Friday, July 30, 2010

Happy 50th Shout Out to My Brother John

July 30

Happy Birthday to my brother, John, who is celebrating his 50th with our family in Torch Lake, Michigan.

Sorry we couldn't be there for the big celebration last night!!!! I miss you guys.

And John ... welcome to the club!

Love, sis

Rest and Reunions in Pelican

Saturday, July 24

There’s a charming allure to the community of Pelican, so we were happy to head up Lisianski Inlet after a rough two days crossing the Gulf and head back into Pelican.

Fatigued but full of adrenaline from two days at sea, we were pleased to tie off the same dock next to our new friend John on Morning Mist, and invited him over for dinner Thursday evening when we arrived.

John and his wife Bliss, who unfortunately we missed because she had returned to their home in Arizona, are building a new home in Pelican. They bought two houses and are converting them under one roof into a vacation home and guesthouse.  This is quite an undertaking under normal conditions, but imagine a building project where all of your supplies need to be shipped in by a ferry that only arrives every other week!

John gave us a tour of the project and it’s going to be quite a complex. We hope we have an opportunity to return next summer to see the finished product!

In the meantime we also reunited with Deb and Keith … owners of Cross Sounds Seafood. We’ve been so impressed with the salmon we’ve tasted in Alaska that we ordered 50 pounds from them for delivery when we return to Ohio!

Pelican interestingly is the only place in Alaska we’ve visited twice … and I’m sure we’ll return in future years.

Crossing the Gulf … 433 Miles Non-Stop

Tuesday, July 20

Our second crossing of the Gulf of Alaska was less kind than the first.

With confused seas, up to 25 knots of wind and 6 to 9-foot seas … it wasn’t a comfortable ride. I spent most of my time down below with Lovie (he got sick three times along the way) and only a few hours at the wheel at the beginning of the first day and the morning of the last day of the crossing. Which meant Roland had the wheel for most of the way … 56 hours non-stop, including 43 in the Gulf.

The seas were coming at us starboard and rear quarter aft, so our back deck was covered in water and we lost our doormat to the Gulf. Glad that was the only casualty.

And even happier to hit land Thursday afternoon … with a return trip to Pelican.

13 Glaciers in Harriman Fjord … Better Than Glacier Bay!

 Monday, July 19

On Monday morning, after puling anchor around 8:30 and heading up Port Wells into Barry Arm, we were immediately struck by the view ahead – a wall of glaciers intermixed with sheer, rugged mountains capped with snow and ribbons of clouds suspended along the face.

Three glaciers come together in a spectacular view at the juncture of Barry Arm and Harriman Fjord, where Cascade, Barry and Coxe Glaciers form a terminus.

We navigated around Point Doran, where an old moraine creates a shallow shoal that we definitely wanted to avoid, and continued up Harriman Fjord …. home to 6 tidal glaciers, 7 “hanging” glaciers (not at sea level), and an endless number of cascading waterfalls carved into every crack and crevice along the entire fjord.

We anchored the boat on a 4-fathom shelf on the northeast shore … dropped the skiff for an hour … and weeded our way through a field of icebergs and bergy bits to within a half mile of the face of Surprise Glacier. 

We had been warned time and again about the dangers of waves caused by calving glaciers, so when we heard the first CRACK of thunder coming from the glacier and saw tons of ice plunging into the water along its face … we needed no more surprises from Surprise Glacier … and quickly move further wary from the face.

Photos cannot capture the sheer scale of the glaciers and waterfalls carved in this rugged terrain … it’s a treat for the eyes and a vista that is best appreciated with all five senses … in person.

Seeing RED

Richard and Fran, on their boat RED

Friday, July 16

So here we are, two months into our cruise … and I have to say the most magnificent anchorages to date have been in Prince William Sound … despite the rain, which never seems to stop.

After leaving Hogg Bay, we spent an evening in Lower Herring Bay on the west side of Knight Island. This was Roland’s favorite anchorage because there was so much to explore. We anchored in one of five inlets around the perimeter of the bay, called Miners Bight, and used the skiff to explore the others… had fun watching a bear grazing along shore in the Northwestern Arm.

Tight and very shallow entrance to Bettles Lagoon
Delightfully, we also connected for the weekend with our new friends, Richard and Fran on their beautiful sailboat Red, in West Twin Bay on the north end of Perry Island. Unfortunately it rained all weekend … but it didn’t dampen the fun of having the two of them over for dinner, sharing stories and enjoying our time together.

After leaving West Twin Bay we discovered another favorite anchorage of ours in the Sound … a gorgeous secluded place called Bettles Lagoon. We knew it was going to be shallow going in … at mid-tide we had only 2 feet of water under the keel. Sigh of relief once we made it in and found about 30 feet of water … accordingly we planned our exit the next morning for high tide.

Ultimately, it was worth the effort. Bettles Lagoon faces a glacier on one side and two spectacular waterfalls on the other … in the rain and fog it was absolutely stunning.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Slideshow 9: Roland's Photo Class and the Bear Scare

This links to one of the most beautiful collection of photos we've posted to date ... largely due to the photo lessons Roland had in Seward ... and the amazing scenery we had leaving Seward. I especially like the photos of the French red tug we affectionately called the "Beast" ... and the photos of our Hogg Bay anchorage with the harbor seals and Bainbridge Glacier in the background are stunning.


BEAR SCARE At Bainbridge Glacier

Thursday, July 15

These pictures are worth a thousand words …

Hogg Bay was a beautiful anchorage, with a stunning view of Bainbridge Glacier in the distance.

We were anxious to test out the new steering on the dinghy, so first thing in the morning we dropped it in and took a cruise to the Glacier. We were less than a quarter of the way there in this photo, just to give a sense of scale.

Pulling up to the glacier was awesome. Its face is away from the water ...

So we decided to beach the dinghy and then walk to the glacier ...

But Laura didn't trust the dinghy to stay in place with just rocks to tie off of, so she waited with the dinghy ...

... While Roland walked out of view to the glacier to take some photos. But ...

Laura saw a bear on the shoreline down from where she was standing with the dinghy ... and yelled ...

BEAR!!! BEAR!!! Roland came quickly back to the dinghy ...

And they pushed back into the water and drove down closer to get photos of the bear.

But once he caught wind of the two humans ... he hightailed it out of there.
And that's the story of our close encounter with the Bainbridge bear. On the way back to the boat we passed a reef with a herd of harbor seals carefully observing us as we passed.

In the meantime, Engelenbak was waiting patiently for our return. We loaded the dinghy back on the bow and by noon had pulled up the anchor and headed on to Lower Herring Bay.

Beauty and the Beast

Tuesday, July 13

The harbor in Seward was filled beyond capacity, so our first few days were spent tied off other vessels, including Le Manguier, a retrofitted red tugboat from France. Roland described it wonderfully in an email to some of his friends and colleagues …

… “So here you have it ... beauty and the beast ... a 50+ year old French navy tug and our Engelenbak in Seward.  The French boat left Corsica in the Med last summer and took the Northeast Passage (the Russian side) across the top and spent the winter in the Aleutian Islands before sailing onto Kodiak Island and Seward Alaska.    

Total crew ... one couple, their 8-year-old daughter and a nanny!!!!!  This is a modified tug with a new "sail plan"... 2 masts made from tubular steel and pretty much free standing.  The horsepower in the engine room was reduced from 750 HP to 400 HP.... minimum speed 5 knots!!!!  It truly was fun to see this boat up close and see him depart from the dock ... it took 15 minutes to pull away and turn the boat around in the harbor before he could actually leave the harbor ... and there was room to turn 125ft sightseeing vessels around in a single turn!!!

Philippe, the owner of the "beast" came up with the "Beauty and the Beast" line as we were talking about our boats ... they are having so much fun that they are leaving to spend another winter in the Aleutians and then sail onto Russia.  When asked about his encounters ... he said that planning the trip was all based on staying away from depressions that are very frequent in the Bering Sea. Their foreword stateroom is their freezer when in the arctic!!!

We have met so many interesting people and seen such broad definition of what a boat means, that in hindsight I wished that I had logged all the vessels.”

A Rainy Road Trip to “Weird” Whittier

Saturday, June 10

One of the more interesting aspects of cruising is the people you meet along the way, especially the warm and supportive camaraderie you find among fellow boaters.

Through an organization called the Seven Seas Cruising Association, we developed an email relationship with a couple who live in Anchorage and keep their boat in Whittier. Fran and Richard own a beautiful bright red sailboat (sound familiar) built by Waterline Yachts, appropriately named  … Red.  

Approaching the tunnel to Whittier
We had been in communication with them for several months before our trip. Despite the fact we were total strangers, Richard most generously shared his insights on places to go in Prince William Sound, suggestions on books and cruising guides for the area, and helped us gain a better understanding of cell and internet reception in the Sound. His advice was priceless.

We had hoped to catch up with the two of them cruising somewhere in the Sound so we could meet face to face and personally thank them for all of their counsel. But while sitting in Seward waiting for parts to be flown in for dinghy repairs, we decided to rent a car and make the 1.5-hour drive to Whittier to see them … on a very rainy Saturday.

The one word everyone seems to use most in describing Whittier is … weird. And after going there, we concur.

Whittier was founded as a military base during WWII, and was known as the “city under one roof”, where ONE building housed 1000 apartments, a hospital, bowling alley, theater, library, shops, gymnasium and a pool. That building was damaged in the 1964 earthquake; so another 10-story building was used for housing and today, everyone in Whittier still lives in that SAME building. Weird.

Driving on top of the tracks in the railroad tunnel
And if that’s not weird enough, the only way to reach Whittier is to drive through a 2.5-mile railway tunnel that cars and trains take turns using. Not only is this the longest highway tunnel in North America, it's the only one-way reversible traffic tunnel shared with a train in the world.

Once an hour the tunnel opens at each end for 15 minute of traffic each way. If you miss that window, you have to wait for another hour before you can go through.

Baby moose grazing 
We had a wonderful visit with Fran and Richard, but the weather and wind in Whittier is notoriously unkind thanks to Passage Canal, and the day we were there was no exception. At their suggestion, on the way home that evening we stopped in Girdwood, a small town between Whittier and Anchorage known for one of the best restaurants in Alaska -- the Double Musky – Cajun cooking at its best with a d├ęcor that could keep you gawking for hours.

On our way back to Seward we saw a female moose grazing in the field adjacent to the road with two calves and couldn’t resist stopping for a few photos.

Roland's Christmas in July

Friday, July 9

As a Christmas gift for Roland last year I purchased three days of private photo instruction with Ron Niebrugge, a professional photographer who lives in Seward.  

Here we are in July … and he’s finally able to enjoy his Christmas gift.

Roland’s lessons began with some basic instructions on how to interpret the information that his digital camera provides to improve the exposure of shots and better balance the light. He also received some tips on lenses, filters and other equipment that can help improve the quality of a photo under various conditions.

Living in Alaska, Ron specializes in nature photography and was able to expose Roland to some spectacular sites he knew near Seward … and with just a little coaching … he came back with some of these amazing shots. Unfortunately, rainy weather was a challenge, but they did manage to find two days that were nice enough for a shoot … albeit in short windows.
Roland with photographer Ron Niebrugge and his wife, Janine
On a cruise like this, the photo opportunities are endless. I think Roland had a lot of fun with Ron and is looking forward to applying what he’s learned a we continue our cruise through Alaska

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Seward … As Far West As We Plan To Go

Wednesday, July 7

Seward is a picturesque port west of Prince William Sound … and after 2 weeks in the Sound, seemed a metropolis by comparison. 

It is located at the head of Resurrection Bay on the Kenai Peninsula, 126 miles south of Anchorage. Unlike most towns we’ve visited in Alaska, it has a road system that connects it to Whittier, Anchorage and other points of interest. Seward also is a destination for northbound cruise ships. In fact the Holland America line was there during the World Soccer Championship when Holland lost to Spain … we half expected to see the Dutch flag at half mast!

Getting there required heading back out into open ocean waters, and while the rolls weren’t as bad as our crossing, poor Lovie decided it was enough to make him seasick. Heading into Resurrection Bay we saw puffins, murres and sea lions. I wish I could get a good photo to share of a puffin … but they fly at over 50 mph, flap their wings 400 times a minute … making them a very difficult subject to photograph. They actually look like a cartoon character … very cute with their orange beaks and tufted black and white heads.

In the meantime, we ended up spending a week in Seward, practically refitting the dinghy electrically and mechanically. New steering system, new motor, new shifter, replaced the bilge pump … and replaced some bad wiring ... practically like new! Many thanks to Carl and our new friends at Storm Chasers ... a great boatyard in Seward that worked diligently with Roland to facilitate the repairs.

Slideshow 8: Beartrap Bay to Valdez

We have an amazing collection of shots of ... rain ... in this slideshow, something you can't escape in Prince William Sound. Beartrap Bay, surrounded in nature, was undoubtedly one of our most beautiful anchorages ... even in the rain! You'll also see a slice of life of a couple of seiners we met in Valdez and their crews. And as always, great wildlife, including a huge group of sea lions lounging along the shores on route to Valdez.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Fourth of July and Williwaws in Granite Bay

Iceberg from Columbia Glacier
Ice dragon

Monday, July 5

We left Valdez on July 2, heading ultimately to Seward to repair the steering on the dinghy, with a few leisurely stops along the way.

Leaving the Valdez Narrows we passed Columbia Glacier, reportedly the largest glacier in Alaska, but the bay leading in was so clogged with icebergs it was impossible to make it in further to see the glacier. In the meantime, huge icebergs littered the waters for miles around Columbia … we of course slowed down the boat to pull a few bergies onboard for the cooler and glacier cocktails later.

Sea Lions at Bull Head
Rounding Glacier Island we passed Bull Head, and it wasn’t hard to determine where that name came from. The entire rocky shoreline was lined with hundreds of lounging sea lions … including some very raucous bulls fighting on the highest boulders … no doubt over some female sea lion sunning herself down below ;)
Humpback entertaining tour boat

We also saw a tour boat stopped in the water … which usually is a good sign that there are whales nearby. Sure enough, a humpback popped out of the water just in front of the tour boat … almost as if he were under contract! And better work environment than Sea World.

Bilge Boy

We anchored in Granite Bay and stayed for three days, surrounded by dramatic towers of granite. We were tempted to launch a flare for the Fourth of July … but didn’t want to tempt fate … it’s against the law to shoot off a flare from a boat unless you’re in duress.

Amazingly, we had a day without rain so I took advantage of the clear weather to oil the teak cap rails. In the meantime, Roland organized the lazarette and squeezed down in the forward bilge to check some things out.

Dramatic cliffs of Granite Bay
But two days without precipitation seems to be impossible in Prince William Sound. Our second day at anchor it began raining and on day three we had williwaw winds coming down from the cliffs with wind gusts of up to 35 knots. The entire granite face in front of us turned into a wall of cascading waterfalls, with the sound of water echoing over the water. Total Solitude.

An Unexpected Stop in Valdez Nets Us Some Expert Fishing Advice

Thursday, July 1, 2010
Valdez wasn’t a port we had planned to visit, but we decided to see if we could find someone to repair the steering on the dinghy. Along the way, we had an athletic school of Dall porpoise riding with us, swimming sideways and upside down in our bow wake.
Surprisingly, for a town that largely is centered around fishing and its harbor, we struck out on finding anyone in Valdez who could fix the steering … or even a place where we could buy parts.
What we DID find, however, were two delightful purse seiners -- the Angjenl from Peterburg, and the Raven from Seward – that we tied off of for two days because the harbor was filled beyond capacity with fishing boats waiting for an opener.

(Note in the picture to the right, a seiner is a fishing boat that can be configured to catch salmon, halibut, crabs, etc. For salmon they use a seine … a long net lined with floats on one side which is released behind the boat and dragged with a skiff into a large circle, where they then pull in the bottom of the net like the drawstring of a purse, before reeling it up and into the back of the boat … fish caught in the net drop into the hold of the boat.)

As we pulled in to tie off the Angjenl, its skipper, Ryan, was quick to offer us some fresh salmon if we were willing to give him a tour of our boat. Deal!!! (I figured this may be my surest way of securing some fresh salmon since we haven’t had much luck trying to catch any ourselves).

Cory, the skipper of the Raven was equally amiable, and even spent an afternoon helping Roland tear apart the steering on the dinghy and suggested the names of some folks in Seward who we could contact for parts since Valdez was a bust.
Thursday evening we invited the crews of both boats over for a dinner of Cincinnati Chili … eight hungry guys!!! I doubled the recipe and made enough for 16 and still barely had enough.

It was pretty entertaining getting to know both crews and listening to their stories, especially the two younger members on Angjenl, Dan and Evan, who gave me a tour of their boat. I walked away with a new appreciation for the creature comforts of Engelenbak.

When I commented that single girls in the “lower 48” would appreciate all the young single men there seems to be in these Alaskan fishing communities … they were quick to explain to me the chances a girl had finding a guy in Alaska … “The odds are good … but the goods are odd.” Very cute (both the guys and their joke)!

Over the course of the evening, Sam, an expert fisherman and Ryan’s first mate on Angjenl, generously shared some fishing tips with me. His father owns a tackle shop in Petersburg, so not only did he show me a special way to hook a herring on a lure so it spins through the water when you’re trolling, but he also gave me custom made “sliders” and shiners. His other secret piece of advice … soak your bait in WD40 … the smell attracts both salmon and crabs. Who knew!
The straightforward warmth and generosity of both crews was certainly the highlight of our time in Valdez.

About Engelenbak

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Engelenbak is a custom-built 62-foot steel trawler ... designed to cruise anywhere in the world.