Alaska Roundup

It is over, an odd and melancholy feeling pervades. After three weeks out the boat begins to feel like home, leaving it a sad thing. But we are also ready to go back to our regular lives, which are not really all that bad in Hawai’i. Looking forward to seeing friends and getting back into the swirl of the life we have built on the island. I return to the observatory, with a major project coming to a peak with the delivery of the K1 laser. Deb has gotten a call from the school, they want her back for the next school year.

Nordic Star in Ford's Terror
The Nordic Star anchored in Ford’s Terror while we explore
It is just the trip in between which promises to be a real pain, too much luggage and a very long layover in Seattle await. We are still in the hotel in Juneau, checked out of the room, but with hours to kill before the flight. At least I still have WiFi connectivity to do a little blogging from a conference room just off the lobby.

Three weeks on the water. Three weeks of beautiful weather, whales, halibut, icebergs and fantastic scenery. Hard to think of how the trip could have gone better, maybe a few more fish caught?

Week one was spent mostly touring with just enough fishing to eat and a little for some friends to take home. We headed south from Juneau to the fjord of Tracy Arm to dodge icebergs for a day. From there it was further south around the end of Admiralty Island. As we passed the Brothers Islands there were whales, both humpback and orca everywhere, also sea lions and porpoise. Up Chatham Straight we stopped at Barnof Hot Springs and one of my favorite places, Tenakee Springs.

You never know how the trip will actually go, on the water it is weather that will determine many decisions of where and when. This is particularly true when traveling water that can be cold and unforgiving of any serious mistakes. We had hoped to do a section on the open ocean, from Salisbury Sound to Sitka. Eleven foot seas and strong wind were not our idea of a fun experience. Listening to the conditions and forecasts quickly put this idea off the chart, we took the safe inside route down Neva and Olga Straights instead.

Humpback
Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) off Brothers Islands in Frederick Sound
It is only my Father, Deb and Myself who stayed the three weeks, the rest of the time we hosted various family and close friends on the boat, stopping each week at Auke Bay and Sitka to allow everyone to come and go.

Week two was primarily fishing, with several days spent working the Shark Hole in Salisbury Sound for salmon or at various unsuccessful attempts to find halibut in the Sitka Area. Hard core fishing is not my favorite activity, I enjoy working a pole, but only in moderation. This was not the case for Deb, she enjoyed fishing immensely. While everyone else was to be found on the back deck landing salmon, I was driving the boat, whale watching and trying not to run down the dozens of small sport fishing boats with our monster at 1.7 knots. The 52′ Nordic Tug may be a great boat, but it steers like a pregnant cow in trolling gear.

The weather was more typically Alaskan, rain and a chill, stiff breeze. But no problem, we were fishing, not sightseeing. Good thing no one on board was sensitive to seasickness, two-three foot swell is quite the ride while trolling, the boat bobbing up and down hard. Look for the video in a later post.

We left Sitka for week three after unloading people and several coolers of salmon. We had new faces on board, an aunt and uncle who had never had the chance to do anything remotely like this. By this time we were old hands at cruising, the effort settling into a routine. With neophytes on board everything became new again, seen through the eyes of someone experiencing Alaskan cruising for the first time.

South Sawyer Glacier
South Sawyer Glacier in Tracy Arm
The last week was a repeat, in reverse of our first week, returning to Juneau along the route we had come. The weather was not only good, but nearly perfect. Deep blue skies to offset glacier covered peaks and mirror smooth water broken only by the wakes of humpback whales. Outside of Pybus Bay we spent the day anchored and catching our limit of halibut, and getting sunburned in the process.

We did have one choppy afternoon while crossing Stephens passage. Four foot seas reminded us of what these waters could do. I steered us through the swells while my Aunt and Uncle suffered for an hour. The passage was full of whales, two times I was forced to cut power or maneuver to avoid possible collisions as whales surfaced in front of the boat.

Into icy fjord waters to see the glaciers of Tracy Arm again. We have gotten good at navigating through the ice, my dad steering while I stand beside him with binoculars, figuring out how we will get through the pack. We made a good team, with two other boats choosing to follow us through the maze of bergs. It was thick enough that at time we needed to simply push our way through, while recalling the stories of the early explorers and the real challenges they faced.

Even the last morning was busy. My dad wanted more salmon for his cooler. Fortunately I had a dock conversation with some local fishermen, providing some hints which proved useful and two more cohos were caught in the last hours of the cruise just outside of Juneau.

Trip over, our gear packed and the boat cleaned up we now have only tired muscles, many photos and memories to remind us of a great cruise. That and a cooler of frozen halibut and salmon!

Author: Andrew

An electrical engineer, amateur astronomer, and diver, living and working on Mauna Kea, Hawai'i.

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