Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Sitka to Pelican - July 12 to 18

We left Sitka after breakfast on July 12 and headed north.  The day was overcast with rain showers but as we moved along it lightened up.  We passed the cruise ship dock near Old Sitka and pointed our bow into Olga and Neva Strait.  

One of many cruise ships that visit Sitka

Olga Passage
 Although the currents meet halfway between these narrow channels, we encountered little difficulty.  As we entered Salisbury Sound we could see the entrance to Peril Passage opening up to our right and a couple of boats heading in that direction, hoping to make Sergius Narrows at slack.

Rushing to make slack tide at Sergius Narrows at the end of Neva Passage
We continued on out to sea.  As the sound opened up, we started feeling the effects of the open ocean.  A small swell gradually increased to 4 feet and the 10 knot wind was on our nose.

Though still chilly, the sun came out and we were able to see some spectacular scenery
We continued around the Katz Peninsula and entered Piehle Passage about lunch time.  Our local fisherman neighbour at the docks in Sitka, Cody, had shown us on the chart how to transit this rock and islet strewn area to spill into Slocum Arm at the other side.

I copied this chart - it does not show the exact route, but gives you the idea

We entered with the swell behind us and a humpback whale breaching nearby.  I stood on the bow to watch for unexpected obstructions, and Doug steered the course using the electronic chart plotter.  The hardest part of this passage was paying attention to where we were going as it is an absolutely stunning place – bringing to mind the Broken Island group on the west coast of Vancouver Island.  The sun was now fully out and the place just sparkled.

The rock and islet strewn Piehle Passage
We only had a few more miles to go to reach Elf Cove at the head of Ford Arm.  What the chart showed as a shelf, was actually a lovely little bay with tall mountains rising behind it.

Ka'sala at Elf Cove
We dropped our anchor in 10 meters on the southern side.  The water was so clear we could see a gigantic kelp garden below our hull.

Underwater garden at Elf Cove

Sandy, shell strewn berm in undersea garden and the reflection of the clouds on the surface of the cove
A tiny gravel crescent beach cupped the head of the little bay, while spruce, hemlock and pine rose up behind it.  We spent an absolutely still calm night and slept like babies.

Behind the treeline at the top of Elf Cove

The next morning was clear and, when I went to the cockpit with my morning coffee, I could see we were ringed by spectacular alpine landscape.

Morning view from the cockpit in Elf Cove
It was a warm day and that afternoon, while Doug worked on removing failed Cetol from the teak rails, I sunbathed in the cockpit.  That morning we had launched the kayaks to explore around the head of Ford Arm – the first time we had paddled since Hawaii.  This time, however, rather than being in our bathing suits, we were in our bicycling wet weather gear and thermal underwear!

Doug at Ford Arm

On the beach at Elf Cove
Elf Cove
We stayed a second night and then moved farther north, through Smooth Channel to Klag Bay.  We knew the entrance to that bay, known as “The Gate” had to be transited at a slack tide.  We had timed it to arrive at low slack, but got there a bit early.  We decided to proceed anyway and had quite a white knuckle ride against a 5 knot flow which ran through a narrow passage.  We turned an abrupt right and entered “Elbow Passage” where we continued to encounter strong currents and swirls against us.  Ka’sala was able to make it through, but it wasn’t one of our more pleasant experiences.
An entire adjacent lake, as well as Klag Bay, has to empty through these two restricted passages and at times it felt like we were against water going down a drain.  Nevertheless, we were through it in good time, though it felt like forever!  We rounded Klag Island and found our anchorage in a little bay wedged into it.  We were in a deeper pocket and let out 50 meters of chain.

Ka'sala at Klag Bay
It was quite calm in Klag Island Bay and over the next 48 hours the weather deteriorated.  We managed to get in our kayaks to explore our bay and investigate an area that was supposed to have “abandoned Indian shacks” (didn’t find those, but saw a newer cabin and several people in small fish boats).  Later in the day, while it was blowing over 25 knots just a few miles away, we were snug in our little pocket with hardly a breeze.  The rain bucketed down, but we were snug with our warm diesel heater.  We spent our time below catching up on our reading and researching our potential passages and anchorages over the next few weeks.

Tiny bay in Klag Island
On Monday, the rain let up and we upped anchor to head to the head of Klag Bay.  An abandoned gold mine is situated there and we hoped to explore it.  We anchored behind a small island, waved in by a lugubrious sea otter, launched the kayaks and paddled to the top of the bay where a river tumbles out.

Anchorage at the head of Klag Bay
All around us, running water and small creeks emptied into the bay.  The water at this end of Klag Bay was dark brown and brackish, but surrounded by great expanses of mudflats and tall grasses.  One of our guides said this was bear country, so we were on the lookout.  It had suggested we carry a pop can full of pebbles to let the bears know we were nearby.

Abandoned gold mine ruins on far shore
We headed back to explore the ruins of the gold mine, but as we approached, Doug pointed out a large grizzly bear checking us out on the shore.

Then we saw her two little cubs.  As we got closer, she shooed these cubs into the tree line, then came back to watch us again.  We decided that we really didn’t want to see that old abandoned gold mine after all.  Instead, we sat silently in our kayaks and observed the mama grizzly.  She was the one to stare us down and, after a while, we just paddled away, but not before I got a photo.  (Too bad I didn’t have a good lens!)  For some reason, I couldn’t see how a pebble filled pop can was going to help us if we had gone ashore!

The next day we left Klag Bay at high slack and slipped through the "Elbow" and the "Gate" with hardly a knot against us - a different world! 

Spectacular Smooth Passage
We continued down Smooth Passage for a couple of hours and anchored at Kimshan Cove - the site of another abandoned gold mine which we also did not explore.

Kimshan Cove
We were up early the next morning and crossed Portlock Harbour to enter Dry Pass Bay.  We saw many playful sea otters along the way.

Too cute!
Once we anchored we launched the kayaks to explore Dry Passage - a small channel leading to the open sea.  We wanted to visit the White Sulpher Hot Springs a little farther on, but had been unable to find a suitable anchorage close enough to dinghy or kayak ashore.  We thought we might be able to get through a "back door" way from Dry Passage but, once we saw it, we knew it wasn't feasible.  Our hot springs dip would have to wait another day.  

Sailboats on the other side of the breakers at Dry Passage
That evening we were joined by Bob and Dina aboard s/v Silverado.  We had been in contact with them over the Great Northern Boating Net and the net controller, Darlene, was keen that we should get together with them.  Bob had singlehanded his boat from Mexico to Sitka via Hawaii a few years ago, so we had plenty of notes to compare.  We spent an enjoyable evening getting to know each other and hope our paths will cross again.

Silverado sunset at Dry Pass Bay
This morning we decided leave Dry Pass and head directly for Pelican, a tiny fishing village in Lisianski Inlet.  

Lisianski Passage
We arrived at lunchtime and will stay here for a couple of days before continuing on to Glacier Bay.  I don't know when we will have internet again, but will post when I get the chance.

Approaching Pelican

On the dock at Pelican

The entire village of Pelican is accessed by this boardwalk - it was great to get out and stretch our legs

This chart I took from the internet - it is not our exact routing to Glacier Bay, but very close

Wednesday, July 11, 2018


Five days is just not enought time to do Sitka justice.  What a lovely town it is!  We have spent our time here recovering from our passage - getting the sleep patterns back in order after the watch system has taken a bit of work on my part - but we are both feeling rested now and ready to proceed.  Tomorrow we are up early and will head north through Olga and Neva passages, into Salisbury Sound, transit Sergius Narrows, into Peril Strait and Chatham Inlet.  We are heading for Warm Springs Cove on the east side of Baronof Island where we will stay for a couple days, though we will likely anchor in a spot or two en route.  Our reservation for Glacier Bay isn't until July 23, so we imagine ourselves meandering up Chatham Strait over the next week, exploring other anchorages and hot springs en route.  Apparently internet connection is infrequent, so I may not be able to post as regularly.

(I will post a chart following our route at a later date - in the meantime, if you are interested, you can find the route described above with a google search)

While in Sitka, we cleaned up Ka'sala inside and out, loaded her up with diesel and water again, and filled the stores with fresh provisions.  There is a local grocery store here, Sea Mart, which has excellent stock at reasonable prices considering what is involved in bringing goods to this remote location.  They even paid for our taxi ride back to the marina!  But it hasn't been all work.  We did find the Pioneer Bar and drank our fill of Alaska Amber and Baronof IPA!

We explored the Sitka National Monument and Park and learned about the history of the Tlingit, Russian and American people who have lived here.  Everyone seems friendly and most people want to know where you come from and where you are going.  It is hard to get down the dock without being engaged in several conversations.  The locals, for their part, lead interesting lives.  Many are fishermen and the collection of their boats on the docks is vibrant and very much in working order.  The commercial fishing industry here is alive and well! 

The only complaint we have had is the internet connections here are terrible.  The cell phone coverage is very weak and overwelmed most of the time.  Only a handful of places have WiFi available to the public and, they too, are over burdened.  I think part of it is because of the many cruise ships that unload their passangers each day - many of them probably have their smartphones with them.

There are about 25 miles of road here and we have explored most of it on our bicycles.  It was great to get out and stretch our muscles!  Sitka is definitely bicycle friendly with a wide bicycle lane along the highway.  We will miss this place!

On Baronof Hill - where Alaska was sold to the US by the Russians and also where Alaska became a state
The following are some photos I took while we were at sea - not too many, I'm afraid - too busy!

Shaka bro' - leaving Hanalei Bay, Kauai

Hitch hiker

A cold day

Reading underway at the nav station

Deceptively peaceful!

Drying out the clothes

Land ho!

Proud captain

Sitka boat harbour - it is huge

Ka'sala dwarfed by fishboats and large power yachts

First view of Sitka by sea - it was overcast for most of our stay here

Friday, July 6, 2018

Friday, July 6 - Day 23

57.04 N
135.21 W

Sitka, Alaska

We're here!  We arrived on the dock in Sitka this morning at 8am local time after a quiet night. It took 23 days and 3 hours to get here from Hanalei Bay, Kauai, Hawaii.  I can't say it was the most pleasurable passage we have completed, but we both feel a great sense of accomplishment, and are happy to be here safe and sound.  For the next few days we will be cleaning and tidying, resting up, exploring Sitka, and acclimatizing.  We are both more than excited to start the next phase of our adventure as we take the next couple of months to explore Alaska and work our way down the coast to Comox.  Thank you to friends and loved ones who have been keeping us in their thoughts and wishing us well as we made our way here.  Knowing we are loved and all that positive energy certainly made a difference. 

Hero shot - are we happy to be in Sitka, or what?

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Thursday, July 5 - Day 22

56.02 N
137.06 W

104 NM - 104 to go!

All going well, today is our last day at sea. We expect to arrive in Sitka sometime tomorrow morning. I find it hard to believe that the journey is almost over - at times I felt like it was never going to end. Today, contrarily, I feel somewhat nostalgic. This is probably my last offshore passage and what an adventure it has been! We've covered thousands of sea miles since we left Puerto Vallarta on April 24 and now it all seems like a dream.

We still have quite a ways to go before we arrive back in Comox, but it will be a very different type of trip. For example, we will be gunkholing - meaning that each night we will be either at anchor, a mooring or on the dock. Sleeping the night through and not holding watch will make a big difference. If the weather outlook is not to our liking, we will have the option of staying put. There will not be the constant stress of trying to strategize and deal with adverse conditions. We won't have to deal with uncomfortable sea states very often. We will see land, flora and fauna, as well as people. Yes, these can all bring their own sets of problems but we are ready for the change.

Right now we are close reaching on 041 T direct to Sitka. Our full jib and reefed main are set and we are making over 5 knots in easy seas. We saw some sunshine this morning, but we are back in the mist as a result of warm air and cold seas. This morning we were able to tidy the boat in preparation for arriving in port. We are going to look shipshape when we arrive and we are prideful enough to hope to hear: "You came all the way from Hawaii???? Sure doesn't look like it!".

Darlene, on the Great North Boater's Net tells us the Pioneer Bar is the place to be on a Friday night, so we are looking forward to it. Alaska Amber on tap! Who could ask for anything more! In the meantime, we are waiting for the cloud to lift in anticipation of our first sight of the magnificent coastal Alaskan mountains. Tally ho!

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Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Wednesday, July 4 - Day 21

54.42 N
139.19 W

113 NM - 208 to go!

Happy 4th of July to all our American friends! This morning we were able to make contact with Darlene, net control for the Great Northern Boater's Net, so all the cruisers on the coast who listen in will know we are approaching Sitka. She was pretty excited to hear from us as I don't think they get a lot of offshore sailors checking in. This Ham network connects boaters each morning from Alaska to Puget Sound, so we will be monitoring it as we move south. It was so wonderful to hear the Pacific Northwest chatter from familiar call signs and know we are close to home.

Our rough conditions moderated (giving new meaning to "Shiver me Timbers" for us) over the night and we are now sailing, close hauled, straight to Sitka on 040T. We still have about 20 knots over the deck, but the seas are calmer, so it is actually quite pleasant, in a relative sort of way. The weather prognosis is for these conditions to persist over the next couple of days which means we will likely be on the dock in Sitka sometime Friday morning. Walking on level land will be a real treat - if we don't fall over!

The grey skies persist, though the cloud cover is thin. We still have not seen the sun for almost 2 weeks. No traffic. No wildlife spotted. We will have to keep a closer watch the next couple of days as we will be in range of coastal fishing boats which may not have AIS. Both of us are finding it hard to believe this intense passage is about to draw to a close!

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Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Tuesday, July 3, Day 20

53.22 N
141.30 W

105 NM - 321 to go!

The favourable winds stayed with us right until this morning and we were able to make good northing. This morning we tacked and are now heading 035T directly to Sitka. That's the good news. The not-so-pleasant news is that we are beating into 20 knots of wind in a choppy sea. Ka'sala is bashing up and down in the waves and we are well heeled on our starboard side. It is rough and, as I write this post, my eyeballs bounce around in my head when I try to focus on the screen. These conditions are supposed to continue for the next 24 hours anyway, so we will just have to lump it - literally. We are flying under a double reefed main, staysail and 1/4 jib and, despite the wave crashing, Ka'sala is maintaining her speed of approximately 5 knots.

The weather prognosis is for lightening conditions on Thursday, so we may get our wish of clear skies and a view of the Alaska coastline as we approach Sitka. Fingers crossed!

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Monday, July 2, 2018

Monday, July 2 - Day 19

51.31 N
141.39 W

113 NM - 426 to go to Sitka!

We woke up this morning to a favourable wind from the southeast that is giving us 5.5 knots of speed in the right direction. Wonderful! We were expecting light winds, so it is nice to get the push. It is still quite cold - we bundle up to go up to the cockpit to make adjustments. The sky and sea are still grey - we have the cloud, drizzle and occasional shower over our heads as the polar front follows us along. Doug was able to download a satellite image of the Pacific Ocean and most of it is clear sunshine - except where we are - of course! Perhaps we will be lucky, and as we get closer to the coast, the cloud will dissipate, and we will see the mountainous coastline as we approach Sitka.

We continue to see large ships. This morning we were in contact with a container ship bound for Vancouver, BC, which passed a mile in front of our bow. When you have AIS you realize it is quite a busy ocean.

We continue to take each day as it comes and look forward to landfall later in the week.

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