Merry Xmas and Seasons Greetings from Down Under - 25th December, 2010
It has been over three months since I stepped off SKIE in San Diego and returned home to the maelstrom of business and social activities that have dogged me all of my life. Maelstrom would not be a word I would ever use to describe my land life in the past, but relativity to the past 4 years on SKIE, the word is not so harsh.
A key 15 year employee leaving, our biggest shop ever opening in Sydney, our son Chris who runs the business getting married and off around the world for his honeymoon, the European buying for 2011 being brought forward to December, and getting out our new autumn Winter catalogue to be signed off yesterday, my thoughts of our big adventure coming up has sadly only received scant attention in the past months. Also it was great to have two of our children and their kids and a niece and family over from Europe for the wedding. However this missive heralds the metamorphosis from business man/land lubber back to navigator, engineer, cook, cleaner, etc, etc.
In 25 days time I fly out back to the boat in San Diego to start the careful preparation for the Pacific crossing. I am firstly dropping into Seattle to spend a two days "Hands On" diesel course with my good friend Bob "Lugger" Senter, who is the teacher at Alaskan Diesel, makers of Lugger engines and Northern Lights generators. Bob is probably the best in the business and a serious boating man into the bargain. Bob is going to concentrate on teaching us to care for our engines with preventative maintenance, and to deal with any trouble shooting that may be needed, and the likely spares needed on board. I have been told that this is probably the least likely of things to happen as diesels are bullet proof as long as you give them good oil, fuel, coolant, and air. I also had Craig Hatton from Hatton Marine in Seattle check everything a few months ago and all on engine hoses were replaced at his suggestion.
Much work needs to be done when I get back on the boat, lots of spares to be bought, life raft inspected, and I plan to go over everything on the boat with experts to make sure we are in fine shape. Margaret is staying on at home until Feb 12th to attend a wedding, then join me to cruise Mexico until SKIE sets a waypoint due west late March to the Marquesses, 3000 nm away, with no place to stop at all en route. Marg will not do this leg, but will join us when we make our first landfall, or maybe in Papeete. Spoke to a friend who has crossed the Pacific on his Selene 59, who said the coconut milk run was perfect with weather, and the roughest he found was from Brisbane to Sydney 10 - 20 nm offshore. I guess it would just be the SE blowing a bit setting up the south bound eastern Australian current. For us Aussies this is just normal sort of stuff.
Joining me to cross will be my 1st mate Rick McLure from Queensland, who has seen many miles on SKIE already, being a trained diesel mechanic, owning a fleet of trucks, and a professional diver to boot. Rick has also just ordered a Nordhavn 60, and my new found friend Jim Crossley from Calgary Canada, who is using this trip to prepare for buying a boat shortly (or not maybe)..
The plan at this stage is to take 40 days to get to Tahiti and leave the boat to go home for a couple of months, then cruise stage 2 to Fiji. Stage 3 will be down to NZ for the cyclone season, then in March 2012, up to the south west pacific (New Cal, Vanuato, etc) before heading finally to home to Hobart Tasmania.
What to do after this remains the 64 dollar question. Whether my boating life continues I don't know, but after considering Margaret's wishes first (and this is a first I can tell you after 43 years) I hope I can pack in as much as I can with the inspiration of Wolfgang Hass's wooden metre ruler lesson, mentioned in an earlier blog. In a nutshell, if I am fortunate to live to 80, and in good health, I've only got 13 years left. Sheez! that just seems like yesterday.
Seattle WA, to San Diego CA - 18th Sept, 2010
With my new found friends and delivery crew, Ron and Christina, we set off south for the non stop 1250 nm and seven day trip to San Diego. The weather was starting to change from the consistent Northerlies to some southerly influences which would mean a bash into some head seas. We copped this for 36 hours on the nose after rounding Cape Flattery WA, but then it then swung around to the beautiful Pacific ridge that we wanted, giving us the wind from astern and a dream run for most of the voyage to San Diego. We stayed tight on 125 Meridian which had us about 60 nm offshore, and missed out on being close to those notorious capes heading south e.g. Mendocino & Conception. The yanks call Cape Conception the Cape Horn of the US. Aussies and Kiwis would liken it to a billabong in Kakadu Park.
Ron a retired Canadian Supreme Court judge had quite a bit of experience being at sea on sail boats, but the first time for Christina, a retired school language teacher, so her learning curve was pretty steep, but she did an exemplary job with watchkeeping, and the bonus was her Viennese Goulash.
We saw much shipping on the way down particularly the Straits of Juan de Fuca, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, but strangely only one other private pleasure boat. Trying to find a slip in Newport Beach, Dana Point, and San Diego sums up the story about why I guess.
Coming into San Diego about 0400 hrs, we had what looked like a work boat of sorts on a collision course with us, and with only about thirty seconds to go and my finger ready on the dodge button on the autopilot, I flicked on my deck lights to then fortunately see this boat make a sudden and acute heading change to pass astern of us. We had the right of way but that means nothing when you have someone on the other boat not on watch or asleep. However we can turn 90 deg within a boat length so we weren't going to collide, but it would have been close. My father used to say that we should treat all other drivers on the road as idiots. This is the same for the sea.
Clearing customs in San Diego was painless by courteous officers and we snugged up into the Kona Kai Marina and amongst 5 other Nordhavn's including two 55's, and met some real nice people. The next two days were busy dealing with two firms bidding on my electronics additions and upgrades, and then to rent a car to get to Los Angeles and fly home for our son James and his daughter Chloe's farewell dinner before leaving the next day to live in England. Marg and I hadn't seen each other for a while as she had been in England, and sadly our planes crossed in the air the day I flew out to Seattle to bring the boat south.
The fun is now about to start as I can now put my mind to planning for the Pacific crossing, or the "coconut milk run" as it is known as, and include my shipmates for the big stretch, Bill Kirsch, and Rick McClure in our planning, and particularly the 16 day run to the Marquesas in French Polynesia. This trip is devoid of proximity of land, and is regarded as the most remote trip in the world, so if something goes wrong we are completely on our own, therefore serious planning and preparation is paramount, and taking on many spare parts is essential. However it has been said that if you need 100 spares and only take on 99, guess which one will be needed? When you do something like this you are reminded about how good life really is and how so interesting and exciting it is to have a challenge. It is said that the best time in your life is when you are young, for me I cannot agree.
Vancouver CAN to Seattle WA, USA - August 20th 2010
Still with Peter &Sal, we arrive at Coal Harbor Marina right in the Downtown of Vancouver City. The O’Briens are leaving us here to catch up with a long lost Canadian cousin and see some more of Canada before heading home to Coff’s in Australia.
This marina is probably the best we have been in ever, mainly for proximity to everything. On the edge of famous Stanley Park, next to the brand new Convention Centre, 500 m to a top supermarket, and downtown shopping two blocks away. We were very impressed with what looks like an extremely liveable city.
We were here for 5 days to have a look around and relax with some retail therapy and fine dining, before heading south to Anacortes to fill up what is believed to be the cheapest fuel on the US west coast. Then of course we have to run the gauntlet with the aggressive Officer Roberts from Customs, and no, he hasn’t mellowed with time, and is still letting down a team that have just been fantastic all through Alaska.
OR - (Officer Roberts)“Your permit has expired”,
Me -“ But it is for 12 months and still 8 months to go”
OR – “Aha, but you have been in Canada so cough up another $24“
Me – “OK, here’s my Master card”
OR – “We only take cash”
Me – “Here’s $30 in cash (nothing smaller), buy yourself a beer with the change”
OR – “Can’t do that you must go into the town and get the right money from a shop”
Now he was only doing his job by the book, but must have gone missed out in his training about PR as I found the Alaskan Custom officers treated you with so much consideration and friendliness.
After one night overstay in Anacortes, and filling our tanks with 60c a litre diesel (half of the Aussie price) Marg and I set off for Elliott Bay Marina in Seattle where we would then fly home, and attend to some business obligations, grandkid cuddles, and of course patting Elliott the wonder dog.
The trip down allowed me to experience another milestone in my short voyaging experience - Fog.
Now I mean real pea super fog with visibility about one boats length at times. With both radars whirring away, AIS on, and my recently installed “Fogmate” which automatically sounds my horn every 2 minutes, we stuck to the controlled and seperated shipping lane in Juan de Fuca Strait, and under the watchful eye of VTS Seattle Traffic who had us under surveillance through our AIS (Automatic Identification System), and communicating with us all the way alerting us to any other traffic, and all the way down Puget Sound to our destination at Elliott Bay Marina in Seattle. VTS is just like what aircraft controllers do.
Coming back to Seattle was so familiar now and to see Larry & Lyn Schildwachter from Emerald Harbor Marine who did lots of work for us before we left, and Don Kohlmann from the Nordhavn sales office who has been so friendly and obliging. Don was going to keep an eye out for SKIE while we were away home in Oz for 6 weeks. Don also took us to see a Nordhavn 76 that was on the market, and arranged for us to inspect another N76 in San Diego as we were flying home via LA. More to tell about looking at a larger boat at another time.
I returned to Seattle 6 weeks later to start preparing SKIE for the trip down to Mexico and across the Pacific to home next March (2011). One thing I wanted installed was a KVH antenna with Fleet broadband so that I could get data and e-mail via satellite for the Pacific crossing. Also to get Hatton Marine owner Craig Hatton to come on board and gave my three engines, John Deere main, Lugger wing, and Northern Lights generator a serious inspection. He replaced a leaking coolant gasket at the turbo (not serious as it only happens at WOT – i.e. wide open throttle) and he reccomended that all hoses on the John Deere main engine should be replaced, not because problems could be seen, but the fact they have been on the engine since new, and an inexpensive insurance policy. This is called preventative maintenance.
All work was carried out by Craig himself in spite of employing 30 mechanics, and for this I was blessed with his wide experience, and such a nice man into the bargain. He suggested that I should take on only three spares for the main, a starter battery alternator, a starter motor slave solenoid, and spare transmission hydraulic hoses. What surprised me was that he claimed thousands of tractors and trucks have my engine and every bug has been ironed out long before, and said the main Leece Neville alternator for charging the house batteries has been used in millions of trucks for years, and was pretty bomb proof, but on the other hand, the 2nd smaller one for charging the starter motor batteries was lacking some robustness.
My preparation for the crossing is an evolving issue and will be amplified much more closer to the date next March. People say that if you put a spare on board you will never need it. The one you don't have will be the one that's needed. Now this spares thing can get quite out of hand and lead to some paranoia if you don't keep a grip on things. We have 16 days crossing to the Marquesas in French Polynesia where we can't get any support, but after that spares can be found easily if the place we are at has an airstrip. Barb from Hatton Marine in Seattle is regarded as a guru for getting spares to you wherever.
Crossing the Pacific is childs play compared to risks in driving my car down the mountain from where I live out of Melbourne, so nil anxiety exists whatsoever for me, and I only mention it as so many outsiders ask about it as a possible concern, that's after piracy of course. Anything that disables the boat will not be an issue until water and food runs out, and being the owner I'm last cab off the rank when we have to eat each other.
15th July, Prince Rupert CA to Anacortes WA
Leaving Brundige Bay after our chance meeting with Mark, Mog, and the girls, we proceeded south to Prince Rupert to check in with Canadian Customs, before continuing further south. After some confusion where we had to tie up, we finally got the Customs guys on board, and after initially hiding some grog, I retrieved it back to it's spot to keep our record clean. Apples aren't wanted into Canada so we all monstered what we had left, but then threw the cores overboard, which is what I imagine they didn't want either. However our check in was cordial and friendly, and the boat wasn't searched. This is fairly tame compared to coming into Oz and NZ.
Our next night was spent further south at Kumelian Cove, which was one of the best places we had anchored at, and spent a peaceful night awaiting first light to claim Bottleneck Inlet at Roderick Island. In fact all our time, going up and coming south in Canada we were blessed with perfect weather for the whole transit period.
Next night was at Secure Anchorage at Penrose Island where we put "Allcock", our dink in the water, and went to explore the area and visit some other boats that had anchored in a nearby bay, that we had rejected because of our need to secure lots of swing room at anchor. Here we went ashore to visit one of the hundreds of huts throughout the region the government provides for travellers, and particully kayakers.
Next night onto Sunday Harbor, Crib Island, then off to Gowland Harbour, then the third night Boho Bay, Lasqueti Is. Boho Bay was pretty crowded which put into perspective of what it would be like if we had left later with lot's of boats that were just starting to head north from down south.
Next destination was Vancouver which we were dying to see, and to drop off Pete and Sal who were catching up with a Canadian cousin, and were leaving the boat to have a good look at Canada's interior. We absolutely loved Vancouver and tied up at the Coal Bay Marina which was right in the downtown of the city, with supermarkets in close proximity, and a couple of blocks away from the main downtown shopping strip.
This gave me a chance to walk around the famous Stanley Park which was great, and long overdue place to finally get some exercise after some time. Marg was happy to have some time out on her own as she had had people around her for the previous three months, and was probably a bit sick of me as well.
One afternoon we heard a knock on the boat to find an expat Aussie there who saw our ensign, and decided to come down, introduce himself, and invite us up to his apartment right on the waterfront, for a glass of wine with his Canadian retired doctor wife.
After 3 days in beautiful Vancouver we headed back into US waters and claimed a berth at Anacortes WA for Customs checkin, and top up with probably the cheapest fuel that was on offer for the whole Inside Passage. Anacortes was the only place where we had trouble with unfriendly customs officers over the whole trip, going up and coming down, but the welcome and treatment we received in all Alaskan towns and cities was outstandingly friendly and so very courteous. They went out of their way to welcome us to their State which made us feel so welcome.
The US has gone through an enormous change in rules attitude (not Alaska - attitude) since 9/11, and if you are a foreign flagged boat you are guilty of something until proven otherwise. Officer Roberts wanted us to prove we weren't trying to reside in the US. My response was rather rude in comparing where we live compared to where he lives, and how illogical it would be to consider otherwise.
I expect we will see more of this as we head further south, which is a top reason to whiz down as fast as possible to Mexico.
2nd July 2010, Juneau to Wrangell.
As soon as Pete and Sal arrived in Juneau, our trip south began immediately to get to Tracey Arm, show them Sth. Sawyer Glacier which we had been to earlier, then catch up with Phil and Bev Walsh on their Kadey Krogan "Zuben Ubi". Phil taught celestial navigation once and apparently Zuben Ubi is an important reference star. Pete & Sal knew Phil and Bev from Coffs Harbour in Oz, and our plan was for both boats to go to Dawes Glacier at the end of Endicott Arm, then tackle the narrow and difficult dog leg entrance into Fords Terror.
This is not dangerous if you time ingress and egress right on slack water. The idea is to edge to the entrance and look at what the kelp is doing, and if you can't see it dont go. Fords Terror is also uncharted, so we had to rely on our cruising guide, and a close watch on the bow and depth sounder.
Dawes Glacier which we visited first was not completely choked up with icebergs which gave us a chance to see some seriously big calvings up nice and close sending massive tidal waves towards us. We were the only boats there apart from a big cruise ship that stayed a mile or so off.
That night we anchored in Fords Terror which Marg and I claim is the most beautiful place we had been to on the whole trip. It was all about soaring rock faces and steep snow capped mountains, lots of bears, and pure peace and tranquility, save the sound of waterfalls, and again only our two boats. Phil dropped a shrimp pot in about 400 ' of water, and gave us his catch in the morning as we left to head south again, and Phil & Bev went back to Juneau to drop off the guests, Peter and Christina who were a lot of fun.
Leaving Ford's Terror on ebb slack next morning, and carefully following Zuben Ubi's wake we got the surprise of our life turning the corner to find land exposed everywhere as the tide was completely out. We knew that the waterfall on the other side of the bay would be our lead to line up and we slowly followed Phil until crunch, we hit a submerged rock, one that Zubin Ubi went straight over the top with clearance, but with our foot plus deeper draught, we claimed it. Main WOT into reverse, thrusters to change direction and we were on our way again to safely. I reckon that rock was about 6' under water, and we drew 6'.6"
I went below to check whether we may have any water coming aboard but smiled knowing the rock would have come off second best after being hit by a Nordie. This is now my badge of honour, and feel I maybe just graduating into the boating caper. Both Marg and Sal were on the flybridge when we hit, and Pete was lookout on the bow. I suspect we hit half way along the keel, and will have just some antifoul paint scraped off.
Heading to Wrangell via the narrow Wrangell Narrows we called into Petersburg for an hour to await the ebb current to get us through around midday, but somehow the ebb was in fact a flood, so a fairly slow trip, and the start of much bewilderment we found throughout the whole trip at trying to guess current flows using 3 seperate nav programmes and the official tide book - all in conflict.
We finally got into Wrangell for the July 4th parade and events, and to watch the fireworks which were absolutely splendid for such a small town. Here we met up with 6 other Nordhavn's, which was quite a sight in this very small marina, and had a chance to meet for the first time John and Janet Long on N55 Anamcara, and Bill and Kay O'Meara on N57 Thor, along with our friends from Serindipity, Crossroads, and Cloudy Bay.
Continuing south the next day we snuck into a quiet little bay, Brundige Inlet, at Dundas Island, and got the surprise of out life not only to find anchored a Nordhavn 57, but one flying the Aussie flag. There we had the pleasure to meet Mark and Mog and their two young girls, 8 & 6, on the boat named Myrtle (after Marks much loved dog back at home in the outback of Australia) These guys grow organic lamb on saltbush on a big station near Broken Hill, and had come over to Seattle and bought Myrtle. Both the girls, Lilly and Clancy have always been home schooled on the station (Ranch, 100,000 acres), and fitted in to their new adventure so easily. Seeing them both made us very homesick for our 4 granddaughters all about the same age. They were all heading off to the Calgary Stampede after we left, which would be much more familiar surroundings to where they come from.
Next day was to take us to Kumelian Cove to anchor for the night, after checking in with Canadian Customs at Prince Rupert. Kumelian Cove turned out to be one of our favourite anchorages, and we even had a whale spouting inside this little archipelago of small and very pretty islands.
27th June 2010, Sitka to Juneau, via Tenakee Springs, Alaska
We decided to change our plans to allow Pete & Sal O'Brien our incoming guests from Coff's Harbour to see Sth Sawyer Glacier in Tracey Arm before heading south to Wrangell for July 4th celebrations, where we hope to have our Nordhavn rendevouz, so instead of picking them up off the plane in Sitka, we would backtrack a bit and go back to Juneau and stopover in Tenakee Springs for a few days.
This meant another trip up (east) Peril Strait and timing the Sergius Narrows right on high water slack to beat the ferocious currents that run in this narrow channel. Just after Sergius, with still some narrow sections to negotiate, we found the Fairweather, a large catamaran passenger ferry bearing down on us doing 36 kts, so we pulled into a small bay and stood by until she passed safely.
Heading north/west up Peril Strait to Chatham Strait we came across many whales as usual, and a pod of Orcas, but then saw a real life drama unfold in Chatham Strait when we witnessed a US Coast Guard helicopter drop two medical personnel by wire onto the cruise ship Norwegian Pearl to attend to a passenger with a problem that might have meant an evacuation. The night before we watched the Kevin Costner movie, Guardian, which was about helicopter rescues by the Coast Guard set in Kodiak, Alaska
Our overnight stop was at Tenakee Springs, a small village up Tenakee Inlet that has a warm spring bath house and a population of about 100 souls who live along the water’s edge with many houses built out over the water on stilts, as like so many places we have visited like Hoonah, Elfin Cove, and Pelican.
Rounding the final cape into Tenakee Springs we were treated by the site of seeing Lilipad tied up. Lilipad is another N55 owned by Don & Lili Weipert and we had a couple of great days with these real nice people, filling our crab pots, and eating some halibut that Don caught in Glacier Bay, the biggest being 98 lb, and stood nearly 6’ tall.
Margaret and I both awoke at 0400 this morning and decided it would be good to cast lines and take advantage of the fine conditions and head for Juneau which is 8 hours away. One thing we decided on is we don’t need to take on anymore food in Juneau, as we were stocked to the gunwales as usual.
Boat is running smoothly without any problems which somewhat injures one side of our continous debate about buying a bigger one.
Last night in Juneau we have had to open the boat up because it is very warm and the sun is shining. We have only about three hours a night of dark, so around the clock navigation is easy, although we don't elect to do this. We find that about 8 hours steaming is all we need to do with just the two of us.
Two significant things to praise. The locals are so kindly and friendly, and the US Coast Guard is one seriously efficient and helpful machine. Today on the dock an Aussie couple (Box Hill - Melbourne) came by for a chat who have just come in from Japan on their sailing boat via the Bering Sea.
Tuesday marks the start of our southward journey, eventually down to Mexico. Whether we turn to port or starboard when we get there has yet to be decided. I have been doing some maths on the cost of shipping the boat home as opposed to taking her myself on her own bottom. If depreciation on the boat could be quantified, and should be in the high range, there is not much difference, as fuel alone would be $30 - $40 k.
It has been said that guests on your boat are like fish - they go off in three days. We have been lucky as all our carefully chosen guests have been great so far. One of the cocktail discussions with our fellow owners is about who can top who with the guests from hell. Some of the stories are worthy of a plot for a book - some a horror story.
As I write this I have just completed a generator oil change, and sprayed used engine oil throughout the engine room. We have an oil change manifold with a pump that sucks out the old oil, and pumps in the new stuff. As I was pumping out I didn't realise that a new stop plug fitting was installed back in Seattle unbeknowns to me, and the hose blew off. Ah well, 90 minutes later cleaning oil from a--hole to breakfast, ruined clothes, and an eyewash, I have learnt another lesson about going into the engine room. Go slowly, think, and now boozing before .
Yesterday a nice couple on a boat next door helped us with our lines. An hour later the wife had a stroke and was taken off to hopital. Great lesson to be taken here. The clock is ticking for us all at our age.
Had a report that the business had made an unbelievable profit for the year, so I probably should continue to stay away on the boat, but believe the culture of parsimony I left the guys with has given us the success formula, however I will be back for the opening of our new store in Sydney in October, which will probably be my business careers swansong, as at 10,000 sq ft and at enormous cost, we have built a monument to women's shoe buying habits. God bless them!
Margaret is so relaxed, and has read about ten books so far. I have read John McPhees "Coming into the country' which gives a great insight into Alaska, and now into "Russian America" which tells the story before the US bought the country from Russia in 1903.
June 22nd, 2010, Sitka, Baranov Is, Alaska
Well time to relax and catch up on life for a week while we await our next guests, Pete & Sal O'Brien from Coffs Harbour, in NSW.
Pete sailed with me alone from Port Macquarie to Hobart in Tasmania last year and we got on like a house on fire, added to this he is a master chef. We saw scenery as good as we have here presently in Alaska, so Pete has surely won the quinella.
Had some pleasant cocktails and dinners with new friends found along the way and visited the Chanell Club and Ludwigs with them, which are two fine restaurants. The other night we celebtated Diane Heirshbergs birthday party by attending a string quartet recital which is a part of the Sitka Musical Festival held each year since 1973, and the artists they have are at the top echelon in the world. They come because they love the place for it's quirkiness and beautiful scenery, and included violinist Ik Hwan Bae, celloist Jeffery Solow, and the brilliant young violist, Jennifer Strumm.
The next night we celebrated Stanley Heirshbergs birthday at a Mexican restaurant, and the food was too far from Mexico to be relevant I felt, and Brit Henry and I despatched our vittles to the garbage can.
We had a nice opportunity last night to visit with Doug & Stephanie on their beautiful Nordhavn 76, "TANGO" slipped close to us. Also Patrick and Miriam on their Selene 55 "SPIRIT", and Bob and Dianne on their Ocean Alexander "Journey"
Marg has just done a freezer inventory update, and we could almost cross the Pacific back home with what we have, and the supplement of much seafood acquired recently, so Pete the master chef has all the tools he needs
We are backtracking a bit to Tracey Arm to see the Sth Sawyer Glacier just for their sake before heading south, and after a bit of a linger in the BC Broughtons, should get into Seattle or Victoria quite a bit earler than our original plan.
Marg and I both are looking forward to the family pleasures (including Elliot our dog). I expect exciting period in the business for about a month preparing to open our new flagship store in Sydney, then onto the next adventure of a Pacific crossing next March/April to get our truly fabulous boat back to her new permanent home (first one ever) in Hobart, Tasmania.
This will give us more miles under the keel than circumnavigating the whole world in just over three years, but plan to continue cruising the rest of the world on chartered boats, with someone else planning the itinerary, changing the oil, and serving the cocktails for a change.
We have deserved it we feel.
June 11th 2010, Pelican, Lisianski Inlet, Alaska
After our 5 days in Glacier Bay which is the ancestral home of the Huna Tlingit Indians, we believe we have been blessed with surely one of the world’s most beautiful places, dazzling us with soaring snow covered mountains, eight tidewater or hanging glaciers, whales, sea otters, sea lions, harbour seals, birds of every kind, not to mention the bears.
One of our scariest moments was getting fairly close, but within rule limits, at Margerie Glacier when an enormous amount of ice calved from the face, and we had a tidal waves heading our way followed by icebergs hot on its tail. We had the engine switched off at the time and drifting but quickly started it up to head into the waves instead of being in the broadside position, but quickly did a 180 deg turn when we saw the ice coming our way. This sent things throughout the boat crashing everywhere and much consternation for all on board, particularly Marg and Ros who wondered what maybe had been broken down below in the salon and galley.
We spent our last night at North Sandy Cove to be treated with our third sighting of a black bear, and took off at a leisurely pace to leave the Bay and head for Elfin Cove about four hours west. Elfin Cove is a small fishing village whose quaint houses are connected by a boardwalk, and boasts that only six people live here in the winter to keep an eye on things, as most inhabitants take off south for nicer weather, and mainly just travel around enjoying life. (update: we heard the only bar in town burnt down 7 days after we left - this is serious in a boardwalk town, as the fire could have spread to all the other houses)
The level of travel is often dictated by the abundance of the fishing crop over summer. We had a young couple Tiaga and Amy on board for cocktails, and both had travelled extensively around the world including Australia. Tiaga a good looking, dreadlocked, 29 year old fisherman with his own boat who is a born and bred local, and Amy a marine biologist who once worked at Sea World on the Gold Coast, spends her summer on one of the Alaskan Marine Highway boats giving lectures on wildlife etc.
After Elfin Cove we went around the corner to the Lisianski Inlet to visit the quirky little town of Pelican, another boardwalk village fishing village perched on a cliff face, to wait out some bad weather outside for 4 days. The local cafe has Wifi available which was a relief as we had not had internet connection for the past week. Our plan is to get to Sitka via the inland Peril Strait route off Chatham Strait instead of going outside into the north Pacific, which could be a bit uncomfortable if another low pressure trough approaches. I am very keen to do this personally, but we have some nervous nellies on board who had a tough time coming down from Skagway in Lyn Canal. The biggest challenge was to hit Sergius Channel at slack water, and we were told many vessels are on the bottom, including a tug that went down in a whirlpool, allowing its barge to float away.
June 5th 2010, Glacier Bay, Alaska
We have just anchored in Reid Inlet right in front of Reid Glacier. Reid Glacier is a tidewater glacier, i.e. it calves (breaks up) into the sea making icebergs, as opposed to a hanging glacier which diminishes and melts on the land usually at higher altitudes. Glacier Bay has 8 major glaciers so is a favourite destination for the big cruise ships, although a limit has been put on the bay to only have 25 boats at one time, and stringently controlled permits are required to enter. After staying at Bartlett Cove the first night then Shag Cove on our trip north, we were treated to the sight of our second black bear sighting which gave us a thrill.
Alaska is not immune to global warming of course and their major glaciers are receding at a rapid rate. In fact the weather experienced since being in Alaska has been great and we are still only in Spring, so I expect they will be in for another very warm summer following on from the same last year.
To arrive at Bartlett Cove to exercise our 5 day permit, we spent the night in Funter Bay after a really rough trip coming down Lynn Passage from the town of Skagway. This is regarded as the toughest weather passage in SE, AK and doesn’t offer any shelter to duck into for most of the trip. We experienced up to 40 kts on the nose with an opposing tide that built up short sharp backless waves that gave the girls a bit of discomfort, and Ros had been unwell for a few days prior. I hailed a landing barge going across our bow and he suggested we follow him into Boat Harbour for some respite from the conditions. When I consulted the guide and found that the entrance was only 60 feet wide, and it wasn’t yet slack water, the cure may have been worse that pain. The big lesson learnt from this is not to completely trust weather forecasts at all, but to take notice of our rapidly falling Barometer, talking to the locals, and just using our instincts. I thought I would have learnt this crossing Bass Strait over the past two years, as the Australian Bureau of "Maybeology" never got it right both times.
Skagway wasn’t particularly recommended to us because of the influx of up to 10,000 tourists per day arriving from the cruise boats, however we enjoyed ourselves immensely, and did the White Pass, and Yukon Route train trip which was spectacular with its scenery, and we managed to finally see a young black bear on the side of the tracks as he quickly scurried away.
Before Skagway, we had a night in the nice little village of Haines with Crossroads and Cloudy Bay and celebrated Janice Trembeki’s birthday which was a fun night. We also had a problem with the boat PC, and handed it over to Stanley from Crossroads, who claims not to be that competent, but very persistent, so we him a great vote of appreciation as he got it up and firing, and we blamed it on the uploading of new MaxSea charts the day before.
To say we are having a great time is an understatement of the reality. The conditions are almost perfect with sunshine most days, flat water, scenery to die for, and my expect afternoon kip always happening, and at cocktail time my favourite single malt Scotch.
Life is superb for us at the moment and we are surely blessed.
30th May 2010, Auke Bay, Juneau, AK, USA
The past week has had us tied up awaiting our friends from Oz, and has given us a break away from our convoy friends. Crossroads and Cloudy Bay who nheaded up to Skagway, and Serendipity went up north to an obscure little bay to catch some crab, which they did successfully. The crab are Dungeness and are nice eating as we found after finding one to stumble into our pot at Cannery Cove. Also Veronika departed SKIE when we arrived in Juneau to do some further exploring on land.
What has surprised us most is the more north we go, the warmer the weather gets, and we are back to our Oz rig of tee shirts and shorts. I purchased the other day a new plotter/ sounder for the dinghy and am ready to have it installed when Iain arrives. When I think about it the need for the plotter with full US charts is probably way over the top, but you never know if we do some longer trips away from SKIE.
On Sunday we depart for Glacier Bay and have had to get a permit to enter this extremely scenic region which covers a distance of 50 nm. The Glacier Bay National Park covers 4,400 square miles and boasts 20 glaciers, so we will be back to dodging icebergs again like in Tracey Arm. Our permit is for 5 days and they allow only 25 pleasure craft into the whole region for a maximum of 7 days.
Today Margaret and I are going on a helicopter ride to visit the Mendenhall Glacier close by, and get to ride on a dogsled which will be lot's of fun we expect. Margaret is a dog nut, and we get to spend some time at the puppy nursery.
Boat still without any troubles, but we had a diver inspect the running gear the other day to reveal we had lost one of our kelp cutters, which is a small blade at the leading edge of the stabiliser fins. I suspect this was cause when we ran over a floating log down in BC, which believe me is not difficult to do as there are millions of them floating around.
We had a great adventure 10 days ago going up Tracey Arm to visit the Sawyer glacier. Many people say this is the best one to see in Alaska, and because there was so much ice from where the glacier calves, we all piled on SKIE and towed two dinghies to get us close to the glacier. As expected we couldn't get SKIE too close so John Marshall stayed on board and let her drift around in a little inlet with a beautiful waterfall whilst went around the corner to see the might of this monster moving block of ice, when the constant calving brings thunderous noise when thousands of tons break away.
It was a demanding trip up the arm as we weaving in and out of icebergs for most of the trip. On our return we got a distressed call from John's wife Debbie who stayed back on Serendipity to look after the three dogs, to announce a wind storm had hit our little anchorage, and up to 50 kt winds had their anchor dragging heady her to the rocks on shore. Debbie started up the engine and kept the boat in position until we arrived about 30 minutes later to find all was well with Serendipity and the other two boats.
I had to drop anchor during this mayhem and felt confident that when our 110 kg Rocna went down that it would grab tight. We kept a watch during the night to make sure no icebergs entered our little bay, but as there is a bar at the entrance, what came in wouldn't be too big. In fact 4 did get in but melted before they would become a real danger by hitting a boat and maybe dislodge an anchor.
Onwards and upwards.
16th May 2010, Petersburg AK, USA
After leaving Porrt McNeill we stopped nearby at Port Hardy to allow Susan to fly out to Vancouver, we anchored out a few nights to get to Ketchikan to clear US Customs, and await Veronika's arrival. Whilst here we bought a SPOT tracker to allow our family and friends to track us from a signal to a satellite and overlaid on Google Earth. Every morning I hit a button on the device and it places a waypoint that can be seen by everyone. It also has an emergency distress and a 911 button if ever in any trouble.
At Ketchikan harbor I saw an Aussie flag flying, and went around to meet Phillip and Bev Walshe originally from Sydney who were cruising north as well on their trawler style Kadey Krogan. Phil and Bev have been based in the US for 27 years and professional mariners running large motor yachts around the world. Phil is a licensed ice captain and skippered a 240' boat two years ago through the North West passage. We are looking forward for catching up with them further north.
Leaving Ketchikan early in the morning our little convoy of Skie and Serendipity was joined by Stan and Dianne Heirshberg on their N50 - Crossroads. Stan took the point as he doesn't like the sun being blocked out by the other two boats, but at only 5' longer we are easily twice the size and with our flybridges almost reaching to the sky.
After a night at anchor at Roosevelt Harbor on Zarembo Island we left at 0500 on a beautiful sunny day to set us up to enter the Wrangell Narrows two hours later which from the south entrance, is 21 nm to Petersburg. This challenging channel is the lane for all shipping with hardly any room to pass and enormous tidal currents on a spring tides. We went at around low springs which the Douglas guide doesn't recommend, but we knew we wouldn't run into and serious big shipping because of the limited depth.
On arriving at Petersburg we had a chance to meet up with Henry and Janice Trembecki on their N55 Cloudy Bay. Also this is the day of Petersburgs street parade which is a highlight of their Little Norway celebrations to mark the Norwegian heritage of this little fishing town in a beautiful mountain setting. I would have entered the herring throwing competition but recall the last time I participated in such foolishness I shattered my arm and a 7" titanium plate is still embedded.
Internet broadband connection is available here so a chance to catch up on some business and make a post to this site. I have been troubled with my new MaxSea Time Zero navigation programme because it won't give me correct tidal and tidal current readings. I will fiddle a little longer. I think somewhere its only the wrong time zone in the system as I had it installed in Australia , but don't know how to change it. I have arranged for the Nobeltec programme to be installed when I get to Juneau, which will give me four independent nav solutions on the boat so we shouldn't get lost I expect.
It is raining today (Sat 16th) so Marg and Veronika are rearranging all the cupboards, freezers, and pantry.
The scenery is spectacular and the people are so very friendly. Our next guests (Cox'n) Iain & Ros Couper from Coffs Harbour will meet us in Juneau in a couple of weeks and we are really looking forward to it. It will be nice to share the helm and skippering with my old Cox'n, and down a few Grant Burge Filsell shiraz's for old time sake. Iain, Marg, and I support the same football side (Brisbane Lions), and I need a robust explanation as to why when we left we had won our first three games for the season, and after leaving we have lost six straight. May have to get Vossie on the Sat blower for a little pep talk.
Bought 2 kg of fresh prawns of a boat close by just this morning, and still our freezer of Costco meat remains dormant in the freezers. From now on we are seriously fishing and crabbing, and expect my little QLD dillies will do the job for me as well as the new US type I have bought. Not sure whether my Barra lures will work up here, but will give them a flog.
Onwards & Upwards
May 1st, Port McNeill, Vancouver Island, BC, Canada
We have just moored at Port McNiell which is at the top north east corner of Vancouver Island, and at the end of the famous Discovery Passage and Johnston Strait which separates the mainland from the island, and is approx 86 nm in distance. These narrow waterways are prone to strong currents, particularly during spring tides, which was happening for us at the time, and dodging logs in the water kept us on our toes. The logs seem to gather on tide lines and some were the size of telegraph poles.
We decided to duck into Blind Channel Resort about half way up to escape the swirly eddies, and bunker down for the night to await morning. We were the only two boats at the resort as we are still pretty early in the season, but could imagine the hive of activity say in August.
We have decided to spend 3 nights at Port McNiell as there is a bit of wind up in Queen Charlotte Strait, and for the Cape Caution rounding, but we still have time to get our friend Susan onto a plane in New Bella Bella on Hunter Is to fly down to Vancouver, to LA, then back to Melbourne. We will miss her cheery disposition and laughter. I knicknamed her velcro as everytime Marg went on watch, she was never less than one pace away. Suzie became very proficient with her work on the foredeck, but miffed she couldn't be the navigator. I have seen her lost trying to find our property in her car back home with Sat Nav too many times to be fooled by this.
SKIE hasn't missed a beat as usual (GBMJD - God bless my John Deere) and we are really enjoying the company of our travelling buddies John & Debbie Marshall, and their 3 dogs, and have shared some fine meals and wines together in great company. John is our tour leader and does all the planning for routes and deadlines, which takes a little pressure off me as we just follow in his wake. One wrong call though and those that know me will know this will change, but John so far is a very competent mariner.
Onwards & Upwards
April 28th, Princess Louisa Inlet, BC, Canada
What a great experience to see Princess Louisa Inlet and Chatterbox Falls. After a full day of cruising from Pender Harbour on Vancouver Is, via Aganemnon Channel, we arrived at Malibu Falls to await the low slack to get through into the very narrow and dogleg