Thursday, December 29, 2011

Gear Review

Something around 10,000 miles and 6 years after we purchased our boat, I thought it might be time to share some of the good, the bad and the ugly of our boating gear experiences.  Having worked in the marine retail market for many years, and then progressing to owning my own marine outfitting business, I probably have a more in-depth background of the almost countless choices of gear and gadgets for the cruising boat, but there is really no substitute for the real world experience of living with equipment every day and seeing how it holds up to our expectations.

Lavac Toilet
It may seem strange to start this post talking about a toilet, but to many boaters this may be the most despised piece of gear on the boat.  There really isn't much worse than having to repair or replace a toilet that has stopped working in mid-function.  As far as the Lavac goes, it's simple, foolproof, and works.  The Lavac is not very well publicized, otherwise I don't see why any of the other current choices would still exist.

Rocna/Manson Supreme Anchor
We have one of each on board, and they have both worked great.  Our slightly oversized Manson worked well for several years, and we switched to a Rocna only because we got a too good to pass up deal on a larger sizer.  Function and performance are about the same and we don't see enough difference to recommend one over the other, but more than enough difference to recommend either over most of the other choices.

Force 10 Stove/Oven
Ours has seen daily service, at least several times each day, with very little issue.  Our particular model has three stovetop burners and a thermostat controlled oven without the broiler option.  We've heard people having issues with the sparker to light the burners, and ours has been a bit stubborn at times, but that is the only issue we have.  On occasion the flame level will drop on a particular burner, so I carry a set of tip cleaners used in the welding industry, and a couple quick passes into the burner brings the flame back to full output.

Alternative Charging Sources
We have three 50 watt solar panels and a Rutland wind generator on our boat.  I would love to have more solar capacity, but that is what fits on our current stern arch and our electrical needs are pretty modest compared to most cruising boats.  Solar is a great "set it and forget it" piece of gear.  Initial purchase costs are high, but once they are installed there are no further costs or maintenance.  Wind generators are all a compromise, trading space requirements or noise for power output.  Our particular model is small and very quiet, but has relatively low output.  It doesn't provide enough power to satisfy our power demands, but works as a good supplement to our solar panels, making enough power between the two sources to keep up with our energy demands.

Sigmar Diesel Heater
Wintering in Alaska allows ample opportunity to appreciate a good heater.  Sigmar makes several different models (ours is the 170) which are also similar in looks and function to the Dickinson models of bulkhead mount diesel heaters.  Having a well insulated steel hull helps keep the heat in, but our heater has no problem keeping the inside temps in the 70's even when it's well below freezing outside.  We enjoy the added advantage of having the heater mounted low enough in the boat to gravity feed the fuel from our main tank, meaning we don't need an electric fuel pump.  We use a small Hella fan mounted on the overhead near the chimney to distribute heat throughout the boat, and this is the only electrical part of our heating system, so the power demands for heating are very small.

Garmin GPSmap 276C
If you would have asked during my first year of ownership, I would have had nothing but good things to say about this little chartplotter.  The screen is small at just 3"x2", but the image is sharp and the colors are vivid making it easy to use the optional Bluechart software for navigation.  Unfortunately my high opinion didn't last through a summer of cruising in Alaska, where the GPS receiver began randomly  losing it's signal.  This quirk had nothing to do with blocked signals or interference from other devices on-board, but looked to most likely be a software issue.  We have talked to several other owners of Garmin products from this time period that experienced similar issues.  Numerous calls and emails to Garmin were no help, and they finally stopped responding to my inquiries, leaving me bitter and resentful about all the good things I've said in the past about Garmin customer service.

Lifeline AGM Batteries
These came with the boat when we bought it, and were only months old so I know how they were treated throughout their life.  Unfortunately, their life was pretty short.  Our energy demands on the boat are small, and with two 8D sized batteries wired as one bank, they were never discharged more than ten percent and were recharged regularly at the dock with a good quality charger.  Thus it was surprising to find that one of the two batteries went dead and was un-revivable after less than two years.  Lifeline had no answers, except to imply that I either did something to kill the batteries or was lying about my treatment.  It's bad enough when a company won't stand behind their product, but to blame the customer is really bad form.  I have installed hundreds of batteries on customers boats since then, and have always been able to find better options for every installation so I don't have to give Lifeline any of my business.

West Marine Foul Weather Gear
Both Nicole and I have been using West Marine foulies for the past few years, me a jacket and Nicole a jacket and bibs.  All these products are their mid-level "coastal" models, which are waterproof and breathable with many of the features found in higher priced gear.  The first few seasons they got occasional use and seemed to work as advertised.  During our four month trip to Alaska in 2009 we both started to experience failures in the waterproof coating.  These failures increased to the point where both of Nicoles items are unusable and my jacket is only wearable in light rain and for short periods.  I might have shrugged off the failures to exceeding the lifespan of the gear, but my bibs are a different brand, have seen the same use as our other gear, and show very little wear and no failure in the waterproofing.

I realized after starting this post that we have things to say about much of the gear on our boat, too much to put in a single post.  I'm going to start another section on our blog, similar to the "cruising guide" section, where I can organize all the gear review posts as they appear.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Happy Holidays

Presents, coffee, and absolutely 
no reason to get out of pajamas
For me the holiday season is all about spending time with family.  Unfortunately our current life decisions have made it financially unreasonable to travel and see family, and we have to settle for being there in spirit and knowing that they are in our thoughts and in our hearts.  Thankfully some of the boaters in our marina reached out to those of us staying here for the holidays, and we got the chance to make some new friends and socialize a bit.
Nicole got a surprise knock on the hull Friday, inviting us to go wassailing on Saturday evening.  If you are not sure what that means, don't worry, we had to look it up too.

wassailingpresent participle of was·sail (Verb)

  1. Drink plentiful amounts of alcohol and enjoy oneself with others in a noisy, lively way.
  2. Go from house to house at Christmas singing carols: "here we go a-wassailing".

Turns out our night consisted of a bit of both, although the singing was limited to one person and seemed a bit halfhearted.  With five boats involved, we moved around the docks from boat to boat, socializing and sampling a variety of drinks and foodstuffs.  The first boat, and the organizers of the night, went one step further serving wassail as their shared drink.

Definition of WASSAIL: a hot drink that is made with wine, beer, or cider, spices, sugar, and usually baked apples and is traditionally served in a large bowl especially at Christmastime

There was also a generous sampling of homemade eggnog, mincemeat pie, and a variety of other treats as we went from boat to boat.  Nicole and I decided to offer a mix of traditional holiday foods, so out came the deviled eggs and shrimp dip, topped off with my mom's homemade nut-goodie bars and a bottle of merlot from our wine stash.  Traditional Christmas eve dinner in my family usually consisted of an overwhelming variety of appetizer favorites so we already had a lot of options on hand and just had to decide what to share, and luckily we received several care packages from mom in MN to supplement what we prepared.

Traditional holiday food,
sugar cookies and meat pie
Xmas morning for us centers around Nicoles' French-Canadian tradition of tourtiere (pork pie), usually served with pickles, beets and black olives.  This is another of many examples of strange sounding holiday food that are worth the risk to try.  After breakfast we opened the gifts my mom sent in her care packages, mittens and slippers for Nicole, mittens and a shirt for me, and a book to share.  Our cat Hope was the big winner here, being as close as we get to a kid, with my mom sending cat treats and catnip mice, and us getting her a new scratch box complete with play toys and catnip.
Hope trying to figure out 
how to unwrap her present

A bit of lounging and some quality time in front of the TV got us through a short lull and on to the next round of eating.  Late afternoon dinner consisted of baked ham, rolls, mashed potatoes, yam, green bean casserole, and a french silk pie for desert.  The motto of "anything worth doing is worth doing to excess" really came into play here.  After dinner we dove into another Filipek tradition and started in on the puzzle Nicole bought.  Three deer in a fall woods scene means 1000 puzzle pieces in various shades of brown, so we may be at this well into next week.  More lounging, more TV, and the very slow construct of a puzzle rounded out of evening.

Thankfully I have Monday off work so we will have a chance to make a further dent in the huge amount of leftover food and continue the slow, steady progress on the puzzle.

An exhausted kitty after a long day
 playing with her new scratchy box

Wishing everyone a happy holiday season from the crew of S/V Baraka.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Sail Alaska (in winter)

We had grand plans to continue sailing throughout the winter here in Alaska.  The weather is somewhat daunting, but with numerous great all-weather anchorages it is a reasonable possibility.  The first difficulty to this plan came when we ran out of money and decided we needed to work for a while to build back our bank account.  It seems a shame that people expect you to be certain places and do certain things in order for them to give you money, but we have found no other alternative.  Instead, we are at least hoping to be able to get out on occasion for short sailing trips around Sitka.  The two factors making even this a difficult prospect are the hours of daylight this time of year and the weather.  With only about 8 hours of daylight on a clear day, it limits our options of where we can get to, and back, in a weekend on a slow moving boat.  Thankfully there are options, and we hope to be able to explore at least some of them over the winter.  The other factor, the weather, is harder to get around.  Finding a two day (or longer) forecast that is benign enough to get us back to the dock without issue is hard enough, but having that forecast coincide with the weekend is even harder.  Add to that the possibility of the harbor looking like the included picture and you add ice breaking to the issues you have to overcome for a weekend sail.  We had good intentions of getting out over the Thanksgiving weekend, possibly anchoring up at the nearby hot springs for a couple good soaks and some relaxation.  A forecast for 55 mph winds and another 6 inches of snow the night before Thanksgiving made us reassess plans and stick to the marina instead.  We will continue to watch the forecasts and hopefully get away on occasion this winter, but we are also enjoying small town life and are meeting some interesting people as well.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Roughing it

Contrary to my Minnesota-ness, I will take a short break from my postings on our current weather snowpocalypse for a quick holiday update.  (For any MN people reading this, we have received several more feet of snow since my last post.)
We spend quite a bit of time explaining to people that living and traveling on a sailboat is not one small step away from homelessness as many seem to believe.  Thanksgiving is a good example of our fairly normal life in a less than normal setting.  My new employer was kind enough to give out turkeys to all the employees for Thanksgiving this year, so we started our meal planning around our free turkey.  The only real issue was that most of the turkeys they bought were in the 15-16 pound range, and there is no way we can fit something that big in our oven.  I dug through the pile of 50 frozen birds until I found the smallest one they had, about 12.5 pounds, and crossed my fingers we could cram it in the oven to cook it.  I considered using one of the band saws in the shop to cut it in half, but a blade covered in aluminum shavings didn't seem like the best tool for the job, so I kept my hopes up until I got back to the boat and confirmed that the turkey would, just barely, fit in our oven.  With the addition of stuffing, mashed potatoes and corn we had the makings for a good old traditional dinner.  The pumpkin I never got around to carving for Halloween was sacrificed for pumpkin pie, which baked while we ate once the turkey had vacated the oven.
The final food item of the meal gave Nicole the hardest time, not because it was difficult to prepare, but because it was difficult for her to understand why this would be a holiday tradition in MN.  I felt the meal would not be complete unless we included Jello with fruit in it, so after looking through our selection of canned fruit it was decided that orange Jello with mandarin oranges would be a good choice.  A nice bottle of dry riesling from our ample wine selection rounded out the meal.
The holiday meal aftermath is another area where we break from the crowd.  Leftovers are always a good thing, but with a freezer the size of a half gallon carton of milk and a refrigerator already packed with food, we have to find some way to store half a bird carcass and all the various containers of food from the meal.  I can, at this point, laugh in the face of all our sailing friends that made the ridiculous decision to sail south to tropical climates, since all we have to do is set our food outside and it is back to a frozen state within minutes.  Try that with your white-sand beaches and drinks with little umbrellas.
Happy Thanksgiving from Greg, Nicole, and boat-cat Hope, and don't worry, I'm sure the weather will remain crappy enough for me to post about it again sometime soon.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Chick Magnet

For the most part, when we are traveling, most of our stops are at small communities that are reasonably easy to explore by foot.  Almost every town we visited had groceries, laundry, restaurant(s), and a marine parts store within easy walking distance of the docks.  The one exception to this is Juneau, which is a fairly large town by area standards, but also boasts a very good bus system providing access to all it's various amenities.  Sitka also fits the bill as a "boater friendly" town, with groceries, laundry, restaurants and a marine store all within a few blocks of the marina.  However, this becomes complicated when you add an employment factor to your needs, as I have, and suddenly there is somewhere you need to be at a certain time.  Although Sitka is a fairly compact community, with only about 14 miles of road, commuting to work can be troublesome.  My place of employment is only a few miles from the marina, and I thought I might be able to just walk back and forth to work, but this time of year the hours of daylight are exceeded by my hours of employment, meaning I travel to and from work in the dark each day.  The weather is also an issue, with heavy rain, high winds, and snow, all at the same time recently, making walking a depressing option.  Lastly, this is still wilderness, with the possibility (although thankfully not a probability) of encountering a nice big brown bear along the way.  My solution so far has been to borrow a vehicle from a friend here in town (thanks Bob), but an early 70's Ford Courier in this condition can hardly be called reliable transportation.  At least I carry with me the option to row to work if the truck dies somewhere close to the water.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Make it Stop

Since my post last weekend, our stormy winds have abated, but as I mentioned at the end of that post, by Sunday morning it had started to snow.  It kept snowing throughout the day on Sunday, and continued on Monday...... and Tuesday, and Wednesday, and Thursday.  The temperature stayed in the 30's so the snow would build, then melt, and continued in that predictable cycle until Thursday when the temp dropped into the teens.  Friday arrived with clear skies and cold temperatures, never getting out of the mid-twenties, but with blue skies and beautiful snow-covered vistas in all directions.  Going to bed Friday night we had a couple inches of snow on the ground (or dock, as the case may be) and temperatures still in the twenties.  We awoke this morning to about 6 inches of new snow, and near white-out conditions.  The forecast calls for continuing snow on and off throughout the next week, although the temperatures are suppose to get back up in the thirties in the next few days.  That could be good or bad news for the seagulls standing on the ice alongside our boat, depending on how much they enjoy the harbor being frozen in.  I'm told by many people in town that this is unusually early for this kind of weather, but I was also told the weather here would be similar to Seattle, so I guess only time will tell for sure.
The upper picture shows our view from the "back deck", as of earlier this morning.  It's been snowing for a few more hours since then, with no break on the horizon, so I'm guessing it should be fun getting around town today.  That brings us to the lower picture, which shows our grocery store earlier this week.  It was still warm enough at that point that we were losing most of our accumulations each day.  Something to point out about that picture, there probably aren't too many grocery stores with a better view.  With the ocean right outside the front door of the store, it's a beautiful setting, but also close enough that I got a bit worried I was going to put the truck in the water a few days ago when the parking lot was iced over.  With true frontier mentality, there is no need for guard rails here, or just about anywhere else in town for that matter.
I wanted to include a picture of the mountains surrounding town, with the stunning snow covered pines, but right now I can't even see shore from our marina slip.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


The title for this post is a tribute to Clive Cussler.  Nicole and I have been working our way through a collection of his books, given to us by a friend, (thanks Dave) and think it is hilarious that he thought it necessary to use exclamation marks in his book titles.  Anyway, we had a bit of weather blow in over the weekend and it was our first taste of Alaska in the winter.  Nothing extreme, I guess we still have that to look forward to, but it caused some excitement here at the marina.

Wind Speed (WSPD): 35.0 kts
Wind Gust (GST): 42.7 kts
Wave Height (WVHT): 31.8 ft

The conditions listed above were off  Cape Edgecumbe, just west of us.  At our slip in the marina we saw 43 gusting 56 knots, that's 50 mph with gusts of 65mph.  The waves in the marina are smaller but still significant enough to do damage.  It's humbling to think of the waves off the cape, 38.4 feet at their maximum height, as being considerably higher than most houses.
At least two boats sunk at the dock in our harbor from extreme wind and waves in the channel, and one more broke lose from the dock and washed ashore. Lots of other boats saw significant damage. We were safe and sound but got bounced around pretty good.  I happened to be working on another boat in the harbor when the worst of it hit on Saturday, and I have to give Nicole mucho credit for making sure our boat was secure and then checking on our neighbors to help out where needed.  There were lots of snapped dock lines and crushed fenders, and one sailboat across the dock from us surged up on to the dock hard enough to smash it's bobstay and break off the end of the bowsprit.
The weather continued into Saturday night with heavy winds mixed with rain and hail.  By Sunday morning it looked like things might be calming down, the wind eased and the sky cleared, but it was just a temporary lull.  By Sunday afternoon the high winds were back, this time mixed with heavy snow, and by Sunday night Sitka looked like a winter wonderland.
Welcome to fall in Alaska.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Special Delivery

Getting a package in the mail is almost always an enjoyable event.  Traveling by sailboat makes it pretty hard for the postal service to track us down, so we have our mail held in Seattle and forwarded every month or so.  When our mail does catch up to us, it is usually just a pile of bills, most or all of which were paid electronically long before we received the bills themselves.  As a special treat, our friend Dave sent us some gear we hope will prove useful this winter (expect a follow-up blog post about this soon), and in the box he also included some fun extras, including a Dilbert comic book that once again reassures me I will never go back to cubicle work.  The only thing missing in the box was a treat of some kind for our cat, Hope.  Thankfully she is a resourceful feline, and found a way to make the package a treat for her as well.

Monday, October 31, 2011


No matter how much I really don't want a job.....(resistance is futile)  turns out I just can't stay away from being employed.  Nicole and I wandered down to the employment office here in town last Thursday to see what resources they had for job hunters, and ended up talking to a very enthusiastic man working there.  He was happy to show us how to use their system and explain the best way to go about things.  I already had a couple ideas about what I might do for income, including reestablishing my Seattle business up here in Sitka, but thought there might be some good leads for Nicole.  As we were getting ready to leave the employment office, we were asked what we did for work before coming to Sitka.  When I mentioned I was a marine electrician, his eyes lit up and he proceeded to explain that he had an employer in town that was looking to fill just such a position and was pretty insistent about finding someone.  When I got back to the boat I registered and set up a profile on the employment office website, and Friday morning I downloaded a resume for the position he had mentioned.  Within an hour I got a call from the employment office asking if he could forward my resume to the company he had mentioned.  Several hours later, I got a call from someone at Allen Marine, the company looking for an electrician, asking if I could come in and talk about the job.  I explained that I didn't currently have transportation but I could arrange something early the following week, to which he suggested he could be at the marina in a few minutes to pick me up if I had time now.  Seems they were a bit anxious to fill the position.  After a fairly surreal meeting/interview, I was told they would contact me on Monday to follow up.  Monday morning I got the promised call, and it was quite a while into the conversation before I figured out they were offering me the job.  Several phone calls back and forth with offers and counter-offers and I had a benefits package I thought was reasonable, so I agreed to take the job.  Monday morning I start as the new head of the electrical department for Allen Marine.  We're not sure yet what this means for our long-term sailing plans, but for now it means we will be sticking close to town.

Thursday, October 27, 2011


The downtown area
We've been in Sitka for almost a month now, and I hesitated to post that we were staying here until I knew for sure we could make that work.  The person working in the Harbormasters office here has a bad reputation for making lives miserable if you are trying to get a slip, and it was a game of patience to see how long it would take before she gave in and assigned us a place for the winter.  My willpower was starting to dwindle when I finally came up with an alternate strategy, and now at least we know where to call home for the foreseeable future.
Looking north up the channel.
 Our boat is in the furthest marina

Sitka is pretty nice as far as Alaskan towns go, all the necessary conveniences and a good winter community.  With three grocery stores, quite a few restaurants, a good library, and free (although agonizingly slow at times) internet in the marina, we should be able to stay comfortable through a long dark winter.  The fact that they have a brewery here in town with quite a few good beers doesn't hurt at all, and almost makes up for the fact that they closed down the chocolate factory.  The community here has a lot to offer, with activities almost every day depending on your interests.  Now that we have a place for the boat, the next move for both Nicole and I is to look for jobs.  Work not only allows us to replenish our savings, but it will hopefully allow us to meet some of the year-round residents and integrate more into the community.  There don't seem to be many posting for employment in the newspaper but we found out where the employment office is in town so hopefully that will bring some opportunities.
The islands and bays south of town
Over the past several weeks we've watched the snow level of the surrounding mountains slowly creep down towards sea level, and although we haven't had snow yet at the marina (we have seen hail and sleet several times) I don't think it will be long before we are dealing with winter conditions.  We've tried to take advantage of these last bits of fall weather by getting out and doing some hiking, and it turns out there are some really nice trails right around town.  I guess there is the possibility of bear encounters along the trails, even this close to town, but we are not overly worried.  In Alaska it's not a matter of outrunning the bear, just outrunning the slowest person in the group, and on our last outing we passed a woman with a baby in a stroller just after leaving the trailhead and I figured there was no way she could keep up with me and push that.

Friday, October 21, 2011


Sometimes we have to celebrate the little things in life.  For folks with regular M-F jobs, Wednesday gets a pretty bad rap.  For those of us unemployed and without much structure in our lives, it takes outside forces to help us differentiate one day from another.  Take out pizza and a couple of growlers from the local brewery seem just the ticket to make an ordinary day into a special day.

Friday, October 14, 2011

By the Numbers

Our friends Tor and Jess are back in Seattle after spending four months sailing to Alaska and back, and one of their recent blog posts features statistics from their travels.  I thought it would be interesting to compare notes, since we met up and traveled with them for a portion of the trip but had very different summers doing similar activities in the same places.  Last week saw the milestone of six months since we cut the dock lines and left Seattle, so in the past half year this is what our life looks like:

Miles traveled: 2040
Number of days: 178
Nights spent at anchor: 116
Nights spent at the dock: 62
(21 of those 62 were spent in Juneau while Nicole went back to Maine and when my family came to visit)
Nights at the dock that we didn't pay for: 22
(Between free docks in Alaska and reciprocal moorage in WA and BC we made out pretty good)
Travel days: 84
Rest days: 94 (including 21 days in Juneau)
Total engine hours: 433
Fuel used: 504 gallons
(That includes fuel for the heater, which was used for all but about two weeks of the trip so far)
Days that we sailed at least part of the day: 19
Crabs caught: 87  (plus three more given to us by another boat)
Prawns caught: 190 (plus another 45 given to us by other boats)
Fish caught and kept: 15
(This includes salmon and rockfish, but not all the bottom fish we caught and threw back)

Our four month trip in 2009 was a bit faster paced, but some of the numbers were surprisingly close:
Total miles: 2757
The 700 extra miles is almost the exact distance from Petersburg (where we turned around and headed for Sitka this year) back to Seattle.
Travel days: 87
Almost the same as this year
Rest days: 37
Obviously with three times the rest days this year we figured out how to slow down a little bit.
Engine hours: 547
Again, the difference is pretty close to what it would take to get us back to Seattle if we hadn't stayed up here this year.
Fuel used: 550 gallons

If you want to see the stats. for Tor and Jess, you can find those here.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Reunited (and it feels so good)

A few weeks before we left Seattle I got a phone call from my friend Bob, who lives in Sitka.  He was coming south on the ferry and wanted to get together for lunch before he headed back to Alaska.  I quickly agreed, as this would turn out to be the perfect solution to a provisioning problem we were having for our upcoming trip.  When Bob and I met for lunch, I asked if he might be willing to take a few boxes back with him on the ferry and hold them in Sitka until we got there to retrieve them.  This was no problem for him, so I transferred three boxes into the back of his truck with an almost overwhelming sense of relief.  Our problem was that each year over Valentines Day weekend Nicole and I attend a three day wine and chocolate event in central Washington, and each year we tend to buy a ridiculous amount of wine.  With very strict limits on how much booze we can have on the boat when we transit through Canadian waters, we were not sure what we were going to do with the four cases of wine we still had on the boat, and Bob handed us the perfect solution.  Now that we are in Sitka, we made a stop by Bob's boat and retrieved our three boxes, and are thankfully no longer forced to drink Franzia from a box.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Wether to Weather the Weather

Rumor has it if you are sailing in Southeast Alaska on or around the autumnal equinox, you should expect some bad weather.  Our bad weather started a little early, you can see the beginnings of my sniveling in my earlier post about Chatham.  Just to make sure we were aware that what we had experienced really wasn't that bad, things started to fall apart weather-wise soon after we left Chatham Strait.  We considered continuing with our plans to head further south for another few weeks of cruising when we left Kake, but the tides were not cooperating for Rocky Pass and Wrangell Narrows seemed a long way out of the way, so about the time we decided to give up on our southerly wanderings the weather forecasts started calling for a serious storm heading our way.  We checked the charts and picked what we thought would be a good hide-out.  We had been in Cannery Cove before and remembered that it was shallow with good holding and lots of swing room, we didn't remember that it was pretty open and that the winds curved around and into the bay, but it turned out to be a decent place to sit out the storm.  The winds lasted for two days, staying pretty steady in the mid to high 20 mph range with a couple gusts over 50 in the cove, with much worse out in the passages.  The stay was made much better when we were joined by some folks we had met earlier in the summer, good company always helps pass the time. Our new friends sail a home-built sailing barge, a very cool and unique vessel, and we got to share a few meals and get to know them better over the few days we were there.
Once the storm passed we had a forecast for a few nice days so we made a quick trip over to Petersburg to fuel up the boat and grab burgers and beers in town.  By the time we had our errands done and were heading out of town, the forecasts were already starting in on the next round of storms.  We decided to make a run for the warm springs, if we were going to get stuck somewhere, it seemed like a good idea to be at a free dock so we could easily get off the boat for some exercise, and the hot springs nearby sealed the deal on our decision.  My weather notes for that time read: Sunday winds Northeast 30 knots, changing to Southwest overnight, Monday Southeast 20 increasing to 40 by afternoon, and 55 knots overnight, Tuesday Southeast 50 knots decreasing to 30 overnight and shifting to South 35 on Wednesday.  The positive side to this weather is that what they were getting further south, where we were trying to go, was much worse, and one evening I turned on the weather to listen to the hourly observations and the conditions further south were 76 mph gusting 106, well above hurricane force winds.
After this round of gales, there was a one day lull in the winds, forecasts for only 20 knots, so most of the boats that had gathered at the dock with us decided to make a run for it.  We were in no hurry and with more winds forecast the day after we stuck around for a few more days soaking in the tubs, and then with a two day window over the weekend we made our break for Sitka.  We got one calm day, then the temperatures plummeted overnight to just above freezing, which meant we woke up to fog so thick the shore had disappeared.  By noon the fog lifted and we made a half-day run to get us closer to Sitka.  With gales forecast for the next six days we decided to make the best of the Northerly gale to push us south before the winds shifted to the south and trapped us again, and made a quick run into Sitka.
Sitting here at the dock in Sitka it has been raining and blowing hard all day, interspersed with bouts of sleet and hail along with thunder and lightning.  We are still not sure if we will be staying here for the winter, but we do know that with this weather expected to last a few more day we won't be moving anytime soon.

Friday, September 23, 2011

What would (your name here) Do?

You've probably seen the bumper stickers: "What would Jesus Do?", "What would Gandhi do?" or my personal favorite as a MN boy, "What would Wellstone Do?".
One of the hardest aspects of long term traveling by sailboat, or "cruising" as we call it, is the number of choices that have to be made every day.  With a more structured lifestyle many of our choices are made for us, but when you go cruising most of that structure is gone, and you have to make all the decisions related to each action every day.  Some of these are win-win decisions: Do we stay in a beautiful anchorage for another day and relax, or move on to the next exiting and new destination.  Some of them are lose-lose situations: do we stay in a crappy anchorage during bad weather where we don't feel safe, or do we venture out into the bad weather to get beat up and exhausted with the hope but no guarantee of the next harbor being better.  Some decisions are less clear cut: do we transit a somewhat dangerous passage in order to get to a harbor that we know will be better than the last, or take a longer but safer route instead.
With both of us being fairly poor at decision making, the daily decisions can make for some exhausting times, and that is not taking into account the harder, life-encompassing decisions.  Thus we have decided to call on the help of our readers (I'm hoping there are still people reading our blog).  We have been exposed to several unexpected opportunities this year, from a fully outfitted commercial fishing boat to an off-the-grid house in a secluded cove outside Glacier Bay to caretaking a wilderness lodge, to mention a few.  All of these would take some sort of serious commitment, either time, financial, or a combination of both, but most of them are intriguing in some way.  We have heard from quite a few people that they envy us our current choices of lifestyle, so although the choice to drop all the modern conveniences for a life of sailing and sloth is still entirely up to you, at least you can give us input according to your ideas and experience.  This is your chance to say "quit being stupid, of course you should do...".
With the weather in Alaska starting to take on a nasty winter-like temperament, we are starting to make plans to hunker down somewhere until next spring when the sailing is a bit less rugged, and this will eventually lead us to start making plans for our next adventure and the entirety of our future beyond that.
Our original plan was to take our time getting to Southeast Alaska this summer, spend the remainder of the summer in this area, find somewhere to stay on the boat for the winter where one or both of us can get work to replenish our drastically reduced savings, then head further north next spring to explore in Prince William Sound and the Kodiak and Kenai areas and possibly out to the Aleutians if time and weather permit.  These new areas are more remote, the navigation more demanding and the weather more formidable, but the surroundings are stunning and relatively untouched compared to much of Southeast.
Another option is to stay in Southeast for another season, there are still a lot of new to us places we would like to see.  We are already here so we would have the extra several months normally spent traveling north to spend in the area, we have a better grasp of the resources here and how to use them, and we have the potential of sailing friends joining us here for at least part of the summer.
A third option would be to stay in Southeast and work here in the fishing industry.  This has been an exceptional year for commercial fishing in Southeast Alaska and with some new options there is a lot of potential for making money.  It would keep us in the area and keep us on the water, but put us in a positive cash flow situation for the summer instead of our normal negative cash flow.
Another option is to move away from the oceanic lifestyle all together.  We have talked about eventually getting property in the mountains and settling in to a more terrestrial life and maybe this is a good time to do exactly that before our savings are completely gone and we are trying to make something from nothing.
We are also open to other options, those that know us have an idea of our likes and dislikes and may have a great idea that we haven't yet considered.  Feel free to post your thoughts and ideas in the comment section below, or if you would feel better about a less public option please send us an E mail.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

For the Birds

One of the joys that Nicole and I have found in the cruising life is bird watching and bird identification.  It's an activity that fits well with the lifestyle, having ample free time for observing, and traveling to different areas for exposure to varying species.  I thought I would have a leg up on this having worked as an ornithologist in the past, but it turns out Nicole is quick and efficient with the identification guides, and the species I don't know off the top of my head are quickly found by her paging through the books we keep on board.  For some reason it didn't occur to us for a long time to keep a list, that anyone else would be interested in what we are seeing, but we started this year and wanted to share our findings so far.  As an interesting side note, even though we are travelling through the same areas that we did two years ago, we are seeing different species, and different concentrations on this years trip.  In 2009 we saw puffins, but haven't seen any on this trip.  Neither of us can remember seeing many loons on our earlier trip, but we see them all the time this year.  Our biggest mystery comes with hummingbirds. We saw hummingbirds two years ago, but not nearly as many as we have seen this year.  We are also seeing them in unusual places, sometimes when we are very far from land.  The most likely explanation is an attraction to color, our boat is bright red, the inflatable boat we tow behind us is red, the rain gear we wear is red or yellow, so there is a lot there to attract their attention.  One of the constants we have noticed from both trips are the eagles, and especially in Alaska.  There are eagles in almost every bay we go into, in all of the towns we visit, and sometimes they are so numerous that they are hard to count. As I mentioned above, this list is just a partial list, but it gives you an idea of the variety we are seeing and some of the more unusual finds.  You will notice a definite lack of gulls on the list.  This is not from a lack of seeing them, but more from the frustration of trying to get a positive identification.  If you enjoy bird watching and have a guide book close at hand, open to the section on gulls and spend a few minutes trying to decipher the differences and you will understand what we mean.

Bald Eagle
Golden Eagle
Turkey Vulture
Surf Scoter
Hooded Merganser
Common Merganser
Harlequin Duck
Pigeon Guillemot
Rufous Hummingbird
Western Grebe
Canada Goose
Common Loon
Pacific Loon
Black Oystercatcher
Horned Grebe
Eared Grebe
Slate Colored Junco
Pelagic Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Common Goldeneye
Yellow-Rumped Warbler
European Starling
Barn Swallow
Tree Swallow
Belted Kingfisher
Rhinoceros Auklet
Marbled Murrlet
Common Murre
Sandhill Crane
Red-Necked Phalarope
Black Legged Kittiwake
Arctic Tern
Red-Throated Loon
Hermit Thrush
Spotted Sandpiper
Red Legged Kittiwake

Monday, September 19, 2011

Kake and Ice Cream

We were still trying to get south, and the weather wasn't looking good for rounding Cape Decision, so we thought we might try to sneak through Rocky Pass and get into Sumner Strait.  We were also low on water and decided we would stop in to the village of Kake to get some fuel and refill our water tanks.  The communities in Southeast Alaska seem to belong to one of three categories: Towns, with a population in the thousands and most modern amenities; villages, with smaller populations, in many cases predominantly native people, and limited facilities; and what I would call outposts, places with a dock, but not necessarily having community power, treated water, or food and/or fuel for sale.  Kake falls into the village category, having a ferry terminal and airport but very limited supplies and a mostly native population.  When we stopped, most of the town was shut down for a funeral, but luckily there was still someone at the fuel dock so our detour was not wasted.  We reassessed our fuel plan when we were told the price, more than $6 per gallon, the highest we had seen this year, and just bought enough to get us to the next stop.  After thinking through our options for the night, we decided to stay at the marina to give us a chance to look around town and when the store reopened the next day we could get some cooking supplies we needed.  The cell phone reception was frustratingly spotty in the marina, but we did manage to get in a couple calls to check in with family, and we found internet access at high tide so we could check email.  The next day we walked in to the store in the early afternoon and found the prices for food were comparable to fuel, very high, and bought only a few items.  Strangely, their price on Ben and Jerry's pints was the best we had found in Alaska, so at least I was going to get ice cream for my trouble.  On our way back to the marina, a couple stopped and offered us a ride, and after finding out we were visiting by boat they gave us a quick driving tour of the town.  Our observations and their explanations confirmed that this is a very poor community, with almost no local industry, and most of the population survives only through government help.  Nicole and I both found that the people seemed friendly and nice, but the overall feel was pretty bleak and depressing.  With many of the other communities in the area having at least something positive to offer visitors, I don't have any reason to recommend others to stop in Kake.

Friday, September 16, 2011

A Bear-y Good Time

I was going to title this post "Da Bears", but if there is anything Packers fans and Vikings fans can agree on, it's that nobody wants to talk about Chicago.  Anyway, I thought I would try a post with less of those word-things and more pretty pictures, so here it is.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Things That go Bump in the Night

I rarely sleep through the night when we are on the boat.  Every few hours I wake up and check to make sure the boat hasn't filled with water, or washed up on the shore, or started on fire, etc.  Most nights I wake up on my own, check things to make sure everything is OK, and go back to sleep.  Some nights something happens to wake me, the most common event is that the wind picks up and makes enough noise to disturb me.  The past few nights the things that are waking me have taken a turn to the bizarre.  Our first night in this new anchorage both Nicole and I woke up at the same time, but we couldn't identify what woke us.  As I got up to do my normal checks I saw that our GPS position hadn't changed since we anchored, but the depth sounder showed only about half the depth of water under the boat that I expected.  I turned on the other sounder we have and it agreed that we were quickly running out of water.  With nothing to do short of pulling the anchor in the middle of the night and trying to re-anchor, I set my mental alarm clock to wake me in an hour and went back to bed.  An hour later, the depth was still dropping, and according to our tide charts we would run out of water well before low tide.  None of this made sense, we had checked the depths when we anchored and had more than enough water, and we hadn't moved since then so there shouldn't have been any change.  I continued to monitor the situation, low tide should have occurred about dawn so there would be some light to see what was happening.  When I checked the depth next, it was just starting to get light outside, and everything was back to normal and we had plenty of water under the boat.  The next night we stayed in the same place again, and shortly after we went to bed we were both awakened again, this time from something hitting the hull of the boat.  I got up and went out on deck to check, but didn't see anything on the boat or in the water around us.  When I got back into bed, we heard a fish jump just outside the boat, and then another, and then something hit the anchor chain.  This happened several more times through the night, and confirmed what I had suspected the night before.  The bay we were in was full of pink salmon, coming to spawn in the stream at the head of the bay.  During the day we had seen large schools all over the bay, numbering in the thousands, and at night they had been drawn to our boat by the anchor light.  There were so many that it was causing the depth sounder to read them and not the bottom of the bay.  The second night we had seen seals and a sea lion close to the boat just before dark, and that was the noises we were hearing, the panicking salmon trying to escape the seals and running into the boat or the anchor chain.  The other option is a giant squid sleeping under our boat, and every once in a while reaching out and shaking the anchor chain.  I didn't see any tentacle prints on the hull the next morning, so I'm sticking with the salmon story.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Red Bluff Bay

Most times when a particular place is described in the cruising guides, sounding too good to be true, it turns out to be exactly that, too good to be true.  This is one of the exceptions, a place even better than advertised.  After waiting many days for the weather to clear up, we finally gave in and headed out on a not so horrible forecast.  Chatham Strait turned out to be reasonable, some chop and some big ocean rollers but nothing too uncomfortable, and only occasional bouts of light rain to keep things damp and misty.
The "truth in advertising" starts right away as you approach the area, the high, rocky red bluffs being visible from quite a ways off.  To enter you thread your way among several islands before emerging into the outer portion of the bay.  From here you can see the red bluffs from the back side, as well as an impressive, high, wispy waterfall on the opposite cliffs, and the remains of an old cannery on the shore.  At about the half way point the bay narrows between the cliffs and then opens out again to the second part of the bay.  This is surrounded by high mountains, some with year-round snow fields, and a large meadow split by a good sized stream at the head of the bay.  Also in this second bay is a spectacular waterfall tumbling off the cliffs.  We saw quite a few brown bear, in the meadow, fishing in the stream, and along the shores near our anchoring site.  We also counted as many as seventeen bald eagles at one time feeding on the fish that were spawning in the stream.  The pink salmon were thick in places, we saws schools with hundreds of fish in many places in the bay.  There is a small cove at the head of the bay that provides good shelter for anchoring without obstructing the views of the stream and the mountains.  Overall one of the most impressive locations we have visited so far.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Livin' Like a Gangsta'

We finally made it back to Warm Springs Bay.  For those of you that followed our blog in 2009 you will remember this is the point at which we lost our "G" rating and slipped down towards "PG-13" because of a certain picture I included.
Warm Springs Bay has several things going for it, including stunning scenery, a free dock to tie to, friendly residents, and of course the warm springs.  Near the dock, the residents have built a bath house, consisting of three private rooms each with a large bathtub, to which is piped unlimited hot spring water.  You open the tap and the tub is filled with perfect soaking temperature water, when you are done you pull the plug to drain it and then replug it so it fills for the next person.  It also doesn't hurt that these bath house rooms each have a big window that looks out over the huge waterfall that empties into the bay.  The water for the tubs is piped from a natural hot spring located up the hill from the dock, and the spring has been dammed with rocks to create several natural soaking pools affectionately know to the locals as "The Grotto".  The nickname is of course in reference to the pool at the playboy mansion, and my overactive imagination has no problem conjuring up the image of me juggling a martini in one hand and a cigar in the other while taking off my silk robe to slip into the water.  This image wouldn't be complete without a gaggle of "bunnies" to share the pool, although Nicole thinks it doesn't sound very Hef-like to say something like "In the pool, bitches", and would probably more likely come from someone like Snoop or Tupac.  That's OK, sometimes it's good to be a gansta.

For those of you that didn't see the mentioned blog post, the pic can be found here.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Chatham Chop

The weather outside is frightful.  After enjoying a wonderful July, with lots of sunshine and little wind, August is trying to even things out.  We left Juneau with good intentions to head back south and see some of the sights in southern Alaska before seriously looking for a place to settle in for the winter.  After rounding the northern end of Admiralty Island we headed down Chatham Strait with a leisurely but interesting itinerary in mind.  Two weeks later we had made forward progress about equal to three good days of travel and knew we had to reassess our plans.  The weather has been one low pressure system after another marching across the area, and each of them brings with it southerly winds and rain.  Southerly winds, especially strong southerly winds, are not the forecast you want to hear when your plans include several weeks of travel south, and rain is expected here but never really welcomed.  Chatham Strait is a fairly big body of water running roughly north-south, and its southern end is open to the Gulf Of Alaska, so it manages to funnel winds in off the ocean, and when these winds oppose the tidal currents you get what is locally referred to as the Chatham Chop.  Chatham Chop is composed of steep waves spaced closely together, four to five foot waves (or larger depending on the wind speed) about ten feet apart. Trying to move against these conditions is truly an exercise in frustration.  Luckily there are also several hot springs in this area, so there are some good places to hide out and wait for the weather to change.  So far the forecasts don't hold much hope for the weather changing for the better, so we choose the least bad days and try to make small trips to the next protected bay, a strategy that keeps us from being out in the really nasty stuff but also slows our progress to a dismal pace.  At this point, we're tempted to turn back around and head north again, not only because that gets us better aligned with the weather but also because that brings us back past the hot springs again.  In the mean time the heater is keeping us warm in the absence of sunshine, and we have plenty of books to read when we are not busy enjoying the scenery, so life is not all bad.  If we could just find a convenient ice cream shop....

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Out of Touch

No, I'm not referring to my lack of keeping up on current events, although that has certainly been the case this summer.  We are heading off again tomorrow and will be out of touch, probably for a couple of weeks.  It's been a strange experience, spending the better part of the past couple weeks in town.  Nothing like riding buses, listening to sirens, and regular ice cream (I'm enjoying a mix of chocolate and banana as I write this) to sever that spiritual relationship with the sea that we have built over the past several months.  I do enjoy the socializing that seems to happen when we tie to a dock, but the fact that we seem to hemorrhage money every time we get close to civilization means our bank account will be happier once we leave the city behind.  It also means the blog posts will probably be sparse for a while, but I will continue writing and I'll post when we get the chance.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Visiting with Family in Juneau (Kind Of)

My family came to visit us in Juneau, but it turned out to be a pretty strange trip.  My mom and my brother flew out from Minnesota, meeting my aunt Linda from Philadelphia when they got to Seattle, and continuing on to Alaska from there.  Several hours before they were supposed to leave, they got a phone call that my 96 year old grandmother had been brought to the hospital with complications from a fall earlier in the week.  They were told she was in stable condition, and decided to continue with the trip.  By the time they arrived in Juneau they got another call saying grandmother had taken a turn for the worse and wasn't expected to make it through the night.  My mom and aunt immediately booked tickets to return to MN, while my brother decided to stay in Alaska and wait to see how things progressed.  So, my mom and aunt got to stay just long enough to have an early dinner before getting back on a plane.  We found a nearby restaurant that served seafood so we could get fresh fish and chips, so at least we could find a little humor in the situation by saying that my mom and aunt flew all the way to Juneau Alaska, just for the halibut.  My mom and aunt arrived back in MN in time to visit briefly with their mother before her condition worsened and she passed away during the night on Friday.  The photo above is of my grandmother at our wedding in Moab, just about to get in my truck for a trail ride down the mountain from our ceremony site.  Most of the other participants took the paved road back into town, but even in her 90's my grandmother wasn't going to pass up the opportunity to drive back down the steep, narrow shelf road we use when we are doing the serious off road trails. She was a real inspiration to anyone that thought they might be too old for anything, and her passing leaves another serious empty spot in my life.

Nicole and I tried to make the best of things and show my brother around the basic touristy sights of Juneau.  We went to the hatchery to see the chum salmon very near their peak run with thousands of fish in the ladder.  We also went to the state museum (a good local native american exhibit), the mining museum (probably not worth the long walk from town, although it may have been more fun if we would have tried panning for gold while we were there), the Mendenhall glacier (cool to be that close to a glacier, plus we got to see spawning sockeye salmon, a mountain goat, and almost got run over by a black bear on the walk back to the bus stop), did some touristy shopping around town, and rounded things out with a trip out on the boat to see some whales.  My brother decided to cut the trip short so he could be back in MN in time for the funeral, so we will just have to save the rest of the items on their to-do list until they can arrange to return to Alaska another time.  Nicole and I will take advantage of being in a relatively big town to restock on some of our food stores, and then head out for more exploring around southeast Alaska.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

A Whale of a Tail

Since we arrived in Alaska, we have been seeing more than our fair share of whales. On our last trip to Alaska, we saw a lot of whales in Fredrick Sound, and looked forward to getting there again in hopes of a repeat performance. After passing through Petersburg and entering Fredrick Sound this year, we were not dissapointed. As we made our way north, we were seeing up to several dozen whales each day, making whale watching pretty exciting, and navigation equally exciting when they would surface close to the boat or gather into groups making it challenging to get past. We have continued to see large numbers of whales in Stephens Passage, Lynn Cannal, Chatham Channel, and Icy Strait. It got to the point where my log entry for August 1 read: Left Hoonah Harbor, had to avoid a whale just outside the breakwater. Soon after, had to avoid a whale at the entrance to Port Frederick. Had to avoid additional whales, one breeching, in Icy Strait near The Sisters Islands. Used the channel inside Rocky Island to avoid whales just outside Swanson Harbor. Steep waves from southerly winds make it hard to see the whales while crossing Chatham Channel. Had to detour around southern part of Funter Bay before anchoring to avoid large group of whales inside bay.
That was just one fairly short afternoon trip.

Most of the whales we see are humpback whales, although we do see gray whales and orcas on occasion as well. Just the misty cloud from a whale breathing is a treat to see, but we have been lucky enough to see the full range of acrobatics. Tail slapping, fin waving, spy hopping, breeching and bubble-net feeding are all parts of the activities we have witnessed.
A few weeks ago we were talking to some other sailors and found out that a sailboat had just been sunk by a whale outside Hoonah. One of the customers from my business lives in Hoonah, and because there are not many sailboats in the small communities here I was concerned it might have been him they were talking about. He didn't answer his phone, so for the next several weeks we continued to wonder until we got a chance to visit Hoonah. Thankfully it turned out that it wasn't his boat, they had been in Europe for the past several weeks, but he did know the people that had lost their boat. Nobody is quite sure what happened, but the owners think the whale may have hit the keel hard enough to shear it off or severely bend it, and the boat filled with water and sunk so quickly they didn't even have time to put on survival suits. They were lucky enough to have another local boat close by to pull them from the water, but the boat was a total loss. The incident has definitely made us much more cautious around whales. Just to keep things in perspective, the name of the boat that sunk was "Ishmael".

Monday, July 25, 2011

Hazards to Navigation

The man-made hazards seem to be the worst.  Navigating through a narrow, shallow channel is nerve wracking enough, but throw in a cruise ship coming the other way and it starts to get interesting.  I wondering if the paint scheme is suppose to make us feel better about these floating atrocities.

Friday, July 22, 2011

I Got Sole

or flounder, or halibut...

Being a Minnesota boy, I'm not sure how the fine people of Alaska expect me to be able to tell the difference.  It's a fish, it's flat, white on one side, both eyes on the other side, various sizes and colors, but most times I'm not really sure on the specific species.  In MN, if you pull something out of the water that weighs 400 pounds, it's most likely someone's snowmobile that went through the ice last winter.  I do know that these bottom fish are pretty easy to catch, seems like I can throw a lure over the side in just about any anchorage and by the time it touches the bottom there is a fish on. Most of what I've caught are small and go right back in the water, but I did hook one halibut that was about 15 pounds and would have been a nice meal if I could have grabbed the landing net quickly enough. I also latched onto something in one anchorage that started stripping out line faster than I could reel, and when I tightened the drag it snapped the 40 pound test line without much effort, just to remind me that there are things in the ocean that I have no business trying to catch with the lightweight gear I'm using.  There also seem to be some unusually ugly fish I pull up off the bottom, probably a sculpin, but I'm not doing very well at identifying them either.

Bottom line is that I'm not doing very well at feeding my family with fish, but I am pretty entertaining.  At one point I was trolling while we sailed downwind, and had to put the fishing rod in a holder on the rail while we adjusted the sails.  When I looked back, the line had caught in our wind generator, and did a good job or reeling in the line for me until it jammed up and everything came to a stop.  I guess it's funny now looking back on it.  I'll be sure and post more pictures if I actually catch something I should brag about.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Brydon Anchorage, Hurricane Island, Brydon Channel

The area to the southwest of Hunter Island is a maze of islands, and the center is usually referred to as the Spider Anchorage, although there are numerous places to anchor that may or may not be included in that label.  Coming from the east, the easiest access is via Brydon Channel.  After negotiating several charted rocks and shallow areas, the channel splits, with the left channel leading out into Spider Anchorage proper, and the right channel leading up to what is sometimes referred to as Brydon Anchorage.  After skirting around the drying rock along the southern shore of the bay, we struggled to find a spot that wasn't too close to the drying rock, the south shore, or the shoals around the southeastern shore, without getting into the deeper water in the middle of the bay.  A lower tide level would make it much easier to pick out the shallow areas to avoid.  The bay is very well protected from all winds and the tide pools and shallows are full of interesting sea life.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Kindness of Strangers

Fourth of July weekend, we are sitting in a pretty anchorage in Sandborn Canal, it's been days since the temperature has risen above 50 or that it's stopped raining for more than a few minutes.  This is summer is Southeast Alaska, and I'm really not complaining, much.  We have the heater on, so inside the boat it's warm and dry, but the weather outside isn't helping spur us into action.  We had grand plans to set a couple crab traps around the boat, then head out to the outer bay to set a prawn trap and maybe do a little salmon fishing along the way.  Instead we are sitting inside reading and drinking coffee, occasionally poking our heads out the companionway to make sure things still look the same.  On one such occasion, I looked outside to see another boat heading down the canal towards us, and recognized it as one of the powerboats that was anchored near the entrance to the canal last night.  They had left the anchorage earlier and were now coming down to our end to check their crab traps.  I  was on deck to watch them, hoping if their traps were full it would give me some encouragement to set ours.  After they finished pulling their traps, they motored over close to our boat and asked if we wanted some crab, as they had quite a few in their traps.  After rowing over in our inflatable, they put three big crabs in the bucket I brought, then tossed a couple handfuls of big prawns on top and handed the bucket back.  Certainly easier than setting our own traps, and I hardly noticed the rain and cold in the few minutes I was out.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Shaken and Stirred

Even in the planning stages of this trip, I kept being drawn to the more remote areas of the coast.  With guide books and electronic charts it's hard to get that feeling of true exploration, but there are still areas that are uncharted, and/or not covered in the guide books.  We've made our way into several saltwater lagoons that have difficult or impassable entrances at certain stages of the tide, and used short-cuts that may not have been entirely prudent, but these have all gone relatively well with nothing more than some frayed nerves.  This all came to an end on our way into Juneau.  Nicole had a flight to catch for her brothers wedding, but we were a couple days early, so I suggested we stop at a small anchorage called Oliver Inlet.  The guide book talks about a dangerous entrance, and the charts just show a relatively blank area with only a couple feet of water at low tide, but that's no different from several of the places we have visited this year, so we were not overly worried.  We planned our entry for high tide, giving us plenty of depth and negating the current that was reported to be strong in the entrance.  The reality of our passage was very different.  Once inside the entrance channel, it was obvious that the current was pushing us rather quickly into the bay, and the depths were considerably less than they should have been with an 11 foot tide.  Not knowing any better, I kept to a mid-channel path, usually the safest strategy.  As the depths continued to decrease, I shifted the boat into neutral, the current was already pushing us faster than I wanted, but I hadn't reacted fast enough.  As I shifted into neutral, the depth sounder went quickly to zero, and the boat was swept quickly and violently onto a rock reef.  The boat hit hard, lifted several feet into the air as it was swept up on to the rocks, then wobbled a bit before sliding back off.  The current was strong enough that it swept us back on to the rocks several more times before I was able to back off enough to maneuver free.  As I tried to steer the same course back out the channel to avoid further damage, Nicole went below and started pulling floor boards to check for water coming in.  Our hull is made of steel and is exceptionally strong, but we had hit hard enough that I was concerned we may have punctured the plating or opened a seam.  Luckily there was no water coming in, but with both of us stunned I thought it best to head for the docks in Juneau.  We obviously didn't know enough to get into the Inlet safely, and if there was an issue with the hull it was best to be near facilities where we could get the boat out of the water quickly for repairs.  Once at the dock, we used our underwater video camera to assess the damage, which consisted of a grapefruit sized dent on the forward edge of the keel, and some gouges down one side where we had slid against the rocks, bad enough but thankfully nothing that would require us to haul the boat out of the water.  Later, after talking to some of the locals on the dock, we found that the rivers around Juneau were at flood stage, explaining the fact that the flood tides were continuing long past the regular times.  We were also told that the entrance to Oliver Inlet is full of rocks, and that the published depths only pertain to a very intricate channel that can be seen at low tide, but isn't charted or marked in any way.  It was bound to happen sooner or later, and I feel like we were very lucky in how things turned out, but I hope we don't do that again anytime soon.

Friday, July 15, 2011


A while back I added advertisements to the right hand side of our blog.  The down side of this is that it makes the blog feel a bit less personal, at least to me.  The up side to this is that each time someone clicks on an ad, we get a little bit of cash.  I still haven't jumped through all the hoops I need to so I can collect the money that is very slowly building from the ads, something about phone and internet access only once every few weeks and a mailing address a thousand miles away, but I'm already shopping for the beer and such that we will be able to buy when I do finally collect on the account.  Since this is all because of the kindness and dedication of our loyal readers, I thought I should at least say a quick thank you.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Cloud Factories

We are anchored in Portage Bay, north and west of Petersburg Alaska, waiting out a weather forecast of rain and wind.  The hills surrounding the bay are covered in big pines, and as we sit watching, we can see white wisps forming among the trees that slowly rise and gather to form clouds.  The clouds rise and solidify more, until they rise high enough above the hills to be caught by the wind and pushed out of the bay.  As soon as they are gone, the mist starts forming amongst the trees and the process starts all over again.  I never would have imagined that if someone were to ask me where clouds came from, the answer would be as simple as to point to a place on the map.