Seward and Prince William Sound

Seward and Prince William Sound

After a few days in Kodiak, the weather forecast for the 24-hour run to Seward looked nearly perfect. Along the way, many anchorages–particularly those in Kenai Fjords National Park–tempted us. Alas, the calm winds, gentle two-foot swell, pea-soup fog, and eternal daylight enticed us to motor onward to Seward. It’s good to leave some anchorages unexplored so we have reason to return, we figured. And the fog would have made it hard to see any of the scenery in the fjords.

We arrived in Seward almost exactly 24 hours after departing Kodiak, found a spot to tie up that had power, and walked around town. It quickly became clear that Seward is orders of magnitude busier than anywhere we’ve been since Japan. Cruise ships visit Seward, dwarfing little Starr and disgorging thousands into town each day:

Sportfishing charters appeared popular and fishing looked good:

Seward is just a couple hour drive from Anchorage. Hundreds of RVs lined the shoreline in massive campgrounds. On weekends, trailer boaters arrive en masse. After all the solitude, the activity was actually kind of fun.

Locals explained that this summer has had the worst weather they can remember. Although we lack any basis for comparison, we can’t disagree. We arrived in the fog, tied up in the rain, and were rained on almost every day of the week we stayed. But when the clouds lift, Seward is gorgeous:

We got a chuckle out of this sign, posted on the window of a local business during the single sunny day we enjoyed in Seward:

A walking path leads along the waterfront, with beautiful water and mountain views:

Alongside the path is this Japanese “toro,” presented to Seward in 1973 by a Hakodate-based Japanese fishing company as a gesture of thanks for Seward’s support of Japanese fishing vessels. In past years I would have passed it by without thinking twice. Having just been in Hakodate, it was much more interesting!

Sharry’s sister, Sheila, and her husband, Al, live in Seward. They leant us a truck, invited us to their home, and spent time on Starr. We had a wonderful time catching up with them:

Sheila and Al also acted as a PO Box for us. One of the packages was a new Headhunter toilet for Don and Sharry’s head. In Japan, even the convenience store public restrooms have luxurious Toto Washlet bidet’s, which are unfortunately incompatible with the older Headhunter heads aboard Starr. The new Headhunter heads, however, have space to install a Washlet, and were reportedly “very easy to install.” Don and I slightly object to the “easy to install” assertion, but after eight hours of dirty work we had the new toilet installed and flushing. Everyone else aboard is envious of the heated seat!

Replacing the toilet wasn’t the only boat fun we had. While in Kodiak, the clothes dryer developed a loud thunking noise. Inspection revealed the drive belt was shredding itself to pieces. Don and I pulled the dryer out of its locker and installed a new belt, saving us from laundromats for the rest of the trip.

While in Seward, Don flew down to Orcas Island to spend a few days with his brother Dan. Celeste and I had each gotten off Starr for a week in Japan, but Don and Sharry have been aboard continuously since February. Sharry wanted to spend time with her sister, so she stayed aboard. Over the last year, Sharry has exhibited “seeking” behavior whenever she’s not with Don. We were all a bit anxious to see how being apart would be. Happily, it went okay, Sharry was able to enjoy spending time with Sheila and Al, and Don got a well-earned break.

We stuck around Seward through the Fourth of July, which is a big deal here. Despite cold and rainy weather, the RV parks were packed and the streets were filled with food trucks, craft vendors, and small-town activities:

While Don was gone, we moved Starr to Valdez, in Prince William Sound. This was my first time running Starr without Don aboard. It might even be the first time Starr has moved without Don since he and Sharry bought the boat in 1999. We had a calm, easy trip:

Once in Prince William Sound, we saw the first icebergs of the summer:

The scenery approaching Valdez is particularly scenic, with rugged peaks and hanging glaciers:

Valdez Narrows, a few miles seaward of Valdez, seems to be a salmon thoroughfare. We dodged hundreds of seiners fishing in the narrows. The sea lions seemed to be well fed, too:

Don returned to Starr in Valdez, along with guests Kelly and Scott:

Soon after leaving town, we came upon a playful group of orcas:

After seemingly endless rain and overcast, we had a few sunny days in the forecast. We headed for Columbia Glacier.

Columbia Glacier is among the fastest-moving glaciers on earth. In the last few decades, it’s retreated more than 20 miles. The head of the inlet has a half-dozen glacial snouts jutting into the ocean, all surrounded by massive, jagged mountains. The rapid glacial retreat has left a stark landscape of bare rock. We explored the west arm, which had less floating ice than the east arm:

Kelly and Scott at Columbia Glacier

The east arm has a larger glacial face, but was harder to get to because of floating ice:

Sea otters are a common sight throughout Prince William Sound and we think they might be the cutest animals we’ve seen all trip. Usually they dive underwater before we get close enough for good pictures, but occasionally they let us approach:

Emerald Cove was a particularly beautiful anchorage, with views up Columbia Bay and the mountains beyond:

After visiting Columbia Glacier, we headed for Meares Glacier, at the head of Unakwik Inlet. Just a few miles from Columbia Glacier, Meares Glacier is advancing, toppling trees and gobbling up the adjacent forest:

Meares Glacier was quite active, calving regularly with thunderous booms:

After too short a visit, we returned to Valdez to drop off Kelly and Scott. Buffalo Nickel, owned by Stan and Val Creighton, was tied up next to us. We’d met Stan and Val before and corresponded with them about our trip since they’d just come across from Japan last season. It was great to finally tour their boat and have dinner with them, but I forgot to take any pictures!

We hadn’t put fuel aboard Starr since Kushiro, Japan, more than 3000nm ago, and needed diesel before crossing the Gulf of Alaska. Despite Valdez being the terminus for the Alaska pipeline, diesel prices were considerably higher than in Cordova, across the sound, so off we went.

Starr moored in Cordova

The friendly folks at Petro Marine not only topped us off with 3100 gallons of diesel, but they also picked us up the following morning and spent an hour driving us around town–they really embody their “fine fuels, super service” motto! For some reason I didn’t take any pictures during the tour.

We returned to Starr and set off for a two day, 350nm hop across the Gulf of Alaska. There’s not much to say about the trip across this notoriously-challenging body of water. It was super calm, overcast, and devoid of traffic or drama. Another perfect Starr passage!

A nice day on the Gulf of Alaska

  • Chris Clothier
    Posted at 22:39h, 13 August Reply

    Thanks for the update. As of this morning it looks like you are approaching Victoria Is., getting close to Seattle. So enjoy the photo and all of your adventures..

  • Andy Howard
    Posted at 00:36h, 14 August Reply

    Another great posting Sam and great pictures. Many thanks. Continued safe travels.

  • Penny Talbot
    Posted at 01:01h, 14 August Reply

    Wow! So great to hear more of your adventures! Funny – last year when we were in Alaska , and up in PWS, the locals were saying how very hot it was and how unusual the constant sunny weather was! LOL.. timing is everything! But looks like you had a wonderful time in spite of the weather!

  • Luuk Oleson
    Posted at 02:16h, 14 August Reply

    Gorgeous photos, Sam. Ohhh, that otter:))). Lucky to get such a great shot, so close up.
    This adventure has been just incredible, and it has been wonderful to share it vicariously with you.
    Glad Sharry had a good visit with her sister, and that she managed without her anchor – Don – aboard.
    Again, thanks for sharing.

  • Sarah Layman
    Posted at 04:55h, 14 August Reply

    Once again, your pictures prove this was/is the trip of a lifetime for all!

  • Tom Mendes
    Posted at 05:42h, 14 August Reply

    Life is grand and your travels make it even more grand.. Take care!

  • graham pugh
    Posted at 11:49h, 14 August Reply

    Great photos again, loved the shots of the otters on bouy marker.

  • Michone
    Posted at 13:58h, 14 August Reply

    Still enjoying your photos and narrative.
    So happy to hear everyone is doing well.

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