Warming up to Alaska, and paying off our weather debt

A bone-toasting soak next to a raging waterfall: the nirvana of Baranof Warm Springs.

GOOD GRIEF, IT’S BEEN NINE DAYS since last I posted. All you loyal readers probably thought my crewmates and I drove our 37-foot Nordic Tug off one of those scenic Alaska waterfalls I keep photographing. Or that I finally got that additional bear encounter I’d hoped for but the experience got a little too intimate, so to speak.

But no, Osprey is still upright. Nor have I taken an insider’s tour of a grizzly’s gizzard. It’s just that we really have been out in the wilderness much of the time on our continuing 10-week voyage of the remote waters of Southeast Alaska, where internet is about as common as pay phones in old Dodge City.

But here I sit drinking deep of free WiFi in yet another beautiful Alaskan public library, perhaps the most elegant one yet, perched on a misty Ketchikan hillside. Beyond the book stacks a gas-fueled fireplace blazes cheerfully (we’ve lost our summery weather, and the fire’s warmth feels good). Above the fire hangs an artful native carving of a salmon laying eggs.

Delightfully peaceful, and extremely different from the chaos that was yesterday on Clarence Strait. Brrr.

Lots to catch up on. Let’s dive right in, like a sea otter after a tasty urchin.

Tuesday, July 5

Three good things this day:

(1) Bonus day in Sitka. Went shopping. Found a good buy on sport socks, and got three used DVD movies from the Friends of the Sitka Pubic Library. Woo-hoo, it doesn’t take much to spoil a cruiser.

(2) Met Steph and Judy, longtime Sitka residents and close friends of former Osprey crewmate Carol Hasse, from her fabled “hippie boat” days. They came for a happy hour on the rooftop bar of Osprey, from their home, which it turned out was within view of our marina slip. Steph said this was the best spell of summer weather here in 10 years! He bemoaned the new(ish) cruise-ship dock north of town that puts lots of smelly, old, noisy buses on Halibut Point Road, past their place. The dock is where megaships can moor.

(3) At Steph’s recommendation, we had dinner at Beak Restaurant, in the ground floor of the old waterfront home housing KCAW public radio, called Raven Radio, which Steph helped found. “Beak” has an octopus as its logo – thus the beak – but stresses the BE – AK (“Be Alaska”) aspect of its name. Good food: rockfish tacos! Service needs work (a very long wait for dinner).

Wednesday, July 6

Sitka to Baranof Warm Springs, 82 nautical miles, a new one-day travel record for us.

Good things:

(1) A whale sighting at the confluence of Salisbury Sound and Peril Strait (one of my favorite Southeast Alaska place names, and, aptly, home to Poison Cove and Deadman’s Reach). A humpback surfaced and then dove about 100 feet off our bow! Then bald eagles circled and fought (or mated? Hot-cha-cha) in midair, while nearby a half dozen big sea lions cavorted, doing what looked like their own version of bubble feeding. The Full Alaskan Monty! After five days of landlubbing and rest, it felt good to be back on the water.

From Osprey’s top deck, toasting our arrival at Warm Springs Bay.

(2) A very long day at sea, but with smooth waters in Peril Strait we chose to push on to Baranof Warm Springs. The final 20 miles or so on Chatham Strait got windy and rough, with 16-17 knots on our nose and two-to-three-foot seas sending spray across our foredeck. We finally made it into beautiful Warm Springs Bay, edged by snowy hills. The public dock was full but after a few looks around and one false start, we settled on a peaceful anchorage by the outflow of a small stream that attracted feeding Arctic Terns. A half-moon reflected in the still waters – so still at first that Barbara M. became convinced we were aground, though we were still in 30 feet of water. Weariness breeds worries.

A gift after a long day: A July moon over Warm Springs Bay

(3) Ate a good dinner of stir-fried pork with black beans and vegetables, then watched a movie I had bought from the “surplus” rack at Sitka Public Library, “Monsoon Wedding,” set in India. It started out slowly but grew on us. Barbara M. made popcorn and we opened the new bottle of Alaska-made gin (supplemented with tonic and lime). Will sleep well tonight.

Thursday, July 7

A stopover day at Baranof Warm Springs. Three good things:

(1) What started badly ended well. I was first up in the morning. Made my customary coffee and peanut-butter toast. Bill and Barbara had a snooze-in. By 9 a.m. the wind had picked up in our anchorage and shifted, putting Osprey’s stern toward the rocky shoreline. I switched on the depth sounder and checked tide readings. By the sounder, we were in 11 feet of water, but at the stern I could spy the sea bottom about 6 feet down. The tide was ebbing, and Osprey needs four feet to stay afloat. I rapped on Barbara and Bill’s stateroom door, told them we needed to move, and started the engine. (The sudden rumble of the big Cummins diesel and an alert that fears of being aground are about to come true is a surefire way to roust sleepy mariners.) Within 10 minutes the anchor was up and we were motoring toward the dock at the head of the bay. This time we found a spot open, and got lots of docking help from friendly new neighbors. Twenty minutes later we sat in our pilot house sipping tea and coffee and enjoying an eye-popping view of the waterfall that tumbles into the bay from nearby Baranof Lake.

A rollicking waterfall adds to the scenery enjoyed by the boardwalk community of Baranof Warm Springs.

(2) By late morning we were hiking up the amazing maze of boardwalks and trestles that connect the little shore-hugging cabin community of Baranof Warm Springs. Towels in hand, we were headed for the outdoor hot springs. Salmonberries, blue huckleberries and dainty blooms of snowy-white bunchberry dogwood lined the trail. “You couldn’t plan a more beautiful garden!” I told Barbara M., who grinned in agreement.

Wild huckleberries along the trail to the hot spring.

This time we all wore swimsuits for a communal soak with another pair of visitors who had arrived just before us. There was plenty of room in the big, steaming, rock-lined pools that sat immediately adjacent to the upper reaches of the raging waterfall. What a dramatic place to take a hot bath! Barbara M. even took a polar-bear plunge from the hot water into a side eddy of the snow-melt waterfall, then dipped back into the steaming cauldron. She said it was invigorating and made her all tingly. Bill and I got dressed behind a huckleberry bush and toddled back to Osprey for naps in our respective staterooms. Very civilized, I thought.

(3) Met a dockmate, Jay, a quiet man about my age, off a 22-foot C Dory called Hunky Dory. From Wyoming, he’s been exploring these Alaskan islands from the Inside Passage to the ocean in his little teacup of a boat for more than 20 years. He shared good tips on where to see bears, and how to respond to aggressive ones. (Mostly, it’s the cranky youngsters who’ve recently been kicked out of the nest and haven’t quite learned how to find enough food on their own, he said. If they get grumpy with you, get even louder and grumpier, yelling and waving your arms, he suggested.) For Jay, this was the first year that his wife, afflicted by arthritis, hasn’t accompanied him on his Alaska expedition. In the evening, he set up a folding chair on the dock and just quietly watched the waterfall. Kicked myself later for not inviting him for dinner or a drink. A man with good stories to tell, and a missed opportunity.

Friday, July 8

Baranof Warm Springs to Red Bluff Bay

(1) Awakened with a spell of vertigo caused by an inner-ear problem I’ve experienced before, a common malady with older folks. I avoided taking the helm today. Didn’t want to test my balance at the wheel. The good thing: After a couple sessions of a physical therapy routine I’ve learned, the problem went away. As my brother often says, getting old ain’t for sissies.

(2) We got into Red Bluff Bay by 11:30 a.m. and found a cozy anchorage tucked into a protected cove. We’d been told bears sightings were a sure thing here. We hadn’t spotted any until late afternoon when Captain Chris, the hired skipper on a neighboring superyacht, radioed to alert us to a big grizzly on the shore not far from our boat. I saw him clearly in my binoculars, though he ambled into the woods before I could grab the camera. But I briefly saw my second wild griz, and we later made friends with the Californians from the superyacht. Even people with way too much money can be OK, I guess.

A runabout at the base of Red Bluff Bay’s waterfall gives scale to the majesty.

(3) Took the motorized dinghy for a spin and got a nice sighting and photo of a pair of gorgeous red-throated loons, a first sighting for me. Also went up close to the bay’s raging waterfall and got some exciting photos. Peaceful on the bay that night, with a low cloud ceiling hiding the snowy peaks. A quiet hideaway, with three other boats in a spacious anchorage in wild Alaska. Nice.

Red-throated Loons on Red Bluff Bay, Baranof Island, Alaska.

Saturday, July 9

Red Bluff Bay, Baranof Island, to Goose Bay on Port Camden, Kuiu Island

Three good things today:

(1) Woke to eerie fog in low bands across the bay. We debated whether we’d leave as planned across wide Chatham Strait. Decided visibility was acceptable – at least a mile. And we had both radar and a good chart plotter to take the challenge out of it. Very moody and prehistoric-looking as we exited the deep bay, threading out past numerous misty, fog-shrouded islets. The good news: Glassy waters as we crossed Chatham Strait, where we had expected seas up to three feet, according to the often erroneous weather forecast. Radar, AIS and Navionics chart plotting made it a cinch, even with fog. We watched a big Carnival cruise ship go by on the screen – four miles away — but never actually glimpsed it through the murk. No problem!

(2) Stopped at the Tlingit village of Kake, on Kupreanof Island. While Bill and Barbara M. went in search of the local supermarket, I stayed on board and had a jovial phone chat with my brother Tom, who is housesitting/cat-sitting for me on Center Island. He was happy and doing well, which was great to hear. That’s the good thing. One upsetting bit of news: My island neighbors Dan and Lisa Lewis lost their beloved catamaran-hulled powerboat when a critical component failed and it sank at its Skyline Marina slip in Anacortes. A total loss. It was the boat on which we transported my Barbara to Anacortes the day I kissed her for the last time and gave her to the man from the mortuary. It is hard news for me, and my heart goes out to my island friends.

(3) Made it to Goose Bay, so named because Canada Geese have summered here in past years. Barbara M. let it be known that she hates Canada Geese because they poop all over everything, so I fear she’ll be cranky about my choice. But we arrive to find it goose-free, and the narrow, snaking entrance seems to ensure protection from wind and waves, a good thing since gales are predicted for tomorrow. All is good. We have the cozy cove to ourselves and will hunker down for tomorrow’s winds while we plot our upcoming passage of tricky, and aptly named, Rocky Pass. A challenge can be fun.

Sunday, July 10

Holed up in Goose Bay, Kuiu Island. Sheets of rain blowing sideways. Winds up to 20 knots in the cove. Anchor holding well.

An enforced day of rest, with small-craft and gale warnings for nearby straits and channels. We three Osprey-ites hang out in our bunks until after 9, reading, sipping tea, etc. Our 140-gallon fresh-water tank is down to the half mark on the gauge, and several days might pass before we can refill it, so we implement conservation mode. In mind of the clever system at the boat’s aft corners where hollow stainless-steel handrails also serve as downspouts to drain the cabin top, I dig out our 4-quart mixing bowl and set it beneath one of the spouts. We fill a 5-gallon bucket in less than an hour. I heat the water on the stove so I can shave and wash up. Something to do! The VHF radio says this weather system will hang around into Monday, so we conclude we’re here for the duration. Time to try some new games! “Watch the last half of ‘Lonesome Dove’!” Barbara suggests, referring to a tedious Western we have on DVD. Bill and I play a few rounds of Boggle. This is our first weather-caused delay. Paying off our karma a bit.

4:30 p.m.: Rain is pouring, and Osprey is spinning at anchor as winds funnel through the entrance to our protected cove. Clouds have lowered. We all agree: We’re glad we’re in here, in isolated little Goose Bay, rather than out on one of the straits where 5- and 6-foot seas are predicted. After we fill our 5-gallon bucket with water off the roof, Barbara M. digs out the crab-cooking kettle from beneath the sink, which will easily hold another 3 gallons. We’ll use rainwater to flush the toilet or wash our hair! We feel like real wilderness adventurers.

Collecting mussels on the beach at Goose Bay.

Monday, July 11

Three good things:

(1) The storm eased. Barbara M. and I took the dinghy to shore, walked the length of the bay, and collected small mussels off the rocks. “It’s not a month with an ‘r,’ but these waters look clean and cool,” she said. Felt good to stretch our legs and breathe the rain-washed, spruce-scented air.

(2) She steamed the mussels in wine and garlic. We all agreed they were the freshest and tenderest we’d ever eaten. A gift from Goose Bay.

(3) After the mussels as an appetizer, I pull a bag of shrimp out of the freezer and make toothsome tacos. We watch more “Lonesome Dove.” After a day of studying cruising guides and charts and making notes and checking tide tables, we decide we’re ready for the morning’s transit of 21-mile Rocky Pass, one of the most challenging waterways in Southeast Alaska. Dividing Kupreanof and Kuiu islands, Rocky Pass is deliciously remote and achingly scenic. It’s also narrow and circuitous, shallow and rock-filled, roiling with currents and plagued by thickets of bull kelp that can hide rocks and wrap props. Local magnetic disturbances play havoc with compasses in a tricky section called Devil’s Elbow. As with most waterways, there are navigation markers to guide the way, unless some are missing in key spots, as online reports tell us is the case with Rocky Pass.

“This will be fun,” says Barbara M., who sometimes displays an odd sense of what constitutes a good time.

A bald eagle perches atop Day Marker 43 in Southeast Alaska’s aptly named Rocky Pass.

Tuesday, July 12

(1) With Bill as our watchman on the bow, me as navigator and Barbara M. at the helm, we safely and uneventfully transited Rocky Pass. We timed the passage for high tide, approaching slack, which seemed key. There were a few missing channel markers, more than mentioned online. Others leaned drunkenly, as if this were a place of wild storms and random rammings, and we dodged enough bull kelp to tie up a herd of Texas beef.  

(2) Once through Rocky Pass, finding placid waters on Sumner Strait we choose to push on beyond our planned anchorage at Red Bay on Prince of Wales Island, hoping to shorten the voyage tomorrow to Ketchikan. The forecast has deteriorated, calling for 20-knot winds and 4-foot seas on Clarence Strait by afternoon. Three-foot seas are about our limit with Osprey, we’ve decided. We plan to start the trip at 5 a.m. and hope to be in Ketchikan before the big seas rise.

Scanning the charts and guidebooks, we pick a cozy-looking refuge called Coffman Cove, off Kashevarof Passage, in North Clarence Strait. Despite the guide’s warning that transient dock space is usually crowded with fishing boats, when we arrive at 8 p.m. on a misty evening we find lots of space open. We’re happy to escape growing swells in the strait and tie up in this glassy, protected cove. Josh, the friendly harbormaster, radios us from the bar onshore and welcomes us to Coffman Cove. After registering, we join him at the cozy watering hole where we’re greeted like old friends by a friendly group of locals who seem sent by Central Casting for a sit-com about rustic Alaskans. There’s young, bright-eyed and bearded Hunter, who came from Maine to be a lumberjack in Alaska; long-haired old Bob, the kindhearted, fist-bumping swiller of red wine matched with tequila shots; and Travis, the born-and-bred manager of a modest fishing lodge who tells how his father and heavily pregnant mother took a 17-foot skiff 52 miles from Coffman Cove to Petersburg in an Alaskan November 46 years ago to get help with his birth. We enjoy a jovial Alaskan Amber or two together, and Barbara M., getting over a cold, sips a rum hot toddy, which the young bartender is happy to make once she tells him how.

Magical morning light before the storm, on Kashevarof Passage, in North Clarence Strait.

Wednesday, July 13

Forget the “three good things.” This was just a crummy, rotten, no-good, terrible day on the water. Got up at 4:15 a.m., after being startled in the night by loud, wet, snuffles outside the porthole of my cabin. A whale? Possibly a big sea lion. I shined a spotlight and saw a strange protuberance break the water. Maybe a stray elephant seal?

We left Coffman Cove at 5 a.m. in hopes of beating the afternoon’s forecast rough seas and 20-knot winds as we work our way down Clarence Strait to Ketchikan. But by 8 a.m. we’re slammed, rocked and drenched like we’re taking Osprey through a drive-through car wash, but with saltwater. We consider taking cover at Meyers Chuck, the last good hidey-hole before a four-hour slog down the strait, but seas and winds moderate awhile. We push on. An hour later we’re regretting the choice as Osprey takes 25-knot gusts on the nose, earlier and stronger than forecast. We bash through growing swells that send cascades of seawater over our bow. Some combers look to be 5 feet, maybe bigger, cresting like at the ocean beach, and we labor to keep the bow into the seas. It continues for hours until Bill, at the helm, wrestles the boat into Tongass Narrows, the entrance to Ketchikan. Throughout the rough seas, we grip handrails and bend knees up and down to bounce with the waves. The worst part is answering the call of nature. Using the ship’s toilet amid all this is like trying to evacuate your bowels on a Tilt-A-Whirl ride (which, come to think of it, I might have done once when I was 5).

By 1:30 p.m., we’d made it safely into a marina in Ketchikan, where rain clouds scudded on the sidewalks and bald eagles hunched coldly atop windblown lampposts. It’s not the same sunny town that greeted us a month ago.

On the downhill slide now, heading home. This weather is making the parting less painful. Ready for our own beds and familiar hearths. Repeating some adventures southward, but always on the lookout for new ones – hopefully not weather-related!

See you next from Prince Rupert. Stay with us.

Small town, Alaska style: An unplanned bonus day in Sitka

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Sitka’s Fourth of July parade followed Lincoln Street, with the Russian Orthodox cathedral as a backdrop.
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WOOPS, HERE WE ARE, still in Sitka. Because Barbara M. was feeling punky yesterday, with a sore throat and mild cold symptoms (do-it-yourself COVID test: negative), we’ve decided to stay a fifth night in Sitka. I’m taking the opportunity to post once more to the blog, shop for more socks (less need for laundromats!) and find a thrift shop with cheap DVDs (we’ve run low on evening entertainment). Back to the wild seas tomorrow, heading south to Baranof Warm Springs, Red Bluff Bay and beyond.

In the marina here we met a friendly Canadian couple off a boat named Tsonokwa, meaning “wild woman of the woods” in West Coast native legends. (Parents with naughty offspring threaten them with Tsonokwa, an ogress who steals children and carries them home in her basket to eat.) The two boaters are both wildlife biologists who live in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. With their two young teen children (who better behave, on that boat), each summer they explore more of Alaska’s waters from their boat, moored in Skagway. They hope to reach Puget Sound someday. This is the second port where we’ve encountered them, one of the serendipitous treats of a cruising summer.

Meanwhile, here’s an update on our holiday.

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A charming old Sitka apartment house, with multiple entry doors and a wooden sidewalk out front.

Monday, July 4

Three good things:

Another sweet example of historical Sitka housing.

(1) Found a good laundromat and toddled back to the boat with a pillowcase full of the freshly washed and tumble dried. On this Independence Day, what celebrates America more than a tidy little business where you can get $10 worth of quarters from a change machine and improve your lot in life with 10 days worth of freshly laundered underwear and socks?

(2) Along with hundreds of others, I watched Sitka’s Fourth of July parade on Lincoln Street, with the Russian cathedral as a backdrop for the marching Coast Guard men and women (and an exciting Coastie rescue-chopper flyover — two at once! — that threatened to take out the three-beam cross atop the church). Also parading were the local offroad-vehicle club, the Forest Service’s Smoky Bear and Woodsy Owl, the local fire brigade and more. While most parade participants tossed candy to the kids, two local supermarkets gave away bananas. Bananas were everywhere!

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“God. Apple Pie. Trucks.” For some in Sitka’s parade, that’s what Alaska is all about.

(3) Climbed a long, curving flight of steps to Castle Hill, the highest point in downtown Sitka. The hill was at one time an island at high tide before tidelands were filled in. In the late 1700s and early 1800s, this was a Tlingit stronghold, seized by the Russians after an 1804 battle. The Russians built a small castle there for Alexander Baranov, head of the Russian American Company and functional governor of Russian Alaska. This was where the Russians formally ceded ownership of Alaska to the United States for $7 million in 1867, and where the 49-star American flag was first raised when Alaska became a state in 1959. Now empty of structures, Castle Hill on this sunny and warm Fourth of July offered me sweeping views and an intriguing history lesson.

High hopes for smooth sailing. See you soon.

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Sitka’s Castle Hill, where the Russians handed over ownership of Alaska to the United States in 1867. Of course, the Tlingit and other native Alaskan tribes question whether their ancestral home was the Russians’ to sell.
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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.