Here you will find tales of voyages past and present on our trusty Pacific Seacraft Dana 24, "Sockdolager," and our Bigfoot29 powerboat, "Raven," from Port Townsend, Washington, USA. In 2009 we sailed north from Puget Sound up the west coast of Vancouver Island to the Queen Charlotte Islands (now called Haida Gwaii.) In 2010 we went back to the west coast of Vancouver Island. In July 2011 we left the Northwest, sailed to Mexico, and in March 2012 we crossed the Pacific to French Polynesia, then on to the Cooks, Niue and Tonga. We spent several months in New Zealand, and in May 2013 loaded Sockdolager (and ourselves) on a container ship for San Francisco. In June and July 2013 we sailed north along the California, Oregon and Washington coasts, and in August we arrived home. In October 2016, Sockdolager found new owners, and we began cruising on Raven, a unique wooden 29' powerboat. In 2018 we cruised up to Glacier Bay, Alaska, and back. But in 2024 we had the chance to buy Sockdolager back (we missed her), so we sold Raven. We hope you enjoy reading about our adventures as much as we enjoy having them. (And there will be more.)

Thursday, May 31, 2018

A Thousand Mile Maze

Still, calm, cold, deep waters, Icy Strait.

 Raven is snug in the harbor of the Tlingit community of Hoonah, Alaska, just across Icy Strait from Glacier Bay. As I write this, an actual raven is chattering on a nearby piling, and it sounds exactly like, um, well, a chimpanzee. This reminds me of the party of six large sea lions who played at our bow yesterday, apparently thinking they were, uh, Dall’s porpoises.

A pack of sea lions porpoising at our bow.

An actual Dall's porpoise (look carefully) swimming off our bow wave.

Which reminds me of the pair of marbled murrelets we saw in Wrangell Narrows, who seemed to be herding a small jumping ball of panicked herring, kind of like, er, feathered, potato-sized sheepdogs.

I am now waiting for a whale to fly.

Airborne! NOAA photograph.

 We’ve come nearly 1,000 miles in 23 travel days!

Jim reads a novel via his Kindle app while off watch on a long day.

And we just received permission (and a permit) from the National Park Service to enter Glacier Bay on June 2nd. They only allow 25 boats at a time to be in the park, including cruise ships, so we feel lucky.

Some disgustingly lovely scenery on Chatham Sound. We just came out of days and days of gray rain into the land of eco-porn, and we have plans to give you more, so just deal with it. 

While fun, this voyage so far has had a fast pace, so now that we are nearing the northernmost areas we’ll visit, it’s time to slow down and smell the flowers. But also to watch out for bears, who like it when you slow down to smell the flowers. Two days ago Jim rowed ashore in our last anchorage, Cosmos Cove on Baranof Island, which, if I keep using tired old tropes like spectacular, gorgeous, sublime, etc, will eventually make you want to hurl, so just imagine constantly being inside a scene from "National Geographic Discovers Alaska!" and you’ll either get the idea or hurl anyway.

Raven at anchor in Cosmos Cove, Baranof Island

Jim wandered the beach and found a trail. He returned to Raven. “There’s a little trail,” he pointed, “It looks like the start of a nice hike.”

Just then, two grizzlies appeared on the beach… I mean, uber-bears, ginormous fat, sleek Ursus horribilises, waddling cumbersomely down the same beach Jim had just walked, probably belching up their last hiker meal. They came from that nice little hiking trail Jim had discovered, a trail made by bears. A sow and her nearly-grown cub are two of the most frequently cited bad-news bears.

“Maybe we should reconsider that hike,” I said.

Mosquito-sized specks in the distance as photographed on an iPhone will eat you up if you get too close to them. We watched two grizzlies for twenty minutes, close-up with binoculars. 

“Yeah. We’re not at the top of the food chain here,” said Jim, looking at our Evergreen Guide. “Oh wow, it says ‘brown bear area’ at the head of this cove… and this one, and this one. In fact every bay on page 71 says ‘brown bear area.’ But at Basket Cove it shows the site of “…an old Indian village that was destroyed by an enraged pet beaver.”

“Did you say ‘enraged pet beaver’?”

“I did. What could one possibly do to enrage a pet beaver?”

“What could one possibly enjoy about keeping a pet beaver in a house made of wood?”

Karen at the helm in rain and fog.

We last wrote to you from Prince Rupert, where the World’s Longest Pub Crawl was on a triumphant uninterrupted streak.

Kaleidoscope effect at Foggy Bay, Alaska. Before leaving Ketchikan we called US Customs to ask permission to anchor here before checking in at Ketchikan. (Required, and granted.) The crossing of Dixon Entrance, our second piece of open water, went well, with benign weather.

 That pub streak continued in Ketchikan, at Fat Stan’s near the cruise ship docks. There was lots of rain.

Fat Stan's Pub, Ketchikan.

We left Ketchikan the next day, just before 5 cruise ships disgorged 13,600 people into its narrow streets. Did we mention it was raining?

Heavy traffic in Ketchikan. Not shown: 4 more cruise ships and dozens of floatplanes landing and taking off in the fairway around the ships.

 The excellent weather we’d enjoyed since leaving Port Townsend had come to a splashing halt with a series of gales that brought wind and a ridiculous amount of rain. Our new heater kept the boat dry and warm, through Clarence Strait, where log barges are a common sight.

Log barge pulled by a tug.

 We rode out a gale in Exchange Cove, on the west side of Clarence Strait’s north entrance.

Not much to see here, folks.

And we have seen humpback whales most days since leaving Ketchikan; they seemed to especially enjoy both entrances to Kashevarof Passage near the north end of Prince of Wales Island. It’s awe-inspiring to be in their presence, to hear the giant whoosh of their breath and see the slow dive ending with an upturned tail and a smooth circular spot on the water. They are also very hard to photograph unless you get almost too close. If they're nearby, we always slow down, alter course if they're ahead of us, and if we're not sure, we stop and wait until they surface.

We stopped to fish in Wrangell Narrows but got skunked. And sadly, the pub crawl was temporarily interrupted in Petersburg, where the town had rolled up the sidewalks for Memorial Day weekend and our berth at the south marina was, we kid you not, nearly half a mile from the harbormaster’s office and the showers. Nothing was open except the grocery store and a bar that didn’t serve food. Pfffft. But PubRaven is always open, and since she once served as the floating pub for a bunch of round-the-world sailors, we had our pub dinner washed down by a fine Alaskan beer aboard our own boat and called it good. Streak unbroken! Onward!

Petersburg, we shall return when you are open.

The day after the gale, we were stopped, boarded and inspected by a Coast Guard patrol boat—they were very friendly, polite and professional, and after we passed the inspection we gave them a tour of Raven and grinned as they said, WOW! This is the COOLEST boat we’ve been on! They too could not stop grinning.

Leaving Petersburg, the forecast had gone down from 35 knot gusts to a mere 20 knots from the southeast, which for us would be a tail wind, so we decided to make more miles and not turn into the welcoming arms of Portage Bay on Frederick Sound. “It’s only 40 miles to Chapin Bay on Admiralty Island,” we said, “let’s keep going!” Beeeeg mistake. As Portage Bay’s welcoming arms receded into the rain, the seas grew, the wind honked, and suddenly we were surfing on 6-footers that were starting to resemble miniature versions of those rollers you see in Hawaiian surfing competitions. It was wind against tide, and the seas were stacking up.

“I’m not comfortable being out here in these conditions,” I said, glancing to windward at the chaos behind us. “We don’t have sails anymore, or a deep keel.” (Note to new readers: while we did sail across the Pacific, often in far bigger winds and seas, and while we have not become sudden geriatric chickens, we do recognize the differences between our current boat, which is not meant for big boisterous seas, and our former sailboat, which was.)

“Yeah, it’s gotten rougher and if anything goes wrong, we’re screwed,” said Jim. “Let’s turn around and go to Portage Bay.”

Jim waited for a low series of waves and carefully turned the boat around.

WHAM! CRASH! BASH! SPLASH! VERTICAL WALLS ‘O WATER!! (I swear, next time this happens we will get out the video, but it wasn’t our priority just then and we hope it never happens again anyway, so just use your imagination.)

Our course into Portage bay.

“HOLY CRAP!” we both yelled, “Hang on!” A few small things flew around the cabin, but not as much as you’d expect given the way Raven got thrown around. Jim handled the boat expertly through steep seas as we “tacked” at a 45 degree angle to the biggest ones, back toward our bay. (See screen capture above.) Raven did amazingly well. The wind howled and the rain poured as we anchored near the head of the bay, and we were grateful for the good holding and nice shallow depths so we could let out lots of scope. Jim decided that a couple of hot dogs would be the perfect antidote, and also to cook them while lying down. There aren’t many galleys you can do that in.

"Cuisine en repose."

Once that little weather tantrum ended next morning, the most benign, bluebird conditions reigned until we reached Hoonah. We put the big seas-rotten weather story in there so you don’t think this trip has been all cakewalk.

We had no idea how comfy-cozy starfish find our crab trap, or how much they love our bait. 

Eagles are great fishers.

So now we are getting ready for a spell in Glacier Bay. I'm posting this from a friendly pub in Hoonah called "The Office." We’ll leave you with a few more Unspoken Rules of the Sea:

#5: When you ask a question of the haughty crew of an extremely expensive-looking 151-foot mega-yacht that made you wait outside the harbor and then forced you out of a channel with not a single acknowledgement, you can be certain when you meet them on the dock later, that a sense of humor will not be in evidence in their reply to your question, “Does your washing machine take quarters?”

#6: When you leave the boat at anchor to begin rowing to a pub, and ten feet off the stern you start counting clams on the bottom, it may be time to consider re-anchoring your boat.

#7: When you are trolling for fish less than two boat lengths from shore because that’s where the fish are but it’s 90 feet deep, your chief danger is getting hit by a falling tree. 

Next stop, Glacier Bay!

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Post Cards from the Ocean Road

Raven greets our Canadian friends. Photo by Mae Ying.
We are safely tied up at a marina in Prince Rupert, Canada, waiting for a gale to pass and listening to the tortured Chewbacca-roar of bow thrusters squeezing large yachts into small spaces. We are also reunited with our friends Marty and Mae.

Marty, Mae and their friend Max aboard Wild Abandon.

Karen and Jim do a slo-mo greeting ceremony.
The World’s Longest Pub Crawl continues, with two pubs visited here in Prince Rupert and one in Shearwater a few days ago. We will continue this important “research” at Ketchikan once the gale passes, and you will have a full report at the end.

View of Raven in "Lounge Mode," looking forward.

Our last post left you in high suspense about an oh-dark-thirty departure from Port McNeill, at the top of Vancouver Island, bound across a mean stretch of open water that flows past the aptly named Cape Caution. It didn’t go as planned. While we did get up at the ungodly hour of 1:30 am and made a 2:30 departure toward Queen Charlotte Sound in pitch black, and while we won’t be making a habit of doing that anymore, the winds and seas were larger than forecast, and the fun-to-not-fun ratio rapidly declined. We bashed in the darkness for 29 miles, then decided that 1, things weren’t going to get any better out there, 2, we were too tired to safely keep going, and 3, a nice nap in a quiet cove sounded much more fun. So we pulled into a little indent in the rocks on the northwest side of Hurst Island, called “God’s Pocket.” As pockets go, it was one of God’s more linty outer specimens, because a dive resort has taken up all the best places for transient boats and we were forced to anchor in deep water and roll like hobbits in a barrel.

After a nice nap we moved to Clam Cove on the northeast end of Nigei Island to wait for the forecast 20-30 knot headwinds to subside, and wow what a great spot that is.

Clam Cove, a superb anchorage. Shhhhh...
The crossing happened next morning during an unexpected lull, but with seas at 2 meters and some higher, plus fog the whole way, it wasn’t a place to linger, especially after we heard while halfway across that a gale warning had been issued. Raven again surprised us with her stability and solid progress—those were the largest seas we’ve had her in so far, but not the worst in terms of roughness, because the wind was light. Our original destination was Fury Cove, at the mouth of Fitzhugh Sound, but we decided to keep going to get more distance from those forecast gale-whipped seas. Green Island Anchorage, further north on the east side of Fitzhugh Sound, is another gorgeous, secluded, bomb-proof cove surrounded by dripping old-growth forest. And we had it to ourselves.

We fished. First, from anchor. Jim set up a chair on the tailgate.

This photo has driven certain people to wish they'd bought our boat before we did. You know who you are.
I asked, “Are you jigging?”
“What are you using?” (as if I’d know the difference.)
“This is the “true roll” lure Marty and Mae gave us. It works for trolling, jigging, mooching, pretty much everything.”
“Mooching?” (whoa! new fishing vocabulary!)
“So, mooching, would be like, when you go up to someone who’s jigging and say, can I have that fish?”

Jim installed a downrigger at Raven’s stern, and we went out in search of dinner. Troll over a high spot, zzzzzzzzz, fish on! A lingcod, too small, we release it. Keep trolling. Catch a nice rock bass, perfect for dinner! Haul it slowly up to the boat, a nice big one, and I ask, “Where’s the net? I’ll get the net!”
“Didn’t bring it”, says Jim.
“You want the gaff?”
“Nope, I’ll just grab it with my ha... Whoops! Oh crap!”
“There goes dinner.”
We are both too astonished to speak. We just look at each other. It was like in the movies where the female character goes HOW COULD YOU and the male character goes I DIDN’T THINK IT WOULD HAPPEN LIKE THAT and the woman goes I WANT A DIVORCE! Except we said nothing. Finally I say, “We are going to buy a net, right?” After several more tries and a few too-small catches that were released, we get another rock bass. Dinner was good and the marriage was saved.  

Jim cleans a fish on what is our combination fish cleaning station and bar. 
As we travel, we read aloud to each other from the Evergreen Guide, a pair of chartbooks annotated with hundreds of notes about the history of each place we pass. Much of it is about Vancouver’s exploration aboard the Discovery in the 1790s, and how places were named. Thankfully, there are also notes about the names of some places before contact with white explorers and settlers. What’s interesting is how Vancouver named prominently noticeable places such as islands, peaks, points, and passages for prominent people back in England (or ship’s crewmembers), while First Nation (native) names are all about the more practical aspects, such as foods to harvest or avoid, and the behavior of water upon canoes. “Place of poison clams,” for example, needs no further explanation.

Forward cabin view through hatch.
And the depths! These are deep, deep waters. No wonder whales like them so much. In Fitzhugh Sound you can be a quarter mile from shore and it’s a thousand feet deep. Another spot made us gasp; with a good arm, north of Hakai Passage you could throw a rock to shore while in water 2,250 feet deep! The Evergreen Guide described how Vancouver’s ships would drift on the tide with their anchor cables fully out, hanging straight down. Occasionally they would tie the ships to trees ashore in order to keep them from swinging out and causing their anchors to drop off ledges into deeper water to hang uselessly.

Karen enjoys a quiet sunset moment while Jim rows around the anchorage.
A couple days later we spent 2+ hours ashore at Shearwater, just enough time for our two priorities, the hardware store and a pub lunch. And here is where perhaps another anecdote about what I’m calling “Jim-isms” might fit: Several stops back we happened to be in a BC Liquor store and came across some, we kid you not, Pamplemousse Margaritas. Oh. My. Stars. Two things: first, pamplemousse, those luscious tropical grapefruits on steroids, along with Margaritas, are two of our favorite things, so the genius who combined them has our everlasting gratitude. Second, you may recall that we have in past posts recommended that BC Liquor stores put defibrillators near their entrances for American customers who wander in, see the prices, and faint. The very kind and helpful store owner took us in search of different types of Margaritas, one of which was selling at a discount of one dollar.
“These,” he said, holding up a 4-pack, “are pretty good.”
“Hm,” said Jim. “Buck off.”
There was a bit of thoughtful silence. The store manager began a quiet retreat.
“Um, Sweetie,” I asked, “you said buck with a b, right? As in, the discount?”
The store manager fell over laughing, as did we.

As if that wasn’t enough, at a hardware store that sold fishing gear, Jim, concerned about making sure we catch legal sized fish, asked the owner, “Do you have a device to measure fish that’s not American?”
“The fish don’t care,” said the hardware man.
A customer who obviously spent a lot of time in the store leaned on the counter and chuckled, as did a store assistant, like, hoo boy, we got a live one!
“The lengths are the same,” continued the store owner. “Just remember, 10 centimeters is 4 inches.”
“Well what’s 17.3 inches?” asked Jim.
This completely bumfuzzled everyone. Nobody, including us, could figure out how many centimeters 17.3 inches was, and believe me, we all tried. Finally, the store owner found a rolled-up plastic decal that measures fish in centimeters, and Jim was happy. We asked for some bungee cord, and the store owner, a true comedian, picked up a short length and said, “Do you want two feet?” He stretched it out. “…or four feet?”
“Good one,” said Jim. “Can we pay in metric dollars?”

The pink pig has been on at least half a dozen Grand Canyon raft trips, has sailed across the South Pacific, and is now Alaska-bound. Nothing fazes him.
Anchored that night a few more miles up the ocean road, in Powell Anchorage behind Ivory Island, we could hear surf rolling outside. The weather has been uncharacteristically hot and sunny, and I cleaned Raven’s windows so well that when I went to press the suction cup for a sunshade onto a side window, it slowly dawned on me that the window was open and a suction cup won’t stick to thin air. But I had to try it not once or twice, but three times. It was one of those moments where you look around to see if anyone has seen you do a truly dumb thing, and of course Jim had, and was laughing.

We passed Princess Royal Island and looked for the white Kermode (Spirit) bears but did not see any. Beyond the rocky shoreline, the forest of tall firs and cedars was too thick to see through. What we have seen are otters, eagles, herons, ducks, and seabirds, including dozens of pairs of marbled murrelets, a small, potato-sized bird that’s not faring too well in our home state. It’s reassuring to see them.

Day 13 was a long one, transiting narrow Grenville Channel to anchor in 35 feet atop a terminal moraine in the otherwise deep Khutze Inlet, a fjord. Although cruise ships, ferries and all manner of vessels large and small use Grenville Channel, the biggest things we saw floating were logs and trees.

Hitting one of these babies would ruin your day. This tree was about 100 feet long.
After a rainy winter, river outfall has been tremendous, and it has carried a lot of woody debris into waters where it’s normally not so plentiful. You have to keep a sharp eye out, because hitting a log and damaging your boat’s hull or prop could harsh your mellow. Plus, currents can reach 8 knots, so you need to plan ahead for your transit. We caught the tide ride, and Raven did a steady 9 knots over the bottom, reaching 10 and even 11 at times. Thrilling!

While anchored at Kumealon Inlet, Jim launched the dinghy and went exploring.

There’s a narrow channel leading to a lagoon behind the inlet, and he rowed up there. He was gone a long time, and I began to worry. Finally he returned at 9:30 pm (still in broad daylight) with the dinghy, oars and himself utterly filthy and also full of… foam?

“What on earth happened?” I asked.
“That was definitely one of the oddest experiences I’ve ever had,” said Jim. “It looked like someone had dumped not a box but a barrel of Tide at the base of a waterfall back there. I was rowing through the inlet and all of a sudden this deep foam came toward me and started filling the dinghy! It was crazy! If I’d stayed there it would’ve filled the dinghy. As it was, I couldn’t see the oars while I was rowing. Here, look, I took a video with my phone.”

I looked at the video. (We would upload it, but the internet signal is too weak.) Jim’s voice calmly narrates the scene of oncoming foam, and then it all goes into overdrive. He says, “These suds, they’re coming aboard, they’re taking over! Lookit this, whoa! Whoa! I gotta put down this phone and ROW!” You see the screen go black, hear him rowing and breathing hard, making the exact sounds of a person being chased by zombies, then he picks up the phone, out of breath, and says “Whew! That was nuts!” It was like watching a water version of the Blair Witch Project. Turns out this foam is a natural occurrence and nobody dumped soap, so don't worry. It has been happening here for centuries. 

Kumealon Inlet anchorage, with a train of foam flowing out the narrow inlet at the head of the cove.
Thick fog greeted us at the north end of Grenville Channel, and stayed with us to the narrows approaching Prince Rupert, but the radar and chart plotter took most (but not all) of the worry out.

Cap'n Jim is steady at the helm in thick fog, watching the radar for other boats and the water ahead for logs.
We are having a wonderful reunion with our friends Marty and Mae aboard Wild Abandon, their aptly-named, newly-painted navy-blue sloop. These two are hard-core sailors and fishermen. They catch so many big fish and send us photos of them that we call it piscatorial porn. And man, can Mae ever cook that seafood. We enjoyed a fabulous dinner of spot prawns in garlic butter (appetizer) followed by barbecued marinated salmon with mango salsa, seasoned with much laughter.

Mae made salmon loaf with the leftovers, oh my. And now we’re gale-bound in the same marina together! Looks like there may be a weather window on Tuesday, so we will head out toward Ketchikan as soon as the weather permits.