Bob and Marilyn's Weblog
April 2016
The Floating Apartment Buildings
Apr. 26
We're still in Juneau.  SWMBO really likes it here and its not to hard to take when the weather is crap.  Its nice to have our electric blanket on damp evenings aboard.  Someday we'll have to untie but she's got us paid up until mid-week now.  

It felt like the whole town was holding its breath, waiting for the arrival of the marks tourists.  The first cruise boats started arriving this weekend.  Its been fun watching the frantic preparations that the town is going through.  There's gardeners planting flowers in the medians, the docks and sidewalks are being pressure washed, the storefronts are getting spruced up and there's a steady stream of merchandise arriving.  Probably 75% of the shops downtown weren't open on Friday but at least half of those were in a frenzy of activity getting ready to open.  I only found one place that wasn't open which had its opening hours posted and they matched exactly to the cruise boat schedule I found online.  If there's no boat in town then there's not many shops open - its just that simple.
Fixing Gray Hawk in Exotic Localles
They're building a new cruise dock in town that is supposed to be open in the summer of 2017.  This morning the radio referred to it as a Panamax cruise dock which is a nomenclature I'm familiar with but not in this context.  Panamax vessels are vessels that will fit through the Panama canal, specifically the maximum size that will fit.  In fertilizer freight that's roughly 50,000 metric tonnes of fertilizer.  I guess the same concept applies whether you're hauling fat midwestern tourists or the fertilizer to feed the corn that makes the tourists fat in the first place.

Once we finally do get away from Juneau our plan is to dawdle our way to Glacier Bay.  Don & Darlene are arriving in Hoonah around the middle of May so we've got just a little over 2 weeks until they get here.  We could get from here to Hoonah in a day if we really wanted to.  It would be a long day but we've done worse.  So we won't be hurrying.  We'll likely go into Glacier Bay on our own for a few days or maybe as much as a week just to wake up the bears and figure out where the whales are hanging out.  The weather has been absolute crap - if it would ever smarten up we've got some painting that we'd like to get done but we need to be able to air the cabin out while we paint inside and obviously we can't paint outside in the rain.  I read somewhere that Glacier Bay is in a rain shadow so maybe it will get better once we get inside the bay.
That's a typical gloomy Juneau day but if you peer deep into the gloom on right side you can make out the shape of the cruise boat that tied up mid-day on Monday.  I think its the Valderstad but I really don't give enough of a damn to get close enough to figure it out.  As far as I'm concerned they're all just variations on butt ugly floating condominiums.  I don't like the West Edmonton Mall and I don't like cruise boats. Cruise boats definitely have more in common with mega malls than they do with boats.  End of story.
Moving North
Apr. 26
We don't go very far each time but we are steadily moving north. For a while I thought we could slow down and maybe let spring catch up with us but that plan didn't last long.  

We left Petersburg early on the 20th and rode the ebb tide up to Portage Bay.  We started seeing humpbacks as we got closer to the top of Kupreanof Island and I suppose we'll see them every day from now until we get back down to Coffman Cove.  The novelty never wears off.  Usually the first thing you see is the snort - "blow" I guess is the official term.  When they've been down for a while it can be a real geyser and then they usually make a few more snorts in close succession as they stay close to the surface.  We never see much of their bodies- just a small portion of their back.  Then they arch their back and gracefully dive, waving goodbye with their massive tail just before they disappear.  When they do that they usually stay down for a relatively long time.  We haven't seen any breaching or bubble feeding yet.

Fixing Gray Hawk in Exotic Localles
After Portage Bay we rounded Cape Fanshaw and spent the night in a little channel east of the Cape.  There was one little tiny fishing boat cruising past us when we went to bed but we woke up in a parking lot with 3 fishing boats anchored close by.  That was weird.  It was still dark when I got up so all I could see was their masthead lights.  I wasn't 100% sure what I was looking at initially but as it got light out I could see that we were surrounded.  

From Cape Fanshaw we headed due west to Cannery Cove in Pybus Bay.  We've been anchoring out a lot on this trip.  Two years ago we spent most nights tied to a dock except for the time we were in Glacier Bay.  This trip we've spent most of our time anchored. Its partly because we've got more time to explore, partly because we're too cheap to pay for moorage and partly because we're being more adventurous.  Its taken us 6 years but we seem to finally have an anchoring system that works relatively consistently.  

We've finally seen some bear but we've been seeing no end of moose..  Go figure!  We could see damn moose at home in buchanan.  There's probably a dead one lying on the side of the highway within an hour's drive from home right now.  The ones we see up here are definitely not road kill but they're every bit as ridiculous looking as the ones we have at home.  Stupid looking animals.  If you believe in intelligent design then your God must have a bizarre sense of humour.

Its hard to recognize but that disgusting thing is the burner out of our Webasto heater.  It has performed flawlessly since I installed it within 3 months of us buying Gray Hawk.  This winter however we've had several occasions where the furnace has failed to start.  Usually it comes back if we turn the power off completely and "reboot" it, as it were.  I don't particularly like that kind of repair but that's the extent of the advice in the Webasto manual.  Some online research and several phone calls to R.J. lead me to believe that I needed to replace the little gray glow plug that is buried in all that carbon.  Of course at the time I started looking for a glow plug I had no idea of the condition of the burner.  I didn't discover that until we got to Juneau and I found someone who knew what I was talking about who could order a replacement glow plug.  R.J. could have sourced me one out of Calgary but shipping would have been challenging, to say the least.

After a couple more phone calls to R.J. I finally pulled the furnace out of the engine room and tore it down on the kitchen table.  Its a remarkably compact unit and a great example of German (over) engineering.  
That's the unit, pretty well completely torn down.  The over engineering element in this case is that the damn Krauts decided to combine the glow plug with the flame sensor.  Every furnace needs to sense when a flame has been established so that it can shut the fuel off if no flame exists.  On the ProHeat in the bus that sensor was a separate electric eye that watched for a flame.  The ProHeat had a burner, flame sensor and a glow plug.  The glow plug came on, the fuel started burning, the eye confirmed that there was a flame and the furnace stayed on. Your home natural gas furnace likely has a thermocouple that performs the same function.  On our current Webasto unit the DamnKrauts have combined the glow plug with the flame sensor, to no visible purpose other than making the design more complicated, which is the hallmark of Kraut engineering.  As it turned out our combined glow plug / flame sensor is likely just fine.  In fact its pretty amazing that it could work at all given the amount of carbon that had collected in the burner and around the glow plug.
Its really tough to get good crew - the level of insubordination some days is just unbelievable.

And her attire is often distinctly un-nautical.  This particular day she was wrapped up especially heavily because we were dealing with our reluctant furnace.
We may be up here too early - the bears just aren't awake yet.  Its been very annoying.  We scan the shoreline regularly and there they aren't.  We've been told that at this time of year they like to eat grass to get their bellies working again after their long winter nap.  So we carefully search every grassy patch on the shore line - to no avail until a few nights ago.  We were anchored in a little bay at the southwest end of Stephens Passage.  Marilyn went out for her regular shore search and I heard her say "Finally - you woke up"

Triplet cubs are supposed to be rare.  We've been told that generally the sow will kill the runt so that she only has two cubs left to raise.  That may be true but we saw a set of triplets two years ago and now the only bears we have seen so far on this trip include these triplets.  I was surprised how fat and rolly polly the little guys looked to be already.  Its still pretty early in the season but these guys looked well on their way to being bears.

We ended up in Juneau about a week ahead of our tentative schedule because of the Kraut furnace. We didn't know how long it might take to figure out and source parts so Marilyn paid for a week when we arrived.  As it turned out I found someone who knew what a Webasto was and had actually worked on one after about half a dozen phone calls.  It shouldn't have been that hard - these furnaces are regularly used to keep the bunks warm on highway tractors, which is the foundation of R.J.'s experience with them.  But the truck shops that I phoned told me to phone the local plumber as soon as I mentioned the word "furnace".  After a couple episodes like that I lost my sense of humour and I may have helped dispell the notion that Canadian travellers are always polite.
We're in the farthest corner from where I took that picture.  That's the south "Harris Harbor" basin of Juneau's main civic marina. The north basin is huge - at least twice the size of the one we are in.  
Technological Miracles
Apr. 18
Roughly 30 years ago now I got call forwarding put on the phone at the shop and I got a cordless phone at the acreage.  I'd leave the shop in the shoulder season with the phone on call forward to the farm.  Then I could have supper in my recliner with the phone beside me and if anyone called they never needed to know I wasn't still at the shop.  I didn't think life could get any better than that.

Monday afternoon we were anchored in 90 feet of water on the south side of Sumner Strait.  My phone rang and it was my boss from my Palliser/Assiniboia contracts.  We were a long way into the conversation before I told him I wasn't sitting in my office at home.  We've been really impressed with how good the cellular coverage is in SE Alaska.  We have very rarely been out of coverage and when we are out we never seem to be more than half a day's travel from a coverage area.  I don't remember that from 2 years ago.
On To Petersburg

One of the big bonuses of travelling off season is that we don't see many other travellers.  There is still some commercial activity but some days we don't even see much of that.  Earlier this week when we were anchored in that little bay on the south side of Sumner Strait we were right next to this little logging operation. The really good anchorages are few and far between.  Most of the bays are steep sided.  We really don't like to anchor in more than about 80 feet of water and I much prefer less than 30 feet.  I guess we could handle 100 feet in really settled conditions but I wouldn't like it. Lots of times here the 80 foot water is maybe 2 or 300 feet from the rocks on shore.  That just doesn't work.  The little bay next to that logging operation was really open and we were in about 80 feet of water but it was mud bottom and flat enough that we could get away from the shoreline. 

The next place we anchored was better - about 30 feet at low tide but still too exposed for my liking.  We ended up spending a couple of nights there - the first night really sucked but it calmed down around midnight and the next 30 hours were dead calm.  From there we moved to an anchorage on the side of Wrangell Narrows, just about where it tightens up and the dredged channels start.  Getting into Wrangell Narrows from Duncan Canal was a little perilous.  We did it at high tide but we only had a 13 foot tide to work with.  Most of the way we were on some really old charts with not much detail.  At one point we went over a pinnacle that stuck up about 20 feet in roughly 30 foot water.  That was alarming but we were going dead slow so we likely could have got stopped if it had turned out to be even taller than it was.  Both times the holding was excellent.  We can tell by the way the anchor hooks up - the second place the anchor chain came clear out of the water and stretched out straight in front of us for about 40 feet when it first came tight.  I always try to ease into the chain the first pull so I don't yank it out of the bottom before its fully set but that time I hit it a little hard and it still held.

A Book Report - Not Cool by Greg Gutfeld

As I mentioned in an earlier post, my visit to the library in Wrangell was my first library encounter in a long time, perhaps my first since university.  Marilyn on the other hand is a regular patron of libraries, wherever we go.  She's on a first name basis with many librarians and they have even been known to visit the house.  We were in the Wrangell library to use their wifi but we came away with a large assortment of books because they were selling some surplus items for a buck a book.  I wish I'd bought more.  Perhaps I'll have to visit another library on this trip.

If you don't watch cable news then you likely don't know who Greg Gutfeld is.  Marilyn says he reminds her of Ezra Levant in that his mannerisms are annoying but she generally agrees with his message.  His book is really just a 300 page rant but its an enjoyable rant nonetheless.  His thesis is that the same people who harangue against bullying in society simultaneously impose their irrational feel good culture by bullying anyone who disagrees with their nonsense.  Its "cool" to oppose fracking and support organic food but irrelevant that the organic items at Whole Foods arrive there on trucks that burn fossil fuels. And you're a racist, right wing, neanderthal if you support fracking and think organic food is overpriced and unsafe. 
It pretty well rains all the time in the Pacific North Wet.  Anyone who tells you otherwise is delusional or lying or both.  That's how they get to have a rain forest.

On the rare occasions when it isn't raining it can be awfully damn pretty.  But note the rainbow.

That's Beecher Pass through which we snuck to get into the southern end of Wrangell Narrows.
This guy loomed up behind us as we started up Wrangell Narrows. We probably could have stayed ahead of him but instead we pulled over and let him go by.  Its called the rule of tonnage - the heaviest vessel ALWAYS has the right of way.
Its a fairly common practice to shrink wrap boats for winter.  Its more common to see it done when the boat is stored on the hard but its not unusual to see a wrapped boat on the water.  This mode of wrapping - which we saw in Petersburg - is a little more unusual.  It appears to rely exclusively on cheap gray plastic tarps and duct tape.  Marilyn isn't impressed but the frugality appeals to me.
Meyers Chuck
Apr. 9
As we were leaving Meyers Chuck we encountered our first orca.  There was a huge bull working the entrance to the bay.  We'd have completely missed him but I happened to go out on the aft deck for a few minutes and noticed his enormous dorsal fin behind us.  He never completely surfaced but we saw his back and dorsal fin several times - the fin was at least five feet high and ramrod straight.

After the whale disappeared we made a hard right and headed up Earnest Sound and then Seward Passage until we got to Santa Anna Inlet.  We would have liked to check out Vixen Harbor but it is only accessible at high tide and our timing was off.  Neither of us was over impressed with Santa Anna - it was a secure enough spot but just didn't inspire us to stick around so after one night we moved on again.  We stopped to check out Frosty Bay which came highly recommended by both locals and Active Captain but it seemed a little exposed for the weather at the time.  

So we carried on to Thoms Place.  We had to anchor twice there because we arrived on a high tide and then misjudged how deep into the inlet we could get away with dropping the anchor.  There was really good holding but the first time we dropped, after the wind swung us around toward the head of the bay, we ended up in 14 feet of water on a 16 foot tide.  That doesn't work well when the tide goes out.
Winding our way to Wrangell
1% of the 1%

On our way over to Santa Anna we met this rig.  Its fun to see how the rest of the world lives.  We get the same view as them and you couldn't pay me to ride in one of those damn flying rocks. Salty looking boat nonetheless.
Guidebooks that don't.

Every second fool that travels anywhere seems to think he/she needs to write a guidebook to enlighten future travellers.  There was really only one that was any damn good for Mexico and I'd have to say there's an identical quantity of good books for the left coast.  Its called Waggoners and it runs out at Ketchikan.  The definitive guides for the northern BC and Alaska coast were written by Don and Reanne Douglass.  They're OK - I'm glad we have them but I'm equally thankful that we didn't pay full retail for them.  (we were fortunate enough to find a bookstore going out of business two years ago and picked both volumes up for roughly half of retail)  

Not too long ago I had a long visit on a dock during which the subject of Don Douglass came up. The guy I was talking to had met the man and his boat.  He wasn't particularly impressed.  I'm paraphrasing but "stuffed shirt" & "pompous ass" both came up in the conversation.  And that pretty well matched my impression based on the books.  A lot of the so-called "guide" is just cut and paste directly from the Coast Pilot which is a government publication listing (and describing) every little nook and cranny of the coast.  The guidebooks are also peppered with little anecdotes from other cruisers, most of which tend to emphasize how deadly the terrain is and how superior the writers' navigation skills are.  Two years ago I even went so far as to send Douglass a snotty note criticizing his tendency to whine about shoreline development and pointing out that, absent logging and fishing, there would be no need to maintain the aids to navigation which enable us to cruise these waters. I doubt he cared - he certainly didn't reply.
Glassy water inside Thom's Place. It rained more or less constantly and we had some wind but overall it was a pretty good spot.
Inside Whale Tail Cove, looking south. Despite the ominous reviews on ActiveCaptain the entrance was far from the most perilous we have experienced.
The latest guidebook for the waters is something called "Active Captain" which is essentially a website with crowd sourced information about everything on the water from anchorages to marinas.  I don't think you'd want to travel the east coast of the US now without Active Captain but its far from that point on the left coast.  Its come a long way in the past two years but its still primitive this far north.  Some nav software integrates with the Active Captain database so that you can view the Active Captain information and reviews - they call them points of Interest or POIs - directly on your chartplotter.  Unfortunately the brain trusts behind Open CPN and Active Captain haven't agreed on a mechanism for displaying the POIs inside Open CPN so we don't have it easily accessible.  I do have a copy of Polar Navy installed which allows me to see the AC POIs displayed on a chart while we are offline.  In fairness it has lead us to some anchorages on this trip but I don't think we are seeing the best of the best because there simply isn't enough depth to the database yet.  And I doubt we've found any anchorages that we wouldn't have found without Active Captain. It has maybe helped me evaluate some of our options ahead of time but I'm always very aware of how shallow the information is.  Just because one asshole from somewhere likes (or dislikes) some particular anchorage doesn't mean we should rush to (or away from) it.
Tidal Rapids & Drying Entrances 

That's the entrance to Whale Tail Cove.  We came through there on a high tide but there's no way out once the tide leaves the bay. We saw least depths of 13 feet on an 18 foot tide so that's 5 feet of dry dirt at a zero tide.  These goofy Americans even get some negative tides, which makes the mudbank even higher, because of the way they establish their chart datums.  That never happens in Canada because our charts are drawn to the lowest low water level but American charts are drawn to the mean lowest low water level which means that on super low tides they actually go negative.  It doesn't much matter - once we get less than about 6 feet of water we're pretty well land locked anyway so 5 feet of dirt or 7 feet is kind of all the same.  Whale Tail is a pretty nice spot and it reminds me of another of our favourite spots where the entrance also dries on low tides - - Roscoe Bay in Desolation Sound.  Whale Tail Cove is way easier to get into than Roscoe - the entrance is wide with a mud bottom.  Roscoe is narrow, winding and chuck full of rocks.  Marilyn stood bow watch into Whale Tail but never saw anything.  Entering Roscoe Bay there's lots for the bow lookout to watch. Lots of big ugly stuff and its really close on both sides.

The other difference with a mud entrance vs. a rocky entrance is that the mud entrance actually goes dry.  When the water inside the bay can no longer get over the mud bank its all over.  The entrance to Roscoe Bay, on the other hand, never really stops running.  There's great big boulders and there's no damn way any boat, including the tiniest dinghy, could get through.  But there's still water trickling through between the boulders.  Not in Whale Tail Cove - when the water level inside the bay gets even with the mud everything stops.  I assume on the outside the tide keeps going down but we never know it on the inside.  We were on 18 foot tides while we were in Whale Tail but our tidal swing inside the bay was more like 12 or 13 feet.

Getting out was actually kind of alarming.  Two and a half hours before we planned to get out - on a 16.5 foot tide - we were still looking at that solid line of rocks across the entrance with a big mud wall behind them.  It seemed like the water would never come in fast enough nor get high enough to let us out, but of course it finally did..
Apr. 3
Don't worry.  Don't get your hopes up either.  Its not us.

We were about an two hours out of Prince Rupert, had just passed maybe a 50 foot fishing boat with a couple of guys doing something on the back deck.  I knew there was a third man onboard because I'd seen him go inside to the helm as we were passing them.  

All of a sudden the radio erupted with a mayday.  When the Coast Guard responded the guy rattled off his GPS position too fast for me to write it down and told them that he had a total of 3 guys onboard and one of them had just "passed out" while cutting fish on the aft deck.  Then there was a long pause while the Coast Guard did whatever they do.  With no boat name and no GPS location we couldn't confirm it was the boat we had just passed so we debated whether we should turn around but hadn't done anything when the Coast Guard finally came back on.  That time I was ready to write down the GPS location and we determined that it was 7 or 8 miles behind us so there was no point in us trying to respond.  They scrambled two boats - "assets" they call them - out of Prince Rupert.  The first was a RIB (rigid inflatable boat) with two honking great outboards on it.  We could see it approaching in about 10 minutes and it rapidly closed and passed us clipping the tops of the waves. There was two guys onboard, both standing up and hanging on.  

Periodically the frantic fisherman would come back on the radio and the Coast Guard was pretty good about the incident, not asking a bunch of stupid questions like they often do.  Maybe 15 minutes behind the RIB we saw a cutter approaching which turned out to be Cape Dauphin.  Probably about an hour later the Cape Dauphin caught up with and passed us and then shortly afterward the RIB passed us as well.  Later we heard the operator tell the fisherman that the patient had been transferred to EMS in Prince Rupert. 

Mayday - Mayday
The Cape Dauphin passing us as she returned to Prince Rupert.
The Coast Guard burned a lot of diesel fuel that day.  That evening we were tied up at the yacht club in Prince Rupert, right next to the fuel dock.  The Cape Dauphin and the RIB pulled up first and then later a much larger boat as well.  Our tax dollars at work but in this case I kind of don't mind.
And while we're on the subject of Maydays, I don't know what the big deal is with all the frog talk.  M'aidez - that's the origin of Mayday.  There's another distress call - securit√© - which represents a lower level of concern than would justify a Mayday call. Clearly that's frog talk as well.

This shaving cream stuff was periodically floating by us in Lowe Inlet.  It seemed to come and go but I never figured out what caused it or why there was more of it at some times than at others.
That's the waterfall at the head of Lowe Inlet that was whipping up all the blobs of shaving cream.  When the sun shines its a really great spot.  We got blown around badly 2 years ago when we anchored directly in front of the waterfall.  This time we anchored off to the left side and had a much more pleasant stay.
Our stay in Lowe Inlet didn't end pleasantly.  We got up early in the morning for the run to Prince Rupert because we needed to catch the end of the flood current in order to avoid fighting current all day.  Instead we spent over an hour fighting ito get the anchor back onboard.  The cheapo rollers that I bought at Princess Auto weren't standing up at all.  One of them worked fine for us last summer but last fall I changed the pivot point on the bracket.  Last summer there was very little pressure on the top roller because most of the time the bracket sat level so there wasn't really a top roller.  This year the bracket hangs down (like I always intended it would) and that means that all the pull of lifting the anchor rides on the top roller.  Evidently the Princess Auto rollers just aren't up to the challenge.  The one that lasted all last summer worked for two lifts of the anchor this year before it completely self destructed.  The one I replaced it with made it through another two lifts before it gave up the ghost too.  

Fortunately while we were in Prince Rupert I was able to find a hard nylon roller identical to the one on the other end of the bracket.  I had to bush up the centre on that one but other than that it appears to be working well.  Time will tell but the nylon roller on the front/bottom of the bracket has survived 5 years so far.  
So we got out of Lowe Inlet, survived the Mayday excitement, spent a couple of overpriced nights on the PRRYC dock while I fixed the bow roller and Marilyn caught us up on groceries.  Then we had a bumpy trip out to Dundas Island on the south edge of Dixon Entrance.  I didn't think it was that bad a day but my crew disagrees.  If she gets knocked off her feed early in the trip she's a wreck for the whole day and that's what happened this time.  Once we got inside Dundas Island the anchorage there is bomb proof so we had a good night and I forced an early start the next morning.  My crew was reluctant but it turned out to be a glorious day to cross Dixon Entrance.  We couldn't have asked for better conditions and we arrived in Ketchikan mid-afternoon under clear blue skies.  Which promptly turned to rain that night.

The locals say that the mountain behind Ketchikan is a good weather barometer for the city.  Eviidently if you can't see the mountain that means its raining and if you can see the mountain that means its about to rain.  The city gets around 160 inches of annual rainfall so the official footwear is rubber boots.
We got a low level flyby from this Alaskan Airlines 737 that was landing as we were leaving.  I initially suggested that this might be an A380 but that was just silly given where Alaskan's head office is.
Another shot of the inboud Alaskan flight with Ketchikan in our rearview.
We're seeing more clear cut in Alaska than I remember from two years ago.  I know the enviro-weenies will disagree with me but I think its a good idea.  I've seen clear cut areas in northern SK after they start to regrow and by 15 or 20 years out there's a whole new healthy forest.  Contrast that with areas of BC that have been "preserved" so the mountain pine beetle can kill all the trees and then they can burn up in the summer.  

That seems to me like a clear cut case in favour of clear cutting.
If you look really really close you may be able to see the green and red markers that define the entrance to Meyers Chuck. Its pretty difficult to spot but well worth the effort once you're inside.
Yesterday (Saturday) we left Ketchikan for a short 6 hour hop up to Meyers Chuck.  Its a delightful little place that is easy to miss on the way by, which is exactly what happened to us two years ago.  This time I found the entrance and, once inside and on the dock, we were greeted by long time local "Steve".  I think his last name is Peavie but I could be wrong about that part.  He told us he's 78 years old and came here when he was 4 or 5.  He's never driven a vehicle - his boats get him wherever he needs to go.  The Wrangell Harbor Authority has recently taken over the local float and Steve was grumbling about that because - for the first time in his life - he now has to pay moorage fees to tie up his troller.  The floats are in pretty good shape and the fees are reasonable but its a sign of the times when a bureaucracy from 40 miles away takes over a local asset, does absolutely nothing to improve it except to install a self-pay station and then starts charging long time locals who have actually looked after that asset over the years for the privilege of using it.