So it turns out that two and a bit weeks isn't enough to do much more than simply pick one of endless possible routes through the maze of islands that forms SE Alaska's popular 'Inside Passage'. We plotted a fairly linear path from our entry at Elfin Cove, down and out through to Prince Rupert in Canada, leading us via many of the not-to-be-missed hotspots recommended to us by various boaters.
It's certainly a beautiful area, with a good number of whales, bears, berries, 4G cellphone reception and pleasant little coves (many with convenient, free, public floating docks), however it rained almost every single day, the wind was unreliable, we were constantly passing (and being overtaken by) scores of other boats (from zippy fishing charters, to luxury motor yachts and immense cruise ships), and we shared most anchorages and docks with many other boats. Sometimes it was nice to have some company though - and without exception, everyone we met was super-helpful, generous and friendly. Almost always someone would appear to take our lines as we attempted to parallel park in small wharf spaces left between other boats, or when rafting up to others when all spaces were taken. We were invited aboard many beautiful motorboats, met some wonderful characters and enjoyed some great food, including many gifts of salmon fillets, freshly baked muffins and beer!
From Elfin Cove we enjoyed a solid tailwind and sailed at a cracking pace to Swanson Harbour, opting to bypass Glacier Bay which requires permits booked well in advance and even a group induction/training briefing on site before you can enter. It seems that main reason Glacier Bay is so famous is largely due to its accessibility rather than superiority to the more private glaciers we've already enjoyed in Prince William Sound and the Kenai Peninsula.
We caught a decent little halibut and anchored in a small, unnamed bay only to be woken next morning with a THUD by a fishing boat dragging down onto us, leaving a ding in our toe-rail that I could only partly steam-out later. Bummer.
We spent one night nestled amongst the multitudes of crab trap floats filling Whitewater Bay on the 9th July, enjoying a magic-carpet ride aboard our little RIB as we were deliberately sucked through into the lagoon behind the bay by the tide. Spinning silently around corners we had Belted Kingfishers darting and diving around us, Bald Eagles gazing down at us from every second moss-draped pine tree, saw deer delicately stepping through the grassy flats and were pretty sure we heard a bear, but didn't see one. We did dig up some huge clams (cockle shells?) that we ate for dinner however, having been assured that as 'July' doesn't have an 'r' in it, we shouldn't die from toxic algae build-up. Sounded dodgy but die we didn't, so all's well that ends well.
Baranof Warm Springs was a highlight. Tying up to the free public floating wharf was interesting due to the cross-current from a roaring waterfall emptying into the bay right beside it, but as always friendly people appeared to catch our lines (and later even brought us a king salmon fillet and freshly-baked ham and cheese scones!). A pleasant five-minute stroll along a boardwalk lead to a series of thermal hot-pools huddled right beside the churning, icy-cold rapids of the waterfall river. A little concrete has been poured here and there to help form some of the basins but on the whole, it felt beautifully natural, surrounded by mossy pine trees and loaded blueberry bushes. With steam rising up all around us and no one else in sight, Jess and I enjoyed several swims here, alternating from the burning-hot pools and the burning-cold ones fed from the river, and it didn't take too long before our noses adapted to the sulfur smell. Some of the hot water is even piped down to a series of tiny wooden bath-houses lined up on the shore beside the wharf, each with little curtained windows overlooking the bay - and again, completely empty and free. It really was a treat. Great schools of herring also filled the bay, and holding the GoPro underwater I got some cool vision.
Next up, on the 11th July we anchored up in Red Bluff Bay, which we briefly had to ourselves before another nine boats turned up. I surprised myself by managing to catch a large and very feisty silver salmon on my casting lure, and to complete my amazement, actually managed to net it and bring it onboard! Proud as punch, I held it up for Jess to photograph, although while repositioning to try and find a clean background for the photo, the lure pulled from it's mouth and it bounced off the deck and slipped away into the water! Devastated. Won't ever make that mistake again.
Our shrimp pot yielded 11 large prawns as we headed out into the humpback whale-filled Frederick Sound. Despite keeping a good eye out, some of these giants still surfaced unexpectedly less than a boat-length away - quite exciting. Opposing current bogged us down and we anchored short of our target, instead pulling into a vague embayment formed by a pile of rocks and a bit of a headland on the NW corner of Kupreanof Island. As we approached, we spotted four black bears prowling around the shore. Thick beds of kelp prevented us getting as close as we'd have liked in the dingy, but we still managed some good photos.
We again made torturously slow progress the next day (14th July) due to a 15-20kn headwind combined with bucketing rain. Instead of being safely docked at Petersburg by 2PM we didn't make it in 'till 7PM - by then copping 4kn of opposing current as we crawled slowly closer, hand-steering out in the torrential downpour, straining to see the crowds of boats weaving around. The entrance to the boat harbor opens directly out into this racing tidal stream making turning into it quite a calculated maneuver. Once beside it, if we simply turned to face it, we'd be quickly swept back against the down-current breakwater wall. Like some crazy cross-wind landing, I had to continue motoring hard ahead to hold our ground, while slowly side-slipping us into the narrow harbor opening. The moment we were inside of course, the current stopped, so I had to then instantly throttle back and swing hard over to prevent us driving headlong into the boats docked on the up-current side of the opening. Wet and exhausted, the only good news we had that day was discovering that Papa Bear's Pizza shop (which had been recommended to us) hadn't quite closed up for the night, and Jess and I enjoyed possibly the best pizza we've ever had.
Way back in 2013 when we sailed down through the Bering Sea, the Aleutians and along the S coast of Alaska, some of you may remember us hiding-out a 55kn gale for a few days in a remote, semi-circular bay called 'Dora Harbour' along with several friendly fishermen? Well, we've kept in touch with some, and as it turns out, one of them, Richard (who was out commercial-fishing with his two grown-up kids Elizabeth and Tom) lives in Petersburg! Sadly they three were out fishing again, but Richard's wonderful wife Bridget was home, and she showed us around town, had us over for lunch, a hot shower and an amazing dinner of white king salmon! She even loaned us her truck, so next morning we explored the island, seeing various rivers, deer and a porcupine, and then hiked out to some lakes. Amazingly, one of these even had a public-use rowboat pulled up on the bank. Feeling a bit like like Ratty from Wind and the Willows, we climbed aboard and pushed off for a very pleasant yet pointless row around the lake. "there is nothing - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.".
Preparing to scoff a quick take-away lunch before catching the 2PM tide flow out through the super-thin yet 20nm long "Wrangle Narrows", I mistakenly asked for 'chips' instead of 'fries'. "Where are you guys from?" The lovely woman behind the counter asked. "Australia!? Wow. I've never met anyone from there before!" Bringing out our food ten minutes later, she asked, "Do either of you guys know Lisa? She lives in Australia…" An awkward pause ensued, so she continued expectantly. "Lisa... She's a personal trainer?" In the end, I'm not sure who was more surprised - us for being asked the question, or her, upon learning that we didn't know Lisa.
Mist and rain prevented us from seeing much of Wrangle Narrows as we were sucked through, and we eventually clawed our way into Wrangle just on dark, rafting up to a powerboat. We had a constant stream of lovely visitors all morning, including one lady who gushed that she'd seen all of our YouTube videos! How funny! On the way out, I hopped into the dingy and took some pics of tiny Teleport passing beside what we thought was a large cruise, but later we saw much bigger ones! Even still, Teleport was smaller than their lifeboats. =) We filmed some video of this too, experimenting with the awesome new 'RodeLink' wireless mic system - Jess wore a little lapel mic that transmitted crystal clear audio back to my DLSR camera in the dingy. Very cool technology.
We arrived at Anan Bay on the 17th July, famous for it's black and brown bear viewing at the salmon stream. Tightly controlled, we'd been very lucky to be able to secure one day's permit a few days earlier, and even through it was raining, it was an amazing day. Various armed rangers stay on-site, and boat & planeloads of bear-viewing charters come in and out all day (but capped at a max of 60 visitors/day). There's a great viewing platform and even a photographer's hide (max 5 ppl at a time and managed in 30min blocks - a case of writing your name down against any spare gap in the time-sheet) down close beside the rapids where we watched many black bears catching salmon only a few meters from us. One tourist didn't show up for one of the boat charters the next day so we managed to buy his permit along with one from some friendly photographers staying at a cabin nearby, allowing both us to stay for a second amazing day. We even saw river otters, and briefly came face to face with a wolf as we walked about to our dingy along the boardwalk - the ranger said we were only the 2nd visitors to have seen a wolf this season.
Anchoring at Anan Bay was a nightmare though, with the depth shoaling from 100+ feet to a tidal mudflat of like 4 feet very abruptly and crab pots everywhere. In the end we dropped anchor on this steep slope at about 50 feet and had to also set a stern anchor out the back in about 150-200 feet to prevent us swinging onto the mud flats. Pulling all this up hand-over-hand (along with our shrimp pot, which yielded our best haul ever - 63 big ones!) at 4AM was an utterly exhausting 1.5hr back-breaking ordeal. #nextboat will have an anchor winch.
Running out of time to get to Canada and also trying to beat a nasty blow coming, we only stayed a few hours at Meyer's Chuck then hurried on to Refuge Cove, then Kah Shakes Cove before making the semi-exposed crossing of Dixon Entrance, passing at last from USA into Canadian waters! Yay! Up went our Canadian maple-leaf flag again after sitting in our cupboard since 2012, along with our yellow quarantine Q flag.
Motoring the last bit towards Prince Rupert we realized we'd arrive just after hours, and so we were resigned to having to stay onboard until next morning to clear customs. To make it worse, we then spotted our old sailing friends Mark and Fran aboard their New Zealand boat 'Mia' anchored in a bay just short of town. With the attitude of 'it can't hurt to try', we called up Canadian Customs and asked if they wouldn't mind letting us stop for the night in this random bay and hang out with our friends and proceed to Prince Rupert to check into the country the next day. In a wonderful display of non-American officialdom, the officer actually agreed, and gave us his badge number for reference!
We spent 5 enjoyable days getting Teleport ready for the winter in 'Rainy Rupert', for the most part tied up beside the Aussie sailboat 'Sun Wah', becoming good friends with the owners Mark and Debbie (who it turns out live near us back in Sydney), and a local fisherman who brought some smoked sea lion to dinner. We met some lively young nurses at the local wheelhouse brewery, which led to a fun night out, climbed the local mountain and enjoyed many tasty dinners.
So we're finally far enough south to leave Teleport in the water for the winter without the danger of the sea freezing around her, and in preparations to hopefully sell her, we sadly took all of our personal gear off, and put in a 2nd automatic bilge pump. We tied her up in a snug little back corner of the marina dock out of the prevailing winds, took one (last?) look at her and caught a ferry to the airport and flew back up to Alaska, where we've spent the last month busy running two of our 2-week photo safaris (sorry for the delay in getting this update out!). They were great, taking 8 guests to some of our fav places in Alaska, Chenega Glacier in Prince William Sound to photograph the calving glacier and all the seals on ice, the otters, sea lions, puffins, bald eagles etc, and even to Geographic Harbour to sit amongst dozens of Brown Bears as they pounce on salmon - at times so close they splashed us. Incredible photography and good fun. We finished the 2nd trip this morning and now have 2 days to recover before flying direct to Kenya to start a month of photo safaris over there, just in time for migration season! Visit www.ChrisBray.net for info on these and follow us on Instagram at https://instagram.com/chrisbrayphotography/ for live photo updates.