Swanson Harbor Scene

I just ran across this June 2014 photo of Mahdee tied up at the Alaska state float in Swanson Harbor. What a lovely spot. Middle of nowhere but with great internet access. We ran our Verizon hotspot up the flag halyard in a baggie and it worked great. We were there a couple days and each day a different fishing boat or two would come in and spend the night before going out to fish again the next day. We ate well between crabbing and free salmon from visiting fishermen. Great experience. The only downside is this is the place an American Bald Eagle tried to snatch Beryl off the deck. We had to supervise all her outdoor time the entire visit to Alaska because with the number of eagles we saw we suspected she would be looked upon as a tasty meal by one. I had kitty-watch duty and, forgetting that she was outside, I was walking along the dock away from Mahdee when the eagle took his shot at her. Luckily she was hanging out under the canoe AND the dark gray Amsteel guard wires (lifelines) confused the eagle and he bore away just a few feet away from Beryl when he realized his big wingspan wasn’t going to make it through to his prey.

Swanson Harbor Alaska

Fires and Fire Ants

We recently arrived at one of our favorite, idyllic anchor spots. It’s a spot that is sheltered from wind and has reliable stretches of warm dry weather–perfect for varnishing. Our arrival this year was about a week too soon because the temperatures have been way too hot (upper 90’s F with a couple days over 100F) for either sanding or varnishing. As a result, we have spent time on the computers interspersed with two or three leaps overboard into the very pleasant 78F water to cool off. Night time temperatures cool off nicely, but the ship’s cat has been a real complainer–her thick Norwegian Forrest cat fur being just too much for the local conditions and she has never been one for swimming.

The first sign of real trouble was a huge dragon fly that I had earlier admired on the fore-deck was later covered in and being consumed by ants. I threw the carcass overboard and hosed down the deck and regretted not taking a picture of the big dragon fly before its demise. Then Brenda noticed some ants down below one evening, and more the next evening. Brenda remarked that a visiting friend, Milly, had mentioned ant problems on their boat last year. The pieces were beginning to click together. We wondered where the ants could be coming from. In the light of day, there were no ants on any shore lines. Ants can’t swim, so we wondered if a few were dropping from the over hanging tree limbs or being carried by the wind.  We didn’t yet realize that the ants on Milly’s and our boat were no ordinary ants.

The two mile stretch of water on either side of where we anchor is a posted 5 mile-per-hour (mph) no wake zone to protect the embankments. It is one of just a few areas in the California Sacramento Delta that still has large trees lining the banks and excessive wakes erode the soil around tree roots and leads to fallen trees. During our varnish-fest stay here, we feel we are doing a great public service by giving speed boats another reason to slow down to something near the posted 5 mph limit; the drivers may not be literate because before and after passing us, many are going closer to 50 mph and throwing out huge wakes.  But, where the speed limit signs don’t work, a sense of courteous behavior sometimes does.

The waterway is a little wider where we anchor, but it is important to keep Mahdee near the embankment so that she is out of the way of passing boats. Further, to ensure that wind or wakes of law breaking boaters (without even a sense of what’s courteous) don’t throw Mahdee onto the rocky embankment, we usually have four lines holding us in position; the bow anchor, a stern anchor, a bow shore line and a stern shore line. It takes a little effort to get everything right, but with two of us on board we can get secured pretty fast and we sleep well at night.

Our friend Milly sails solo and so I volunteer to run the shore lines for her boat when she visits and anchors nearby. This year, when we were tying up Mahdee, I recognized the tree trunk from a previous visit, but initially thought it was a tree that I had once tied Mahdee to. The appearance of ants was a clue that perhaps this was the tree trunk that I had tied Milly to last year.

Then Brenda developed a nasty painful blistery welt and I remarked that I hadn’t seen such a welt since we lived in Texas and had fire ants in the yard and eventually the house too–a nightmare. We thought that fire ants couldn’t be this far north in California. I remembered seeing that they had been seen and reported in the LA/San Diego areas, but they couldn’t be this far north near San Francisco and Sacramento–could they?

Some online searching revealed that fire ants love a drought and that the current California drought has enabled the northward spread of these awful creatures.  California has classified fire ants as an invasive species and they are so destructive that some jurisdictions will quarantine an area, but fighting the spread of aggressive fire ants is a losing proposition. It was clear that not only were we once again in fire ant country, we had tied up right next to a big nest of them and they were in our virtual back yard–there goes the neighborhood.

In the video–a hint of things to come: I’m securing the shore line in entirely the wrong spot. The high crotch in a big tree seen towards the end of the video ultimately ended up being our safe-from-all shore anchor spot.

Shore anchor from Schooner People on Vimeo.

It was after dark and the cat’s water bowl was swarming with ants and she was clearly very distressed. I went outside with a flashlight and discovered that the bow shore-line was now twice its normal one inch diameter, thick and brown with an awe-inspiring invading army–now I was distressed too. We went to general quarters and locked down the boat. Our goal was to make it until morning when the ants would go into hiding from the heat and we could see well enough to reposition the shore line away from any fire ant nests.

Brenda prepared a bowl of boric acid and I sprayed and washed the deck and lines to knock off as many ants as possible. We left a dry segment of line where it came aboard the boat and coated that with powdered boric acid. We surrounded the water bowl with more powdered boric acid and put her food bowl in a moat using a baking pan of water. Poor kitty spent a miserable night in the heat and confused about how to flip her dry food out of the moated bowl and onto the floor which she does before eating each morsel. She whined and complained all night so that Brenda could hardly sleep and in the morning the moat around the food bowl was full of soggy uneatable cat food.  I was worried that while sleeping, I would roll over onto a string of these biting ants and be covered in painful welts. No one aboard Mahdee was happy.

First order of business the next morning was to relocate the bow shore line. Fortunately, the wind was blowing from Mahdee’s stern.  I untied Mahdee from the tree trunk and was very careful not to disturb the sleeping ants in the now obvious nest.  This stretch of slough has lots of trees to choose from so I picked the biggest tree and put the line way above ground level.

We are still left with a huge, but diminishing number of ants on the boat which are now cut off from their home nest. As we find them, we are killing and washing them overboard using the deck/anchor wash-down. With relaxed security measures, the ship’s cat is returning to her happy normal self and so are the humans.

In keeping with current events, I am now doing periodic “border patrols” to ensure our shore lines are not breached again and Brenda knows why Milly hasn’t been back to visit this year–she is reluctant to accept my misguided helpful actions of tying her boat up to a fire ant nest. The following morning, during a patrol I found the deck covered in black and white grit–another mysterious first. It turns out that a middle of the night wind-shift carried ash and soot from the devastating wildfires and coated our decks. We realized that the same drought that has enabled the fire ants to move here is also enabling horrific fires–a real double whammy for the area.

After the bait bucket…

The questions are coming in about what’s next — crab? what does the crabpot look like? and so forth. So here’s more of the story. After I shove some bit of bait in the bucket, I tie it into our (collapsible) single crab trap and if we’ve got deep waters, I bait a prawn trap too. Then David rows the traps out to their respective spots. Sometimes that’s far from our anchorage location. With tides up to 30ft and in 50ft to 300 ft of water it’s amazing that we manage to get the right quantity of line out. One time we saw our marker (a fender) floating slowly away near our anchorage on Admiralty Island. David did a row out to nab it and was rewarded with a curious humpback whale following along to check out David’s efforts. All was resettled shortly thereafter but we had, alas, no crab that next morning but just a tiny starfish.

David with crabpot all ready to row out and drop it off.

dave

A nice crab about 7″ measured across the shell. In Alaska you cannot keep one that is female or smaller than 6.5″

crab

If the row is especially long, we sometimes pick up the pot in the morning as we leave the anchorage with Mahdee. That is the case here and I’m standing nearby with engine running on Mahdee while David hauls up the crab pot.

Sometimes our catch includes a Sunflower Seastar. Oh so pretty on the ocean floor but they’re difficult to get out of the trap without hurting them. They prey upon baby crabs, too.

seastar

The cutest little starfish came up during our first ever crabbing.

starfish

David pulls up a catch with many crabs but they’re all too small to keep or they’re female.

many

This was one of the first crabs we caught and David’s saying “now what?”. I really didn’t know what to do with it but quickly learned that killing it outside with a quick whack to the belly was the kindest thing rather than dropping into the pot alive.

crab2

In addition to crab, the prawn trap just has smaller mesh and does a good job in deep waters of gathering prawns for us. Here’s a nice batch caught in the Misty Fjords National Monument. All cooked up and ready to go.

prawns

Wildlife Photo (In)opportunities

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One goal during our Alaska trip was to take lots of nature photos. We were especially excited by the prospect of brown bear (aka grizzly), whale and bald eagle sightings and photos. I can now say that we were generally disappointed by either the frequency of sightings, or the quality of my photos. Part of the problem can be attributed to poor wildlife lens availability. At least that’s my main excuse. During the first few days of our trip north, we had an additional crew member who is an avid amateur bird photographer. She seriously indulges her hobby and has the lens to prove it. That lens alone would ordinarily require most people to make a choice between owning a house or that lens–both would require a similar mortgage. I am also the first to admit that equipment is not everything. In fact, most people with that killer lens get far less use of it than our guest Sharon who is nearly constantly using her camera. Her dedication combined with the right equipment results in some stunning wildlife photos.

For our trip, priorities dictated that we use our resources to acquire things like radar, charts and fuel for the engine. A wildlife-friendly lens dropped off the bottom of the pre-trip purchase list. Nonetheless, we figured that spending months in Alaska and BC Canada would present opportunities for some good wildlife photos even without a killer lens. Overall, I think that has proven true, but there are two stories here. First, regarding brown bears–we now joke about the very existence of the beast up there given an absence of sightings on our trip. We now realize that at the time of our arrival in early April, most of the alleged brown bears would still have been snoozing–aka hibernating. That is a pretty good excuse for not venturing outside of the lair for a photo op.

Our trip into Misty Fjords National Monument was supposed to put us in the middle of brown bear heaven and yet we saw none. The single other cruising boat we passed during our week-long visit claims to have seen a brown bear immediately after passing paths with us. In the last fjord, we passed up staying on a park-service mooring because we were feeling overwhelmed with the beauty and decided it was time to keep moving. That other boat stayed the night on said mooring where their alleged sighting occurred. I can’t tell if they were messing with us or serious.

Our first probable brown bear sighting happened about a month later. We were anchored in the guide-book perfect spot in Chapin Bay. Chapin Bay is on Admiralty Island which is also known as “Fortress of the Bears” because of its exceptionally high concentration of brown bears. So, I was anticipating bears. Lots of bears. Late in the day, a cruising trawler arrived and tried, but couldn’t squeeze into that guide-book perfect location where we were–not enough room for two large boats. They headed towards the end of the cozy little bay and as the trawler got smaller and smaller in the distance, we realized that Chapin was not as cozy as we had initially thought–it’s very big. Just before dark, I saw movement on shore towards the end of the bay where the trawler was. Using the binoculars, I could just make out a brown fuzzy butt walking away. That was not even worth picking up the camera for. Brenda still doubts that it was a bear sighting.

Many bear-less anchorages later, we were near Hoonah waiting for just the right moment to zip over to Glacier Bay National Park so that we would arrive there at the start of our park permit period. We saw something moving on the “near by” shoreline. Getting out the binoculars, we could see that the little brown speck was probably not so small. The grass around the brown furry thing was so tall, however, that the scale would be right for that brown thing to be a squirrel, but the shape was all wrong for a squirrel. We decided two things: first, that size and distances in Alaska are extremely hard to judge–stuff that seems to be nearby and small is actually way distant and huge; and second, that this was actually one of the famous Alaska brown bears. I took some photos, but I knew that they would be classic in the sense that any viewer would have to be coached “see that little brown speck there” … “no over there” … “that is an enormous brown bear and that green stuff around the bear–its grass, only its at least 6 feet tall” and I caught it all in this photo only no one will know unless I coach them. Well with a Sharon lens, that photo could have been good.

As time in Alaska wore on, I became increasing concerned that I had no decent bear photos and that was due to having only had one marginal bear sighting. We had a bear bell which is a noise maker that one should wear when walking in the woods where bear are known to exist. Bears with their notoriously poor eye sight might inadvertently stumble upon a human whereas if said human is wearing a jingly bell, the bear will head off in another direction long before coming into visual range of the human. Since bad bear encounters can be really bad, the idea is to avoid all encounters. But, I wanted to see and photograph a bear, and I was increasing becoming suspect that there were any bears to be seen. So I would go off on walks without the bell and with my camera ready to shoot at a moment’s notice. We also took Mahdee to places that bears were known to haunt. Taku Harbor has a pier that we tied Mahdee up to which has a warning that bears may walk out onto the pier and even board boats to get things they want–like food or garbage. We don’t want a desperate bear on Mahdee so we are not stupid enough to leave out food. Shortly after our arrival there was a commotion about a distant brown speck and one of the other boats launched a dingy to go investigate. Other than that speck in the binoculars, there were no bears. So, we next went back to Admiralty Island with its famous population of brown bears. Several days at an isolated anchorage which to my un-bear eyes seemed to be bear heaven resulted in no further sightings.

At the other end of the wildlife sighting spectrum are the bald eagles. I can recall when seeing a then-rare bald eagle was a life altering event. I confess to being a little jaded after living and canoeing around our nation’s capital which was noted at the time for having one of the healthiest recovering bald eagle populations in the country. Still, I was unprepared for the sheer numbers of bald eagles in Alaska. Up there, they seem to outnumber crows and black birds and if it can be believed, are even more annoying.

Actually, they are more than just annoying. Alaskans can be divided into two groups: those that are really worried about it, or who have already lost a pet cat or small dog to an eagle versus those who insist that eagles have plenty of “natural” food and would never go after a pet. There are so many eagles in Alaska that I am convinced that the population numbers have way overshot the sustainable level and that something like a food shortage is imminent for eagle population control–especially given their federally protected status. Given that belief, we limited our cat Beryl’s access to the deck for times when Brenda or I were also on deck as an eagle deterrent. Even so, we almost lost Beryl to a bald eagle at Swanson’s harbor.

Brenda had cat watch but was on the dock talking to the owners of an adjacent fishing vessel. Beryl has always tended to hide/sit under the canoe when alone on deck. From under the canoe Beryl likes to watch what is happening. When Brenda or I come near, she waltzes out from under the canoe and is happy to be around our feet without the canoe overhead. Prior to this trip I though this was unfounded cat paranoia. On this particular day, Brenda was on the dock and I was in the charthouse when a bald eagle came swooping right at Mahdee. My first thought wow what an amazing picture this would be, but that once again, the camera was too far away from me to get in time. Then I realized what was really happening. Before I could even move in reaction, the eagle veered away passing just over Mahdee’s gunnels. I ran out the door to make sure Beryl was OK and she was still sitting under the edge of the canoe. I don’t know if she saw the eagle or not, anticipated any danger or not. I do know now that the eagle’s last instant veering off was because the eagle suddenly saw the small black amsteel removable guard wires/life lines on Mahdee that were between it and Beryl and there wasn’t room for a bird as big as that eagle to get between the guard wires to reach the cat. We are now very vigilant to ensure the guard wires are up when Beryl is on deck and that the human with cat watch duty is closer to Beryl. Unfortunately for her, Beryl didn’t get as much deck time after that incident, but we didn’t want to lose her.

Despite the fact that bald eagles are becoming nearly as populous as cockroaches, everyone still wants a great bald eagle photo. I read in the news during our visit that there were two midwestern visitors who ventured out onto an alluvial mud-flat for a bald eagle photo. One man sunk into the mud and became trapped so that the coast guard had to rush a rescue boat to the scene in advance of the incoming tide that threated to drown the stuck man–all for that bald eagle photo. The glut of bald eagles and a fear of one getting Beryl had tempered my immediate enthusiasm for an eagle photo. Nonetheless, I did want a good bald eagle photo to commemorate the trip.

Bald eagles, however, are clever at avoiding portraits. They seem to know how far away to stay so that my camera will only resolve a dark blur. They use their piercing eye to note when the camera is put away or out of reach and then, they swoop in and do amazing acrobatics and dart off before anyone can get a camera pointed their way. Nowhere was this more evident than in Taku Harbor where a bald eagle was sitting on one of the most distant pilings making up the pier where Mahdee was moored along with a large recreational trawler. I was sitting in the cockpit when the bald eagle swooped towards me and plucked a fish from the water just 50 feet away. I knew that any attempt to dive for my camera was futile even though it was only about 5 feet away. I decided to just enjoy the moment. A woman on the trawler, however, grabbed her camera and spun to get the shot and the eagle flew off to its distant piling top to eat. We both figured the show was over and she put down the camera. The eagle once again came between our two boats and snagged another fish. The woman on the trawler spun to get another photo and the eagle spun off in an evasive course that took it back to the piling while avoiding the camera. I again thought about getting my camera, but knew that the eagle had eaten two fish and had to be full. Wrong. Again it came at me for a third fish and later a fourth. I don’t know how many fish that eagle could have eaten because a shore-party of hikers returned to the pier scaring off the eagle from its glutinous perch.

Every time I was excited about an eagle photo I had taken, Brenda and I would display it on the big monitor and see the brown patch with the white–the white was a signature feature of a bald eagle. We would blow up the photo until the brown and white was big and blurry and Brenda would console me by saying that my lens just isn’t a Sharon lens and that I need not be disappointed. My acquiescence to the diabolical cleverness of eagle camera awareness certainly resulted in several lost photo opportunities even considering my modest lens. I like to think I got the upper hand on two occasions. The first was shortly after leaving Juneau when an eagle decided that Mahdee’s main mast was the perfect moving vantage point to hunt from. I came out of the hatch which was directly under the eagles butt–probably an eagle blind spot–and got some photos of an unconcerned bird with its claws dug into my precious weather station staring down at me while I snapped some pictures. Actually, I am not sure who had the upper hand there.

The second event, however, was more in my favor. We were tied up to Papkes Landing in the middle of the Wrangell Narrows which was a great staging spot for us to take advantage of an ebb tide which would occur at first light the next morning. I was in the chart house when a bald eagle landed on a piling next to the boat. To be fair, that eagle could not have been expecting us there. I am pretty sure the locals didn’t want us there because everyone we spoke to told us we would be hard aground at low tide. Odd since I knew we would have 2-3 feet so I am pretty sure transient boaters are discouraged from stopping there. Thus, the bald eagle wasn’t expecting anyone aboard Mahdee. I slid open the hatch, poked my head out and got a couple of photos before the bald eagle realized its predicament and flew off. Finally a bald eagle photo that wasn’t all blurry–a clear victory for me.

In general, it was tough getting close enough to wildlife for a good photo with my limited lens. I knew that was going to be a challenge before starting on this adventure. Whales and birds where plentiful, but tough targets to capture. Part of that toughness was my philosophy not to harass the wildlife. We never altered course to “chase” a whale and on several occasions had to put Mahdee in neutral to mitigate an evolving potential collision with a whale–fortunately for both parties no collisions ever occurred. I had an unexpected photographic success when a black oyster catcher flew by right next to me. It turns out that there was a nest somewhere nearby and the black oyster catcher wanted me to chase after it so I could be lured away from the nest. I was happy to oblige it for a photo opportunity in return. I got my shot and then left the area so that the eggs or little ones could be tended by the parents.

All in all, I am happy with the wildlife photos we took. We barely scratched the surface of places to visit and see, so we know we will be returning to Alaska and BC Canada. On that next trip, I hope to have a better wildlife lens–maybe not an uber lens like Sharon’s, but one that will extend my photographic capabilities.

 

Eagle on Mahdee Main Mast

Bald Eagle atop Mahdee’s Main Mast

Black Oyster Catcher

Black Oyster Catcher

Misty Fjords and the Revillagigedo Island Loop

After a week of gloomy Ketchikan rain, Thursday May 1st came sunny, clear and warm with temperatures in the high 60’s. We jumped on the bus to downtown, stopped at Murry Pacific, and loaded up on all the fishing stuff we neglected to buy during our last Murray Pacific trip. Love that place and by now they probably love to see us coming in the door, too. Friday morning was overcast but we didn’t have rain as we left the Bar Harbor marina for the Misty Fjords. Unspoken until later on, both David and I had our own separate worries about finding the correct fuel dock; we needed to turn our old L16 batteries for recycling. They were sitting in the cockpit—weighing over 120lbs each and we were happy to be rid of them.

We motored down the still unpronounceable Revillagigedo Channel. Visibility was good but we still had the radar on. Near the entrance to Behm Canal I was thrilled to learn that our new B&G 4G radar can indeed see very small things on the water. In this case, it was the minefield of floating logs we were picking up very clearly. We picked our way through and turned left to enter Behm Canal. A brief time later, we were moored nicely inside Alava Cove. Yup, you read it: moored. Not anchored. The forest service has placed mooring buoys and even floating docks in a variety of locations throughout Alaska including several that we took advantage of as we visited Misty Fjords National Monument. It was a huge and new looking mooring ball so we were very happy to tie up to it rather than anchor in the deep waters of the cove.

We dropped our crab pot and prawn pot both baited with tuna cat food (one local method for catching things) and waited. A short 3 hour soak showed us: nothing. Down the pots went for an overnight soak. It was spotty raining in the afternoon and evening but the rains cleared as big winds swept in from the east and pushed all the clouds away. With a lot of wind noise, I was up at 5:30 am peering out at the mooring, our boat track, and the lee shore behind us. The sun had been up for at least an hour—my they have long, long days here in Alaska. David rowed out and snagged the line for the prawn pot and brought it to me on deck. I brought up the prawn pot, thinking “this is too easy, not a whole lot in there.” No prawns, just a 10” little fishy—looks like a herring—wandering around the pot. Well, at least that gave us some live bait for next time. I pulled in the crab pot next. No crab but a lone sunflower sea star that I returned to the water.

Moored in Alava Cove

David getting ready to set a crab pot

The view from Alava Cove

It was a beautiful sunny day but fairly windy. The forecast was for 20 to 30 knot winds all day coming from the direction we wished to travel in—but the forecast also was for a calm and rain-free remainder of the week so we decided to sit at anchor and enjoy the scenery and wildlife we might see. On the previous evening, David had photographed a brown mink-like animal running around on shore and pointed the same out to me later in the day. Two brown mink? This morning we saw a deer walking on the rocks down to the waterfront behind the boat and another deer just staring at us from the shoreline to the north of us. Several eagles were seen including two soaring together in formation that was quite spectacular. I saw a pair of birds that I haven’t been able to positively identify but they really look like Eider. The usual mix of seagulls enjoyed the shoreline and there’s a little brown and yellow bird that keeps flying out to the boat to say hello and then flits away again.

On Saturday, we took in our pots and figured we try our luck in another anchorage on another day. Late in the day, right before dark, an old wooden fishing boat dropped anchor near us and put down crab pots in a couple places including the spot we’d taken in our crab pot from. Too bad we left early Sunday morning so we don’t know what they managed to catch if anything.

On Sunday, we were underway by 6:30 heading to Smeaton Bay, one of three majestic fjords along the Behm Canal. We weren’t disappointed, we saw breath taking views one after another as we motored up the fjord and into one of the upper arms. Unfortunately, we were against tidal currents and headwinds the whole way up. As we turned around, we were able to put up the foresail and took advantage of the winds to help us along motorsailing downwind at 8 knots for a bit and then enjoying a beam reach for a bit longer. As we exited Smeeton though, the winds were back to on our nose—coming directly down the Behm Canal. We motorsailed for a bit but dropped the sail near our anchorage for Sunday night: a quiet little channel, Shoalwater Pass, tucked between the shore and Winstanley Island. Oh—and again our anchorage had a mooring ball available. The moorings at many of the locations in the Misty Fjords are set up for people who have reserved a US Forest Service cabin. And there on the shore was a nice little cabin but no occupant.

As soon as we had the boat tied to the mooring, David was off setting the crab pot at about 60 ft depth and prawn pot at close to 200 ft depth. We used the bait fish along with catfood for a fishy-smelling bait, yum. David also fished with a little chunk of our bait fish and had nibbles within minutes of dropping a line in the water. Nibbles that took our bait but were crafty enough to avoid the hook. Durn.

Just as we were settling in to our nice solitude, along came a nice little 24′ aluminum fishing boat. He’d reserved the cabin for several days. We figured we’d be off the mooring and anchored in the deep little bay. Instead, he immediately, offered to raft up so we could spend the night on the mooring rather than anchor. He was planning on sight-seeing and fishing with an early start so we’d be able to sort-out the raft up in the morning. From him, we learned that the US Forest Service stocks the cabins with wood for the fireplace or wood burning stoves each of the cabins have. He lived in Wyoming—or was it Montana? I forget—and had been trailering his boat to Southeast Alaska for several years to enjoy the fishing here. We got out the charts and he pointed out his favorite sights in the Misty Fjords as well as good fishing, crabbing, or prawning locations he’d experienced.

After he left to see the cabin, David went out to check the pots. A crab! Yea! We’d caught something we’re supposed to catch. Barely regulation size at 6.5” we could keep it. We crossed fingers that we’d have both prawns and crabs in the morning. We had a really peaceful night and David pulled the pots at 6:00 am Monday morning. Three more crabs, none of regulation size so we couldn’t keep them. No prawns. I learned, from cooking our single crab the night before, that my huge canner/stockpot which barely fits on the Taylors stove could probably only handle three or four of these big crabs at a time. Not that it looked like we were in danger of catching too many at once anyway.

A too-small crab gets to go free

On Monday, it was another bright sunny day. We visited Rudyerd Bay, another of the three big fjords. It was narrower and twistier than Smeaton and had numerous waterfalls, awesome granite cliffs, and lots of great scenery. The arm called Punchbowl Cove is very popular with the tourists who do flyovers of the Misty Fjords. We saw several seaplanes while there—about one every two hours. Punchbowl Cove has yet another of the US Forest Service moorings, so even though it was early in the day, after touring the fjord, we picked up the mooring, set the pots, and David went exploring a trail along a nearby creek which leads to a lake, Punchbowl Lake, high above the fjord. He took numerous photos of his trip and I’ll just say I’m glad to view the photos rather than climb up that cliff that can in no way be described as a trail. We had yesterday’s crab for lunch in a crab salad and overall we felt like the Misty Fjords were treating us very nicely.

On the way to Rudyerd Bay, there is an impressive spire of an island in the middle of the Behm Canal. It is called the New Eddystone Rock.

Beryl helping navigate around Eddystone Rock

Rudyard is a very lovely fjord with many waterfalls and grand scenes

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Tuesday, again David pulled the crab pot and prawn pot at 6 am and we were underway very quickly. Getting off the mooring takes a few minutes compared to hauling anchor which typically takes us 30-45 minutes. Oh, back to the pots. No crab but we got our first prawn haul! 17 prawns, 14 of which were quite big. So it appears that Punchbowl Cove is a good place for spot prawns. These prawns are very tasty–a little more like lobster than regular shrimp. Here’s a link to information about them.

See the white spots on the prawn? There are six on this one, but most have four spots.

All cooked up, our first batch of spot prawns

Spot Prawns and pasta shells

Pulling the crab pot

The Misty Fjords have wisps of misty clouds even on a sunny day. The early morning in Rudyerd Bay is spectacular.

Walker was yet another awesome fjord. Rockier than the previous two and with huge waterfalls going from the top of a mountain all the way, circuitously, to the water where we were, far below. Even trying hard, you couldn’t even get the entire waterfall in one photo. By this point, both David and I were beginning to become seriously overwhelmed with the scenery. Stunning view after stunning view to behold. Our trip was becoming a blur of grand proportions.

Beryl is often very interactive while we’re underway. In the two pictures below, I’m holding Beryl. In the first, she’s being all sorts of sweet and purring as I hold her and look out the charthouse door at David. Happy cat, happy Brenda. In the second photo, I’m steering the boat through a very narrow passage in upper Walker Cove. The charthouse door is open so I can see all instruments and chartplotter while steering from the outside helm. I’m only at idle so the engine is queit and thus, Beryl has come outside to look at everything. I don’t want to lose track of her on the deck since she doesn’t have her lifevest on–only her harness. So I hold her. She is actually struggling to get down and I’m looking really angry in the photo. Weird time for David to take a picture. David has also accidentally put the camera on some sort of random artistic mode so for the rest of the day, our photos are “interesting” colors–washed out, B&W, contrasty, etc.

Happy Duo

Not so Happy Pair

Majestic Walker Cove

There is yet another US Forest Service mooring in this fjord, but we decided to continue onwards up the Behm Canal to either Fitzgibbon Cove or Burroughs Bay. Although many people love to anchor in Fitzgibbons, I really wanted to see the two rivers, The Unuk and the Klahini that empty, side by side, into the end of Burroughs Bay. We’d heard there was a mooring at the mouth of the Klahini so we figured we’d pick it up if it existed. Otherwise, we’d backtrack to anchor in Fitzgibbon instead. Out of Walker Bay, up the Behm Canal and into Burroughs Bay we went. I cooked the prawns along the way. We trolled a line but with no live bait and going over 7 kts we joked that the only thing we were likely to catch was something too big for our rod and reel. As we got closer to the head of the Burroughs Bay, I thought we’d troll at 3 or so knots for the last bit, but as I brought back the engine power to simply idle, we still scooted along at 5 knots. The currents were definitely with us on this leg.

When we pick up a mooring ball, usually I manage the helm while David scrambles around on the bowsprit with the boat hook and a special clip and shackle for hooking onto the mooring eye. I’m not an especially good scrambler but I’m usually good getting us to the right spot. This mooring was especially difficult for me to line up with and moderate the power to not overshoot. The fickle currents may have had something to do with it. Further, I’d ventured too close to the mud bar between the two river mouths and seen depths of only 8 ft before approaching the mooring from a different direction. So I was a little spooked to get too close to the bar again and that was influencing my efforts.

After we were hooked into the mooring, as Mahdee swung over towards the bar, we had about 15 ft under the keel. That was sufficient to keep us off the mud during the next low tide we’d see in the night, but the following day’s low tide would have us grounded if we didn’t depart as planned in the early morning. The mooring was nowhere close to its indicated location on the charts and we could see logs and deadheads up the river in that charted location. The US Forest Service must have relocated the mooring due to the mudflat extending further down into Burroughs Bay. We wondered how many more seasons it would be before they’d have to relocate it again.

The location was spectacular, in a different way than the fjords were. This, with two wide open river valleys beckoning the viewer to a canoe trip up river or a hike along the shores. The site is known to be full of wildlife from bears catching salmon to moose and trumpeter swans. The reference atlas we have for the area, lent to us by our friend, Steve, states that the area between the Unuk and Klahini Rivers is the site of an old native settlement. The fish found in the vicinity of the two rivers include trout (Dolly Varden, rainbow, steelhead, and cutthroad) and salmon (silver, pink, and chum). We enjoyed the scenery but didn’t glimpse the broad assortment of wildlife. Our goal of leaving before we were literally high-and-dry precluded a longer stay than overnight. If we had stayed another day perhaps the story would be different.

I fished for little while from the mooring but with no luck

Early Wednesday morning we were up and off the mooring by 6:30 headed out of the Misty Fjords to continue around the Revillagigedo Island to ultimately end up back at Ketchikan without ever retracing our path. It was a lovely day, again, with plentiful sunshine and warmth. I had downloaded the text weather forecast files on the HF radio on Monday night. Therein we learned that we could expect Wednesday to be our very last sunny day. It wasn’t looking very sunny but rather overcast with the sun trying to break through in the morning.

After the Behm Narrows, which really weren’t so narrow, we briefly visited a little bay on the west end of Bell Island where up to about 10 years ago there existed a resort with hot springs feeding mineral baths and a pool. The place looked pretty run-down and we wondered about its demise. We then cut down through Hassler Pass, Gedney Pass, and Shrimp Bay towards our destination of the US Forest Service mooring on Klu Bay. There were two spectacular waterfalls on Shrimp Bay and a nice creek, Klum Creek, that we visited via dingy while moored in Klu Bay. Unlike the previous night’s mooring, this one was a piece of cake to pick up.

We were settled in in a matter of minutes and had the entire afternoon to enjoy explorations; I baited the crab and prawn pots and David rowed them out to appropriate depths. He took the prawn pot over to the deeper waters of Shrimp Bay to drop it in about 300 ft but left the crab pot between us and the Klum Creek in less than 100 ft of water.

We visited the Klum Creek and took pictures of the shoreline reveal during the low tide.

Baiting the crab pot with prawn heads

One of the waterfalls in the “double” waterfall off Shrimp Bay.

I baked a double batch of chocolate chip cookies as a treat. While pulling out ingredients, I found a smashed Trader Joes bag of pita chips hiding behind my spice bin on the pantry shelf and took that as a sign that I should make a batch of hummus with the starting-to-look-rusty can of chickpeas I’d found in the bilge storage area a couple weeks ago. My hummus turned out too salty but otherwise OK. I complained to David about this since I hadn’t added salt—so how could it be? He asked me if I’d rinsed the peas with salt water? Duh…yes. That explained the salt.

David and Beryl waiting for the cookies and hummus to be done.

The propagation curves for getting our SSB HF radio downloads show that we’re most likely to have success in the middle of the night. I got up around 3 am to download the weather information and Beryl “helped” me by bringing a clothespin to play with and then when that didn’t get the response she wanted, she brought her smallest mouse toy—we call it her “Milly Mouse” because it was a gift from our friend Milly this summer—and proceeded to play with it between me and the radio cabinet, impeding progress on my weather downloads until I managed to grab Milly Mouse and toss it for a game of fetch.

Thursday morning was another 6:30 am start. This time overcast and sprinkling rain as David gathered the crab pot to find a tiny Dungeness crab on one side of the trap and a giant sunflower sea star (this looks like a starfish with about 15 legs) on the other side. The crab looked like “get me away from that thing before it eats me!” and since the crab was way too small for us to keep, both catch went free.

We dropped off the mooring and headed over to the twin waterfalls where David had set out the prawn pot the night before. In the misty rain, David pulled up the trap and—bonanza! We had 42 spot prawns in there. Yum. As soon as we had the dingy tied in midships and the prawns in a bucket, I boiled some water and quickly cooked them up so we could have them later in the day. Spot Prawns are extremely perishable; as soon as they die, there is an enzyme produced in the head that quickly turns the meat to mush. Thus, we cook them asap so we don’t have to worry about the enzyme of death so to speak.

A bucket of spot prawns

Cooked but not peeled yet

Ginger Prawns over rice for dinner.

The remainder of the day was cloudy but we didn’t get rained on while we motored on to the next anchorage we wished to visit: Naha Bay. This one was a real treat—the US Forest Service has provided visiting boaters with a float (that’s what they call docks up here) and a ramp up to a lengthy forest pathway. The path is very pretty. The path is not well maintained anymore, thanks to Federal budget cuts, but it is still a very nice place to visit. We learned there is a local group of boaters who do maintain the path as best they can. We appreciate that.

Cloudy trip day

The float at Naha Bay. This float is 48′ long, there’s another long one for seaplanes and a third area that a smaller boat under about 25 ft could tie up.

The well-kept part of the path at Naha

After climbing up the hill on the path for a ways, you get to the height of Mahdee’s foremast and can see it through the trees just off the path.

We heard and saw the Trumpeter Swans at both Naha Bay and Klu Bay, but only managed one photo–David got this one, a silhouette of the fly over, on the trail near the boat.

It wasn’t all that deep so we didn’t bother putting out the prawn trap. We did put out the crab pot but only caught tiny crab so nothing to put in the pot on the trip back to Ketchikan Friday morning.

As we arrived back in Ketchikan, it was sunny and warm; we also were in the middle of seaplanes taking off and landing on the waterfront adjacent the Bar Harbor Marina. Sort of strange to have to look all around on the water and then up in the air to make sure you’re out of everyone’s way.

We spent a lazy weekend in Ketchikan doing little projects and ignoring all the bigger ones. By Tuesday May 13th the weather turned towards the more normal overcast and rain of southeast Alaska. We did a round-about on the bus system in the pouring rain—going up to the recreation center to swim, sauna, and shower and then to the A&P grocery store to check out the prices and pick up things we hadn’t found in the local Safeway. Rain, rain, and more rain. I’m wearing my dayglow orange slicker and I don’t even care that I look like a cross between a road sign and the Great Pumpkin because it’s keeping me dry.

The A&P grocery name isn’t part of the chain by that name. Here it stands for the full name of Alaskan and Proud. They had my favorite crispbread, too! So I bought another two packages and thanked my lucky stars for all the Norwegians who must live up here and make a good demand for it. We have had sticker shock at the prices of most foods. It’s sort of at the point that if we find something at a “normal” looking price in the lower 48, we’ll just automatically buy that item and think we got a good deal here. When David and I were first married, I baked our bread because it was such a better deal for me to do so. It has been years since I’ve baked our bread simply because I’ve been able to buy good bread easily and reasonably priced. Not so, here. I suppose I’ll be baking bread again soon. The good whole grain loafs here are between $5 and $8 per loaf and I just can’t see paying that. Similarly, English muffins were $3.79 for 8 whereas I’m used to paying between $0.99 and $2.29 for 6 to 12. I’ll have to dig out the English muffin recipe, too. The only bread near normal pricing are bagels. Strange. We also are baking all our own cookies, cakes, nutbreads and that sort of thing since the baked goods in general seem quite steep.

On expenses—we did expect things to be more costly here so we were pleased to see diesel at less than California prices and most marine items at only a slight premium. Slip rates are a good deal though. The food items vary—prepackaged things being spendy but raw ingredients not too bad at all. This trip, we are spending beyond the expected budget but food and consumables are only a very minor part of that. The $1500 we spent on four new L16 batteries for the house bank was really an unexpected expense that makes me say “ouch!” and is what takes us out of budget. Since we expect to enjoy much of the summer at anchor or moored at free spots, we’ll likely have everything cost-wise sort of even out sometime later in the summer.

That’s it for now. Today is Thursday, May 15th, it’s sunny and bright outside. David just caught a ride with a local boater to pick up a couple spare parts at the Cummins dealer. The weather is forecast to be sunny for a few more days so we may take this as our Que to continue on our trip north to Glacier Bay via Petersburg and a few other points between.

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