Dipsy explores Glacier Bay, encountering grizzly, notes from Gustavus
Thursday July 8th, 1999
Sailing is a lot of work, particularly when you motor much of the time, like we do, and then consume a large dinner at 22:00, like we do. Consequently, we were up by 11:30, and hauled anchor from Reid Glacier by 12:10.
We turned port toward Johns Hopkins Inlet, and passed by Lamplugh Glacier only 3-1/2 miles down the road. Compared to Reid, Lamplugh stretches over 12 miles up into the mountains, or glacial icefield ecosystem, as the park service would prefer. Lamplugh's most notable feature, an ice cave on its face, channels a rushing torrent of muddy water from deep underneath its surface, which shoots from the entrance to the cave out into the icy water. More vocal than its neighbor Reid, Lamplugh makes loud, booming cracks and explosions. Maneuvering to within 1/4 mile of its face (the park service indicates that this is a safe distance), we stop, shut the motor, and listen. Lamplugh replies with unearthly sounds.
A little over two miles west we turn port around Jaw Point toward Johns Hopkins Glacier. Although Johns Hopkins Inlet extends over five miles in from Jaw Point, the approach is blocked with thousands of small icebergs, measuring a foot or two in length and diameter. Consequently, we can only approach within 3-1/2. The outside temperature drops 10-15 degrees, and all of us wear winter hats, gloves, vests, and whatever we can find to keep warm.
Shutting the engine down allows us to drift among the icebergs and view the glacier from a respectable distance. We take turns rowing in the dingy, down low on the water where it's colder and the ice is closer and more substantial. Although we captured John Muir with 20 or 30 photographs, Dave Mumper wins the photo prize, although his subject matter appeared through serendipity.
Dave says, "I rowed out to a big iceberg, and about the time I arrived there this little harbor seal popped up. I didn't know he was there. I just went out to get a picture of the boat with the iceberg in the foreground, and then he popped up with those big bug eyes and started cavorting in this little crevasse in the iceberg. What I realize, now, is that this pup must have been frightened. I don't know if he was afraid of me or something else, but he got up and hid in the back of the crevasse. So I just approached slowly, took several photos, and then backed slowly off."
Johns Hopkins Inlet is closed to pleasure boats and kayaks during May and June when the seal pups are born. We arrived only several days after the inlet had been reopened to the public, and so Dave was most likely the first human, raft-borne, bipod this little pup had ever seen.
After winding our way back out through the ice floes and out of Johns Hopkins Inlet, we headed north and then northwest into Tarr Inlet where we found an anchorage only 2-1/2 miles from Grand Pacific Glacier, and only 1-1/2 miles from Margerie Glacier. It was a front seat view and we had it all to ourselves.
Being of the adventurous sorts, Dave and I rowed to shore for a stroll in the tundra and a hike up the mountain to gain some perspective on our position in the bay, and in life. We would have remained in the tundra longer, but the Alaskan mosquitoes were hungry, swarming, landing, and biting.
Friday July 9th
When I looked out the window towards land around 8:00 this morning, my attention riveted to the large moving brown lump on shore. Specifically, it was two ursus arctos (subspecies horribilis) specimens, in their prime. One of my goals for this trip was to see a grizzly bear in the wild, and I now had two of them in my sites. From my limited knowledge of grizzly bears, it appeared to be a young cub followed by a large female. I could determine this because the parent was following the child, as is often the case with Homo sapiens. They lumbered along the beach, and then up into the hill--where Dave and I had been tundra trekking the previous evening. The event made me recall something Dave had said to me while we were tromping through the brush. Being an experienced lifelong forester with Weyerhauser, and someone who spent much of his professional life crawling through the woods and observing it in close detail, Dave explained that, "The chances of us meeting a grizzly out here is slim to none." Darn good thing he was right, at the time.
The grizzly bears were visible only about a minute or two. And sorry, I have no photos to share of this experience. There was only time for one camera, so I opted for the video.
Bears were followed by breakfast, and then, at noon, we started a slow counter-clockwise tour around the end of Tarr Inlet. We first crossed Margerie Glacier--a clean white & blue glacier that stretches over 17 miles long and a mile wide at its terminus. Directly in front of it, we cut the engine to hear its thunderous internal explosions. Dipsy enjoyed it immensely.
Dipsy, who is accompanying me on this and future sailing expeditions, is a tele-tubby given to me by my daughter Erica this past Christmas. As we started our fly-by of Margerie Glacier, Dipsy emerged from the cockpit, and glimpsing the glacier, smiled broadly from the safety of the cockpit. Dipsy liked the fact that he was the only bright green tele-tubby around. It made him feel special.
Our pass by Grand Pacific Glacier wasn't as spectacular as Margerie. Although probably the largest glacier we have seen, GPG, blackened from dirt and rubble, wasn't looking too grand.
We spent the remainder of the afternoon motoring out of Glacier Bay, via the route we had come in. Only this time we were accompanied by a solid soaking rain. (Dave 'Woodsy' Mumper classified it as a 'dry rain.') By 19:15 we had anchored in Shag Cove inside of Geikie Inlet. Austin Powers has never been here, but he should have. Shag Cove is a narrow little inlet, only about six hundred yards wide, with high green and rock mountains on three sides. Outside of the rain, it was another picture perfect anchorage, and we had private reservations.
Saturday July 10th
More rain, and lots of it. We motored back to Bartlett Cove under gray, rain-soaked skies. The day was uneventful with the exception that, approaching Bartlett Cove, we passed two pods of humpbacks along the shoreline. The first pod included six whales. (I have now officially lost count of the number of humpbacks that I've seen on this trip.) The second humpback pod was a bit of a false alarm, it consisted of 4-5 orcas. We have subsequently learned that the humpbacks feast on krill in Alaskan waters, and do not eat at all on the trip down to (and back from) either Hawaii or the Baha Peninsula. How something that large can survive on something that small is beyond me. (A krill is slightly larger than a sesame seed.)
19:15 -- anchored securely in Bartlett Cove.
Sunday July 11th
More rain. To fight the drizzle, we accomplished six important things today: 1) slept, 2) breakfasted, 3) napped, 4) lunched, 5) napped, 6) consumed dinner. Reading books came in 7th.
Monday July 12th
Jon flies out from nearby Gustavus (pronounced Gus-TAY-vus) today at 17:45. We left Bartlett Cove at 11:00 and tied up at the long pier stretching out from Gustavus at 15:20, a distance of 20 nautical miles.
Gustavus has one taxi company, which is relatively amazing when you consider that the population is about 400 people. Having found the taxi's phone number scrawled on the inside of the phone booth at the end of the pier, we tried several times to call them. On the first attempt, they indicated that there was an empty cab in the parking lot by the pier. Hanging up, we discovered that the cab had either left, or was extremely well camouflaged. Trying to reach them again, we only received a busy signal. Although we were not able to reach the taxi, we discovered that there is still a town in the United States where you can make a 10 cent phone call.
Now, stranded in Gustavus, we started to improvise. I approached a van with the words Bear Track Inn painted on the side, and asked for a ride to town. The driver said 'yes,' and we were quickly skimming the paved roads heading toward 'town.' "Where is town," I asked. "That's it," the driver responded, pointing starboard to two buildings on the side of the road. Given that we were looking forward to finding a nice restaurant, it was disappointing news. I doubt the lumber yard would serve anything palatable.
"We're looking for a nice place to have dinner," Dave clarified. "Bear Track Inn has a great restaurant," said our driver. And within seconds of passing downtown Gustavus, we were now bumping our way (the paved road had ended) towards Glacier Bay's Bear Track Inn.
And what a find it was. Bear Track Inn is a gorgeous, new, modern, log construction inn situated on a rise that overlooks Icy Strait in the distance. The inn is constructed with 275 hand crafted spruce logs that are between 120 and 150 years old. Walking into the lobby you see an open fireplace in the middle of the room built on a stone platform, and capped with a large black hood and stove pipe that extends straight up to a 30 foot high ceiling, complete with spruce timber beams at the summit.
After a brief look around, Jon jumps back into the van for his trip to the airport. We wave goodbye, wait until Jon's van has turned the first dusty corner in the gravel road, and then immediately head for dinner. Dinner, which was fabulous, consisted of fresh ingredients carefully prepared from an open kitchen in the dining room. You can dine family style, with other guests, or on your own for more private conversations.
After dinner, we received a tour of the rooms and conference facility from Jane Olney, the general manager. The rooms are clean, cozy, and comfortable--perfect for a romantic week in the mountains, or a secluded retreat for to liven up those corporate strategic planning sessions.
Using Bear Track Inn as a base camp, you can partake of local fishing charters, whale watching, glacier trips, flight seeing, bicycling, kayaking, take a day trip to Skagway, or visit the Fortress of the Bears. (Remember, the bears charge $50 per person for the privilege of watching them.) You can find information on their web site below.
Returning to Andanté around 22:00, we found a nice hand-written welcoming note taped to the window. It read: MOST PRUDENT SAILORS DON'T TIE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE DOCK!! OK, so we were in the middle of the dock. But hey, Jon had a plane to catch at the time. Out of respect for the note writer, we moved Andanté to the end of the dock--leaving just our dinghy tied up in the middle.
Tuesday July 13th
Dave and I are up at 6:00 to avoid the fishing charter boats, which were already arriving at the public float. Motoring south from Gustavus, we hooked our first salmon of the trip (a 4-5 pound pink) on the west side of Pleasant Island. After Dave expertly filleted it on the aft deck, we hoisted sails and headed off toward Hoonah, an Indian village on the north side of Chichagof Island. But before we pulled away from land to the north, we sighted three humpbacks breaching just west of Porpoise Islands. Unfortunately, they were about two or three miles distant, and so I was not able to capture a photograph. (The Loch Ness monster also surfaced briefly, but I missed that shot too.)
Hoonah is a small village that derives income from forestry and fishing. After walking down the main street, we had lunch at one of Hoonah's two restaurants, and watched four local children playing in the 50 degree water, squealing with delight as they sank two outboard motor boats anchored by the shore. (The motors weren't attached.) You have to take advantage of these short Alaskan summers during the 2-3 days that they last.
During this stop I caught up with another sailor I had previously met in Ford's Terror: Marco Rossi. Marco, an Italian man who sailed up to Alaska on his 44 foot Swan (Cadeau) had also stopped into Hoonah for a day of repairs. We invited Marco for dinner, but he insisted on bringing his own salmon. After Marco returns to Seattle from Alaska, he's headed off toward Chile for several years.
Wednesday July 14th
Getting an early start out of Hoonah at 12:30, and had the sails up by 12:50. Today was crystal clear sun, and the best sailing day of the trip: 12 to 15 knot winds which later turned into 25-27 knots with whitecaps. Yea.
Sailing east in Icy Strait, we then turned north into the Lynn Canal. Marco had recommended a destination called Boat Harbor. Finally arriving in Boat Harbor and 23:00, we approached the narrow entrance only to find that we were just at the start of a flood tide, meaning that the water swept through the narrow S-curve entrance at 3-4 knots. Wanting desperately to enter, but having no local knowledge of the entrance, accentuated with a few visions of Andanté stuck on a rock inside the S-curve, we backed out.
Instead we anchored in St. James Bay. Finding the perfect anchorage, we dropped anchor in 60 feet of water, only to hear it drag across solid rock. (Imagine trying to set an anchor on a sidewalk in Manhattan.) Trying again, we found the second most perfect anchorage in the bay, and set the hook down firmly. Lights out (finally) at 00:45 Thursday a.m.
Thursday July 15th
Awakened to another incredible sunny day. But, alas, no wind. We motored back to Juneau, admiring the snow-capped mountains and occasional glaciers along the entire route. Some excitement occurred when a U.S. Coast Guard boat pulled along side us to have a look. I think there are some legal questions about whether or not the Coast Guard can board your boat at will, although the always act like they can. I have not yet been boarded, and would like to avoid it. So, I greeted them with a smile and talked about the trip up from Seattle. At the end of the conversation, the officer announced that he wasn't going to board us, and wished us a nice day. (Even if they had boarded, they would have found everything in order.)
Arrived in Juneau at 17:15.
THUS ENDS the northbound voyage of Andanté's Alaskan adventure. Total sea miles from Seattle, Juneau, Glacier Bay, Juneau: 1,628 nautical miles. Total personal sea miles to date: 6,076.
What happens next: Dave Mumper flies back to Tacoma tomorrow. Roland Olson and Vickie Vance arrive tonight from Sweden to take over Andanté for almost a month, sailing from Juneau to Glacier Bay and back to Prince Rupert British Columbia. During that time I will be in Williamsburg Virginia, visiting my sister Janice and brother-in-law David.
On August 11th I return to Prince Rupert, along with new crew, for the sail to the Queen Charlotte Islands--a 24-hour open sea passage. Although I will be on e-mail during my time away from Andanté, the digital logs won't be back on the air until mid-August.
In the interim, thank you for participating in Andanté's trip to Alaska. I hope you enjoyed the virtual voyage. And I hope that you decide to continue on to the Queen Charlottes and then back to Seattle. (If my digital dispatches ever become junk-mail for you, please send me an e-mail note and I will remove you from the list.) After Seattle ... it's the Pacific Coast and then on to Mexico.
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Bay's Bear Track Inn
mail: 255 Rink Creek Road,
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