Monthly archives for August, 2010
As we approached Bird Island, we ran into a crowd of whale watching boats and tour boats. A large group of humpback whales and killer whales were having a feeding frenzy. We had seen a lot of whales all Summer, but we hadn’t seen killer whales and humpback whales in one place. We floated among the boats watching and waiting for the whales to move out of our way. At one point, a pair of sea lions got into a skirmish with a couple of humpback whales 50 yards away. As I started to get worried about the flailing and splashing that was moving toward us, a pod of killer whales surfaced just 10 yards on the other side of Katey. It was crazy. We decided to leave the circus and paddle on to Benjamin Island. We found a beach with a great campsite in the trees on the south end of the island. We setup camp and crashed early after a long day in the sunshine.
The wind wasn’t strong, but we were able to sail at 3 to 4 knots for the first few hours. As we crossed Berner’s Bay, the wind picked up, but then when we reached the other side it disappeared. We paddled on for a couple hours, but the waves left over from the wind made for a bumpy ride and we decided to stop after about 20 miles. We pulled up on what looked like a nice stone beach and found a good tent site behind a stump.
We had coffee time and Pop Tarts in the tent while Lil’ Bit wished he could be playing ball on the beach.
When we got ready to head out we realized the beach we choose was a mess at low tide. The water was cloudy with glacial silt, so we couldn’t see how far the stones went down the beach when we landed, but at low tide the beach was covered with basketball-sized rocks and slippery tide pools. We had over a hundred yards of slipping and sliding to carry our boats and all our gear to the water.
Before long we were getting pushed around and it was clear we had too much sail. We headed to the closest point and tried to tuck into the rocks to drop our sails. Once our sails were down we were able to paddle along at 4 knots. We headed across a long bay and landed on the first good beach we could find to decide whether to continue on. We landed easily in pretty big surf, and ate some lunch.
The waves out in the middle of the canal were definitely building, but the wind was holding around 20 knots. Eventually we decided to reef our sails all the way down and continue on. We had to sail across the canal to a set of islands, then head along the western shore to Haines. With what seemed like tiny sails, we raced across the canal at 6 to 7 knots. We got swamped a couple times by waves that were 3 to 4 feet. When we reached the other side of the canal the wind kept blowing but the water flattened a little. We sailed on averaging 6 knots for the next 3 hours. Holy cow! We were going to make it to Haines easily! We rounded Battery Point and cruised the last few miles into the Haines marina. And just like that our trip was over.
As we approached the island beach at the end of a thirty mile day we aimed for the clear section just to the left of a large patch of rocks. But as we got closer the rocks began to move. Hundreds of seals lifted their heads on chubby necks and began to take notice as my kayak skidded onto the beach only twenty feet away. The nearer seals threw themselves down the beach at what would have been a breakneck pace had it not been for the fact they had to worm crawl and throw their massive bodies with appendages woefully ill designed for land. It was like watching a synchronized swimming routine as each seal was consecutively awoken by their neighbor heaving themselves into the ocean. The pups were slower, unable to throw their little sausage bodies quite as far in their worm crawl, but they weren’t near as slow as the heavy sleepers that awoke alone on the beach confused untill they saw me pulling myself from my kayak and desperately made their break down the beach. The seals now comfortable in their environment bobbed just off shore, hundreds of heads peeking out of the water as if timidly saying, “Hey, are you guys staying here? ‘Cause this is kind of our beach.” We found a perfect campsite in the trees above the beach that had a view of both sides of the island and the ocean that encircled it. The seals watched us closely unpack and move into the trees.
This morning we were awoken by a thudding that sounded like kayaks floating away. I got out of the tent and looked down to see our kayaks right where we left them surrounded by seals and humpback whales chucking themselves into the air just off the island, their bodies thudding as they re-entered the water in belly flop fashion. As Doug and I began moving around camp the seals hearing us once again became wary and have begun to send reconnaissance seals that swim over stare strait at our tent, their heads bobbing in the waves, then swim away.
Sailing to Juneau
On our last day into Juneau we had wind. It started slowly in the morning just light enough to lift the stray hairs that curled out of my dry top hood, but as we paddled on, the flat water started to ripple and we put up our sails. By 10 o’clock it was a steady 15 knots pushing at our backs and filling out our sails as if willing us to Juneau. By 11 o’clock it was a steady 20 knots straining in our sails coaxing us into surfing down waves. By noon it had risen to 25 knots ripping at our sails, pulling my curly wisps of hair strait, and tossing us into the waves like a bucking bronco. As we rounded Grand Island just before crossing the last stretch of Stephens Passage the wind still ripped at our sails but the waves that had been building on the large open passage before the island broke on it’s face leaving flat water in it’s lee. These were ideal sailing conditions. With a steady 25 knot wind and no wave troughs to slam through and steal our momentum we quickly sped to 7 – 8 knots, a speed that is respectable in a full-size sailboat. It was the best sailing we’ve had yet! We were excited about the prospect of sailing all the way to Juneau feeling almost like we deserved this windfall, but as always the moment you feel entitled to something is usually when it is taken away. And just before entering Gastineau Channel, where three other channels collide, their winds met, shook hands, and died leaving our sails limp and listlessly swaying in the calm air. We paddled the last ten miles to Juneau making a total of 32 miles for the day.
passed over we fretted over whether or not to put on our dry jackets, but then the wind would stop and we would start to heat up as we had to paddle.
nd started to blow. Within a few minutes it was blowing hard enough to sail, and within an hour we were sailing along at 5 knots. I kept doing the math in my head. We had a little over 28 miles to get to Juneau, and it was only 11:00 AM. If we could average 4 knots, we could make town by 6 PM. It seems every time we start to believe we’re going to be able to sail all day, the wind turns or dies, so I didn’t want to get too excited, but by the time we reached Grand Island I was pretty sure we could make it. When we got to the end of the island the water flattened and the wind actually picked up. We started skipping across the water at over 7 knots. We reached Arden point before 2:00 PM, and had just 13 miles to go. We averaged 5 knots for the last 3 hours. We pulled into a beach right around the point to get out of the boats and warm up our feet and hands. As we stood on the beach watching the water race by the point it seemed like the wind would have to keep blowing right up Gastineau Channel to take us to Juneau.
Leaving Wrangell we were met with a gorgeous day, bright blue sky, and smooth mirror like water. As we crossed the opening of the Stakine river that flows into the ocean just outside of town a stark line zigzagged through the water. On one side the water was the deep steely blue of ocean the other was the thick, muddy, brown of the Stikine. It looked like the god of fuddle-fingers had dropped the worlds largest chocolate ensure and it was spilling out the mouth of the Stikine. Surrounded by mountains that night we watched the sun nestle in and darken the sky to stars, we left the fly off our tent and caught glimpses of the meteor shower that streaked the sky through the night.
We’ve got just two more hops to make it to Haines. It should be around 130 miles to Juneau, where we plan to stay a few days visiting friends, then 100 miles to Haines!
Week in Ketchikan
Almost to Wrangell
Yep, we’re making it! I know I never wrote about it in this blog, or even said it out loud, but when we started this trip and I realized how hard it was going to be, I honestly thought I would never make it to Haines. I know we’re not there yet, but now, for the first time, I finally feel like we will make it!
Coming into Wrangell Doug and I were searching for a place to camp, once again thwarted with barnacle encrusted beaches and not a terrible lot of options when I remembered a good friend of mine’s parents summered in Wrangell. I remember seeing pictures of their cabin being built just feet from the ocean and how excited they were. I pulled out my cell phone, which miraculously had a signal, and called hoping I could get through. I did! And it turned out they were there and only a couple more miles up the beach! We pulled our kayaks up in front of their cabin and their neighbors came down to check out our boats. Doug and I barely had to carry anything up the beach with all the extra hands. It was so great! We have hung out here with Dianna and Mark and their neighbors Ginny and Steve for a couple days now. It has made Wrangell feel like home which I have missed since we had to move to Anchorage two years ago.
Wow, we finally were able to leave Ketchikan on Friday morning, and we sailed out of town at 6 to 7 knots. It was sweet! We sailed out the Tongass Narrows to Clarence Strait. When we got to the strait the low clouds obscured the tip of the Cleveland Peninsula, but we had 3 or 4 miles of visibility, so we took a compass bearing and started sailing across. The wind was still blowing from the south, but there were 2 to 3 foot waves heading northeast up Behm Canal, making it a bumpy ride. Even so, we sailed across without having to paddle. As we entered Clarence Strait the wind started to drop, but the waves kept on rolling in, lifting up the back of our boats and quickly setting us down in the troughs. It wasn’t rough, but I already had a headache, and the quick up and down acceleration started to wear on me. As soon as we got close to shore we pulled over to stretch and eat some food, hoping my headache would go away. We sat on a log for a few minutes, but the beach our boats were sitting on was less than ideal, and the tide was quickly going out. We got back in the boats to see how I would feel. After just a few minutes my head started to pound again, so we looked for a good beach where we could stop for a few hours and see if my headache would go away. We rounded False Island and found a decent stone beach and pulled over.
We sat on the beach in the rain for an hour. My headache wasn’t going anywhere, and it was getting cold just sitting in the rain, so we decided to setup camp. We weren’t really thrilled with the beach because there were lots of piles of bear scat. Bears were clearly digging through the high tide line looking for food earlier in the day, which probably meant they weren’t finding a lot of other food to eat. Even so, we put up the tarp and flattened out a tent pad under a giant spruce at the top of the beach. After unloading our boats and making dinner, we peeled off our soaking wet “dry” gear and crawled in the tent. The first night out of town, away from the endless buzzing of seaplanes, was beautiful. I would easily accept the rain and cold for the solid 10 hours of sleep I got on the beach.
When we woke up at 5:15 we were still tired, but my headache was gone. I crawled out of the tent and dropped our food bags from the bear hang. As I was making coffee I looked up to see a lone kayaker silently paddling past the beach. This was the first touring kayaker we saw in 900 miles of paddling. I whistled and tried to get his attention, but he was pushing hard through the rolling waves and wind and he didn’t see or hear me. He was already on the water, and we were barely out of bed. I finished making coffee and crawled back in the tent out of the rain to leisurely absorb my daily dose of caffeine. We wondered if the kayaker was the customs agent we talked to in Ketchikan, and thought we might run into him later, but we never saw him again.
As we were loading the boats a family of humpback whales swam past our bay, surfacing one after the other, with 1 or 2 whales arching their tails into the air to show us their flukes every other breath. It was a nice diversion from hauling our heavy, wet gear to the water. By the time we got on the water the wind had dropped a little, but it was still blowing from the northwest. We tried to paddle sail into the wind for a while, but then the wind died altogether. They were forecasting south winds in the afternoon, and we wanted to leave up our sails, but decided to drop them to paddle through the glassy water. Throughout the day we passed beautiful stone beaches that would make great campsites, and hoped maybe they were an indication of what the beaches would be like through this part of Alaska.
We stopped a few times during the day to rest and eat on a beach, a luxury we hadn’t had for a long time, but we thought if the wind picked up from the south we could make it to Meyers Chuck. Late in the afternoon the wind did start to blow, so we raised our sails for the last few miles.
We pulled into Meyers Chuck around 5:00, and tied up on the back side of the dock behind a beautiful, big trimaran from California. We chatted with the owners for a few minutes, then one of the residents walked down to the dock to tell us we could camp in her yard. She and her husband had purchased and renovated the old schoolhouse, where our guide book said we might be able to stay, so she looked out for kayakers to let them know the schoolhouse was no longer available, but there were some good places to pitch a tent. It was really nice. When we carried our gear up to shore it started to rain, so we moved onto the deck of one of the cabins to get out of the rain. Nobody was home, and we hoped they wouldn’t mind, but we really wanted a chance to dry some of our gear out.
We slept great in this quiet little community of cabins. We woke up early again to catch the current and wind. There was an outside chance we could make it the 28 miles to a forest service cabin at Frosty Bay. When we got on the water the wind and current were with us, so we rounded Lemesurier Point and made a beeline for Eaton Point, 10 miles away. It wasn’t a fast sail, so we paddle sailed downwind for most of the day. Motivated by a dry night in the cabin, we kept moving, gladly taking whatever help we could get from the wind. Eventually, we pulled into Frosty Bay and found the forest service cabin empty. It was unbelievably decadent to start the heater and cook our dinner indoors. These cabins don’t have electricity or running water, and have wooden bunks for beds, but they do have a diesel heater that makes them perfectly cozy.
We woke up early again, after a long nights sleep, and packed up our boats. We were only 36 miles from downtown Wrangell, so we were either going to have a short day if the wind was against us, or a long day if it was with us. The water was like glass as we headed across to the tip of Deer Island.
We could see swirls of current flooding around the end of the island, and we couldn’t tell how much the current was going to help or hurt us, but we made good time. After we passed Found Island the current started pushing us a bit, and it looked like we would have a chance to make it to Wrangell so we paddled steady. After about 9 hours of paddling we both decided we weren’t going to make it, but would probably
end up about 12 or so miles short on one of the islets off Wrangell Island.
We kept paddling, and as we rounded Nemo Point Katey remembered that we were going to call one of her friends to see if her parents were at their cabin in Wrangell. We were thrilled to find out that not only were her parents at their cabin, but that we were pretty close and it would be ok to stop and visit. We paddled on, and after 11 hours and 28 miles for the day we pulled up on the beach in front of their cabin. We were both beat, but Mark and Diana and their neighbors Steve and Ginny came down and helped us unload the boats and carry them up. Steve and Ginny had a spare bedroom they offered to us, and Mark and Diana made us dinner. It was so nice to not only be (almost) to Wrangell, but to be welcomed indoors for food, a comfortable bed, the company of dogs and an endless supply of entertaining stories. In fact, it was so nice we decided to take a couple days off and recover from our 4 day, 100 mile paddle from Ketchikan before continuing on to Petersburg just 30 miles away.
Ketchikan averages 165 inches of rain each year. Is that a lot? Seattle averages 32 inches. Yesterday someone told us one of his first years here they had 10 days of sunshine. 9 of the days were strung together, leaving one day of sunshine out of the remaining 356 days. We have been in Ketchikan for a week, and we haven’t seen a cloud in the sky. It has been sunny and 70 or 80 degrees for 8 days in a row here. That is why we wake up each day believing the sun and blue skies have to be replaced with rain and low clouds.
It’s not that we don’t like sun, it’s that the sun comes with a high pressure system, and around here that seems to mean a northwest wind blowing 20 knots. 20 knots of wind isn’t necessarily bad, but right now we need to travel northwest for about 33 miles, and in a headwind like that we would probably average 1 knot, depending on the current. That means we would spend 30 or so hours tearing at our shoulders and grumbling about the wind.
Up to this point, when we have a persistent northwest headwind, we get up ridiculously early and get some miles before the wind builds in the late morning or early afternoon. For the last four days we have gotten up before dawn to get an early start, and each time we have ended up back at the hotel. We either load the boats and start paddling, only to find out the wind is already blowing 15 or more knots in our face, or we don’t even make it into the boats before we see waves marching past the marina.
It seems crazy to be stuck here in such beautiful weather, but someone is probably trying to teach us something. Patience is a virtue. Accept the things you cannot change. Sharks eat people (it’s Shark Week on the Discovery Channel). Blah, blah, blah.
The weather is finally supposed to change tomorrow. The forecast is for rain and southeast winds, the perfect conditions for two pasty kayakers trying to get to Haines.