Southeast Alaska

Southeast Alaska

After a calm, uneventful two-day Gulf of Alaska crossing, we arrived in Pelican, at the northwest corner of Southeast Alaska. When people talk about cruising Alaska, most are talking about Southeast Alaska. This is the part of Alaska that is easily accessed from Washington State via the Inside Passage–a calm-water route filled with sheltered anchorages, narrow channels, and relatively numerous settlements. Southeast Alaska is also an area where Don, Sharry, and I have spent a whole lot of time cruising, so it kind of feels like coming home.

Pelican is a town of fewer than 100 residents. Main Street is a boardwalk. Traffic is mostly ATVs:

Tony Fleming, creator of eponymous Fleming Yachts, was aboard Venture, moored behind us in Pelican. Tony’s videos of the Aleutians were very helpful when we were choosing where to go on our own trip.

We visited with Tony, Louisa, Captain Chris, and Christine, traded boat tours, and enjoyed happy hour aboard Venture. We had a great time chatting about Alaska cruising and boat building!

With settled weather forecast, we returned to the Gulf of Alaska via Lisianski Strait. The scenery along Lisianski Strait is gorgeous:

Our first stop was Porcupine Bay:

The big attraction of Porcupine Bay is proximity to White Sulphur Hot Springs, which is just a few mile dinghy ride away. The US Forest Service maintains the bathhouse and an adjacent cabin. We found the bathhouse clean and charming. Soaking in the hot springs was a wonderful antidote to a cold, rainy day.

We continued down the coast to Black Bay, where a number of brown bears foraged on shore. The salmon haven’t shown up in large numbers quite yet, and the bears were munching away on grass:

We stopped for a few days in Sitka, where we caught up with Don’s cousins Dale and Aaron and their families. Dale and Pat moved up to Sitka several years ago from Seattle. Dale and Pat’s son, Aaron, manages Sitka-area commercial fisheries for the state of Alaska and his wife, Leslie, manages the Raven’s Hook craft store that she and Aaron own. They were an excellent source of local information and generously shared fishing tips with us.

With unusually calm weather forecast and a week before the next guests were scheduled to arrive, we motored south along Baranof Island. This section of coast is exposed to the Gulf of Alaska and can be rough. Looking at this shoreline, it’s not hard to imagine how high the waves must get:

Whale Bay was a particularly nice destination. We happened upon John and Kathleen on Laysan, their 50′ Diesel Duck. John and Kathleen live on Oahu and keep Laysan in Petersburg for summer cruising. We enjoyed having them on Starr for dinner:

John and Kathleen told us about a waterfall in nearby Port Banks and we anchored just offshore from it the next day:

As they promised, spawning salmon were climbing the waterfall at high tide. Bears were eating the climbing salmon. We watched from our dinghies:

We continued south, towards the end of Baranof Island. Most cruising boats stay on the inside, but in settled weather this outside section is delightful:

Not only was the weather calm, it was also clear and almost warm. We had short days underway and plenty of time for fishing and exploring by dinghy.

On our way back to Sitka, we stopped for a night at Goddard Hot Springs. This hot spring is about 30nm from Sitka and considerably busier than White Sulphur Hot Springs further north. There are two bathhouses, one close to the water, another at the top of the clearing below:

The bath houses are a bit older,  but they’re well taken care of. Hot and cold water valves allow you to adjust the temperature. They have great views of the bay and anchored boats:

Back in Sitka we had a crew change. Celeste is taking a well-deserved break for the month of August. Don and Sharry’s longtime friends, Mike and Colleen Gaylord, arrived the same day Celeste departed. Dale and Pat invited us all to dinner at their home on our last night in Sitka:

Mike and Colleen are onboard Starr from Sitka to Wrangell, a particularly scenic section of Alaska. Our first stop was Takatz Bay, on the east side of Baranof Island. Here peaks rise to more than 4000 feet and waterfalls abound. We arrived in torrential rain and enjoyed the view from Starr’s warm, dry cabin:

We also stopped in Pybus Bay, a gorgeous anchorage on Admiralty Island:

The river at the head of Pybus Bay was teeming with salmon. Along its banks, headless salmon carcasses rotted, but despite our best efforts, we didn’t see a single bear.

Venture departing Pybus Bay behind us

We’ve seen remarkably few humpback whales this summer and we’re not sure why. Ocean temps in Southeast Alaska are over 60 degrees, which might have something to do with it. We usually see dozens of whales near Pybus Bay, but saw just a few this year:

Thomas Bay, just a couple hours from Petersburg, was a wonderful stop on a sunny day. After anchoring in Scenery Cove, we took the dinghy to the foot of Baird Glacier. A long time ago, Baird Glacier was a tidewater glacier–its snout touched the sea. That ended decades ago, when it retreated onto shore. A few years ago, after further retreat, a large glacial lake appeared, connected to the bay by a shallow, winding river which is navigable by dinghy. Once in the lake we navigated around giant icebergs, careful to avoid getting pinched between them!

Then we moved over to Cascade Creek, where we took a short hike:

Our last stop with Mike and Colleen was Anan Bear Observatory. The Forest Service allows a dozen unescorted visitors each day and we were lucky enough to get permits. The newly-constructed viewing deck is well-positioned to watch black bears snag salmon:

Mike and Colleen returned home from Wrangell and we picked up our next guests, Geoff and Candace Daigle. On their first night aboard, we had Wrangell-local Jim Leslie over for dinner. Jim arrived in Alaska as a logger and now owns Alaska Waters, which operates jet boat tours, a store, and a bus company. He regaled us with stories all evening:

Meyers Chuck, a tiny settlement with just a handful of year round residents, was our last stop in Alaska. We found space for Starr at the end of the dock and walked around the community:

Carol and Dan Higgins keep a fishing boat in Meyers Chuck and spend summers living in the old schoolhouse, which they’ve lovingly converted into their home. They invited us for happy hour. It was a treat to see the inside of their home and chat about life in Meyers Chuck!

Since we’ve been in Alaska, it’s been rainy enough that Starr’s teak decks are starting to turn green. We’ve taken this as a sign to go quickly to Desolation Sound, where it’s sunny and in the 80s most days. We’ll make a quick trip through the northern parts of BC and slow down when we can wear shorts again.

  • Hector Cyre
    Posted at 23:05h, 15 August Reply

    Wow! It sounds like you did it all, though we know that isn’t possible iin Southeast Alaska n just one summer..
    Hope your trip down to Desolation has gone beautifully. You will surely get your time in shorts from Cortes south. Hector and Iron Wind are back at Ovens Island near Ladysmith for a couple days. On the trip north from Reid Harbor I ran into a hot wind at Chemainus. The termperature jumped 10 degrees instantly. Craziest thing I’ve even seen on the water. I’ve run into a cold wind off the water many times, but never had one that felt like someone opened the oven door. Could that be why they call it Ovens Island? LOL.
    Fair Winds, gentle seas.

  • Michone Walker
    Posted at 23:43h, 15 August Reply

    Great bear photos! Sam, your drone has incredible range!

  • Chris Clothier
    Posted at 02:47h, 16 August Reply

    delightful photos and great visits with friends. watch your progress every day. You are definitely headed into warmer weather.. Thanks again for sharing.

  • Doug Easton
    Posted at 02:53h, 16 August Reply

    Hi Don & Sharry

    Amazing photos of Alaska – what a great adventure you have had.
    All the best for a safe and pleasant journey back to your home port.
    Hope to take a trip back to Seattle (by plane this time) sometime next year – we’ll be in contact.
    Best wishes
    Marlene & Doug

  • John Douglas
    Posted at 18:25h, 16 August Reply

    Nice post Sam, and thanks for including the bear picture! ( Note that Kathleen is still fishing and filming while I’m getting the dinghy started.). Enjoyed meeting you and Celeste.
    Don and Sharry, dear friends for many years since you welcomed us to the dock in Honolulu and anchored together in Hanalei. Wonderful to rendezvous again here in Southeast AK. Let’s do it all again.
    Take care and see you in Hawaii.

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