Raven is tied up at the Harris Harbor dock in Juneau.
|Raven in the rain at anchor off Stephens Passage.|
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.
And of course, the World’s Longest Pub Crawl continues,
|So much beauty in textures.|
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.
We have spent the entire time since our last post
|Fish and chips at PubRaven.|
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.
Leaving Glacier Bay, we headed west,
|Rowing the dinghy in Dundas Bay.|
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.
Ten days later, when we were telling a Tlingit friend
|Hobbit Hole at low tide.|
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.
|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."|
Elfin Cove has changed considerably since the last time I visited
|Narrow channel to back lagoon.|
in 2006 after crossing the Gulf of Alaska.
What has not changed
|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. |
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.|
What has changed
|Nice way to use extra crocs.|
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.
Unfortunately, we did not find the sport fishing charter boat crews to be friendly
|Nice new transient dock at Elfin Cove, built by the State, for visitors to use for free!|
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 is part of Glacier Bay National Park
|Dundas Bay's northwest arm. The moose in the water was hard to see.|
, 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?
We took the dinghy (with the 2-hp outboard) up the river at the inlet’s head
|Pencil tip shows how far we got.|
, 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.
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.
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.
Wanting more wilderness time after our brief visit
|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. |
, 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!|
Needing another wilderness fix after our Hoonah visit,
|Great garden idea for all you folks with an extra stove.|
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.
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.|
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.