ALASKA TRIP – LEG TWO

June/July 2007

Southeast Alaska - Ketchikan Northbound

General Overview

This leg took us from Ketchikan the first of June, to Juneau, up to Glacier Bay, down to Sitka, up to Skagway and Haines, and back down to Juneau – plus heaps of cool little places in between! We’ve seen bears, eagles, whales, calving glaciers and then some. We’ve had visitors aboard, met many locals, tested out many colorful pubs and breweries along the way, and have more photographs than we know what to do with. We continue to buddy boat with sister Jo & Adie on Wandering Star and Jo has affectionately nicknamed our team “The Wandering Weavers – 1 & 2.”

We crossed from British Columbia into Alaska and there to greet us in our first anchorage were three bears grazing on the shore. We believe they were there just to say “welcome to wild Alaska!” Ketchikan was our first “big city” (population approximately 10,000) in Alaska and the first stop for the many Cruise Ships that tour this area on a daily basis. Between 2 and 4 ships are in port at any given time and the population doubles when they are here. While in Ketchikan we were docked one mile from the main downtown tourist area where many other cruisers were as well. Luckily, it forced us to get a little exercise as we walked to town each day. We’d never seen so many eagles in our lives. At one point we watched at least 20 eagles flying in a small alcove scooping up fish while others sat perched on the shorelines and rooftops waiting their turns. On the walk to town the very first day Ken & Adie discovered The Happy Bear Pub – the oldest pub in Ketchikan – a favorite local hang out after a hard day of fishing! Their book on the best pubs in Alaska wouldn’t be complete without visiting this one, which is where Polly, the rather large gregarious proprietor of this establishment, took a liking to our boys. The Happy Bear Pub instantly went to the top of their favorites list!

We had four days to explore the waters around Ketchikan before having to return to pick up our friends, Gary & JoAnn at the Ketchikan airport the first week of June. First stop was what most cruisers say is a “must see” little place called Myers Chuck. It was the first of many places along the way where the State of Alaska has installed a public float for docking purposes – for free!! The floats are shared with fishing, pleasure and cruising boats, and in this case, sea planes and a helicopter. If there’s not a good place to anchor, once the dock space is filled, the routine is that you side tie to another boat already tied to the dock – boats can be three deep at times! Myers Chuck, like most settlements in Alaska, is only accessible by boat or plane. This particular Village had about 25 cabins scattered about the cove – it had the quaintness of the forestry lease cabins near the dam in Big Bear - minus any roads, large houses or civilization – just pathways that meandered from cabin to cabin thru a dense rainforest. The “post office” consisted of a mailbox at the end of the float where mail was picked up and delivered once a week. Other than a small gallery, with local artwork, located along the pathway – that’s it! People tell us this used to be a settlement of hippies from the 60’s and we were also told of feuds like the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s that went on here for years. We met locals who were very welcoming and congenial and seemed very normal to us – just what does “normal” look like anyway?!

Next it was off to Thorn Bay on Prince of Whales Island, where we rented a car from a local B & B/Hunting Lodge and drove from one side of the island to the other. This is one of the only islands that have a developed road system with hundreds of miles of roadway. Although it is the third largest island in the United States (second only to Hawaii and Kodiac) there are only 5,000 people living there - there are more bears living on the island than there are people! We found another secluded anchorage, not on the charts, and stayed one more night before heading back to Ketchikan and the big city.

The morning that JoAnn and Gary Cecil flew in for a 10 day vacation, we got the tragic news about Seth Wilson, our 15 year old next door neighbor’s death. The Cecils were supportive and so understanding about our need to fly home to be with the Wilson’s, who have lived next to us in Onyx for 13 years and are part of our extended family.

The Cecils stayed on Dreamweaver on their own for the four days we were away and really got to know Ketchikan during that time. Ken & I arrived back in Alaska on the 9th, threw some sea sick pills at Gary and were off to explore the Misty Fiords for the next four days. Spectacular deep, narrow fjords, steep mountains, bears, seaplanes, and only a few other boats around! A wonderful time was had by all.

On June 13th Ken stayed with the boat in Ketchikan while I was back on a plane to California for a party for daughter Kim and a wedding reception for niece Heathers (Jo & Adie’s daughter) which was wonderful!! Mom was under the weather so I stayed with her for an extra week and rejoined Ken, who had been busy working on the boat, at the end of June. On my flight back to Alaska, we flew over Lake Tahoe. It was such a clear day that the pilot came over the intercom commenting on how beautiful Lake Tahoe was that particular morning saying that he doesn’t often see it that clear and picturesque. I wasn’t back on the boat an hour when daughter Keri, who lives in South Tahoe, called to say there was a big fire - she was driving away from her home with all the worldly possessions she could grab in the half hour they had given her to evacuate. Turns out that the fire started in the meadow a short distance behind her house; her home was spared but many of the homes in her neighborhood burned to the ground.

John & Laura Bulrice came to stay with Jo & Adie on Wandering Star for a week and we all paraded out of Ketchikan for parts further north. We visited Anan Bear Observatory, Wrangle and Petersburg, as well as a few scenic little bays. Ken especially enjoyed Petersburg with its Norwegian heritage – Ken’s mother is Norwegian so he likes to say he is half Norwegian and half white! (I thought Norwegians were white?!) We knew that crabbing was a big thing in Alaska so of course we bought a top of the line commercial crab pot that would hold lots of crabs and give us an extra edge. Although we have had some luck with our extra special trap (that takes up half our back deck,) we can’t say that we’ve been overly successful. We gave John some netting and line we had lying around, along with a 3 foot piece of copper that he and Adie then proceeded to make into a make-shift crab ring. While at anchor we watched John, like a little boy, patiently throwing that ring off the back of the boat and then hauling it up over and over again for what seemed to be hours. John and his makeshift crab trap caught more crab that afternoon than the swanky one of ours did! We’ve now decided to get rid of our commercial pot, dig out my $3.00 queen sized fishnet panty hose, find a hoola-hoop, and see if our luck changes! Perhaps before we leave Alaska I will have the opportunity to use my new cookbook –“1,000 ways to cook crab!”

Next on the agenda was what we consider to be about the most spectacular place we visited in Alaska – the awesome Tracy Arm and Sawyer Glacier. Tracy Arm is a deep narrow fjord that extends into the mountain for 20 miles, winding thru steep Yosemite like cliffs, and has two calving tidewater glaciers at it’s head. Icebergs are scattered about at the mouth of the bay and get larger and denser the further in you go. At certain times of the year you’re not able to get near the glaciers because the ice is too thick and blocks the opening to the inlet. Last winter was heavier than normal here, so the ice flow was very thick for this time of year. This day was particularly beautiful and the colors of the icebergs and glaciers were a deep turquoise blue. We pushed icebergs (some the size of our truck) aside with a long boat hook for 2 miles as we meandered our way thru them and crept closer to the glacier. The noise on the hull as we moved gingerly thru the bergs sounded like we were hitting rocks! Never fear, surrounded by ice, Captain Chaos got us to within a half mile of the face of the turquoise glacier. I just had to take a photo of DW in the ice; I launched the dinghy to take a few pictures - it was scary to say the least! The ice was so thick it was hard to move around and at one point the waves from the tour boats began rocking an iceberg the size of a small house that was way too close for my liking! I seemed to keep getting the dinghy high centered on ice, so I made quick work of hastily taking a few photos, then scurrying back to the shelter of DW. All in all, the adventure was well worth a few more scratches on the hull!

While in Mexico last year we met some friends, Bill & Marjorie, on the sailboat “Second Wind.” They live on the channel leading into Juneau, and it was a fun to have them come out to the edge of their property and greet us as we arrived. Their boat is currently in Ecuador but they flew home to Juneau for the summer months to get out of the heat. We had a fun filled evening with them, hearing of their travels since we last left them in Mexico and deciding where in the world we will meet up with them next. The 4th of July in Alaska is like Christmas in the rest of the states. Every little town gets into it and celebrates for several days; fireworks at midnight on the 3rd, bonfires on the beaches, children’s events - and parades. Juneau was no exception; the entire community is either in the parade or attends it. Community bands, groups, individuals, organizations, dignitaries and oddballs alike – positively the most fun, diversified community parade we’ve ever seen! They were having so much fun, when they got to the end of the parade route; they turned around and went back down the same street they’d just come up!

Juneau is the largest city in Southeast Alaska and is the State’s capitol. Almost 30,000 people live here and over half of them are employed by the government. I would guess that the majority of the other half work for the tourism industry. We found that we take pleasure in finding cozy bays and coves and exploring remote areas; however, we still enjoy the “hustle bustle” of the cities we’ve visited. Juneau still has a small town feel to it and many friendly people; however, we found that (except for the friends we already knew there ahead of time) it wasn’t quite as welcoming as other places we visited. We had the opportunity to get together with Patty Hafen’s sister, Chris, and her husband Greg who live in Juneau. They have both lived there for years – he was a bush pilot and the stories they had to tell about flying around in Alaska, were truly amazing – right out of a wild adventure book!

Brent & Bonnie Tregaskis flew in to join us for the Glacier Bay portion of our trip. On almost a daily basis we are seeing at least a few whales now, but on the way to Glacier Bay we saw some incredible “whale shows,” where we just had to stop and watch the beautiful creatures for what seemed to be hours. Not only did we see large groups of whales traveling together, jumping and playing, we saw a group of 8 humpbacks come out of the water “bubble feeding”... right in front of us! Bubble feeding is when the whales go deep underwater and all blow bubbles to heard and stun their prey; then all together, come half way out of the water in a huddle position with their mouths open to scoop up their dinner. It stunned us so much so, that none of us got photos. We know it sounds like the one that got away but even though we didn’t get photos, it will stay as a memory in our minds for quite some time. Another National Geographic moment at sea!

Glacier Bay is a 4,000 square mile National Park that is heavily regulated and can only be entered by permit. U.S. Rangers regulate how many cruise ships, pleasure boats, kayaks, etc. can be in the park at any given time. Only 24 pleasure boats like ours are allowed in the park at one time. Trying to get permits to enter the park is another whole story that we won’t get into. The routine is that you tie up to the dock at Bartlett Cove, check in with the Rangers, and go thru an orientation and movie about the park, its history and regulations. Our friend Tom Howard from Port Townsend is working in Glacier Bay for the summer - he was there to greet us when we arrived. Bartlett Cove itself is like a camp for adults. There is a big lodge where people can fly in and stay, a restaurant, gift shop, large lounge area with couches that surround a cozy fireplace, hiking trails and ranger programs each evening. Like many of the small communities, young adults come to spend their summers working here.

We had beautiful weather for the first few days – clear skies where we could see the tall, jagged, snow capped mountains for miles. The deep fjords leading to the glaciers were much wider than in Tracy Arm and although there were icebergs, they were relatively small and we could easily maneuver around them. Both WS and DW got up to within a 1/3rd mile of the face of Marjorie Glacier, the most active one in the area. Watching them calve into the water and listening to the ice constantly cracking was really quite eerie, yet spectacular! Ken and Brent, then Bonnie & I, took turns in the kayaks and paddled to within 1/4 mile from the glacier’s face, but didn’t dare go any closer due to the chunks of ice that continuously fall into the water. The closer you get the more gigantic you realize those glaciers are.

Although it seems all we hear about these days is how the glaciers are retreating, there are some in this area that are actually advancing rather than retreating?! They report that the entire Glacier Bay area itself has been covered by glaciers, which then retreated, four times within the last 10,000 years. We know and want to do our part to conserve and not contribute any more than we have to towards global warming; however, it does make one wonder what percentage of this warming is part of nature’s cycle and what percentage we humans are contributing to?! We anchored in the bay for two nights and although the rain and dense cloud cover cut our stay short, it was a great experience. Bonnie & Brent hopped on a small plane and flew from Glacier Bay back to Juneau to continue with their Alaskan adventure. It was fun having them with us; and catching up and visiting with our friend Tom was a bonus too! During our stay, we only saw two cruise ships, lots of kayaks, and (once we left Bartlett Cove to travel the 50 miles up to the glaciers) saw only a handful of other boats. If anyone is concerned about boaters potentially spoiling the area, they have nothing to worry about in Glacier Bay - there are actually more rangers there preserving the area than there are boat allowed in at one time!

We “Wandering Weavers” then visited Elfin Cove and Pelican, two small but most wonderful little fishing communities tucked into small harbors. Elfin is home to less than a few hundred people in the summer and 25 during the winter. There are no cars or roads in Elfin. Its only access is via a boardwalk that runs along the shore and meanders thru the small but charming little community with fishing lodges and private homes scattered around. Everyone was friendly and everyone knows everyone. Although it was raining the day we were there, (which we admit generally taints our opinion of a place) it will go down as one of our favorite most quaint little Alaskan communities.

Pelican was very similar to Elfin, on a somewhat larger and more colorful scale. It too had a boardwalk that accessed most of the community but there were many more services; a cannery, and the infamous Rosies Bar, that so many people along the way told us was not to be missed. It was in Hoonah, a community about 50 miles north east of Pelican, where the Harbormaster told us we just had to go to Rosies – and when we got there, had to kiss her bellybutton from him! Of course we had to oblige and while our laundry was drying we visited Rosies. It is one of the oldest establishments in Pelican and to say it had “character” was an understatement. When “our boys” met up with Rosie, she was a wild redhead – who we’re sure has been collecting social security for some time now. She was great - a Mae West kind of character. Picture Kitty in gunsmoke - with red hair, and 50 years on her. It was an eclectic kind of a place, both the “dιcor” and the characters inside. We were there on a quiet night but do believe it wins the most colorful pub we have visited to date. When we stood up on the bench to write our names on the wall (naturally, we were just following the lead of thousands of others that had gone before us) the staff and other local “guests,” informed us, we weren’t allowed to do that without dropping our drawers! The worst thing was, I had my old lady underwear on rather than my cute little thong! I hid behind Ken and showed as little as I could get away with, while Ken kindly obliged them without hesitation!

In mid July Jo & Adie began heading north to Skagway while Ken & I were anxious to see the “outside” of Chichagof Island and then work our way South to Sitka before having to return to Juneau at the end of July to fly home. We left Pelican and headed out to the open ocean, which we hadn’t seen in quite a while. We’d been on the Inside (i.e., smooth) Passage so long we forgot what ocean swells felt like. For the next few days we worked our way thru the thousands of rocks and little islands that line the west coast of Chichagof. We went into Mirror Cove, which was the most intricate cove to get into that we’ve come across yet - gigantic rocks and a dogleg that made it difficult to decipher where to go and which way to turn. Once anchored, we walked almost an hour thru a rainforest to soak in the White Sulfer Hot Springs in the middle of nowhere. Next was Klag bay, situated up an inlet between hundreds of little islands, where we found an old gold mine and went exploring. It was obvious that the place was simply abandoned and left to decay a number of years ago. Old tractors, equipment, fuel tanks, mining carts, etc. scattered everywhere. It was fun to imagine what it was like in its day when over 13 million dollars worth of gold was mined there. We saw otters, white and spotted sea lions and lively whales on a regular basis while traveling thru this area of coast.

While in Sitka, I spent a few days sightseeing, shopping, visiting museums, catching up on some phone calls and logging, while Ken mainly worked on the engine, transmission, and exhaust systems. While many cultures are represented in Sitka it still has a very Russian feel to it and the Tlinget (pronounced Kling-et) Indians continue to maintain a strong presence here. The museums are exceptionally wonderful and do a good job presenting the history about Sitka’s Russian ownership, the Tlinget Indian history and culture, fur trading, and the US purchase in 1867.

After leaving Sitka we wandered up Hoona Sound to Moser Island and dropped both our shrimp and crab pots in for the night. We anchored at the end of the cove where we were entertained by a grizzly bear on the beach that evening. This particular area was pretty quiet with no other people around until early the next morning when a commercial fisherman came around to check his crab pots – all 250 of them! We chatted with him and he gave us a few tips. After visiting with him, all thoughts I had about myself being a “hearty” kinda girl went by the wayside, when he told us he lived in this remote little bay, on his 50’ fishing boat, with his wife and four (1,3,6 & 7) children! Eh gawd, we don’t know who was crazier – he or his wife! The next day it was a home run for Ken as he caught a 45 lb halibut plus some crab and shrimp. We anchored next to the fisherman that night and brought his family some home made cookies for the fishing tips he gave us! We wondered what the poor people were doing as we dined on fresh halibut, crab and shrimp and watched the two large grizzlies on the beach entertain us for the night! In reality, we were again counting our blessings, that we have been given this opportunity to live this great adventure – even though we know we will soon have to wake up and go back to work sometime soon!

The Indian village of Angoon was next on the agenda where we hooked up with Steve and Elsie on the sailboat Osprey, who we side tied to as there was not much room at the rather worn marina. The current rips thru this area so anchoring here is not the safest bet. We walked to “town,” carrying our trash with us to try to find the proper place to dispose of it. Angoon is a small town and is made up of primarily Indians from 5 different clans; Raven, Beaver, Eagle, Bear, and Shark. It was disturbing to see how run down this, and many other Indian settlements seem to be. Trashed cars, dilapidated houses, rusted out boats, and junk seemed to lie everywhere – in amongst a handful of nicer tidier homes. They did not seem to take much pride in their community although the people we ran across seemed happy and were extremely friendly and helpful towards us. When we asked about a place to throw away our trash, we found that there were no places in town that picked up trash, so we decided to carry it back to the boat with us. A lady stopped us on the street to let us know that there was a bear running around town, just around the corner, so we should keep a lookout. It made us a little nervous with Ken still carrying around our stinky trash! Although we never ran into the bear, we decided that if we did, he could gladly have our trash for lunch! Some things just aren’t worth fighting for.

We had cell reception for a short time – long enough to get a message from Jo & Adie who had gone north to Haines and Skagway when we went south to Sitka a week prior. Their report was that both places were a must see and besides that, the sun was shining! Boy are we easy - that’s all it took to convince us! That night we conjured up yet another change of plans! We awoke at 4:30am and rather than going south, made a right turn and headed to Haines & Skagway. It was over 100 miles to Haines, which is a lot to cover in one day. We figured if the tide was with us, we could make it in about 15+ hours. Which also got us to thinkin’... if we were in a car we could make almost 1,000 miles in 15 hours rather than a mere 100... what a difference wheels make! After 15 hours of driving, we called it a day and pulled into Mud Bay, about 5 miles south of Haines and 15 miles south of Skagway. It was a wonderful little bay with breathtaking views of the steep mountains, walls, and glaciers that surround it. Several houses dotted the bay and solar panels were all around – which you don’t see much of in rainy Alaska. Looked like an Onyx Summit community grown up a bit, so naturally Ken started dreaming about living there and wanted to look for real estate. Easy to think about on a warm sunny day – winter is a different story altogether. I told him I hoped he and his new wife would be happy there! Although we have seen a lot of similar areas in Alaska we were impressed with the Haines/Mud Bay area. It actually has roads that lead to the rest of the world too! We enjoyed a great day in Skagway, touring around and taking the a ride on the White Pass railroad. It felt a little like we were in Disneyland and had a terrific time.

We were leaving Skagway when we got some good bad news from the home front – Good news is that our daughter Kim got a great job teaching in Breckenridge (which is very tough district to get in to) and bad/good news is that she and Scott decided not to marry, and remain good friends instead. She is a great young lady, with lots of friends and a lot to offer the world. We know that her inner guidance is taking her in the right direction and are excited to see what the next chapter in her life brings!

At the end of July we left Dreamweaver in Juneau and flew home for a great family reunion in Big Bear. While we were there Ken and our neighbor Scott cut down a dozen dead trees on our new lot in Onyx Summit and we did more dream building for the future... trying to decide what we want to do when we grow up. We fly back to Alaska the first part of August to begin the next leg of our trip back down thru British Columbia and the Pacific Coast to California. When the stars align themselves just right we will put our cruising plans on hold and rejoin the workforce; however, for now, our cruising plans still call for returning to Mexico and on to the Caribbean in the next year... time will tell... We’ll keep you posted.

Love and Dreams...
Ken & Dottie

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