Sunday, 30 July 2017

Cordova 30th of July

Prince William Sound 8th -30th of July 

Fishing and Shrimping

On the way to Prince William Sound I (Riitta) passed the time watching the birds swimming and diving around Sarema. As usual, I also wanted to photograph them. But, as the birds seemed to be exceptionally camera-shy that day and also because there was a strong swell that kept continuously tilting the boat from side to side, it was a real struggle trying to get any decent photos of the birds. However, amongst the many unclear pictures there was one of such a cute looking bird that I want to show it to you. So, despite being out-of-focus, here he is, the Rhinoceros Auklet alias Cerorhinca monocerata! 

On our arrival in Prince William Sound, there were Pink Salmon (Humpy) jumping around the boat anxiously waiting for the high tide that would enable them to swim upstream to spawn. While watching their apparent anxiety, we couldn’t help but wonder whether they would be in such a hurry if they knew that the inevitable result of their race, unlike for their Atlantic cousins, is death. 

We spent the first night in Fox Farm Bay wherefrom we continued to Icy Bay. We wanted to visit its arm Nassau Fjord, in particular, at the head of which there is a still beautiful glacier although ever faster melting away. Because the current had moved most of the drift ice away from the front of the glacier, we managed to get very close to it. 

We had to keep a sufficient safety distance to the glacier’s edge because this is a so-called calving glacier i.e. it sheds pieces of ice, some big enough to be called growlers or icebergs, into the sea. According to our chart printed twenty years ago, we were not in front of the glacier but upon it, which means that the glacier has retreated about 150 metres in a mere two decades!

When heading back to Icy Bay and our anchorage, we passed Black Legged Kittywakes and Harbour Seals resting on pieces of ice that keep drifting from Nassau Fjord into Icy Bay and back twice every 24 hours by means of tide energy.

In Icy Bay, we stopped at a place which according to our chart is 100+ metres deep, and dropped our shrimp pot there. As bait, we use Friskies Mariner’s Catch (i.e. cat food) which has produced excellent results, our record so far being 51 shrimps in a single pot.

When we lifted the pot the next morning, after a restless night due to drift ice from Tiger Glacier banging on the sides of the boat, there were 21 gigantic shrimps (the biggest 20 cm!) which we had for lunch with garlic and sweet chilli sauce.

Before arriving at our next destination, Seven Fathom Hole, we again dropped our shrimp pot into 100 metres of water. But when we lifted the pot the following day, there was not a single shrimp inside but instead two Tanner Crabs. 

The crabs were far too big to get through the shrimp holes, so how on earth had they managed to get into the pot?!? The mystery was solved when we saw that the pot’s escape hatch, c. 15x15 cm, was open. The hatch is closed with cotton thread so that if, for some reason, the pot is left in the water for a long period of time, the thread will decompose leaving the hatch open for the shrimp to escape. It seems that the three years our good boat Sarema was left on the hard was long enough for the cotton thread to rot.

While in Seven Fathom Hole, we experienced the beginning of a salmon run for the first time. When we came here, unlike in Fox Farm Bay, there were no salmon in the nearby bays or streams. We went to check the situation almost daily, as did our neighbours the harbour seals and bald eagles. Then one day, when returning from Jack Pot Bay where we kept our shrimp pot, we saw at the mouth of the bay a big shoal of silvery fish. The salmon had arrived - and everyone had his share! 

From Seven Fathom Hole we continued to Perry Island where we had to stay for a total of four days because of strong winds and heavy rain. In order to see more of Prince William Sound during the limited time we still have before heading for the Inside Passage and Canada, we have decided to spend only one or two days (weather permitting of course) at each anchorage from now on. 

While admiring the scenery on our way from Naked Island to Jade Harbor, we once again experienced the magic of PWS. Because of the numerous islands and the surrounding snow-capped mountains, one can simultaneously be looking at two totally different views, one opening beyond the other. 

Although the weather was drizzly and foggy when we left Jade Harbor, we made a detour to see the nearby Columbia Glacier. Sadly, this glacier like so many others is retreating fast. According to our chart, we were once again on the glacier although in fact we were about 300 metres from the glacier’s edge. As far as we know, there is only one glacier left in PWS, namely Meares Glacier, that is still advancing. The reason for this anomaly we do not know.

A few facts about salmon and salmon fishing:
There are five species of Pacific salmon in Alaska: King (Chinook, Tyee, Blackmouth), Coho (Silver), Sockeye (Red), Chum (Dog, Keta, Calico), and Pink (Humpy). Each of them has its own distinct size, flavour, texture, and value in the market.

Above female Pink (Humpy) and below male Chum (Dog, Keta, Calico)
Spawning male Chums exhibit large canine-like teeth, hence the nickname Dog

By far the most common fishing vessel type here is Purse Seiner which has five or more crew members. A big open net is set by an open skiff that tows one end off the stern of the seiner while the other end of the net remains onboard. After a period of time, the two boats close into a circle which creates a purse trapping the salmon. 

Gillnetters are the second most commonly used fishing vessels. They are usually small aluminium boats with only one or two fishermen onboard. The net is unrolled from a drum through a kind of fork, and anchored near the shore. When there is enough fish in the net, it is pulled back to the boat onto the drum. The fish are removed from the net between the fork and the drum. 
By July 19, professional fishermen had caught in PWS alone nearly 18 million salmon, and the statewide commercial harvest amounted to 77+ million fish.

On the way to Landlocked Bay we passed a biggish Steller’s Sea Lion colony. Several dozens of these massive and rowdy animals were lying on a rocky beach just waiting to be photographed. But that was easier said than done as you are obliged to keep a sufficient distance to the animals so as not to harass them. Well, as you can see we didn’t (harass them!), and therefore we had to stretch our zoom to its ultimate limit.

In just a few decades, there has been a serious decline in the number of Steller’s Sea Lions and today, they are regarded as an endangered species. However, this colony seemed to be flourishing!

Landlocked Bay has an interesting history. The bay was the scene of considerable mining activity for copper, zinc, silver, and gold during the early part of the 20th century. The small mining community even had its own post office. The mines as well as the post office closed in 1918 as a result of WWI (according to A Cruising Guide to Prince William Sound). 
There are two salmon streams at the head of the bay which were thronged with spawning salmon. It took Pekka less than five minutes to catch a fish while Riitta was admiring the bald eagles flying around by the dozen.

As we arrived at the next anchorage Two Moon Bay’s Eastern Arm, we saw a black bear on the shore. As soon as we had cast anchor, we dinghied to the nearby stream to check out the salmon and bear activity there. At the mouth of the stream there were humpies in abundance, and when we walked further upstream we saw a bear trail along the river bank, but no bear. A few hours later when surveying our surroundings through the binoculars, we saw a bear coming from the salmon stream after his evening meal. But, to our surprise, the bear was not black but brown! We didn’t know that the two species could live so close to each other but then again, we know very little about black and brown bear relations. Anyway, this was the first time we have ever seen both a black bear and a brown bear at the same anchorage.

The weather has been depressingly foggy and rainy for quite some time. Yesterday, when we came to St. Mathew’s Bay to see mountain goats that graze on the alpine peaks of the surrounding mountains but couldn’t even see the mountains properly, we decided that it was time to return to civilisation, in this case to Cordova.  

We arrived in Cordova yesterday and will leave tomorrow morning at the latest i.e. as soon as the generator, engine and transmission have been serviced, the water and fuel tanks filled, and reprovisioning done. We’ll stay in PWS for a few more days while waiting for a weather window that would allow us to sail to Inside Passage in comfort. 

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