BC & SE ALASKA-3: NORTHBOUND KETCHIKAN & MISTY FJORDS
Friday, June 17 Prince Rupert, BC to Ketchikan, AK
The crew typically rises about an hour before sailing and the morning was clear, without the fog that started yesterday, the winds were light, an acceptable 63 degrees, low clouds but a visibility of 30 miles. The weather buoys in the Dixon Entrance were checked via the Internet while the coffee was brewing and the results were good: wave height was .5 meters and the wind was light from the southeast. The third part of the equation was the tide that could tame the Portland Inlet or make it worse. During this window, the flooding tide would calm the strong outgoing water flow during the morning. Simply, it was all green lights for a 50 trip to Foggy Bay or an 80 trip to Ketchikan.
The captains of Gandolf, a Nordic 42 and Grand Destiny, a Grand Banks 48 had a quick meeting with Shipperly and Tribute and we were all in agreement to proceed. Cruising and having a common goal like crossing the Dixon Entrance, creates quick alliances. 0630 hours and everyone had pushed away from the dock. Prince Rupert is protected by Digby Island and there is a short-cut, Venn Passage, to Dixon Entrance for pleasure boats that will shave 12 miles off the trip that the freighters and ferries have to use. The passage is narrow, with turns, visible rocks on each side and depths can be as low as 12 feet. Easy and navigable provided you kept your head in the game.
Clearing the passage and Chatham Sound is wide with islands in the distance. Tribute enjoyed a light wind and 1 to 2 swells on her stern that created a speed of 8.9 knots. The heading was for Green Island and its lighthouse at Holiday Pass. Three hours into the trip and water was nearly flat with a light wind and the tide, wind and swells all working with Tribute.
About four hours into the trip, Tribute is about halfway across Dixon Entrance with an endless horizon to the west as the next land would be Asia. The international border is crossed and Tribute is in Alaska. Three-foot swells that were well spread apart would slide under the hull from stern to bow in a diagonal direction that caused a very comfortable ride. Praises and gratitude were expressed to God for the amazing cruising conditions.
Crossing into Alaska meant a new time zone and the clocks were set back by an hour. 5-1/2 hours into the trip and Dixon Entrance is crossed as Tribute was on the lee side of Duke Island and starts the Revillogigedo Channel. About an hour later, Foggy Bay is past and everyone has their sights on Ketchikan.
Continuing northwest up the channel, the AIS revealed the numerous vessels that were moored or moving around Alaska’s First City. Ketchikan is a busy commercial port of tugs, fishing boats and during the summer months, cruise ships. For every boat broadcasting an AIS signal, there were more that were not. We saw another of Tribute’s sister boats, Sula, whose homeport is Ketchikan and we shared waves. Two cruise ships passed us in the early afternoon as they departed Ketchikan to travel at night to their next port. Ketchikan welcomed us with buzzing floatplanes over head, many fishing boats, and a slight wind-created chop.
Tribute had traveled 84 miles in 11 hours.
Ketchikan has several city marinas that are controlled by the harbormaster via the VHF radio. We had a preference for Bar Harbor because it is outside the bulls-eye were the cruise ships and the float planes operate but is only a mile from downtown and the Safeway and marine stores are walking distance away. The harbormaster had a spot, a hot berth for Tribute. Hot berth means that a boat just left and is now available. At the slip, customs were called and we waited on board for the officer from Customs and Border Protection to come. The potatoes were a problem because the original packaging showing the country of origin was gone. After that topic was settle, the officer switched gears and was an ambassador for the community by giving several recommendations for food, services and restaurants.
Shipperly stopped for fuel and paid a third of was spent per gallon in Canada. They cleared customs at the fuel dock and later docked in the same marina as Tribute. Dock-tails and a celebratory bottle of champagne was enjoyed for this milestone in cruising. The walk to the Ocean View Restaurant was pleasant and the food was great. 9 PM, the sky was blue and bright and sunglasses were necessary.
Saturday, June 18 - Ketchikan, AK
The morning was bright, cool and started out lazy. After a breakfast of French toast, the bikes were set up for a morning of exploring and errands. Ketchikan’s population is about 13,000 and this town on an island is predominately along the road that follows the shoreline because the heavily forested mountain rises steeply out of the water. The cruise ships dock in downtown and the bars the onced defined this city decades ago are now all jewelry shops and the two blocks above the cruise ships have been renovated. Cedar Creek was 33 houses of prostitution until they were closed down in the 1950’s. Today, they are gift shops and completely renovated.
Bar Harbor marina is in New Town and reveals another side of Ketchikan, a place that the cruise ship tourists may only see from their Grayline bus tour. The buildings are in various stages of neglect, the public infrastructure of roads and sidewalks are crumbling. There is a combination of seasonal industry, housing for the poor, vacant buildings, and the closer to downtown, and the occasional new private investment. The Safeway grocery store and the True Value hardware store are the magnets. Here, you see it all: the homeless, the locals, the workers, the working families, and the seasonal visitors.
Cycling on to downtown and arriving at 9 AM, it was quite but not for long as two cruise ships would arrive at 10 AM. Following the same road to the south part of Ketchikan were the major employers, seafood processes, bulk fuel and the sizable Coast Guard base. The bikes took us on to Saxman Village, a native village that boasted of a large totem pole collection. Arriving before the official opening, we walked the open grounds and were the first patrons in the gift shop.
We had a good conversation with an employee who is a native and learned that only about five gift shops in Ketchikan are independent and locally owned. The cruise ships are a boom during the summer months but with the closing of the pulp mill, the full-time, livable wage jobs are lacking. She moved her family back from the Lynnwood area of Washington State to raise her children in Alaska.
Riding back, the cruise ships were in and the streets and shops were choked with customers, tour buses dominated the small downtown, and the main road was as busy as any in a larger city during rush hour. Did a ferry just arrive? Did the people who live outside Ketchikan come to do their shopping? More fishing gear was bought and later a provisioning trip to Safeway was done. Three loads of laundry were done, the water tank was filled, and a planning meeting with Ken and Pauline resulted in tomorrow’s destination Misty Fjords National Monument and a picturesque anchorage. Chicken was grilled on the BBQ.
Sunday, June 19 – Behm Canal, Punchbowl Cove, Misty Fjords National Monument
There was no need for the alarm to go off at 0600 hours when the sun rises at 0400 hours; 6 AM feels like you slept in. In Ketchikan, the water was calm, the skies were partly cloudy and another cool morning of 62 degrees. The moon was in a new phase that caused the tides to be at the extreme side. So, the low tide looked really dramatic with the dock pilings towering high overhead. Tribute was in the channel at 0700 hours and Shipperly was close behind. Three cruise ships had arrived and a sport fishing boats were scurrying to their favorite fishing hole. Past Mountain Point on this huge island that Tribute would spend the next two days going around, the wind was on the bow at 15 knots causing a wind chop that the trawler would beat through for the next 2 hours.
At the Behm (pronounced beam) Canal, the swells were 3 to 4 footers as the turn was made to east. Two tour boats with cruise ship passengers had flown by at 30 knots and had spotted Orca whales a few miles ahead. For the next five miles, Tribute surfed the swells and the whales were missed. Soon, the water calmed as the effects of the larger water was left behind.
The destination was the iconic symbol of Misty Fjords National Monument: Punchbowl Cove and where the tall mountains nearly surround the cove with their steep walls. Marking the approach was a tower of granite in the middle of Behm Canal that Captain George Vancouver named New Eddystone Rock. The bottom of this canal also changed suddenly, like a knife edge that went across the three mile wide canal, the depth when from 1500 feet to 500 feet, like a tectonic plate had risen 1,000 feet. 7-1/2 hours after leaving Ketchikan, Tribute and Shipperly entered Punchbowl Cove and the scenery did not disappoint. Some call it the Yosemite of the North, for us it looked more like Glacier National Park but the trees were Sitka Spruce, cedar and hemlock. Vast valleys were scooped out of the mountains, the granite cliffs were etched with deep vertical and parallel scratches like a gigantic bear had claw the cliff faces.
At the far end of the cove was one mooring buoy that was installed by the Forest Service and Tribute was fortunate enough to find it vacant because anchoring here starts at 100 feet. There were more coves to explore so Shipperly took us aboard and for the next two hours everyone was awed by the scale and immenseness of this treasure. Five floatplanes came and went with their passengers who likely got a great thrill.
Tribute had traveled 50 miles.
After Shipperly was rafted to Tribute, dock tails were served in Shipperly’s cockpit and the evening was closed watching the light change the textures and hues in this massive punchbowl.
Monday, June 20 – Walker Cove, Misty Fjords, Behm Canal and Yes Bay
The evening was quiet and the morning brought clouds, wispy pillows of clouds halfway up the mountains and the temperature was 60 degrees. Tribute and Shipperly were disconnected and the mooring ball was separated at 0730 hours. Leaving Punchbowl Cove and entering Behm Canal, the water was flat and like glass with no wind. We immediately knew that to leave early was better as the winds to start to build in the mid-morning and will make travel difficult by early afternoon until the evening.
Walker Cove was described as an awesome place. At 0900 hours, we turned into the entrance, crossed the 30 foot deep bar and the cathedral was entered. The high and steep mountainsides slide straight into the water with 900 foot depths. We went up the channel, wide-eyed and over-using the word, “Wow!” as the 3,000 foot high, tree covered and peaks sprinkled with snow towered above us.
Leaving the cove at 1030 hours, Laurie picked out the pair peregrine falcons on Channel Island. The day warmed to 66 degrees and we moved up to the flybridge for about 90 minutes of idyllic cruising conditions of still air, dead-flat water and clear blue sky. Behm Channel narrowed as it creates the northern boundary of Reivilo Island and the conditions changed to a 15-knot wind on the bow and a chop that Tribute easily handled. We continued to turn and head west. The destination was Yes Bay that is on the Cleveland Peninsula of the mainland because it offers protection in nearly all winds. Tribute passed a fishing lodge about two miles up the bay and turned behind a small island and anchored in 55 feet.
Tribute had traveled 63 miles in 8 hours.
Laurie put together her fishing gear and spent 90 minutes jigging with several lures before stopping with only a nibble to show for her efforts. Ken and Pauline joined us on Tribute for docktails and a planning a meeting. The evening was closed with watching the movie “Castaway.”
Tuesday, June 21 – Thorne Bay Marina, Prince of Wales Island (See the map above.) The lesson that was learned from yesterday’s experience was to leave as early as possible. At 0500 hours, with the daylight an hour old, the anchor was raised and Tribute idled out of Yes Bay, past the quiet fishing lodge and into the awakening waters of Behm Canal. The rain had started after midnight and would continue periodically through mid-afternoon. The winds were light, a comfortable 61 degrees and the barometer was falling.
This would be a monochrome day of different shades of gray and a seamless canvas of water, dark landscape, pale fog or low clouds and gray skies. Behm Canal was slightly rippled for nearly three hours until the influence from the coming connection Clarence Strait was felt, causing 15-knot winds and the resulting 2-foot chop. The cloud ceiling dropped to the water and the radar helped guide Tribute for several miles until the clouds lifted. For 30 miles, no boats were seen and AIS showed less than a handful of commercial vessels using Clarence Strait.
Tribute entered Clarence Strait and turned to the north and into the following sea of 2 to 3 foot swells and the 12-knot wind pushing on her stern. The distinctive flukes of a humpback whale were briefly seen off the port side before they slipped under the surface. The current and wind took us to the destination of Thorne Bay and the flooding current zipped us through the narrow but easy S-turn entrance that widened into a broad and calm bay that had more floating homes on the shore.
Thorne Bay Marina had room for probably 50 resident boats and a long side-tie dock that could handle 10 transient boats. The marina was half full and the guest dock was empty. Shipperly went on to the fuel dock while, at noon, Tribute glided to the dock and was secured where the harbormaster, Shane, gave a warm welcome. Moorage was .75 a foot plus $10 for power. A rain cell dumped a heavy rain for about 20 minutes before moving on.
Tribute had traveled 54 miles in 7 hours.
When Shipperly did not return for 90 minutes, a radio call was made and the story was told about the diesel pump to the dock was broken and 80 gallons of fuel was hand carried in 5-gallon containers.
After lunch and a siesta, we walked to the post office/store to stretch our legs. Thorne Bay was the largest logging camp North America in the 1970’s when Louisiana-Pacific built in the early 1960’s and the camp was the foundation for today’s small community. Today was big day for Thorne Bay because the mail arrives only on Tuesday and everyone comes to the store/post office to check their post office box. Also, a tug brought a huge barge and some of the containers and load was off-loaded and waiting containers were on-loaded.
Everybody waves at you in Thorne Bay. The K-12 school campus is big and fairly new and, like most communities, is the glue that holds the community together. Besides the school district, the other major employer is probably the US Forest Service with its district headquarters. About a 1/3 of the vehicles in Thorne Bay were former Forest Service vehicles with their distinctive light green color.
The houses are a mix of singlewide mobile homes, RV’s with structure roofs overhead, thrown up structures with no remote compliance to any building code, kit homes, and some custom-made that were built by professionals. Every home has either a boat or boat trailer in the driveway. There are no sidewalks, no addresses, and little formal landscaping and most homes have a greenhouse. The feeling is of independence, self-reliance, little government or regulation, and where everyone probably knows everyone else. Laurie baked homemade scones and we had Ken and Pauline over dessert.