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Thursday, February 8, 2018

Receiving Packages While Underway

June 12, 2017 Receiving Packages – Not

One reason we wanted to spend some time in Seward was to receive some packages of parts and supplies.  This sounds like such a simple thing, but it can be one of the most complicated things when cruising.  Getting something shipped to you takes time, and to complicate further it can take a range of time, especially when shipping to a more out of the way place.  I remember one FexEx overnight shipment to the Bahamas that took a week, and that was only after tracking down the package ourselves and going to get it rather than wait for delivery.  And different carriers have different levels of performance in different areas.  So if you need to get a shipment and it will take 1 week to 10 days to ship, then you need to know where you are going to be 10 days ahead of time.  That’s something we seldom know when we are actively cruising, and even when we think we know, it often changes.  Then there is another challenge even once you know where to ship something.  Who do you ship it to?  In the bigger Alaskan towns where are shipping services that can receive and hold packaged.  Frontier Shipping in Ketchikan is a great example.  And sometimes marina offices will accept and hold packages, but we have found this to vary quite widely with maybe 50%-75% accepting packages, and 25%-50% not.  Seward is such a place, leaving only one choice – General Delivery through the Post Office.  Now that’s usually not a bad option since in Alaska the US Postal Service is typically the fastest and cheapest way to ship stuff, so that’s what we did.  As soon as we decided to divert to Seward, I placed a few orders for stuff, knowing that we would be around for a while, considering our side trip to Denali.

Here’s what happened.

First, as many of you probably know, you can’t pick a carrier for shipping via Amazon.  They do the picking.  Now you would think that when you order something with a shipping address of “General Delivery, Seward, AK”, Amazon’s computers would know that such a shipment must go via the USPS, not FexEx, and not UPS.  But no, they don’t know that, so shipped the package via UPS.  When it didn’t show up, I starting tracking and discovered this.  UPS said there was no such delivery address, and Amazon could only suggest that I go pick it up at UPS.  Well, that would have meant renting a car and driving about 5hrs round trip.  I don’t think so.  So I just let UPS give up and return the package back to Amazon where they credited my account.

Next, despite a discussion and confirmation via email and phone call about the package shipping via USPS, the next vendor still managed to ship to my billing address (home address) instead of the Seward post office.  So that product went to our house, and sat there for the next two months.  Brilliant.

Last was a package that was shipping from BC where of course there is no USPS.  So the very helpful company came up with a plan to ship via DHL to a dealer of theirs in Juneau, and that dealer would then reship to me via the USPS.  It sounded like a good plan, but the shipment was delayed, and DHL took longer than expected, and the package didn’t get to Juneau in time to reliably get forwarded to Seward before we planned to leave.  So rather than continue to wait around, we just had them send it to Sitka where the harbor office was happy to accept and hold packages, and we would get it on our return trip.  But now our return trip had to include a stop in Sitka, whether that made sense or not.

In all of this I think we did get one thing we ordered, but three didn’t make it.  Cruising isn’t always rainbows and unicorns.

Denali Side Trip

June 5, 2017 Mount Denali Side Trip

After nearly 2 months on the boat, we decided that a side trip would be a nice change of pace, so we rented a car and headed up to Denali National Park for a few days.  But this posed an interesting challenge.

The dock we were on didn’t have power for guests, so we were running our generator once a day, and otherwise operating like at anchor.  That’s no big deal, and something we do from time to time, but it assumes you are on board, able to monitor the batteries, and run the generator as needed.  Our trip would take us away for 4 days, and that’s too long for the batteries to last with the fridge and freezer running.

This left one option which was to leave the generator running the whole time we were away.  That’s normally something I wouldn’t do simply because if there is a failure of some sort, you want to be in a position to respond.  Another consideration is that you generally don’t want to run a generator for extended periods of time with a very light load, and that’s exactly what we would be doing.  After much head scratching, we decided to just go for it, fired up the generator, turned on the reverse cycle heat instead of the diesel heat to increase the load on the generator, and call it a day.  After all, commercial boats run generators 24x7, and we have a commercial generator.  If you walk the docks, more than a few boats have generators purring away all the time.

The drive up to Denali is interesting.  Heading to Anchorage, you parallel the Turnagain Arm which is a branch off the cook inlet that leads to Anchorage, and forms the upper boundary of the Kenai Peninsula.  The upper 25 miles or so of the Turnagain Inlet is a giant tidal flat that floods and runs dry with every tide change.  I don’t’ think I’ve ever seen a tide flood so far horizontally.

Denali is unlike other National Parks that we have been to because all of the access roads are quite a distance away from Denali itself, and there are very few places where you can even see the mountain.  The only road in is closed to general traffic and you need to ride a bus.  Along the way there are two vistas of the mountain, including at the end of the access road, but even then you are still over 20 miles away, and it’s a full day on the bus to get in and back.

Since we had a car, we decided to drive in as far as allowed on the access road, but to increase our chances of spotting wildlife, we decided to go really early.  Of course it’s pretty much always light, so we got up at 3:00 and headed out.  It paid off, and we enjoyed this encounter with a cow moose and twin calves.

The next day we decided to splurge and take a plane tour up into the mountains, including a landing on one of the glaciers in view of Denali.  The weather was crystal clear, and the views simply stunning.  I’ll let the pictures tell the rest of the story.

After a great visit ashore, we returned to the boat to a generator happily purring away, and no problems on board.

Crossing to Prince William Sound

May 31, 2017 Crossing the Gulf to Prince William Sound

After returning to Bartlett Cove, we realized that we had a good weather window over the next several days, and the we should get going across the Gulf of Alaska to Prince William Sound.  So we grabbed a cab into Gustavus for some provisioning, and departed the next morning.

The trip is about 350 miles to the Hinchinbrook Entrance, which is about a day and a half.  So an AM departure means arriving early evening the next day.  Along the way, there is really only one bailout point about half way in Yakutat, but our weather forecast looked good so it was a backup plan only.

On the way up during the first day, we passed Mt Fairweather which is over 15,000’ high, with the Grand Plateau Glacier dripping down to the sea in front of it.  The picture below is my attempt at adding scale to the whole scene.  The mountain peak is 15,000’.  The glacier begins at about 10,000’.  The primary flow starts around 6,000’ (note, this glacier is still over a mile above sea level), and the face at the sea extends up about 2000’.

Here we are at 23:15.  The sun is below the horizon, but it never fully gets dark, which makes overnight running really very pleasant.   

We had fantastic conditions for the run and as we approached the Hinchinbrook Entrance, we decided to just keep on going outside the sound and continue on straight to Seward.   That meant one more overnight, and by 13:30 on June 2nd we were tied up in Seward harbor.

Glacier Bay

May 19, 2017

Departing Pelican the next morning, we arrived at Bartlett Cove in the early afternoon and went ashore for the mandatory visitor orientation at the ranger station.

Visiting Glacier Bay during the main season requires a permit, and there is a limit to the number of boats allowed in the park at any one time.  Two big cruise ships are allowed, a couple of the smaller expedition cruise boats, and maybe 20 (I don’t recall the exact number) private boats.  That may seem like a lot of boats, but the bay is over 60 miles to it’s head, and has at least two major forks with dozens of other smaller forks.  Seeing only one or two other boats over the course of a day is typical.  There also are closures of certain areas at different times of year to prevent disturbing breeding sea mammals.

Getting a permit is first come first serve, and can be a challenge.  But, before June 1st, no permits are required and the park is open.  We decided to jump on this and spend about 10 days exploring.

Our timing at Bartlett cove couldn’t have been better.  Over the past years a new tribal center had been build, and the next day was a dedication ceremony and installation of two totems that had been carved for the center.  The tribe mostly reside in Hoonah now, and two boats came over with people in all sorts of ceremonial dress.  It was quite the event.

The next day we were off into the bay with an obligatory swing past Marble Island to see (and smell) the sea lions and the puffins, then off to South Sandy Cove to anchor.  But the protection wasn’t good, so we moved around to North Sandy Cove and found a much better spot for a blow of a night.

In our past visits much of the Muir Inlet has been closed, but not this time, so up we went.  We then ventured off into the Wachusett inlet and found a place to anchor up near the head.  Going up these glacial inlets is like watching time move backwards.  At the entrance, where the glacial face as been gone for decades, the shoreline is lush with vegetation and trees, all aged commensurate with the glacier’s departure.  Then as you go in further mile by mile, the trees get smaller and slowly disappear completely leaving only brush.  These areas have been free of the glacier for less time, and treed have just started to grow.  And as you approach the terminal moraine, it’s like a barren moonscape with little to no vegetation at all – just sand, gravel, and rocks.  At the head of the Wachusett Inlet is the Carroll Glacier, which has receded back miles from the water.

Carroll Glacier off in the distance

View up the Muir Inlet

Ice outflow from the McBride Glacier (not in view)

After Muir Inlet we headed back to North Sandy Cove for the night, then up to the Tarr Inlet the next day to anchor at Reid Inlet and the Reid Glacier.    Lots of wildlife was spotted along the way.

While anchored in Reid Inlet, I witnessed an eagle taking a duck.   It's first pass injured the duck so it couldn't fly.  Then on subsequent passes it tried to grab the duck, but it kept diving to keep free of the eagle.  Despite the ducks efforts, with it's injuries it was only a matter of time before the eagle won the battle.  Below is the eagle finally carrying away the duck.

Then up to Margerie Galcier to hang out until the first cruise ship got close, then down to Lamplugh Glacier where we found a small sea mount that you can drop an anchor on for a nice lunch break.  Most of the surrounding area is way too deep to anchor.  Then off the Blue Mouse Cove for the night.

Margerie Glacier

After Blue Mouse we headed back to Bartlett Cove, with another obligatory swing by Marble Island to see the sea lions strutting their stuff.

To Glacier Bay via Pelican, AK

May 16, 2017

Now back on our own, it was time to start working our way towards our ultimate destination of Prince William Sound.  Phase one was to get up to a good staging area for departure across the Gulf of Alaska.  We picked Glacier Bay and Bartlett Cove, figuring we could kill two birds with one stone, getting in a visit to Glacier Bay along the way.

Our trip took us outside of Chicagof Island, in for a quick overnight in Falcon Arm, then back out to the Lisianski Strait to Lost Cove for another overnight, then on to the Lisianski Inlet and down to Pelican, AK.  Back in Port McNeil we met up with a couple who had recently bought a boat and were moving it to their home port of Pelican.  We had never been there before, so decided to go check it out.

Pelican is a really interesting place, with buildings and “road” built almost entirely on pilings clinging to the steep shoreline.  This is not unusual in Alaska where the shore is often a cliff face that drops very deep into the water, very fast.  Our dock space a couple of year ago in Ketchikan was right at the foot of the main road (which is on pilings), and was in 100’ of water.  And the “road” in Pelican is really more of a sideway/boardwalk, with all transport via ATVs and UTVs.  We had a nice walk up and down the boardwalk, dropped our moorage fee in the harbormaster’s drop box, ran into the people we had met in Port McNeill (Pelican is a small town), and got a nice lunch at the one restaurant.

Exploring the Sitka Area with Friends

May 7, 2017

Our good friends Mick (aka “Fin-man”) and Angie joined us for a week of cruising around the greater Sitka area, and learning how to fish.  And just to be clear, that was Mick teaching us how to fish, not the other way around.  We departed Sitka in the early afternoon, out through the straits, to hit the late afternoon slack at Sergius Narrows.  Our timing was good, and just past the narrows we pulled into Deep Bay to anchor for the night.

The next morning we departed at a leisurely hour continuing out towards Peril Strait and Hoonah Sound.  Turning into Hoonah Sound, we went all the way to the end of the South Arm and anchored by a spit of land that separates the North and South Arms of the sound.

Enroute, we stopped by a sea  mound and quickly caught a couple of rock fish for dinner.    Now Mick is a multi-talented guy.  Not only does he make a good fin-man when help is needed installing stabilizers on a boat, but as demonstrated by our effortless catch, he can fish and teach how to fish.  But that’s not all.  He is also a master chef, so those rock fish provided double pleasure; once when caught, and again when eaten.

And just to top things off, we spotted a brown bear crossing the land spit.

The next day we just hung out in the anchorage, fished, kayaked, and generally enjoyed to location.  That evening, we got another treat after a brief rain shower.  Not a bad view.

From Hoonah Sound, we went a little way back out Peril Strait to Appleton Cove and anchored up in a nice corner, and enjoyed the location, caught and ate some halibut, and enjoyed the company.

After a night in Appleton Cove, we started to work our way back towards Sitka, anchoring once again in Deep Bay so we could catch the early AM passage through Sergius Narrows.   We made our early pass at about 06:30, and were back in Sitka by 10:00 with plenty of time to go explore the town a bit, and of course get dinner at Ludwigs.

An excellent time was had by all.