Three@Sea Voyage Blog
Three@Sea is the name of our 43-foot Nordhavn trawler, and it refers to the three of us, Kathryn, David, and Ayla (16-years old), who live and voyage aboard her. We are in the midst of a multi-year journey to discover the world. Visit the Three@Sea web site to learn more about our voyage.
Three@Sea Home
Kathryn's Old Blog
David's Old Blog
Ayla's Old Blog
Archive
RSS feed
Theme by Stijn
September 28th
6:22 PM GMT-5

Trekking on a Glacier

Author:  Ayla
Location:  Mendenhall Glacier, Juneau, Alaska
Coordinates:  58° 28.01’ N   134° 31.3’ W



[Author’s note: I wrote this blog shortly after coming off the glacier, but then I got busy with school and travel, and didn’t get around to publishing it until today.]

Glaciers are, contrary to common belief, alive. Not alive in a literal way, but alive in the sense that they move, and breathe, and change. They take on personalities, and constantly shed off their old skins in favor of a different face. They have an indomitable will, while being incredibly vulnerable.

We helicoptered onto the Mendehall glacier, and at that point my imagination was running wild. I couldn’t decide if I felt more like I was soaring into Winterfell on the back of a dragon, or beginning a secluded research expedition in the wilds Antarctica. Either way, it was the first time I’d ever had the uncanny sensation that I had reached the end of the world. The way the bare, brown peaks shot out of the snow and into the sky made it look like the mountains had somehow formed a wall separating the known from the unknown; our world from another. The Juneau Ice Field, which is the size of Rhode Island, stretched out for miles in every direction, making the world white and barren for as far as we could see. In any good fantasy world there’s that point where the known world—the map, the animation, the story—simply ends. Soaring onto a glacier via helicopter, I was sure I’d reached that point.

image

Base Camp for our ice climbing trek was exactly the image you’ld summon to mind when thinking “base camp.” Trunks of equipment, brilliantly colored coats and gear, a tiny bubble of a tent, and a place to land the choppers, all casually perched in the middle of a glacier. After leaving the helicopter and beginning to suit up (including crampons, which make walking up and down vertical walls of ice significantly easier), I was finally able to take in what it was like to stand on a glacier.

image

From afar, glaciers look stoic and indomitable. They seem to be made of a sheet of solid ice, firmly packed and absolutely static. This is not the case. Up close, it looked as if I was standing on millions of tiny diamonds, each of different shapes and sizes, but all clear and perfectly formed. These diamonds were, of course, ice crystals, but I had never seen ice that was so absolutely clear, nor had I ever seen ice that was so beautifully constructed. The surface of the glacier shone in the sunlight, and the idea that I was in some magical land in some fantasy world was reinforced.

image

image

After a safety talk by our wonderful guides, Dan and Dan, we started into the heart of the glacier, moving through valleys of ice and enormous crevasse. Many places that had looked tiny from the chopper were, as I stood in them, taller than me and wider than my wingspan. The sheer enormity of the glacier blew me away; the ice is vast and all-consuming, and it has no problem putting your own insignificance into perspective. When standing atop a 3,000-year-old glacier—its movements still impacting the land and people today—it is hard not to feel small. This isn’t necessarily bad; in fact, I found it rather comforting to gaze up at a massive reminder of eras and civilizations past, and know that whatever daily inconveniences flit in and out of my life, this glacier will still be here, moving, breathing, and changing.

image

Everything really came into perspective when I completed my ice climb up one of the glacier’s valley walls. Going up a vertical incline of what felt like a hundred and fifty feet (okay, it was actually only seventy, but *still*), I learned that ice climbing is a game of trust. All your weight rests on two, tiny metal points that stick out the front of your crampons—why the laws of physics allow for that, I have no idea. Some additional help comes from two ice picks which, when dug in over your head, are good for pulling up; this also, however, brings the challenge of prying them out of the ice without launching yourself backward. The first step is a leap of faith, but once you realized that the crampons really are holding you, it becomes a little bit easier. I scaled the wall, and felt like a real, honest-to-goodness adventurer. Sure, I wasn’t in any life or death situation, braving unpredictable forces of nature and a violent landscape in a last-ditch effort to find shelter, or some daring story like that. But I was pulling myself up the side of a glacier, climbing something that had been there long before me and will be here long after. I was in the elements, in direct contact with nature, and it was incredible. At the top, I could look across the glacier, back to base camp, and over to Juneau—the ocean, the sky, and the ice all in harmony. And for a brief moment, I was a part of that.

image

image

image

After rappelling back down, I celebrated my victory by drinking straight from a glacial stream. Glacial water has no particulates or microbes, which made it some of the cleanest water I’ve ever tasted. We dumped out our water bottles and refilled them before beginning our trek back.

image

On the way to camp, we came across a moulin: a small, near-vertical hole in the glacier created by the constant battering of meltwater. Deep and dangerous, moulins can reach to the very bottom of the glacier, where they perhaps meet a river that eventually reaches the ocean. On the other hand, moulins can simply be dark and enclosed caverns that, if fallen into, would mean a five hundred foot plummet greeted by an icy bath. They are steep and unexpected, and this particular moulin obstructed our path. Before turning back and attempting to trek back a different way, our guides rigged a rope system such that we could climb over the moulin and look directly in. The experience was both terrifying and exhilarating (emphasis on the former). I could hear the meltwater rushing down through the moulin into some unexplored depths, and I could see the blue ice darken into black as the hole deepened. It was a death trap, certainly, but it was also one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. While I was happy to get my feet back on solid ice, I was grateful for the chance to experience a moulin so safely.

image

We wrapped up our trek with a few more sips from glacial streams, a visit to a recently-collapsed ice cave, and a brisk walk through a stunningly steep crevasse. We left our crampons at base camp and headed back onto the chopper, soaring away from the glacier and back to the real world.

image

image

image

After six years of cruising, this day takes the cake for the best adventure. Equal parts excitement, nerves, and humility, spending a day with a glacier put the sheer scope of Alaska into perspective. This land was—and still is—crafted by the growing and shrinking of ice, and as Three@Sea continued her journey through the narrows and valleys of the Alaskan panhandle, I was continually reminded of the life which these glaciers seem to take on. They are dynamic and vibrant, ever-changing and beautiful, dangerous and unpredictable. They are wildness at its most extreme, creating the land with every move, arriving long before people and remaining long after. Glaciers, like the salmon in the streams and the lights in the sky, are deeply engrained in the way of life in Alaska, and it was a privilege to spend a day with one.

image

COMMENTS
August 26th
1:54 AM GMT-5

Closing out Alaska

Author:  David
Location:  Prince Rupert, British Columbia, Canada
Coordinates:  54° 19.211’ N   130° 19.161’ W



Yesterday we cruised south from Ketchikan, Alaska to Prince Rupert, British Columbia, which officially ends our adventure in Alaska. We will make our way south to the Vancouver/Seattle area over the next couple weeks. But before looking forward, I want to look back to share our last several weeks in Southeast Alaska (SEAK).

Once Ayla returned to Juneau from her various summer adventures, we did a “farewell circuit” around SEAK, visiting Hoonah, Glacier Bay (again), Pelican, Sitka, Wrangell, and Ketchikan.

image

Kathryn blogged about our first visit to Glacier Bay, and it was just as spectacular the second time around with Ayla.

image

Upon leaving Glacier Bay, we headed for Sitka via an overnight stop in the small boardwalk town of Pelican. This is one of the most unusual towns we’ve ever seen: it is literally against the side of a steep mountain, and every structure is built on pilings over the water. The entire city infrastructure (water, sewer, electricity) runs underneath the boardwalk, over the water. Unique and fascinating. There is a full marina and fish packing plant, and the town supports both commercial and recreational fishing. The only reasonable way to get here is via your own boat or on a seaplane. 

image

image

We departed Pelican for Sitka at dawn, and quickly ran into thick fog. This is one of the natural tradeoffs up here in SEAK: if it’s windy, there’s no fog, but the seas quickly get rough; if there’s no wind, the seas are calm, but the likelihood of fog goes way up. Fortunately the sun soon came out, and the fog burned off while we cruised down the west coast of Chichagof Island in flat calm seas. Sweet!

image

image

We had two spectacular days in Sitka, with clear blue skies and mild temperatures. We thoroughly enjoyed this fishing and tourist town with a strong Russian influence.

image

One of the coolest things in Sitka is the totem walk, operated by the National Park Service. You stroll around a half-mile forested loop, encountering a different kind of totem pole every hundred yards or so. We had fun trying to identify the characters on each pole—while not as straightforward as it sounds, we can now tell the difference between an otter and a beaver, and a raven and an eagle. Beautiful!

image

image

We left Sitka at midnight and cruised overnight down the west coast of Baranof Island. We were headed for Wrangell via an overnight stop in a treasure of an anchorage called “Hole in the Wall”. This was our first overnight cruise on SEAK because most of our cruising has been in inside waters, where there is significant “drift” (i.e., logs and branches), so you really can’t safely cruise at night. We rounded the south tip of Baranof Island after dawn, and headed for “Hole in the Wall” on Prince of Wales Island. This anchorage is a small pond that is accessed through a narrow channel with high granite walls on each side. If we didn’t have a cruising guide, we would have never known it was there. We anchored all alone, in about 50 feet of water, and we were soon visited by a couple of curious otters.

image

image

image

The next day we cruised to Wrangell, which is near the Anan Bear Observatory (Kathryn previously blogged about her and Ayla’s experience at the observatory). Wrangell is a bit less touristy than some of the other towns in SEAK—it feels like a normal Alaskan fishing town. We walked to a beach where ancient petroglyphs are visible at low tide. It makes you realize how long Man as been fishing in these fertile waters.

image

image

After Wrangell, we made our way back to Ketchikan, where our SEAK adventure began last June. We didn’t really get to enjoy Ketchikan the first time we were there because Kathryn and Ayla had to fly out the day after we arrived. This time we got to know the town, and we enjoyed it very much.

Thank you, Southeast Alaska, for a wonderful adventure! We will fondly remember the salmon, eagles, bears, totems, and glaciers; as well as the resilient and friendly people.

image

COMMENTS
August 12th
7:36 PM GMT-5

Salmon Run Through It

Author:  Kathryn
Location:  Ketchikan, Alaska
Coordinates:  55° 20.602’ N   0131° 39.103’ W



image

While oil may be the key economic driver of Alaska, salmon are the spiritual lifeblood. Salmon are at the very heart, soul, and daily life of this remarkable wilderness. Their abundance feeds the wildlife, humans, and economy of this area, while their strength and tenacity certainly capture the spirit of those who live here. We are so fortunate to be cruising southeast Alaska while the salmon runs are occurring, which have allowed us to witness firsthand the harmony created by their existence.

Salmon 101

A quick salmon tutorial. There are 5 main types. Hold up your hand, and I’ll give you an easy way to remember them.

  • Thumb – Chum salmon (rhymes)
  • Index finger – Sockeye salmon (if you poked someone in the eye you’d use this finger)
  • MIddle finger – King salmon (tallest finger)
  • Ring finger – Silver salmon (what a ring may be made from) 
  • Pinkie – Pink salmon (obvious)

Helpful, huh? Okay, things even get a little more complicated because people call these salmon by different names (e.g., King and Chinook are the same; Silver and Coho are the same, etc.), but you get the general idea.

image

I could write a whole blog on the life cycle of a salmon—personally I find it amazing—but I’ll spare you the details, and instead just remind you that the salmon now swimming upstream here in Alaska have returned from the ocean to their home rivers to spawn. Once the eggs are laid and fertilized, the adult salmon die within a few weeks. When you see the rivers roiling with salmon, it’s a bit mind boggling to think that only about 2 adults return for every 2,500 eggs laid by one female. Nature is just plain amazing.

Bears and Salmon

One of natures great rituals this time of year is for bears to take a break from their endless foraging, and move to the river banks to feast during these salmon runs. Ayla and I were lucky enough to spend the day at Anan Bear Observatory sitting quietly, watching this dance of nature unfold. Magnificent!

image

image

We watched about a dozen different back bears fishing, each having their own style. Those who fished by sticking their snouts in the water were far more successful than those that fished with their paws. Some bears knew which stream locations created eddies that trapped salmon, which made for easy fishing; while others just sat in the stream waiting for the salmon to swim by—not as efficient. Ayla and I actually worried for one bear who sat in the stream slapping at the salmon, that he might  never eat. He seemed more bewildered by the whole process than stressed out, but finally after 30 minutes he landed himself a tasty morsel (actually the fish landed on him by accident).

image

image

Because there are so many salmon, those bears that were particularly skillful fishers were very picky about which salmon they ate, only selecting female salmon, and eating their bellies for the rich roe, and their heads for the fat. They would toss the remains aside, which seemed so wasteful until you saw the birds feasting on the remains. Seals and eagles also wait downstream for the leftovers, and other critters clean up the banks each night after the bears are done for the day. Ah, nature’s efficiency.

image

Of our many delights that day, our favorite may have been watching a mom and cub. When we arrived they were just climbing out of a tree to begin their day of fishing. The mother was adept at fishing, always catching a large salmon on her first foray into the water. The cub would then follow her into woods where they would dine, returning to the river every 30 minutes or so for another fish. Watching the cub attempt to emulate mom was so sweet, and yet you knew it was serious business to learn this skill well.

image

image

I’d like to offer a huge shout out to the National Forest Service who operates this observatory. They do a great job of maintaining this habit critical bear habitat, while allowing a few visitors a day to safely observe. What a spectacle to behold!

(Click on the video below to watch a bear fishing and eating.)

image

Fishing

Of course, it’s not just the bears, eagles, and seals that fish for salmon in these waters: man also fishes. The salmon industry is huge in this area, which includes the fishing, packing, and export of salmon products (for human consumption, pet foods, fertilizers etc.). Fish farming (fin fish, not shellfish) is illegal in Alaska—everything is wild caught. Having learned from overfishing their waters in the mid-1900’s, the industry now appears to be well regulated, fiercely protecting their salmon stocks, and insuring a fishing future for generations to come. The ports and waterways bustle with a wide variety of a boats including purse-seiners, trollers, gill-netters, and sport fishers. Shorelines are dotted with canneries and fish-packers, as salmon can spoil quickly. It’s not unusual to see a float plane land next to a fishing boat, onto which they offload their catch and fly it out in a highly efficient manner. Walking down the street the other day, Ayla and I passed two men talking, and we heard one say to the other, “You fish in Alaska, or you starve.” It seems to concisely sum-up the sentiment here.

image

image

Native Culture

Nowhere is the truly spiritual relationship of salmon to this area more deeply felt than in the Tlingit and Haida cultures, the first nations of this land. Their paintings, carvings and dances tell the story of life, respect, and stewardship for this important resource in their lives. A favorite way of cooking salmon was over cedar. I invite you to try this Cedar-Plank Salmon recipe, one of our very favorites, which captures the sweet, subtle flavor of this land.

image

I will never look at this beautiful red-fleshed fish the same way. Instead, I hope to always remember the splendor of the waters in which it swims, the people and animals whose lives depend upon it, and the cultures who celebrated their gift.

COMMENTS
July 12th
4:29 AM GMT-5

Glacier Bay

Author:  Kathryn
Location:  Juneau, Alaska
Coordinates:  58° 18.073’ N   134° 25.676’ W



"The Master Builder chose for a tool, not the thunder and lightning to rend and split asunder, not the stormy torrent nor the eroding rain, but the tender snowflake, noiselessly falling through unnumbered generations."

John Muir 

image

I have been siting at my computer now for hours trying to begin this blog entry, but I am truly at a loss for words to describe Three@Sea’s first journey into Glacier Bay National Park. There is no one superlative that captures the experience. No catchy phrase, or playful alliteration. Not even a litany of adjectives can do justice to the enormity of beauty and power that lives in this land. In 5 years 11 months of cruising, having traveled almost 30,000 nm, this is the most heart-stoppingly beautiful place we’ve visited. Spectacular!

image

We arrived at Park Headquarters in rain and light fog, filled with anticipation. We were joined by dear friends from Boulder, who mentioned over dinner last November that seeing Glacier Bay was on their “bucket list”. With Ayla away at camp, and their kids busy for the summer, this seemed like a perfect opportunity for their first voyage aboard Three@Sea. So the four of us left Juneau the evening of July 2nd, anchored for two nights along the way, arriving at 7:30am, July 4th (the day our permit began). The welcoming committee were several humpback whales, scores of sea otters, and squadrons of sea birds. 

image

Glacier Bay National Park (GBNP) allows only 25 private vessels in the park each day, and entry requires a permit between June 1st and August 31st. Permits can be difficult to procure, and must be arranged 60 days in advance. Fortunately luck was on our side—of course, David faxing the request at 12:01am may have helped too! :) A mandatory boater orientation is required for all first-time boat visitors regarding safety (for both wildlife and humans), weather information, area closures (due to nesting, or landslides) etc. The park staff are incredibly friendly, knowledgable, and extremely welcoming of visitors. While the stats say that 500,000 people visit the park each year, the vast majority of those visitors are on cruise ships (2 per day are allowed in the park).  Only about 8,500 people actually visit the park HQ and nearby lodge, with only 850 of those visitors actually going up bay on their own, like we were doing. So exciting!

image

We spent about 8 hours meandering up bay in light rain, and while we couldn’t see many mountains or any glaciers, we thoroughly enjoyed the wildlife along the way. We all had perma-grins as we watched the whales feed, otters drift by, and sea lions play. Giddiness was certainly in the air. We anchored that evening in Blue Mouse Cove, sharing the large open cove with only four other boats. There are not a lot of anchoring spots in Glacier Bay, as the waters are usually very deep right up to shore, and where there is shoreline, you need to be careful because of the ~20-foot tidal range. Once you find a location to anchor, the anchoring can be a bit of a challenge, as the bottom tends to be plates of rock, with thin mud or gravel on top. Patience and a gentle touch are required to get the anchor set. Thankfully, David has both.

image

Rain is the norm for Southeast Alaska, but the weather forecast predicted two partly sunny days while we were in the park, so fingers were crossed the next morning as we pulled up the anchor to head toward John Hopkins Glacier. The cloud cover was low and heavy, the temperature chilly, but at least it wasn’t raining.  A couple of hours into our cruise we saw our first iceberg. Okay, “iceberg” may be generous, but it was the first chunk of ice we’d ever seen in the water. We were all very excited, and I snapped multiple pictures of our first “bergie bit”, as they are affectionately called. As you might expect, it was not our last, and we marveled as they floated by—each its own piece of art, sculpted by nature. We were like kids on a summer day identifying shapes in the clouds, but with icebergs instead. What fun!

image

image

The low cloud cover gradually began lifting, and we started to see our first glaciers. WOW! Really, WOW! I had no idea of all their shapes and sizes: hanging glaciers, valley glaciers, piedmont glaciers, tidewater glaciers, etc. Okay, here is a quick Glaciers 101:  Glaciers, quite literally, are rivers of ice. Snow falls at the top of the mountain (in this case the Fairweather Range) and lands in a small depression of the land. Snowflakes pile up over the years, and compress under their own weight into ice. As the accumulation continues, the amount of ice and snow continues to build, and gravity takes hold, slowly moving the ice downhill. Once that ice is on the move, it’s called a glacier. 

image

As the ice moves downhill, following the path of least resistance, it picks up rocks and gravel, which grind away at the underlying rock, thus carving the glacial valleys we are seeing today. Once the ice reaches a lower, warmer elevation, it begins to melt and ceases further progress. If there is no significant change in climate, the glacier is constantly renewing itself, like a one-way conveyor belt moving the ice down the mountain. Glaciologists estimate that it takes about 200 years for a snowflake at the top the mountain to make it down to were we were watching it calve off the glacier into water (obviously, this can vary greatly based on size of glacier, climate considerations etc.). The words to describe the process are simple, but it is witnessing the event that is truly breathtaking. The intense beauty in the color and shapes of the ice; The incredible power and persistent scouring force; The thunderous sound of ice calving into the water; The pure rawness of the process. Humbling.

image

Visiting Glacier Bay is also a journey through time. You enter the park in the modern era with an old growth forest surrounding the park entrance, and travel back in time to the ice-age with its barren landscapes. The voyage is a mere 65 miles, but the evolution of plant life is nothing short of astonishing. Scientist began studying “plant succession” in this pristine wilderness in the early 20th century, with life lifting its arms out of rocky crags just a few feet from the glaciers, and progressing through the park as shrubs, adding the sporadic trees and finishing with a full forest in just a one-day journey for observers. Mind-blowing. 

image

image

I’ve managed to explain what we saw, and tried to explain how it happens, but I have not even begun to express how it stirs the soul. It’s not just the vastness nor the beauty; the wildness nor the power. No, it is more alive and complete than those words. It’s a bit like trying to describe a person as combination of limbs, functioning organs, and hair color—obviously we are way more. So is Glacier Bay. This place has a soul, it has an icy breath, and sings its beauty in the sounds of glaciers on the move and in the voices of its wildlife. The Tlingit people are native to this land. They know Glacier Bay to be a spiritual place. I now know it too. 

image

COMMENTS
June 17th
10:12 PM GMT-5

Passage to Juneau

Author:  David
Location:  Juneau, Alaska
Coordinates:  58° 18.073’ N   134° 25.676’ W



We cruised from Ketchikan to Juneau over the weekend. Kathryn and Ayla are traveling in the lower 48, so our friend Dick Costigan came to Three@Sea to be my crew for the three-day voyage.

image

Three days from Ketchikan to Juneau is a pretty aggressive schedule, but I needed to get there over the weekend to accommodate a variety of constraints. As anybody who cruises knows, one of the most dangerous (or at least uncomfortable) things you can do is cruise with a fixed schedule: the weather gods will usually slap you down. We were also departing on a Friday (another superstitious no-no), with a date of the 13th. Yikes! Fortunately Mr. Costigan’s luck over a lifetime of cruising is legendary among his friends, and I was counting on some of it to result in an uneventful voyage.

Destined for Wrangell, we left Ketchikan at 4:30am on Friday morning to try to avoid some potentially bad weather coming up the Clarence Strait. The weather prediction was for 15-20 knots of wind on the nose, which can whip up some nasty seas by late morning. Our plan worked, and we were able to cut into the back route to Wrangell before the seas got too snotty. The back route through the Zimovia Strait was quite protected from the northwest wind, and we arrived in Wrangell late afternoon, pleased to have this Friday the 13th behind us! We also had a welcome encounter with four of our Flotilla boats in Wrangell Harbour.

Dick was curious why we don’t cruise at night in this area. After all, we could cover much more distance if we did an overnight passage; and the bodies of water seem large enough to allow easy night cruising. Shortly after we left Ketchikan he had his answer, when we passed this tree. Although the “drift” seems to be less in Southeast Alaska than it was along the coast of British Columbia, it is still prevalent enough that I would not risk cruising in the dark here. Of course, that constraint is not very limiting since it currently gets light at about 3:30am and stays light until about 10:30pm!

image

We departed Wrangell at 4:30 Saturday morning, in low clouds, spotty fog, and rain. This early departure was not because we had a particularly long day of cruising—we were headed to the Portage Bay anchorage, approximately 63 nm away—but we had to transit Wrangell Narrows en route. This narrow passage connecting Sumner Strait to Frederick Sound has up to 6 knots of current at maximum ebb, and we were cruising during a full moon, so it was likely to achieve that. We had to time our passage to arrive at the worst part of the narrows at close to slack current, which was about 9am on that day. The plan worked, and we never saw more than 2 knots of current through almost all of Wrangell Narrows. However, right before we got out into Frederick Sound, just after we passed the town of Petersburg, we encountered about 4 knots of current flooding into the narrows. We burned a little extra diesel, and got through it without issue, but it was a bit of a surprise. I’m glad we left as early as we did, or it would have been worse.

Our uber-early departure was going to put us into our target anchorage by early afternoon, so we decided to change the plan and cruise longer. After all, it was raining, so what were we going to do at anchor all afternoon? The seas were mild and behind us, so we decided we might as well lengthen today to shorten tomorrow. We plotted a route to a little anchorage behind Good Island at the mouth of Gambier Bay, which turned out to be a nice spot. We arrived at about 5:30pm and set the anchor in about 30 feet of water (at mid-tide). It looked like a great place to see some wildlife on shore, but nothing showed itself except a curious otter off our stern.

We slept in Sunday morning (relatively speaking), and pulled up anchor at 6:30am, destined for Juneau. It was shaping up to be a beautiful day, with calm winds and clearing skies. As we cruised north in Stephens Passage we saw many whales leisurely swimming along, spouting regularly to reveal their location. We also had a pod of Dall’s porpoise surf our bow for awhile.

image

As we passed Holkham Bay we saw our first glacier: Sumdum Glacier. The morning light sparkled from its craggily surface, and it made me excited to visit Glacier Bay in a couple weeks.

image

We arrived in Juneau and received a mooring at Harris Harbor. On our way up the Gastineau Channel we passed five massive cruise ships moored on Juneau’s waterfront—one of them was anchored because there is room for only four at the pier! Dick and I got the boat settled, and then walked into town for a celebratory dinner at the Twisted Fish—a nice end to a successful voyage. And it looks like that Costigan luck is still intact—thanks for your help (and luck), Dick!

I have been fascinated with something they have up here called “tidal grids”. The tides are quite large here: about a 22 feet during full/new moons. A tidal grid is essentially a natural dry dock that fishing vessels and pleasure boats can use when they need to work on the underside of the boat. At high tide you moor your vessel to the tidal grid wall, and when the tide drains, your boat gets gently lowered onto the timbers. Boats using the tidal grid need to have a full keel so it can sit on the timbers without damaging the running gear. This is a very inexpensive (free) and relatively painless way to get access to the bottom of the boat. If we had any work we needed to do on the bottom of Three@Sea, I would be tempted to give it a try.

image

So we made it to Juneau, and we will be based here for a couple weeks. Shortly after that we’ll head to Glacier Bay for another new adventure.

image

COMMENTS
June 7th
10:48 PM GMT-5

From the Pilothouse, with Ayla:  The Inside Passage to Alaska

Three@Sea and a flotilla of nine other boats voyage from Washington to Southeast Alaska via the Inside Passage along the coast of British Columbia.

COMMENTS
June 6th
2:05 AM GMT-5

Alaska!

Author:  David
Location:  Ketchikan, Alaska
Coordinates:  55° 20.336’ N   131° 38.512’ W



Our Flotilla has arrived safely in Ketchikan, Alaska: 740 nautical miles cruising through some of the most beautiful, rustic, scenery we’ve ever seen. It was both exhilarating and exhausting; and it’s also a bit surreal that we travelled to Alaska on our boat. I mean, a couple years ago we said to each other, “Hey, let’s go through the Panama Canal, and cruise up the west coast to Alaska.” And now here we are. Pretty cool!

image

I posted my last blog entry from Shearwater, which was the last bit of civilization until Prince Rupert. From Shearwater we cruised to Rescue Bay, which was a beautiful and well-protected anchorage. Ayla had just completed her final exams, so we decided to host a celebratory party on Three@Sea. Although 24 people makes it a bit crowded aboard our little vessel, everybody had a good time. We gathered on our bow to get a photograph, and I think the propeller was out of the water at that moment.

image

Wildlife sightings increased during this section of the voyage. We saw several bears foraging at low tide, a number of whales lazily feeding along the shore, and the bald eagles are starting to outnumber the seagulls. These few days were definitely the most remote part of the journey.

image

image

Our next stop was Buttedale, the site of an abandoned cannery that is falling apart. The hydroelectric generator that powered the cannery is still running, being kept alive by the sole resident of Buttedale, Cory the caretaker. The docks are simply floating logs with planks across them, and you had to watch where you stepped so you didn’t end up in the water. Ayla loved this stop—I think the ghost towns are her favorite part of the adventure. Later in the evening Cory built a campfire on a concrete slap that used to be part of the cannery, and we roasted marshmallows in the wilderness. What a life!

image

image

image

From Buttedale we were scheduled to go to Bishop Bay to visit the hot springs there. However, a couple of the larger vessels in our Flotilla couldn’t tie up at Buttedale the night before, so they went on to Bishop Bay, and their experience with the anchorage there was not good (very deep, with lots of stray logs). So as a fleet we called an audible the next morning, and decided to skip Bishop Bay and go directly to Lowe Inlet. This was a spectacular setting, with a roaring stream (which became a waterfall at low tide) flowing into the anchorage. We had beautiful weather, and many people dropped their dinghies and kayaks in the water to play. Lowe Inlet was our deepest anchorage yet, at about 90 feet. In the middle of the night we had 25 knot katabatic winds, but our new anchor held firm with only about 325 feet of rode out.

image

image

There are many waterfalls along this part of the route. Sometimes they show themselves roaring into the main waterway; other times they are whispy lines carving through the forest on the mountainside. It’s fun to use the binoculars to try to follow them up the mountain to their source. Wild country indeed.

image

image

image

From Lowe Inlet we cruised back into civilization at Prince Rupert, the northernmost town along the coast of British Columbia. Our next leg would take us across the Canada-U.S. border into Alaska; and it would also take us across Dixon Entrance, which is open to the Pacific Ocean. The winds were blowing pretty hard, so we had to take a one-day weather delay in Prince Rupert to let things calm down. Several people organized a progressive dinner aboard three of the boats: we had appetizers aboard one boat, main course at the next boat, and desert at a third boat. We’ve all gotten to know each other quite well at this point, and we feel so lucky to have made new friends with these intrepid voyagers.

Kathryn and Ayla were supposed to fly out of Prince Rupert to go to Stanford for Ayla’s school’s graduation weekend (Ayla isn’t graduating this year, but it’s a gathering weekend for her online school) so I was going to be single-handing from Prince Rupert to Ketchikan. But because we made up a weather day earlier in the voyage, and we skipped a couple planned stops, they were able to cruise all the way to Ketchikan with me. This made us all very happy because we could all arrive in Alaska, completing the passage together.

We left Prince Rupert at 4:30am, crossed the Dixon Entrance with easy 4-6’ swells, and arrived in Ketchikan at about 4:30pm. The rest of the fleet stopped in Foggy Bay for the night, and then they continued to Ketchikan the next day. We decided to go directly to Ketchikan to give Kathryn and Ayla a day to prepare to leave the boat for a month. Three@Sea looks right at home nestled in Thomas Basin amongst the fishing boats and giant cruise ships.

image

image

Once we had all arrived, the Ketchikan Yacht Club hosted a cookout for the Flotilla at their floating clubhouse to welcome us to Ketchikan. It was our last chance to be with our Flotilla friends before we  scatter in different directions with different cruising plans. We are really glad we joined the Flotilla, and we are grateful to Mark Bunzel for leading us up the Inside Passage with knowledge, patience, and humor. Well done, Mark!

image

Kathryn and Ayla flew to San Francisco this morning, and I’m here on the boat with Dilly. After graduation weekend, they will go visit several colleges on the east coast, and then we will rendezvous at a friend’s wedding in a few weeks. I will explore Ketchikan this week, and then next weekend I will cruise from Ketchikan to Juneau with the help of a friend who arrives the middle of next week. Once in Juneau, I will travel for a couple weeks, returning to the boat in late June. After that, it’s on to Glacier Bay!

[Note: Larger versions of the photographs can be seen here.]

COMMENTS
June 2nd
1:56 AM GMT-5

Life Consists with Wildness

Author:  Ayla
Location:  Prince Rupert, British Columbia
Coordinates:  54° 19.210’ N   130° 19.165’ W



The British Columbia wilderness lends itself quite beautifully to the imagination. With its heavily forested islands that shoot up out of the water and scrape the sky, colors that dazzle both in the rare sunlight and the dreary rain, and a great sense of wildness, B.C. is nothing short of magical. A few days ago, the magic of this area was given a face and a name with Nikki Van Schyndel.

image

For a year and a half, Nikki survived off the land in this area, living in the woods and learning the ways of the native tribes and wild animals. Since returning to civilization nine years ago, she has been active in preserving the untouched beauty of British Columbia and spreading her message of following dreams and pursuing a life founded in bliss and centeredness. Indeed, it’s hard not to feel a sense of possibility when listening to her talk about her extraordinary experiences. Our Flotilla group had the fantastic opportunity to hear Nikki speak about her survivalist year and the many things she learned. As someone who grew up with Island of the Blue Dolphins as a favorite book—and was even named after a survivalist heroine in Clan of the Cave Bear—I have always been fascinated by the idea of heading into the wild unknown, something Nikki did and succeeded at. She is incredibly inspiring: honest about the struggles she faced in the wild; respectful of the animals, land, and sea; and extremely thoughtful when it comes to her philosophies about the world and our purpose in it. Her message of tranquility and creating your own path came as a welcome reminder of the important things in life amidst the chaos of finals and school. 

Nikki offers four-hour tours around the Broughton Islands where she spent her time surviving. The day after hearing her speak, the crew of Three@Sea and one of our newfound friends from the Waggoner Flotilla joined Nikki for a day of exploring, thinking, and discovering the seemingly infinite possibilities this land has to offer. It was, without question, one of the most incredible days I have ever spent. We began on a very small island we later nicknamed The Farmstand, as everything on it was edible. Nikki’s been cultivating wild onions there for quite some time, and we had the chance to get our hands in the dirt by helping her harvest a few for our lunch later in the day. Various berries, leaves, trees, grasses that one might usually pass over turned out not only to be edible, but incredibly flavorful. Each seemed to have its own purpose as well, whether as a moisturizer, a natural healer, or seasoning for a stir fry. One could have lived on the resources of this island alone (which also had an impressive crop of barnacles, something I had tried, per Nikki’s recommendation, the previous night; surprisingly, they were very good!). We spent a fair bit of time learning about the plants on the island and harvesting them in a beautiful cedar basket Nikki had made. It was as if we had stepped back in time; civilization was nowhere to be found. For miles and miles, the only life was eagles, bears, wolves, and us, all living harmoniously with the land. As I said, the imagination can run wild in these woods, and I felt as if we were in an entirely different time and place—someplace pristine, untouched, and untamed. Someplace wild. 

image

After leaving The Farmstand, we took Nikki’s skiff to Village Island, where she spent the first six months of her time in the wild. Village Island used to hold a native village, and the only signs of human life are a few abandoned homes and some overgrown totem poles. It is easy to imagine surviving in that wilderness; the trees, beaches, and waters are gloriously pristine, and after trekking through the dark woods, we arrived at a lovely shore to make camp. Along the way, Nikki showed us what had once been a totem pole. Even now, though it has fallen, is overgrown, and is rotting, it is also incredibly beautiful. While the intricate carvings are mostly gone, it is still possible to make out the shape of a leaping wolf and a bear’s paws. It’s haunting to imagine the people that painstakingly created this work of art, now reclaimed by the land. 

image

Along the way to our camp, we collected an impressive number of different herbs and plants, each with a unique flavor and purpose. As we spread out on the beach, Nikki started to show us how to make a friction fire, something I have wanted to do for quite some time. First, we stripped down cedar bark and made a sort of birds nest from the fibers; this birds nest serves as a starter. Nikki then created a hot coal using a combination of wood, sticks, and a clever, bow-like instrument to create enormous friction that ultimately gave way to a delicate, hot coal. It was amazing to me how gentle the process of starting a fire is. Fire often has a sort of violence associated with it, but watching Nikki slowly breathe it into existence was remarkably peaceful.

image

image

image

Our cedar bark nest eventually started to crackle merrily, and soon, we had a hot fire over which Nikki assembled a sort of stove with various sticks, and began cooking lunch. Nikki’s cooking—mostly with things we had collected that day—was phenomenal. With a dash of olive oil, some dried kelp for salt, and a plethora of delicious herbs and vegetables, a stir fry was soon sizzling over the fire while tea made of Western Hemlock and mint (both collected on Village Island) steeped beside it. It would be hard to recall everything that went into the stir fry—there were well over a dozen different plants—but some of the highlights included: Indian Parsnip (a member of the carrot family that you must peel before eating, lest it burn the insides of your throat and cause all sorts of nasty consequences), Sea Asparagus (a salty, crunchy stalk that grows in droves on the beaches), Miner’s Lettuce (a spectacularly delicious wild leaf that might be the next Arugula), and Salmon Berries (which are astoundingly juicy and the color of the sunset). With a handmade fire and flavors of only the land, we soon had a gourmet meal unparalleled in its raw, organic flavor. Standing on the beach next to a cedar fire, eating a meal we had helped create by tasting and understanding the land (we were, by the way, eating out of clam shells with an mussel shell as a utensil!), I felt at peace. The whole world could have been miles and years away. Everything was right. 

image

image

Eventually, we cleaned up camp and trekked back through Village Island, hopping in Nikki’s boat for our trip back to the modern world. On the way home, something spectacular happened. We were just about to cross a channel between two islands when we noticed an odd-looking log in front of the boat. Distracted by a feeding frenzy occurring with some seagulls and what we thought might have been a whale, we didn’t give the log a second glance… that is, until its head moved. To our astonishment, the log was, in fact, a wolf, something Nikki said she hasn’t seen in this area for nearly three years. There are some moments in life when everything is perfect; this was one of those. Sitting in a boat, surrounded by vaulted mountains and wild woods, spring rain pouring down, and watching a wolf swim bravely across a stormy channel… there simply could not have been anything better. We made sure to give the wolf plenty of room, but we stayed to watch as it scrambled to shore on the other side. Once it got on shore, it stopped for just a minute and looked back at us; it was massive, astute, and one of the most beautiful creatures I have ever seen. It gave us one look, then turned and ran into the woods. We all sat in the boat for a few minutes, just listening to the wind and the rain, before turning the engine back on and resuming our trip back into civilization. 

Pretty soon, things settled back to normal; as always, there were finals to study for and things to accomplish, but not before taking a moment to reflect on the day that had just passed. I took my collection of Henry David Thoreau’s Natural History essays, and sat on the dock in the rain until I found the following quote: 

For I believe the climate does thus react on man,— as there is something in the mountain air that feeds the spirit and inspires…I trust that we shall be more imaginative, that our thoughts will be clearer, fresher, and more ethereal as our sky, — our understanding more comprehensive and broader, like our plains, —our intellect generally on a grander scale, like our thunder and lightening, our tiers and mountains, — and our hearts shall even correspond in breadth and depth and grandeur to our inland seas. 

image

And one more:

So I would say, “How near to good is what is wild!” Life consists with wildness. The most alive is the wildest. Not yet subdued to man, its presence refreshes him One who pressed forward incessantly and never rested from his labors, who grew fast and made infinite demands on life, would always find himself surrounded by the raw materials of life. 

Nikki, indeed, has made infinite demands on life, and has not only found herself surrounded by, but surrounded others with, the raw materials of life. It was a day of magical thinking, feeling, exploring, and becoming wild. Thank you, Nikki!

image

COMMENTS
May 28th
7:34 PM GMT-5

Alaska Flotilla: Over Halfway There

Author:  David
Location:  Shearwater, British Columbia
Coordinates:  52° 08.863’ N   128° 05.237’ W



I has been a whirlwind the last six days, with several dawn departures for both weather and currents. Our Flotilla is now more than halfway to Ketchikan, we are one day ahead of schedule, and we have one of two open ocean legs behind us. So far, so good!

[Photo note: Several of you have asked for full resolution versions of the photos. We don’t have enough Internet bandwidth to upload full resolution photos, but I did upload larger (screen size) versions of the photos from this and the previous blog: click here to visit the album.  I will continue to add photos from our Alaska voyage to this album.]

image

We departed Prideaux Haven early last Thursday to time the transit of three tidal narrows: Yuculta Rapids, Gillard Passage, and Dent Rapids. These are near one another, but they still go to slack current at different times, and unfortunately in the wrong order for the direction we were transiting. Dent rapids is the worst of the three, so we timed our progress so we would have slack current through Dent. But this meant we had to transit Yuculta and Gillard early, while they were still flooding. We were able to wait until each had only about 2 knots of current (against us), and the turbulence wasn’t too bad. Our transit through Dent was subsequently smooth and uneventful. We soon arrived at Blind Channel, which is a small family-run marina and restaurant. Our 10-boat Flotilla filled them up. Ayla and Kathryn walked up (in the rain) to see an 800-year-old cedar tree that is 16 feet in diameter. That’s a big tree!

image

image

We were up early and off the dock again on Friday to time the transit of Green Point Rapids and Whirlpool Rapids. Green Point was uneventful, but we slow boats (four of us) could not get to Whirlpool Rapids before it was running fast again, so we had to kill four hours waiting until the current moderated enough for us to safely pass—it was a long day that didn’t cover much distance. We arrived at Port Harvey, which is another family-run marina and restaurant along the waterway. This appears to be pretty common in this area: small family-run marinas with a restaurant, and maybe a store, catering to summer boaters as they transit the area. Port Harvey opened up their clubhouse for dinner, making delicious made-to-order pizzas for each boat.

image

Ayla took a final exam underway on both Thursday and Friday. The proctors were able to submit them to Ayla’s high school using the complimentary Internet provided at Blind Channel and Port Harvey. The logistics of this are all a bit daunting, but Kathryn has organized everything perfectly, and the proctors are doing a great job.

image

On Saturday morning we had another early start to time the transit of Chatham Channel at slack current. This channel has a smooth flow—not too much turbulence or too many whirlpools—so we were able to transit a bit early to get to our destination earlier. We were headed for Pierre’s Echo Bay Resort, which is a legendary spot in the Broughton Islands. Pierre’s marina and resort sits in a beautiful cove surrounded by high granite bluffs, and Pierre has created a very welcoming and relaxing environment. On our way into the marina, we passed the floats that were attached to the prawn and crab pot that were to provide our dinner that evening.

image

Upon our arrival, our Flotilla host had arranged for a special guest to speak to our group: Nikki Van Schyndel is a survivalist and naturalist who lives on the other side of the hill from Echo Bay. Nikki spent a year-and-a-half living on a remote island, surviving completely off the land. She has recently written a book about the adventure called Becoming Wild. Nikki is one of those special people you meet along the way who causes you to say to yourself, “This is why we travel.” I think Ayla or Kathryn will blog about our experience with Nikki, so I won’t write more here.

image

image

After listening to Nikki’s fascinating talk, we walked to the other side of the island to meet Billy Proctor, and see his eclectic museum. Billy has lived near Echo Bay most of his life, and he has collected a variety of artifacts from the area, and displayed them in a cozy museum. Billy is full of experiences and stories, and it was really fun to meet this legendary figure.

image

image

The next day (after spending the morning on a “survivalist tour” with Nikki, about which we will blog separately) we cruised from Echo Bay to Port McNeill. We spent the evening preparing for our first open ocean transit across Queen Charlotte Strait and Sound.

On Monday morning at 4am, well before sunrise, everybody in the Flotilla was up and preparing to depart. The weather for the 66 nautical mile passage to Fury Cove looked good, but the earlier we departed, the better it would be. So there we all were, sleepily stumbling around the dock, coiling up electrical cords. We left as a fleet at about 4:30am, just at first light so that we could see the logs in the water.

image

There are two spots on this Flotilla that are open to the Pacific, and might cause either a weather delay or an uncomfortable ride. The weather gods were with us on this one, and we had a completely benign passage to Fury Cove—we even saw several humpback or gray whales breaching along the route.

image

image

We arrived at Fury Cove mid-afternoon, and we all anchored under beautiful sunny skies, and warm calm weather. It was one of those perfect days on a boat, and the whole anchorage was giddy with satisfaction, basking in the warmth and beauty inside Fury Cove. Many of us dropped our dinghies in the water to explore the beach, and one of our Flotilla members organized a bonfire in the evening. Perfection!

image

On Tuesday we cruised up Fitz Hugh Sound and Fisher Channel to Ocean Falls at the end of Cousins Inlet. Ocean Falls has a hydroelectric plant powered by the river that feeds into Cousins Inlet. There used to be a paper mill there, but it shut down more than thirty years ago, leaving a completely intact ghost town today. 

image

image

The confluence of fresh and salt water in the inlet made for excellent crabbing: Several of our Flotilla members hauled in some beautiful dungeness crabs, and they were nice enough to share some of their catch with us. Yum!

image

Today’s passage was a short twenty miles to Shearwater, so we slept in until a a decadent 7am—it felt quite leisurely after the previous days’ early starts. Ayla took one exam underway yesterday, and another this morning, so she has only one more to go. Shearwater has a bit of infrastructure, so her proctors were able to submit her exams to her school when we arrived today. We’ll do a little grocery shopping here, and catch up on Internet before going off-the-grid until we get to Prince Rupert next week.

On a mechanical note, our fresh water pump failed after five years of service. Fortunately we carry a spare aboard, so I was able to replace it in a couple hours late one night. This sounds pretty easy, but our 6 am departure came too soon after my head hit the pillow at 2 am! :)

On a navigational note, the waterways here are littered with trees and logs. We need to keep a sharp lookout at all times because they tend to sneak up on you when you least expect it. One day there was almost an impassable steam of telephone-pole-sized logs along one of the current breaks, and we had to navigate parallel to it until we found an opening. We’ve hit only one log, coming into Port McNeill; Fortunately it was a glancing blow, and did not do any damage to our running gear.

image

image

On an Internet/cellular note, the coverage in this area has been surprising. We have been able to get cellular Internet through Telus almost every day (at some point), and once we get into port in the evening, the marina usually has some kind of WiFi. Only one night so far did we need to rely completely on satellite for e-mail and weather. I think it gets worse from here north, but it’s been surprisingly good thus far.

That’s all for now.  I hope to write again from Prince Rupert.

COMMENTS
May 21st
8:02 PM GMT-5

Alaska Flotilla - Day 4

Author:  David
Location:  Desolation Sound, British Columbia
Coordinates:  50° 8.464’ N   124° 41.259’ W



It’s the fourth day of our cruise to Ketchikan, Alaska, and the Flotilla Fleet is anchored in Desolation Sound this evening. The scenery is spectacular, and it’s easy to see where this area gets its name.

Nine boats departed Anacortes on Sunday, and we headed for Ganges Harbour on Vancouver Island, stopping to clear Canadian Customs in Bedwell Harbor on the way. Everybody eventually made it through Customs (some with more ease than others), and we soon found ourselves tied to the dock in Ganges. We rendezvoused with our tenth boat in Ganges, which happens to be a sister ship, Alamo, another Nordhavn 43.

image

image

We decided to celebrate the end of Ayla’s classes and the start of our journey with a lovely dinner at the renowned Hastings House Inn and Restaurant. The atmosphere was cozy, the views were gorgeous, and the food was delicious. It was a good start!

The next day we all got underway early. We were headed to Nanaimo, and we needed to pass through Dodd Narrows to get there, so we wanted to be there at slack tide (along with everybody else). The current was supposed to be against us all the way up to Dodd Narrows, but once we were on our way up the channel, the current was not nearly as strong as we feared, so we had to slow way down so we didn’t arrive at Dodd Narrows early. We timed it well, and the whole fleet passed through Dodd Narrows without incident. Here we are approaching Dodd Narrows:

image

Our Flotilla leader is Mark Bunzel, the editor of the Waggoner’s Cruising Guide. He’s doing a fantastic job preparing everybody for each day’s cruise. Our fleet is made up of two Nordhavn 43s, a Nordhavn 63’, an American Tug 48’, a Carver 47’, a Tollycraft 34’, a Grand Banks 42’ (Europa), and three boats who’s manufacturer I don’t yet know: a 45’ pilothouse trawler, a 40’ sailboat, and a 60’ cabin cruiser. These are all very capable boats, with very capable crew. And just as important: everybody is really nice, and we’re enjoying getting to know them. Here is our flotilla moored a Cameron Island Marina in Nanaimo:

image

Yesterday we had a pretty short and easy day, cruising from Nanaimo to Pender Harbour. The reason it was easy is because the weather cooperated for our crossing of the Straight of Georgia. We were tucked into Pender Harbour by early afternoon, and everybody enjoyed a truly gorgeous British Columbia afternoon: sunny, mid-60’s, and light wind — it doesn’t get any better!

For dinner we decided to walk up to Hotel Lake, about 30 minutes away, and look for a place to spread out a picnic. We commandeered somebody’s swimming raft, and drifted peacefully on the lake as the sun dropped below the mountain ridge. Ahhhh….

image

This morning we were off early again for the longest day yet, 53 nm to Prideaux Haven anchorage in Desolation Sound. The seas were a little sloppy for the first couple hours, but then they flattened out, and it was an easy cruise up the Malaspina Straight and into Desolation Sound. It got progressively cloudier as we made our way north, and a light rain began to fall shortly before we anchored. This gave us the opportunity to try out our new rain gear, which worked great. And of course, Kathryn’s new Ultra Anchor set quickly in about 50 feet of water (she’s very happy).

image

Tomorrow we need to time our cruise through three “gates”, the worst of which are the Dent Rapids, which has up to 11 knot currents a maximum ebb. I don’t like the sound of “rapids” when it comes to cruising, so we’re going to be as buttoned up as possible to get there at slack.

I mentioned that Ayla finished classes, but now she has final exams this week and next. Tomorrow and Friday are her first two, and then she has three next week. Several people on the Flotilla have agreed to proctor her exams, so they’re all busily downloading test files as they become available. Ayla has been very disciplined, studying about eight hours each day, at which point you can see the knowledge spilling out of her ears, so she takes the rest of the day off. It’s difficult, but she’s looking forward to being finished with her junior year next Friday!

image

All of Three@Sea’s systems are performing well so far. Tonight is our first night at anchor, and as soon as it stops raining we plan to drop the dinghy in the water to do a little exploring. Or not. We’ll see where the rest of the day takes us.

COMMENTS