Grandparents? Check. Grandchildren? Check. Glaciers? Check. Memories made? Check.
We saw numerous whales on our trip, but unfortunately the kids did not get to see any breaches. At one point I was on the flybridge while everyone else was below, and I saw some whales up ahead. Our VHF radio doubles as an intercom, so I called into the intercom, “I hope your noses aren’t buried in your iPads, because there are some whales up here!” Oops. I didn’t have the intercom mode enabled, so I was broadcasting on VHF Channel 16. Someone responded and said they had been looking for whales all day and wanted to know where we were.
It was sunny, warm and calm on the day we went all the way up the West Arm to the northernmost part of Tarr Inlet. Along the way we saw Reid Glacier, Lamplugh Glacier, Margerie Glacier and the Grand Pacific Glacier. Johns Hopkins Inlet was closed due to seal birthing, so we could not go down there.
It was a marvelous experience and I think even the kids genuinely appreciated what they saw.
When we got back to Blue Mouse Cove that day, the harbor porpoises were in abundance and were not shy about coming up close to the boat as we anchored. The kids really got a kick out of that.
In June 2010 my wife, Lisa, and I cruised through Glacier Bay on our own boat — we wrote a story about the trip that appeared in the February 2011 issue of Sea (“The Glory of Glacier Bay”) — and, awed by the experience, we knew we wanted to return at some point. Almost exactly seven years later the planets aligned and Lisa and I, both fully retired, fulfilled that wish.
Our boat, Faraway, is a 34-foot Mainship trawler. It is basically the same boat we took on the 2010 trip, though an eight-month maintenance session in the boatyard in late 2015 and early 2016 improved it immensely. Now we have a skookum inverter, which helps a lot, an entirely redesigned and reengineered electrical system, all new batteries, a new raft lifter and numerous other smaller, less visible but very significant repairs and upgrades, all of which helped make this trip very enjoyable.
The other significant difference between the 2010 trip and this one was the crew. For this year’s trip we had our dog, Bambina, and three of our grandchildren with us. The presence of the dog and the grandchildren added unique dynamics to our trip, which was broken into three distinct segments. Our oldest grandson, Tyler, 12, accompanied us on the first leg from Ketchikan up to Juneau. In Juneau we picked up Aliyah, 8, and Bryan, 10. The second segment was the real meat of the trip — from Juneau to Glacier Bay, a week inside the bay and then back to Juneau with all three grandchildren. And the third segment was running from Juneau back down to Ketchikan with Bryan, after having put Aliyah and Tyler on a plane in Juneau.
The trip from Ketchikan up to Juneau with Tyler aboard was enjoyable, and at 12 years old, Tyler was old enough and strong enough to help with many of the chores and responsibilities associated with running a small boat. He was a terrific help with bumpers and lines and many other chores, and even piloted the boat at times (under supervision).
We ran from Ketchikan to Wrangell, via Clarence Strait, Canoe Pass and Zimovia Strait, and then from Wrangell to Petersburg via the Wrangell Narrows. In Petersburg I came across a unique vessel, Polar Bound. I highly recommend the book “The Frozen Frontier,” which chronicles Polar Bound’s voyage through the Northwest Passage and also down the Inside Passage.
From Petersburg we navigated up through Frederick Sound and Stephens Passage and anchored in Pybus Bay (Cannery Cove) and Gambier Bay (Snug Cove) before reaching Tracy Arm, where the Sumdum and Sawyer glaciers are. Sumdum Glacier can be seen from the entrance, but one has to go pretty far back into the arm to see Sawyer Glacier. We just poked our nose into the entrance, fighting the extreme currents that rage there, took a lot of pictures of the many floating icebergs in the area, made our way back out again, and continued north.
The night before reaching Juneau, we stopped at Taku Harbor, which is about 30 miles south of Juneau. Taku Harbor is a terrific place to stop, because passengers can get out and stretch their legs, dogs can take care of their business and there is usually enough dock space to get a safe, secure moorage for the night without having to anchor. And the abandoned cannery, with its associated machinery lying around, makes for an interesting walk and is a good photo subject.
Tyler enjoyed running around in the raft, though our nearly new Torqeedo electric outboard, while reliable, was not nearly fast enough to satisfy a 12-year-old’s need for speed.
One of the onboard systems that got a big upgrade while the boat was at the yard was the entertainment system, and it got quite a workout on this voyage. The kids spent many an evening watching numerous videos. I didn’t realize kids 12 years old and younger can watch the same movie over and over and enjoy each showing more than the previous one. That must be an attribute that diminishes with age.
Glacier Bay National Park is an amazing place to visit. Entrance is very tightly controlled, and private vessels such as ours must have a permit to enter on a specific date and for a specific period of time. Officials allow only a small number of private vessels in the bay at any one time, in an effort to enhance the wilderness experience for the boaters. They only allow two cruise ships to enter the bay each day, and they do not stay the night.
Upon entry to Glacier Bay, private boat owners are required to take a boater orientation course at the park service center at Bartlett Cove. In that session, instructors cover the rules and areas for “whale waters.” They discuss the importance of understanding and working with the strong tides and currents in the area. If any specific areas are closed for whatever reason, those are identified. A short video about the bay is shown and discussed. I found it to be an interesting and worthwhile orientation.
A relatively new addition to the Bartlett Cove station is a whale skeleton, fully reconstructed and on display. Truly impressive.
The main features people come to the bay to see are glaciers, whales, sea lions, sea otters, seals, porpoises, bears, wolves, eagles and other sea birds, and, of course, the stunning natural terrain, even in the areas where there are no glaciers.
Unfortunately we had marginal weather during our time inside the bay. One always hopes for calm, sunny weather every day, but the reality in southeast Alaska is often far different from that. We had to wring as much enjoyment out of each day as we could, regardless of the weather.
For this trip we anchored in North Sandy Cove for two nights, staying an extra day due to bad weather. We also anchored in Blue Mouse Cove for two nights, for convenience, since it provides easy access to the West Arm. And then we spent our last night in Shag Cove. We saw very few other private boats in the bay while we were there, which made it easy to get good, secure anchorages.
We had seen a few sea lions along the way before we got to Glacier Bay. They would come alongside in groups of two or three, seemingly curious about the boat and not afraid of it at all. But inside the bay, as we passed by South Marble Island, sea lions were hauled out there by the hundreds. Cruising by safely and closely, we could easily hear them — and smell them.
Our grandchildren had never seen sea otters before, since we do not have them in the Ketchikan area. They were greatly impressed by the furry little critters who float easily on their back with their feet sticking up and their gray face looking up at everyone.
We stopped at Bartlett Cove briefly on our way out of the bay. Boaters can find fresh water, fuel, showers, laundry and other facilities there.
We made our way back to Juneau with a stop at Funter Bay Marine Park in southern Lynn Canal. I had not been in there before, but we had a great time. The public dock there is somewhat rickety but perfectly safe. The kids had a ball and were able to vent some of the energy that had been pent-up during six days on the boat inside the bay. A group of three or four orcas cruised right by the dock as we were preparing dinner.
In Juneau we put Aliyah and Tyler on a plane back to Ketchikan. Bryan accompanied us the rest of the way home on the boat.
The trip to Ketchikan was, for the most part, enjoyable but uneventful — except for the few scary moments noted in the side bar “Dodging Bullets.” We stopped in Taku Harbor (again), Petersburg, Wrangell and, last, Meyers Chuck before we made it to Ketchikan. Having 10-year-old Bryan along was terrific. He was interested and engaged in the operation of the boat and helped me in many ways. He could crawl around that engine room and get to areas that are no longer accessible to me.
I discovered to my surprise that the dock at Meyers Chuck, which was once owned by the state of Alaska, is now owned by the city of Wrangell, and that the city charges a nominal moorage fee — on the honor system, of course. I guess I missed that little detail when I stopped there in late April.
On our last run, down Clarence Strait, as we approached Ketchikan, we encountered a pod of about a dozen orcas. Lisa and Bryan stood on the foredeck and watched them while I was above with the side panels open trying to snap photos.
Our safe arrival in our home slip at Bar Harbor marked the end of this voyage. It’s always good to get away for an adventure, but it also feels good to get home safely. I hope the kids remember this trip as a great family memory for a long time.
Fun & Games
To pass the long hours between ports of call from Ketchikan to Glacier Bay, Tyler, Bryan and Aliyah spent a lot of time playing Monopoly and watching movies at night. The “no video game” rule was strictly adhered to, however, and the kids kept a journal, so they can look back on the trip many years from now.
Children on Board
Having three children aboard for so many days was indeed a challenge. At 12, 10 and 8, they had a lot of energy, and being cooped up in the relatively tight confines of a boat made it difficult for them to burn up that energy. We found a few ways to help keep them happy and under control at the same time.
Board games. We had several board games for them to play, although Monopoly became their favorite. One game could last two or more hours. Sometimes they got into arguments over the game, so near the end of their time on board they had to stop playing.
Raft rides. They loved going out in the raft, so whenever the weather and circumstances allowed, Tyler and I set it up and I’d let them go out. I made them all wear life jackets, and they carried a handheld VHF, so we could communicate. The Torqeedo electric kicker was just fast enough that they had fun but not fast enough to get into trouble.
Dock fishing. When we were at a dock the kids liked to get out there and try to catch whatever they could. I had two spinning rods available, and tons of spoons and other lures. If they needed help getting a line set up or untangled or whatever, I did whatever was needed to keep them out there fishing. They lost a lot of my gear, but it was well worth the cost to keep them outside and enjoying the environment. Of course they knew the rules: we never kept anything they caught.
Netting. We had a small net with a very fine mesh that could catch small fish, jellyfish and kelp. I taped it to my spare boat hook, which extended to quite a length.
Food and snacks. My wife and I spent a lot of time and money getting them the kinds of foods they like — but also healthy. They ate on a schedule, with designated snack times in the morning and afternoon.
Plenty of sleep. They each had comfortable and warm sleeping quarters, and they got plenty of sleep each day and night.
Journals. I provided them with their own journal, and I required them to make journal entries before bed. They sometimes needed help to remember specific events, but they bought into the idea and seemed enthusiastic about it. I think they will enjoy reading them in the future.
No video games. I wanted them to focus outside the boat as much as possible. They knew from the beginning that video games were out.
Boat chores. Wherever possible and practical, I got them to help with chores around the boat: bumpers and lines, raft setup and take down, gear stowage, meal prep, dishwashing and meal cleanup, and any number of other chores. I rarely had to push them, as they genuinely seemed eager to help.
Movies. We watched movies most nights. Movie selection was always a “negotiation.” The supply of movies was limited and some were not suitable for kids. I bought some suitable movies for them before we left, but my selections only elicited gales of laughter, so I had to return them. I guess I’m out of touch with that generation.
Separation. There were times that I had to separate them, especially on a long run of many hours. I would bring one of them up to the flybridge with me for a 30-minute “shift” and rotate to the next one — alphabetically of course, so no one could claim bias.
Watching for wildlife. Usually I would spot something first, because I was on the flybridge. When I saw something of interest, I immediately notified them via the intercom. They would run out to the foredeck to see whatever I had spotted.
Patience! Certainly a large dose of patience is needed to deal with three young kids on a small boat for about 10 days. I coached them and reminded them many times that we were on this trip in order to enjoy it and to make fun family memories. I constantly encouraged them to help each other and my wife and I, to do whatever they could to make the trip easier and more fun for everyone. I think we were successful.
Any boat trip of this duration is bound to have some close calls. On our trip we had three situations I considered potential trip-enders.
Off Course in Zimovia Strait
As we motored south out of Wrangell, we came into some very shallow areas in Zimovia Strait. I’ve been through the area numerous times over the years, so I know that all will be well if you follow the navigational markers.
As we passed Button Island I was on the VHF radio talking to a neighbor of mine who happened to be traveling in the same area. He asked me about fishing in the area, and I started panning the GPS chartplotter to locate the spot where we had caught some fish in late April. While I was panning the chart, I lost situational awareness. The boat charged ahead at nine and a half knots.
When we closed off our conversation, I looked over to the port side and saw a green navigational marker. The green markers were supposed to be on my starboard side. Then I looked at the depthsounder and saw it was about 14 feet.
I immediately, and quickly, brought the engines to neutral, and then to reverse, powered back out of there in reverse and went back around the green marker, putting it to starboard where it belonged.
My new GPS chartplotter has the ability to take screenshots, so I captured the boat’s track at that time. It clearly shows that I just about clipped a rock pile.
Lesson learned: Pay attention to your course at all times!
Shallow Water in Taku Harbor
On the southbound trip out of Juneau we stopped at Taku Harbor, where I tied to the inside of the main dock, near the end. I checked the water depth when we arrived and the tides for that evening and determined we had plenty of water to stay there for the night. I neglected to check the tides for the next morning.
When we woke up at about 7 a.m., I noticed there was a lot of beach showing, so I turned on the depthsounder at the lower helm. It showed 5.6 feet. Then I checked the tides and saw we still had more than 30 minutes before the minus-4.7-foot low tide at about 7:35 a.m. I made the snap decision to fire up and pull out of there right away. In hindsight, not a good decision.
When we turned the corner at the end of the dock, my depthsounder read 3.2 feet! We didn’t hit bottom and made it out of there safely, but I was really sweating it.
I have since checked the “keel offset” setting on my depthsounder. It was set to plus 3 feet, but I now believe it should have been set to minus 3 feet, so I’m unsure exactly how deep the water was, but I know we barely made it out of there without bottoming out.
Lesson learned: Always check the depth and tides for both the evening and the next day, even at a dock.
Mooring Lines Need to be Secured
We spent our last night out at the dock at Meyers Chuck. When we pulled out the next morning, I had Bryan pull the bumpers and the mooring lines, and when he came up to the flybridge I asked him if all the bumpers and lines were secure. He said they were, and I didn’t check.
Over the past 35 years, I have made many runs down Clarence Strait that were far from calm, but on this day we had a smooth run — so smooth I didn’t leave the flybridge for the entire run down the strait. When we got down to the Caamano Point area, it was so calm I decided to stop and do some bottomfishing. When I came down on deck, I saw that the very long mid line was draped on the side, outside the rails, and was drooping so low it was almost touching the water. If there had been any rough water at all, even some seiner or cruise ship waves, that mooring line would have dropped into the water, and it was long enough that it would surely have gotten fouled in the props.
Lesson learned: Don’t expect a 10-year-old to act like an adult; it’s my responsibility to check up on him.