Prince of Wales Island

Pop Quiz: What’s the Fourth-largest island in the U.S.? (Hint: numbers 1, 2 and 3 are: Hawaii, Kodiak and Puerto Rico). 135 miles long by 45 miles wide, located near Ketchikan, Prince of Wales (or “POW” as it’s known locally) is an intriguing place to explore.

The blue line shows a small part of our wiggling route from the small islands and passes of Sea Otter Sound and the lower end of El Capitan Passage to the sister towns of Klawock and Craig. The island has some unique geology including karst (limestone) and caves at the north end. A marble mine is still active today, and gold, silver, and even uranium has been mined on the island in the past. These days it’s known more for timber and fish, though the amount of logging is less than it used to be. Thanks to all the logging there are about 300 miles of roads on the island, though there are only a handful of communities – the population of the entire island only very slightly bigger than Petersburg. About 8 or 9 of the communities have seaplane docks, but there is only one airport – in Klawock, and it only serves small aircraft. If you want a commercial jet you have to hop to Ketchikan or Sitka.

After weeks out in the wild places it’s fun to stop in a town… Stores! Restaurants! Internet! Phone service! Our first stop was Klawock which is a Tlingit town.

Klawock has a very small harbor but the accommodating harbormaster found about 35′ of dock space for our 50′ boat – no problem.

Besides having the only airport on the island, Klawock is known for its totem park. At one point it was a resting place for abandoned poles from all around the area, but those poles deteriorated enough that they had to be retired. New poles were carved and they’re arranged on the hillside overlooking the harbor.

Unfortunately they didn’t have any placards to give information about the various poles – I’d really like to know the story about the orca on the bear’s head, as well as this neat interpretation of a raven wearing a black jacket.

We had a ball looking at all the details on these poles, and were glad to have a day of sunshine to do so. The next day we were so excited about walking to the grocery store, post office and cafe – all located together about 2 miles away – which would be a lovely walk except for the pouring rain. Rain covers for our knapsacks and rain gear for us – no problem, and well worth it for a nice lunch and fresh veggies.

The weather forecast showed some significant winds heading our way so we called the harbormaster in the bigger town of Craig and got a more secure spot to sit out the weather. Besides, Craig has more restaurants! As we headed out of Klawock we saw a ship being filled with logs and other wood products…

…and we passed by the sawmill just to the south of the ship terminal.

Approaching nearby Craig we couldn’t miss this distinctive pink bar, even from more than a mile away.

Craig’s north harbor is protected by a very practical breakwater – a big barge with shipping containers on it that are used to store commercial fishing gear. It works well!

If you look at the map above you can see that Craig is somewhat protected from the open ocean by small islands, but a tsunami is still a risk…

…and this sign in the window of the cannery museum is a reminder of how much world events can come ashore right here at home.

The old cannery on the outer bay has been abandoned…

…but there’s a newer fish processing plant in a more protected spot. These two devices are giant fish vacuums – they slurp the salmon out of the fish holds.

We can never forget that commercial fishing is a dangerous way to make a living and to provide us with food.

We ate lunch out every day, sampling a few different places and spending time in the Library where we could get some Internet. Just in case though, there’s still one of these things in town!

The gale abated, the fishing fleet left, and we topped off groceries and water before heading back out to the quiet places.

Remembering the Bahamas

We spent some very happy times cruising in the Bahamas, and in some of the areas of the Abacos that have been hit so viciously by the hurricane. We’ve already seen the cruising community start to gather supplies and are standing by to use their boats to bring whatever help they can.

Hopetown, Elbow Cay, Abacos
Hopetown Harbour

Our thoughts and prayers are with the Bahamians and first responders.

Warren Island and Sea Otter Sound

We finally have some Internet again so I’ll get back to our explorations. After jumping across from Baranof Island (before the seas picked up), we stopped for a day to do some beach combing on remote Warren Island.

It’s exposed to the ocean so the beaches collect an interesting array of flotsam and jetsam, even on the east side (that faces away from the ocean). The swell can wrap around the island and carry things to the lee side. Imagine the force of the waves that can hurl massive logs far up on the beach!

In addition to the logs, there’s a sad amount of plastic trash – particularly fishing gear with Japanese writing on it. On a stop here a few years ago I found a rare glass float, but this time it was just plastic. We took small things back to the boat to recycle, but a lot of it was too big to manage.

Despite the trash, it’s a beautiful island with dark gray sand and craggy rocks.

From Warren we headed into Sea Otter Sound which has, as the name suggests, lots of sea otters. This area, on the NW side of Prince of Wales Island, has seen considerable logging activity. Some is still going on today.

We found a small community at Edna Cove which grew up out of the logging and fishing industries, home to less than 50 people.

If you look at the map up top you’ll see that there are a gazillion little islands with endless nooks and crannies. We looked for anchorages with likely salmon streams in the hopes of seeing bears, but had no joy there. We saw plenty of places with schools of fish wanting to go upstream, but I suspect the drought might be making the streams too shallow for them. In one of the anchorages there were no less than 20 salmon leaping in the air at any given moment! At the mouth of streams the water looks like it’s boiling with the masses of fish.

I had to console myself with some berry picking, and I found lots of places with huckleberries… here’s what’s left for tomorrow’s breakfast. Yum!

Bird watching was very good in Sea Otter Sound and up into the lower part of El Capitan Passage – more rhinocerous auklets, murres, goldeneyes, mergansers, and these red-necked grebes.

The weather was settling down again and we decided to head south and visit some new spots – the towns of Klawock and Craig on Prince of Wales (POW) Island. The path to get there involved lots of wiggling around islands and rocks, narrow passes and through beautiful wild scenery.

The photo above shows the view in one of the bays – notice the vertical clouds coming off the mountains and land. It’s a great visual to show how the land heats up faster than the water during the day, causing that uprising air mass and drawing the wind onshore.

In addition to the natural beauty, we occasionally saw signs of logging activity. It’s not pretty, but on the other hand there are so many trees in the Tongass that we can probably spare some. Sensible, managed logging (and leaving old growth alone) means jobs and materials to build with – so it’s a tradeoff.

Living in Alaska we continue to learn more about the wealth of resources our state has, and about the balance of protecting them while also using them. We don’t like to see things like the bare hillside in the photo above, but we do like to be able to go to the lumber yard and buy 2x4s to build with. It’s not black-and-white. Fishing is much the same, where commercial fishing seasons and species are managed to insure good returns now and well into the future. The key is balance, and protecting the future of all the resources.

Baranof’s Southwest Coast

We’ve enjoyed amazing weather these past few weeks, with bright days, light winds and flat ocean conditions for traveling. It can’t last. You can see the southen part of Baranof Island on the map below, with those glorious deep fjords, myriad lakes, mountains and anchorages to visit. Too much to see in one season. The places I labeled in blue are the bays we visited, shortening our stays and skipping a couple of spots as the weather pattern started to change.

The last time we were on the outside coast here we made it as far as Whale Bay where we had to hunker down in the aptly named Still Harbor waiting for the weather to ease. It never improved much, but was predicted to get much worse in the coming days so we headed back towards Sitka and protected waters. This time we were determined to explore much more of Whale Bay, but a long finger of thick fog came off the ocean and extended up both arms of the fjord all day and into the next. We had clear weather in the anchorage, and enjoyed watching the dozen or so harbor seals dozing on the rocks, but we weren’t going to see anything if we headed farther into the bay. As soon as we got back out in the ocean the next morning the skies cleared to reveal sea otters…

…and birds – horned puffins, sooty shearwaters, red-throated loons, murrelets, common murres, cormorants and (of course) gulls.

Friends who were commercial trollers in this area recommended Sandy Bay, and wow – what a beautiful place! As we turned the corner into protected waters we saw a tall cascade waterfall and some rhinocerous auklets bobbing around (I didn’t get a good photo – they were pretty shy.)

I’ve had a few people complain lately that the only human they ever see on the Blog is Jim. I hate having my picture taken, but I took this one to silence the critics…

me (Robin)

…and Jim got one while I wasn’t looking.

I did my usual exploration by kayak, waiting for high tide so I could get up the creek near our anchored boat. No fish and no bears… but it was certainly beautiful.

The next day we headed farther south to anchor in No Name Bay, known in the Douglass cruising guidebook as “Reanne’s Terror”. In the video below you can see how nice and flat calm the ocean is on this overcast day, but look closely at the rocky entrance and notice that it’s scoured bare to a considerable height. Now imagine the ocean on a grumpy day and picture the waves crashing there!

I paddled the entire bay…

…savoring the silver snags on shore and the bright sea stars that really popped against the monochrome of the gloomy day.

I spotted a mink and an orange crowned warbler in my kayak travels – something special!

Our weather window was definitely starting to close in a couple of days so we skipped Redfish Bay and headed to Puffin Bay – the closest good anchorage before rounding Cape Ommaney. Right at the head of the bay we turned out of the fog into a gorgeous protected cove with a nice looking salmon stream. But no bears. The streams are no where near their normal levels because of the very dry summer (we’re in a drought), and the increased water temperature is impacting the salmon populations. Bad for the fish, bad for the fishermen, and bad for the bears.

Not surprising, we had a foggy trip down the coast and around Cape Ommaney… this month is “Fog-ust”, after all. As we got across the entrance to Chatham Strait, we spotted a number of trollers and whales, plus more rhinocerous auklets.

We tucked into the cove at Warren Island, and I’ll tell you about Warren and Sea Otter Sound next time.