Saturday, 26 August 2017

Ketchikan 26th of August

Inside Passage 15th - 26th of August

We thought we had arrived in Petersburg, USA, but it said “Velkommen to Little Norway!” in the town’s Visitor’s Guide. The reason for this is that many of Petersburg’s residents have Norwegian ancestors who came here to fish and fell in love with the region’s snowy mountains and fjords that reminded them of home. Still a few decades ago, Norwegian was commonly heard on the town’s streets, and Norwegian Constitution Day is celebrated during the Little Norway Festival each May. We stayed two rainy days in Petersburg waiting for the correct timing to go through Wrangell Narrows because the currents in the strait can be very strong (9+ knots). 

We left Petersburg at six in the morning and motored through the narrow strait leading to Wrangell. Our timing was excellent, and only one hour later we arrived in the small town of Wrangell at the mouth of the mighty river of Stikine, which means ‘The Great River’ in Lingit. The Tlingit Indians were the first known inhabitants also in Wrangell and have lived here for at least 5000 years. We visited the Nolan Center in the heart of downtown Wrangell that exhibits, among other things, Tlingit art and an interesting collection of historic photographs that trace the colourful history of this area under the Tlingit, Russian and British occupation. After two extremely rainy days, we filled our fuel tanks, cast off and headed into the bush. 

From Wrangell we motored into East Passage and anchored in Madan Bay located just before the narrowest point of the Passage where the currents are the strongest. The next morning just before high-tide slack we weighed anchor and motored to Berg Bay located just after the narrowest point of the Passage, only about ten miles from Madan Bay. We stayed two days in Berg Bay crabbing and waiting for the weather to improve. The waiting payed off weather-wise as it stopped raining during our second night there. Crabbing-wise we were not as lucky; we only got one Dungeness crab which is now in the deepfreeze waiting for company.

Our next stop was Anan Creek where we dropped anchor in a rather open bay but since there was no wind to speak of (and no rain either!!) it felt safe to leave the boat there unattended. Anan Creek is home to the largest run of pink salmon in Southeast Alaska, but the stream contains all the five different species of salmon as well as Dolly Varden, steelhead, and cutthroat trout, and this abundance of fish attracts large concentrations of bears. Historically, Tlingit Indians established summer fishing camps at Anan and gave the creek the name still used. 

The trail leading to the rapids is about half a mile long, winding through a most beautiful moss-draped rainforest. While walking along the trail we kept talking and singing (Riitta) loudly in order to alert bears of our presence, because a startled bear can be dangerous. The only bear we saw was a brown bear wading in the shallow waters between the creek and the bay. But as we reached the rapids, there were a number of black bears, both young and old, fishing on both sides of the creek. Most of the bears we had seen in Alaska so far had been brown bears or grizzlies and therefore it was extremely interesting to observe black bears for a change, and at such a close range. 

The bears differed from each other both in appearance and in their fishing techniques. Although all the bears were black, some had short fur, some had so long fur that it even had a parting, and a few had partly curly fur. Also the tone of their fur varied ranging between pitch-black and brownish-black. But black bears can also be born with white fur. These white-coated black bears are known as Kermode bears or Spirit Bears. Ranging across British Columbia’s north coast Kermode bears cluster on Princess Royal Island and Gribbell Island. The white bear may owe its survival to the protective traditions of the Indians who never hunted them or spoke of them to fur trappers.

We spent several hours watching the Anan Creek bears, and returned to our boat with more than a thousand photos and everlasting memories. On our way back, after a blind corner, we came literally face to face with a black bear.  We stopped dead in our tracks and waited to see what the bear decided to do. When the bear started to lumber towards us we had but one option and that was to back away ever so slowly (and calmly!!). After getting out of his way, we stopped again but as the bear continued heading towards us we had to back away for another ten metres or so. Now that the bear had plenty of room, he decided to leave the trail and disappeared into a thicket.

When hiking in bear country i.e.anywhere in Alaska, there is Bear Etiquette that you should be familiar with. You should make noise (talk, sing, whistle) so that bears know you are there. You should be alert at all times because bears can be anywhere. If you encounter a bear you should remain calm, speak firmly and let the bear know that you are human. You should never imitate bear sounds or positions because this may be interpreted as a challenge. You should never run because you cannot outrun a bear, and running may trigger the chase instinct. And you should never ever get between a sow and her cubs. 

A sow defending her cubs and a young male wanting to show off are the most dangerous of the bears. Our bear was neither a sow nor a teenager but a big adult bear that didn’t pose a threat to us. But although we knew all this, we have to confess that the experience was quite exciting. We have often been very close to brown bears in our dinghy so that we always had a means to escape if necessary. But here in the forest the situation was quite different.

Our next anchorage was in Santa Anna Inlet just a few hours’ motoring from Anan Creek. We dropped our shrimp pot on our way into the bay and lifted it the next morning on our way to Meyers Chuck. There were eight big shrimp which made a nice lunch. On the way to Meyers Chuck, the wind picked up from 0 to 40 knots in an instant after entering Clarence Strait. The wind and the current that came from opposite directions made the seas so choppy that we had no chance of getting to Meyers Chuck. We did a U-turn almost in front of the village and sailed to Vixen Inlet where we spent the night. In the evening we studied the GRIB files and decided to leave the following afternoon. There was nothing left of yesterday’s winds when we motored to Meyers Chuck, and after just a few hours, we dropped anchor in front of the village public floats. 

Less than ten hours later at 4 am, we weighed anchor again and headed for Clarence Strait. According to the tide tables, there was supposed to be 3 to 4 knot current that should have speeded our way to Ketchikan but, for some unknown reason, this current never materialised! And when the wind picked up soon after our departure from Meyers Chuck, we were tacking against the current and the 25 - 30 knot winds (small craft advisory!) across Clarence Strait again and again all the way to Ketchikan where we arrived at 4.15 in the afternoon. The distance between Meyers Chuck and Ketchikan is about 30+ miles but for us it was 50+ miles, and instead of the normal six hours, it took us about 12 hours to reach Ketchikan!  

Ketchikan is our last port of call in Alaska. The marina we are in is called Bar Harbor and it’s quite a funny coincidence that when we arrived in the USA for the very first time about twelve years ago, the town where we obtained customs clearance was also called Bar Harbor (Maine). 

Although we are in rainforest area, the rains of the past fortnight or so have been abnormally heavy and are partly due to Typhoon Banyan that left behind a sky-bound column of water vapour carrying an amount of water nearly equivalent to the average flow at the mouth of the Mississippi River, the largest US river in terms of volume. The Ketchikan International Airport reported yesterday that more than 30 cm of rain fell during the past three days. 
We’ll depart for Prince Rupert as soon as the weather permits, and hope to see bluer skies in Canada!


  1. Thanks Riitta. Great photos and narrative. I would have liked a selfie of you and Pekka when the bear was walking toward you on the trail.

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  3. No selfies but I did try to take photos of the bear. Unfortunately, my hands were shaking so much that most of the photos were out of focus!