Escape from Sitka?

Things are looking up – as I type this the guys are installing the new tilt/trim mechanism on the Honda outboard… in the pouring rain. I don’t mean plain old rain… no, it’s the Biblical kind. Jim rigged a tarp when it first started to sprinkle.

The repair guy had to go get his full foul weather gear to keep working, but… it’s looking good for us to finally leave today. (Fingers crossed.)

I’ll wrap up with a few more scenes around Sitka, including the 300′ of new anchor chain that we two hauled waaaaay down the dock to the boat (it weighs about 450 lbs.)…

…and that’s on top of the 300 lbs. of rock salt that Jim brought down the dock. (We use the rock salt in our waste processing system.)

Ravens and sometimes bald eagles like to perch on the light posts over the walkway by the harbor. I’m always nervous walking underneath birds that can make big poop! These ravens were snuggling and appeared to be kissing – so sweet.

We’ve walked downtown almost every day – it’s good exercise and nice to get errands done – there are no stores where we’ll be for the next month. Sitka is a pretty town, but we spent more of this visit on things we needed to do rather than on playing tourist… but we still had a great time.

If all goes well today we’ll top up the fuel tanks and head back out to the wild places. You won’t hear from us for a few weeks, but we should have lots to share when we can get some Internet again.

A Pause in Sitka

We were having a ball on Chichagof’s outside coast, but we needed some parts to make repairs and we had to get an insurance survey. We made some arrangements by sat phone and started heading to Sitka, leaving plenty of new territory on Chichagof Island to explore the next time.

An insurance survey is something required by marine insurance companies – usually every five years – and it’s to make sure our vessel is sound and seaworthy. We have to bear the cost, which usually involves having the boat hauled out of the water to check the hull as well as a detailed crawl through all the boat’s spaces and systems. It’s a hassle and very expensive, but it’s required. Ugh. We received the notice months after our maintenance haul-out in April, but fortunately our insurance company said they would accept photos and the detailed bills for the out-of-the-water portion of the survey. There are no marine surveyors who live in Petersburg, so if we waited until we got back home we would have to pay flight, hotel and travel time costs in addition to the actual survey. Luckily Sitka is a bigger town and is home to a surveyor that several friends recommended. Sitka is a fun place, and it’s always nice to stop where we can plug into shore power and run tons of laundry, re-stock fresh produce, and enjoy a few meals in restaurants. But before we hit town, we spent a couple of nights in lovely Kalinin Bay just north of Sitka. Here’s a map to show some of the territory we’ve covered since we left Glacier Bay…

…and here’s a video to show you what Kalinin Bay looks like. It’s a beautiful spot.

The tides weren’t high enough for me to get into that back territory with the kayak this time, but I’ve explored it in the past. In a few weeks salmon will return to the main stream, and the grass along the bank will have well-worn trails and bear beds. There’s also a 2.5 mile hiking trail that goes over the ridge to the ocean coast (Sea Lion Cove) – we did that hike a couple of years ago – it’s a tough trail with a lot of up and down. Some Sitka locals drag surf boards over that trail and stash them in the woods for the summer. I can’t imagine doing that hike with a surfboard, but I’ve seen young guys doing it.

Craving a bit of Internet and wanting to intercept our much-needed parts, we left Kalinin and headed into Sitka’s protected harbor.

There are several harbors in town, but the huge Eliason Harbor is where transient vessels go – commercial fishing boats (seiners, gill netters and trollers), small charter fishing boats, and a wide variety of private boats from scruffy little cruisers to large private yachts, and everything in between. Right now I’m looking at a 150′ sailing yacht from Sweden, a 163′ charter yacht (Triton) that happens to be docked next to an utter derelict, and a few smaller (100′) charter yachts. Most of them are probably changing guests since Sitka has good jet service to Seattle. Most of the commercial fishing fleet is out, but the harbor will bustle with activity in a few days when they come in to offload fish, refuel, get more ice and provisions, and head back out to the fishing grounds.

We’ve kept busy making repairs and doing projects, and we had to order a major part for the Honda outboard. We always say that “cruising is fixing your boat in exotic places.” It’s not all glamour and fun!

Sitka is also host to a busy Coast Guard station, with three Jayhawk helicopters for patrol and rescue, and a massive ocean-going buoy tender. We had a great view of them heading out!

We deeply appreciate these folks who keep us safe, and who keep our Aids to Navigation in good working order, no matter what hostile conditions they have to endure.

At the moment we’re still waiting for one last part – it should be here this morning. We’ve done projects and repairs and the survey, and now we’re anxious to get back out to the winding passages and quiet anchorages. Where is that Honda part???

Chichagof Mines

Even though we’re exploring the outside coast of Chichagof Island, there are plenty of hidey holes and rocky passages where we can find protection from ocean waves. It’s daunting to look at the chart in some of these areas, and there’s no question that we have to pilot the boat with care – but it’s fun to be challenged. This is a very remote area though – not a good place to break down!

We stopped for a night in Kimshan Cove on the NW side of Doolth Mountain, site of a gold and silver mine in the late 1930s through the late 1950s.

The building you see here is sort-of maintained as a shelter for kayak campers…

…and there was also a privately owned hunting cabin nearby. We had a hard time finding the mining ruins – the forest is reclaiming everything, and we’d need a machete to open up some of the overgrown trails. We hiked up a creek bed and found one building and a bunch of rusted drums – hopefully they were empty when they were left behind.

The next day we had a long, winding cruise to get to the other side of Doolth Mountain to visit a bigger abandoned mine site in Klag Bay. Klag Bay is a long, narrow bay with a short, crazy entrance channel (“The Gate”) and lots of wiggling around the rocks in Elbow Passage.

Klag Bay is about 45 miles north of Sitka, and it was an active gold and silver mine from 1905-1942. Again, we weren’t able to penetrate the thick woods very far, but there was plenty on shore to explore.

Among all the ruins and rusty equipment, foxglove was blooming – such pretty colors!

The perfection and beauty of the flowers seems so incongruous with the abandoned buildings and wreckage.

Lisianski Strait and Portlock Harbor

The distance from Pelican to our next stop was only 7 miles down Lisianski Strait to a place local friends told us about. Bohemia Creek on Yakobi Island has a dock, Forest Service shelter, and a very overgrown hiking trail.

It was odd to find a nice dock and ramp that led to the simple three-sided shelter in the middle of nowhere. It looks like locals use the shelter as a hunting camp, but it was quiet when we were there.

The haze in the photo above and in the video is smoke from wildfires burning far up in the Alaskan interior. Combined with the unusually hot, dry weather it made us wish for rain to cool things down and wash the smoke out of the sky.

The current in the Strait can be a little brisk, but the dock was tucked behind a big tidal flat that was dry at low tide…

…and it swallowed up the base of the green day mark at high tide.

We hiked part way up the trail, but it was so overgrown that we gave up. We could see a side trail into the muskeg, but it was too hot to slog through the soft ground there. The flowers were pretty – fireweed is finally starting to bloom…

…but I couldn’t identify this flower – there were lots of them!

This area had been a nickel mine in the 1920s and 30s, and you’ll see in the next post that there has been a lot of mining activity in the region over the years.

This was a fun little stop…

…but we were ready to head out the Strait, thread our way through the rocks and reefs along the coast, and head into Portlock Harbor. All the asterisks with circles represent large rocks or reefs, even at this level of zoom on the chart.

Although there are huge numbers of brown bears on Chichagof and its surrounding islands, we didn’t see a single one. Berries are ripe, but it’s too early for the salmon to start heading upstream so the bears are up in the woods eating sweets for now. We did see a nice family of mergansers up in Didrickson Harbor, right by the stream that will be full of bears in another couple of weeks.