August 11, 2005

Dawn of another beautiful day. Heavy dew in the cockpit. We can feel the hints of fall, with chill nights and the earliest tints of red on the vine maples. We got underway at 7:30 on a glass smooth sea, weaving our way through an intricate maze known as the Keku Islands. We passed a low rocky island, where several dozen harbor seals were hauled out. We headed across the channel toward the Indian village of Kake in search of fuel, ice, and a few groceries. I radioed ahead and confirmed that the fuel dock was open. If not, I would have tied up there until they did, since we couldn’t go much further without filling the tanks. The guy at the fuel float had a friendly smile and helped us with gas. I asked him if we could buy ice anywhere nearby, and he said there was a store a half mile down the road. He then offered us the loan of his car to go to the store. Very generous, and after thinking about lugging 20 lbs of rapidly melting ice a half mile, we accepted. We drove to the post office to mail picture cd’s to Ken, and then located the store where we got groceries and ice. Just about everyone we passed gave us a wave. Very friendly place, this Kake. We pulled away from the fuel dock at 11 am and headed south, toward Rocky Pass.

Now, Rocky Pass is a place which caught my eye last winter, when I first began studying charts and reading in Douglas. It is a tight, twisty passage through the very middle of Kupreanof Island, and it lives up to its name with all the rocks, boulders, reefs, and small rocky islets along the way. It could also be called Kelpy Pass, since the often shallow channel is loaded with bull kelp. I had the route waypointed well, and I knew it would be a fun passage. As we approached I noticed a trawler cruising toward the entrance off our starbard bow. He entered ahead of us, and we followed at a distance, but slowly gaining. He hailed us on radio and we exchanged greetings and cruising plans. As we got further into the pass the air grew still, and the dark rocks all around us began radiating solar heat. The air temperature rose to 86 degrees. The warm air was fine; what wasn’t fine were the 6 legged, winged hordes which started swarming the boat. Because of the hazards of the passage, we had to proceed slowly, which was just fine for the horseflies, and they became almost unbearable. I stood on the bow, watching for rocks and pointing out kelp. Sandy ran the boat with one hand, and swatted horseflies with the other. She finally put her mosquito net shirt on, and found some relief. We finally picked up a headwind south of the Devil’s Elbow (a particularly tight, rockbound turn), and left some of the pests behind.

We talked by radio again with the trawler LaBella, and decided to go on through to the south end of Rocky Pass and anchor in the same area. We set the hook and boarded dinghy to motor over and properly meet these new friends. I had taken some pictures of their boat with the digital camera, and Sandy had put them on a cd, which we brought with us. Robert and Stacy very much appreciated them. They invited us aboard and we enjoyed a very pleasant visit. They have sold their house and purchased this 36 foot trawler, which is now their home, and their dinghy is their car. They plan to winter in Petersburg and continue their explore of Alaska next summer. We had a good time exchanging boating experiences and information on places visited. After socializing, we motored back to our boat for an evening steak barbque.

Distance for the day: 38 nm; total for the trip: 1802 nm

August 12, 2005

How do you place a value on a day like this? It is certainly unreasonable to think that any efforts of mine have been sufficient to earn or merit such a day. It is simply a gift, and for that I am grateful.

The sun rose early over the low timbered horizon of Tunehean Creek Bight. We enjoyed coffee and donuts, then got underway. We said goodbye to our friends Robert and Stacey, then motored down the southern entrance to Rocky Pass and on toward Sumner Strait. The horseflies attempted to renew their assult, however, a light breeze and good speed from the outboard helped us outrun them. I suffered a minor setback while taking a swipe at a horsefly who was attempting to hitch a ride. The fly swatter slipped from my fingers and went overboard. I instantly went into the “man overboard” drill, punched the MOB button on the GPS, and swung in a tight circle, however, the unfortunate swatter was nowhere to be seen. We paused to say a few appropriate words, then carried on.

Out in the open water we slowed and I set out the downrigger and fired up the kicker motor for a little trolling. We had the time and the water was calm. We putted along at 1.5 knots and watched sea otters and whales, but alas, hooked no fish. We were passed by Robert and Stacey, who were trailing a colorful kite behind LaBelle. It seemed to be a day for play.

I pulled in the fishing gear and motored up for the crossing of 5 mile wide Sumner Strait. We cruised into a modest headwind, with light chop. The air was a bit chilly, and by the time we had crossed over to the mouth of Port Protection it was lunch time, so I pulled in close to shore, out of the wind, and turned the motor off. We sat in protected water, 100 feet or so from the rocky shore, protected from the breeze and comfortable in the bright sunshine. The cup of soup Sandy fixed was the ideal lunch. Before leaving, I tried jigging for bottom fish, and caught several black bass.

A small fleet of purse seiners were busily setting and retrieving their nets right off the point, and so it seemed a good place to try trolling again. I deployed the downrigger again, and fired up the little kicker. It had a tough time keeping us pointed in the breeze, but before I gave up, I managed to catch a 5 lb salmon.

We were only 5 miles away from our day’s goal, an intruiging place known as Hole in the Wall. Douglas had given this place a most enticing description, and the long narrow entrance, leading to a sizeable lagoon, looked very inviting on the chart. We passed by rugged limestone bluffs, pocked with small caves and craggy hollows. Nearing the entrance to Hole in the Wall, I studied the numerous rocky points, trying to identify the one which commanded the narrow entrance. From beyond one such point I glimpsed a faint, verticle puff of vapor, and a few moments later, saw it again. It actually looked like a whale spout, but it came from an impossible place. We rounded the point and found ourselves looking right down the narrow slot entrance to Hole in the Wall. I told Sandy there might be a porpoise close to the left hand shore. The mystery was soon solved as a humpback whale spouted and arched his back clear of the water. The opening where he swam was no more than 80 feet across, and we were not more than 100 feet away. The whale was feeding in this entrance, so we backed off and slowly circled, amazed at what we were seeing. We could see streams of bubbles, followed by a spout and arch of the whale’s back. Sometimes we could see the whale’s upper jaw break clear of the surface. He showed his tail flukes several times. He worked the entire entrance, passing on one occasion through a kelp bed right along the rocks. He rose with kelp draped all over his back. Our cameras were in overdrive, and it was a miracle that we didn’t drift onto the rocks while watching. After about 20 minutes, the whale finally swam for open water, thus permitting us to enter Hole in the Wall.

The passage into the lagoon is one of those really fun things one can do in a boat. Gliding along on smooth water, past vertical walls adorned with mosses, ferns, cedars and devils club, and peering ahead to the vista of the lagoon as it opened for us was a delight. The lagoon was deserted, so we had our pick of places to anchor. We chose well, and hooked just inside the lagoon, on the south side. The view, terrific. There were a few horseflies nosing around, so we set up the bug netting over the cockpit and forward hatch, which enabled us to savor the light breeze and perfect air temperature. Cocktail hour, and never more enjoyable. Sandy fixed a quick but tasty dinner, and then we went out in dinghy to explore our lagoon. High tide enabled us to motor clear to the head of the lagoon, along the grassy shore. Limestone peaks formed the backdrop, eagles patrolled the skies and broke the silence with their high pitched chittering, occasionally harassed by pesky ravens. We explored a saltwater inlet which meandered deep into the meadow. Large numbers of pink salmon swirled near the mouth. We motored back out, and poked back into the entrance channel before returning to the boat. On the way back Sandy spotted a black bear, who was working his way along the grassy fringe toward the big meadow.

Before retiring,I stood out in the dinghy for a few casts with the light spin pole. With salmon jumping all over the place, I hooked and released a half dozen 4 to 5 lb salmon in the space of a half hour. The sounds and smell of popcorn wafting from the boat cabin finally drew me in. What a joy to be able to share such a day with the love of my life.

Distance for the day: 25 nm; total for the trip: 1827 nm

August 13, 2005

With reluctance we departed from Hole in the Wall, which had provided us with such great wildlife observation memories. Shortly before 8 am we slid through the narrow slot entrance and out into Sumner Strait. A large humpback whale, as if monitoring the entrance, surfaced and spouted not more than 100 yards ahead. We respectfully swung a wide arc around him. Once again we swung south, with warming sun overhead, but a thin belt of fog ahead. We rounded the Barrier Islands and entered Shakan Bay, which was veiled with thin wisps of fog. Numerous sea otters bobbed on their backs as we cruised by, and whales spouted bursts of vapor into the air in the distance. We cruised out of the fog and into the arc of Shakan Strait, which leads to El Capitan Passage. At the entrance to this narrow route we paused in a little cove and dropped anchor for a lunch break. It was quite warm out, but a nice breeze kept the horseflies mostly at bay. Following our soup and sandwich stop we swung out into the channel. El Capitan is another interior passage, much like Rocky Pass, which enables cruisers to remain in protected waters. It is also quite interesting and fun to navigate. We entered at low tide, however, we had plenty of water, and the rocks and kelp beds were very conspicuous. The passage is very well marked with navigational bouys, and has been well dredged. We kept on the lookout for El Capitan Caves, a place which Robert had told us about. The caves are lightly mentioned in Douglas, lacking in a specific locational reference. We spied a float in the area where we thought the caves might be, and our instincts turned out to be correct. We tied up, and a guy walked down to greet us. He asked us if we were interested in going on a cave tour. We said yes, and he told us he’d be starting a tour in 30 minutes. We were really fortunate. It turns out that the tours only run 4 days a week, and we’d hit one of the correct days. Without reservations, it’s first come first serve, and we were the only ones there (2 others showed up at the last minute), and we had just caught the last tour of the day. We grabbed some warm clothing (it’s 40 degrees inside) and headed up to the start of the trail. We had 2 guides, Jake (from Yakima) and Dave (Carson City NV). They gave us helmets with headlamps and off we went, up the 370 stairs which climb to the cave entrance. The tour descends about 600 feet into the cave, but seems much longer. The route is completely unimproved, and requires a bit of scrambling over rather slippery rocks. It was quite beautiful inside, with a nice variety of flowstone features, most on the small side but still fascinating. We felt very fortunate to have been able to just arrive and be able to take the tour.

It was past 4 pm by the time we got back to the boat. We still had 7 miles to go, if we were to reach our destination anchorage in Devil Fish Bay. We headed down the channel, which gradually widened as we headed south. A 10 mph breeze was in our face on the way down, and followed us into Devil Fish Bay. As we approached the narrows, I noticed the symbol for rock, and we read Douglas for comment on which side to take. I miscalculated on how close we were to the narrows, and looked over the side. With dismay I saw the rock right beneath the bow. Too late for reverse, I shifted into neutral and tilted the motor up. With her skirts raised, Chinook drifted right over that rock without a touch. Too close for comfort.

The anchorage location itself, at the head of the bay, looked too bumpy, due to the easterly breeze which was blowing up the bay. We looked for an indentation along the shoreline, and spotted a likely nook a mile back from the head of the bay. We are anchored there now, bobbing a bit but not like we would in the other spot. We’re tight in to shore, to gain the most protection. Low tide comes at 2 in the morning. I’ve calculated that we have enough swing room and enough water under the boat to remain afloat all night. We shall see.

Distance for the day: 29 nm; total for the trip: 1856

August 14, 2005

The wisps of fog from yesterday congealed by this morning into a solid layer of overcast. The preceeding week of bright sun filled skies had produced a carefree attitude, kind of like one feels when going to the beach on a perfect day. This morning’s leaden sky depressed spirits and focused attention on the challenging waters ahead. The weather forecast calls for deteriorating conditions for the next several days, and a return to periodic shots of rain. Of more concern, wind and sea height outside are predicted to rise through the mid to late week. Our return route to Prince Rupert brings us onto progressively more exposed waters as we work our way south, along the west side of Prince of Wales Island. In a few days we will face the open waters of Dixon Entrance, as we attempt to sneak around the southern tip of Prince of Wales Island. This dreary morning, the prospect of rounding Cape Chacon began assuming the proportions of rounding Cape Horn in our little boat. With all this in mind, we chose to pass up a planned overnight stop partway down to Craig, and go all the way there. This would give us one extra day we could use as a layover, in the event that winds and seas were too high when we reached the edge of exposed water.

We started fairly early, anticipating the longer than usual run to Craig. Also, we wanted to reach Tonowek Narrows during the ebb tide. Currents there can run up to 6 knots and we wanted the current to be in our favor. Since we had plenty of gas, I opted to run faster than usual, around 6.5 knots and right at 3000 rpm. We had a light headwind at the start, which died down as the day progressed. We saw a few whales in the distance, and one big fellow close in. Sea otters in ones and twos eyed us while floating on their backs. We cruised through large rafts of rhinoceros auklets and common murres.

The wildlife highlight of the day, and one of the trip, happened while cruising close in along the east shore of Tuxecan Island. Sandy said she thought she saw a bear. I quickly glassed the beach and saw nothing but dark stumps. A moment later she insisted they were bears. She had seen movement. I swung the boat toward the beach and saw what she was talking about. A black sow was picking her way along the cobble beach, exposed by low tide, while behind her trotted not one, not two but 3 little cubs. Sandy zeroed in with her digital, in video mode, while I took telephoto slides. We slowed the boat and eased in toward shore, photographing all the way in. We eventually got within 75 yards of the bears, watching with fascination as mother bear poked along, nibbling in the tidal cafeteria. She turned over rocks in search of edibles, including one slab the size of a coffee table top. The cubs wandered along behind her, climbing over and along logs before finally disappearing into the forest. Mom looked over her shoulder and gave us a long stare before following her brood into the shadows.

Around midday we decided to modify our cruise plan slightly by heading for the Indian village of Klawok for the night, instead of Craig. Klawok is only 6 miles from Craig, and according to Douglas, has some very attractive totem poles in the community park. As we crossed San Alberto Sound, the approach to Klawok, we passed numerous purse seiners busily setting and hauling their nets. Numerous sports charter boats passed us on their way in to port. We got cell phone reception as we neared town, and placed calls to family and friends. The tie up at Klawok boat harbor was simple. Being Sunday, the harbormaster was off duty, so we just picked a spot in the half empty marina and tied up.

We walked up into town and found the totem park. It is a nicely maintained grassy hill, adjacent to the library and school. About a dozen totems stare out over the town. Most are quite old, and in various stages of deterioration. Three or four are quite new, while 8 totem locations are marked by creosote utility poles, standing about 12 feet high. The old totems have been gathered from old Indian settlement locations in the surrounding area. They are not restored when they inevitably succomb to the effects of exposure, as that is the custom. Traditionally, old totems were allowed to eventually fall and rot on the forest floor. Here, the oldest and most deteriorated poles are removed (I’m not sure what becomes of them), and copies are carved to take their place. They will be mounted on the treated poles. Next week we’re told that a totem raising will take place. This will be a very huge celebration event, marked by ceremonial dancing and an assembly of tribal groups from far and wide. A 40 foot long Haida canoe will be paddled up from Hydaburg, 43 miles to the south, as part of the celebration. Two guys were busy, on Sunday afternoon, pulling weeds and berry vines from the edge of the park, as part of the effort to spruce things up in preparation.

We dearly wish we could hang out here until next weekend. However, even a summer long cruise must have it’s end. Ours comes with a calendar target in the form of friends driving our truck and boat trailer up to Prince Rupert. We’ve built in several cushion days to allow for weather, however, it would be unprudent to use them waiting here for the celebration. So we wandered through the park, admiring the poles there and imagining the singing, the dancing, and the community pride as new totems rise in the park.

Distance for the day: 51 nm; total for the trip: 1907 nm

August 15, 2005

Sprinkled sometime last night, and I had to crawl out of the sack to put up the cockpit surround. Rain had quit by morning. I couldn’t locate the harbormaster by time for us to leave, so I left a boat card with a note to bill us by mail or e’mail, if there was a charge for the outer float. We left Klawock harbor at 9 am and motored the quiet waters of Klawock Inlet down to Craig. We stopped first at the fuel dock to fill our mostly empty tanks. We took on 31 gallons, which means we only had 7 gallons remaining. Just about as I had figured, since a good part of the run since Kake had been at higher than usual speed, with no sailing to assist (4.6 mpg – not too bad considering our speed). I radioed the Craig harbormaster from the fuel dock, and he gave directions to a slip. We found our spot, easy approach, and it turned out to be directly ahead of the big catamaran Addaggio which we first met in Glacier Bay, and had visited with in Sitka. We look like a little tender in front of this huge sailing yacht, which is nearly as wide as we are long.

I checked in with the harbormaster and then we hit the showers. After the welcome clean up, we wandered into the waterfront part of town in search of lunch. We had a great meal at Ruth Ann’s Restaurant, situated on the waterfront in an old Victorian building, very nicely maintained and decorated inside. We checked out library hours and Sandy made some small (literally) purchases in a bead shop.

Back at the boat, I valiantly offered to do the laundry while Sandy downloaded pictures onto disks for mailing to Ken. She was a bit dubious, but went along with the plan. You see, I am unskilled in the ways of doing a proper wash, but in the name of time efficiency while in port, game to try. We decided it would be best if she separated the load into cold and warm water wash groups before I took off. I marched up the hill, determined to do produce whiter whites and spanking clean everything else. I started off just fine, selecting two adjacent machines. One had an eagle feather inside, which seemed a bit strange. I decided that it was a talisman, a good omen for a successful wash. I removed the feather, probably a mistake. I loaded up the two machines, carefully following the instructions on the lid. Step 1 – put clothes in; Step 2 – sprinkle detergent on clothes; Step 3 – close lit; Step 4 – select cycle (bit of a problem but I made my best guess); Step 5 – insert coins, no problem for the first machine, but when I got to machine # 2 I spotted the little slip of paper stuck in front of the coin slot: “Out of order.” I looked down at the clothes, with the detergent sprinkled over them. I scooped them out as carefully as possible and stuffed them into the next machine, then scaped as much of the loose detergent(bit of a problem since they make these tubs with holes all over the place). I stuffed coins into the machine and went outside to await the results. After the appointed 25 minutes I returned and started removing the damp wash. One of the first items I pulled out, from machine # one, was my Tilly hat, which Sandy had had the nerve to suggest was in need of a wash. Apparently she had taken issue with the mildew spots and other assorted souvenier spots and smears on it. There on the brim, in a big wet pile was fully half of the detergent intended for cleaning the wash. That meant that both machines had had to do their jobs with about a half a dose of detergent. Oh well, the loads were fairly light. And, while I was removing the wash from the second machine, I saw that the “out of order” machine was merrily humming along with a nice load of wash. And I didn’t even see the repair man come in to fix it.

Drying fortunately went without incident, except for Sandy’s nightshirt. For some reason it simply refused to get dry. I fed 2 additional quarters into this huge drier, with the nightshirt the only garment inside, and it was still damp around the collar. I decided enough was enough, and laid it on top of the rest of the laundry, which by now was neatly (sort of) folded and crammed into the canvass tote. What a great way to spend an afternoon in Craig.

I’m back at the boat, and no Sandy. I’m assuming that she has walked up to the post office to mail the photo cd to Ken. When she gets back we’ll probably have a relaxing drink aboard, and the wander back into town in search of dinner. The library is open this evening, so after dinner I’ll e’mail Ken the latest edition of these log notes.

Distance for the day: 6 nm; total for the trip: 1913 nm

August 15, 2005 – continued

Around 6pm we walked into town. Sandy wanted to stock up on reading material, given the prospect of being pinned down in a remote anchorage to the south while waiting for seas to settle, so we poked into a little bookstore. We then struck out for the library, where I e’mailed log entries to Ken. Errands completed, we got a window table at sunset in Ruth Ann’s, and enjoyed a fine dinner. I finally was able to order king crab. The serving was enormous, and excellent. Sandy was on her dessert before I finished cracking crab legs.

While we waddled back to the boat we discussed the prospects for getting back to Prince Rupert in time to meet up with the Ringsruds, who plan on arriving there August 21. NOAA weather predicts a serious storm for Wednesday night (August 17). We had intended on taking about 6 days to reach Prince Rupert, however, the storm forecast threatened to throw those plans up in the air. We simply couldn’t count on being able to move when and where we wished, given the exposed waters ahead. Our options were (1) to work our way down protected waters and hole up for an uncertain number of days before making our crossing or (2) make a 2 day dash for Prince Rupert, starting early tomorrow, and beat the storm. The proper course seemed obvious, and when we got back to the boat we prepared to make our move. We would run to Rupert. We emptied dinghy of life jackets, lines, pump, crab trap and land net, then pulled him (Chinook is clearly a “her”, Small Fry is definitely a mischievous “him”) up on the dock for disassembly and stowage. We filled the water tank, then organized things topside and below for departure on the last leg of our Alaska Cruise. Hit the sack at 11 pm.

August 16, 2005

I awoke at 5 am, no alarm needed, and by 5:30 had shoved off the dock. Rosy streks lit the eastern sky (red sky in morning, sailor take warning?). I took comfort in NOAA weather’s forecast, which suggested that today and tomorrow would both be good cruising days, just enough time to make Rupert if we made long miles both days. My plan was, with dinghy stowed on deck, to run full throttle the 43 miles down to Hydaburg, top off the gas tanks there, and then ease back a bit, so as to have a comfortable margin for the remaining 140 or so miles to Prince Rupert. I had talked with the Craig harbormaster and he said the only fuel between Craig and Prince Rupert was at Hydaburg. With expectation of a fuel dock ahead of me, I shoved the throttle forward and left a big wake behind, running between 9 and 10 knots across a glassy sea.

I was relaxing, enjoying the ride when, abruptly, the massive, glossy black back of a humpback whale broke the surface, dead ahead and not more than 50 yards away. I jammed into neutral as the startled whale sounded. I called for Sandy to come up, and she climbed the companionway steps just in time to see a second whale, this time a mere 10 yards ahead of our bow, quickly surface, arch and dive, flukes waving at us as we glided up. Way too close for comfort, but certainly spectacular. We idled along for a bit, then gradually throttled up to speed. We never spotted either whale again. I expect they put considerable distance between them and us before surfacing next.

That was the extent of excitement on the run to Hydaburg. As w3e approached this remote, small Indian village, the last community on our route, I followed usual practise and consulted both Douglas and Charlie’s Charts for clues as to the fuel dock’s location. I couldn’t find a note for it in the guides, but that wasn’t surprising. Such details aren’t always noted, and the Craig harbormaster did say fuel was available here. We saw a large commercial ty[e dock on our approach, but could see no indication of fueling facilities. The boat harbor lies a little to the north and we swung in that direction. I tried the radio but got no response, again not surprising, in small places like this. The docks in the harbor were in poor repair, moss covered and fairly water logged. A small handful of boats of various sizes and shapes were scattered about in slips. The place was bereft of movement. We cleated off close to the ramp and I walked up, hoping to find someone who could tell us where we could buy some gas. The harbormaster’s building was locked up tight. A phone number was stenciled on the wall, but with no cell service or pay phone, it was useless. I wandered up the muddy unpaved road and flagged down the first car I saw. I asked the woman behind the wheel where I could buy fuel. She just smiled and shook her head, saying “There’s no gas in Hydaburg. Folks here drive to Craig or Klawock for gas. Always top off there.” I was incredulous. “You mean there’s no place here where I can get some gas?” The kids in the back seat chimed in: “No gas in Hydaburg.” The lady said I might find someone down in the boat harbor with some spare gas for sale. I looked back at the deserted harbor and continued hiking up the hill. I figured on heading for City Hall, in hopes someone there would have a useful suggestion. I hailed a couple more cars, but no one could offer any help. I was halfway to City Hall before the next car came by. I waved, and told my story to the lady driver. She had a sympathetic, friendly face, and she said she thought they had 5 gallons around the house. She said Hydaburg hadn’t had fuel available for a couple of years (apparently the Craig harbormaster hadn’t been to Hydaburg in those couple of years). Pretty soon a teenage girl came around from the backyard, toting a faded plastic 5 gallon gas can filled with the precious liquid. I offered the lady $20 for the gas and she said that sounded about right. She said to leave the can in the yard after i had finished with it. I walked back to the boat with the gas can, feeling like I had just discovered a pocket of gold.

I had used about 13 gallons in the 43 mile run from Craig and I figured we had perhaps 150 miles to go. Without that 5 gallons, we probably had enough gas to make it, but just barely. Adverse winds, counter current or rough seas as well as unplanned retreats would easily consume any cushion. With those extra 5 gallons, I felt more comfortable about the run ahead. I held the throttle back to 2500 rpm and, thanks to more favorable currents and calm seas, we easily made 6 knots. In fact, as the current strengthened, I was able to drop back to 2200 and still average 6 knots.

The sky had been overcast all morning, but in the afternoon things began to brighten. I took the surround down and folded up the bimini. The channels began to widen, and we could see out to the open waters of Dixon Entrance. Swell from outside was barely detectable, and the sea surface was like polished stone, with nary a ripple as far as eye could see. One couldn’t have asked for a better day to travel. We both felt great, and only darkness would interrupt our progess this day.

I began noticing a peculiar musty and somewhat sour odor which I at first attributed to our proximity to the open sea. It reminded me of a mudflat at low tide on a hot day. Then it hit me. I was smelling dinghy, as the algae, barnacles and other assorted marine organizisms plastered on his bottom began curing out. I hate to think what Chinook’s bottom must look like.

As sunshine broke out we transited Thompson Passage, working our way through the mase of small islands and scattered kelp beds. Narrow Minnie cutoff, at the south end of thompson Passage, grew closer. Douglas states that Minnie is not for the fainthearted. Well, we certainly aren’t fainthearted, and this was an ideal day for such a passage. I had it thoroughly waypointed and we snapped pictures as we navigated this narrow, scenic, rockbound channel. Emerging on the other side, we entered the fully exposed waters of Dixon Entrance. Not a breath of wind, swell barely detectable and the sun settting behind us, illuminating the rocky shore with intense low angle light. We passed numerous barren islets. As we approached one large, round shaped rock, Sandy sighted a herd of sea lions, hauled out,sunning themselves. There must have been 70 of them, sprawledout all over the top and sides of the rock. I slowed and swung in closer while Sandy shot video. The sea lions growled and grumbled loudly. Then, one animal in the middle of the herd paniced and started scrambling for the edge. This touched off something of a stampede which, for sea lions, is a pretty amazing sight. They lunged and flopped their way down, sometimes over each other’s backs, before launching into the water. Once in, they congregated in a tight bunch, just their heads showing, and they continued their growling protest. I felt a little badly ab out disturbing their afternoon relaxation. We were no closer than the sea lions we viewed in Glacier Bay, which had ignored us. We hadn’t intended on spooking them, but once they started, there was no stopping them. As we eased off we noticed one particularly large bull, still perched atop the rock, obviously too wise to be goaded into a foolish stampede.

I decided to head for nichols Bay for the night. We could make it by 6:30 or so, and it is a perfect departure point for a run to Prince Rupert in the morning. As we closed in on the entrance, I reread the description of Bert Millar’s Cutoff. Douglas has run it, but with strong words of caution, describing it as a “stunt passage for anything but a high speed inflatable.” Well, Chinook is high speed, but not inflatable. I didn’t intend on taking needless risks. However, conditions were ideal (negligable seas, light tail wind, current in our favor). Also, by taking the cutoff we could save at least 3 miles on our way into Nichols Bay anchorage. I eased toward the approach and glassed the narrows, trying to see how bad the kelp bed (reported to be dense) looked. While looking things over, no hands on the wheel, Chinook swung to port, toward Bert Millar Cutoff. Clearly, she wanted to show she was as capable as any high speed inflatable. We headed in. Sandy extended the boat hook and I got fenders ready. In anticipation of the kelp, I lowered both rudders, but left them uncleated so they could swing up if necessary. I hoped that the rudders would help keep kelp from fouling the prop. I also tilted the motor up to reduce ddraft and lessen the chance of snagging a strand of kelp. The entrance was every bit as narrow as reported, maybe even more so, since we were just coming off the high low tide, with tide level reading 6.5 feet for Nichols Bay on the Garmin. With about 5 feet to spare on each side, we chugged through. The motor sputtered due to its raised angle, and I could feel the boat struggle as we plowed through the kelp, but she kept running as we cleared the narrows. The screen on the laptop showed our track as crossing the portside point, illustrating the degree of GPS accuracy, which is about 30 feet. In this case, it showed us about 15 feet north of actual position. Still pretty remarkable. Sandy remained on the bow, watching for covered rocks until we reached the deeper waters of Nichols Bay. We dropped anchor at a quiet little nook and prepared dinner, pleased with our day’s cruise.

Distance for the day: 79 nm (longest run of the trip); total for the trip: 1992 nm

August 17, 2005

Our last morning in Alaskan waters dawned clear and bright. We got underway at 7 am, motoring slowly out of Nichols Bay. We paused to photograph Bert Millar Cutoff as we passed by. It looked impossibly skinny from this angle. The tide was low and, with 7 feet less water in it, Bert Millar can’t be more than 10 feet wide. Out on open water, a light breeze rippled the surface. I weighed options for our route. We could take the traditional, more sheltered but circuitous course around Cape Chacon, up Clarence Strait, across to Duke Island, and then south inside of Dundas Island and on to Prince Rupert. Or we could strike out across the main body of Dixon Entrance on a nearly direct heading for Prince Rupert. By so doing, we could save at least 35 miles and perhaps 6 hours of cruising time, but it would mean crossing more than 40 miles of open water without any options for shelter if it were to get rough. I considered the weather forecast, our fuel status, and the length of time it would take to reach port under both scenarios, and headed straight out. At the start, wind was light and out of the west, with a light westerly swell, with clear, sun filled sky. As we got further from Prince of Wales Island, the wind picked up a little and swung into the northwest, with a two foot swell. I set the jib, which helped stabilize us in the beam sea. Gradually the wind died back and we furled the sail. We ran at 3000 rpm, with a speed of nearly 8 knots while the sail was out, but later dropping to under 7. When we got about 20 miles offshore we picked up a north wind, from our old nemisis, Clarence Strait. This brought with it a tightly spaced 3 foot swell which conflicted with the incoming westerly swell. This made for bouncy coditions and difficult steering, but fortunately it didn’t last. Sandy steered for much of this passage, since steering helped her avoid feeling sick.

As we neared Celestial Reef, located midway in our passage to the south end of Dundas Island, we heard the buzz of a plane. We looked behind us and saw a dark blue twin engine plane, with “Canada” and some other markings which made it look official, stenciled on the fuselage. He flew toward us at low altitude, then banked a turn around us, obviously looking us over, before flying on. Our radio was on Channel 16 but we heard no radio call. It seemed very curious at the time. Later, we picked up a US Coast Guard “Securite” transmission warning of some gunnery practise scheduled for that afternoon in an area 10 nautical miles west of Duke Island. I think that plane was inspecting the general area to make sure no boats were inadvertently heading in that direction. If we had opted to take the more sheltered route we would have passed right through the practise area.

We altered course slightly after passing Celestial Reef and headed for a radio beacon south of Dundas Island. Sea conditions occasionally got choppy, and then would settle down. We could see a fog bank to our east, out over Dundas Island. By the time we neared the fog it had thinned and lifted, making for a lightly over cast sky. We were frequently entertained by a type of sea bird called the northern fulmar, which would glide in low over the water and circle the boat, apparently looking for a handout. We saw the occasional humpback whale, always at a comfortable distance. As we got closer to land we started seeing murres and gulls. We started seeing small boats, apparently sport fishing for halibut or salmon. After clearing Melville Island and some nearby rocks we were able to head due east, toward the outside approach to Venn Passage, which would lead us to Prince Rupert. We made this run with the jib filled by a following wind, which seemed to gain strength as we neared the entrance to Venn Passage. We kept the sail out as we followed the bouy path to the north end of Digby Island. After rounding a small island the wind failed, so we furled the jib for the final run, through shallow, twisty Venn Passage. We had finally crossed our outbound track, effectively completing our looping tour of the Inside Passage. Sandy steered us through the passage while I busied myself with preparations for arrival at the Prince Rupert Rowing and Yacht Club marina. I radioed ahead and confirmed availability of a slip. We tied up and I walked over to the pay phone to check in with Canadian Customs. I had no problems getting checked in (clearance number 20052290776). We finished securing the boat, called the Ringsruds to advise them of our safe, early arrival at Prince Rupert, and then walked up to Smiles Restaurant for a nice dinner, to celebrate the completion of our cruise to Southeast Alaska.

Distance for the day: 73 nm; grand total for the trip: 2065 nm