After Shellie and Randy departed, Frank and I were alone on Ticket to Ride for the first time in nine weeks. Although a sailboat is a small space, TTR felt a bit cavernous and lonely after having friends on board for so long. At the same time, it was nice to have our floating home to ourselves again and to only consider our own schedules.
The forecasted weather in Petersburg for the next few days ranged from partly cloudy to rain, and we needed to spend time catching up with family, business matters and the news, so internet was required. Fortunately, we had already discovered that Alaska has a fantastic library system; there were libraries everywhere and most of them were equipped with free internet. PLUS, the libraries often had beautiful views, comfortable furniture, pretty decor and they were warm and dry.
Petersburg is definitely a fishing town. The official town slogan is “The town that fish built” because the main industry here is fishing and canning.
Petersburg was founded in the late 1800’s by Norwegian immigrant, Peter Buschman, who built a cannery, sawmill, docks and other early buildings. Three additional canneries were built in Petersburg and all four have operated continuously since opening.
By 1902, Petersburg was incorporated and had attracted so many Scandinavian immigrants that the town became known as “Little Norway.”
The Norwegian influence in Petersburg is easy to see in the buildings, the landscaping and the history; the Sons of Norway Hall, the Petersburg Museum which relates history of the town and early Scandinavian families, traditional dance exhibitions held for visitors, iconic designs on top of old poles, etc. Walking around Petersburg reminded me of traveling in parts of Europe.
The biggest fish producers in Petersburg are the 58-foot seiners that harvest salmon, halibut, black cod, king, tanner crab and herring. In 1980, Gordon Jensen resurrected the Petersburg Vessel Owners Association which works to ensure that all the seafood harvested by the Petersburg fleet is done in a sustainable manner which is consistent with the conservation principles of the Alaskan constitution.
Although I cannot speak to the rules of the Association, we did learn that the Alaska Department of Fish and Game regulates the fishing days for salmon. In 2021, the fishermen were allowed to fish two days on and two days off. Every fisherman had to fish and refrain from fishing on the same schedule to insure that the salmon had two solid days to run uninterrupted. Our understanding is that every year, the Department assesses the salmon population and adjusts the fishing rules according to the health of the salmon population.
While traversing Alaska, we saw all types of fishing vessels and in Petersburg there was a board that explained the types of boats. These signs were helpful as they graphically explained the various types of boats we encountered and how much space their gear covered when working.
Although our visit to Petersburg was only 4 nights, it left a strong mark on our memory. Perhaps it was the quaint buildings, or the cleanliness of the town. Perhaps it was how the town embraced its history but also felt current. Perhaps it was the grandeur of the surrounding mountains and the proximity of the mighty glacier. Or maybe it was because we returned to the Enge’s Deli where we ate the best cinnamon rolls we have ever had!
Alas, we had to keep TTR moving along because August had already arrived and we had many miles to cover and unlimited anchorages to visit before leaving Alaska and hopefully (COVID) entering Canada.
We were up early and the morning marine layer made for a spooky departure as we left Gut Bay. The day held two surprises…
The first was that we actually sailed for three hours! We were leaving Baranof Island and crossing the Chatham Straight toward Tebenkof Bay and were able to put up our reacher sail in 9-12 knots of wind at a true wind angle of 135.
The second surprise was encountering pods of whales while we were traveling through the Chatham Straight! I tried to get photos of the tails so I could compare these whales to the ones from Hawaii because I wondered if we had traveled with some of these huge animals across the Pacific Ocean. Reminder: whale tails are unique, like fingerprints, and whales are identified by their tail markings.
Shelter Cove was our destination in Tebenkof Bay. This anchorage had many sea otters so we didn’t bother putting out the crab pots. The otter population is quite large in Alaska and fisherman/lobstermen think they are out of control. Since we don’t make our living chasing the same food the otters eat, we found them pretty cute, especially when they would float on their backs with one otter holding another.
Our next stop was a mere eight miles away at Gingerbread Bay. This anchorage was very large and the water absolutely flat. We took a dinghy tour of the anchorage and looked for a trail that was supposed to lead to the Afleck Canal, but we were unable to locate the trail. Frank and I think the hardest part of most hikes is finding the beginning of the trail since many places we visit are not well used. We had our first dinghy mishap in Gingerbread Bay…. the engine clipped a submerged rock that was impossible to see with the sun in our eyes. Bit of damage to the skeg but the engine still runs just fine, thankfully.
The next day was another quick hop of only 9 miles to Exploration Basin. Although we read the SW corner was a good anchorage, we found it a bit tight, poorly charted and exposed to the north. So we anchored slightly north of that area and found an excellent, sandy spot in 40’ of water.
Exploration Basin was a super fun place to play. We took turns SUPing, then decided a picnic lunch was in order since the day was exceptionally sunny and warm. We packed some goodies and landed on a nearby island that had an outcropping of land that was connected to the bigger island by a gravel beach. We gathered wood and set up a campfire on the rocks, then sat and enjoyed lunch of wraps, chips and carrots. Of course lunch was ended with s’mores over the fire.
We spent some time splayed out like lizards on the sun heated rocks, enjoying the unusually warm day. While compiling wood for the fire, we noticed wild blueberries so we all picked deeply colored, plump blueberries and bagged plenty to use for baking treats.
I could have stayed in Exploration Basin several days, but the weather was shaping up for a perfect rounding of Cape Decision, so we had to prepare to leave again the next morning.
The trip from Exploration Basin to Warren Cove was six hours of motoring to cover 43 miles on a sunny day that brought us to a well protected spot and our first sand beach in Alaska! We anchored in 50’ of water, then went to shore to explore.
What a treat to walk barefoot on Alaskan sand, getting a natural pedicure while observing the “rubble” on the beach. Unlike Hawaii, this beach wasn’t scattered with seashells, but with huge logs and smooth boulders. We crossed fresh water rivulets escaping into the bay with starfish resting on the sandy floor.
Perhaps we have read too many detective novels, but guess what we saw! For those who might be concerned….we did not find anything attached to this “finger.”
Our consensus was that Warren Cove warranted an extra night so we hung out and did a bit of fishing, SUPing and more beach walking. Standing on the transom steps of TTR, we managed to catch enough halibut to top up the freezer. We kept two halibut that weighed between 8-10 pounds.Yum!
We also took turns in the dinghy fishing some deeper areas. Frank and I dropped our hooks and immediately caught rockfish which were apparently plentiful and hungry because they bit the minute our lures went deep in the water. However, not all rockfish were legal, and we weren’t sure which we could keep, so we released the two we hooked.
Interestingly, if you pull a rock fish from deep in the water, their bladder inflates and they are unable to release the air and descend again. Unaided, they will die on the surface. However, the fishing store in Sitka prepared us for this possibility. We had a special weighted hook that we quickly attached to the rockfish. Once the hook was attached, we dropped the fish and hook back into the water and the hook pulled the bloated fish to the bottom where he can expel the air. Once we could tell the weight had pulled the fish deep into the water, we reeled in the hook which is designed to flip and release the fish.
Happily, this method worked and we didn’t see a dead rockfish surface! But, that was the end of our fishing in those deep waters. There was no point in fishing and traumatizing the fish when we didn’t know which ones we could keep.
Warren Cove also delivered a fabulous whale experience! While out in the dinghy, we saw a whale near the shallow shoreline, so we went a little closer and were able to watch this whale feeding! It was very interesting to see the whale move in a circle, then a tighter circle. Next he sort of swept upward with his flipper, then up came his open mouth for a quick ton or two of food! It was truly fascinating to watch.
Our departure from Warren Cove was marked by a thick fog which remained during our 32 mile trip to La Bouchere Bay. Alaskan waters are frequently sprinkled with huge logs that must be avoided so we never traveled in the dark and someone was always on watch while we traveled. During this foggy trip, we had to pay close attention to the water as the floating debris could come up quickly and we didn’t want to damage Ticket to Ride.
We were happy to drop anchor in La Bouchere and relinquish our log watch. The guide book mentioned a hike along a rarely traveled road that is a graveyard of abandoned cars. Although usually walking on a road dotted with rusting cars isn’t high on our list of enticing activities, we were all very ready to get off the boat and unwind by taking a casual walk.
True to the description, there were many abandoned cars. We spent our time deciding which of the vehicles we would choose to restore…. does one of them call to you?
The following day we motored 40 miles to St John Harbour which was simply a place to stage our passage through the Wrangle Narrows which required us to time the currents to pass safely. We saw an interesting truck transport which looked like a homemade barge being guided across the water by two service boats.
Our final stop with Shellie and Randy was Petersburg where we arrived the following day, August 2nd. After two weeks of our own cooking, we chose to eat lunch out at Enge’s Deli which Shellie and Randy remembered from their visit to St. Petersburg. The food was great, so we understand why they remembered Enge’s Deli. Frank and I agree that the cinnamon rolls we bought one morning from Enge’s are the best we have ever eaten!
Shellie is definitely great at research and when all of us talked about how fun it would be to take a float plane tour of a glacier, Shellie kicked it into gear the moment we found cell service. Her first few calls netted nothing, but then Shellie received a return call while we were chowing down at Enge’s…. she had landed us a tour for that afternoon at 2 pm!
BIG KUDDOS to Shellie for setting up this tour. Our pilot, Scott, took us up in his 1953 DeHavailland Beaver for a one hour tour. The cost was $200 per person and worth the expense! Scott was an excellent pilot and he also is a hunting guide, so he could tell us a bit about the area we flew over.
Seeing the glaciers from above was nothing short of spectacular. At times the glacier looked like a giant Baked Alaskan dessert after it had been flamed. (I’m probably the only person who thinks that.) The undulating surface punctuated with spires and holes was stunning to see.
I could almost feel the movement of the water before it froze around this rock and although the environment is fierce, there is something compelling about it that made me wish I could walk on the glacier.
Flying over the glacier allowed a much better perspective of how much area these ice masses currently encompass. With all of the atmospheric changes occurring and glaciers melting more rapidly now, we are very glad we were able to see them.
For the record, taking off and landing from the float plane was as cool as we anticipated. I would love to take another float plane tour. And how amazing is it that the plane and engine were built in 1953? That is even older than we are!
This was our final day with Shellie and Randy as they had flights out the next morning. We ate dinner at a local pizza joint and talked about the glacier tour and the two weeks we had spent traveling together. It was really hard to believe that our trip together was ending when we could still remember the night we were sitting on s/v Moondance and Randy with Shellie in Hawaii and they first mentioned visiting us in Alaska!
One thing is for certain; we packed a LOT into these two weeks and we were really happy that we had this time to spend with Moondance!
Polar Plunge Report:
Hawk Inlet: 57°
Pavlov Harbor: 54°
Pavlov Harbor: 54°
Takatz Bay: 51°
Gut Bay: 56°
Shelter Cove: 57°
Gingerbread Bay: 56°
Exploration Basin: 57°
Warren Cove: 57° and 60°
La Bouchere Bay 51°
Thank you for spending time reading our blog. Alaska was filled with so much beauty and constant movement that it is hard to whittle down the number of pictures and information in each journal. Looking through pictures, Alaska is even prettier than I sometimes remember. But the feeling of utter serenity I felt when walking through ancient forests: that memory I can recall clearly. If you would like to hear from us more often, please check our Facebook page or Instagram.