Wildlife

We have had amazing wildlife sightings every single day.  It’s easy to be spoiled by the excellent wildlife shows on television, but nothing… absolutely nothing beats the excitement of seeing wildlife from the deck of your own boat.  As we left Petersburg we saw these Stellers sea lions (bigger than California sea lions) piled on a buoy, barely lifting their heads to look at us as we passed by.20140607 8178 sea lions on mid-buoy close 3  RESIZEHere’s a map to show the area where we’re currently cruising.Petersburg to Red Bluff mapWe traveled through Frederick Sound on our way to Cannery Cove on Admiralty Island, and the Sound lived up to its reputation for whale sightings.  We saw whales all morning, broaching, crashing, and splashing.  Sometimes the whales were too far for camera lenses, but we saw quite a show with binoculars.  It’s amazing to see an entire humpback whale completely out of the water.  A little while later we had whales much closer to the boat, and we watched some humpbacks, including a mother and calf broaching and feeding.20140607 8209 humpback broach head RESIZE20140607 8204 humpback broach RESIZE20140607 8214 humpback splash and calf  RESIZEWe headed into the anchorage at Cannery Cove, so named since it used to have a cannery on the shore though it’s gone now.  We had a long day of running so we had a quiet evening planned, but as we were fixing dinner we saw a brown (grizzly) bear on the shore, and we dropped what we were doing to watch him for a while.20140609 8340 red bluff brown bear 2 RESIZEAll that happened in just one day.  The next day we got the predicted rain and wind, but again in the evening around dinnertime the shoreline got interesting.  We saw one brown bear – he looked young – standing up and looking around.  They’re very funny looking when they stand (as long as you’re a safe distance away with binoculars).  After a while a bigger brown bear ambled along the shoreline and the younger one kept standing up to check on the bigger one.  Forget dinner… this is a great show!  Eventually the younger one loped away as the bigger one loped after him, but it looked like a half-hearted chase.

The next morning as we were leaving the anchorage, we saw several bald eagles hunting fish in the water.  Most were adults, but there was one younger bird.  It takes 4 years for an eagle to develop the white head and tail, and the younger birds look bigger because they have larger feathers – easier to learn to fly with, though less maneuverable.From Cannery Cove we headed to Red Bluff Bay on the east side of Baranof Island, hoping to see more bears and waterfalls.  I keep forgetting to mention the waterfalls – they’re everywhere.  Big ones, tiny silvery thread-like ones, small ones, loud ones… and the featured waterfall in Red Bluff Bay is really dramatic.20140609 8309 red bluff channel  RESIZEWe just loved Red Bluff Bay – I’ll post more photos in the next blog, but we enjoyed seeing a river otter, seals, trumpeter swan, harlequin ducks, and more brown bears.20140609 8335 red bluff bear in buttercups  RESIZEWe had the bay all to ourselves for almost a whole day, then we were joined by another smaller cruising boat.  The next day we had two of the smaller cruise boats stop in for a few hours to visit, and the morning we left we saw the National Geographic Sea Lion come in for just an hour.  Although these smaller cruise boats are a fantastic way to see Alaska and get closer to the wildlife, I feel sorry for those people.  They come in and have to hope for a glimpse of some interesting critters during their brief stay.  They can enjoy the scenery but we have the luxury of staying in that magnificent setting for as long as we want – to see the cliffs in sunshine as well as with the moody feeling from mist or when low clouds hang on the mountains.  We can kayak and explore at all times of the day and states of the tide.  We have the time and opportunity to enjoy “dinnertime bears” and we count ourselves lucky to be able to do this.

Little Norway

20140601_011 petersburg memoria RESIZEKnown as “Little Norway”, Petersburg is a fishing town on the NW corner of Mitkof Island.  Its proximity to the Le Conte Glacier made it a perfect place to establish a fishing community in the late 1800s, with the ready supply of glacial ice to keep the fish fresh for transport to Seattle and other markets. The area had been in use by native people as a summer fishing camp for 1000 years before.
As the new community grew in those early days, some of the Norwegians ended up marrying native Tlingit (pronounced “kling-get”) women, and the resulting blend is known as a “Tlingwegian” (pronounced “klingk-weegin”).  Established as a fishing community, Petersburg is still a fishing town with canneries in between the docks on the waterfront and a constant flow of boats coming in to offload their catch – halibut, salmon, crab, etc.  20140601_001 petersburg unloading fish RESIZEEveryone fishes, and we saw people of all ages on the dock jigging for herring to use as bait.  They start them young…20140605_037 petersburg father daughter fishing RESIZE
The fishermen are pretty friendly and they take a lot of pride in their boats. Commercial fishing boats suffer from hard use and they usually look it, but we noticed that most of the Petersburg boats were clean, tidy and very well cared for.  I hope they don’t run me out of town when they find out that I don’t eat seafood!  We’ve heard that there are a lot of pot luck dinners during the winter, and I’ll probably have to carry a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in my pocket just in case.
The highlight of our visit was meeting up with a group of other cruisers, centered around Krogen friends Rolynn and Steve Anderson aboard INTREPID.  Rolynn writes suspense-romance novels and her latest book is set in Petersburg (“Lie Catcher”), so she stopped to do a book signing during their summer cruise through SE Alaska.  A number of other Krogens arranged to be in town for the festivities, and we were graciously included along with a nice couple on a Selene.  It was so nice to meet other cruisers as well as some folks who will be living aboard there for the winter – we had a lovely time, and reading Rolynn’s book in situ was great fun!
Across the Narrows from town there is a public dock and hiking trails, so we put the dinghy in the water and headed over to explore… prepared for bear, as always.
After a short hike through the forest we came out into a more open area known as “muskeg” – a bog comprised of sphagnum moss and peat, spongy and pocked with pools of water.  20140604 7964 petersburg muskeg meadow RESIZETrees and plants are stunted and sparse in the muskeg because of the acidic nature of the soil.  Luckily there was a narrow boardwalk to walk on, and the fishing net on the boards helps with traction – it rains a lot and wood is pretty slick when wet.  The boardwalk eventually led back into the forest and out to the edge of Petersburg Creek though there wasn’t much to see at dead low tide.  The locals like to kayak up the creek, but you have to head up an hour or two before high tide and you ride the current up, get as far as you can, and then let the flow of the creek and the outgoing tide carry you back out.  Parts of the creek are nearly dry at low tide, so you don’t want to get stuck up there – it’s a long wait.
20140605_013 petersburg macro robin RESIZEI loved the muskeg and all the delicate little flowers so much that we came back the next morning so I could do some macro photography.  Jim came along to “keep me safe from bears”, I suspect, which is very sweet.  I was dressed in grubby clothes and knee pads since so much of what I wanted to photograph was very close to the ground.

Bog Laurel

Bog Laurel

Bog Orchid

Bog Orchid

Maidenhair Fern Fiddles

Maidenhair Fern Fiddles

Meyers Chuck VFD and Wrangell

We left Ketchikan and stopped for an afternoon and overnight in a little place called Meyers Chuck.  It’s a cove with about two dozen or so houses, though we heard that only a few people live there all year round.  There is a post office, and one of the year-round residents is the Post-mistress; her husband is a really nice gentleman we met on the dock – Steve.  Steve is in his late 70s or 80s and has lived in Meyers Chuck since he was 7 years old.  He has never driven a car.20140529 7797 meyers chuck boat patsy RESIZEWe enjoyed talking with Steve while he worked on his troller fishing boat “PATSY”.  He was working on repairing some wood rot and he was using a torch to burn away some paint around the rotten section of wood.  We talked for a while after Steve finished using the torch – at least half an hour, and then he got into his skiff and headed home across the cove.  A little while later Jim happened to look out the back window and he noticed a tendril of smoke coming from PATSY’s wheelhouse.  He ran over to check, and sure enough… a hidden ember must have been quietly burning in the rotted section, and it started to grow.  By the time Jim climbed back aboard with a some water and I had a fire extinguisher, it was smoking pretty well.  Fortunately the area was very small and Jim was able to thoroughly saturate the wood with water.  We found one of the locals who called Steve to come back over, and he was very appreciative.  The scary thing is that there were a number of boats tied to the dock, and most everyone was off hiking.  If Jim hadn’t seen the smoke and caught it early, we might all have been off hiking and the result could have been much much worse.  Jim is now an Honorary Member of the Meyers Chuck Volunteer Fire Department.

20140529 7801 meyers chuck troller RESIZESteve’s boat is an example of one of the methods of fishing used out here – trolling.  You can see the three green reels on each side of the boat in this photo, and each line has a number of hooks on it to catch salmon.

People here are very independent and self-sufficient.  Mail is picked up on Tuesdays – a plane comes to get it from Ketchikan.  There’s even a Post Office box on the dock side of the cove, across from the actual Post Office shack for convenience.

20140529 7823 meyers chuck sawmill RESIZEWe liked this little sawmill – we’ve seen a number of them in BC and here in Alaska.  If you want to build a house you just fell your logs and fire up your sawmill to cut the lumber that you need!  The sawmill is located at the water’s edge since logs are much easier to move around by water, and you wait for high tide so you don’t have to drag the logs as far.

There was a nice hiking trail through the woods that led to a small rocky beach, and we were cautioned to be “bear aware”.  From what we’ve read and been told, we should always be prepared for bears anywhere except in towns with paved roads.  We carry bear spray, bear bells, whistles, and we don’t carry food when we hike.  Bears just don’t like to be surprised, so making some noise is a good thing.

As we walked behind some of the Meyers Chuck houses, we found this wonderful bit of fishing net that looked just like a flower…20140529 7815 meyers chuck net RESIZEThe beach was pretty and we always enjoy a nice hike through the woods.  I went back again later with a macro lens to photograph some of the little details in the forest.  Didn’t see any bears – our bells must be working!

We headed out the next morning and cruised to the town of Wrangell for a quick overnight.  It was good to see it for ourselves – there’s a big boat yard with some huge travel lifts so we know we can go there if we need to do any major work on the boat.  The town was very small though – it was one option we considered for the winter but we’re glad we’ll be in Petersburg, which is larger.  We checked out the reconstructed native ceremonial house near the marina office, and had a fantastic burger at the Stikine Inn.20140530_026 wrangell ceremonial house RESIZEAt this point our goal is to get to Petersburg where we’ll spend this coming winter, and we wanted to get there to meet with the harbormaster to make the arrangements for our winter slip.  Once that is done we can shift into a slower “cruising mode” and take our time exploring all these places.  We had a brief view of an orca passing us in the Wrangell Narrows channel, and arrived in Petersburg at the brand new north docks.  It was a rainy-misty day, but we had some pretty light at sunset right from our slip.20140603 7889 petersburg cloudy sunset dock view  RESIZEPetersburg is a serious fishing town, with a few canneries in between the sets of docks.  Bald eagles and ravens swirl around the skies, especially when boats are unloading at the cannery docks.  We’ll write much more about Petersburg in the next entry.  We’re pleased with the location for the winter – protected, clean, and nice, and the views of the mountains all around are gorgeous.20140606_005 petersburg view north RESIZE

Misty Fjords National Monument

The Misty Fjords National Monument comprises over 2,000,000 acres of land in southeast Alaska near Ketchikan.  It is a dramatic area with glacial cut contours – the mountains soar 2000-3000 feet or more, and the steep walls drop straight down into the ocean to 1000′ deep.  One day we’ll explore some of this area by boat, but it can take a while since places shallow enough to anchor are few and far between.  With the availability of float planes offering flights over the fjords, we decided to treat ourselves to an aerial view.

Draped with cameras, video gear and binoculars, we joined three people from one of the cruise ships for the 2 hour flight in a deHavilland Beaver – the most ubiquitous of the hard-working float planes here in the northwest.  We were flying over the mountains in just a few minutes, marveling at the miles of ocean shoreline as well as many of the estimated several million lakes in southeast Alaska.  This is Punchbowl Cove below, and the yellow streaks on the water are from Sitka spruce pollen.

20140528 7696 ketch misty flight punchbowl  RESIZEThe plane had headsets and microphones in case we wanted to talk to the pilot, but the view was so indescribably beautiful that no one could utter a word – we were quite literally, speechless.  20140528 7724 ketch misty flight 3  RESIZEAfter a bit of flying we landed on a lake in the middle of the mountain peaks.  There were small waterfalls around the sides, and snow right down to the water’s edge.20140528 7737 ketch misty flight jim plane 2  RESIZEOn our way back towards Ketchikan we saw a mountain goat – a slightly creamier white than the surrounding snow.  In other places we could see lots of tracks in the snow.

The flight was superb – we saw and learned a lot, but it was over too soon!  As we headed back into Ketchikan we flew over the basin where ADVENTURES was docked, and you can see some of the massive cruise ships nearby.20140528 7774 ketch misty thomas basin  RESIZE20140528 7777 ketch misty flight tongass narrows  RESIZEThis ship is heading north through the Tongass Narrows, where we will be heading the next day.  It’s hard to see in the photo, but on the far left edge is the Ketchikan airport, across the Narrows from town.  You have to take a little ferry to jump across if you need to catch a flight.

20140529 7783 ketch ship thomas basin  RESIZEWe met up with our friends on the Krogen for a drink and then headed out to dinner in town, enjoying the quiet after all the cruise ships were gone.  The next morning we departed, making sure there weren’t any cruise ships trying to dock as we were trying to leave!  The photo just doesn’t convey the mass of these floating hotels.