When the stars line up and your son’s have the same available time to go boating, you go for it!
After leading the first Waggoner Cruising Guide flotilla to Ketchikan, I locked up the boat at the City Floats and caught a flight to Seattle. One of my sons was graduating high school and I needed to be home. And it was a good time to attend to other Waggoner Guide business, including speaking engagements in Bremerton for National Marina Day and Roche Harbor for the Ocean Alexander rendezvous. On June 22 I flew back to Ketchikan, along with my two sons.
June 23—We provisioned the boat and got ready to leave. By midday we had the boat fueled and were heading up Tongass Narrows with a plan to reach Meyers Chuck for the night. Waggoner Guide Managing Editor, Sam Landsman, had already left in his Nordic Tug 37 and met us at the dock when we arrived. Dinner onboard and a friendly evening telling stories with the guys.
June 24—The morning started at 7:00 a.m. with a soft knock on the hull. It was Cassie from Meyers Chuck, the post mistress and master baker. She had warm sticky buns, fresh from her oven. Yes! We had a nice chat. I have met Cassie several times in the past when visiting Meyers Chuck on other trips.
Soon we got underway with the goal of visiting Anan Bay and the Bear Observatory. When we arrived the bay was choked with commercial crab traps. We rafted with Sam’s boat since there was not much room for two boats to anchor. A quick dinghy ride to shore and we started up the trail. No bears on the trail, but lots of large fresh bear scat. The observatory was just being set up for the season when we arrived. Only a few salmon were in the stream, not enough to interest the bears yet. July 5th is the magic day for the return of the salmon and the bears follow suit. Several members of flotilla 1 were there on July 6 and got quite the bear show.
Next, it was time to find a good anchorage for the night. We entered Berg Bay, but also found it choked with crab traps. Sam attempted to anchor between them but the anchor didn’t set. He suggested we move on to Madon Bay, a very pretty anchorage nearby. The crab traps went out.
June 25—Nothing in the crab traps. On to Wrangell. The harbor office is very enthusiastic about all there is to do in Wrangell. We dined on outstanding burgers at the Stikine Hotel. Nourished, we moved on towards the mouth of Wrangell Narrows, and moored for the night at St. John Harbor, near the logging camp. A nice hike around the logging operation gave us a chance to stretch our legs. Crabbing here was more productive with three keepers.
June 26—Wrangell Narrows is always interesting. The 65+ navaids marking the channel keep you on your toes.
A high pressure weather system came in and we had our first sunny day since leaving Ketchikan. We fueled in Petersburg and requested the North Harbor docks. We found out the North Harbor docks are brand new this spring. Very nice with a new electrical system, too. A walk around Petersburg took us to the Sing Lee Alley Bookstore, a Fine Edge customer. We said hello to the owner, Nancy, and asked her opinion on salmon fishing guids. She recommended Capt. Stan and his Magic Charters as the best guy if you want to catch fish. We were able to book Stan for two days later.
June 27—LeConte Glacier is a day trip from Petersburg. As we entered we were surrounded by icebergs of all sizes and colors, ranging from big to small and white to “Windex blue.” Each takes on a unique shape, like sculpture. It was strangely quiet up on the fly bridge as we cruised between the bergs up the inlet to get a view of the face of the glacier. Seals rested on icebergs and they were not amused by our boat. Perhaps they viewed it as a large cream-colored whale with blue trim.
A particularly blue iceberg.
The ice was thick in places, but steered the boat towards open water wherever we could find it, carefully pushing a few bergs out of the way with the hull. Ice can cause significant damage to props, shafts, and struts, so extreme care must be taken, especially on boats with fully exposed running gear.
Eventually we rounded a point and the full face of the glacier came into view. Beautiful. We stared at the deep blue color for a while, took lots of pictures and then started our way back. Mission accomplished.
LeConte Glacier in full view.
MJ took the dinghy to shore.
June 28—Captain Stan was moored behind our boat when we woke up – ready for us to leave promptly at 7:00 a.m. What we did not know until later is he had been out at 5:00 a.m., jigging in the channel for herring just outside the docks. He wanted the freshest bait possible for our fishing trip. This man was serious about catching salmon. His boat was serious, too. It has an aluminum hull in a stable catamaran design with walk-around decks. There were design features all over the boat that Stan had devised with the intent of efficiently catching fish, in our case king salmon.
Within 20 minutes we had run down Wrangell Narrows to an area near a fish hatchery. We began to work our trolling pattern with our rods set at about 25 feet. Within 20 minutes our first king hit and was in the boat. Then the second. The bite stopped and Stan explained how it happens as we approached slack. We switched areas for the tide change. A jack salmon hit—about 7lbs—a keeper, though they are much smaller than the 20 to 28 pound kings we caught. Then the bite was on, just like Stan said it would be, and over the next two hours we brought our limit of four more kings into the boat. We were all pretty pleased at hitting our limit on our half-day charter.
Back at the dock we arranged for Coastal Cold Storage to pick up our fish, fillet them, and flash freeze the fillets in vacuum packs. They said they could have it done by 3:00 p.m. When we got there to pick it up, we realized we had about 80 pounds of salmon including a white salmon. It would not all fit in our boat’s freezer. We made a quick decision to ship Garrett’s fish to San Jose by air and I could fit the rest in the freezer. We’d have enough for MJ to take some home and for me to enjoy salmon for the rest of my cruise.
About 4:00 p.m. we departed Petersburg and turned north. I really wanted to go one of my favorite anchorages in SE Alaska, Pybus Cove. This is a beautiful snow capped bowl with a grassy area on the beach frequented by bears. But Pybus was just too far for our late start. Portage Bay turned out to be a very nice stop for dinner, crabbing and a pleasant sleep after an exciting day of fishing. Dinner that night? You guessed it: white and red salmon fillets.
June 29—An early start took me around the top of Kupreanof Island and around to the community of Kake. I had previously visited Kake about 7 years ago and wanted to see how this tribal community had changed. I had taken of photo of a carver that I will always treasure. Was he still carving?
The village was very quiet at 9:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning. I talked to one of the locals and he confirmed that Joel was still carving. We got back on the boat after our short walk and proceeded down the treacherous Rocky Pass, our approached timed for slack mid-way down the pass. I had been down Rocky Pass before and last time relied on paper charts and the chart plotter. Now I was navigating with a large 9” high resolution chartplotter with Navionics charting, my iPad with Navionics, and an older 5” chartplotter with C-Map data. This year I have a new gadget on my Lowrance chartplotter: Structurescan. This is a special transducer, actually four transducers, mounted on an array off the transom looking at a 45-degree angle. The images come together on screen with a representation of the bottom showing boulders and the makeup of the bottom. Rocky Pass was the place to test this out.
Rocky Pass is well marked with navaids, but you quickly realize the navaids are there as a reference and do not indicate the location of the channel. Instead, I used the iPad and my chartplotters to follow the contours of the channel, verifying my position with the depth sounder. My iPad showed the big picture, with a route plotted so I did not take a wrong turn. The chartplotter was zoomed in, providing a detailed review. This worked well and I really like the combination of the two screens. With the iPad I could quickly pan around and pinch zoom in and out.
We proceeded to one of my favorite Alaska stops: Port Protection. The store is a classic. I also found the prices are classic remote Alaska: $14 for a six-pack of beer. It is the only store around and serves a lot of fishing boats. Location, location, location.
June 30—We were starting our way back to Ketchikan and after a pleasant day of cruising, stopped in Thorne Bay. Took a hike to see the town, but not much to report. It did seem the three or four stores in town all were for sale.
July 1—We continued to Ketchikan, passing 7 gillnetters working an opening. We zig-zagged through their nets, extra careful not to hit one.
Arriving back in Ketchikan after cruising for a week in SE Alaska is a bit of culture shock. We were able to find a slip at the City Float again so the boys could get their shopping in before they left.
July 2—We took Garrett to the airport with the dinghy, which is much more cost effective than taking the taxi and ferry. Garrett flew out and MJ and I took the dinghy down to Thomas Basin to meet Flotilla 3 as they arrived. It was fun to greet the boats. They really had a sense of accomplishment for making it all the way to SE Alaska. They learned a lot and were now looking forward to explore more of SE Alaska.
July 3—Change of crew. It was raining and I took MJ to the airport via taxi and ferry for him to fly back to Seattle and then home to Anacortes. A close friend for the last 30 years, Sandra Morris, was flying in. Sandra and I have worked together, our families have traveled together (including the Canal du Midi canal boat trip I wrote about for several magazines), and we even co-authored a technical book many years ago. Sandra has heard me exclaim about the beauty of cruising the Inside Passage and SE Alaska. Her busy schedule lined up and she could disappear to Sea Raven for a week with little to no contact. On her trip list: whales, bears, porpoises, good seafood, and beautiful vistas. The freezer was stuffed with salmon and crab so I knew we could check those two off the list during the week.
July 4—Alaska is our 50th state and Alaskans are very proud to be Americans. Each town does a good job of organizing their 4th of July celebrations. In Ketchikan, it starts with the parade through town, and moves on to a charity rubber duck race on the creek at Creek Street. When it finally gets dark, and the cruise ships have left, the fireworks start, right across from the City Floats. We had a great view from the fly bridge.
July 5—Our original plan was to head south and cross Dixon Entrance into British Columbia. The conditions for Dixon did not sound good and we elected to delay a day. So we purchased bus tickets on Ketchikan and visited the tribal community of Saxman Village. At first we thought the personal tour for $40 each was pricey, but we got the first class tour from a representative of the band. This included the carving shed and long house along with a tribal dance with both kids and adults. Our guide spent about 3 hours with us and shared a lot of ancient stories about their people. It was very good.
Exploring Saxman Village.
Native children in traditional clothing.
One of the many totems at Saxman Village.