|Raven anchored near Reid Glacier, Karen kayaking nearby.|
We are spending a night at the National Park Service’s Glacier Bay Lodge after 8 days exploring the fabulous Glacier Bay.
|View of glacier atop Mt Bertha from Blue Mouse Cove.|
|We spent an hour with the master carvers who designed and carved all the totem poles and panels for the new Xunaa Shuka Hit, or Huna Tribal House, at Bartlett Cove.|
From Hoonah, that wonderful Tlingit community across Icy Strait from Glacier Bay, we went fishing outside Flynn Cove and got skunked again. But hope springs eternal, and Jim had two halibut rigs that were given to him by a pair of fishermen in Hoonah that he’d befriended, plus he’d bought a piece of gear they told him about, for catching herring to use as bait. It sounds too good to be true that you can drop a single line of 6 little orange-beaded herring hooks in the water and pull up six herring a minute later, but it’s true. Jim got 12 herring in a couple of minutes, right off the boat at the Hoonah dock. We were pretty excited about that.
I asked, do you think we might end up eating the bait? Pickled herring is popular in Sweden, and I have some vinegar.
No, he said, I want to catch a halibut.
|Fishing for herring.|
Now you know, if you’ve been following this blog, that our fishing prowess (we once baited a crab trap with a pepperoni stick) is not yet world-class.
|Herring in bucket.|
So, when Jim baited the big halibut hook with a nice fat herring and we anchored outside Flynn Cove, 10 miles west of Hoonah, in 150 feet of water where the fishermen said to, and dropped it to the bottom, we were certain this would be our big, world-class moment. Excitement overcame us after half an hour, and we brought up the hook… empty. Another herring, another half hour soak, same results. Hmmm. Some skilled nibbly fish lips down there.
Next morning we arose at 4:30 am and got underway for Glacier Bay. Cruise ships come and go a lot in these waters, and I could not help humming the theme from Love Boat, which, at five am before coffee, is not the earworm you want, so after coffee I switched to Java Jive. Upon arriving in Bartlett Cove and attending the required orientation with the friendly Park Rangers, Jim got a WiFi signal at the Lodge and watched a YouTube video on how to catch a halibut. Turns out you need to wrap some line around the bait.
All tangled up like that? I asked.
Supposedly it’ll work, said Jim.
|Raven at Bartlett Cove.|
|Porcupine, Bartlett Cove.|
We set off to find a halibut.
|Northbound in Glacier Bay.|
Just past Sitakaday Narrows where the current runs at 5 knots, we pulled into a spot recommended by the fishermen, anchoring in about 130 feet of water just north of Young Island. This would be a good place for catching small halibut, they said. “Chicken” halibut are generally around 20 pounds, the perfect size so you have enough for several meals and nothing is wasted. But you want to fish for them at around 100 feet deep.
A few minutes go by as Jim fishes from the stern, tailgate open. The wind picks up.
Me: Um, Sweetie, the anchor is dragging.
Jim: Just a few more minutes.
Me, gently nudging: With a scope of only two to one in 130 feet of water and the wind picking up like this, we are traveling toward shore at between a quarter and a half a knot. (This, I knew, would rouse him.)
Jim: It’s okay, we can keep fishing.
Me, realizing he’s lost his mind: Sweetie, the boat is turning in a circle. The bow is slowly going downwind now, the anchor rode is going underneath us, and if we turn all the way around in a 360, the fishing gear, which is on the bottom, will snag our anchor rode.
Jim: It’s okay.
Note to readers: when you’re dragging gently but inexorably toward the rocks in a bajillion-square mile wilderness where not two hours ago the Park Rangers said you’re really on your own out there and don’t expect help right away, and when you hear your Significant Bother saying don’t worry about it, it’s not quite time for a full Defcon4 response, but you might as well go ahead and start thinking about one.
Feeling rather grumpy, I say nothing and head for the wheelhouse, where I turn the helm hard to port to see if that’ll keep the boat from doing a 360 to starboard as we drag, so that the fool at the upper end of the fishing gear can keep fishing for anything foolish enough to bite the lower end. I’m praying my little wheel trick will work and we won’t have to spend time trying to pick a large barbed circle hook out of the anchor rode in order to keep it from jamming the windlass, while the rest of the ground tackle hangs uselessly from the bow as we drift toward the rocks. Yes, it was a slow drift and yes I have a vivid imagination, but dragging anchor makes almost any sailor nervous, unless of course you happen to encounter one afflicted with a fishing disorder. The whole thing, with me quietly stifling my objections, was like a scene from a spaghetti western, where the female character says, DARLING, DON’T ROB THAT STAGE COACH, and the male character goes, IT’S WHAT WE MEN DO, and the woman goes, THEN I’LL HELP COUNT THE MONEY.
Jim: I got a bite.
Me, imagining another 2-pound rockfish for all this worry and effort, muttering: What. Everrrr.
Jim: NO! I really got a bite!
Me, walking back to the stern: Doesn’t look like it’s a very big fi… OHMYGOD LOOK AT THAT ROD BEND!
Jim cranks the reel in a titanic effort, and suddenly I can see the fish and it’s HUGE!
Jim: GET THE NET READY!
ME: I SEE IT! I SEE IT!
Jim: GET THE NET READY!
Me: GOOD THING WE BOUGHT A NET!
Jim: NOW! NOW!
I scoop the fish. OH WOW!
Jim: NO! LIFT IT STRAIGHT UP!
ME: I AM!
I lift. The fish jumps right out of the net.
I SAID LIFT IT STRAIGHT UP!
I DID! I’m thinking, good grief, I WAS lifting it JUST like he said, and it still jumped out! I want to yell, IF THIS FISH GETS AWAY IT’S NOT MY FAULT! But the big fish is going wild now, swimming under the boat and every which way as Jim struggles with the rod like a Hemingway hero.
|Stick the iPhone lens against the binoculars and look what you get!|
GET THE NET READY, he says.
I net the fish again and he says LIFT IT STRAIGHT UP, and I yell I AM! and he grabs the net and lifts it with an angular motion to close the mouth of the net and not break the handle from the weight, and I yell THAT’S NOT ACTUALLY STRAIGHT UP, but who cares anymore because Jim has just caught the BIGGEST FREAKING FISH OF HIS LIFE and it weighs EIGHTEEN POUNDS and we are jumping around and high-fiving and singing “Food Around the Corner” from Looney Tunes, and I’m shrieking YOU’RE THE HALIBUT WHISPERER!
|Jim's 18-lb halibut.|
We didn’t hit the rocks and we had the best fish ‘n chips of our lives that night, at PubRaven. Jim kept saying, oh god this fish is so good, I can’t stop eating, but even if I make myself sick it’ll be worth it.
Later: Next time, said Jim, if we catch a really big one, I want you to hold it down while I whack it.
How do I do that?
You’ll have to lay on it, he said.
WITH MY BODY? But I know that in the heat of the moment there’s little doubt I’ll fling myself on a halibut and worry later about laundering slime and applying bandages, because once you’ve had fish and chips in beer batter on your own boat in Glacier Bay, there’s very little you won’t do for a halibut.
|Jim's nice new hardwood dinghy seat makes a darned good fish cleaning station. Maybe we ought to start calling it halibutt?|
With nine days to spend in Glacier Bay, we set off for Blue Mouse Cove, because we love the name, it’s a popular favorite, and we wanted to see its famous view, but after five miles we turned into North Finger Bay because 1, fish ‘n chips were calling, and 2, we’d been up since 4:30 that morning and the halibut-induced adrenaline high was starting to fade. It turned out to be a great spot for a great meal.
|WE FOUND THE LOCH NESS MONSTER!! Bottom contours were weird in North Finger Bay|
Underway next day, Jim discovered the engine’s water pump was leaking, so a few miles up the bay we turned into Blue Mouse Cove to anchor and replace it (wisely, he had thought to bring a spare.)
|Jim replaces the engine's water pump.|
At anchor in Blue Mouse Cove, I said, it’s nice and quiet in here. Do you see any blue mice? I’m thinking, generations of mice living near a glacier eventually turn blue from the cold, yeah, that’s plausible.
I thought I saw one over there, he pointed.
That’s a rock.
Wondering how this cove got its name, we were surprised to learn in the Evergreen Guide that it was named after a… theater in New York?? Anyway, while Jim was replacing the water pump, rendering the engine inoperable for an hour or so, the wind picked up and started blowing a chop into the bay, making our little spot an uncomfortable lee shore. Engine fixed, we moved across the cove to a small indent on its north side.
|Alpenglow in Blue Mouse Cove.|
Ahh, we said, this is ni… BEAR! BEAR! I pointed, and not more than 200 feet from the boat was a large brown (grizzly) bear lumbering sedately along the beach. It must have weighed 500 pounds and it had probably watched us anchor, sniffed the fragrant fish ‘n chips air trail, and thought, nope, too much effort to get out there. We watched it with binoculars, spellbound for twenty minutes as it cruised the beach and disappeared into the woods at the far end. (And no, we didn’t get a decent photo, we were too excited, so here’s some eco-porn, a sunset at Blue Mouse Cove.)
Around ten o’clock the wind and chop switched around again, making our new quiet spot an uncomfortable lee shore, so we moved again, back to our old quiet spot. The sun sets after ten and it doesn’t begin to get dark up here until after eleven, so moving was relatively easy, and a good night’s sleep is worth the effort. The trick is to find a spot shallow enough to anchor in so you don’t have to let out all your anchor rode, which could cause you to swing around and hit the beach if the wind changes. Also, tides here can reach 25 feet. We now look at 50 feet as a “shallow” depth and 65 feet as “reasonable.” Our old seven-to-one favored ratio of anchor scope has gone out the window, and we now see three to one as okay in decent weather and four to one as pretty darned good. Letting out 270 feet of anchor rode is getting to be normal.
Next day was a big one. We left Blue Mouse and motored all the way up Tarr Inlet to see the Great Pacific and Marjorie Glaciers.
|The amazing Marjorie Glacier, from Raven's wheelhouse.|
|Upper reaches of Marjorie Glacier.|
|Great Pacific Glacier.|
|Close-up of Great Pacific Glacier's seaward end. This is the legendary glacier that during the Little Ice Age in the mid 1700s, moved "as fast as a dog can run" and caused the Tlingits to flee their villages, carrying only what they were wearing.|
The Park Service’s morning weather report on the radio didn’t reach us, so we called a cruise ship that was inbound for the same destination.
Island Princess, this is the motor vessel Raven, over.
Motor vessel Raven, Island Princess. (We switched to channel 13)
Good morning Island Princess, do you have a weather report?
Yes. It’s currently blowing eight knots and misting slightly.
Jim and I look at each other, like, um, we know that, is this some sort of cruise ship humor schtick? Dark toward evening, followed by light tomorrow…
Island Princess, we were hoping for a weather forecast, for the next few days?
Oh! Stand by please.
Me to Jim: They’re really literal, aren’t they?
The Island Princess came back and gave us a positively rosy forecast. We thanked them and agreed, let’s try to spend the night in this little spot right next to the glaciers!
|Black-legged kittiwakes ride a bergy bit.|
And speaking of taking things literally, after looking at wide and narrow channels separated by an island, I said to Jim, The shortest route has us going inside that little island up there.
Jim: As long as we don’t die a fiery death…
Me. It’s not a volcano…
|Iceberg tug and tow, one of many fantastical shapes we passed.|
Arriving at the terminus of Tarr Inlet where the two glaciers are, we turned off the engine to drift and listen. BOOM! CRACK!
|Marjorie Glacier up close.|
The sound of millions of tons of ice moving down a mountain is like the loudest thunder you ever heard. And when pieces fall off the front of the glacier it’s breathtaking; you see them first, because you’re between a quarter and a half-mile away for safety, and then you hear it once the sound reaches you, a stupendous crashing booming echoing cannon noise. Ice drifts through the bay, and you want to avoid those little bergy bits because it’d be like hitting a floating rock.
|Berg shaped like a bird's head, Tarr Inlet.|
By “little” we mean anything from a hidden six inch piece of ice, which sounds like it’s going to bust a hole through the hull even when you hit it at low speed, to school bus sized; these bergy bits are very unstable and tend to roll over a lot. The Evergreen Guide tells a story about a US Geological Survey boat in the 1930s, where, we kid you not, six crewmembers donned swimsuits and climbed aboard an iceberg. The berg rolled over and two of them died. So don’t mess with icebergs.
After the Island Princess spent at least an hour in front of the glaciers, it was our turn.
|First cruise ship crowds the glacier.|
We spent about twenty minutes sitting in front of the very active Marjorie Glacier. The Great Pacific Glacier next to it terminates on land in a muddy mound, but it was the awesome glacier that carved out Glacier Bay and drove the Tlingits from their villages during the Little Ice Age in the 1700s. We noticed another cruise ship inbound fast for the spot we were in.
|Second cruise ship turning toward us. They didn't see us.|
Our glacier visit was going to be a short one.
|Our 20-minute glacier visit.|
As the cruise ship approached, the AIS told us it was doing just under nineteen knots, then it slowed to sixteen, which is still pretty fast, and they throw huge wakes which can get icebergs knocking into you, so we thought it prudent to mosey over to the side near some cliffs where thousands of kittiwakes nest so we wouldn’t be in their way. We figured there’d be room for everyone, but as we moseyed, the cruise ship turned toward us. Uh-oh. We picked our way through bergy bits and made progress toward the cliffs but could not go very fast, but the cruise ship turned toward us again, crowding us and doing eleven knots to our four. It was coming straight at us. This isn’t good, we said, let’s call them on the radio.
Star Princess, this is the motor vessel Raven, on your starboard bow.
Motor vessel Raven, Star Princess. Where are you?
Huh? Where are we? Oh dear, they don’t see us… Star Princess, we’re right in front of you and we are moving as fast as we can through this ice, to get out of your way.
Raven, shall we pass port to port?
Roger, Star Princess, port to port.
Crispy, aren’t they? The ship missed us, we felt we had to leave, and they too spent at least an hour in front of the glaciers instead of the half-hour the Park Service told us cruise ships are allowed. But there will be other glaciers where cruise ships can’t come, and at those we will spend as much time as we want.
So we went over to this little rocky outcrop about a mile or so from Marjorie Glacier, a spot recommended by a charter captain we’d met at Hoonah, (although watch out for ice, he’d said) and we anchored, figuring we’d try to spend the night if the drifting ice didn’t come too close, and then see the glacier early the next morning for as long as we wanted. The wildness of this place is absolutely amazing. The roar of waterfalls and the cries of thousands of black-legged kittiwakes nesting on the cliffs drowned out the noise of the glaciers, and the wind picked up to 20 with gusts to probably 25 or higher, and it began to rain hard, (so much for the forecast from the Island Princess) but we were snug and warm in the lee of that rocky outcrop, and only had to start the engine once to move out of the way of a small berglet drifting by. This’ll be fine, we said, the wind is keeping all the ice at the far end of Tarr Inlet. We’ll be fine.
You go ahead and write up the blog, said Jim, I’ll be on BergWatch.
Kind of like BayWatch, I said, but without the swimsuits?
Despite the cold rain and wind it was a lovely evening, and I wrote for an hour as Jim quietly watched. Then, just before 9 pm, he said, I think maybe you should come up here and look at this ice, it’s encroaching upon us.
|Advance bergs from the herd that chased us out of our anchorage.|
How far away is it, I asked.
We seem to be entering the bergosphere.
Seriously, got an estimate?
I think you should come look.
Knowing Jim to be rather laconic, I casually put aside my laptop and unhurriedly stepped up into the wheelhouse, figuring hey, we’ve got plenty of time, he doesn’t sound worried. As you may have guessed, I am anything but laconic. HOLY CRAP! I shrieked, WE GOTTA GET OUTTA HERE!
How many of you saw the movie The Blob when you were kids? Imagine, instead of that creature made of thick dark molasses, one made of a wall of icebergs, quietly sneaking up on you with the tide… going upwind. Yeah, these bad boys were laughing at 20+ knots of wind and coming right at us, like Jim’s wall of foam back in Khutze Inlet but instead of foam it’s giant ice sharks gonna trap your a$$ and grind it to smithereens.
We hoisted the anchor in record time, headed out into the thickening murk and said, oh well hey, it’s another adventure in the cold dark wind and rain and chop where we heroically battle the elements and try to get into a new anchorage 12 miles away where we’ve never been, in the dark! We love adventure, right?
So, after a couple of hours where the winds and seas turned out to be calming down a bit and the passage wasn’t so bad after all as we took one-hour stints at the helm, except that it was pelting down rain, we arrived at the approach to Reid Inlet, where a nice snug anchorage and a good night’s sleep awaited. At the last minute the seas got suddenly very rolly and uncomfortable, and we were eager to get into harbor. Just outside the entrance to Reid Inlet I said, I’m going to turn on the crab lights (boat headlights) so we can see better. A couple seconds later, I shrieked, DID YOU SEE THAT?
RIGHT IN FRONT OF US! IT JUST DIVED! THERE IT IS AGAIN!
We stopped the boat and put the engine in neutral. A humpback whale was swimming back and forth across the entrance, splashing and feeding and having a great time.
Let’s just let that sink in a moment:
Blocking the cove you so fervently wish to enter.
It’s right next to your boat.
It’s bigger than your boat.
And you are gonna stop and let her feed all she wants, if it takes all night.
And you are gonna love every minute of it.
And you probably won’t get a photo, either.
As we waited, it came up several times, lunging on its side with its mouth wide open, waving its flipper, which is quite a sight in headlights in the dark. Isn’t this the funniest thing yet, we agreed, we’re tired and want to get in so badly, and there’s a… oh wow, here it comes again, it’s 30 feet away! We drifted toward the entrance with our engine ticking over so it could hear us, and made the slowest approach to an anchor spot in history.
|Raven anchored at Reid Inlet.|
A full day of rest and play followed in Reid Inlet with its picturesque blue streaky glacier. With our new inflatable kayak we can now launch a “fleet” and go exploring separately or together.
|Karen kayaks in front of Reid Glacier.|
After saying it’s almost impossible to take a bad photo around here, Jim rowed the dinghy ashore.
|Lupines. Reid Inlet & Glacier in background.|
I paddled the kayak a mile across the inlet to Reid Glacier, which now calves on land so the inlet waters are ice-free.
I came back with arms like noodles and told him, whoa, that’s a lot further than it looks! He then paddled the kayak to the glacier, came back all noodled and said, why didn’t you tell me how far it was to that glacier?
|Jim climbs aboard|
Enough with the cruise ships, we decided, how do the whales stand it? Let’s go to where the big ships are not allowed. We went up Muir Inlet and turned left into Wachusett Inlet (the far end of Muir, along with a couple other areas, are closed to motorized traffic to allow seals to have their pups in peace.)
|To give you an idea of the size of these glaciers, this is Marjorie Glacier calving (center) with a 90 foot tour boat in front.|
Wachusett was like going back in time. We anchored in 40 feet on the tongue of the glacier, which has receded but is still in sight, and looked around, awed.
|Anchored on the tongue of Carroll Glacier, Wachusett Inlet.|
According to the Park Service pamphlet this was all ice less than 50 years ago, said Jim, we would have been encased!
It’s positively Pleistocene, said I. Maybe we should look for woolly mammoths?
|Another disgusting view of Wachusett Inlet.|
We launched the fleet and promptly ran both the dinghy and the kayak aground. Whoa! The water’s so milky with glacial silt that you can’t see the bottom in six inches! Glad we anchored Raven in 50 feet.
|Glacial outwash swirling in Raven's "wake" at anchor. Lots of fresh water coming off these glaciers.|
Jim explored one side of the glacial tongue while I explored the other.
As I rowed, seals began to gather astern, about seven or eight of them, following. Heads would pop up, stare wide-eyed at this oddest of floating creatures with its stiff wooden arms that dip into the water and a face that smiles at them, then they’d submerge and come up in a new spot. With the astonished expressions on their human-like faces, you could almost hear the cogs and wheels in their minds going, look at those weird flippers! How come it’s looking at us and going backwards? A couple of seals followed me all the way back to Raven. The dinghy utterly fascinated them. Then they saw the kayak, and followed Jim, too.
|Sunset, Wachusett Inlet.|
After a night in the Pleistocene era, we decided to see where all the ice in Muir Inlet was coming from, so we motored 5 miles up the inlet to the entrance of a lagoon where McBride Glacier was releasing a lot of icebergs.
|Icebergs near McBride Glacier.|
Let’s get some ten thousand year-old ice for drinks! Jim scooped a bergy bit with the fish net.
|The dude even catches fish-shaped ice!|
|More fish-shaped ice.|
What shall we do with it? It’s only 10:30 am and…
Jim grabbed a bottle, and BOOM! Pleistocene pamplemousse margaritas!
|Pleistocene pamplemousse margaritas!|
|Party on the Rave-On!|
|A proper glacial beverage includes a bit of sand.|
At Tyndall Cove in Geikie Inlet we watched an enormous fat black bear with an injured left rear leg ambling and grazing along the shoreline not 200 feet from the boat, for nearly an hour. Broiled halibut encrusted in homemade parmesan-almond breadcrumbs was on the dinner menu—besides fish ‘n chips, we’ve also served it baked with a raspberry-chipotle-scallion sauce, twice as wraps for lunch, and have barely made a dent in our supply of halibut. Jim has a hankering to catch a salmon. The fridge has been turned into a freezer, and it operates off the solar panels. The bear was still on the shore next morning as we left.
|Jim weighs anchor as a black bear watches (too small to see with iPhone lens.)|
Going back to our conversation last week with the Park Service Ranger, as we came out of the briefing room another Ranger, looking out the window at the anchored boats in Bartlett Cove, asked which boat are you off? He seemed to be looking at the Big Snooty Yacht, the one we’d met at the transient dock in Hoonah. Oh no, not that one, we’re off Raven, we said proudly, a 29-foot wooden powerboat, all the while thinking, you didn’t mistake us for them in these ratty Carhartts, did you? Oh, said the Rangers in unison, we didn’t mean the yacht. A bit of silence hung in the air. I said, they’re not very friendly, are they? No, said one Ranger, it’s a corporate yacht. Which corporation? Boeing. Ah, then that explains the name, I said. Daedalus was the father of Icarus, who flew too high and burned his wings off; well played, Boeing, well played.
Which brings us to another Unspoken Rule of the Sea:
#8: Once you’ve watched a different large powerboat pass you and your Sweetie looks at the AIS (Automatic Identification System) to see its name and he says, “That boat’s name is One Life; the owner probably isn’t a Buddhist,” it might be wise to ask how much coffee he’s had that morning.
Next stop will be somewhere west of here, possibly at the Hobbit Hole in the Inian Islands, or Elfin, Cove, or both. We will leave you with some more eco-porn.
|Raven at Wachusett Inlet|