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!

Monday, 14 August 2017

Petersburg 14th of August

Inside Passage 6th - 14th August

We had gone to Cordova because of foggy and rainy weather but surprise, surprise, during our two day visit in Cordova, the weather was absolutely gorgeous. It was such a waste of good sunshine but the main thing was that Pekka got the ever-so-vital maintenance work done on the boat. We are now ready to sail to Inside Passage and eventually to Canada, hopefully within a couple of days.

We left Cordova early Monday morning, and while motoring in Orca Bay on our way to Comfort Cove, Sarema was surrounded by a pod of about a dozen Orcas (Nomen est omen!)
In Prince William Sound, you can see two different types of orcas (aka Killer Whales), namely Residents and Transients. Residents, as the name implies, reside in PWS and the surrounding area and feed on fish only,  whereas Transients are meat eaters whose diet includes e.g. harbour seals and sea lions, and they visit PWS only occasionally. The orcas around us were clearly residents enjoying a scrumptious salmon breakfast.

The next morning before leaving for Olsen Bay, we dinghied to the mouth of the salmon stream at the head of the cove and caught two fish, one by angling and the other by snagging. These are the two terms used for catching a fish with a line and a lure/hook: to hook a fish in its mouth is to angle, and to hook a fish elsewhere than in its mouth is to snag. At the moment, the streams here are so thronged with salmon that wherever you cast your line you are bound to catch a fish, either by angling or snagging.

During the less than two hour trip from Comfort Cove to Olsen Bay, the sun disappeared behind heavy clouds. While casting anchor, it began to drizzle and soon the whole bay was engulfed in thick fog. Extremely disappointed in the miserable weather, we’ll weigh anchor early tomorrow morning (3rd of August) and commence the about 400 nm voyage to Inside Passage, where we hope to see the sun again.

We had a reasonably comfortable but uneventful crossing from PWS to the western entrance of Inside Passage. It was cloudy and the wind was between five to ten knots straight from behind so we were motor-sailing as usual. When we eventually reached Inside Passage, we were welcomed by blue skies and the warm sunshine we had so craved for while in PWS! 

We spent the first night in Inian Cove near the entrance of the Passage, a place where you should only anchor when it is absolutely windless. The williwaws that came roaring down the hills were a surprise and not a pleasant one. So the next morning we weighed anchor and headed for Hoonah, the largest Tlingit Indian community in Alaska. 

The village of Hoonah or Xunaa was originally settled by the Huna Tlingit aka the Xunaa K√°awu tribe i.e. the People from the Direction of the North Wind, because of the excellent protection this location offered from winds and foul weather. In fact, the name of the village Xunaa translates in the Tlingit language Lingit as ‘Protection from the North Wind’. 

Hoonah is renowned for its skilled fishermen, hunters and artisans. Today, the community supports three traditional dance groups, the Tlingit language Lingit is taught in all school grades, and many of the traditional ways of life still continue.  

Traditional Tlingit art is visible everywhere in Hoonah. Wooden wall panels, shop signs, park benches, and the numerous intricate totem poles erected to honour the departed, to share stories, and teach lessons manifest that Tlingit art is alive and thriving!

We stayed two days in Hoonah, partly because it was such a nice place and partly because Pekka had to reattach the propeller shaft seal that had come loose. But then it was time to go bear watching again!

We overnighted in Pavlof Harbor where there is a salmon stream on the western side of the bay. It was already early evening when we dinghied up the stream, and the intense light of the setting sun nearly blinded us. But, after a while when our eyes had become accustomed to the light, we could see a bear standing in the stream. 

The bear stood still for quite some time until she saw a fish in the stream and started slowly advancing towards the place where the fish was splashing. Maybe her fishing methods were no good or maybe she was just unlucky but she didn’t catch a single fish while we were there watching her fishing. She had two healthy looking cubs that were patiently waiting for their mom on the shady side of the river.

The next morning, on our way to Ell Cove, we spotted through our binoculars a black bear on the beach. After a while the bear disappeared into the bushes but soon reappeared this time followed by three tiny cubs. There was a salmon stream winding across the sandy beach, and the sow went there to fish. Suddenly, a brown bear appeared from behind the bushes, also with three cubs only these were one year older than the black bear cubs. When the bears became aware of each other’s presence, all six of them stopped dead in their tracks. And we onboard Sarema were holding our breath! Ever so slowly, the brown sow began advancing towards the black sow who saw it best to yield and started to head towards the trees. The brown sow and her cubs followed her but remained on the opposite side of the stream. Soon the bears vanished from our sight. The black bear sow had left her wee cubs by the salmon stream where they obediently stayed until their mother reappeared from behind the trees and called them. The last thing we saw was the black bear family reunited once more. What a memorable experience, the only downside being that we were much too far away to take any photos. 

While in Ell Cove, we decided to put our shrimp pot to use again. So, after dropping anchor, we dinghied out of the snug cove and while slowly motoring along the shoreline trying to figure out the best place for the pot, we saw a humpback whale dive at a distance. When we had finally decided where to drop the pot and Pekka had turned off the outboard, there was an almighty splash as the lunge-feeding humpback surfaced like a torpedo less than 15 metres from us!!! Pekka immediately started the outboard and we hurriedly reversed out of the whale’s way. Riitta had her camera with her as usual but this time the surprise was of such magnitude that all she could do was to stare at the whale in awe. Hence no photos - and we didn’t get any shrimp either!