smart.

Catching Up

When you last heard from the intrepid explorers we were readying ourselves for our crossing of Hecate Strait and exploration of Haida Gwaii. Well we made it. Haida Gwaii is the land of big trees, big rain, big winds and ancient villages. We have experienced all of it.

Our crossing of Hecate Strait was as good as we could have hoped for. Relatively small seas, with  one to two-foot waves on top of the ever-present swell. Swell is the open ocean wave that is the remnant of distant storms. You hope that they were distant storms, and then the swell is a meter or less and is just a gentle rise and fall. If the storms are near, this becomes a large rise and fall and is no fun at all.

Gwaii Haanas Greeting

We arrived in Haida Gwaii after a 16-hour, 100 mile crossing, that started at 5 am and anchored in Rose Harbour on Tunghit Island in the Southern portion of the Island chain. After settling the boat, ourselves, and stowing the gear it was to bed by 9 pm for a well-deserved sleep.

Speaking of bed time, that’s a bit strange as well. As we are heading further north, the days are getting longer and we have noticed that it is still light out until nearly 11 pm now. Going to bed while its still light out reminds me of being a kid with an early bed time.

The next day we were off to Anthony Island on the south west side of Haida Gwaii. The Haida name for this island is SGang GWaay. This is an UNESCO world heritage site and Canadian National Historic site due to the remains of an ancient Haida village located there. To visit the site or any other in the Gwaii Haanas National Park we needed to attend an orientation meeting prior to our arrival.  At certain locations you radio the on-site Watchman for permission to anchor and come ashore. In many locations the Watchmen limit the number of on shore visitors at any given time to reduce our impact on the sites. They will also conduct the tour or provide information and answer questions for you.

SGang GWaay was a unique experience. To walk through, what at one time, would have been a thriving winter Haida village and see the remains of the long houses, memorial totems and mortuary totems, all narrated by a Haida guide was eerie and educational at the same time. While looking at the totems they may seem to be in disrepair but the Haida protocol is that the totems be allowed to return to earth as part of the natural cycle. Once these are gone there will be no more.

SGang Gwaay Totems
Totems from the beach
Mortuary pole
Gwaii Haanas clam shell trail markers

On our way back from SGang GWaay we met up with another sailboat with a cool story. They are a young couple with 2 daughters 9 and 12 years old who are not only headed north to Alaska, but they are going to carry on and do the Northwest Passage. WOW now that’s an adventure. I’ve heard that there are fewer people who have done the Northwest passage than have climbed Mt Everest. These folks are brave.

We continued our exploration of Haida Gwaii stopping in at Hot Springs Island to soak in the natural pools and then on to Crescent Inlet to wait out the oncoming gale force winds.

Soaking in the Springs

Waiting out weather is a fact of life when cruising and here is no exception. In fact, I’m convinced that the word June is Haida for grab your rain coat. You see everything from sun to clouds to down pours of rain within an hour. We’ve seen misty rain and we’ve seen ping pong ball size rain. The hard top and enclosure have been worth every penny we spent!

Misty Moresby Morning

We are posting this from the Village of Queen Charlotte as we wait out a day  of gale force winds but at least its sunny. We are hoping that we have a small weather window starting early in the morning Saturday and will try to make our crossing then. Destination Prince Rupert if the seas permit with a possible overnight stop at Spicer Island.


Getting Away From It All

It’s a funny thing this getting away from it all. Once you are gone you realize just how much you are attached to some of the modern conveniences we have all become so accustomed to. The best example of this is wifi and the internet.

We are now rating marinas and locations by their availability of good quality wireless. Most marinas are still lacking in this department. I’ve spent more time in public libraries in the last 2 months than I have in the previous 20 years.

We’ve checked off a couple of milestones along the way. The first was a relatively easy passage through Johnstone Strait. A stretch of water that takes you from southern Vancouver Island to the northern half,  it is subject to high winds and tricky currents. We elected to wait a day for a better weather window before we took it on. Turns out, it was the right decision as we only had rough water for about an hour at Race Passage, not bad on a 10 hour passage.

The other milestone was our transit of Cape Caution. This a point that extends into Queen Charlotte Sound which is the body of water north of Vancouver Island before you get into the inside passage of the central coast. Queen Charlotte Sound is open to the vast Pacific Ocean and all its fury on one side and the outflows from the numerous inlets on the coast on the other side. This combination can make for very large waves as the currents are pressed against contrary winds, and that makes for an ugly passage. So again we sat for an extra day in Port McNeill waiting for better weather to make our crossing. The extra 24 hours provided us with light winds and just a small Pacific swell.

Our friends John and Marina gave us one of those Staples “that was easy” buttons. We are to press it every time we get through the tricky passages. We were happy to have pressed it twice now.

Over the last few days we have stopped and checked out Telegraph Cove on Vancouver Island. This is an old telegraph system terminus, logging / lumber operation / fishing town that has reinvented itself as a tourist stop. The entire town is built on boardwalks, the old buildings have been reconditioned and their history is on signage out front. There is an interesting little whale museum there as well.

Telegraph Cove

We stayed 3 nights in Port McNeill. We took a day to catch the ferry over to Alert Bay and tour the First Nations Cultural Centre there. And a day to do some boat chores, a big provisioning run and hang out in the public library and  wait for better weather.
From Port McNeill it was off to Skull Cove. A neat little anchorage in which we were the only boat. Think the name had anything to do with that? This was our staging point for our Cape Caution transit which took us to Fury Cove on Penrose Island, a five thousand-acre Provincial Marine Park.

Fury Cove

That brings us to our current location, Pruth Bay on Calvert Island. The Hakai Research Institute is located at the head of the bay. It used to be a luxury fly in fishing lodge that was purchased and converted to a marine research center. They graciously allow cruisers to access their wifi so we can catch up on the world and let the world catch up with us. They also allow people to cross the property and access several incredible beaches. The largest, West Beach, rivals anything in Hawaii other than the temperature of the air and water.

West Beach – Calvert Island

We spend large portions of every day checking weather forecasts and planning our routes. These include our intended destination as well as possible “duck out” spots if bad weather should blow up. We rely on our electronic navigational devices a great deal in both the planning and execution of our trip. So imagine our surprise yesterday morning when we turned on our chart plotter and discovered that our compass was 180 degrees out of whack. This could be problematic! At first we thought the boat was so used to going to Sidney that it was headed back on its own.

As it turns out I had done a boat chore the previous night and instead of putting my cordless drill back in it usual spot, I tucked it next to the cabinet in the port stateroom. It just so happens that this cabinet also contains the fluxgate compass for our navigation system. The unit was sensitive enough that the magnets in the drill motor were enough to affect it and throw it out by 180 degrees. Oops my bad. 50 lashes with a kelp ball. Won’t do that again!