Bear Harbor & Explorer Basin

Sorry about the long hiatus – it’s been crazy-busy around here.

As we left the town of Craig after a good break hiding out from the weather, we enjoyed all the fresh fruit and veggies we picked up at the grocery store. We’re often away from towns for weeks, sometimes a month or more, and we’ve learned a few tricks about keeping perishable foods for a while. Starting off with produce that arrived by barge from Seattle adds some challenge – our fruits and veggies have had a hard trip just to get here. Produce we buy in Sitka (a bigger town) or Juneau lasts a lot longer than what we buy in Petersburg or any of the smaller towns, but using “green bags” to let the produce breathe and checking it daily to remove anything going bad helps a lot.

Up here a loaf of average store-bought bread costs over $5, not to mention the space to freeze and store it, so we have a bread machine and enjoy that lovely baking aroma when we need more. Fortunately we have an extra freezer and a vacuum packer so if we get to Costco we can stock up with enough meat, cheese, and frozen veggies to last the whole summer. We like to cruise so that we don’t NEED to go to a grocery store, and we learned how to go for months on our own when we used to cruise in the Bahamas.

The chart below shows our winding path from Craig on Prince of Wales Island, through the lovely El Capitan Passage and into Affleck Canal on the south end of Kuiu (pronounced “koo-you”) Island. Friends recommended a visit to Bear Harbor, and since I was running a severe deficit of bear sightings this summer I was ever hopeful!

Even in the nooks and crannies of El Cap Passage we saw whales every day, as well as lots of sea otters. It was late August, and that marks the beginning of the mating season for the otters. We often saw otters in pairs or even threes, sometimes with a distressed female squalling from being bitten on the nose and face by her suitors.

As soon as the anchor was set in Bear Harbor, I was out in the kayak with the big lens in hopes of seeing lots of large black furry things. The day was glorious and the scenery sublime.

Canada geese, mergansers, goldeneyes and chittering kingfishers swam and flew around. I was able to venture into the far back meadows in the shallow creek on the high tide, and some bird movement caught my eye. At a distance I thought it was a young eagle so I quietly paddled closer to shore, trying to stay hidden by the tall grass. It wasn’t an eagle… it was a sandhill crane!!!

In fact, there were five cranes, on the early end of the migration south for the winter. We usually see (and hear!) them for about 2 weeks in September and April as they move through, but they’re often flying high over the mountains. I could have gotten a better photograph if I stood up, but I didn’t want to spook them.

After venturing deep into perfect bear territory in the kayak – shallow water with plenty of salmon, surrounded by tall grass – boy, was I nervous and I made sure to make a little noise so I didn’t surprise anything – no bears. Paddling back towards the boat I spotted one black bear in the distance, and that was it for Bear Harbor… but the sandhill crane sighting made up for the dearth of bears.

August is more commonly known as “Fog-ust” up here, and we started to have murky conditions more often. This is what it looked like as we started to pull the anchor to leave in the morning (with much heavier fog out in the channel)…

…but 15 minutes later much of it lifted. I like the mysterious feel of the foggy fingers laying on the trees.

We cruised south, around Cape Decision (the purple exclamation point on the chart above), and then north up the west coast of Kuiu Island. There were numerous trollers out fishing – we saw as many as 15 at a time. Trollers tow several long lines with many hooks to catch salmon, and the spacing of the hooks and microvoltages on the troll lines help focus on a particular species of salmon. As each fish is brought up, it is immediately dispatched, gutted, bled and packed in ice. Trollers catch the beautiful whole fish that you see in high-end fish markets or fancy restaurants.

We saw lots of whales, and had to contend with a bit of swell and wave action since we were right at the entrance to the ocean. It was a long day’s run, but we ended up in Explorer Basin in Tebenkof Bay (marked on the chart above). Surrounded by the Windfall and Troller Islands, Explorer Basin is a lovely area with views across Chatham Strait to the mountains of Baranof Island. Here’s a little drone footage to show you what it looks like.

If you noticed lots of white dots in the water towards the end of the video – those were jellyfish… hundreds of them! Moon jellies as well as lion’s mane jellies.

The evening was clear and beautiful, and as the days are getting much shorter we had to interrupt dinner to get some photos of the sunset.

Clear nights and short daylight means more chances for stars and other gifts of the night… so stay tuned for more from Tebenkof Bay.

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