After voyage’s colorful finale, home are the sailors, home from the sea

Spinnakers propel northbound sailboats as Osprey plows southward through British Columbia’s Gulf Islands.

A LOT CAN HAPPEN in a week at sea, including the final miles of a long and memorable voyage to Alaska aboard a chartered 37-foot Nordic Tug. Here’s a recap.

Saturday, July 30

To paraphrase a classic cruiser’s mantra: Another beautiful (hot) day in paradise. Melanie Cove, in Desolation Sound, to Lund, B.C., via the Bliss Estates dock, where we dropped Catherine Collins to catch a seaplane back to Seattle.

Three good things this day:

(1) First thing, I took a thermos jug of my Midnight Eclipse coffee over to Carol H. and friends next door on Glorybe. It was lovely to get Hasse’s coffee-jones smile of appreciation again! She reciprocated with a generous gift of dark roast for me to take home. Had a tour of Glorybe’s compact cabin. At 36 feet, she’s a foot shorter than Osprey, but 4 fewer feet in beam (nine vs. 13). The narrower width makes a massive difference in interior space. But I loved the clever design that maximizes what’s there. At the pilothouse and navigation table, I (at 6 feet 2 inches tall) could stand without hitting my head. I loved how, when you step down a couple steps toward the bow, the nav table becomes the ceiling for an efficient, pocket-size galley. Across the cabin, the head is like a little phone booth, innovatively equipped with a composting toilet. Forward were single bunks on each side and a v-berth. The roomy stern cockpit has a hardtop cover that makes it a living space fit for rainy days or sunshine. A nifty old boat!

(2) I got to know Catherine a bit more during the 45-minute trip to her seaplane dock. From Osprey’s rooftop we spotted a school of Dall’s porpoises, a delight for her. She works in her organization’s office, working on grant applications and applying policies and such for the Adventuress, and doesn’t get out on the water as much as she’d like. I’m glad we met, and that she got a taste of small-vessel cruising.

(3) At the Lund, B.C., marina, I grilled Beyond Meat burgers for dinner. Always a treat. Also made coleslaw from my own new made-up recipe: 2 cups cabbage (mix of green and purple), sliced and diced; ½ cup of mayonnaise, or to taste; 2 tablespoons apple-cider vinegar; 1 tablespoon lemon juice; 1 tablespoon maple syrup; ½ cup chopped walnuts. Add ½ cup diced apple if you have it. Pretty tasty.

Sunday, July 31

From Lund, B.C. to Skerry Bay, Lasqueti Island

Good things:

(1) Easy, blessedly breezy (for cooling us off) passage after another beastly hot day.

(2) Barbara M. successfully contacted old friends, brothers Bruce and Gordon Jones, and Gordon’s wife, Kat, who live on remote Skerry Bay on Lasqueti Island. Barbara last saw them in 2007 when she and her family enjoyed a retreat at some off-the-grid cabins on nearby Rabbit Island. When Barbara reached the Joneses by phone, Kat immediately invited us to tie up at their dock, adjacent to their aquaculture pens, and come for dinner. Barbara M. offered to bring a pasta salad with smoked scallops, a raspberry-jam crumble, and wine. Good karma strikes again: As in Meyers Chuck, Alaska, long unseen friends were home and generously receptive to guests dropping in on short notice!

Osprey’s celebrity spokesmodels: Carol Joscelyn, aka C.J (left), and Kathryn Jones, aka Kat, on Lasqueti Island.

(3) A delightful dinner on Gordon and Kat’s deck above Sabine Channel and looking across to Texada Island’s thickly forested, 2,900-foot Mount Shepherd. This entire section of Texada is park land, they tell us. We dined on tasty Honey Mussels, nearly as big as razor clams, a hybrid they developed through their longtime business, Innovative Aquaculture, which previously grew shellfish but now focuses on producing a single-celled green algae, Nannochloropsis oculate, which they sell as food for larval finfish and shellfish. It is also used in cosmetics and “nutriceutical” drinks.

Gordon Jones and a bowl of enormous Honey Mussels from his cove on Lasqueti Island, B.C.

By evening’s end, Kat, a saucy complement to her quiet and seemingly staid husband, Gordon, declared us all to be “Jonesworthy,” a title apparently bestowed on visitors who show up at their dock with good food, wine and (this was key to her) “good stories to share.” I liked her, and her friend C.J., visiting from Calgary where she has an auto-repair shop. (When they all toured Osprey, C.J. was the one who climbed down in the engine room to gawk at the big diesel.)

Bruce was a sometimes elaborate storyteller; his family wryly (but lovingly) referred to the circumstance of being “caught in a Bruce wind.” He told us Lasqueti’s name came from Spanish explorers under the command of Captain Quadra, a chum of Captain George Vancouver.

He also told of an occasion when some high-powered celebrities accompanied by a Royal Canadian Mounted Police boat dropped anchor in the Joneses’ outer cove in summer 2000. One of the Jones household spotted a formidable white-haired woman hanging over the prow of a skiff and declared, “Either that was my aunt or it was Barbara Bush!” Yep. The visitors included the late President George H.W. Bush and the former first lady, along with former British prime minister John Major and his wife. Among notable goings-on was when Mrs. Major went for a jet-ski ride with her arms wrapped around the former prez.

We signed the Joneses’ guest book and discovered that, even in their remote location, visitors had been at their dining table every day of the past week: old friends, people they had rescued as Coast Guard Auxiliary members, and so on. Quite the social whirl in a British Columbian backwater!

Monday, August 1

Lasqueti Island to a small not-to-be-named island in the northern Gulf Islands.

Three good things:

(1) The Jones delegation came down to the dock for a morning tour of Osprey and a friendly send-off. Kat and C.J. posed as celebrity spokesmodels on our bow. At Barbara M.’s suggestion, we made gifts to Gordon and Bruce of our Port Hardy Coast Guard Station caps, which seemed appropriate considering the brothers’ service in the Coast Guard Auxiliary, helping to rescue boaters in trouble. In fact, they told us of a rescue late the previous night when they responded to a call from a stranded boat that had broken a cooling-system belt just after a young teen aboard had caught his leg on a sharp metal edge of a boat step and cut it to the bone. The Joneses took the boat in tow to a dock on a nearby island for which they are caretakers, where they planned to meet a Coast Guard vessel that was responding to the mayday call. But the small dock – posted as private – was taken up by two visiting boats and their partying, drunken occupants, who refused to move even when told there was a medical emergency. One of the women in the party assured Gordon that she’d see he was fired (from his volunteer job) for being rude and, well, demanding.

 The Coast Guard vessel managed to get the boy aboard and transport him to a medical facility, but no thanks to some drunken idiot boaters. Sigh.

(2) Successfully navigated, again, Dodd Narrows, a tricky passage we well remembered as our first major challenge on our northward journey. It looked even narrower than I remembered.

(3) On another good-karma whim, we met up with a couple of long-ago acquaintances of Barbara Marrett’s. At her ex-husband’s suggestion, we stopped in the northern Gulf Islands at a small island owned by the retired founder and CEO of an American marine-supply company. I know the firm well and briefly worked for it years ago, but for privacy concerns I won’t name the businessman or his island.

I had never met the man, who is something of a legend in the boating world. Barbara M. hadn’t seen him or his wife for years, but they once ran in the same circles when Barbara and her ex had a business offering sail-training voyages. We thought it might be fun to invite the couple aboard for a drink. We weren’t certain where to find them on their island, but as we circled it Barbara M. spied a dock with a boat that bore the wife’s name. Aha.

After Barbara M. walked up the dock and spoke into a camera mounted next to a “Private Island, No Trespassing” sign, we waited. There was no sign of a house nearby, just a narrow dirt road leading into woods. About 20 minutes later, the couple came down the dock ramp, recognized Barbara M. and immediately invited us to go for a sail with them in their gaff-rigged daysailer.

As we circumnavigated his island in pleasant breezes on a sunny Monday afternoon I told our host about the 18-foot wooden Jollyboat-class sailboat my father had built that we sailed on Guntersville Lake in Alabama when I was a kid. He talked about learning to sail in small boats. To shade himself from the sun, he wore a giant, broad-brimmed straw hat that he said he’d gotten in Texas. In it, he looked a lot like my brother Doug, for whom I bought a similar hat when we visited him in New Mexico a few years ago.

After the sail, we all walked across the island through madronas and firs, including a few old-growth trees scarred by long-ago fires, to their comfortable small home on a southerly point. Walls of windows offered views of both the sunrise and sunset. The gentleman of the house proved that he could serve a good gin and tonic, which endeared him to me. After nibbling more than one platter of their smoked salmon and cheese, with me talking about my favorite places in Ireland, which they are about to visit, and him sharing stories about his youth working a dude ranch in Wyoming, we parted. I told him I liked working for him way back when, that I thought he ran a good company, and that I was even a stockholder once. He modestly said he hoped I hadn’t lost much money. As we parted, he gave a gentle wave and told me he was glad we had connected. I felt the same way.

Back to the U.S.A., and our home county, as Osprey passes Turn Point Light on Stuart Island.

Tuesday, August 2

Northern Gulf Islands to the San Juans

Three good things:

(1) At 11:40 a.m., after several electronic prompts from the VHF radio, Bill switched it from Canadian mode to U.S.A. mode. “And I can see Stuart Island!” he announced. “Yay!” Barbara M. crowed. At 12:08 we crossed the border in the middle of Boundary Pass. Barbara M. went up to the top deck to lower the Canadian courtesy flag. Bill soon got a phone call from U.S. Customs, responding to his online filing notifying them of our return. After he answered a few quick questions we were cleared for entry. No need to go to a customs dock anymore.

(2) With no required in-person customs inspection, we soon realized we didn’t need to go into Roche Harbor, with all its pretentious superyachts and smelly cigar smokers. So we made a quick U-turn and headed for one of my favorite places: Prevost Harbor on Stuart Island. We found half a dozen open mooring buoys at the marine state park there – unheard of in early August. (Our good karma didn’t fail us.) And Osprey carries a season-pass sticker on the stern, so we didn’t even have to pay the park’s mooring fee. Sweet.

(3) We enjoyed a serene and scenic first night “home,” back in the San Juans we love. The biggest crowds have apparently gone to Desolation Sound!

Wednesday, August 3

Stuart Island to Sucia Island

(1) Knowing that crewmate Bill had felt deprived of an anticipated prime-rib fix at the Roche Harbor restaurant, I schemed a consolation prize and convinced my shipmates to make a brief stop at Roche while I went ashore and bought some of the best steaks I’ve ever eaten: three 10-ounce ribeyes, plus a bottle of nice Sauvignon Blanc, which we would savor on our final night out, at lovely Sucia Island.

Osprey, left, rides a mooring on Echo Bay at Sucia Island. Mount Baker looms.

(2) Nabbed a state-park buoy in Sucia’s scenic Echo Bay, from which we enjoyed a full-frontal view of still-snowy Mount Baker.

(3) I hiked out to see, for my first time, the park bench funded by friends and family and erected in memory of my dear wife, Barbara. A state-parks crew and my friend Daniel Farber installed the bench two weeks ago on a knoll of sea grass and salal overlooking Sucia’s western shore. I couldn’t be happier with the bench and its site.

The expansive view from the Barbara Alice Cantwell Memorial Bench on Sucia Island.

I sat there for a half hour communing with Barbara in spirit. The sun cast myriad sparkles on the Salish Sea below me. A soft breeze cooled me after the 30-minute hike from Echo Bay. The bench is a beautiful, highly functional thing, built for the ages. Cedar-hued planks soaked up the August sun. At the base a tremendous slab of concrete will anchor it in the fiercest winter storms. It provided good back support and was long enough that I could nap on it if I chose. Around it were gnarled firs and cliffs of Sucia sandstone pocked and twisted by the forces of the Earth.

Kayakers pass just below the memorial bench.

Kayakers paddled along the shore below me. We exchanged waves. Three small sailboats full of young people motored into adjacent Shallow Bay. Waves sloshed noisily on a big algae-upholstered rock below that reminded me of a humpback whale just lazily breaking the water’s surface. Miles out, white sails caught the wind. Straight across Boundary Pass was Canada’s hilly Saturna Island. To the left, the stretched, python-like profile of the San Juans’ Waldron. To the right, woodsy Patos Island, and to the far left, the backside of Turtleback Mountain on Orcas Island.

A small Zodiac motored around from nearby Fox Cove and into Shallow Bay, and again I exchanged waves. This is a bench to wave from.

I snacked on nuts, gulped some water from my water bottle and used the rest to clean the bench of a few bird droppings. (It’s a place of rest for all.)

Barbara would have loved this bench. We did good by her.

Following sailboats into Bellingham Bay.

Thursday, August 4

A whirlwind day. Sucia Island to Osprey’s home port: Squalicum Harbor, Bellingham

Three final good things:

(1) Found good currents skirting the northeast side of Orcas Island and made good time around the south side of Lummi Island and into Bellingham Bay. No difficult winds, as had been forecast. A few episodes of 18 knots on the nose, but nothing to faze us seasoned seagoers.

(2) Arrived at the Bellingham dock at 2 p.m., with no waiting at the fuel dock. Final refueling: $1,200, for fuel used from Ketchikan to Bellingham. Total fuel bill for the voyage: $3,700. We motored 353 hours, traveling about 2,000 miles in 10 weeks.

(3) Had a nice reunion with my brother Tom, who had come to take me home after staying overnight with us aboard Osprey at her San Juan Sailing and Yachting dock.

After a pub dinner in town, Barbara M., Bill and I embarked on a near complete packing of all our belongings in preparation for relinquishing the boat by noon the following day. It was an exhausting exercise, well into the evening. The voyage was truly over.

Whales, bears, eagles, totems, snowy peaks, gushing waterfalls, leaping salmon, steaming hot springs, new friends, happy reunions — all branded in our memory. Thank you, Osprey, for the epic journey.

The crew packing for home. From left: Bill Watson, Brian Cantwell and Barbara Marrett.

A fabulous day at Alert Bay

The `Namgis Burial Ground at Alert Bay, British Columbia, is an amalgam of old and new ways. Totem poles are erected in a person’s memory, along with “modern” headstones. By tradition, the totem poles are allowed to decay and fall, as seen at right.

Saturday, July 23

A DAY OF CULTURAL ENRICHMENT and fascination for us Ospreyites.

We’re making a stopover at the municipal docks at Port McNeill on northern Vancouver Island to wait out winds that are supposed to blow to 35 knots in the next few days. Left Osprey at the dock and went as walk-ons on the B.C. Ferries boat to Alert Bay, a `Namgis First Nations town of about 1,500 people on nearby Cormorant Island.

A totem at `Namgis Burial Grounds.

Three good things:

(1) Visited Alert Bay’s wonderful U’mista Cultural Centre. It was clearly one of the best museums we’ve seen, with a collection of original/authentic native masks and regalia worn in potlatches in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. If you’re not familiar, potlatches (still part of local native culture) are big community celebrations in which gifts are given to attendees, traditionally thrown by a chief to show off his wealth in former days. To this day, they mark occasions such as weddings, naming of a child, deaths or other community events. Traditionally, a potlatch involved a marathon of dancing, with dancers wearing intricately carved and painted masks and other regalia representing many familiar creatures (e.g., whales, eagles, bears and ravens) and legendary characters such as Dzanakwa (the spelling of which varies widely). She is “the wild woman of the woods,” fabled to carry off naughty children and eat them (a handy threat parents could use to keep kids in line). In the late 19th century, when European missionaries came to British Columbia, the government outlawed potlatches as “uncivilized” and eventually confiscated many of the masks and the potlatch regalia. The items went into private collections and national museums across Canada. But around 1980, Canadians recognized the injustice and repatriated the artifacts to First Nations-run museums here and elsewhere on the B.C. coast.

At U’mista Cultural Centre, you may try on replica masks, such as the Dzanakwa mask your correspondent models here. Naughty children, beware. Barbara Marrett photo.

Here, we marveled at scores of well-preserved, original masks, robes and hats, not just replicas. Many were colored with dyes made from nature: blackberry purples, elderberry reds, moss greens. These originals touched me in a way the replicas couldn’t match. Among my favorites: mallard hats, with duck heads on long necks poking from the front; the big-nosed Fool Dancer mask, whose wearer enforced the strict rules of the potlatch, using his club or axe (!) to bean misbehavers, while pretending to smear them with mucus from the big nose “about which he is very self-conscious” (according to the curator’s notes); and the aforementioned Dzanakwa. Curator notes told “how to spot a Dzanakwa in art”: a dark, hairy body, sunken eyes (often sleepy), puckered lips, large hands and pendulous breasts. How to spot her in real life: “Very stinky, you will smell her before you see her.” In all of these creations, not only did the indigenous people exhibit splendid artistry and craftsmanship, their imagination and humor was delightful. (Sorry I can’t share images of the original works; photography was prohibited in that part of the museum.)

A bonfire blazes in the center of the sand floor in the ceremonial Big House at Alert Bay.

(2) Alert Bay was celebrating a community festival. We got to go inside the Big House, where dancers performed and a bonfire blazed in the center of a sandy floor (with the roof opened for smoke to escape). On a field outside, kids played soccer. One native man played guitar and sang a soulful Righteous Brothers tune.

Yeah, I think they mean it. Alert Bay’s once-bustling industries of shipbuilding and fish processing have gone by the wayside, leaving decaying docks.
Contrasting with decaying docks are rows of tidy, colorfully painted homes on Alert Bay’s main street.

(3) Rode on a modern, new all-electric car ferry from Port McNeill to Alert Bay, about a half-hour trip. A trim B.C. Ferries vessel, very quiet, smooth riding and with no exhaust fumes. The future of water travel.

A modern, all-electric ferry serves Alert Bay.

We might be another day in Port McNeill before winds settle a bit. Then southward, ho, for Desolation Sound. Enjoy your summer.

Heading home ahead of the storm, with Darth Vader on our heels

The Heiltsuk Nation community of Bella Bella, B.C., is proud of its new Big House, a tradition-oriented center for community gatherings and ceremonies, at the top of the village’s main street.

WIND AND WEATHER rule your life when you’re exploring a coast where both can get persnickety at the drop of a watch cap. So here I am saying good morning from a WiFi-supplied laundromat in charming little Port McNeill, which styles itself as the “Gateway to the Broughtons.” I get clean underwear and socks and a place to blog, what strange luxuries are this?

We didn’t expect to be in Port McNeill, on North Vancouver Island, for a couple more days, but the charming computerized voice on the weather radio (female, if you’ll forgive the gender profiling) told us of nasty winds coming. So our planned extended stay in Pruth Bay ended up as one night. Yesterday, we made a long day of it and transited Queen Charlotte Sound while the getting was good, and decided to push on here to wait out the 35-knot winds in the forecast.

Here’s what’s new aboard Osprey, our 37-foot Nordic Tug, as our crew of three continues to merrily wend our way homeward in the eighth week of a 10-week voyage.

Thursday, July 21

Three good things this day:

(1) On our way out of waterless Shearwater (where a water main had busted), we stopped to fill our water tank at the fuel dock in nearby Bella Bella, hometown of the Heiltsuk Nation, which owns Shearwater Marina. In the past, the town had gained a reputation as being unfriendly to visitors, but the young Heiltsuk woman who ran the fuel dock was a friendly delight, full of curiosity and wonder about our voyage. When I wandered up into the village, I smiled and said “good morning” to everyone I met, and the smiles were returned. An old man with a walker saw me photographing the community’s new Big House, a true work of art and fine design, built two years ago. He went out of his way to stop and tell me how pleased they are with it. “When we would go to Vancouver, people would always ask, ‘When are you going to get your Big House? Now, we have it!” he said with pride.

(2) Found a fun, scenic, alternate route through narrow Ward Channel to our evening anchorage at Pruth Bay, cutting more than an hour off our expected travel time. Saw an orca pod along the way, and Bill saw a humpback do a tremendous breach! The rest of us looked just in time to see the foamy splash.

The beautiful North Beach, one of our few ocean-beach walks, a pleasant hike from the dinghy dock on Pruth Bay.

(3) Barbara M. and I took a marvelous 2-hour hike to see two gorgeous ocean beaches reachable on lovely trails from Pruth Bay, which is now home to the private Hakai Institute, a research center that brings academics from across Canada to study the coastal ecosystem. We passed a beautiful marshy lake with blossoming pond lilies. One beach was covered with hundreds of small abalone shells, gleaming with mother of pearl. We knew there must be sea otters nearby; abalone are their favorite food.  

An abalone shell on the sand.

Friday, July 22

Three not-necessarily-good (but at least interesting) things:

(1) Got a laugh, and a how-about-that head shake as we plied Fitz Hugh Sound at Cape Calvert, when a heavily laden sea barge towed by a single tug passed us northbound. Besides the standard shipping containers, stacked up to six high, on top of the mountainous stack were two large manufactured homes, three full-size city transit buses (shiny and blue), and, at the tiptop, a large white tourist van. We wondered where it was headed. Juneau or Ketchikan, most likely. We hoped everything was strapped on tightly.

A heavily laden barge, with buses, passed us at Cape Calvert, B.C. Bound for Alaska, we think.

(2) An odd and unaccustomed problem: orca delays in our crossing of Queen Charlotte Sound, where we were plagued by ocean swells that kept wanting to be on our beam, which sets the boat rolling drunkenly. As we motored south from Cape Calvert, whales kept popping up everywhere, often directly in front of us. Being conscientious boaters (and orca lovers), we had to stop, not only to admire them but to respect the laws that protect them. It happened again and again. We were soon running quite late in our effort to get across the hazardous stretch of open ocean before afternoon winds picked up, with 20 knots forecast. In past weeks, we’ve often stuck our heads out of the boat to make whale-like noises when they are near, hoping they’ll stay around. This day was different. Finally, jokingly, but with a note of real frustration, crew member Bill slid wide the pilothouse door, stuck out his head and yelled, “GO AWAY!”

A fellow boater dubbed this the Darth Vader Ship. At Pruth Bay.

(3) It-Takes-All-Kinds-to-Make-a-World Dept.: A cheesy, 285-foot megayacht took up much of one of the coves at Pruth Bay, reminding us all that some people’s taste is all in their mouths. Worse than that ostentatious display was the other oversize monstrosity moored nearby, which looked like it dragged anchor out of a Clive Cussler novel: a 220-foot battleship-gray motor vessel named Hodor, complete with helipad, that might best be described as what Darth Vader would pilot if he was a seafaring chap. Even at sea, it takes all kinds.

Sunrise at pretty Pruth Bay, as we hoist anchor and head south to cross Queen Charlotte Sound ahead of a storm.

So, it’s Saturday now and we’re tied up for a couple nights in Port McNeill’s municipal marina. Today, after laundry is done, we’re leaving the boat here and going on a ferry as walk-on passengers for an afternoon in nearby Alert Bay, a First Nations village known for its excellent cultural center. Let the winds blow, B.C. Ferries will get us there, I trust.

After this, we might not be anyplace with internet for days and days. Wish us well, and I’ll keep you posted on the final days of our North to Alaska tour. Cheers!

Never dull: Spyhops, bliss, and fog you can cut with a knife.

When life gets pretty perfect: Riding on the bow in Princess Royal Channel, British Columbia.

WE’RE ROCKING AND ROLLING — and sometimes just riding along smoothly — on our Nordic Tug, Osprey, as we slide southward, finding new adventures on the homebound reach. Kayaking! Killer whales! Pea-soup fog! Let’s wade right in, like a rambunctious toddler at a kiddie pool in July.

Sunday, July 17

Prince Rupert to Klewnuggit Inlet, another new favorite spot

Three good things:

(1) Another easy day of placid seas and pleasant sun breaks as we plowed southward into the straight and narrow, mountain-lined, 45-mile Grenville Channel, commonly known to Inside Passage boaters as “The Ditch.” Learning via the radio of our plans to put into Baker Inlet, a friend on the Friday Harbor-based sailboat Club Paradise reminded us that currents can be tricky in the tree-lined tunnel that is the inlet’s entrance, especially during spring tides (which we are having now, with a 20-foot difference between high and low tides, causing currents that can “boil” in the narrows, a cruising guide says). We decide to push on to try a new anchorage: Klewnuggit Inlet, a B.C. provincial park, which is highly recommended by another user of Navionics, our navigation software.

(2) It’s an orca day! Just as we pass the entry to Baker Inlet, Barbara M., at the helm, calls out “killer whales!” A big dorsal appeared right in front of the inlet’s entry marker. We get a thrill when a pod surfaces within 100 yards of our boat. We idle for 45 minutes as we shoot photos and delight in the sight of at least half a dozen whales, including a baby, plus a big male with a dorsal taller than any we’ve seen before – maybe 8 feet. At one point, one whale repeatedly splashes the water with its tail. A small one spyhops three times in near succession to take a better look at us. It’s Mother Nature’s generous payoff (or rebuke?) for my wondering where all the wildlife went.

Who goes there? A curious orca spyhops as we pause to watch in Grenville Channel.
A pair of orcas surfaces with a spray of salty breath.

(3) After a dinner of flame-grilled Impossible burgers, plus an after-dinner movie, I looked out at the mirror-calm inlet and couldn’t resist a kayak exploration. Barbara and Bill generously indulged my 9:15 p.m. whim and helped me haul a kayak off Osprey’s rooftop. I spent a lovely half hour paddling along the shore, where barnacle-crusted rocks the size of my writing hut back home edged tannin-darkened water. The water was so still and reflective that I couldn’t tell where sea ended and rock began until my paddle touched a barnacle. A big stream gurgled in at the head of the bay. Above me, spruce and cedar grew alongside a soaring gray cliff of columnar basalt that gave the hillside the look of a forest fortress. A snowy mountaintop peeked through a cleft that the cruising guide warned could channel williwaws, microbursts of wind that can blow a boat out of an anchorage. But not this beautiful evening. For me, a spontaneous paddle was a wonderful bedtime treat.

Kayaking Klewnuggit Inlet. Barbara Marrett photo.

Monday, July 18

Klewnuggit Inlet to Butedale, B.C.

Three good things:

(1) Awakened to peaceful, pelting rain in the inlet. The dimples on the surface drew my eye to the thousands of transparent, fist-sized sea jellies, pulsating and dancing in a slow-motion waltz beneath the surface. Splendid.

(2) Piloted the boat through foggy, narrow Grenville Channel, where spring tides fueled 5+-knot currents that spit us like a grapeseed through the narrows. For the first time, we employed Osprey’s automatic foghorn, which sounds every two minutes, per prescribed nautical safety procedures. The foghorn, broadcast through the boat’s mast-mounted loud hailer, sounded a bit like a bleating calf. We supplemented it with blasts from the double-chrome-trumpet ship’s horn. When that baby toots, other boats know someone’s coming.

(3) We found dock space at Butedale, the abandoned and crumbling cannery site on Princess Royal Island, where we got friendly help docking from John, part of the crew on a boat whose home port was Center Island, Washington. Small world, eh? (As they say in Canada.)

Tuesday, July 19

Southbound from Butedale on Princess Royal Channel, B.C.

Three good things:

Osprey at sunset on Bottleneck Inlet.

(1) Bright, hot sun warms my bones as I recline on Osprey’s foredeck with my feet propped by the anchor windlass. Plying glassy waters amid near-zero wind, I gaze up at puffball gray and white clouds framing generous swatches of pale blue “Dutchman’s pants,” a scene of natural beauty to rival any work by van Gogh. It’s a moment when I’m slapped up the side of the head – gently, but convincingly – with the reminder of how fortunate we are to be given a life on this beautiful planet. Camel-hump hills of unsullied forest are embroidered with every green you can imagine. Every half-mile, we pass another waterfall, because one mustn’t be bored. I’m finding bliss, even on this homeward journey as we retrace passages that were steel gray with rainclouds when we passed a month ago.

(2) Snagged a plum anchorage in pretty Bottleneck Inlet, off Finlayson Channel. Grilled salmon burgers for dinner. I got to barbecue, which I always enjoy.

(3) A kayak paddle on mirrorlike waters before bed. Again.                                                                                                

Wednesday, July 20

Bottleneck Inlet to Shearwater, B.C.

The view, or lack thereof, from Osprey’s helm, southbound on Finlayson Channel.

(1) Safely navigated pea-soup fog in Finlayson Channel for 20 miles from Bottleneck Inlet to Oscar Passage. It’s fog season in these parts. Adventures in boating, keeping a careful watch for floating logs and speeding sportfisher boats. Radar and the chartplotter helped, a lot.

(2) Rejoiced over the sparkling waters glistening in the summer sun when it finally emerged near noon — just in time to show us a mother humpback and her calf diving together.

Hooray! Osprey emerges into the sunshine on Mathieson Channel after a foggy morning.

(3) I got to pilot the boat through a blue-sky, no-fog transit of narrow and scenic Reid Passage, on the way to a night at the dock at Shearwater.

Coming up, we’re off the grid for a few days again. We’ve tweaked our itinerary with the aim of meeting up in a week or so with former Osprey-ite Carol Hasse, who will be in Desolation Sound aboard another friend’s boat. Looking forward to that reunion!

Meanwhile, our next “civilization” on the agenda is Port McNeil, B.C., for reprovisioning five days from now. Hope to see you. Might depend on the fog.

Greeting Canada like an old friend, and drinking a bit of its beer

Back in Canada: Golden evening light sets aglow the handsome British Columbia flag as it flutters over our Prince Rupert dock.

AHOY FROM PRINCE RUPERT. Here’s the most recent late-night-if-I-remember-it scrawlings in my “There and Back Again” journal from M.V. Osprey.

Friday, July 15

Departed Ketchikan in steady rain and low clouds. Got soaked while fueling up: $580 for 100 gallons. (Got soaked by the rain, too.)

Good things:

(1) A safe southbound crossing of Dixon Entrance, one of our two open-to-the-ocean passages along the otherwise “inside” Inside Passage. Got some ocean swells and mixmaster seas with 15 knots+ on our bow, but no biggie after the recent shenanigans of Clarence Strait. Back to Canada!

(2) Found a beautiful, protected cove by a stream outlet in Brundige Inlet on wild Dundas Island, B.C., where a sailing friend has promised us we’ll see (or, at least, hear) wolves. We’ll see; we’ve been told similar stories about a variety of absentee wildlife at several other bays. Delicious dinner of Chicken Adobo, thanks to Barbara M.

Atop Osprey, your author raises the Canadian courtesy flag after we anchor at Brundige Inlet, B.C. The yachting cap was my father’s. Barbara Marrett photo.

(3) I struck the Alaska state flag and raised the red maple leaf courtesy flag on Osprey’s short mast. Canada feels like a happy reunion on our homeward journey. One catch: Listening to the VHF radio weather reports, you never know when the computerized voice will launch into five minutes of rapid French. We dub the digital polyglot “our friend Pierre, le weather homme.”

Saturday, July 16

Three good things:

(1) Awakened to sunshine, our first real rays in a week, on pristine and unsullied Brundige Inlet. The wolves, if they were there, stayed off the beach and kept mum overnight (and this just two days after the full moon). The good thing: We all slept like marathoners after a run. But, as I said to Bill, it’s begun to feel as if aliens have beamed up most of the wildlife on this coast. Except for eagles. The aliens must not like them. We’ve seen enough eagles to populate a planet.

We motored through flat seas past the Canadian light station at Green Island.

 (2) What’s a new way to say “flat” without referring to a pancake? “Flat as a roadkill possum”? “Flat as a North Dakota freeway”? “Flat as the index charting Donald Trump’s rising moral sensibilities”? Whatever. Such non-elevation is what we enjoyed in the way of seas from Brundige Inlet to Prince Rupert. Smooth all the way. Passed Melville Island, whose name raised questions. Had author Herman served on an exploration ship in these parts? Barbara M. asked Siri, as she is wont to do with some alarming frequency, who reminded us that (A) Melville was American (a nationality for whom few British Columbia geographic landmarks were named), and (B) He lived in the mid- to late-19th century, rather than the late 18th century when Captain Vancouver was sailing about seemingly naming every bump, hollow and indentation in this coastal landscape after every cabin boy, able seaman and annoying young lieutenant on his ship. Maybe this island commemorated Melville’s grandfather, Vancouver’s favorite cook, who did a really good soft-boiled egg. We don’t know. Do you?

Lighting distant hills, sunshine burns through afternoon clouds over Prince Rupert Harbour.
The eponymous town’s nickname: “Rainy Rupert.”

(3) Dinner at the Breakers Pub, overlooking our marina. After a long day on the water, I down a quart of good Prince Rupert-brewed pale ale and watch the light get all golden on the harbor as crewmate Bill watches the bar’s giant-screen TV with Canadian football (yes, they have it, though hockey is the sport of choice in most Canadian watering holes, we’ve found).

Onward tomorrow to revisit Baker Inlet, one of our favorite northbound stops. We’ll be back with internet in a few days, perhaps. Who knows. I’ve read virtually no news of the outside world in seven weeks, and I’ve been kind of fine with that. In fact, I recommend it. Fair winds.

Bonus photos: My Alaska notebook

LAST GASP FROM SITKA: Here’s a bonus posting of a few favorite photos from my ongoing 10-week “North to Alaska” tour aboard Osprey, a 37-foot Nordic Tug. Happy Fourth of July!

Sign at head of the dock at Tenakee Springs. Kind of says it all. Our crew did encounter a grizzly along the walk to town. Luckily, no organ donations transpired.
Beastly breasts, on the Sitka Totem Trail.
Brian and a berg, on Tracy Arm fjord. Dana Halferty photo.
The Russian Bishop’s House chapel in Sitka. The home and chapel were built for Bishop Innocent, the first Russian Orthodox bishop of Russian America, in the early 19th century. His acceptance of native Alaskan rituals and lifestyles, unlike American missionaries’ condemnations, is believed largely responsible for Alaskan natives’ continuing participation in the Russian church to this day.
Bishop Innocent built the original St. Michael’s Cathedral in 1848. It burned in 1966 but this replica was built on the same site, in the center of downtown Sitka. It continues to offer Russian Orthodox services.
A Chilkat robe is displayed at Sitka National Historical Park. The distinctive style originated with the Tsimshian people and was adapted by the Tlingit tribe. Such robes are worn on ceremonial occasions.
Juneau, a beautiful husky, lives on a sailboat and regularly greets us as we walk up the dock in our Sitka marina.
An eagle hat worn as ceremonial regalia, in the collection of the Alaska State Museum in Juneau.
An eagle tops a marine marker near Sergius Narrows, on our route to Sitka.
An octopus sits at the bottom of a totem at Totem Bight State Park, near Ketchikan.
Demonstrating the scale of things in Alaska: Osprey in Tracy Arm fjord.

Departing Sitka in the morning. Might be several days or a week before I have internet again. Will keep you posted as we work our way south. Wish us luck!

Bubble-feeding whales and fireworks for the Fourth

More than half a dozen humpback whales spring to the surface as they employ the technique of bubble-net feeding at the confluence of Tenakee Inlet and Chatham Strait, Alaska. We got a spectacular show.

AHOY FROM DELIGHTFUL SITKA, Alaska, the original capital of Russian America before William Seward negotiated the U.S. purchase of Alaska in 1867.

Lots to tell about. I’ll dive right in.

Thursday, June 30

Three good things this day:

(1) Bubble-feeding whales! At 9:15 a.m., as we were departing Tenakee Inlet and about to head south on Chatham Strait, multiple spouts ahead alerted us. We’d hoped we might see this fascinating phenomenon called bubble-net feeding, in which a handful of humpback whales join in a feeding ritual in which they dive deeply together and then expel bubbles that drive fish and krill to the surface. The whales then open their mouths as they propel themselves upward with baleens raking in all the nutrients they can get. The first tip-off was when I spied big tails, one after another, slapping the surface as they sounded, or dove. We spent almost an hour, idling back and forth in Osprey, enthralled as at least half a dozen humpbacks cast their “net” again and again in waters ranging from 100 to 400 feet deep off South Passage Point. This was crewmate Bill Watson’s birthday, so Barbara M. dubbed this “Bill’s Birthday Bubble Feed.” We saw whale heads thrust out of the water together and giant flukes slapping the surface, and more tail slaps than ever before. Barbara M., Dana and I shot photo after photo and videos galore. “An experience of a lifetime!” crowed Dana, the professional photographer. Commenting on the video she shot: “You can hear me, saying ‘Oh, my god,’ again and again. I was literally crying!”

As the whales concluded their dives, we heard a whale call, like a mooing Jersey cow mated with a bassoon. Chilling. Then, finally, a whale call like a ship’s foghorn echoed off the forested hills. Wow.

(2) We made good time into Hoonah Sound, and researched tomorrow’s passage of challenging Sergius Narrows. Slack water would be at 7:15 a.m., requiring hoisting anchor at 5:15. Found a secure and pleasant anchorage at little Nismeni Cove, where eagles called to us from treetops and a whale came to visit at the mouth of the cove around dinnertime.

Game time aboard Osprey with your scribe, at left, and Bill Watson and Barbara Marrett. Dana Halferty photo

(3) For Bill’s birthday, I grilled burgers, and Barbara and Dana baked an orange-flavored cake with icing they creatively colored with juice from frozen blueberries. We also devoured Klondike ice-cream bars procured from the store at Tenakee Springs. I took a little extra insulin. Fun night after an exciting day!

Friday, July 1

Day 35 of our 70-day voyage – halfway through!

I’ll take this moment to briefly reflect on the voyage so far. It has gone remarkably well (knock on wood, scratch a stay, turn three times and spit!). To my own surprise, I’d be fine if it was done now. The adventures have been memorable and fulfilling. Icebergs! Glaciers! Bubble-feeding whales! Charming towns and villages. Waterfalls like no others, and a grizzly in our first week. I’d like to see more bears (from a safe distance) and I’d love to see breaching whales, but now I’m just getting greedy. I’m a little homesick for my island routines, and I miss Galley Cat (who has been chased by foxes in my absence) and my daughter (who had a great adventure in Europe but came home with COVID).

But. We are in Sitka now, staying at the dock for four nights for some shore leave and recharge time. It will help. I won’t gall all of you back in your cityside routines by feeling too sorry for myself.

Beautiful downtown Sitka.

I do miss my dear wife. I saw this voyage as part of a healing process, but I think that’s flawed thinking. The void in my life is like a wound that will scar over but never fully heal. However, this trip is a lovely distraction, and I’ve made some wonderful new friends, which makes life better.

Three good things this day:

(1) A misty morning gave us calm seas for an easy passage of Sergius Narrows. Arrived Sitka at 11 a.m. and without advanced reservations secured a slip for four nights, keeping us here through the Fourth of July weekend festivities. (A parade on Monday!)

Dock neighbors watch Sitka’s fireworks from the crow’s nest of a moored fishing boat.

(3) After a tasty dinner of panko-crusted cod, we watched an old movie and paused for the town’s big fireworks show, watched from the roof of our boat. In Alaska, where it stays light late even at lower latitudes, the fireworks weren’t until 11:30 p.m. I didn’t hit the sack until 1 a.m. Slept until 9 the next morning. What luxury!

(2) I explored Sitka on foot, and the clouds cleared to reveal the town’s glorious setting among a giant bowl of snowy peaks, including the nearby Mount Edgecumbe volcano, recently declared “no longer dormant” after a few months of tremors. Forested islets dot the harbor. The beautiful St. Michael’s Russian Orthodox Cathedral is downtown’s historic centerpiece. Found good Wi-Fi at yet another fine-quality Alaska public library. Hooray for librarians, all.

Sunset silhouettes the distinctive spires of St. Michael’s Russian Orthodox Cathedral in downtown Sitka.

Saturday, July 2

Three good things:

(1) The lovely Totem Trail in Sitka National Historical Park. We saw totem poles of many designs nestled among pristine forest along a wide, graveled path edging the scenic shoreline.

Along the Totem Trail in Sitka National Historical Park.

(2) A fascinating hour at the Sheldon Jackson Museum, Alaska’s oldest museum, poring over the comprehensive collection of tools, regalia, and everyday household objects and clothing of native Alaskan tribes, dating back to the early 19th century. Among interesting factoids: Since they did not transfer taste to food as resinous cedar or fir might, alder or birch were the preferred wood for dishes and utensils.

(3) Late in the day, I enjoyed a one-man guided tour with a ranger of the restored Russian Bishop’s House, part of the national park, including the original bishop’s private chapel from when Sitka was the capital of Russian America in the early 19th century.

Northern exposure, berry-loving bears and a hot, hot, hot spring. (We’re not jaded just yet.)

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Remote and windswept Point Retreat on Admiralty Island was the northernmost point of our seven-week voyage. We rounded it on Day 32.
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‘REMEMBER WHEN WE USED TO GET ALL EXCITED about seeing an eagle?” Osprey crewmate Barbara Marrett posed the question the other day.

“Now it’s ‘eagle, schmeagle!’” she concluded.

So many magnificent raptors gliding over vast expanses of wind-rippled saltwater. So ho-hum. After a month of doing this, maybe we’re getting jaded by the wonders of the Last Frontier? Just a bit?


Here are some more scribblings from my daily journal as the Osprey crew has reached the halfway point in our “North to Alaska” voyage. I’m posting this on Day 35 of our 70-day trip.

Sunday, June 26

Three good things this day:

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Osprey crewmate Dana Halferty mimics a statue of her great, great uncle, William Henry Seward, across from the Alaska State Capitol.

(1) Awakened to another pristine summer morning in Juneau. Not a cloud. Surrounded by snowy peaks. What a beautiful setting for a city.

(2) Got laundry done at a clean, uncrowded laundromat a block away from the marina. These things count when you’re living in close quarters without an endless supply of clean underwear.

(3) We all enjoyed a birthday dinner for Barbara M. (whose birthday is actually June 27). Bill hosted us at a fancy-schmancy downtown restaurant called “Salt,” which boasted of “Modern Alaskan Cuisine.” I had a fat cauliflower steak, nicely seasoned, and roasted Brussels sprouts, with a glass of good Dog Bay sauvignon blanc from New Zealand. This must be modern Alaska. There was no moose haunch or caribou liver to be found.

On our way back to the boat, we walked past the governor’s mansion, with its big white columns, seemingly better suited to Charleston or Montgomery than Juneau, though there was a totem pole at one corner. Several neighbors had posted large signs supporting an opponent of the sitting Republican governor, Mike Dunleavy. We enjoyed the downhill walk that wound through pleasant neighborhoods with beautiful gardens full of blooming peonies.

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The southern-style Alaska governor’s mansion looks a little out of place among the snowy mountains surrounding Juneau.

Monday, June 27

 Three good things:

(1) By advance arrangement with our charter company, mechanics with Betts Marine came to the boat at Juneau to change the engine oil and filter after almost 200 hours of run time since our Bellingham departure. Jim Betts and his assistant did a thorough and conscientious job, checking over various essential systems. Always good to know that the big Cummins power plant beneath our feet, our ticket to ride, is well and happy.

As Osprey departs, a cruise ship makes its way up Gastineau Channel to Juneau.

(2) Enjoyed an uneventful passage to a pleasant and quiet anchorage behind Horse Island, off northern Stephens Passage, about 33 miles from Juneau. As we left, Juneau’s docks held only one cruise ship, from Norwegian Cruise Lines. But as we exited Gastineau Channel two Holland America ships passed us inbound, and a Celebrity ship came on the VHF radio to announce its imminent arrival in the narrow passage. At Horse Island, we dropped the hook in 30 feet of water, which put us in nine feet in the morning’s -1.3-foot low tide. Shallow, but acceptable. (Lots of tangled seaweed on the chain the next morning!)

(3) Celebrated Barbara M.’s actual birthday by giving her no duties on the chores-and-cooking schedule. At her request we all agreed to a few rounds of the French card game Milles Bornes after dinner. Very complicated at first, but fun once we got the hang of it! Happily, Team Barbara (me and Miss B) won.

Tuesday, June 28

Horse Island to Tenakee Hot Springs, 59 nautical miles.

Three good things:

(1) This is getting to be a good-news, but boy-are-we-in-for-it-someday-soon thing: Once again, we dodged a bullet in terms of weather. A forecast 25-knot blow overnight didn’t materialize. Our night on the hook at Horse Island, with snowy peaks north and south of us, was as smooth and easy as a pony ride in the park. But our karma bill may come due soon. All seamen know the weather gods must be appeased.

A whale of a tail: Humpbacks entertain us near the confluence of Chatham and Icy straits.

(2) The northernmost latitude of our 10-week voyage came and went today at Point Retreat, a wild and windswept spot with a pretty light station at the north end of Admiralty Island. To the northwest: a prime view of sharp and snowy Nun Mountain, elevation 4,415. Our position recorded in the log: N. 58 degrees 25 minutes, W. 134 degrees 57 minutes. As the eagle flies, Osprey has traveled more than 600 miles from her Bellingham base. Our passage this day included a good sighting of at least four humpback whales with several tail displays (two mamas and two calves, Barbara M. and Dana believe), plus a half dozen or so Dall’s porpoises cavorting on our bow wave.

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Old boots become planters in a whimsical Tenakee Springs garden.

(3) We nabbed the last open slip at Tenakee Springs marina and discovered this charming, very Alaskan little community. We could live here, we all quickly decided. A dock neighbor told us of a good hiking trail, and said not to worry too much about bears because “they’re all in town eating the raspberries!” (The berries were actually salmonberries, many ripened to a deep red and sweeter than any I’ve devoured before.) We walked into what they call town, toured the tiny museum, walked most of the length of the one-lane gravel road skirting the saltwater, and noted visiting hours – different for men and women — for the free hot-spring bathhouse. After I served up an onboard dinner of salmon grilled with slices of orange and lemon, complemented by pesto pasta with chopped walnuts plus steamed broccoli with lemon zest and minced ginger, Barbara M. and Dana returned to the bathhouse for an evening soak. On the walk there, Dana saw rustling in a roadside berry patch. She clapped her hands, and the two watched a grizzly bear scramble away into the woods a few dozen feet ahead of them. Anybody need an adrenalin fix?

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An exciting event at the charming backwater community of Tenakee Springs: The ferry’s arrival.

Wednesday, June 29

This was a layover day to rest and play.

The Tenakee community is larger than we expected. Scores of small homes hug the shore, along with a single store, a ferry dock, a diesel-fueled power plant, a small public library, and a tiny old café that is now a community gathering spot with public restroom, free WiFi and a shared greenhouse. Homes here run the gamut of size, quality of construction and level of upkeep. Many have gardens of flowers and vegetables. Most have small ATVs and/or old bicycles parked out front.

Three good things this day:

(1) Shipmate Bill and I sampled the hot spring at 7:30 this morning. (Men’s hours include 10 p.m. to 9 a.m.) Rules on the door said “nude bathing only.” We speculated that they wish to prevent contamination from skanky undergarments or mildewed swim togs, but we decided it was also helpful to make the “nude or not?” decision for everybody. And comfort with one’s body in a non-threatening environment isn’t a bad thing. They required a shower beforehand, but provided only a cold-water hose with a spray nozzle. (I settled for a sponge-bath on the boat.)

Bears love the salmonberries at Tenakee Springs.

 The changing room was quite nice, and clean, with stained-glass windows depicting eagles and whales. Pushing through a door into the bathhouse itself was a bit of a shock. Green moss and slime stained concrete walls. In the room’s center, sulfury billows of steam rose from a rectangular pool, about 8 feet by 4 feet. “It reminded me of a prison!” Barbara M. had told us at first, after her soak. Or the Black Hole of Calcutta, I thought. But ceiling windows opened to let out steam and let in light. The bath itself had a couple of concrete steps down, then just bare natural rock with a large fissure from which bubbles rose. And the water was hot. Not enough to scald, but hotter than any bath you’d take at home. We edged in slowly, and soaked for 20 minutes, until well parboiled. A cool wash-down felt good, as did stepping back out into the morning air, freshly clothed, on this soft and gray overcast morning. In the end, we all decided that the natural stone of the hot pool, and the lovingly maintained changing room, made the experience interesting and enjoyable.

(2) Barbara M., Dana and I took that recommended hike in the woods, past giant spruces, rocky caves that we assumed were grizzly dens, and boggy areas of skunk cabbage and Alaska-sized devil’s club (extra thorny). We delighted in a long and narrow suspension bridge over the rushing waters of the Indian River. A sign said the Alaska Department of Highways built the bridge in the 1970s, though it was miles from any road.

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Barbara M. and Dana cross the Indian River bridge.

Enjoyed our lazy layover day getting to know the Tenakee Springs community, including a couple who live aboard a homemade sailing houseboat and who are making a video guide for Small Boat Magazine. Meeting lots of friendly and interesting characters in the backwaters of Alaska.

Us, jaded? Not too much, yet.

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Woo-bloody-hoo, this is Alaska!

“I’m king of the world!” Your scribe enjoys a Leonardo moment at the bow of Osprey in Alaska’s Tracy Arm fjord. Dana Halferty photo.

AHOY FROM OSPREY! Here I am again, sitting in another pleasant public library, my Wi-Fi haven for communicating with the “Outside,” as Alaskans call the Lower 48. In the off-the-grid five days since last I posted, the Osprey crew and I have transitioned from late-spring downpours to an early-summer heat wave, and we’ve made it to the northern terminus of our round-trip voyage: Juneau. Outside my library window I know there’s a lovely mountainous landscape of emerald green dotted with snow at the tiptops, but at the moment I wouldn’t know: All I can see is the side of a humongous cruise ship, Royal Caribbean’s Ovation of the Seas, moored 50 yards away. The ship carries up to 4,180 guests in 2,090 staterooms. As my fellow shipmate Bill Watson says, “It’s for people who don’t want to leave home without taking a whole city block with them.”

Meanwhile, we’ve had some fabulous adventures in recent days. Here are more end-of-day chicken scratches from my journal:

Tuesday, June 21

I got up to use the toilet at 3:15 a.m. and it was already light outside. Happy solstice in Alaska!

Three good things this day:

(1) Concerned that we needed to be in Petersburg, some 40 miles away, when our next crew member arrived on a 2 p.m. flight, we departed Wrangell at 5:15 a.m. on calm and flat waters. Arrived after a circuitous and misty passage at 11 a.m. and got into a slip at Petersburg’s North Harbor. Low stress, plenty of time for a nap before her arrival.

(2) Met Dana Halferty, a 34-year-old professional photographer from Portland, and a friend of Barbara M.’s. Dana will be our fourth crew member from Petersburg to Sitka, departing by July 2.

(3) After a day of downpours, the rain let up and all of us Osprey-ites, old and new, walked into downtown Petersburg, a town settled by Norwegians and retaining a strong Nordic character, including decorative rosemåling on the front of many shops. We have dinner at Inga’s Café, an outdoor eatery with a covered seating area and propane-fueled bonfires to sit around. Cozy! I have a tasty rockfish salad. Afterward, we stroll around the waterfront, where three fish processors still operate, and a large fishing fleet moors. Misty clouds trundle past the forested hummocks across the channel. It’s quintessential Alaska.

Rosemåling decorates the front of a gift shop in Petersburg, an Alaskan town settled by Norwegians.

Wednesday, June 22

Petersburg to Pybus Bay. Three good things this day:

(1) Another blessed travel day, with 57 miles under the keel, in placid waters. Misty and drizzly much of the way but with wide, wide Alaska panoramas visible beneath the low cloud ceiling – snowy mountains on the horizon to port, little islets here and there, huge intersections of marine channels creating miles-wide expanses of green-gray saltwater where currents and waves could potentially crash like L.A. commuters when a traffic signal fails. But not on this quiet day. At Pybus Bay we found a Grand Banks anchored in Sheldon Cove, the one-boat cozy spot we had set as our destination. We considered arming the photon torpedoes and taking them out, but instead we moved to a just-as-cozy corner of nearby Cannery Cove where we were secure and happy. Outside the cove, a humpback entertained us for a half hour with spoutings and a tail display, and Dana, our new crew member, went crazy with her camera.

Osprey anchored in a cozy corner of Cannery Cove in Pybus Bay, Alaska.

(2) Dana and I went exploring in the dinghy and found sea stars galore amid countless clam shells beneath the clear water at the shallow head of our inlet. Otter feastings, those clams?  Such a treat to see sea stars again after they disappeared from much of the West Coast a few years ago due to a wasting disease.

(3) A delicious dinner of Petersburg-purchased ling cod fried in panko bread crumbs and served atop a mixed-greens salad with toothsome toasted pecans, thanks to Barbara M. We eat well on Osprey!

Thursday, June 23

From Pybus Bay to Tracy Arm, on smooth waters once again. Overcast transformed to wide blue sky with wispy, paintbrush clouds. The weather radio calls for a coming heat wave in Southeast Alaska, with temperatures up into the 80s and possibly 90 in the coming week. The computerized voice warns of not leaving children or pets in cars, and checking frequently on older residents and others unaccustomed to the heat. How often do they hear that here? Dana wondered, “Will I be sunbathing on Osprey’s roof? Will people ask, ‘Where’d you get that tan?’ and I’ll say ‘Alaska!’?” Crazy climate change.

Three good things:

(1) Sea otters are back! After awakening to a mirror-pond setting on Cannery Cove, with sunshine lighting a snowy peak that dishrag clouds obscured the previous evening, we weighed anchor at 6 a.m. As Dana learned to skipper the boat, we passed the San Juan Islands — Alaska’s San Juan Islands (only two of them in these parts, each about the size of Jones Island in our San Juans). A streaming line in the still water caught my eye to port. I grabbed the binoculars. Sure enough! It was an otter – and the extra-fuzzy, large head with the Ewok face told me it was a sea otter, not the more common river otter. He was swimming joyfully, if ever I saw a joyful otter – dipping up and down in the water, bending his body like an undulating roller coaster. “He’s out for his morning exercise!” Barbara M. cried. “It’s swimming like a mermaid,” Bill noted. We immediately saw more otters, and stopped the boat so Dana could snap photos. There were 10 or 12, often in pairs, often “spyhopping” like an orca, craning their necks to get a look at us. Sea otters in the San Juans, what a treat.

Birds line the top of an iceberg in Holkam Bay at the entrance to Alaska’s Tracy Arm fjord, where bergs calve off of two glaciers.

(2) Snowy, snowy mountains! Glaciers! Icebergs! Woo-double-hoo, this is why we came to Alaska! We made it to Tracy Arm’s entry shortly after noon, with me at the helm. Peering into the entry to Holkam Bay at the mouth of Tracy Arm, it didn’t take binoculars to see: “Oh, my god, there’s an iceberg in there!” I announced to the crew. I expected we’d see them in the upper reaches of the 22-mile fjord, but not right out at the entrance. Good grief! Soon a dozen came into sight, some bigger than our boat. And that was only what you could see above the water. “They’re always bigger underwater!” Barbara M. assured us, which wasn’t reassuring. Above us towered the 6,000-foot+ snaggle-toothed peak of Mount Sumdum, with a huge crinkled-ice glacier snuggled between it and a neighboring peak glinting light blue in the sunshine. Barbara M., in a headset at the stern, helped to guide me through the outer reef using range markers because guidebooks cautioned that “icebergs sometimes move the entry buoys” (!). The heavenly perfume of frying bacon heightened the sensory overload as Dana prepared our lunch. Once anchored in cozy No Name Cove just inside the entry pass, we munched BLTs as we sat on Osprey’s top deck, marveling at the snowy mountains all around, swatting the occasional horsefly and watching a big cruise ship, the Carnival Splendor, enter the bay. From the woods around us, ravens croaked and a mysterious forest bird whistled its varying high-pitched, haunting note, like a piercing pennywhistle. At a grassy point, a hundred or more shorebirds – pigeon guillemots, we think – dabbled and dithered in the shallows. “This is why we came to Alaska!” I exclaimed.

Barbara Marrett, left, and Dana Halferty in our dinghy on Tracy Arm.

(3) Steak for dinner. Been a long time since I’d indulged in a thick cut of good American beef, and this was a treat. Bill grilled it to a perfect medium rare. We enjoyed our anchorage and counted 12 boats in the cove by dusk. A neighbor on Standfast, a big motoryacht, told us to watch for a grizzly who often wanders this beach at dusk. (A no-show this night.) We Osprey-ites planned for a 5 a.m. departure up Tracy Arm to see the glaciers before the cruise ships arrive. Dana, by the way, comes from the Seward family, on her mother’s side. Yes, that Seward, of “Seward’s Folly,” the Lincoln-era secretary of state who engineered the purchase of Alaska. William Seward was Dana’s great, great uncle. Not only is there that familial link to this place, but with this trip to Alaska, Dana has now visited all 50 states of the United States, so there’s a sense of celebration to her being here. Adding a welcome dose of youthful vigor, she is a positive addition to Osprey’s crew.

Friday, June 24

          We awakened to low, marine-layer clouds. Departed our anchorage at 5:20 a.m., first out of the cove, with plenty of daylight on these Alaska summer days. By the time we arrived at our first turn up Tracy Arm, the clouds were behind us and sunshine arrived to stay. This was a real fjord. High rock walls glistened with water seeps, dripping like 1,000-foot tears. The fjord’s depth ranged to 600 feet of water, even close to shore. By 9 a.m., we’d arrived 20 miles in, near the end of Tracy Arm, with one other vessel, a classic-looking 100-foot+ tour boat that caught up with us by the time we both chose to stop and launch dinghies to weave through the thickening patch of icebergs for further exploration of South Sawyer Glacier. What a peak-experience day!

At South Sawyer Glacier at the head of Tracy Arm, you can see where the color “ice blue” originated.

Barbara M. piloted Osprey’s dinghy with me and Dana aboard as Bill stayed with Osprey, idling by a waterfall 1.7 nautical miles from the glacier. In the dinghy, we passed scores of harbor seals, many with pups, relaxing on icebergs of every size and shape. Great photo ops! The water was jade green, and the bergs tinted the color of Hall’s Mentholyptus cough drops. Scrub shrubbery and rock-clinging firs greened towering walls of striated granite. One wall streamed with five waterfalls, dropping more than 2,000 feet from peak to pebbles. The scale, huge beyond imagination, was a stunning spectacle. Like Valhalla, drenched in Alaska sunshine.

A seal pup and its mother relax on an iceberg near South Sawyer Glacier in Tracy Arm.

In our dinghy, as bergs stemmed our progress we stopped about three-quarters of a mile from the glacier’s colossal icy face. A dramatic neon-blue stripe marked a cleavage point in the icy ramparts. Cameras clicked and clicked until my battery ran low and Dana’s memory card filled. We joked about taking some ice back to the boat to cool our drinks, then reminded ourselves that the icebergs likely formed from centuries-old snowfall, possibly containing mysterious pathogens from another era. Was that COVID talking?

A neon blue edge marks a recent calving point on South Sawyer Glacier in Tracy Arm.

We returned to the boat after an hour, and Barbara M. and Bill took the dinghy back to the glacier. While they were there, it calved twice! “You heard it first; a booming!” they reported, followed by the splash and a large wave that rocked their dinghy and sent rollers down the fjord to Osprey and beyond.

A sailboat from Friday Harbor, Wash., navigates ice floes near a waterfall in Tracy Arm fjord.

We all agreed, Tracy Arm is superb, and we were glad we rose at 4:30 to be the first in. By 12:45 p.m. we headed back to our anchorage, and never saw a big cruise ship enter Tracy Arm that day. Bill and I speculated that Fridays are switchover days when many cruises start and end, so we might have accidentally chosen our day wisely.

Three good things this day:

(1 ) Tracy Arm with sunshine and without cruise ships.

(2) Fun with icebergs. Each encounter with a big berg can be like a Rorschach Test. I spotted one that looked like Good Dog Carl, complete with bobbed tail. Bill insisted it was a dragon. Another looked to me like Santa’s sleigh, with reindeer. Barbara M. spied one that looked exactly like the Titanic sinking at the stern. A giant snail (in ice) bid us goodbye as we exited Tracy Arm.

A snail-berg at the entrance to Tracy Arm.

We got a great anchor spot back in No Name Cove and enjoyed a perfect-weather, no-bugs happy hour on Osprey’s rooftop, surrounded by snowy peaks, endless saltwater and the Great North Woods. Sizzling vegan bratwurst on buns, grilled asparagus and Barbara M.’s baked strawberry bars ended the perfect day on a perfect note.

Saturday, June 25

From Tracy Arm to Juneau. In downtown Juneau, we were reminded of the outside world when we encountered a rally in support of reproductive rights, across the street from the state capitol building’s massive granite columns. The Juneau Empire newspaper’s front page informed us that the U.S. Supreme Court had overturned Roe v. Wade.

Three good things:

(1) Two whale sightings on the trip from Tracy Arm. Got a nice photo with a spouting whale and an iceberg.

A whale spouts in Stephens Passage, near an iceberg that floated out of Tracy Arm fjord, Alaska.

(2) Made it to Juneau by 3 p.m., our northernmost port of the voyage. Easy mooring in a marina close to downtown, Harris Harbor. We walked into town for a late lunch at Tracy’s Crab Shack, plus grocery shopping at Rainbow Market and Foodland.

(3) Pristine, cloudless days and nights. Summer in Alaska! Who expected this? Tomorrow we celebrate Barbara Marrett’s 69th birthday. Bill is taking us all out to dinner. Then on toward Sitka. Stay tuned for more adventures in Osprey’s voyage of discovery.

Mystical totems, rollicking dive bars and tourist-packed cruise ships: Alaska, at last

Barbara Marrett kayaks on Foggy Bay, a common first stop back in American waters after many days on the British Columbia coast for boaters heading up the Inside Passage

AHOY, AGAIN, FRIENDS. Osprey is back in the world of Wi-Fi, so here I am again to report on our salty sojourn. The big news, which you might have guessed by now: We’re in Alaska!

From our home latitude of 48 degrees north, we’ve made it to 56 degrees, a north latitude shared with Denmark, Sweden, Scotland’s Firth of Forth, the North Sea and a whole lot of Russia. Not only have we moved northward 672 miles from Bellingham as the eagle flies, we’ve also arrived at the longest day of the year. The summer solstice is at 1:13 a.m. tonight, Alaska Daylight Time. On the boat, we’ve sure noticed the longer days. While we’re not far enough north for Alaska’s famous midnight sun, we’re close. There’s plenty of light in the sky until about 11:30 p.m. Tomorrow’s official sunrise time here in Wrangell, where I’m writing, is 3:59 a.m. Yes, the sun comes over the horizon, blazing through our portholes, before 4 in the morning. It makes me yawn just to write about it.

Here are more penned ponderings and footnotes from the journey.

Wednesday, June 15

In Prince Rupert, B.C., we awakened to a gorgeous, calm and sunny morning, a perfect day to transit Dixon Entrance, our second open-to-the-ocean passage. An easy exit from “Rainy Rupert,” as locals usually call it, through winding and narrow Venn Passage. Barbara M. wore a walkie-talkie headset and stood on the transom to help us line up with some range markers and keep me informed at the helm when yet another sport fisher was about to zoom past.

Three good things this day:

(1) We made it to Alaska! At 10:23 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time we crossed the international border, in the middle of the wide-open, lightly rippled waters of Dixon Entrance. Day 19 of our voyage. “Huzzah! Huzzah! Huzzah!” we all shouted. We reset our clocks to an hour earlier, on Alaska Daylight Time.

(2) I handled the anchor by myself for the first time, as we dropped the hook in 39 feet of water in the cozy inner cove of Foggy Bay. With Hasse no longer with us, we can’t team up on all tasks. Went like clockwork. Foggy Bay is a standard stopover point for cruising boats traveling between Prince Rupert and Ketchikan, at 85 nautical miles too long a trip for one day. However, to make the stop, in American waters again, we had to telephone and get permission from the Ketchikan office of U.S. Customs and Border Protection before leaving Prince Rupert. Surprisingly, only one other boat joined us in Foggy Bay, a sailboat crewed by a pleasant Canadian couple from Vancouver Island.

(3) I barbecued hamburgers and grilled fresh asparagus on Osprey’s propane grill, mounted on the stern railing. We ate in the sunshine up on the boat’s cabin roof, where four (plastic) Adirondack chairs are stored. Absolutely perfect weather, with a light breeze for comfort, in an idyllic little bay ringed by lichen-bearded cedars. To top off the day, a sensational Kodachrome sunset. “Red sunset at night, sailor’s delight.”

An Alaska state flag replaced the Canadian courtesy flag on Osprey’s starboard spreader after we arrived at Ketchikan.

Thursday, June 16

Three good things this day:

(1) The weather forecast on the VHF radio called for 25-knot winds overnight, so we had braced for a hectic night at anchor, especially after our barometer had plummeted as precipitously as the stock market in recent days. (Yes, we made the mistake of checking world news.) But for once, the forecast was wrong in a good way. The boat sat like a statue all night long. We awakened to a sunny morning on looking-glass water.

(2) Barbara M. and I went for a kayak paddle – first of the trip. Launching the plastic-molded kayaks, lashed to the roof, by gingerly lowering them by hand line proved a cinch. They were stable and easy to paddle, and we spied a bear on shore. A big black bear was digging for grubs in a patch of grass, pointed out to us by the helpful and friendly neighbor on a Hunter sailboat who regularly took his fuzzy doodle dog (some sort of poodle mix) for walks ashore.

Historical Creek Street on Ketchikan Creek, the city’s one-time red-light district, now home to boutiques, gift shops and galleries.

(3) Made it to Ketchikan, which calls itself “Alaska’s first city,” because it’s the first Alaskan town as you head up the Inside Passage. Twenty-knot following winds and a current pushing us northward got us there by 3 p.m. Immediately snagged a first-come, first-served slip at our marina of choice, Thomas Basin, right downtown. After weeks of wetness, we enjoyed a sun-drenched afternoon in this Alaska city that averages up to 160 inches of rain per year. We all enjoyed a tasty dinner at New York Café, which inexplicably is located in Ketchikan, Alaska. I had a roasted root-vegetable salad topped by Alaska cod ($24.) Delicious!

Cruise ships of every shape and size prowl Alaskan waters. This is the Disney Wonder on Tongass Narrows.

Friday, June 17

A stopover day in Ketchikan, along with the waddling Large Americans off of six cruise ships. Eek! If the ships are running full, which they usually do, that adds at least 18,000 tourists to this town’s usual 14,000 population. Got postcards, wrote some and found a mailbox for them.

“Man Wearing a Bear Hat,” a Tlingit (say “Klink-it”) totem at Totem Bight State Park, near Ketchikan.

Three good things this day:

(1) With Barbara M., I took the city bus to Totem Bight State Park, about 30 minutes north of town. A scenic spot in mossy woods edging Tongass Narrows that showcases faithful replicas of historical totem poles carved by native artisans. The preservation project began with the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. Today’s collection includes 15 masterful poles of Tlingit and Haida design, plus a stunning Clan House, a roofed structure like those that housed 30 to 50 people of a particular lineage in the early 19th century. The poles include figures of local animals, ranging from eagles to beavers to an octopus, as well as human figures, such as the man wearing a sort of top hat in which the rings represent the number of potlatches he has thrown to show off his wealth. A wonderful outing steeped in native culture.

Barbara Marrett steps out of the Clan House at Totem Bight State Park.

(2) I got to grill a gorgeous filet of halibut, which Barbara M. had frozen after finding it at a fish market in Port Hardy. Dressed up the fish with garlic butter, lemon and lime slices, and dill. A big hit with the whole crew.

The Potlatch Bar reeks of Alaskan character, on the boardwalk above Ketchikan’s Thomas Basin marina.

(3) We Osprey-ites spent a rollicking evening drinking Juneau-brewed Alaskan Amber and singing along with the locals on Karaoke Night at the Potlatch, Ketchikan’s supreme dive bar, just across a boardwalk from our Thomas Basin moorage. A real gas. Local heroes, all, ranging from men in plaid lumberjack shirts and knee-high rubber boots to the tragically disillusioned Millennial goth who crooned the only song of the night that was actually written in the current century. In his sailing tale “Passage to Juneau,” author Jonathan Raban described the Potlatch as having “all the noise, violence, and energy of America trapped inside a single room.”  This night, both TVs aired live wrestling. Amid all that, we met Shannon and Ed, locals who come every Friday for karaoke. She’s a nurse who delivers babies at the local hospital. He recently retired as a mechanic for Alaska Airlines at the local field, perhaps the only international airport in America that can be reached only by ferry, since it occupies its own separate island. “We’ve got some good singers!” Shannon beamed, willing us (successfully) to have as good a time as she was. Ed was an Amber man; his sweetie drank Alaskan White, with a polar bear on the label (“a little lighter, a little bit hoppier,” Ed explained). The evening’s downside: ear worms. The worst songs buzzed through my head into the next morning, including a twangy, Dolly Parton-style “Jolene,” and Jim Morrison’s melancholy and morbid “People are Strange,” covered that night by a slightly off-kilter, bewhiskered local who seemed to delight in exemplifying his song. My favorite? A barmaid’s huskily-belted, Joplin-esque rendition of “Bobby McGee.” Yeah. Somehow it just shouted Alaska.

Saturday, June 18

Before putting Ketchikan astern, we got out the hose and washed down the boat, then took Osprey for diesel and propane at the Petro Marine fuel dock. We got the “over-100-gallon discount” so the fuel cost “only” $5.30 per gallon (!). Total bill: just over $800. And we’re not halfway through the trip yet. Oof.

Three good things:

(1) Awakened without a hangover, which was a surprise after Karaoke Night at the Potlatch.

(2) Lucked into the last dock space in the cozy harbor at Meyers Chuck, our destination for the night, 33 miles north of Ketchikan. (A “chuck,” locals told me, is an inlet that fills and empties with the tides, though this one didn’t do that. Go figure.)

Along a daisy-lined path, an old shack adorned by fishing floats serves as a sawmill in the remote community of Meyers Chuck, 30 miles north of Ketchikan.

(3) Fell immediately in love with Meyers Chuck, a tiny off-the-grid community of about 40 residents in the summer and only four in the winter. I found charm at every turn, ranging from the flower pots by the rough-hewn benches on the pier, to daisy-lined footpaths that are the only “streets,” to the sign in a hut next to the float-plane landing: “Meyers Chuck International Air Terminal VIP Lounge, Occupancy 2.” According to a bulletin board at the head of the pier, you can order homemade cinnamon rolls delivered to your boat if you call a local baker the night before. We asked the first person we came across if he knew Lee Greeley, an old friend of Barbara M., and he pointed the way to a house three doors away. We ended up cheerfully hosting a happy hour on our crowded boat full of new and old friends, and got invited to breakfast the next morning.

Barbara Marrett, right, with Meyers Chuck friends Lee Greeley, left, and Becky Fleming during Happy Hour in Osprey’s salon. Bill Watson photo.

Sunday, June 19

Three good things:

(1) A hearty breakfast of pancakes, bacon and coffee at the home of Derral and Becky Fleming, who appropriately live in the former teacher’s cottage at Meyers Chuck, next to the former schoolhouse, which we’re told was designed by the same architect who did the one-room school that I know well from numerous visits to Stuart Island in the San Juans. It’s an appropriate home for the Flemings because (I soon learned) Becky was formerly the assistant superintendent of schools in Vancouver, Washington, where I worked for a decade at The Columbian newspaper.

(2) Besides loving Meyers Chuck, I immediately fell in love with Barbara M.’s old friend Lee Greeley, a mutual chum of our former Osprey crew member Carol Hasse. A sweet Leprechaun of a woman in her 70s with a knowing, gently impish smile, Lee is clearly an old soul. She confided with me that she, too, lost a beloved spouse to cancer, and when she joined us for breakfast this morning and brought a glorious bouquet of her garden’s flowers for our boat, she also brought me a small handful of posies, a kind gift of solace. She and I traded loving hugs as we parted, capping our one-day friendship.

Osprey, near the head of the line of boats, on the Meyers Chuck dock at sunset.

(3) During an uneventful passage across Ernest Sound, I read aloud to my shipmates the whimsical Robert W. Service poem “The Cremation of Sam McGee,” an old chestnut my father could recite by heart. I read from a beautifully illustrated copy I’d found in Ketchikan at a Water Street gift shop called, what do you know, Sam McGee’s. Then, after carefully navigating the tricky zigzag narrows of Zimovia Strait, we Osprey-ites ended the day in a marina in Wrangell, feasting on a dinner of stuffed peppers prepared by Barbara M. and watching “The Princess Bride” in Osprey’s salon, with plenty of hot buttered popcorn. Can’t ask for a much better day than that.

Monday, June 20

          Got moved first thing to a marina closer to downtown Wrangell, within walking distance of shopping, laundry and the library.

A minus tide exposes the tidal grid adjoining Reliance Float in Wrangell harbor. Osprey is moored at center left.

Three good things this day:

(1) Wrangell is a friendly, untouristy Alaska town. We got smiles and hellos from everyone we met on the street as we walked to a hardware store for a new water-hose nozzle. At a corner park, as Barbara M. paused to photograph a totem pole, an older couple greeted us as they walked by. The woman immediately volunteered, “I once found a pair of dentures on the ground right there!” Her husband (presumably) added, “It turned out they belonged to an old gal who we figured had a snootful at the bar and came by here to upchuck in the bushes, losing her teeth in the process!” His better half added, “But they didn’t have any vomit on them. I turned them in to the police station.” We’re not in jaded, overvisited Ketchikan anymore. This is small-town Alaska, mostly untrammeled by the biggest cruise ships.

Me, in rain togs, in Wrangell.

(2) Wrangell’s lovely, comfortable, well-stocked Irene Ingle Public Library library is open from noon to 5 this Monday. In pouring rain, I tramped across town in my foul-weather jacket, Seattle Sombrero Gore-Tex hat and duck boots to this welcome refuge, named for a former head librarian who held the post for 30 years. Free Wi-Fi! Finally, I can post to my blog again.

(3) Groceries and laundry and showers, oh my! When you’ve been on the water for three weeks, sometimes it’s the little things. Got an online weather forecast, too. Sun is supposed to rejoin us by Thursday, and maybe stay a while. Meanwhile, tally ho and toodle-oo. We push north toward Petersburg on the morning tide.