We didn't stay long in Seward, just long enough for a hot shower at the Harbour Masters, get a shrimp/prawn licence, and marvel at the endless rows of motor-homes and the giant cruise ship that we mistook for an iceberg on the way in. For a bit of much-needed exercise we jogged up the mountain towering over the port, up and down which they have a famous marathon every 4th July 'Independence Day' - quite the event apparently, and the town was in full swing getting ready for it as we refuelled next morning and headed South out the 16 mile Resurrection Bay fiord and onwards towards Prince William Sound (PWS).
We stayed the first night tucked into Driftwood Cove, where I caught a good sized Halibut from the dingy. It's so easy to fish around here, even from Teleport, we just stop the boat - usually over a shoal (often still 100-foot+ though) - and with a simple plain metal jig lure (perhaps 10cm long?) tied onto a spool of thin cord, we just pay out line until it hits the bottom, bring in a few feet, and then jig it up and down. If you don't catch something within 60 seconds then there's something wrong. We've been living off rock fish, cod, halibut etc. So good!) Jess's folks bought be a great filleting knife for my Bday and it makes short work.
While out in the dingy off Driftwood Cove, Jess and I had our cameras with us too (of course), and delighted in having some curious sea lions swim right up and around us, as well as trying to glide close enough for a good puffin shot, but they seemed pretty shy. One puffin however surfaced only 5 meters away and froze just long enough for us to grab perhaps our best-ever Horned puffin shots before disappearing underwater with a flick of its wings. We were just about to head in when Jess pointed wide-eyed "Oh my God!" and I turned to see a huge humpback whale crash back into the water not too far away! Amazing! He breeched a few more times and we got some shots against the sunset before recalling the cruising guide books comment that a humpback whale once breached onto of some people in a dingy and killed all of them, at which point we decided it was time to call it a day.
Our last stop before PWS was (passing a black bear) up into Puffin Cove, and while having no puffins, we did see our first hummingbird! We'd read that there was a good hike up to the ridge, but after spending 30min trying to find the 'start' of the 'trail', we decided there was none, and plunged headlong into the alder bushes, spiky Devils Club, and moss-covered spruce trees, calling out "Watch our bears! Coming though…" (and variations of) every minute or so. I got stung on the face by a big fluffy Alaskan bumble bee, and then an even louder, deeper approaching hum thankfully turned out to be a Rufus Hummingbird (they migrate the furthest of all varieties, some from as far as Mexico!) hovering right in front of us for a second before zipping off through the trees. Next also we saw a deer, then eventually struggled to the boulders atop the ridge and could gaze out North and see into 'Icy Bay' in PWS strewn with glacial ice. Though less than one mile from Puffin Cove direct over the mountain, it took us the rest of the day to motor/sail the 31 nm back out of Puffin Cove, rocket through Bainbridge Passage (doing 9kn with wind and tide assist!) into PWS proper, and around into the same part of Icy bay we'd overlooked that morning.
We tried out our foldable shrimp trap for the first time in Icy Bay, baited with the recommended punctured tin of cat food, set in about 100 foot of water. It worked! First haul was about a dozen huge prawns (two distinct types: spotted, about 10-15cm long, and the larger striped ones usually 17-22cm long, our record being 23cm tail to nose-spike!) We tried various locations and depths, and seemed to find that deeper is better (we've heard the saying 'steep and deep') up to about 400 ft, but also in the vicinity of glaciers seems to help. Some days we got huge hauls of more than 50, and we've been enjoying them boiled, fried with garlic, in pasta, in curries, and experimented with various cooking times (too quick = too soft, too long = too rubbery, about 5min is good), and varying percentages of seawater to fresh to boil them in (50%). It's been great fun, and even better exercise hauling in the up to 600 feet of line, and the trap, weighed down with some anchor chain cable-tied around it's perimeter to prevent it being dragged away in the tidal currents.
Another trick we've been practicing is launching the quadrocopter drone upon reaching a new anchorage, to get a birds-eye view of the surrounds. It's great, revealing hidden open hiking ground, chains of illy-covered lakes and more, sometimes concealed just a few rows of pine trees in, once we land the dingy at just the right spot. Many of the anchorages (often no more than 40-feet deep) are flanked by towering hills and mountains, and the view from the top into the fiords is breathtaking. Happily, the blueberries and salmonberries have started to ripen almost a month early, and we've been gorging ourselves during the hikes, and adding them to our cereal in the mornings.
Some of the salmon are also starting to 'run' early, anchoring in behind 'Mink Island' and rowing ashore we found a stream rimmed by Bald Eagles, and thick with Pink Salmon. Thousands of salmon, all milling around everywhere, yet neatly vacating a void around our dingy as if repelled by a magnet. We got some cool footage from the air using the drone, and by attaching a GoPro camera to the underside of the radio controlled toy boat I was able to drive gently up through the schools without disturbing them! Growing bored of Halibut, Cod and rock-fish, we welcomed a few salmon onto our menu, though (at risk of sounding like Alaskan salmon snobs) we can't wait to catch our first Silver or Red salmon - much richer red flesh. We also enjoyed making some caviar though - the volume of eggs inside them is astounding, one fish yielding somewhere between one and two cups of transparent golden caviar, each perfect sphere about 6mm diam. The process simply involves soaking them in warm water to release them from their cloaking membrane, then soaking in super saturated salt water. Initially they float and are dull in colour, but after 10-15min they sink, and start to become beautifully transparent. Then it's another bath of warm/hot-ish water for another 10-15min, followed by one last soaking in the salty solution, until they've reached your desired level of saltiness (about 10-15min?) - then you're done - strain them and they'll keep in your fridge for ages. A tasty addition to everything from our omelettes to salmon chowder, or to go with cheese and biscuits - hard life out here!
Lagoons are common at the head of many of the bays, sometimes accessible at high tide by dingy and stranded at low. The narrow entrance to the lagoon at the end of Ewan Bay is particularly impressive, and as the bay drains away with the tide, the lagoon's water simply can't pour out fast enough, resulting in an ever-heightening waterfall, culminating in an impressive (10 foot?) salty cascade, spewing rafts of foam out into the bay. When the tide reverses it eventually equalises and then falls behind in the other direction - the first 'Skookumchuck' a.k.a 'reversing tidal waterfall' we've ever seen, and we enjoyed rock-fish on our campfire while recording a great time-lapse video.
We waited out an incoming 35kn gale tucked in Nelly's Rest - such a beautifully protected keyhole anchorage that 2 days in, we started to doubt the storm even existed, and up-anchored and slipped out, only to hastily turn-tail and re-anchor half an hour later! Instead we did more hiking, saw another black bear through the rain (#3), and departed the following day as the swell outside died away. Disk Cove was another even more protected, completely circular bay, with a narrow entrance passage (reportedly 80 foot wide but looked more like half that), where slipping through required us to actually brush our mast against the pine tree branches overhead!
The most spectacular anchorage of the entire trip - in fact the most spectacular anchorage I've ever been in my life - was back in Icy Bay, but this time opposite Chenega Glacier. A mile or so from (and in full panoramic view of) the glacier's calving tidewater face we found safe anchorage (mentioned in the cruising guide) in about 35 feet, heaps of swinging room, good bottom, and the general current flow and wind kept most of the drifting ice pieces across the other side of the fiord. On the way in, we sailed right beside literally hundreds of seals basking on rafts of bobbing ice, getting some great photos. We dinged nearer to the glacier, landing the dingy 'safely' around behind a headland and dragged it well up on a rocky beach which we assumed would be well protected from any surge waves from the glacier, and climbed high up onto a ridge where we had the most incredible view of the glacier. We sat there entranced for ages, listening to the inner creaks, groans and thunder-like explosions emanating from within, and gazing in complete awe at the size of some of the hunks crashing down into the water, the immense walls of surf that rear up and radiate outwards. Just amazing. I also set up a time-lapse GoPro to capture all the hunks of ice breaking off and slowly parading their way out of the bay. Frustratingly, we were already half way back down the headland when we heard an even more impressive explosion behind us, and wishing we hadn't missed seeing it, rolled our eyes and carried on down to the dingy, untied it from the boulder and both dragged it (outboard and all) arduously back down towards the water's edge. We paused, waiting for a good break in the random sets of mini waves. I then noticed an usual tilt to the water in the bay. It didn't look like a wave, just the water level seemed to slope upwards away from us in a slight angle. As the huge surge of water started to reach the shallows in front of us though, it started to rear up…
I could see what was about to happen, and shouted to Jess "Take my camera and run!" hastily unshouldering my rather expensive and rather non-waterproof Pro DSLR and attached super telephoto lens. Jess stared at the growing wave and at me. "Take it and RUN!" She did, as I wound the end of the dingy's painter rope tightly around my hand. Filled with adrenaline, I then also started sprinting up the beach after Jess, somehow managing to tow the dingy uphill behind me at a run. The surf quickly caught up to the dingy, tossing aside boulders bigger than the one I'd tied the dingy off too. The white-water surge picked up the dingy (making it much easier for me to run) and together the wave, dingy and I quickly caught up to Jess who was still hurrying up the rocky beach. "Keep running - Run FASTER!". She did. The water caught up with me and was up around my knees (still running) when dingy was thrown sideways against the side of the chasm/inlet/headland, filled with surf and little rocks and almost inverted, but I managed to yank it back on track, somehow with the outboard fuel tank (and the now completely dislodged seat) still inside it. Moments later the wave drained away, and left us standing there stunned and stranded, an impossibly long way inland, with our dingy. "Damnit! How are we supposed to drag the dingy all the way back down to the water now!" we laughed, but it sure was an eye-opener for how powerful and unexpected these waves can be. The anchorage was excellent though, and all night (after a prawn/shrimp dinner) we could hear the glacier exploding, and laying in bed, we'd wait a minute or so before feeling the swell gently rock Teleport.
We were going to take it slow back from PWS, day-sailing West back to Seldovia, but our weather GRIB file (downloaded via our Iridium satellite and GMN xGate software and viewed in the program zyGrib) showed a nasty Westerly gale coming, and the VHF weather channel agreed, predicting 35-40kn. It was due to strike in about 36hrs hours, and having only just anchored in Driftwood Cove (still East of Seward), we quickly up-anchored and decided to make a run for it, and sailed overnight and all the following day in gentle but increasing headwinds (and the last 6hrs 25kn and some impressive waves due to the tidal rips) and just managed to slip into Seldovia 30hrs later at 1AM. Exhausted, we tied up at the wharf and fell happily asleep, waking once or twice hearing the wind really start to blow. Such a nice feeling to be safe at 'home'. On the way we past a large pod of orca and a pod of humpback whales doing their amazing bubble-net feeding, where they all dive in unison underneath a school of herring, one swims around in a circle releasing a stream of bubbles forming a curtain of bubbles that encircles and 'nets' the herring, as the whales then all rush upwards together, mouths agape, up through the middle of their bubble net to the surface, scooping up tons and tons of fish and water. They then float around on the surface, emitting all kinds of loud grunts, whistles and groans as they squeeze all the water out of their mouth past their baleen filter plates, and swallow their mouthful of fish, as hundreds of seagulls go nuts overhead, swooping and diving to catch the odd herring that jumps out. Amazing to witness.
We visited the lovely Jakolof Bay for a few days, and did some hiking with friends, ate oysters fresh from the wonderful oyster farm there (Thanks Frank!), collected blueberries and salmon berries, and even caught a couple of Red salmon (the best!) in the nearby Tutka Lagoon. We had camp fires on the beach, and one generous fisherman gave us a big silver and a Red salmon! Excitingly, our well-known Aussie Adventurer friends Dick & Pip Smith (along with two of their Alaskan friends) came and landed their helicopter in the gravel car park right beside Teleport, and spent a lovely way with us - we even went out for a bit of a sail, enjoyed a tasty lunch (Cod I caught that morning, great salad, and even a cheese-cake topped with local blueberries Jess whipped up!). Good times. Dick was the first person to fly solo around the world in a helicopter, amongst many other feats.
We pulled Teleport out of the water a few days later back in Seldovia, winterised everything (this time leaving four Damp-Rid dehumidifiers around the boat, left a hatch open, and also the ends of the tarp open to encourage ventilation - hopefully we'll have less mould inside when we return next June. We did a slideshow presentation on our sail through the Northwest passage at the community hall one evening, and were delighted to have about 50 people turned up (apparently that's pretty much a record, from the community of 400) and met all kinds of amazing and friendly locals, including a man who did the Iditarod dog-sled race for about 25 years! Sadly, having just met all these people, we then had to ferry then fly out the next morning, and here we are now in Anchorage, ready to meet our safari guests tonight, to start our first Alaskan Photo Safari for 2 weeks. One week aboard the luxury mini cruise ship 'Dream Catcher' back in Prince William Sound, and then to Kodiak, then Geographic Harbour where we photographed all the grizzly bears last season! All the best bits of Alaska again, but this time in luxury! We can't wait!
It's been a very short sailing season, but we've had great fun, and wracked up a whole lot new experiences, new friends, and of course new photos and videos - stay tuned for the video updates! Thanks everyone for following along, and for all your messages. =) We always enjoy reading them, and sharing our journey with you.
Chris & Jess.