Bob and Marilyn's Weblog
May 2016
Just a little more perilous than I thought
May 27
One of our favourite movies is Monty Python's Quest for the Holy Grail and one of the best scenes in the movie is when Lancelot argues that "its not TOO perilous" and begs Arthur to be allowed "just a little peril" at the hands of some young ladies in a castle.  

A couple of mornings ago we woke up in Deep Bay, just to the northeast of Sergious Narrows.  I should have slept in another hour but I was anxious to get us to Sitka and we weren't on a particularly big tide so I headed us out into Sergious Narrows on about a 4 knot ebb.  We've run Dent - Gillard - Greene Point on 5 to 7 knot ebbs so I wasn't particularly worried and it all turned out well but it was a little more perilous than I anticipated and it reminded me that there are old pilots and bold pilots but there are no old bold pilots.
The Perils of Peril Strait
Our track is the thin purple line.  The problem at Sergious Narrows is that sharp turn to the south that the water makes coming out of the narrows.  True to the current predictions there wasn't a whole lot of speed to the water in the narrows proper - maybe 2 knots at most.  You can tell by the marker buoys - if its really ripping they will get dragged half under water.  I had a look at them from east of the rapids and elected to go ahead.  They were clearly getting dragged by the current but also clearly on top of the water. What I hadn't calculated was the effect of all the water going through Canoe Pass which reconnects with the main flow southwest of Rapids Island.

You can see that we got bossed around a bit as soon as we got turned south but I had that under control until we hit the water coming out of Canoe Pass.  At that point we got heeled over badly and spun to port (left) as a whirlpool opened around us.  For a moment it looked like we were headed into the rocks southwest of Canoe Pass.  I fought it briefly with the rudders and thruster but quickly realized that was futile so I went with the whirlpool and spun us through 360 degrees.  I also dialed in a lot more power.  Our little tiny rudders don't have much effect at low RPMs and I had started out pretty leisurely.  In retrospect I should have had a lot more power on right from the beginning and, if I had, none of our peril would have been apparent.  By the time we got the whole way round the circle we had drifted to the outside of the whirlpool and the combination of that plus the elevated throttle settings popped us out.  I guess it was a little perilous but not too much peril.

Yesterday I enjoyed a day of boat puttering while my crew played Sitka tourist.  There's plenty to see here.  The Russian influence is strong - there's museums and lots of archtecture to look at.  I did an oil change on the injection pumps, tightened a few fittings and some belts and just generally potted around enjoying the lack of immediate schedule.  Tomorrow we'll be back on an agenda, heading for Baranof Hot Springs.  

It seemed like we were following this Nordy around.  We were anchored together in Bartlett, North Sandy and Blue Mouse Coves.  Its owned by a couple from Seward who use it as a base for extensive sea kayak adventures.
They're just too cute - I couldn't resist another picture of the puffins.
Glacier Bay
May 25
We've been busy.  Don & Darlene arrived in Hoonah last Wednesday and we picked them up on the fuel dock next to where their ferry landed.  We then proceeded immediately to Glacier Bay, arriving in time to take in the "orientation" session the same day. That night we anchored in Bartlett Cove which is the bay where the Ranger station entry to the park is located.  

The next morning we got a leisurely start and wandered our way north up the east arm of the bay to North Sandy Cove.  Then we launched the kayaks and Don showed me how out of shape I really am.  When he and I got back to the boat the women took the kayaks for a long adventure and then later that evening some neighbours from a nearby Nordhavn joined us for wine on the aft deck. 
Cruising Toward Sitka
These two little cuties were about halfway up Wachussett inlet on roughly the same beach where we saw a mama grizz with triplets two years ago.  Mom was keeping a careful eye on the little guys from a little way up the beach.
This poor whale got ran over by one of those damn stupid floating hotels.  So they glued its skeleton together and put it on display.  I'll bet it would rather the hotel had stayed away.
Marilyn really wanted to see puffins two years ago.  We looked and looked but never saw a one of the little guys.  This year they're everywhere.
We anchored at the entrance to Reid Inlet and then dinghied in to see the glacier.  It doesn't quite make it to the water anymore so we could more or less wander to its face.  
It was a long dinghy ride in from the boat.  Poor old Gray Hawk looked pretty lonesome looking back from the glacier toward the entrance to the inlet.
This is what sunrise looks like from North Sandy Cove. Don't bother asking any of my layabed crew for any pictures like this.
So I wrote most of this from Swanson Harbor which is a little bay just outside and a little east of the front door to Glacier Bay, right at the junction of Chatham Strait, Lynn Canal and Icy Strait.  If all goes to plan we'll post this from Sitka in a few days.  That's assuming we can survive the perils of Peril Strait and Dead Man's Reach.  We've got a long day ahead of us tomorrow to get to or through Sergious Narrows and then an easy run into Sitka the next day.  I wanted to go outside (into the Gulf of Alask) to get from Glacier Bay to Sitka but they had small craft advisories on for Cross Sound and the outside waters report sounded nasty so we took the longer, safer route around the east side of Chichagof Island.  

We both really liked Sitka when we were there two years ago so we'll spend at least two and probably three nights there this year.  I've got a little work to do on the boat - nothing serious but I didn't have the right bolts to fix the problem when I discovered it in North Sandy Cove.  The previous owner added exhaust extensions under the swim grid but he didn't do a great job of supporting them.  In the past I've spotted his main man Ray's signature on other defective workmanship and I think I do again.  It won't take much to fix it right but I need to get to a chandlery to find a couple of long stainless or bronze carriage head bolts.  We'll attend to that, do a bit of laundry and generally act like Sitka tourists for a couple of days before we carry on to Baranof Hot Springs.
May 12
We made it almost to the mouth of Glacier Bay but then ended up back in Juneau for a few days.  When we got to Funter Bay (near Glacier Bay) I noticed that the coolant overflow tank on the port engine was overflowing.  Its supposed to catch the overflow from the expansion tank but, despite its name, its not supposed to actually overflow.  It was seriously overflowing and the overflow was drooling coolant into the bilge, making a hell of a mess and more importantly indicating a problem.  

Our engines are cooled by seawater but the saltwater doesn't flow through the engine blocks.  Saltwater is pumped through a heat exchanger which corresponds to the radiator on your car.  Instead of air extracting the heat from the coolant as it does on a radiator, the flowing salt water extracts the heat from the coolant.  Evidently the port side heat exchanger had developed a leak that was allowing it to pump seawater into the engine coolant.  I've never had one fail that way before - in the past they've always failed by putting coolant into the saltwater.  That shows up as a gradual loss of coolant with no visible leaks.  
Fixing the Boat in Exotic Locations
I had a spare heat exchanger but I wasn't 100% sure it was a good spare.  Its a long story but in a nutshell I changed it out earlier on this trip and then after making the swap had second thoughts about whether it had actually failed.  If it does have a leak it is a very small leak putting coolant into the saltwater so it is manageable.  I wasn't comfortable just putting that somewhat unkown spare on and carrying on with the trip so I found a guy in Juneau who had a good used unit and we returned to Juneau to pick that up.  As usual the cell service in Alaska fails to disappoint so - even on the edge of the wilderness - I could go online, call my guy and order parts.

I can't resist watching buses.  When we were leaving Juneau they were unloading this barge.  Sitting on top of 6 of the stacks of containers were these MCI buses.  They each appear to be strapped to a huge pallet, the footprint of which matches the container tie downs.  Its the start of cruise season up here so I assume that somebody ships buses up here for the cruise season.  Maybe they are ski buses in the winter and Alaska tour buses in the summer - I don't know but it was pretty cool seeing them get unloaded like this.
Back in Juneau but at the other end of town in Auke Bay.  That was our view under clear skies.  Its a busy little harbour, much more working class than the downtown location we were at initially.  You can't see it in this picture but the Mendenhall Glacier is right there.  Its a popular tour destination for the floating apartment buildings so the buses were coming and going from the glacier all the time.  Other than that we didn't get much effect from the tour boat hordes.  
That's the Mendenhall Glacier viewed from further out in the bay (and taken on a more typically gray day)
Glacier Bay - Finally
The Rangers in Glacier Bay were very welcoming but this big guy not so much.  He told us in no uncertain terms that these were HIS girls and we should bugger off.  These are on South Marble Island where hundreds of Stellar Sea Lions haul out to sunbathe.  This was one of the larger harems but there were several bulls, each on top of a pile of what I assume must have been females.  I learned how to vent sex chickens many years ago but I'm not really up on seal anatomy (and I've long since forgotten that useless piece of poultry trivia as well).

The weather stayed dry long enough for us to get a reasonably good look at Glacier Bay.  In the (normally) gray gloomy weather its just more water and mountains with some wildlife but when the sun shines its a special place surrounded by majestic snow capped mountains and glaciers in all directions.  I don't think all the whales have come home yet but we saw plenty nonetheless.  

I just hope the weather cooperates enough to let Don & Darlene see the spectacular scenery at least once.  We're in Hoonah now making final preparations for their arrival.  Hoonah is nothing more than a very small Indian reserve with a cruise dock 2 miles out of town.  The cruise companies do that so that they can charge the gyp joint merchants higher rent for a captive audience.  Yesterday there were a few hardy cruisers who had come into town but why you'd want to wander around a very small Indian reserve on your vacation is completely beyond me. 
Ursus Romanticus
May 9
We (finally) left Juneau and returned to Taku Harbor where our earlier visit was cut short by the failing furnace.  We're counting down the days until Don & Darlene arrive but we have time and we both like Taku so we thought we'd stop for a few days.  Turns out we weren't alone.  

The bay at Taku looks like great bear habitat - lots of grassy beaches on all sides - but we had never seen any bears.  We looked plenty but never saw anything, this time or last time.  Its a fairly high traffic area because its so close to Juneau so it kind of made sense that maybe bears would be scared off. Then late one afternoon it all changed when Marilyn spotted first one then two grizzlies on the beach at the head of the dock.  They were at the most 100 feet away from us when she first saw them which is a little close for comfort.  Two days later they had been a LOT closer..

The Bears of Taku Harbor
As it turned out we were watching a boy bear and a girl bear.  They appeared to be on their honeymoon and - pervs that we are - we got the pix to prove it.  They seemed completely oblivious to our presence.  We had the generator running when Marilyn first spotted them but that noise didn't seem to concern them.  After we got over the shock at how close they were we went out on the deck and even tried talking to them but they appeared to ignore us completely.  On other occasions we've seen them sniff the wind as if they sensed our presence that way but this pair didn't even do that.  Maybe they were just that much in love.
This was a little alarming - that's the dock we're tied up to the other end of.  Fortunately by the time we noticed this development the girl bear had turned around and started walking back to shore.  It certainly put a cap on any ideas we may have had about long walks on the beach.  And wiener roasts were flat out of the question.  We had some paper garbage we wanted to burn but even that seemed like maybe it could wait.  While we were in Taku we had a couple of boats join us for a night - we made sure to warn both of them as soon as they arrived.  
This little day sailer arrived on the weekend with 5 kids onboard.  I watched them attempting to get to the dock and finally thought I should offer some assistance before somebody got wet.  The lone guy onboard was doing that thing where you put one foot on the dock, leave the other one in the boat and then don't commit to either the dock or the boat.  Inevitably that ends badly and in his case the only reason it didn't was that he kept a firm grip on the rigging.  After they finally got tied up I warned them about the bears but at that time the bears had wandered completely around the bay so that they looked to be a long way distant.  

The kids were planning to sleep in a little forest services cabin that's located next to the dock in Taku so they got moved in that evening. Later on the girl that owned the little sailboat showed up looking for assistance to fix a stanchion that had got knocked loose on the trip out from Juneau.  I gave her a hand with that - we did a boogy repair that I figured would get her back to Juneau.  The deck on the boat was matt fibreglass and the area where the stanchion was sitting turned out to be pretty punk.  The stanchion had just more or less punched right through the deck and of course we couldn't get to the backside of the deck.  It looked to me like the hull and the deck were moulded separately and the deck was fitted out before it was attached to the hull.  Of course that means that anything which fails on the deck is likely unrepairable without considerable destruction just to get at whatever has failed.  Not my problem.  

The next morning Denise was back cleaning up the area we had been working on.  Her four friends were still in the cabin.  I happened to look at the beach immediately behind her boat in that photo above and here comes our bear friends strolling back along the beach headed for the dock (and/or the cabin.)

This time there was no fooling around - they got on the dock and started heading out towards us.  The sow was a little more bashful - she stayed close to shore.  The boar on the other hand had an itch that needed scratching and he very deliberately kept walking closer to Gray Hawk, stopping to scratch himself at every piling as he passed.  He got to about 20 feet away from where I was standing on the boat before he finally stopped advancing.  I don't think he even knew I was there but my worry was that if he got past our boat and then got scared his escape path could easily have been over top of the little sailboat where Denise was trapped at the end of the dock.  So I had decided that I would make my stand if he tried to go past the front of Gray Hawk.  My only weapons would have been the boat horn and a boat hook but I had the advantage of surprise, elevation and a very loud horn.   Gray Hawk's big high bow would have put me about 6 feet above the dock that the bear was walking on.  I'm not sure how that might have turned out - fortunately we didn't have to find out.
Denise's buddies were all back at the cabin, alternating between taking pictures and running back to the cabin for safety whenever it looked like the bears were headed their way.  Eventually the bears got close enough to their little group to become aware of them.  I'm not sure whether they saw or smelled them - it sure seemed like their vision didn't amount to much.  All of a sudden the boar let out a couple of barks, wheeled around and started running back down the beach, away from the cabin.  That only lasted a few seconds - maybe 100 yards - before he turned back toward the cabin.  Then he kind of stood up and sniffed for a while.  Soon after they both disappeared into the trees behind the cabin which must have been particularly alarming for the kids left at the cabin who by this time would have been wondering how they were going to get back to the boat without going down the dark forest trail to the dock.  

It all ended quietly with the kids walking across the open beach to the dock.  While they were doing that, casting frequent glances into the forest, I happened to notice the bear pair much further down the beach beyond the cabin.   While all this was going on Marilyn noticed that a humpback whale was fishing around Taku Harbor.  So we got a good hit of wildlife before we finally left the dock.

Now we're rapidly closing in on Glacier Bay, counting down the days until Don & Darlene arrive.  This post comes from Funter Bay which is a little indent on the west side of Admiralty Island, at the east end of Icy Strait where it connects with Lynn Canal and Chatham Strait.  I continue to be amazed by the places which have cellular coverage although I am using the booster for this post.