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. 

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Kodiak 4th of July

Moving on

Our intention was to leave Kodiak as soon as we got the computer problem solved, but we had forgotten all about the Independence Day, which is today. Because some of the stores are now closed, we’ll go spare part shopping tomorrow morning and cast off hopefully before noon. 

Weather permitting, our next destination will be Port Dick on Kenai Peninsula, a bay we have never visited before. From there we will continue to Prince William Sound where we are going to spend a few weeks fishing, shrimping, and if we are lucky, black bear watching. 

Amalik Bay 18th June - 1st July

Fishing and Bear Watching

We left Kodiak harbor early Saturday morning. Because the weather forecast for Shelikoff Strait was NE 25 knots for Sunday, we continued straight to Amalik Bay where we dropped anchor at 00.45 Sunday morning.

The next day was so windy that we decided to stay onboard. So, instead of going fishing, Pekka spent the day installing a filter for the fresh water tank, fixing the holding tank pump, and every now and again climbing up the davits to hammer our old wind generator to life. Riitta, on the other hand, stayed on watch with binoculars and managed to spot a golden-brown bear wandering in the bushes, and a lone wolf sauntering on the beach. 

   (sea otter)

On Monday morning, we went rockfishing and nature photographing. While in Geographic Harbor, we witnessed a territorial dispute between a bald eagle and a crow who seemed to think that the eagle had come too close to its nest. As we know, crows can be pretty vicious, and the eagle was wise enough to yield.

On our way to a great rockfishing place we know near the mouth of Amalik Bay, we detected two cubs resting on the rocky shoreline. About half an hour later when returning to the boat with our lunch (three rockfish!), we saw the cubs go into the water and start swimming across the bay. We gave the bears a wide berth and wished them the best of luck with their ice-cold crossing. 

Before we reached our boat, we saw a sow on the nearby beach. It was probably the same bear Riitta had seen the day before, but we live in the hope of seeing more and more bears in Amalik Bay as the tide becomes more favourable leaving more of the sandy beach dry for the bears to dig razor clams. This should happen in less than a week! 

Early Wednesday morning we motored to Geopraphic Harbor’s inner bay to see how the mussels there were doing. Before going back to the boat, we went fishing as usual. But this time catching a fish was not as easy as usual. We first caught two not-so-good-to-eat fish and then a far-too-small rockfish which we released. And then nothing! Annoyed with the situation, we motored to other side of the bay to try our luck there. During the first fifteen minutes, not a single bite! Then finally when we had already given up hope of catching any fish and Pekka was reeling in the line, up came a good-sized rockfish!  

We also took some Kelp (seaweed) with us to make soup. The recipe (slightly modified) was given to us by our good friends from Capella III.

Kelp Soup:

Kelp or any edible seaweed
Potatoes or Sweet Potatoes
Fresh Ginger
Cane Sugar
Black Pepper
Garnish each serving with Sour Cream and Fresh Coriander

On Thursday morning Riitta woke up at 7 to see if there were any newcomers on the shores. However, the whole bay was engulfed in such a thick fog that she went back to bed. A few hours later, when we finally left the boat to go fishing we first motored to the nearby beach where a young bear was digging razor clams, although at a very leisurely pace. 

As we continued to the fishing grounds, we saw a couple on the shore who were making sure that there will also be bears in Amalik Bay in the future. But that day we never went fishing because quite suddenly the weather deteriorated with strong gusts of wind and drizzle, and we thought it best to return to the boat. 

Later that evening, we saw three bears on a nearby slope. The setting was so interesting that we had to go and observe it closer. There was Goldie (the golden-brown bear Riitta had seen before) and two newcomers, a darker brown sow and her three-year-old cub. Goldie who so far had been extremely reclusive was now up on the slope keenly following the movements of the other bears, and more than ready to defend her territory. When the sow started climbing up the slope, there were all the elements for a conflict. And sure enough, as soon as the sow got closer to Goldie she charged. The bears stood there for a while roaring at each other and then the weaker, in this case, the sow retreated.

We were near the shoreline drifting while watching this bear scrap, the outboard tilted as the water was so shallow. When the sow came down the slope seemingly annoyed and headed towards us, we managed to start our outboard in record time. 

However, she was not interested in us at all but merely wanted to cool off after her dispute with Goldie.

The following day when going fishing, we saw a bear on the shore with such a purposeful stride that we became curious and decided to see where she was going. Hence we motored slowly along the shoreline keeping pace with the bear.

Soon we saw a bigger sow further away digging razor clams on the beach. As we, the bear and us, came closer, it became quite clear that the Clam Digger was not willing to share her claim without a fight.

Suddenly a deafening roar filled the air, and we saw the two bears standing face to face motionless in mental combat. After a while our bear, younger and smaller in size, backed off, turned around and walked slowly away. Because there is a high potential for injury, bears avoid physical contact whenever they can. 

On Saturday, we woke up to an absolutely gorgeous summer day and decided to motor to Geographic Harbor to see if salmon run had already started. Obviously not as there were no bears to be seen on the river banks. But this may be just a matter of days as on our way to the river we saw bears heading in the same direction.

Today is the summer solstice, and the low tide has left the sandy beaches around the bay dry (the difference between high and low tide is more than four metres). There should now be at least a dozen bears in a frenzy of digging razor clams but no, we can only see three bears on the shores. This confirms what we already knew but were not willing to accept: there are no razor clams galore in Amalik Bay anymore. 

In 2014, when we were here last we noticed that in places the bottom of the bay was covered with white clamshells, in other words, the razor clams were dying. The Park Rangers told us then that the matter was being investigated: water and soil samples had been taken, and air pollution, climate change, and the possibility of a disease were all taken into consideration. Whatever the cause for the destruction, it is clear that the clams have not (yet!?) managed to recover.  

Fortunately, razor clams are not the only food for the bears here as their diet also includes bear grass, mussels, roots, berries, and mushrooms. And soon they will start gorging on spawning salmon to build up fat for the winter.


For the past six days continuous rain and strong winds, gusting to 50+ knots, have prevented us from going either fishing or bear watching. As we have encountered another computer problem, this time it is Riitta’s Mac that refuses to co-operate, we’ll return to Kodiak on Saturday when the wind is supposed to finally abate.

Just before leaving, we motored one more time round Amalik Bay to take the last (ever?) photos of some of its residents. 

There is a bald eagle’s nest on top of a high island near our boat that we wanted to photograph as well. Riitta was just about to take a photo of the eagle when something moved in the background, and suddenly a mother bear and her cub appeared on the camera’s display. 

What a wonderful surprise, and a great end to our visit to Amalik Bay!