Seafood Buffet and Dockside Sing-along
Sunday June 13
After seeing Todd and Lara off for their flight back to Seattle at 13:00, we got Andanté ready and departed Ketchikan around 15:00. On our way out of Ketchikan, we had Celebrity Cruise Line's Mercury pull out in front of us, and so we ended up following close behind them for about two miles.
These ships are so large that they must use bow and stern thrusters to escape from the dock. With their thrusters on the entire ship moves sideways, away from the dock, until the captain has enough space to engage the engine.
As we followed along in the large ship's wake, we became the subject of interest for many passengers on Mercury's stern. However, as the ship gained sea room beyond the narrow channel just north of Ketchikan, she quickly out-distanced us, and within an hour or so it became a small speck on the horizon and then quickly disappeared. In the meantime we sailed northeast in the western arm of the Behm Canal towards Naha Bay.
Arriving in Naha Bay, we first checked out a public float at a little town (more like a collection of six houses than a town) called Loring. The float looked too small and unstable to hold Andanté. In addition, the most prominent resident of Loring (defined by the largest and most central house) peered at us with binoculars from behind her large picture window. Such close scrutiny made us a little uncomfortable. I mean, how often do you check out the new neighbors across the street with binoculars, for five minutes or longer, while they're looking back at you?
So we kept moving, and motored slowly down a small finger east of Loring, eventually finding a small public float that's just large enough for Andanté to back into a corner. The location was beautiful and secluded, and we had it all to ourselves.
Guy and I dropped the crab trap and eventually came up with ... nothing. While we were out in the dinghy, however, we spotted a school of small porpoises very close to us. And then, just a little later, we both heard breathing from something very large. Guy and I immediately looked at each other for reassurance. Interesting how quickly you can slip down the food chain up here, way up here in the Alaskan wilderness. Suddenly we heard the breathing again. This time, we were able to determine its direction--about a mile away, to the west, past Loring. There, close to the shore, a large plume of spray rose high into the air. It was another humpback whale--much larger than the pair we had seen previously.
Monday June 14
Because we're ahead of schedule now, we slept in a little this morning. Around 7:30, however, small powerboats started to arrive at our secluded dock. From the warmth of my berth I could hear engines, followed by voices.
Shortly after I heard another engine; this time much larger. I sat up and opened the curtains on the starboard side, just above my berth, as I blinked sleep from my eyes. I slowly focused on a bright turquoise tour boat, about 50 feet long, loaded with gawking tourists, who were gawking, at me. The tour boat was no more than 100 feet away, so I know they got a good look. I quickly snapped the curtains shut and hid under the covers.
Fifteen minutes later I reawakened to the same scenario, this time with tour boat #2. Where are all these #@!%! tourists coming from, way up here in the Alaskan wilderness? Fifteen minutes later the scene repeated again with tour boat #3. I decided that sleeping in wasn't on the schedule today.
Once dressed and out on the dock, the forest service boat arrived with their chain saws. "We're going to do some work on the trail," they said. "You'll probably hear us." Then, another boat arrived disgorging 30 people with backpacks. "We're going up to the camp to work on it," they said. "You'll probably see us on the trail."
By now, 75 people have landed on our float and are "up the trail." We decided to pull lines and get underway to avoid being trampled "up the trail."
Sailing north in Clarence Strait in ten knots of wind we aim for Meyer's Chuck, a small (tiny) little village with a public float in a protected bay. About an hour south of Meyers Chuck we receive a call on the VHF. It's our friends from Windrush II, calling from Meyers Chuck. They have been stranded in Meyers Chuck for several days due to a starter-gone-bad. The starter is now being rebuilt in Ketchikan, and they expect arrival tomorrow.
We arrive in Meyers Chuck at 20:00 to find the public float very public, e.g. completely lined with fishing boats, power boats, and sailboats, including a couple from New Zealand on their sailboat called Spindrift. They have been cruising for a year, most of it in Alaska.
Although the dock is completely taken, Windrush II invites us to raft up. By 21:00 I am preparing fresh fish (caught by Guy), supplemented by salmon. (OK, it's canned salmon, but we bought it in Alaska.) We dine in the cockpit by candlelight.
Tuesday June 15
Today we decided to stay in Meyers Chuck. Tracey and I slept in, but Guy disappeared early. Off fishing again, he returned around 10:00 with a dozen rock cod and sole. In the meantime, Dick and Lee from Windrush II are out digging clams on the beach, and return with half of a 5-gallon bucket filled with steamers. Unsatisfied, they head out in the dinghy, and return several hours later with 30 crabs in their trap. They had found a crab bed at low tide, and skimmed over it in the dinghy while simply leaning over with the fish net and scooping 30 of 'em up. Is this legal?
What with the fish, clams, and crabs, a plan soon hatched to have a seafood buffet on the dock at 18:00. With the banquet time set, the balance of the day revolved around cleaning the fish, cleaning and boiling the crabs, and then preparing the feast.
Initially, three boats and ten people were involved, but it later grew into four boats and 13 people. Dick, on Windrush II, befriended a local resident from Meyers Chuck (there are only five of them) who brought over a 20-foot long spruce plank which, covered with towels, became the banquet table on the dock.
When 18:00 rolled around the offerings completely filled the entire plank, I mean table. Windrush II contributed all of the crabs, sourdough rolls, and a fantastic northwest cioppino with some of Guy's fish, clams, and shrimp in a spicy tomato sauce. From Andanté, Tracey prepared a salad and veggies, and I sautéed white fish with a crab stock and white wine sauce. Spindrift, from New Zealand, brought a tomato salad and something they described as 'beach asparagus'--tiny mini-strands of something green that looked like asparagus, which they harvested from ... the beach. I wasn't too thrilled about the beach asparagus, expecting it to taste like seaweed. But to my surprise, it tasted like, well, asparagus.
We all started around 18:00, and kept going for several hours. Half way through, the sailboat Dancer pulled in. (We had previously met them in Butedale.) And so they also joined in. There was plenty of food left, including lots of crab. I sat next to Dick on the edge of the dock. As we worked our way through the crab (I consumed an entire one myself), we simply tossed the shells over our shoulders into the water, where the parts became food for other creatures on the bottom.
After dinner I don't know what came over me, but I brought out my guitar and several Beatles song books. A sing-along erupted on the dock, with some folks joining in, others just listening and tapping their feet, and others staring, in amazement, admiring the fearlessness and bravery that superceded talent and practice. Since much of the music was far beyond the vocal range of all male participants, we had to attempt it in falsetto. (Imagine the Beatles sung ala. Bee Gees.)
The feast-turned-concert was ended by an act of God, namely rain. We all retreated to the sanctity of our cabins, and large stacks of dishes.
Wednesday June 16
Windrush II's starter arrived via float plane. And after reinstalling it, the engine started the first time. Impressive. Andanté left Meyers Chuck around 12:45, and we ran immediately into 3-4 foot seas and 21-24 knot winds, bursting to 27. In these conditions it required some time to rig the port and starboard lifelines, and then set sail. Andanté pounded and rocked while we took a good amount of spray over the bow. We set a reefed main and genoa, and then turned to a broad reach, north in Ernest Channel. By the time all of this was done, and we were accurately on course, the wind died significantly, but not before Guy and Tracey got an opportunity to experience a common emotion among sailors in these conditions: fear.
18:10 Anchored in Frosty Bay. The cruising guide book indicated that this bay was home to 40 seals, but the seals must not have read the book because they were long gone. As we entered the bay we saw about 1/2 dozen crab traps, so I felt sure that we could succeed in harvesting some ourselves.
Hauling up the trap after two hours in 60 feet of water, I got very excited as it neared the surface. Seeing an abundance of orange color, I congratulated myself on mastering the skill, expertise, and knowledge required to bring in such a catch. After all, I could feel the weight of the catch straining on the line. As the trap broke the surface, I stared in amazement to see a huge starfish clinging to the outside of the trap. This guy was about 3-1/2 feet in diameter from starpoint-to-starpoint. He was trying hard to get at the bait inside, but when he neared the surface, he simply let go, leaving me with an empty trap.
Thursday June 17
We departed Frosty Bay at 9:45 heading for Wrangell, which we made uneventfully at 15:30. According to our cruising guide, Wrangell started as a stockage built by the Russians in 1834 to prevent encroachment by Hudson's Bay Company traders. The guide book goes on to say "Less sophisticated than other historic southeast towns, Wrangell has the feel of the Alaska frontier." This is a glamorous way of saying that Wrangell's 1800 residents fish, log, and drive very loud pickup trucks. Even if your pickup truck is relatively quiet, you make it loud by stomping on the gas pedal, even for short distances like two to three feet. In addition, the women in Wrangell are as large as the men, have deep husky voices, and any one of them could easily whomp me in a competitive sport, such as arm wrestling.
It required all of five minutes to walk Wrangell's main street, after which we decided that we had seen it all. We did stop into a local bar where Wrangell's residents had gathered to award prizes for a recent sports fishing competition. But there were so many big-armed women in there that I just decided to leave as quickly as I had arrived--backing out carefully towards the door.
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