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.

Monday, July 4, 2011

More Math

Leaving our beautiful anchorage in Ire Inlet, we got a call on the VHF radio from Tor and Jess on S/V Yare.  We had spent the previous night anchored near them in the inlet, and leaving at low tide through a tricky entrance channel I had asked them to radio back when they had passed through and let us know the conditions.  This would probably work well in most circumstances, but they have their depth sounder set up to read in feet, and to show total water depth.  We have our depth sounder set to read in meters, and to show depth below the keel of the boat.  Should be easy enough, Tor reports back their depth reading in the channel, I take that number and add 6 for the depth of our keel, multiply that number by 12 to get inches,and divide by 39 to convert to meters, because the only conversion I can remember from school is that a meter is 39 inches.  Instead I ignore the whole process, increase the throttle hoping my memory of mass, inertia, and velocity will pan out instead, and barrel through the channel.  Once clear of the complicated navigation in Ala Passage, I find the depths rising exponentially when I cut too close to Logarithm Point, and inexplicably make a point to steer the boat in a wide arc around Tangent Island.  I consider attempting to triangulate my position, somewhere between Sine Island and Cosine Island, but with GPS I don't really know what I'm angling at and give up.  As we leave the math islands I look back and see the slowly receding point that must be Azimuth Island, which might just be the high point of the day.