Mom, dad and daughter spend a summer soaking up Southeast Alaska and the Inside Passage.
Dougal and Jen Gardyne and their daughter, Cassidy, joined the Slowboat Flotilla to Alaska last year on their now-former Nordhavn 40, Cassidy. We write “former” because the Gardynes now own a Nordhavn 56 motorsailer they plan to pick up in Florida and cruise through the Panama Canal and up the west coast of North America.
We’re sharing part of their adventure from the summer of 2018 — the flotilla (slowboat.com) shoved off from Roche Harbor and turned around at Juneau — here. To read about their entire trip, visit mvcassidy.com. It’s a fun read.
Ketchikan to Meyers Chuck
Finding Nature’s Playground
We were musing about the juxtaposition between the isolated Foggy Bay anchorage we woke up in and the frenzied Tongass Narrows as we approached Ketchikan in the early afternoon. Almost as soon as we approached the narrows, seaplanes came into sight and we were dodging fishing boats and cruise ships. After several long, quiet days at anchor, I enjoyed taking in the busy scene.
We spent most of our time in Ketchikan catching up on errands and completing projects. We docked at Bar Harbor, which is about one and a half miles north of the main downtown area. Everything we needed was located within three miles of the boat on the main road, Tongass Road, which runs through the town. We had our electric bikes to get us around, but a city bus runs conveniently up and down Tongass Road (free within a certain zone).
Right after customs visited the boat and cleared us, I geared up in warm running clothes and went for a jog through cruise ship central (the downtown area). I was dodging tourists the entire time, but it was a great way to scan the town. Later we went back on bikes to visit the Tongass Trading Co. in search of fishing tackle and foul-weather gear. We found ourselves at Tongass Trading Co. several times over the next three days as the weather really tested the effectiveness of our gear!
The weather settled a bit the next morning, so it was time for the Slowboat Flotilla to move on to the next stop: Kasaan. In the 1700s the Haida people migrated north, settled old Kasaan and later moved a few miles to Kasaan. We learned a ton more about the Haidas at this stop.
Laura, one of the Slowboat leads, invited us over to meet her friend Stormy, one of the lead carvers in town. Stormy led the effort to restore the longhouse once built by Chief Sonihat. Restore is a bit of an understatement. Laura later showed me pictures of the project and it looked as though Stormy had to start from the ground up. He described the process. Three men labored longer than four years, piece by piece, the traditional way without the aid of modern tools. The longhouse site is impressive by itself, and even more so when you understand all that went into it.
Later we walked to Stormy’s house, just up the path. He has been working on carving a traditional canoe, only his third canoe, but it looks amazing. The process has three main steps: identifying the right tree, carving the tree and steaming to shape the tree.
Stormy described the process of identifying the right tree. The tree must be straight, the right height, and show no signs of cracking where water could leak in and rot the tree.
Once the right tree has been selected, its time for carving. He showed us a couple of small logs in various stages of carving to demonstrate the process. First, the ends are trimmed in a vee shape. Then, he saws across the length of the log, creating a smooth surface. And finally, he scoops out the insides to hollow out the canoe. He showed us some of the tools that are used in the process and let us try them.
Dodging Bergie Bits
We left Meyers Chuck and headed for the glaciers. We made stops at Wrangell and Petersburg along the way. Both are quaint fishing towns, with all the necessary services for cruisers — fuel, groceries, restaurants — all conveniently located near the marinas.
From Petersburg, we took a day trip to LeConte glacier. Sam and Ralph came with us on Cassidy so we could take turns exploring closer on the dinghy while someone stayed on board the big boat. The large chunks of ice that break of the glaciers — a process called calving — and float out in the narrow passages make it difficult, if not impossible, to bring the big boat close to the glacier, and anchoring is not an option due to the depth. We weren’t able to get up to the glacier because of the dense flow of bergie bits, but we played around near some serious iceberg chucks.
From Petersburg, we waved goodbye to civilization, as we would make our way to Juneau for the next week through some very remote locations. We stayed overnight at Pybus and Tracy Arm Cove on our way to Fords Terror.
Entering Fords Terror takes some planning, because it can only be entered at high slack. The water rushes wildly through the narrow entrance outside of the slack tide, and the shoals on either side are exposed at low tide. The area was named after a naval crew who paddled into the narrows in the late 1800s, only to be stuck for six hours waiting out the tidal rapids. High slack on the night we stayed was at 8 p.m., so we spent the day playing around the icebergs at Endicott Arm.
We were in awe as we passed through Fords Terror, stumbling over ourselves to snap pictures, take video, and simply stare at the backdrop that was unfolding before us. We followed the very narrow passage between two towering walls with several waterfalls along the way to our anchorage.
We spent two nights at Fords Terror so we would have a full day to explore the passages. In the morning, the group took a dinghy tour of the area. We discovered a hidden waterfall, ran the dinghies through the rapids, and circled around a huge iceberg.
Tenakee Springs, Alaska
Independence Day in Alaska
I don’t know if it was the perfect 75 – degree weather or the upcoming July 4 holiday or the wonderful welcome by Cassidy’s friend Ila and her family (who we met in Juneau a few weeks previous), but Tenakee is the type of town that I want to bottle up and take with me. I fantasized about staying for the entire summer. It is difficult to capture the charm of this little spot with words.
We arrived on July 3, just in time to watch another boat take the last spot on the transient dock. After several unreturned calls to the harbormaster, we had all but given up when we heard “Bakery calling Cassidy, over” on the radio. I recognized the voice right away. Chris, Ila’s mom, tried calling the harbormaster on a landline for us and came down to the harbor to direct us into a spot. A local fisherman was out for a few days, so we were in. No sooner were the docklines tied than we were making our way up the dock with Chris to find Ila.
The town is situated along one dirt path. Homes on the north side of the road are built up against the hillside and the homes along the south side overlook the inlet.
Although the path continues on for miles, the main part of town is about a 1-mile stretch with the harbor and the library marking each end. The town center includes a surprisingly well-stocked general store, a post offi ce and a bakery. Ila’s family runs the bakery and lives upstairs.
The next day was July 4. Tenakee really knows how to celebrate Independence Day! The day starts with a parade at 11:30. The girls were dressed as cows, towed in a cart by Chris and Susan. A sign on the side of the cart read “Cows Caught for Beef … Oh No!” Darius, Ila’s dad, followed in a festively decorated bicycle. The parade was led by a fire truck that was followed by families on decorated ATVs or kids on bikes.
We all wandered over to the potluck after the parade. Potluck is an understatement. This was a feast: hamburgers, hotdogs, crab, halibut, salmon, potato salads and more treats than one could imagine. Someone even makes ice cream for the town every July 4: salmon berry ice cream made with berries that are picked locally. Delish!
The entire afternoon was filled with games. The girls participated in the fishing game, running races, the partner underwear race, the egg toss, the water balloon toss and the tug-of-war. Swept by the festive spirit, Dougal and I even participated in the games! We partnered in the underwear race against Chris and Darius. To participate, each partner steps into one leg opening of a giant pair of underwear and races to the finish line. I was certain we would end up in a face plant in the dirt, but we made it safely across the finish line. By the time they wrapped up the games, we were all sticky with sweat from the heat, eggs, dust and dirt. This tired bunch would have to head home for a shower and a nap.
Ell Cove, Alaska
And Along Came Dinner
When we were in Sitka, I broke down and finally bought some fish. Dougal was exasperated. “You are really going to buy fish?”
“Trust me,” I told him, “as soon as I do, you will catch one.”
I’ll get back to this. First, our experience in Ell Cove.
We made our way from Sitka to Ell Cove over three days. We could have done it in a day, but we took our time waiting out the rapids at Sergius Narrows and ducking for shelter from the 40-knot winds in Chatham Strait. After all, we are getting used to the quiet nights at anchor.
We stopped in Ell Cove to visit the Hidden Falls Hatchery. Once again, we were in awe of the anchorage. There was only one other boat when we arrived and the anchorage looked to be about the size of a bathtub. There is a very narrow opening to the anchorage, so you feel like you are in your own little world.
Once we got back to the anchorage from the hatchery, another boat crew we frequently run into, the Salty Dawg folks, rode up on their dinghy to say hello. They asked if we had seen the cubs fishing for salmon over at the hatchery and showed off the photos they had captured. They recommended we wait until morning to head over, because the bears are often more bold after hours when the hatchery team is not around. We decided we would head over first thing in the morning.
It was going to be a quiet night. We fired up a movie, the three of us curled up on the couch under a fuzzy blanket. Suddenly Dougal hopped up from his seat when he saw the fishing rod tip bending a bit. When he got outside, he appeared so nonchalant that we thought nothing of it. We thought it might be kelp. But soon he hollered to us that he had a fish on! He caught a 40-pound halibut. For the next two hours we fetched zippered freezer bags, dealt with fish guts, and filleted and cleaned the halibut.
Anan Bay Wildlife Observatory was one of the most memorable stops on our trip. Sixty permits are available per day during peak bear season (July and August), and we were lucky enough to secure a spot. It takes a bit of planning to get there, given its remote location and unsafe anchorage. And our visit was not without incident.
We arrived the day before our permits and found an anchorage with secure holding just 6 miles across the channel at Fool’s Inlet. The name likely warned off other boaters, because we were the only boat in the large inlet. Despite its name, we found it to be a safe anchorage. We dropped the dinghy and crossed the channel to plan our landing for the next day.
The next morning we were ready with our permits in hand … but the anchor and currents were not agreeing. After several attempts, we decided to motor around to the other side of the cove. From there we would be able to hike the half-mile path that leads to the ranger station. We secured the dinghy with a stern anchor attached to a device called an “anchor buddy” that is really a long bungee cord that pulled the boat out into deeper water after we got out on the beach. We tied the bowline off to a tree on shore and the anchor buddy pulled the line out to deeper water.
Dougal was careful to watch the depths and to try to account for the large tidal exchange. And we were off to see the bears.
The observatory was amazing. We met the ranger at the ranger station and he gave us the quick bear tutorial. He told us to make a lot of noise on our three-quarters- of-a-mile walk to the observatory, to avoid catching bears by surprise, and also to keep our bear spray ready. He said the bears often use the path to transit down to the lagoon to catch fish. He also reminded us what to do if we encounter a bear:
• Talk to them to let them know we are human.
• Don’t run.
• Lie flat on the ground if approached aggressively.
We did not see any bears on the path, but we were welcomed by several black bears at the observatory. We sat for an hour or so, watching as a mama bear nursed her cubs, several bears went fishing and other bears lazily wandered along the rocky hillside. It was amazing to be so close to the bears, yet seemingly unnoticed by them.
After we got our fill of bear fun, we wandered back to the beach. And found … the dinghy high and dry. Luckily there was no damage, but we had to wait about two hours for the tide to rise before we could leave. As I told Dougal, at least it was the dinghy and not the big boat!