In Part II of this two-part series, Waggoner Field Correspondents Bob and Shino Posey share their discoveries while Pocket Cruising SE Alaska on their 24-foot SeaSport.
After a wonderful time at Warm Springs on Baranof Island, we headed west via Frederick Sound. As always, the scenery was beautiful. About twenty miles into our day’s journey we encountered multiple pods of whales breaching and bubble feeding. We counted at least seven pods. Bubble feeding is amazing to see up close. We could hear and see the whales spouting, “squeaking” in their language, breaching and feeding. As we neared Petersburg, we saw what looked like large chunks of Styrofoam floating in the distance. We soon realized they were icebergs from nearby Le Conte Glacier.
Throughout Southeast Alaska we enjoyed wonderful people wherever we went. Petersburg, Wrangell, and Thorne Bay, our next stops, were no exception. Petersburg is a bustling fishing community with an obvious Norwegian heritage. Fish processing was in full swing with lots of downtown waterfront activity. From our slip we could watch the fish boats pulling up and offloading their catch. Plenty of free ice is usually available in blue totes for public use. We felt right at home using multi-hook tackle, which enabled us to catch up to six bait fish at a time from our dock.
Petersburg and Wrangell have well stocked grocery and hardware stores, sporting supplies, motels and restaurants. While restaurants are scanty in Petersburg, there’s always plenty of fish. A General Store with a small grocery is within easy walking distance of the docks, or you can opt for major provisioning at the large grocery store near the airport. Both Petersburg and Wrangell have Alaska Airlines 737 service. With a population of 2800 and 2500 respectively, I wonder if they are the smallest towns in the U.S. with jet service? If you are dropping off or meeting family and friends in Southeast Alaska, Petersburg and Wrangell are good choices.
Petersburg to Wrangell
From Petersburg, we headed south through the Wrangell Narrows on our way to the town of Wrangell. Wrangell Narrows, 21 nautical miles long with 60 plus channel markers and 5 ranges, can appear daunting; but with a small boat like ours, it’s an easy transit. As the name implies, the channel is narrow and requires constant vigilance, especially when meeting opposing traffic. Tugs pulling barges loom large, as do ferries; it’s a busy channel. Fortunately, we were in a wide section, with plenty of space for passing, when we met a northbound Alaska State Ferry.
Wrangell, with its false-front buildings and genuine Alaskan character is an interesting stop. We spent three nights in Wrangell plus an extra day due to heavy fog, a good reminder to pad one’s itinerary for weather contingencies.
The highlight during our stay was a visit to nearby (30 miles by boat) Anan Bear Observatory, where bears are seen feeding on the salmon runs along the river. The Observatory is accessed by a boardwalk trail that begins at the southwest shoreline of Anan Bay. A park ranger greets visitors upon arrival and gives a short introduction regarding bear viewing. Even though bears at Anan are habituated (used to seeing humans), you are asked to walk with other visitors as a group to the Observatory. If you arrive at Anan Bay with your own boat, the park ranger may accompany you to the Observatory, depending on the size of the group; or if you come by commercial tour boat, your tour guide will take you to the viewing platforms.
Black bears are most commonly seen at the falls near the Observatory where they congregate, waiting for fish to jump over the falls as easy prey. It’s not uncommon for bears to climb the cliffside and wander around the viewing platforms outside the railings; you might even see a bear crawl under the platforms and munch on his dinner; it’s an incredible opportunity to be in the wild within safe proximity of bears. A park ranger is on duty at the Observation platforms, able to assist visitors and answer questions. During the salmon run from late June to late August, visitors may also see brown bears, bald eagles, and harbor seals. We saw over a dozen black bears and one brown bear.
Anchorage is possible in Anan Bay; but due to current and poor holding, leaving your boat unattended is not recommended. Taking turns going ashore might not work for everyone. Rather than taking our own boat to Anan, we decided to sign-up for a tour that included a round-trip boat ride from Wrangell, lunch aboard, and the guide’s service. It was money well-spent for a hazzle-free, fun-filled adventure.
Permits are needed to visit Anan Bear Observatory which can be purchased online, or in-person at the Ranger Station in Wrangell. Permits are included as part of the cost when booking with commercial tours and are handled through the tour company.
Wrangell to Thorne Bay via Eastern Passage and Ernest Sound
From Wrangell we headed south through Eastern Passage and Blake Channel to Earnest Sound. We then crossed Clarence Strait into Thorne Bay. In the 1970s-1980s, Thorne Bay was the world’s largest logging camp. When the logging boom ended, the town population dropped to about 450 residents. The world’s largest grapple, which locals call “the claw,” is a reminder of their timber legacy. A couple of restaurants and a well-stocked grocery store and a sporting goods store make up the “commercial district.” Like all of our rural Alaskan stops, we encountered great people and well-maintained docks.
Thorne Bay to Ketchikan and Prince Rupert
After a night’s stay in Thorne Bay, we headed south down Clarence Strait to Ketchikan. In the Ketchikan Safeway parking lot, we spotted our favorite fishing boat of the trip. The photo shows off some of its finer attributes. The cooler on the back “deck” has a fine patina of rust and serves as the base for the downrigger. Full electronics and fishing gear are all part of this sweet Sea Doo.
The next morning, we fueled-up and headed south through Tongass Narrows to Dixon Entrance. About a one-foot chop changed to two feet as we moved into open water. Dixon Entrance looked like water that was getting ready to boil. The waves didn’t break on us but suggested that they could become menacing. We were exposed to open water for only 25 miles until we reached the lee side of Dundas Island. After a smooth transit through Venn Passage, we were back where our water-borne adventure started in Prince Rupert.
It was time to load our SeaSport on the trailer, followed by a complete washdown with fresh water. We enjoyed visiting with a local friend over dinner and then departed Prince Rupert around 7:30 p.m. We drove an hour and a half to Terrace, BC where we spent the night in the boat in a Walmart parking lot. (Hadn’t done that before.) On our second day, we drove about 720 miles to Hope, BC. We were home the next morning before noon. Total drive time from Seattle to Prince Rupert, including clearing customs, is two long days.
We were amazed that after only two days of trailering, and less than 4 hours of motoring, we were in Ketchikan, Alaska. Throughout Southeast Alaska, we enjoyed wonderful people wherever we stayed. In our opinion, the scenery, fishing, and wildlife are unmatched anywhere in the United States.
If you are planning a trip to Southeast Alaska, you will want your equipment to be in top condition. The captain should be familiar with all systems —engine(s), driveshafts, props, electronics, batteries and safety gear should be tested and serviced prior to heading out on the water. Be sure to carry spare parts and tools. The boating season is short in Southeast Alaska, and most mechanics and shops are extremely busy. Local shops have little time for drop in “it’s broken, fix-it work.”
Don’t forget about your tow vehicle. A diesel tow vehicle, with fresh oil and good tires, should be up to the task. The most problematic area is usually the trailer. Aside from the electric over-hydraulic brake requirement, tires, wheel bearings and brakes are major service considerations. Low mileage tires that have been out in the sun for several seasons may have great tread but weak sidewalls.
Finally, let’s revisit the “tight schedule” consideration. Tight schedules are the greatest threat to an Alaskan boater’s safety and enjoyment. Always be cognizant of weather, wind, tides and current. This means you will need to do your homework before you head out into open water. You’ve saved so much time by trailering to Alaska, your schedule should have enough flexibility to stay in port for a couple of days and wait for a weather window that facilitates a great cruise.
Bob and Shino Posey
WG Field Correspondents
Pocket Cruiser Part 1
In Part I of this two-part series, Waggoner Field Correspondents Bob and Shino Posey share their discoveries while Pocket Cruising SE Alaska on their 24-foot SeaSport.