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.)

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

The Icy Strait Embrace

Raven in the rain at anchor off Stephens Passage.
Raven is tied up at the Harris Harbor dock in Juneau. Both of us have caught colds (in the wilderness? Really?) and are dosing ourselves with 11-hour naps. Normally we kiss each other several times a day (good morning Sweetie, good night Sweet Pea, I love you, Big Onion—plus, the NY Times says kissing makes you live longer) but with these colds, so that we don’t make things worse, we are just doing French cheek-to-cheek double air kisses, which looks so continental and debonair, dahlinks. We are getting weird stares from fishermen on the docks. And we are missing the ole smackeroos. Jim has branched out from air kisses to little shoulder nudges and fist bumps. It feels like Fourth Grade with the boys again.

Rounding Mansfield Point; goodbye, Icy Strait.
Coming up Gastineau Channel and sneezily dodging two cruise ships, we saw 3 more docked at the piers, watched seaplanes land and helicopters fly overhead and thought, we are back in da big leagues.

Behemoth in a narrow channel.
But there’s lots more to Juneau than cruise ships. We wandered around the Sealaska Heritage Center enjoying all kinds of Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian art, and the downtown streets with their old-timey gold-rush atmosphere. There’s still a gold rush on whenever a cruise ship comes in.

The evening before our arrival in Juneau. Looking south toward Stephens Passage.
But Karen, who used to live in Alaska, re-lived memories of playing music for many years at the Alaska Folk Festival at Centennial Hall, and gave Jim a tour of her old haunts. In the rain.

So much beauty in textures.
And of course, the World’s Longest Pub Crawl continues, with a stop at The Hangar Grill. After the Glacier Bay Lodge, we also hit the Coho Bar & Grill in Elfin Cove, and The Office again back in Hoonah, and also the Icy Strait Lodge there. And, of course, fish and chips aboard PubRaven. Competition for the best pub is getting fierce.

Fish and chips at PubRaven.
We have spent the entire time since our last post enjoying Icy Strait’s natural beauty and friendly communities. That last sentence sounds tourist brochure-y, but it’s no exaggeration: Icy Strait with all its fiords and inlets has been worth the effort to get up here.

Rowing the dinghy in Dundas Bay.
Leaving Glacier Bay, we headed west, to see the far end of Icy Strait where it meets the Gulf of Alaska. As we headed out for the Inian Islands after 9 great days in Glacier Bay, we called the Park Service’s radio operator, KWM-20, as you’re supposed to do, to notify them you’re leaving, and thanked them for their hospitality – they were very good to us. Through the mist off the tip of Lemesurier Island we saw a huge splash and then another and another; it went on for 10 minutes. Must be whales, we said, and finally through the mist we could see an enormous creature hurtling out of the water like an organic 30-ton missile! There were 5 humpback whales in all, having a ball feeding and breaching. And 2 more along the shore to the west. We are keeping track of our sightings of the numbers and locations of whales, bears, moose, wolves, and some seabird species, and will tally it up later.

There are some big currents in both north and south Inian Passage, like 6 to 8 knots on spring tides, so we timed our exit to catch the ebb. Gotta go to the Hobbit Hole, our friends in Port Townsend said we mustn’t miss that! Oh wow, this looks great, I say as we enter the channel, and Jim says, but this isn’t the Hobbit Hole, that’s the Hobbit Hole over there, as he points up a rocky narrow passage. Nuh-uh, it’s low tide and that entrance is way too gnarly even for Raven (see photo below). So we anchored in the channel outside, called Mosquito Passage, and dinghied to the 10-acre cove.

Entrance to the Hobbit Hole at low tide.
It’s beautiful and an excellent hurricane hole, with a series of well-built and comfortable structures at one corner, called the Inian Institute.

K&J invade the Inian Institute at the Hobbit Hole.
You could, with great care, take a boat of Raven’s size in at high tide, and we would have done that if there’d been a big storm coming. We went ashore and Zack, a friendly Stanford oceanography Ph.D and the head of the Institute, gave us a tour. They have great plans and have partnered with high schools as far south as California (and while we were there, a boat flying Stanford University banners visited.) The idea is to teach a residential, hands-on ecological curriculum for 12-15 students, designed to give them a visceral connection with wild places and wild creatures, along with some biological knowledge they’ll need to help conserve them. Students of all ages will be welcome. While Zack himself will be doing a lot of the teaching, they are also looking for scientists and lecturers as guest faculty, so pass the word along for interested, qualified people to google and contact them. We wish them luck and success.

Hobbit Hole at low tide.
Ten days later, when we were telling a Tlingit friend about how nice the Hobbit Hole was, he chuckled and said whoops, then I won’t tell you the Indian name for it.
Why not? we asked.
Because it’s a bit rude.
Well, it means, uh, ‘Place Out of the Wind Where One Can Poop,’ he said. It’s where, way back in the old days, native canoes would stop to, uh, ah, let everyone out so they could, uh…
Poop? we offered.
Yeah, he said. Maybe it’s best not to let that be too widely known, huh?
Of course, we said.

A bit of wind arrived and we stayed an extra day, enjoying the peace and quiet, kayaking and rowing around. As we watched with fascination while an eagle swooped down again and again near our boat as it went after a large school of herring, and a couple of harbor porpoises dived into the herring ball, a big black inflatable cruise ship launch came roaring through, leaving a huge wake, scattering the critters, and rocking Raven. Then over the space of an hour another, and another—eight or nine passenger-filled large launches left us rocking in their wakes, until Jim yelled HEY! SLOW DOWN! YOU’RE RUINING THE PEACE HERE! and the last one did. We’re sorry, said the launch operator.
Sure you are, we thought, you’re sorry we yelled at you in front of your boatload of passengers. WHAT SHIP ARE YOU OFF? I said.
A crew member answered unintelligibly.
More unintelligible.

We were underway in South Inian passage with a fair current for this screen shot, but you can see the Hobbit Hole near the center, plus Mosquito passage, and under the tide symbol just right of lower center, Elfin Cove. Open water to the left is where Cross Sound meets the Gulf of Alaska.
Not too pleased, I (K) called on the radio after they left: Cruise ship anchored outside Mosquito Passage on Inian Island, this is the motor vessel Raven. I tried twice. No answer. Finally, the ship’s name appeared on the AIS. Gotcha.
National Geographic Quest, this is the motor vessel Raven.
This time, the ship answered. Politely but firmly I told him how badly the 8 or 9 launch passes had disrupted the peace and rocked us, and he (we think it was the captain) apologized profusely, promising to get all the launch crews together and use it as a teachable moment.
Okay, that’s good, I said. Grumpily, we left the anchorage, heading to Elfin Cove. There’s the cruise ship, still anchored, I said.
Here comes a launch, said Jim.
I altered course to let it pass us, but it turned toward us. I altered course again. Hey, said Jim, there’s just one person in it, a woman, and I think she’s coming toward us. We slowed down. A lone woman driving the launch was trying to flag us down by waving a fine bottle of cabernet sauvignon at us.

Now, if you want to get the crew of the ole Raven to stop, there probably isn’t a better way to accomplish your goal.

We stopped, she pulled up alongside, apologized, asked us to accept the bottle of wine as a token of their apology and appreciation for calling and alerting them to the problem, and she said the captain had used the occasion to teach the launch crews how not to ruin the peace and quiet being enjoyed by an anchored boat.
Wow! Now that’s the classy way to operate!
We chatted with her for awhile, and as she was leaving, I called the ship to say thanks for the wine. After apologizing once again, the captain said, if there’s anything else we can do for you, just call.
Do you think they have any beer? whispered Jim.
Shhh, I said, and told the captain, thank you for the wine, it was a nice gesture and we appreciate it.

Elfin Cove "road system."

Narrow channel to back lagoon.

Elfin Cove has changed considerably since the last time I visited in 2006 after crossing the Gulf of Alaska.

Flashback! Karen's former Dana 24, Minstrel, peacefully nestled among the commercial fishing fleet at Elfin Cove in 2006, after a Gulf of Alaska crossing. 

What has not changed is the humor and friendliness of its long-time residents, who made us laugh a lot.

A few of the many homes and businesses on pilings at Elfin Cove.

Lotsa wise guys among the locals.

Nice way to use extra crocs.
What has changed is that there are so few of them left, because sport fishing lodges have bought up properties for sale and expanded their operations to the point of taking over the entire village, causing the population to nose-dive, the school to close, and upsetting the locals who’ve lived there for decades.

Nice new transient dock at Elfin Cove, built by the State, for visitors to use for free!
Unfortunately, we did not find the sport fishing charter boat crews to be friendly when we tried to start conversations, and there were hardly any commercial fishing boats in Elfin Cove where once they had been numerous (and very friendly.) In fact, as we strolled the lengthy boardwalk that serves as the unique road system through the entire town, a hand-lettered sign said, “If you don’t work for Eagle Charters, f*** off!” Except the sign spelled it out. Well okay then, we said.

Due to an extra-low tide, the entire sport fishing charter fleet came out of the shallow back lagoon so they could go fishing the next morning. This is understandable, but they crowded onto the transient dock, six charter catamarans rafted up in a row very close behind us, overnight, unmanned, with three more wide boats abreast in front of us. It’s not like these low tides have never occurred before or that these businesses couldn’t plan ahead, but they apparently take over a free, state-built dock meant for transient visitors whenever there’s an extra-low tide, and good luck finding a berth.

Raven surrounded and boxed in by charter boats.
Before we could try to move to the other side of the dock, we were trapped by stacks of rafted charter boats. We prayed there’d be no big winds to bend that long line of fiberglass around to hit us. Next morning at 6:30 was like the Grand Prix as they all vroomed and idled their engines for nearly an hour before several, but not all of them, took off with their guests. We were thoroughly gassed by fumes and eager to leave. Finally after some negotiating, Jim convinced the boat ahead of us to pull his remaining raft of two big boats forward a bit, and we left. Ugh, let’s get back to the wilderness, we coughed. Let’s go to Dundas Bay. Cross Sound was nice and smooth with a low ground swell from the Gulf, and the view of gigantic Brady Glacier was awe-inspiring.

Dundas Bay's northwest arm. The moose in the water was hard to see.
Dundas Bay is part of Glacier Bay National Park, but you don’t need a permit to go in there, and it’s utterly… oh gosh, I’m wearing out superlatives again. Ahh, we said, this is more like it, as we slowly approached the head of the glacially-fed northwestern-most arm, this peace and quiet feels so good…  hey, that tree stump is moving, get the binoculars… GOOD GRIEF, IT’S A MOOSE SWIMMING ACROSS THE FIORD, RIGHT IN FRONT OF US!

From a tiny-looking head in the water emerged a big male moose.
The moose had seen us and we didn’t want to force it to turn back, because there must have been a good reason for it to be expending so much energy to swim nearly half a mile in frigid water. So we turned Raven around and steamed south, to let the moose cross ahead of us unimpeded. We watched it get out on the other bank, shake itself, look back at us, and unconcernedly start grazing. It was much bigger than we expected, a fully-grown bull sprouting this season’s new velvety rack. I wonder if it was trying to escape a predator? I said, and shortly afterward, Jim spied a wolf coming up the beach path the moose had just left. It was black with a white patch on its flank, trotting like a dog, sniffing the wrack line, and moving purposefully along. And not long after the wolf, Jim spotted two big brown (grizzly) bears about half a mile south, then another (possibly one of those two) on the beach opposite us, right where the wolf had been, right where the moose had been. Oh my.
Glad we’re not kayak-camping tonight?

Pencil tip shows how far we got.
We took the dinghy (with the 2-hp outboard) up the river at the inlet’s head, on a rising tide to see if an arm of the glacier might be visible, and ended up going 2.5 miles, to where the braiding of shallow streams made it hard to see which one to take. Time to turn around or risk getting stranded.

Rainforest moss.
Though the glacier had receded another 2+ miles and we didn’t see it, there were flocks of migrating birds and beautiful river scenery to enjoy. On the way out, with the tide ebbing, we hit an underwater object, probably a log, and it threw the dinghy up a foot or so, but missed the prop. We bounced off it, yelled HOLY CRAP! and never saw the log surface; it’s what you’d call a “deadhead.” A misnomer, because they wake you right up. Back on the boat, where we knew it would be a minus 3-foot low tide and an interesting time to watch for critters, we looked at where we’d been and were astounded: How did we ever get the dinghy through that maze? It’s full of logs and stumps!

Low tide where not long before we'd run the dinghy.
Then, Jim said: MOOSE COW AND CALF, RUNNING ACROSS THE FLATS, RIGHT WHERE WE HIT THE LOG EARLIER! We watched them run, evidently freaked out, the moose mama so aggressively protective of her calf that she charged a flock of birds, which scattered. The pair covered ground quickly, and soon Jim spotted the possible reason for their flight: a huge brown bear, right where the bull moose had swum to yesterday, lumbering along the beach, casually munching on grass.

Grass? I didn’t know bears ate grass, said Jim.
They’re omnivores, I said, they’ll eat anything to tide them over until the salmon start running.

Then: TWO MORE MOOSE! Just north of the brown bear, a female trying to show the bull from yesterday how uninterested she was in romance, the bull following her anyway. Good luck, honey. Then: two cinnamon brown bears, a sow and her cub, just south of the big brown bear. Mama stood on her hind legs, sniffing the air, and she and her cub took off running. Boy are they fast. Males will kill cubs in order to cause the female to go back into estrus so he can mate with her. Ursine creeps. The mama and her cub, which was now sticking to her like Velcro, ran into the woods.

Two cinnamon-colored grizzlies, a sow and her cub.
What is this, I said, Disneyland of the North, or Peyton Place for critters?

Over several days we anchored in all 3 arms of Dundas Bay, each a little different and lovely. More bears and moose were spotted.
I just saw a hoary marmot, I said.
Jim: How’d you know it was horny?
Hoary. Nyuk, nyuk.

Jim bear-watching.
Reluctantly after a few days, we left Dundas Bay to cross Icy Strait again, to visit Gull Cove, where Port Townsend friends said we must visit. Two separate lodges invited us in and we had a tour, tea, and some good conversation. Dennis and Peggy from South Pass Outfitters are originally from Port Townsend.

Look how the fog plays tricks on the eye - this is a very large container barge being pulled by a tug to its left. Can't see the tug? We couldn't either, but we spoke with it on the radio. 
Wanting more wilderness time after our brief visit, we went to the head of Idaho Inlet, named for the steamer that ran aground and was wrecked because its captain was told this was a short cut to Sitka, and he’d believed it. About a mile south of Gull Cove, I saw something that looked like a small whale (blowhole, portions of its back near the surface,) but the water around it was turquoise, which didn’t make sense. Then it blew. WHALE! I said, but it’s not the usual coloring. Then it arched its white back and dived. A humpback. Possibly a juvenile. A white whale? The water around that whale was turquoise because the light coloring of the whale was showing through it. Holy mackerel.

Looking for another glimpse of the white whale in  fog and rain.

Did that whale look white to you?
It sure did.
Maybe it was the way the light was shining on it, or something?
Maybe it’s just a light-skinned whale; an albino would be very unusual.
There’s one in Australia, an albino humpback.

We stopped, turned off the engine, and waited for it to surface, to try and get another look. There was a large dark humpback whale nearby that surfaced in the mist and rain, but we didn’t see the small white one again. And of course, we got no photo of it, because it all happened too fast in the fog.

Idaho Inlet comes to a screeching halt around a corner; depths go from 80 feet to two feet in less than a hundred feet, and there’s still a mile of shallow water beyond that, so it must have looked deceptively deep from the wheelhouse of the steamship Idaho, for which the Evergreen Guide says it's named.

Head of Idaho Inlet at low tide.
Trying to imagine how back in the 1800s they could have run aground so quickly was easy – without a chart you’d run smack into what amounts to a vertical underwater wall, the top of which you can see above, at low tide. At high tide it's covered. When we anchored in 55 feet, we swung around to 11 feet and could see the bottom that would be bare and dry at low tide in a few hours. So we re-anchored in 75 feet. It’s worth the run to get back there for the views and the quiet.

From Idaho Inlet we headed for a last visit to Hoonah, to see our new friends and stretch our legs, which haven’t been getting much exercise. Just past Point Adolphus, which is across from the Glacier Bay entrance, there was a big tide rip with eight humpback whales playing and feeding in it.

Humpback whale getting ready to dive at Point Adolphus.
We stopped, turned off the engine, lowered our new hydrophone into the water, and listened for two magical hours as the whirlpools spun us around and around and the whales breathed and went voop-voop-voop underwater, and little clicks from other creatures we couldn’t identify played from our speaker.

Our hydrophone, deployed.

Resting at the surface. Dorsal fin on left, blowhole on right. The puff of mist is from the "blow."
Diving! (These photos are all of different whales.)

Tail lifts and slides under... ahhhh.

It was like being hypnotized; we could have stayed out there all day, and in fact left only after the whales did because the current stopped ripping.

Hoonah sunset just after 10:00 pm.

We were tied up next to this boat, which was across the deck from a fishing boat called Legal Tender, and down the dock were the Happy Hooker and our favorite, the Village Idiot. These Tlingits have a fine sense of humor!

Great garden idea for all you folks with an extra stove.
Needing another wilderness fix after our Hoonah visit, and needing a salmon, we trolled, caught 3 and watched in dismay as every one of them slipped the barbless hook. I hummed, “There’s a Plaice For Us,” but wrong species, so no luck. We headed deep into the fiord past Hoonah and found an almost completely enclosed lagoon. Jim set the crab pot and said, let’s go for a hike, there’s a rough portage trail at the far end of the next lagoon, that leads to Tenakee Inlet.
Good idea!
On the way in:
You know how to use that can of bear spray, right? I asked.
Yes, said Jim. Then: Are you sure you want to do this? It’s good bearbitat in here.
Bearbitat! Great word!
So what do you think?
Oh why not, we can make lots of noise and they won’t bother us, right?
Bears are supposed to run away from humans, right?
We dinghied ashore, beached and secured our little craft, and walked about a hundred feet across some rocks.
Um, Jim? I stopped. Did you see this? You almost stepped in it.
What is it, he said.
It’s the biggest pile of bear poop I’ve ever seen in my life, I said. It’s twice as big as any ones I’ve seen. And it’s fresh.

Karen points to an enormous pile of bear poop. We took a close-up, but honestly, it's just a big pile of poop.

Fresh, huh?
Yeah, maybe from this morning.
Jim nudged it with his foot. It’s all made of grass, he said.
Yeah, I said. The salmon aren’t running yet.
Hm, said Jim.

The horseflies stopped buzzing and the air went eerily still, just like in the movie The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, when Clint Eastwood stares and says, “It’s no joke, it’s a rope, Tuco. Now I want you to put your head in it.”

Sweetie, I said, this is just a hypothetical question, but do we want to encounter a carnivore with a rectum this large when it’s had no meat for awhile?
Let’s call it good and get out of here, said Jim.
Yeah, I rationalized. We hiked a hundred feet to get here, and we’ll hike a hundred feet back to the dinghy. At least it’s something.

The two crabs we caught were delicious.

Leaving the lagoon at Port Frederick the next day, we trolled for salmon (skunked again) and as we left Port Frederick to enter Icy Strait, found the wind picking up and raising some seas. These are big seas for so little wind, said Jim.
Should we go back?
I dunno, it  seems like a long way.
Yeah, I said. But we’re going to have to tack across the Strait to get to our next anchorage.
We ordered the millpond. I guess they misplaced the order.
I guess we may as well keep going, right?

Wham! Bash! Discomfort again, though not as bad as that day on Frederick Sound. Once we turned east to get back on our course, a pod of about six Dall’s porpoises surfed our bow wave and darted all around Raven for more than 15 minutes, which is an unusually long time. What a delight to see them. Seas increased until they were almost the size of the ones we’d encountered in Frederick Sound. In late afternoon we pulled gratefully into Swanson anchorage in the Couverden Islands at the northeast corner of Icy Strait.

Sometime, said Jim, we ought to go out and turn back, just for practice, so we know how to do it.

Now THAT'S a crab! This huge Dungeness was too big for us to finish in one meal.

The colds hit us pretty hard after that, and we left Swanson anchorage to spend two nights at anchor on the shoal just south of Horse Island, across from Auke Bay, before arriving in Juneau.

Lighthouse at tip of Mansfield Peninsula, north end of Admiralty Island, home of skedillions of brown bears.
We’ll stay here at Harris harbor for a few days, get in a hike or two, reprovision, then start moving south via the glaciers at Tracy Arm, then to Frederick Sound, and, weather permitting, the western (Gulf) side of Kosciusko Island and Prince of Wales Island. Our itinerary may take us for longer periods to places where there’s no cell signal or internet, so we will write again when we can.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Tales from Glacier Bay

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: NOW! NOW!
I scoop the fish. OH WOW!
I lift. The fish jumps right out of the net.
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!

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?
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:
A whale.
At night.
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.

Black-legged kittiwake.

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?
Nyuk, nyuk.

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.

Still waters.

Raven at Wachusett Inlet

Another binocular shot.