Glaciers, Orca and more, onwards from Seldovia [30th Jun 14] See below for comments (20)
It was a great start: A pod of Orca (killer whales) accompanied our ferry trip from Homer across to Seldovia where Teleport lay wrapped and waiting. Actually it wasn't a ferry, it was a scenic cruise boat, but it was the only boat heading to Seldovia that day. Weighed down with countless bags, and bleary-eyed from 36-hrs of planes and airports, we looked deceptively disinterested in the otters and bird-covered rocks - Jess even stretched out asleep across the seats - until the captain shouted Orca!. Then, disguise abandoned, we withdrew our huge super telephoto lenses and sprang to the bow. Seconds later we were already several hundred photos into our Alaskan adventure, even before reaching Teleport!
We ceremoniously unwrapped Teleport from her winter cocoon on 17th June to find that not only had she failed to metamorphose into a beautiful butterfly, but she'd become rather moldy down below, had water in her bilge, the starter battery was completely flat, and a 30cm crack had opened in her fiberglass shell along the side of her keel. Bummer. Frowns all round.
No matter. We don't have a starter motor anyway, so that battery was really only for our bilge pump, so I removed it and did some re-wiring. With a new set of blades for our Air Breeze wind turbine fitted (Thanks Primus!) we soon had our bank of house batteries glowing. While Jess fixed things up inside, I epoxy-putty-plugged the holes I'd drilled in the keel at the end of last season to let any water drain out, and inspected the fiberglass crack. The wood behind was still perfect (remember Teleport's actually a wooden boat, 6-layers of cold-molded Cedar, with one layer of glass on the outside to delaminate and give us something to do every year), so I poured in some epoxy, sealed it closed, and with mere hours left before launching, borrowed a power cord and a hair-dryer to speed the glue up a bit, and before we knew it, the tractor turned up, backed the hydraulic trailer beneath Teleport, hooked up the slings, and with a wiggle of the remote control we were airborne, and then afloat. Too easy.
The normally sleepy fishing village of Seldovia awakens each year for its famous Summer Solstice Music Festival to celebrate my 31st birthday on 21st (mid-summer's day), and that weekend was absolutely fantastic. We alternated between enjoying sets of excellent music and workshops, catching up with our good friends including Megan, Byron and Margie, making new friends including many of the incredible traveling musicians, and for my birthday, taking groups out for little sails on the calm, sunny, otter-filled bay while our friends played guitar, and brought locally smoked salmon sticks, and even salmon Nesto pasta (Nesto being a pesto made from local nettles!). The day culminated in a party of 14 people onboard till 3AM after the festival closed, birthday cake (cooked by Jess in the pressure-cooker), and everyone singing happy-birthday with Kazoos. (Don't ask).
After one last hot shower on shore (Thanks B& M!), Megan cast off our lines the next afternoon (22nd June), and we caught the last of the ebb tide out of Kachemak Bay. We motor-sailed for 3hrs and dropped anchor in a snug little bay nearby it's always the act of leaving that's the hardest, and it's nice to just disappear around the corner and stop to collect our thoughts.
After a lazy sleep-in, we set off late morning around the bottom of the enormous and wild Kenai Peninsula which we'd spend the next week exploring on the way to Prince William Sound. On the way out, we paused briefly at 150 foot 'shoal' and jigging just off the bottom I soon brought in two small Halibut (which we released) and one reasonable sized one, which we promptly fried up for lunch and dinner. The Coast Guard crackled to life over the VHF radio to inform all mariners that a magnitude 8 earthquake had just rocked the Aleutian Islands, and that anyone from the Aleutians to *crackle* *static* should prepare for a Tsunami and head up to high ground. Bobbing around out at sea I reckoned we'd be fine, at worse it would just ratchet up the excitement a little by adding yet more inexplicable variations to the tide and current rips entangling this area. We were already zipping along at 8.5 knots anyway, despite almost no wind. Good times.
While most of the currents can be calculated and timed to our advantage, the winds around here seem decidedly erratic. Going through the one long passage we experienced calm (which was predicted all day according to our GRIB files), then 20kn tailwind (yay) for a while, then 25kn headwind (boo!). I guess the towering, snow-clad mountains and islands sculpt the wind. We've also been warned of gravity-fed williwar winds that can blast down mountainsides erupting upon anchorages. Exciting.
Another challenge we're having to come to grips with is how deep everything is even snug inside most of the bays it's still a whopping 100+ feet deep (or more!), unless you sneak ever so gently closer to where the pine tree-clad mountains rise abruptly from the water, and then suddenly the depth drops to 25 then 5 feet all in one go, sending us racing in reverse. Even when we do manage to pin-point ourselves over a 35-foot section of the rise, we're already so close to the shore that if I even put out 5:1 anchor rode, we'd likely swing onto the shore, and certainly over the 5-foot shelf beside us that'd ground us at low-tide. So we've been adapting to anchoring deeper than I'd like (ie 60-70 feet), and closer to the shore than I'd like, and with less rode out than my Dad would recommend! Haha. But so far, so good. It just makes pulling up our oversized anchor and 90 foot of over-thick chain hand over hand from 70 feet quite the work out. On the evening of this first full-day sail, we slipped into the remote, 1-nm long narrow mountain crevice that is Picnic Harbor, and had to re-anchor 3 times before we found somewhere I could cope with enough to get some sleep.
Keen to stretch our legs in the morning we flipped the dingy in, dropped the outboard on top and set off, only to discover our outboard wouldn't gear-change out of neutral, something had corroded solid in there over the winter. Bummer. We rowed instead, and thanks to a wonderful book 'Discovering Wild Plants' by Janice Schofield that our friend Ali lent us (along with a jar of her 'Nesto', and a fillet of King salmon!) Jess learnt that the fleshy green mini-shurb along the shore was in fact 'Beach Greens' and highly tasty and used to ward off Scurvy in olden days, and the other plant she'd gathered was in fact a Lupin, which is deadly poisonous. Yum! We enjoyed the former with some jarred salmon (thanks Margie) for dinner at sea that evening on our way through Nuka Passage, getting into the secluded Roaring Cove on Ragged Island at 10PM (still daylight). I stayed up working on the outboard till 11 (almost-sunset) curiously watched by a seal, and finally got the mechanism freely changing gears. Great! Meanwhile our invertor died, briefly leaving us with no way to charge our cameras (a fate worse than death), but with my trusty Leatherman and some creative crimping and duct-tape work, I got our camera chargers working on 12V instead. Bingo!
Next morning, 25th June, we headed onwards. Slipping through Mc Arthur Pass we started to see our first humpback whales, puffins, rhinoceros aucklets, and a pod of strikingly black and white Dalls Porpoises torpedoed over and bow-rode for a while. TrollPro (nice towing GoPro camera mounts) sent me a Zwing to play with - a trolling plate/fin that dives almost vertically down even at low speeds designed to attach a TrollPro too, but I've been adapting it to mount a GoPro directly on for some unique bow-riding dolphin footage. Stay tuned. We're starting to get into wildlife mecca, and the glacier-wrapped scenery is just awesome. We pulled into the empty 'Cataract Cove' a small, steep walled, impossibly deep, circular bay where a melting glacier sits high above, sending a stream of water trickling down the almost shear 1,000 foot granite cliff face, which we were able to carefully pose beside, sail-up, while I hopped in the dingy and got some cool photos.
We then tried to find a plausible anchorage in the series of bays north, but all were too deep, and so when the tides went slack, we carefully navigated through a tiny channel in the glacial moraine bar that extends across the mount of Northwestern Fiord (the channel is ironically called 'Northwest Passage'). Just 100 years ago this bar was the pushed up pile of rock fragments at the face of the mighty Northwest Glacier. Since then, the glacier has receded a whopping 9 miles back, creating an amazing polished granite sided fiord almost 1,000 feet deep, decorated with fragments of floating ice and growlers. Scooping one of these crystal clear boulders up for our ice-box, we were reminded of our time in Greenland. We managed to find place for our anchor in Ribbonfall cove.
Next morning we worked our way up the fiord, winding through the seal-topped maze of ice, stopping first for dingy photos of Teleport in front of Anchor Glacier, then past Ogive Glacier, and at last in front of the incredible Northwest Glacier! What a place! We turned the engine off for a while to soak it in. Mountains rose all around us into a high ceiling of cloud, and the air was filled with the hissing sound of cascading water from the countless waterfalls, punctuated by the odd explosive thunder-clap from shifting ice inside the glacier as it slowly edged its way down the valley. Every so often great hunks of ice on it's front face would fracture and fall as if in slow-motion, crumbling down upon lower pieces and finally erupting into the water below, which in turn created a shockwave of surf expanding outwards. The photos I got of Jess sailing Teleport back and forwards in front are amazing! FYI She's nothing like as close to the glacier as it looks, don't fret. =)
A campfire on the shore near the fiord mouth, below the now land-locked Sunlight Glacier was the perfect end to one of the most amazing days aboard teleport we've ever had. On our GoPro we filmed a time-lapse of the evening, which when speeded up basically just shows us being chased around and around the fire by the ever-shifting smoke. Next morning decided to hike up to Sunlight glacier which looked close, but took more than 4 hours, partly I'm sure because we were so weighed down by the cans of bear-spray and cameras to film ourselves talking about the bear spray, despite seeing no bears.
We left the fiord that afternoon (June 27th) and did a 6hr motor/sail to overnight in McMullen Cove, and then onwards next morning up into the next great 17nm fiord, leading across another bar to the even more impressive face of Aialik Glacier! We spent the most beautiful afternoon ever, becalmed in front of its breathtaking face, bathed in glorious sunlight beneath a crisp blue sky, rimmed by snowy mountains, listening to it crack and explode, and watching through our lenses, filming immense hunks calving off into the water. It was completely mesmerizing. We got yet more photos from the dingy, and I even summoned the courage to nervously launch my non-waterproof, non-floating drone quadrocopter, and got some awesome aerial photos and videos. For one spell around late-morning until lunch-time where there were a few kayakers around from a lodge nearby, and a few tour-boats zipped in and out on their 30-min schedule, but for the most part, we had this natural wonder to ourselves.
We collected muscles at low-tide for dinner along with some more beach-greens, and this morning, after spotting our very first black bear ever, wandering the shore early in the morning, we departed for the town of Seward, our one and only port en-route this season to re-supply, and Alaska's most northerly year-round ice-free port, connected by road, air and rail to the rest of the country. Only 12 nm directly overland from Aialik Glacier, due to the fragmented coastline here, it's actually about a 45nm sail, but we're almost there now as I finish writing this update. It's been a fog-bound, lumpy trip, but Jess has stayed strong!
We're looking forward to stocking up on a few things, getting our Solara Field Tracker linked into our website (sorry, it's not gone live yet, soon!), and getting ready to head around the corner into Prince William Sound, the promised home of even more wildlife and shrimps! We have a collapsible shrimp-pot strapped to the bow already!
30th Jun 14 - David Gorton - commented:
Sounds like a great start to the trip. I am glad you now have some muscles Chris ... and I hope the mussels you had for dinner were tasty ... LOL
Keep up the hard work.
30th Jun 14 - Peter and Caroline - commented:
too good....... 31st Birthday....
Old man of the Sea, is creeping up on you.
Enjoy the trip guy.
30th Jun 14 - Peter Estment - commented:
Wow, loving the drone images, nice work guys. Looking forward to the wildlife images.
30th Jun 14 - Alan & Margie - commented:
Great way to start the day - our first Teleport update for the season. Orcas.otters,black bears - nettle pesto,halibut,mussels & shrimp - Alaska here we come!!
- see you soon.
30th Jun 14 - Mike Koens - commented:
What an amazing place, and what a great start to your 2014 season in the North.... I am so jealous you two!!! Good on you, love to hear of your adventures, may the Sea God be kind to you this year.
30th Jun 14 - Liz Baseley - commented:
great start for your 2014 season. Loved reading your first newsletter and seeing the fantastic photos. You both just keep improving all the time. No.1 australian Adventurers from the Northern Beaches. Have a wonderful trip.
30th Jun 14 - Cathy Kennedy - commented:
Beautifully described as usual. We really feel like we are there too. Enjoy! x
1st Jul 14 - Brad Gordon - commented:
Hi Chris & Jess,
Wow, just incredible, You guys seem to experience the remote, wonderfully dangerous wilderness like it is your back yard these days. The read of your very serious expedition from begining to now is nothing but inspirational. Adventure, conservation awareness, get out of your comfort zone et cetera.
This is going to be an exciting leg, loads of wildlife, you two with your cameras, exciting seas and further unknown.
I look forward to it.
By the way, I think that the "Dingy" which is instrument in the amazing photo journalism, needs a name. Other then "Dingy".
Take care Brad.
1st Jul 14 - Joyce MacPhee - commented:
Thanks for including me on the travelogue of your incredible journeys.
Happy Canada Day!
1st Jul 14 - capt jim - commented:
I new u would like it.....
2nd Jul 14 - Derek Jackson - commented:
Good morning and Happy Canada Day to you both!!
Happy Birthday, Chris.(belatedly)
I share your adventures with the people here at work and others that are inclined to enjoy adventure, whether directly or armchair style.
Your talk of Orcas took me back to a time, 50+ years ago when my oldest and best friend
and I used to cruise the waters off Victoria BC in a 12 foot aluminum boat with an old 18 hp Viking outboard and during our time on the water it was very common to get in amongst pods of killer whales that at times were so close we could smell the odour from the blow hole blasts.
Thank you for all you share and mostly for the fact you two share the love of the wilds and how you enjoy so much together.
Take care and best of all that is good to both of you, Derek
3rd Jul 14 - brian strayer - commented:
Wonderful narrative. Glad you got your boat in the water and this summers adventure is underway. Will follow your posts with avid anticipation.
4th Jul 14 - Robyn Jaques - commented:
Hope you don't get sea sick this trip, Jess! Looking forward to seeing you in Anchorage in a couple of weeks! Stay safe xxx
4th Jul 14 - chris horton - commented:
Wonderful photos as usual, I'm strapped in for my armchair travel, looking forward to it.
5th Jul 14 - capt jim - commented:
your anchoring technique sounds familiar. I get nervous under 100 ft. on my sounder. there are several good guide books to the sound available. lots of big brown bears on these shores there is.....
6th Jul 14 - David MacDonald - commented:
My first read of the summer! I so look forward to your return North each summer so I too can share in your adventures in the North. Great writing and fabulous photos!!!! Here's to another great summer of exploration!
13th Jul 14 - Nate Moore - commented:
Hey guys! We hear you also met my uncle Ted on the Toucan in Seldovia, he was really glad to see another boat out sailing around. We didn't get to Seldovia until 2 weeks after you left, but thought of how much fun you must have had. My wife and I are just about to buy a junk-rigged boat in Halifax ourselves! We aren't going north, though, but south (at least to start...). We love your stories!
17th Jul 14 - Christopher D - commented:
Happy birthday to you Jess! Sorry no present this year (again) - it seems like you've got everything you need! By the way, where should we send the wedding present to again?!?
20th Jul 14 - Kerry - commented:
Still love reading your updates and photos!! Take care, xK
16th Aug 14 - Don Rideout - commented:
Just started reading your blog again,I have really enjoyed your write-ups.Keep them coming.
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