Alaskan Summer

About the time you read this we should have cast off lines and left the Juneau area. The plan is to spend some time exploring the Glass Peninsula and Seymour Canal, an area we have often skipped past on our way south from Juneau. We have reservations for access to the bear viewing area at Pack Creek. Stay tuned for plenty of photos of grizzly bears fishing.

With any luck we will be back in a week. Hopefully the cats are OK with the house sitters. Hopefully the fish makes it back still frozen. And maybe I will not get eaten by a bear.

Inside Passage from Andrew Cooper on Vimeo

Nordic Quest 2013

Sorting through thousands of photos, dozens of video clips, and assembling time-lapse from yet more thousands of frames, all to create a mere five minutes of video. It is quite the chore, but also a lot of fun. In a way I relive the voyage, each photo a cue to recall all of the little experiences that make a great trip.

Having another couple photographers along provided a great source of material, it is not all of my photos. Randy and Nancy sent me some of their best, which have been woven in to create a better video. We got lucky on the weather, while it was cloudy and rainy for much of the time, we had a glorious day for visiting the ice at the top of Glacier Bay. We were lucky with wildlife as well… Orca, grizzly, humpback whales bubble netting, mountain goats, eagles, even a set of fresh wolf prints on a beach, all of the big game.

It was fun…

Nordic Quest 2013 from Andrew Cooper on Vimeo.


Where are we going today? The usual question, often the answer is ill defined. It is not that we do not have a plan, we do. It is simply that experience has taught us to keep the plan loose. Weather conditions, what the wildlife is doing, what we want to do. The plan can change.

Sunset Under Way
Sunset while we are under way, a few miles yet to go for our anchorage
Bad weather in Chatham strait? There is little pleasure to be found in pounding our way through six foot seas. Perhaps we will spend the day looking for bear in the arms of Tenakee inlet. With flexibility we can maximize the adventure with less stress.

Thus the plan is kept very general. There are some constraints, this year we have an entry permit for Glacier Bay National Park which specifies an entry date. Of course we do have to be back in Juneau in time to make the flight home. Beyond that? Just a general idea of where we plan to go and where we will stop.

The evening often sees my father and I with charts spread across the table and on the screen, planning the details of the next day and identifying a possible anchorage or two. We plan with a fair amount of experience, we have come to know these waters a bit. We plan with a backup in mind, we know that conditions will change, or we might linger when the whales or fish cooperate. Point Adolphus? How long do we want to watch whales. Funter Bay? Been there a few times… I can do that anchorage in the dark if need be.

Where are we going this year? I know… Perhaps here or there. We will just have to see. It has never failed to be fun.


It is a rather long list.

Fred Meyers Aisles
Looking down the aisles of a Fred Meyer grocery section
Three weeks of food for half a dozen people reduced to a spreadsheet printout. As usual, I draw the shopping detail, a few hours in the Juneau branches of Costco and Fred Meyer. The result will be a vehicle filled with food.

After it is all purchased there will be the chore of carrying it all down the dock and stowing it away into the many cupboards and freezers aboard the boat. Invariably this will occur at low tide when the ramp to the dock is steepest.

  • 5dz eggs
  • 3 bags frozen potatoes o’brien
  • 5lbs sugar
  • 1 box tea, assorted
  • …this list goes on…

The procedure is fairly well practiced at this point, this is not the first time we have done this. I know where to find everything, in a supermarket I visit about once a year. The list is refined each year, it has a history now, the failures removed and perhaps a couple new menu ideas included.

We will rely on catching a few fish along the way. If the lines come up empty the menu may get a bit monotonous. But this is Alaska, we will catch something.

Postcard from Alaska – At the Helm

The boat is going from sunrise to sunset every day. In Alaska during midsummer this makes for very long days indeed. Everyone gets a chance to man the helm, taking their turn at the wheel. Boat policy is two people on the bridge at all times, one at the wheel and the other just to keep watch, a second set of eyes for safety. No problem getting volunteers, the best view is from the bridge.

At The Helm
Deborah Cooper at the wheel of the Chrisara, with Joy keeping her company

Alaska 2009 – The Video

Three weeks of photographic effort, literally thousands of photographs to select from. It is difficult to put the experience into words, hopefully around one hundred of the best photos and a few minutes of video set to music will convey the trip better than pages of text can manage.

About two thirds of the photographs are mine, the others from one of the seven other cameras that were present on the trip in the hands of other family members and friends. Editing the video was not a short or easy process, but the result is fairly good. Hit the full screen icon to see it in full resolution, this is the first properly HD video I have put together. The Vimeo version does exhibit some encoding artifacts, the original 720p HD versions are simply beautiful.

Three weeks of traveling some of the most beautiful landscapes on the planet is something best experienced by being there. Short of that, this is the best I can manage…

A Touch of the Wild – Alaska 2009 from Andrew Cooper on Vimeo.

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.

Continue reading “Alaska Roundup”

Postcard from Alaska – Tracy Arm

Tracy Arm is one of the must see places near Juneau. If you are not traveling in your own boat you can jump on one of the fast excursion boats that make the run from Juneau each day. A classic fjord with walls that tower thousands of feet above, waterfalls everywhere, and icebergs to make navigation interesting as you make your way up the glacially carved canyon. The terrain beneath the water is just as dramatic, not unusual to be a few hundred feet from shore with a thousand feet of water below the keel. In some places the depth finder can not find bottom, over 1,200 ft or more down.

At the top there is Sawyer Glacier, a tidewater glacier that drops those icebergs into the water as you watch. There are actually two glaciers, in twin arms of the fjord that separate near the end of the trip. Sit among the ice flows watching the seals and ice crashing from the cliff-like face. If you can time your arrival for high tide it is far more likely to see a really big calving, with hundreds or thousands of tons of ices breaking free from the face to crash into the water and create waves that rock the boat.

It is customary to scoop up some of that glacial ice floating around to fill your coolers. Crystal clear and very dense, the ice from the bottom of the glacier is interesting stuff. We break it up and make cocktails out of it to enjoy as we cruise back down the fjord.

Tracy Arm
Looking up Tracy Arm, a classic fjord in southeast Alaska

Postcard from Alaska – Grey Day

The weather can be glorious, grey and cold, or simply miserable. I have experienced trips with nothing but sunny days and temperatures allowing shorts and sandals. Other times have brought rains that equaled anything I have seen, when it seemed the sea was both above and below. Sailing through narrow, rocky passages with nothing but radar to see the shore a few hundred feet away, shrouded in fog.

You take what you get on a trip, no way to reschedule now. Rain or shine, fog or mist, each can be beautiful in their own way to an traveler willing to enjoy the experience, whatever life brings.

Grey Day
A grey view out the wheelhouse window of the Chrisara on Chatham Straight, 3 July 2004

Postcard from Alaska – Bridge

The bridge of the Nordic Star, home for the next three weeks. I will be spending many hours at the wheel as we explore. There are two marine radios above along with a stereo system with CD player. (Note to self, put together a few CD’s of my playlists). On the dash are three flat panel displays that can be configured to display the GPS, marine charts, radar and depth finder display. The view is the best in the boat, aside from climbing to the upper deck. Also visible is the usual clutter of charts, binoculars, camera gear, radios, drinks and munchies.

The spacious bridge of the Nordic Star, a 52′ Nordic Tug