I have not written much about Southeast Alaska because it is much the same as last year, other than the weather. We visited the same places, but how different they looked with the sun shining and at 65 degrees!! Still, I will skip most of Southeast Alaska and move forward to our departure points leading to the crossing of the Gulf of Alaska.
The three of us (Grey Pearl, Sans Souci and Seabird) needed to go our own ways up until about June 1 which was the beginning of our departure from SE Alaska, which turned out to be a multi day event, stopping at several ports. We started out in Pelican Bay, a place just west of Glacier Bay and a place that we have always wanted to go. It is much like all of the other Alaskan towns up here, very small and folksy. Pelican is actually just a HUGE dock, like a boardwalk, on the side of a mountain with stores, houses, restaurants, bars, etc. Really a whole micro-town. When Ken (on Sans Souci) called in ahead to reserve slips for us, the harbormaster said that we could tie up just about anywhere, but he would not be around as he is also the town garbage collector and had to do those duties that afternoon. It does not sound like much, but being the Garbage Collector in Pelican Bay sort of qualifies you for Hazardous Duty Pay, as the dump is crawling with grizzly bears!
I also need to mention Rose’s Bar. Rumor has it that when you get there, they try to get you drunk, then lure you to dance on the bar and then proceed to pull down your pants! I tightened my belt to the max before going in and kept a wary eye on the customers within. Carol, Gloria (a friend of Ken and Roberta) and Roberta ended up bartending for Rosie while she sat at a table with friends. Just as we were leaving, Rose wanted to know if I would stand up on the bar. I think she was half kidding but I instinctively grabbed on to my belt as we left. Good thing I don’t drink. I think in the old days I would have jumped up there without thinking twice! After Pelican Bay we stopped for a couple of nights at anchor in Dundas Bay, tucked way back where most would never find it. It was recommended by Ken’s friend John, who is kind of a local up there as he has been cruising in Alaska for 20 or more years. Dundas had to be the most beautiful anchorage we have been to date. It is long and thin and you are surrounded by towering mountains on three sides. It was flat calm and the shoreline was abundant with bears and even a wolf (see photos). Sans Souci and Seabird ended up spending three nights there and were joined by friends John and Gloria on their boat. We got really close to some of the bears who did not seem the least bit affected by our presence other than an occasional licking of their chops, keeping us at a distance.
After Pelican Bay we stopped for a couple of nights at anchor in Dundas Bay, tucked way back where most would never find it. It was recommended by Ken’s friend John, who is kind of a local up there as he has been cruising in Alaska for 20 or more years. Dundas had to be the most beautiful anchorage we have been to date. It is long and thin and you are surrounded by towering mountains on three sides. It was flat calm and the shoreline was abundant with bears and even a wolf (see photos). Sans Souci and Seabird ended up spending three nights there and were joined by friends John and Gloria on their boat. We got really close to some of the bears who did not seem the least bit affected by our presence other than an occasional licking of their chops, keeping us at a distance.
The original plan was to leave Southeast Alaska as a group to cross the Gulf of Alaska as a group and we were to meet in Hoonah to fuel up and get ready to leave. Hoonah is again, much like many of the small towns in Alaska, full of friendly people. We spent much of the time preparing our boats and things got kind of serious for the first time. We installed Storm Plates on our port side salon windows. Those are ½ inch thick Plexiglas plates that are bolted in front of our already thick ½ inch glass windows as a further measure of protection from heavy seas. We removed our survival suits from storage and put them in the pilothouse for easy access, moved our parachute anchor for easier deployment on the bow and generally tidied things up for a crossing. We filled up with fuel which (because of the 20 foot tides) required the attendant to lower a hose to the floating dock allowing us to fuel from his gravity fed tank. Afterwards, to pay, I had to climb a steep ladder up to the office.
We found out about a month prior to getting to Hoonah that a friend of a friend of Ken’s, who none of us had ever met (including Ken) wanted to give us a kickoff party. Oddly enough, his name is Kent Williams (no relation to Ken Williams on Sans Souci). Kent has a gorgeous 125 foot yacht which he brought into Hoonah and hosted the cocktail party on the dock next to the boat. Aside from us and the GSSR group, we also had invited several of our boating friends that we had met up with while cruising in Alaska. Of course, the main food was Sushi, appropriate for the Great Siberian Sushi Run! Afterwards, we all went to the local restaurant and had dinner. The night before we went there, several patrons were not able to get in the door because two Grizzly Bears were blocking the entrance. Ken mentioned to me that his theory is that they live on the island across the way and walk over the breakwater periodically to eat someone and then saunter back to the island. I’m not sure about that but it could be true!
In the morning we decided to start our engines simultaneously (Gentlemen, start your engines!). Hard as it seemed to believe, we were finally off and running!
Crossing to Kodiak
The crossing of the Gulf of Alaska to Kodiak Island was a three day passage. These particular waters are known to be very rough and we were hoping to pick our weather carefully. We had two forecasters giving us information. Bob Jones from Omni, who all of us have depended on for years, gave us daily email updates and based on what he predicted, we would stay no more than 50 miles off the coast and kind of curve our way up to Kodiak. We were doing this because the weather projections showed that it could turn nasty about half way across and we needed to be able to divert our course into a safe harbor should that happen. We got about 30 miles out and got another report from a guy who knew Bill Harrington, who we were picking up in Kodiak to ride on Ken’s boat. Rich is the local NOAA weather guy and knows the area very well. He emailed us and told us that we should go straight across as he has rarely seen such a good weather pattern in his 25 years of forecasting. He said we could hit a few areas of choppiness but for the most part it would be a smooth (for Alaska) trip. We verified this with Bob Jones, who concurred and did a quick vote over the radios and changed course, heading straight across to Kodiak. It is interesting cruising at night in Alaska. The sun sets very late and it really does not get dark until about midnight. Then it starts getting lighter around 3am so in the course of a day, there is really very little “night cruising”, which is great. We were shorthanded for this leg of the trip so Carol and I did shifts of “3hrs on, 3hrs off” after six pm until 6am and then 6 hour shifts from 6am to 6pm. We did this successfully from Panama to Seattle last year and it worked well for us. The only tense moment for me was at about 2am one morning. It was pretty dark and a huge whale surfaced just off our bow, heading across it. It caught me by surprise and you really don’t want to hit it. He was so close there was nothing I could do. Fortunately, he dove down before I got to him. There have been many stories about damage from whales to boats much larger than us.
We arrived in Kodiak about 6am on June 10th in very thick fog. I was worried about entering a strange harbor in the fog but, miraculously, it lifted just before arrival. Marty, the Harbormaster, and a very gracious guy, welcomed us on the radio, took pictures of our arrival and directed us to his dock, which was right in the center of town. Kodiak is an amazing little town. Kodiak Island is about the size of Connecticut, but with only about 10,000 inhabitants. Their economy is very dependent upon commercial fishing and I think we were the only pleasure boats in the entire harbor! The rest of the economy supports the fishing industry or the families of the fisherman. They have good grocery stores (EXPENSIVE) welding shops, hardware stores, a marine store, a Wal Mart etc. While we were there we met Bill Harrington, a local commercial fisherman who will be riding on Ken’s boat (Sans Souci) and acting as our guide through the Aleutian Islands. I first met Bill in a teleconference call that Ken arranged several months ago. One of the first things he said was “Well, I’m shuahhh anxious to meet you guys when you get to Kodiak Hahh-bahh. I thought, huh? Where is this guy from? I asked him and he said “ Well, I was bawn and raised in Cape Cawd”. Hey, how cool is that. A guy from near our home! It is sure nice to have a local guy up here on one of the boats too. The charts are less than accurate sometimes and we need to know where to sneak in when the weather turns bad. One day, Ken got on the radio and mentioned that his expensive Sonar depth finder just showed a spot that was 20 feet deep. The chart showed 239 ft!!! Braun on Grey Pearl verified the depth as he passed over the same spot. Bill is also very knowledgeable on the history of the Aleutians and in particular, where all the World War II equipment carcasses are laying around.
Smoke on Seabird
We had a very scary incident before we departed Kodiak. Carol and I were about to leave for the day to tour the island. She was talking on the phone and as I walked by her, I thought I smelled smoke (electrical type). She got off the phone quickly and started searching for the source. We opened the engine room door to find that it was filled with a thick smoke. On a boat, other than sinking, this is the most dangerous thing as a fire at a dock can spread quickly. We immediately called our friends Braun and Wayne from Grey Pearl over to see if they could assist in finding the source. We finally cleared the engine room of smoke with the exhaust fans but could not find the source until Carol reached up to the ceiling and felt a very hot wire. We traced it to a burned out stop solenoid on the engine and shut off power to it.
We traced the hot wire with a heat sensing laser gun up to the pilot house, finding one of the ground wires at almost 200 degrees. Fortunately, the surrounding bundle of wires was not toasted. We spent the next day or so running a new wire from the pilothouse to the engine room, which was no easy task in this boat. We also found a new solenoid at a local electrical shop. We met a mechanic at Kodiak Diesel who was very helpful in explaining why the other on probably failed and how to avoid it happening again. It turned out to be an improper installation done by a mechanic in Seattle. We were very fortunate to have discovered the problem before leaving for the day. The installation is complete and working just fine now.
Bill explained that Kodiak is the last of the “tree” islands. After Kodiak, the trees disappear and the islands are mountainous and covered with low, green shrubs. It is almost prehistoric looking when you are traveling here. We anchored inside Malina Point on Raspberry Island for the first night after leaving Kodiak. The weather was spectacular and it was kind of strange seeing Carol sitting on the aft deck at 10pm with sunglasses on reading her book!!
The next stop was Geographic Harbor. It was supposed to be filled with bears and a beautiful anchorage. It was a beautiful anchorage but we did not see many bears. It was very rainy and we stayed onboard most of the time. Kind of disappointing as it is really one of the must see spots up here.
We are currently docked in Sand Point and getting ready to leave for Kings Harbor in the morning. After that, we depart for an overnighter to Dutch Harbor, where we will stay for a few weeks awaiting various friends and crew on our boats, getting minor repairs done and fueling up to leave for the rest of the Aleutian chain. After Adak, things start getting kind of desolate!!!