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Cruzin’ the Sound: Part IV

August 12, 2014
PWS Route - Week 4

The last week we focused our attention on the southwestern portion of the Sound. There was a lot of back-and-forth that was dictated by both the weather and shrimping opportunities.

The last leg home always ends in the southwestern portion of the Sound. Nearing the end of July and into August, the faintest hints of autumn are around. The grass looks a little more golden, the blueberry leaves a bit redder, and something is bound to break on Carpe Ventos.

Well, nothing really broke, but we had a minor issue.

Upon pulling anchor in Nellie’s Rest, Bixler noted that the autopilot failed to turn on. After a complete overhaul of each cord in the system, he determined that the entire system was receiving power. The day before he had hit the display with the cooler setting it into a calibration mode, but the old “on and off” of the switch usually fixes it.

As Bixler was diagnosing the autopilot, our chartplotter kept spewing out low battery alarms. The voltage was cycling and a thorough assessment determined that our batteries were dead. Flat dead. Dead to the point that the combiner that charges from the alternator wouldn’t even put electrons through to the batteries.

Frustrated, we dropped anchor back in Gunboat Cove outside of Eshamy Bay Lodge. We speculated the cause: corroded connection on the alternator, loose belt on alternator early in the trip, no power in Cordova, old batteries, etc. Lucky for us we had the common sense to bring a Honda generator that spent the afternoon topping off our batteries.

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Gunboat Cove has always been a sunny destination for us, until now. Our battery issues brought on numerous clouds and showers.

As the generator hummed and Bixler fixed the corroded connector on the alternator, the lodge’s owner came over to see if everything was okay. We explained that we had the situation under control, but he offered a charger to take with us. The batteries were charging and nearly topped off, so we declined, but said thanks anyway for the thought.

That day in Gunboat was a low point for us. We weren’t talking to one another for a number of reasons (we can’t remember what now) and the salmon snagging on shore was nearly impossible. Whereas the last few years in the Sound each stream was boiling with salmon, this year there were barely distinguishable schools. Mike, the Cordova fisherman/marathoner said that many of the fishermen were already calling it quits this year.

Bixler managed to snag a few pinks and a fresh dog for the freezer, now running happily off our batteries. Our shrimp pot in Eshamy produced four shrimp, which we introduced to the heat and dipped in soy sauce. We left Eshamy and debated on where to head next. Paddy Bay was on the list, but an ugly rain cloud hung over the bay. 7-Fathom Hole was next from Paddy, and with the potential for increasing salmon and shrimping, we skipped Paddy and headed to 7-Fathom Hole.

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7-Fathom Hole emerged as a bright spot in an otherwise dark few days. The clouds were clearing and the seas calming.

7-Fathom Hole had no discernible salmon, but it did have sunny weather with the occasional squall. We took a dinghy tour around and ended up at a river in nearby Em’ur’luq Lagoon that was lined with salmonberries. Our guidebook talks of remains of a cabin in the woods that we never found, but it was a nice walk nevertheless.

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We didn’t find the old cabin, but the river was sure interesting to explore.

We spent the rest of evening reading and discussing why 7-Fathom Hole is so wonderful. The cove lacks glaciers or waterfalls or astounding views, but it feels so wonderfully nestled and pleasant. And it has saved our asses from a number of nasty summer storms. No trip to the Sound is complete with at least three visits to 7-Fathom Hole, whether we want to or not.

The next morning we pulled our pot and harvested 16 shrimp before re-dropping nearby for a long soak. We then started backtracking to Paddy Bay. Bixler, wanting to always fish, insisted we fish an area where we’ve never caught anything. Krystin was less than inclined to fish and gave up shortly. As she said “there are no fish here” Bixler hooked up to something that “hit like a tank.” The fish took off as Carpe Ventos started drifting slowly to the shallows. With adrenaline surging, Bixler barked the usual orders: “grab the gun, grab the GoPro, get the gaff, mark a point!” With a lee shore coming up, Bixler muscled up a 65-lb halibut, roughly half the size of the 140-pounder caught by Seward. It was still a sizable fish and it took several bullets to the gills to dispatch it. With our ears ringing and hearts pumping, we slid the fish into the cockpit and headed to Paddy Bay. Bixler called his mom on our satellite phone to inform her should we need to plug in another freezer before we got home.

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According to Bixler, it “hit like a tank.”

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Bixler, who was having a rough morning dealing with a fiancé who didn’t want to fish, is all smiles after catching this 65-pounder.

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The fish was about 51 inches long, give or take an inch.

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This corresponds to just under 65 lbs, with just under 50 lbs of yield. That’s one way to fill an icebox!

We anchored in Paddy and set to clean halibut and deck. Bixler filleted the giant fillets out and Krystin bagged them and buried them in the icebox. There was too much fish to fit in the little Dometic freezer, so we opted to pack the fish in glacier ice.

After hours of cleaning and scrubbing, we detoxed and discussed another long-planned adventure: packrafting on Eshamy Lake. For the past two years we’ve milled over the idea of hiking in rafts and fishing on the lake. Before we lost interest, we pulled everything out and decided to do it.

We hiked in packrafts and fly fishing gear on boggy tundra to Eshamy Lake. We’ve never anchored in Paddy when it wasn’t raining and expected rain at the lake. Eshamy Lake was entrenched in rain and a foul wind. We knew the odds of catching fish were hopeless, but we assembled anyway and set out on the lake. Blowing winds, pouring rain, and wet clothes were all we caught on Eshamy Lake, but we were glad to have accomplished a goal.

We returned to the boat and settled in. The weather grew considerably colder than the previous weeks on our trip, probably due to the return of actual darkness at night. We nestled into the v-berth under a pile of blankets listening to rain hit the deck of the boat.

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Paddy Bay was calm and pretty, but we’ve never seen the cove on a clear day.

The next morning the weather had cleared slightly and we headed onward to Gaamaak in Icy Bay. We stopped at a fishing spot where Krystin hooked up to something big. Unfortunately, her line on her reel had tangled around the level-wind making it impossible to fight the fish. In eventually snapped the 50-lb test line. Bixler had thought she was just being dumb about setting the drag, because, you know, girls don’t know how to fish and immediately provided unwarranted male fishing advice. But the scour in the level-wind was obvious evidence of an unfortunate tangle.

We pressed on to Icy Bay and were greeted by foul headwinds coming off the glaciers. Our destination, Gaamaak, was awash in wind. We tried pushing up the fjord to a small anchorage called Tiger Bite, but it was chocked with ice. Regardless, we gathered ice for the halibut and any future fish and decided to return to 7-Fathom Hole. A revision in the route was in order.

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We had an excellent view of Tiger Glacier, but a nasty wind was blowing off the icefield behind the glaciers.

7-Fathom Hole was peaceful as always and we dropped anchor in our usual spot. Krystin slaved away in the kitchen preparing a Captain’s Platter of fried seafood: cod, shrimp, and rockfish with side onion rings.

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Dinner of champions: Captain’s Platter with onion rings. We had run out of potatoes at this point.

After dinner, we returned to the usual salmon stream only to find a handful of salmon. We set out berry picking instead when Bixler noticed flagging tape wrapped around a small tree. Krystin set of berry picking while Bixler narrated his findings. Next to the tape was a stack of rocks. “I think it’s a geocache!” Bixler thought as we started dismantling the rock stack. Wrong. Way wrong. Bixler did find a box, but it turned out to be the ashes of someone who wished to spend eternity to 7-Fathom Hole.

Bixler was mortified. He returned the box to its rightful place and restacked the rocks. We debated about putting a cross or something, but maybe this fellow wasn’t religious. Krystin picked some flowers and said a few words of apology and told the deceased he had picked a great spot.

Bixler, who proclaims that he doesn’t believe in ghosts, spent the rest of the evening speculating on whether or not we would be haunted. Krystin assured him it would be okay, having watched enough of movies like Poltergeist as a kid and learning that you need to build a subdivision on graves to really piss off the Dead.

The fear of haunting passed the next day and we pulled our shrimp pot to a dismal return. We headed out of 7-Fathom Hole towards Whale Bay and dropped the pot on a precariously steep undersea hillside before heading to Eleshansky Cove.

Eleshansky Cove is a small bight well up Whale Bay that is beautiful but ill-protected from winds. The southerly winds were up, blowing ever-more high pressure into the northern Gulf but forcing Carpe Ventos to buffet around all night. Regardless, we were secure at anchor and set off to hike to the top of the mountains surrounding the cove to get a full-blown view of Bainbridge Passage and Knight Island.

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On our hike, we discovered a species of sundew, a bug-eating plant. Thank goodness because there were plenty of bugs on this hike.

We marched through boggy wetlands, blueberry thickets, and biting flies. The heat was intense, but after some bushwacking we arrived at the top of the hill and were rewarded with an awesome view of Knight Island and the start of Bainbridge Passage.

It was here that we got our first glimpses of fall. The mountains on Knight Island were craggy and scored with shadows – something not well defined in the midnight sun. The air was cooling rapidly as we began our decent back to the boat. We got hopelessly lost at one point, but managed to follow a bear trail back to the beach, where the winds were raging. With all the spray we received on the short dinghy ride back, we determined a shower was out of the question.

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The view atop of Eleshansky Cove. Wow!

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We found a mysterious lake, too.

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A closeup of a windblown hemlock near the lake.

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The wind sure picked up on our hike….

The next morning, we awoke to a cool, clear morning with hardly a hint of wind. We returned to our shrimp pot, pulled it, and struck pink gold. The pot was loaded with 38 of the most giant and juicy Prince William Sound Spot Shrimp we’ve ever seen. Some of these shrimp were the size of small lobsters.

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A shrimp motherload, for newbies anyway.

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Like small lobsters, they are! Bixler holds up our prized catch.

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On the shrimp permit, one reports the catch in gallons. This was our first full gallon!

We debated about staying in Whale Bay, but Bixler had his heart set on Thumb Bay on the south end of Knight Island which has remains of an old herring saltery. So, we packed up the shrimp and pot and headed towards Knight, which was gusting williwaws off the south end. Thumb Bay is a beautiful cove, but unfortunately wind-prone, even in mild easterlies. We dropped anchor anyway after dropping our pot just outside the cove.

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Thumb Bay was beautiful, but windy. The skiff in the picture belongs to the saltery-now-eco-lodge.

The weather was warm, but cool winds gusted around the boat. We took a dinghy tour over to the old herring saltery, which was once a lodge but is now under new ownership. Schools of salmon were darting under the boat, so we returned to the boat to grab our fishing gear to give snagging a try. We beached near the now-defunct lodge and Bixler immediately snagged a fresh pink. A seal tried to nab it as he reeled it in.

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A former saltery, a former sawmill, and mysterious 55-gallon drums dot Thumb Cove.

Meanwhile, someone hopped in a kayak over at the nearby “lodge” and paddled over. Oh, no, someone to come and yell at us about something, we thought. We tend to attract a number of people wanting to offer us “advice,” and, after not seeing people for several weeks, we weren’t looking forward to the forthcoming advice. Luckily for us, the bearded fellow in the kayak was just remarking at the beautiful day. We asked him about the building and he mentioned it was purchased by one of the parties that sued Exxon after the 1989 oil spill and is currently being renovated into an eco lodge.

He bid us farewell and we returned to the boat one fish richer. After a full stream shower, we set out planning the rest of our route. Tomorrow we wanted to fish the lingcod spot, but the final destination would be dependent on the number of shrimp in our pot.

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Shrimp pasta made with the day’s catch. We had basically ran out of everything else to eat at this point.

The next morning’s pull resulted in two small spot shrimp which meant we were heading back to Whale Bay. We first diverted to our lingcod hole, where Bixler immediately pulled up a barely legal (“that’s the way he likes them!”) lingcod and Krystin pulled up a nice rockfish. Both went in the freezer while both carcasses – including the entire lingcod – went into the shrimp pot next to the shrimp pellets and a can of catfood.

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Bixler’s lingcod and Krystin’s rockfish went straight into the freezer!

We returned to Whale Bay and dropped the pot in the same spot as before. We dropped anchor in Orca Cove, another deep anchorage, but close to the pot and beautiful. Last year, we sat inside the boat while rain poured outside, but this year the weather was perfect in the cove. We took a long beach hike and found a waterfall. A few salmon were making their way in, but the streams were so low from the lack of snow and rain that it seemed hopeless for the fish.

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Last year it was pouring rain in Orca Cove. This year we got to enjoy the cove in full sunshine.

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Pink salmon struggle with the lack of water in the river.

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With the river so low, we were able to hike up to this small waterfall.

That night as we headed on deck to check the anchor, Krystin spotted a giant smack of jellyfish under the boat. We thought for a second we were running aground, but we realized the situation when the water column started to glow from the jellyfish.

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Bixler places the GoPro on the gaff to get a great shot of the jellyfish.

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The view from the boat near the anchor. What a strange sight to see.

We went to bed dreaming of shrimp wondering into our pot. We had given them a smorgasbord and hoped the pot would be loaded.

And it was – 73 shrimp! Finally, we were able to bring some home with us! We had been dining semi-exclusively on shrimp for the past few days, feeling slightly guilty for the lack of shrimp in our freezer. But 73 shrimp headed fills two gallon-sized freezer bags and weighs about 10 pounds. Into the freezer they went. Oh the meals we can make!

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Oh yeah, fully loaded. Hmm…we know a boat by that name that pointed us to this area…

For most of our trip, the weather had been good, though the transmission station seemed to be having issues. When we finally received the weather later that morning, the news was dismal: Friday was good, Saturday was okay, but starting Sunday (our transition-back-to-Seward-day) a series of low pressure systems would be marching in along the northern gulf.

Yikes!

We revised our plans and headed out of Prince William Sound to Goat Harbor in Puget Bay. It was a horribly sad transition. We had spent the last four weeks moving at our pace exploring the Sound in detail. We were not ready to head home, but several obligations await us: our cat Jupiter, our hot tub, and filling Krystin’s moose tag, to name a few.

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We headed out from the Sound a day earlier than planned going through the narrow Bainbridge Passage to the Gulf.

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After fighting a 4-knot current, we were greeted by Bainbridge Glacier and ocean swell.

After an unsuccessful fishing attempt, we dropped anchor in Goat Harbor. Last year at this time, Goat Harbor was empty, but this year there were several other boats. Obviously others were taking advantage of the good weather in the late summer to get some fishing in.

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There were several boats in Goat Harbor with us, including this giant schooner from Seattle.

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Goat Harbor is always a beautiful place to visit.

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We filled up our water jugs one last time in this stream. The weather was so hot we were drinking our water faster than usual.

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Xtratuf footprints on the beach at Goat Harbor.

We went to shore to walk around and stumbled upon a flattened tent cabin with two camouflaged, locked outbuildings. Hmmm….suspicious. We explored the surroundings and discovered an impoundment notice from the Chugach National Forest. Apparently someone had been squatting at Goat Harbor and had gone to great lengths to conceal the cabin. Naturally, we found it right away.

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Hmm..someone had been squatting in these parts…

Unable to get the weather, we instructed Bixler’s mom on how to look up the NOAA forecast for the “Cape Cleare to Gore Point” forecast zone. She said there would be showers. He said, “No, the marine forecast.” She talked about how Jupiter is behaving himself among other things. Somewhere among that, along with a delay from using a satellite phone, Bixler determined that the weather for Saturday’s crossing would nice.

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We woke up early to pull our shrimp pot and start our crossing. The light was just barely touching the glacier at the head of Puget Bay.

Leaving Puget the next morning, we awoke to a fall scene with light spilling over the mountains from the rising sun. We had dropped our shrimp pot experimentally outside of Goat Harbor and only got small tanner crabs, which one cannot retain.

After securing the shrimp pot, we headed west towards Resurrection Bay, picking up a few fish on the way. The boat traffic increased with the charter fleet heading out to Montague to serve their clients. Carpe Ventos got into a chicken fight with the charter vessel Hope, who thought it was funny while we showed them the middle of our five fingers as the disappeared in the distance.

As we rounded Cape Resurrection, boats appeared on the horizon everywhere. It was obvious that the combination of the silvers (coho salmon) being in and the nice weather had brought everyone onto the water. We grumbled at the sight of people. After two weeks of wilderness, we returned to usual madness of summer in Seward.

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The crossing back to Seward was pleasant, except for the boat traffic.

Channel 16 (distress) on the radio was a flurry of chatter of course. Throughout our trip, we had listened to Channel 16 as a form of entertainment, especially when the Coast Guard gets involved. Here are the highlights of Coast Guard Sector Anchorage from this year’s Prince William Sound trip:

  • A man gets a fishing hook stuck in his eye. Helicopter 6006, known as “the six” is nearby to airlift him out. The helicopter pilot has an awesome radio voice.
  • A vessel is on fire somewhere in the Sound. The Coast Guard asks for a cell number to call about the medical conditions. Those radioing the Coast Guard say, “I’m pretty sure you can’t get cell service out here.” Coast Guard tries to call anyway.
  • A jetboat (small, flat-bottomed boat designed for rivers) sends a MAYDAY call after their engine explodes and spews oil everywhere. A charter vessel is relaying and asks the vessel in distress if they can anchor properly while the Coast Guard is asking the relay vessel if the vessel in distress can don lifejackets.

Channel 16 is blurting names off and on as we drop anchor in a familiar cove near home. Immediately, we start halibut soaking and spend the afternoon napping and reading on the deck. Krystin wakes from her nap, fresh to seize the day while Bixler starts preparing the pink salmon for dinner. In the middle of dinner prep, one of the rods starts to bounce and Krystin rushes to attend to it. It bounces, it clicks, and then whines as the fish takes off with the hook. Slowly, Krystin increases the drag to gain control of the fish. Bixler drops his dinner prep and clears the deck. By the way it is fighting, it can only be a halibut. She reels it to the surface. Bixler takes a shot and hits it in the meat. The halibut dives and Krystin reels it again. Bixler takes aim and shoots the gill plate. We pull it aboard. A nice 40-pounder! And a redemption halibut for the one lost in the Sound!

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Oh look, another halibut in the cockpit!

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Oh yeah, halibut success! Krystin didn’t even put her shoes on to reel it in!

After cleaning and burying the fish in ice, we continue to soak while Bixler makes dinner. The night begins to cloud over, but we relax sitting on the deck and reminiscing on the trip. There is only one destination left after four weeks of traveling: home.

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Both home and fall weather are just around the corner!

Cruzin’ the Sound: Part III

August 12, 2014
PWS Route - Week 3

During the third week, we cruised directly across Prince William Sound and explored Nellie Juan Fjord.

Carpe Ventos, laden with fresh provisions, motored out of Cordova Boat Harbor around noon on Sunday. She was tired of being crammed between two salmon tenders and thoroughly disliked stares from sponsored boats. She wanted to be free on the Sound, to feel the wind on her bow and the ocean on her keel.

And feel the wind she did.

Our original destination out of Cordova was just short of Knight Island, clear across the Sound. We opted for an amended plan given the late departure and deteriorating conditions by going the first 30 nautical miles to St. Matthew’s Bay in Port Gravina. This would give a decent jumping off point to cross to Disk Island and cut our travel from 66 nautical miles to around 40. Unfortunately, the travel to St. Matthews meant stiff westerlies on the nose. Tired from lack of sleep, we motored into the wind for five hours.

We dropped anchor in St. Matthews, swarming with williwaws. The weather forecast said the winds were supposed to calm, but heavy gusts were expected. We laid out all of our rode: our 44 lb oversized Bruce anchor, 100-feet of chain, and plenty of line. All night there was only the slightest land breeze. Whew.

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St. Matthew’s Bay was swirling with williwaws as the storm in the Gulf raced out to sea.

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We coped with the conditions by eating the last of the lingcod which was basted in butter, soy, and garlic paired with white rice and asparagus.

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Wow, what a view when the skies clear up!

The next morning we awoke to flat calm, serene conditions. The sky was cloudless and the seas were like glass. The only waves we felt were those from the passing ferry. There was one slight spot of wind and soon we were out of it. Just outside of Knight Island, Bixler caught a nice yelloweye that we turned into real fish and chips that night after re-provisioning in Cordova with the proper ingredients.

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We crossed the Sound on a crystal clear day, so clear that one could see the northern Chugach range that borders the Sound from the Interior.

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Hours of motoring = nap time!

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Bixler’s yelloweye that promptly was turned into fish and chips. Yum!

Just outside of our next anchorage of Disk Island, we started looking for shrimping spots. Bixler picked a nice 450-foot hole to drop our pot as a dry run to iron out any kinks. It didn’t go quite as planned as the line tangled despite our persnickety winding on the docks in Cordova. We cursed and yelled, but managed to get the pot on the bottom, marked by our buoy.

We anchored in Disk Cove on Disk Island, a circular lagoon with a small entrance. It is one of our favorite spots in Prince William Sound, next to Landlocked Bay and 7-Fathom Hole. The temperature in the cabin rose to 75 degrees, making it much warmer outside. We dried everything out. We waited until the air cooled slightly before going to shore on our first great missing for filling our small freezer: blueberries.

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Disk Cove was so hot and still there was hardly a breath of wind on the water.

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No clouds and no wind made for a hot day (by Alaskan standards). Carpe Ventos was enjoying her sunbathing anchored in Disk Cove.

Each year after Cordova, it is “game-on” for resource extraction from the Sound to bring home with us. We usually return home with a healthy portion of fish. This year we are adding berries and shrimp to the mix. And Disk Island is quite the blueberry destination!

Coming to shore on Disk, the area is teeming with blueberries. Fat, juicy huckleberries, elusive high-bush “true” blueberries, and low-lying bog blue berries make up the shopping list at Disk. This year, Krystin stumbled upon a large patch of salmonberries as well. Holding two bags, she picked every berry in sight, keeping Bixler in ear distance as he devoured plants. We speculated on the best method for picking and the end, with fingers stained blue, we collectively picked a gallon of blueberries and half gallon of salmon berries. Success!

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Armed with gallon ziplocks, Krystin combs Disk Island for all varieties of blueberries.

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All night there was never a single puff of wind in Disk. Check out that sunset!

While berries were successful, shrimping was not. We pulled all 600 feet of line and let it naturally coil in the cockpit like a longliner. In the end, the pot was empty. The weather was fair, but obviously changing, so we opted to cross over to Port Nellie Juan, a shrimper’s haven on the west side of the Sound.

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On our way to the shrimper’s haven of Nellie Juan, we spotted this bull orca in the distance.

Port Nellie Juan is a new destination for us, having only ventured as far as McClure Bay near the entrance. The fjord is long with a handful of beautiful anchorages. Port Nellie Juan curves into Kings Bay, the closest we could get to Seward via the Sound. The upside is that it is a major shrimping destination. The downside: the proximity to Whittier. Port Nellie Juan is one of the more visited destinations in the Sound.

We entered Port Nellie Juan and traveled down to Deep Water Bay, a huge bay surrounded by Yosemite-like granite domes with a white-sand beach. The area looks like a miniature Lake Tahoe, but without the scores of people.

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Deepwater Bay has huge granitic domes and a white sand beach – something highly out of place in Alaska.

Carefully, we dropped the shrimp pot in the deep bay. Our idea of setting up the line the cockpit worked much better than before. In the middle of Deep Water Bay, it seems that everyone else had the same idea. Numerous shrimping buoys dotted the bay, but there was plenty of room for our pot.

After anchoring near the white sand beach, we headed to beach to explore. A small camp was setup behind the beach, but no one appeared to be home. Instead, we headed up a trail across mossy vegetation on granite overlooking an astounding valley behind the cove. Words could not describe the view; you had to be there. But imagine a verdant valley with a meandering river surrounded by touring granite monoliths. It put Yosemite to shame.

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Luckily for us (maybe), Carpe Ventos was the only boat anchored in front of the beach.

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We hiked the dome behind the beach for a better view. Notice the gust line peeling of the point? ‘Tis a portent of the night to come!

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This puts Yosemite to shame! Too bad we didn’t have the time to hike back there!

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We spotted a lake and this lazy river in the distance. Packraftable?

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…Nope. But downright beautiful!

We hiked back to the beach and met two of the four campers. They were camped in this particular cove to climb those granite monoliths and create new routes in an otherwise unvisited landscape. They invited us to come ashore later for a bonfire and we offered to give them the weather forecast, but Carpe Ventos was not sitting comfortably at anchor. Gusty winds were peeling into the cove and the water was insanely bumpy.

Sadly, we stayed aboard and experienced one of the worst nights of our time board Carpe Ventos. The winds increased, the waves built, and we were on a lee shore. We went to bed at midnight and were up every hour to check our position. The winds didn’t let up. By 5 am, we pulled anchor to move to a fairer anchor. Unfortunately, we needed to grab our shrimp pot.

Facing gusty winds, a lee shore, and 600 feet of line to pull, we coordinated a ballet of pulling line, positioning the boat, putting Carpe Ventos in and out of gear. By the time the worst gust – around 30 knots – hit the boat, we had the pot on the boat and were 16 shrimp richer. We had little room to celebrate, the serene Port Nellie Juan we hand experienced coming into the cove was now a raging torrent of wind and rain.

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Our first successful haul was at Deepwater Bay, but we had little time to celebrate.

The Sound doesn’t experience much swell, but the wind chop can build to huge proportions. The choppy waves we had felt in the cove were the result of the huge wind waves experienced in Port Nellie Juan. With a critical decision to make, we looked left and right and opted to head up Kings Bay to seek protection.

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Yuck. It was way worse than it shows in the picture!

Most of the anchorages in Kings Bay are on the northern side and were gusting winds out of them. The only available anchorage was a small hook called Shady Cove that had its fair share of mild williwaws that were manageable. After dropping the shrimp pot outside, we wolfed down breakfast and went back to bed, dead tired, and sleeping until noon.

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The winds calmed and rain settled in over Nellie Juan and Kings Bay.

The mild williwaws persisted, but slowly began to die as the rain settled in. We pulled anchor to check our shrimp pot, gathering one whole shrimp before resetting it in a different spot. We lightly explored the beach. Krystin made an epic dinner of shrimp sushi with tempura vegetables. We went to bed at a reasonable hour, finally catching up on all the lost sleep since Cordova.

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Spot and Coon Stripe Shrimp headed straight for dinner.

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Shrimp sushi on the boat – the best way to spend a stormy evening!

The next morning, we awoke to clearing skies and calm seas.

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Outside of Shady Cove, we glanced up Kings Bay. This is the closest point to Seward as the crow flies in the Sound.

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The cove across from us had a huge glacier we couldn’t see through the clouds. Beautiful!

We pulled our shrimp pot, counting 22 shrimp that went into tacos that night. We dropped again outside of our next anchorage of Nellie’s Rest. Nellie’s Rest lies outside of the moraine and lagoon of Nellie Juan Glacier.

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Carpe Ventos snugly at anchor at Nellie’s Rest.

Needing exercise, we blew up the packrafts and paddled to the moraine.

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Our destination: Nellie Juan Glacier. A full view was around that point shown in the image.

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Packrafts are wonderful, durable crafts, but they sure don’t work well paddling into a stiff headwind.

Glaciers often have a slight breeze blowing off of them due to vast differences in temperature. A glacier is always trying to cool down everything around it. It is successful and you know it when you anchor next to one.

Unfortunately, that breeze is not great for packrafting. Packrafts don’t track well in a headwind and we fought a headwind up to the moraine and across it within view of the glacier. Despite the hard work, the journey was worth it. Nellie Juan glacier began receding in the early 1900’s, so the drastic changes in vegetation are readily apparent. Beyond the moraine, only alder have moved in. Much of the area is still bare rock. It is a strangely beautiful sight to see as you paddle among massive icebergs.

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Krystin leads the way through the ice to the point. Note the diminishing vegetation as one gets closer to the glacier.

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A view of the glacier and a stunning waterfall appeared around the corner. This was far enough for us having paddling quite a distance to get to this point.

We paddled around icebergs up to a point where we recouped and watched the glacier. Ice was calving off the front of it, adding more to the already ice-chocked water. We turned around and let the wind push us out of the lagoon mouth and we paddled back to the boat.

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We headed back to the boat with the wind on our back and the tide going out. It made for a great float out of the lagoon.

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Krystin heads back to the terminal moraine where Nellie Juan Glacier rested on around 1900.

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Another waterfall along the moraine surprised us in the distance.

After Bixler’s epic dinner of shrimp tacos, we hung out on the boat hoping that more shrimp were invading our pot.

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Can’t beat fresh shrimp daily!

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Best. Tacos. Ever.

Late at night a giant power trawler entered the cove, circle around, and dropped anchor nearly a foot from shore at high tide. The weekend was coming about and our proximity to Whittier meant we had no cove to ourselves. “I’m tired of sharing coves,” said Bixler as we watched the trawler drop anchor straight down without backing to set it. “We need to head south,” Krystin replied. The next morning, we pulled anchor and headed out of Nellie Juan on the last leg home.

Cruzin’ the Sound: Part II

August 6, 2014
PWS Route - Week II

Our route on Week II focused on the eastern side of the Sound, a less glaciated and much more mysterious area.

If there is ever a place to fall in love with over and over again, it is Landlocked Bay. A narrow winding inlet flanked by towering mountains opening up into an estuary with mining ruins, it essentially encompasses what the Sound is about: scenery, wilderness, history. Each year as we approach Landlocked it is the same: fighting the currents and winds of Valdez Arm followed by inclement weather. But Landlocked remains a miniature paradise, and it only got better this year.

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Heading across Valdez Arm and Tatitlek Narrows is always interesting. Last year was screaming winds. This year we had dark, ominous clouds.

Tired from our trip across from the northern portion of the Sound, we dropped anchor in our usual spot in Landlocked Bay. The weather was overcast, but it was slowly breaking and revealing the grand peaks that surround the bay. After a short repose and cheese course, we hopped in the dinghy at high tide and explored the tidal flats. The salmon were just barely coming in and bear trails were everywhere. Salmonberries were ripening in full.

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At high tide, one can dinghy way up into the estuary. This area is dry at low tides.

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We prefer flowers in their natural state: growing among the wilds of Alaska rather than dead on our table.

Our explorations brought us to several previously unmarked trails now marked with flagging tape. One appeared to go nowhere, so we turned around. Another brought us to the motherlode.

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Carpe Ventos watches us as we make our discovery!

Landlocked Bay was mined for copper shortly after the cusp of the Alaska Gold Rush. Mining ruins dating back to the early 1900s dot the hillsides noted mostly by the tailings piles. We followed one of these tailings piles and discovered nestled in the woods a small cabin, unseen from boat or beach! Well-kept and more of a glorified lean-to, the cabin proudly displays a sign saying it is owned by the descendents of such miners and those seeking refuge are allowed to stay. The log book for the cabin tells stories of weary kayakers, winter travelers, and fishermen happy to have stumbled across the cabin as we did. In the days of Old Alaska, before remote cabins became a social status symbol for big city Alaskans, cabins were left open in case someone traveling was in dire need of shelter. Most of the cabins we stumble upon are locked, but this was wide open. We noted that in the log book and hoped the owners, now living in New York, would continue this time-honored tradition.

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This was one of those “no way!” moments: a cabin nestled in the woods and open to those in need of shelter.

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The owners live on the other side of the country, but they are willing to share their property as Alaskans-at-heart.

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The cabin is more of a glorified lean-to, but at least it is well-stocked with wood.

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The “outhouse” doesn’t offer much privacy, but at least you can have a nice view while doing your business.

Excited by the cabin find, we hiked way up a tailing pile only to find an old mine shaft! The miners had dug straight into rock leaving gaping hole hidden away in the hillside. Many of the support beams were still intact, but the rest of the shaft had collapsed, leaving a watery mess. Bixler climbed inside for a picture. Krystin, with her sense of self-preservation and an Xtratuf with a hole, opted to stay out.

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The old tailings piles at Landlocked Bay are both steep and intriguing. We hoofed it up to the very top of this.

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The half-collapsed mine shaft of one of the copper mining operations that operated around 1900. Bixler went inside to snap this picture.

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Can’t beat the view from the top of the tailings pile. Landlocked Bay is a beautiful place.

We returned to the boat in high spirits after such an adventure. The spirits continued the next day as we raised the sails and sailed dead downwind 14 nautical miles to the head of Port Fidalgo. Sailing in the Sound is rare for any sailor because of the generally light winds and many land masses. A couple we met on a beautiful wooden boat called Sunstone were leaving for the Sound shortly after us, filled with diesel like us. Though they had sailed up from the Marshall Islands straight to Alaska, even they knew the Sound was not a place for pure sailing. And these people are true sailors, with well over 100,000 nautical miles under their keel. We tried to tell that to a fellow from Boston who bought a boat in Seward, and he found out about the Sound’s sailing potential the hard way.

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For all the naysayers out there, we do sail our boat when the opportunity presents itself. We had 14 nautical miles to travel this day and nothing beats sailing downwind for that entire distance. Also note the amount of fuel cans we carry for our trip!

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A beautiful day in the Sound with a clear blue sky!

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Love the view of the genoa flying. Too bad we haven’t gotten around to cleaning the moss of the spreaders…

A thrilling day of sailing, we dropped anchor and the incredibly scenic head of Port Fidalgo. A huge lagoon with a raging inlet resides at the head and we dare not attempt to motor through with our dinghy. Instead we hiked around very obvious bear trails and quickly retreated to the boat. All the clouds had cleared from the sky and the westerlies were raging. Carpe Ventos bobbed snuggly at anchor until the sun set behind the mountains.

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The head of Port Fidalgo reminded us of Seward with big mountains and hanging glaciers.

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Most of the eastern Sound is a nursery for sea otter pups. Pups are overly buoyant, but this one prefers to hitch a rid on mom’s belly as we pulled into the anchorage.

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We spent the evening watching this cluster of mountain goats move around the hillside.

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No dinghy ride here, this inlet into the lagoon was raging! Though it looks so pleasant in the picture…

Just before bed, a black bear wondered onto the beach. Bixler hopped in the dinghy in hopes of getting some descent pictures, but it bolted by the sound of the outboard.

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We spent all evening on the deck watching the sun set over the mountains.

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The sky offered an amazing show way better than anything you see on TV.

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Oh, and a black bear wondered onto the beach!

After a pleasant sleep, we awoke hoping to see more bears, but instead were surrounded by placid waters.

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Stunning, placid, and beautiful. No sailing for us on the way out, though.

No sailing for us to Port Gravina. Instead we motored and consumed the last of our red salmon from Eshamy. Bixler had an itch to fish and Krystin had an urge to sleep. Before pulling into Olsen Bay, Krystin lay down for a nap and just managed to get comfortable when Bixler yelped, “Fish On!” Krystin scrambled on deck and help gaff a huge lingcod Bixler had reeled up from the deep. Lingcod fish and chips, anyone?

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Bixler’s lingcod he reeled up while Krystin was trying to nap. It took us eight meals to finally devour that fish!

We dropped anchor in Olsen Bay, a beautiful wide cove with a gentle sea breeze and an old cabin proudly on display at the beach. Bixler filleted the lingcod, saying it would last us four meals when in fact it lasted us eight. Krystin set out to make fish and chips out of the available material on the boat. No flour? How about Krusteaz? No vegetable oil for frying? How about olive? It was an 80% successful dinner, but boy it was sure delicious!

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Olsen Bay was a lovely anchorage with a great walking beach.

After dinner and brief nap, we started to explore the beach. Keeping up with our daily exercise regimen, we beached the dinghy near the old cabin. The cabin was property of the US Department of Agriculture and hadn’t been use for some time. A sign on it said you can receive a $25 to $100 reward for any information regarding defacing of this cabin. Oooh, big spenders!

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The first thing we noticed was the mysterious cabin on the beach. It is used by the USDA for salmon counts. Based on what we saw inside peaking through the windows, it looks like it is still in use.

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The woods behind the cabin sure are creepy though…

After determining that there was no way into the cabin, we set out to walk along the beach to the head of the bay. Dog salmon (chum or Keta, as the supermarket calls them) were running up the river and this was a prime time to see brown bears in action. Krystin thought she saw one chasing seagulls away from the boat, but it was too far to tell.

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The head of Olsen Bay had a huge estuary that was nice and open for a walk. This way we can watch and see if anything large and furry comes running along.

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The dog salmon run had just started and those salmon were swimming up river even at low tide.

We walked along the beach and then up the river. In the distance, Krystin spotted a brown bear. He appeared from the woods and slowly reached down to snag a salmon and retreated into the woods. We waited hoping to see more. Seeing brown bears is always a treat, whether in your yard or at a salmon stream!

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A brown bear appears from the forest and starts fishing for salmon.

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The bear pounces on the salmon.

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And grabs it with its mouth and paw.

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And wait for it…the money shot.

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Mission accomplished…time to take this meal into the woods.

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Sometimes bears abandon their salmon when a threat comes nearby. There is no way an eagle made a hole that big in a fish!

We waited and later returned to the boat. As we were sitting on the deck reading, we heard the distinct sound of a bear fight on shore. Bixler quickly jumped in the dinghy and saw two bears, one near the stream and the other well off into the grass. The larger bear had obviously banished the smaller bear from its fishing grounds. Incredible!

We moved up Port Gravina to Bear Trap Bay, of which Krystin has a love-hate relationship. Krystin loves this cove because it has a beautiful lagoon, waterfalls, and a salmon-filled river, but hates it because of the swarms of biting bugs and – for reasons unknown – severe allergies. Every year, she ends up inside the boat sniffling.

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The estuary at Bear Trap Bay is a bit more nestled than the one at Olsen Bay.

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An immature eagle greets us a we explore Bear Trap Bay.

Before the fit of allergies, we immediately explored the beach because the tide was low. Low tides put the fish in shallow water making the potential for seeing bears much greater than high tides. We beached the dinghy at what we thought a safe spot and started hiking up river. A tidal lagoon lies behind a grassy knoll that dries at low tide and that was our intended destination. We started making our way through the grass when Bixler shouts, “Bear!” A young brown bear was watching us from his perch on a rock. He seemed thoroughly disinterested in us and continued on eating blueberries on a knoll. He would peak over at us occasionally. At one point, a salmon spotting float plane flew over us and the three of us looked up.

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A young brown bear wondering around the knoll we were planning to cross stops to look at us and smell us.

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Satisfied with our sight and scent, he continues to eat blueberries. Really, don’t get up.

Living here for as long as we have, you start to learn that bears have distinct body language and will let you know in advance if they are dissatisfied with your presence. This bear was nonchalant, so we were safe and thus kept a safe distance. Our bond of understanding was broken when we realized that the tide was rising quickly and our dinghy was slowly becoming surrounded by water. Bixler bolted to move it up higher and the bear didn’t seem to care. He eventually retreated back to the woods when the second or third float plane buzzed over the three of us.

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After moving the dinghy to higher ground, we returned to watch the bear. The best thing about this picture is that the bear is actually looking at the camera.

We returned to the boat where Krystin started in a massive allergy fit. She barely made it into the dinghy for the high tide tour of the river, where we saw swarms of salmon but no bears. One antihistamine later and she was out for the night.

We pulled anchor the next morning quickly avoiding the bugs and breathing clearly. Our next destination was Sheep Bay, before Cordova. Sheep Bay is our traditional pre-Cordova stopping point where we set the boat up for port. Aside from attempting to hike to the lake above the waterfall and attempting to get into the lagoon at the wrong tide (neither were successful), we started making our “to do” lists. Fuel dock, harbormaster, post office, Fish and Game, Bidarki Rec Center (to check into the race), Laundromat, the Alaska Commercial Co. (or the AC, as we call it), Baja Tacos, etc….the list seemed endless.

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Sheep Bay really has one of the best waterfalls in the Sound.

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The beach next to the waterfall is awesome too. Pieces of an old saw mill are everywhere. Wish we could hit Sheep Bay on a clear day someday!

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Sheep Bay is home to numerous otters and their pups. With the incoming and outgoing tide, moms and pups floated by us all day long. This mom and pup were interested in Carpe Ventos.

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The pup decided our boat was scary and rejoined its mother.

The next morning, at 4:30 am, we got up, made coffee and hit the fuel dock even before they opened. We squeezed Carpe Ventos between two salmon tenders on the transient dock across from a large sailboat splattered with sponsorships. Most sailboaters are friendly, but these were the exception. Looking at our boat, they forced a “hello” and realized that we are neither sponsored nor possessed a custom-built boat for an expedition. Our 1979 Cal 34 may be classic plastic, but she has thousands of miles under her keel with only the beautiful name of Carpe Ventos with the hailing port of Seward, AK across the stern. No sponsorship required. As the weekend went on, we learned that their boat was a floating daycare and a clown-car’s worth of people would enter and exit daily glaring at us. The kids played violins (of course) and were whored out around town to make money. When race day came around a few of the adults complained about the $18 entrance fee for the 5K. Really? You’ve been gone sailing for years, on a custom boat, on someone else’s dime, and you complain about $18? The entire thing was disgusting and Krystin nearly lost it when the only conversation came from the expedition’s leader wanting to know about the race as she was exiting Carpe Ventos for the half-marathon. We see what the Aussies on Teleport mean when they were relieved to meet young people.

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Our boat neighbor on the transient dock. This tender was far nicer than the sponsored sailboat on the other side of us.

Hitting port in Cordova is always a whirlwind of activity. Aside from the glares and stares of our unfriendly boat neighbor, we met plenty of friendly fishermen passing by. Cordova is a working town with a working harbor centered around fishing. The docks may disheveled and the harbor loud, but it has the best $5 shower money can buy at the harbor and the best wood-fired pizza served out of a shipping container.

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Cordova is a beautiful town with a working harbor. We plan to visit in the winter sometime.

We started at the Laundromat and checked into the race at the Bidarki Recreation Center. We headed down to Fish and Game and got our shrimp permit, eager to start shrimping. Somewhere during our transition of the northern part of the Sound, Bixler’s mom called to say that the pot would not be guaranteed delivery upon our arrival. She even called the post office in Cordova (“the nice man at the post office”) to confirm it was not there. Bixler managed to get the line and accessories, but not the pot. After a visit to the harbormaster, he learned you could buy pots in one of the many industrial buildings that line the harbor. He purchased the last one in town.

In the meantime, Krystin finished up the laundry and bought oysters at Nicholai’s Backdoor (through the front door), said hi to the race director, chatted up with a fisherman excited about our shrimping prospects, and reconvened with Bixler at Copper River Fleece for some shopping. At the end of our errands, we enjoyed tacos at Baja Tacos with milkshakes and beers, saving the oysters for a post-race treat.

We spent the afternoon sorting out the shrimping gear which consists of a pot, 600 feet weighted line, a buoy, and a canister for shrimp bait (essentially cat food). Bixler walked the line up and down the dock bantering endlessly while arranging 50-foot sections of line to mark. He only shut up when a young fisherwoman in a tight tanktop and sweatpants walked by. Krystin remarked at the abrupt transition.

We walked up and down the docks with line receiving stares from our boat neighbors and friendly hellos from fishermen. Eventually, we packed up the shrimp gear, took the longest, hottest shower in two weeks, and grabbed a pizza at Harborside Pizza.

As we were eating pizza, a group of three girls came by and started asking us questions about fishing. For whatever reason, everyone in Cordova – locals and tourists alike – seem to believe we are fishermen. Maybe it is the no-bullshit attitude or the wearing of sweatpants, but most people were asking us independently how the fishing has been. After an explanation of sport fishing on a sailboat, they are further intrigued, just as these women were, fresh from the interior of Canada. We explained the differences in fishing and then wished them luck on the race. We had to be in bed early; Bixler’s Marathon race started at 6:15 am.

We both ran our respective races. Bixler placed fourth in the marathon after an injury from the Mount Marathon race caught up with him forcing him to walk certain portions. Krystin met up with the Canadians, then proceeded to pass all of them running the best half-marathon since last year, albeit not her fastest. Regardless, the Copper River Salmon Run is the friendliest race we’ve ever done. The small amount of contenders and amazing scenery is worth the run. Our fourth time running the race, Bixler is becoming known in the Cordova community as “the guy from Seward who comes by sailboat who runs with Mike.” Unfortunately, Mike was out fishing this year on his new bowpicker, complete with built-in treadmill.

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Bowpickers like this one were in and out of the harbor at all hours.

We ended the night at the Salmon Jam, a salmon buffet and awards ceremony where most people meet in the beer tent. It was light crowd, due to the salmon fishing and the now-pouring rain, but we joined a couple we recognized from this same race three or four years ago. They decided they wanted to run it again and had returned to Cordova. Ironically we found out that the wife’s family had owned a boat called Reposado that was sold and brought to Alaska. That boat now resides in Seward’s small boat harbor. The owners are friends of friends.

We said farewell to the couple and race director who is hoping to see us next year. Our plan was to leave early in the morning, but the marine forecast was saying otherwise. A fast moving storm was racing out to the Gulf and all that dry air from the Interior was whipping in behind. The wind howled all night in Cordova and 30-knot gusts were broadsiding Carpe Ventos by morning. We thoroughly debated crossing the Sound and even leaving. Cordova’s location makes it an easy place to get stuck. After listening to the buoy reports, a breakfast burrito from Baja Tacos, a final glimpse of Bix’s heartthrob young fisherwoman, and a final glare from our unfriendly sailboat neighbors, we said, “Let’s go.”

Cruzin’ the Sound: Part I

August 4, 2014

Every year as June turns to July, we eagerly gaze at our calendars, pile up provisions, and await our favorite trip of the year: the annual trip to Prince William Sound. Yes, we do speak of visiting other places such as Kenai Fjords National Park, Kodiak, and even the Inside Passage, but the pull of the Sound is too great. Still, in our fifth trip traversing the Sound, we have yet to visit all of its many coves and anchorages. Much akin to explorers filling in blank maps of the world, we are slowly filling in our local knowledge of the Sound.

PWS Route Week 1

Here by popular request, we are including a map of each week’s coves and routes. Our first week we bypassed much of the western side so we could spend some more time up north knowing that we would return to the west during the last week of our trip. Click on the map for names of the coves and an estimation of our route.

The day after the infamous Mount Marathon race, we loaded up Carpe Ventos and headed out east. The forecast was less than desirable: northeasterlies up to 20 knots with the buoys near Montague Island (the barrier island that causes Prince William Sound to be a sound and not a bay or a bight) following the forecast. We motored dead into the wind and experienced 20 to 30 knot winds on the nose as we neared Montague. Once in the lee, the winds piped down and we dropped anchor in the usual welcome cove: Fox Farm anchorage.

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As winds raged in the Sound, Fox Farm was a beautiful, serene anchorage with the occasional peak of blue sky appearing.

Surprisingly for us, there were two sailboats in the anchorage. A third, Sundowner from Seward, joined us. Bixler was still recovering from the race, so we stayed aboard for the evening, cooking up the rockfish we caught just outside the anchorage.

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Four sailboats anchored in Fox Farm Bay, a rare but beautiful sight.

The next morning, we awoke to sunshine and a Sitka Blacktail Deer on the isthmus at the head of Fox Farm. This was the first deer we had ever seen in Prince William Sound!

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A Sitka Blacktail deer walks across the rapidly-disappearing isthmus early in the morning.

Eagerly, we hopped in the dinghy and explored the isthmus thoroughly. No on-shore deer sightings, but we did connect with Sundowner and found out the captain’s dog has a taste for barnacles. The other two boats in the cove we learned were from France who had just come over by way of Kodiak. The language barrier made it hard to carry on a conversation, but we wished them luck on their travels.

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The canine crew of S/V Sundowner sure enjoys a barnacle snack!

We pulled anchor in Fox Farm and headed immediately to good old 7-Fathom Hole. We had an ambitious first-half of the trip planned to help fill some gaps on the northern and eastern parts of the Sound while saving the western half for the weeks after Cordova. This meant putting miles under Carpe Ventos’ keel, who was happy to be moving after a dismal June of endlessly crappy weather.

Though only one day in, we made an ice stop in Icy Bay to gather as much glacial ice as we could hold. We usually plan our food meticulously, but since we knew we were going to be gone for a month, we decided to clean out our refrigerator too. There was little room in our ice box for ice, but we managed to stuff enough ice in the icebox and two coolers to last us until Columbia Glacier, thanks to some cooler weather.

We pulled into 7-Fathom Hole and anchored next to a boat we recognized as the yacht Teleport, captained by Aussies Chris and Jess. We had seen the boat the week before in Aialik, but didn’t have time to say hi as they had pulled anchor well before we even awoke. Luckily for us, a blustery forecast forced us together in 7-Fathom Hole to wait for a small storm to pass. We hopped in the dinghy and went over to introduce ourselves. They invited us aboard later for appetizers and beers since we were on our way fishing. We took up that offer later since apparently the salmon had yet to show up to Jackpot Bay! This was the first year that we were salmonless sitting in 7-Fathom Hole.

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With no salmon and plenty of rain, Krystin poses in full Grundens at Jackpot stream.

Armed with beers and some canned salmon from a few years ago, we joined Chris and Jess in a dish of canned salmon and fresh-caught shrimp from their shrimp pot. It was at this moment that the epic quest to acquire shimping gear started as the Aussie described the shrimping process and Chris later showed Bixler his pot pulling technique.

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Aussie Chris poses with a side-stripe shrimp headed straight from ocean to curry.

The Aussies were delighted to have met young people (hint: the sailing world is usually a 60+ affair) and spoke of their travels and connections. They had communicated over email with our friends traversing the Northwest Passage on Empiricus and in Nome, they met Art, our lovable, chain-smoke, longhandle-wearing, gold-prospecting, former neighbor now searching for gold somewhere near Hope. Before we moved, he left us detailed instructions on how to get to his mining camp: “You take the Y to Hope, go behind the road maintenance building, follow dirt the road, and take a left, then another left, and then another left. My camp is right there.” To which we responded: “Art, pretty sure that’s driving in a complete circle.”

As the night wore on and the rain began to fall, we invited the Aussies over to dinner on Carpe Ventos, where Krystin made an awesome shrimp-and-rockfish curry which we all devoured. We spent some time mulling over charts and suggesting anchorages to the Aussies, then discovered that Chris and Jess were planning to tie the knot on the same day that we were! Small world. We told them we wanted to visit Australia and they said we were invited to stay with them. Sounds like a plan. We bid them good luck and made a note to contact them when we hit Cordova.

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The Aussie’s shrimp were so good we went to great lengths to acquire a shrimp pot setup during our trip.

The mild storm passed leaving only rain in the path. Bixler decided that we need to get shrimp pots and called his mom who was planning on going up to Anchorage to make sure she could pick up the stuff and general delivery it to Cordova. She begrudgingly agreed after already watching our house, cat, and driving up to Anchorage to get our car serviced. Bixler always jokes, “what else would she do with her time if I wasn’t around?” He then placed an order to Donalson’s in Anchorage. Theoretically, a full shrimping setup with be awaiting us in Cordova with the shrimp permits available at Fish and Game, practically right next door to the post office!

The weather was clearing as we approached Gunboat Cove in front of the Eshamy Bay Lodge. We joke that the weather is always sunny at Eshamy and it’s true; even the owners say Eshamy Bay is a sunny hole in otherwise overcast Sound weather.

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Gunboat was mostly sunny, except for a few passing clouds. The cove was sure calm compared to the pouring rain and williwaws of 7-Fathom Hole.

We dropped anchor in the middle of Gunboat Cove among jumping salmon. We quickly opened up the boat to dry her out and dug out our dive gear in the quarter berth. Our quarter berth is our mini storage shed which we have recently removed the useless cushion to make more room. On this trip it house a complete set of SCUBA gear, free-diving gear for two, fly fishing gear, packrafts, and our new Dometic AC/DC freezer. It is quite the task to organize that compartment.

We changed into wetsuits and hopped in the water with a speargun and GoPro. Snagging salmon is fun, but spearfishing is wonderous. The salmon in Gunboat were so thick that we had a hard time picking out which to spear. Both of us ended up with three each that we filleted and froze for the next week. One salmon went straight to the grill on a cedar plank.

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Bixler holds up our stringer full of salmon that were all speared nearby. These salmon would sustain us until our we caught a lingcod during the second week of our trip.

We gorged on salmon, hiked to the lake behind the cove and up to a knoll (Krystin was promoting daily exercise since we were running a race in Cordova) and settled in for the evening. The lodge appeared thoroughly occupied, so we decided not to bother the owners or caretakers, both of which are Seward friends.

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To promote daily exercise, we followed animal trails deep into the woods. A trail in Gunboat led us to a babbling brook.

The next morning we awoke to a black bear on the beach in the usual spot scoping out the salmon situation. The lodge seemed unusually quiet, so we decided to head over and chat with the owner who was just about to take his guests to Whittier. He thanked us for our support of getting their dock permitted, asked about Bixler’s mom, and other Seward gossip. We said hello to the caretakers who were very busily prepping the lodge for the next round of guests. When we asked what they were doing this winter, they replied, “hibernating.” And we don’t blame them. After a season of serving tourists well into December for the deer hunting season, the caretakers could use some peace and quiet.

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With the lodge quiet, a bear walks out and scopes out the salmon stream.

We said goodbye to all since we had to move as well. Our next destination put us up on the north side of the Sound to Cascade Falls. We anchored there last year with a superyacht eating oysters and complaining about the heat. This year, it was warm the day we made the long, windless trek north, but the oyster farm was out of oysters! Hailing them on the radio didn’t help; there was a two to three week wait for oysters (in theory).

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Transitioning north to Cascade, we saw hints of the huge mountains that border the Sound from Alaska’s Interior. An occasional bowpicker would block our path, but they were surprisingly few fishermen in this general area.

We anchored in Cascade, sans oysters, and headed up to the lake above the waterfall. We intended to packraft the lake, but it was small and buggy, so we opted out. Both of us were in need of a bath, so we headed over to a nearby stream to bathe. Four years of bathing in snowmelt streams really catches up with you. Both of us froze, but we were clean.

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Cascade is beautiful with a towering waterfall, verdant mountains, and a great all-around anchorage.

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The lake was flat and buggy – not really the best packrafting area, unfortunately.

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The lake may be buggy, but you sure can’t beat the view from the top. Oh, but look at that sky – storm’s a-comin’!

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Sans packrafts, we dinghied over to the waterfall for a closer view. You can feel the spray before you even see it!

Cascade was calm with ever-increasing clouds. We listed to the marine forecast that night and were shocked: a nasty storm was spawning in the gulf. Tomorrow would be increasing winds up to 25 knots, then 35 knots, then 45 knots with gusts to 55 knots near Hichinbrook entrance, all of this persisting for the next few days! Cascade was not an ideal place to weather a storm. The wide open bay has little protection from such fickle winds.

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Clouds were increasing as geese appeared on the horizon. Have they started migrating already?

Krystin poured over the chart that night and selected an anchorage in Cedar Bay, not far from Cascade. Our guide notes it is not a highly visited place, but has good protection from weather. And on the plus side it contains the northern-most population of Alaskan Yellow Cedar which rings this fragrant fjord.

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Alaskan Yellow Cedars are more common in Southeast than in Southcentral. These fragrant trees may have drifted north on currents or may have been brought up by human travelers hundreds of years ago.

The next morning we pulled anchor early and booked it to Cedar Bay. Concerned for our Aussie friends, we tried hailing them on the radio but instead picked up Gypsy Vixen, piloted by “Captain Dave and Admiral Cici,” ardent followers of our blog. Captain Dave was extremely excited to talk to us. They were headed to Whittier to weather the storm and mentioned a cove called the Hidey-Hole in Cedar Bay. He hoped to meet us in person someday.

It turns out Hidey-Hole is a real place, but far too small for such a powerful storm. Instead, we settled on Cedar Lakes Cove with good holding bottom and plenty of swing room. Before the winds increased too much, we explored the lake at the head of the bay and the lagoon that contained a mysterious fish. We wanted to go back and flyfish, but the rain settled in. During the storm when the Hichinbrook entrance was pounded with storm-force winds and 45-knot easterlies raged through the Sound, all we experienced was pouring rain. We would hear noises that sounded like wind, but it turned out that our rainy haven was right in the flight path for every 747 coming out of Anchorage.

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Cedar Lakes Cove looks like nowhere else in the Sound. Solid granite, calm waters, and cedars make this a unique place to explore. Krystin stands on shore poised to shoot some video.

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The granitic soil base makes for interesting flora and landscapes that we explored thoroughly before it started to rain.

For two days we holed up until the winds backed down and the rain slackened.

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Rain? No problem, we had the wood stove going to dry out the cabin and keep us warm.

 

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We also survived the storm by perfecting our culinary prowess on the boat. This night’s meal: red salmon nachos.

We were able to take a dinghy tour across Cedar Bay, where we wondered upon a flock of geese hanging out near a lake. Looking out of Cedar Bay, we decided we could move up to nearby Wells Bay and still have protection from the weakening storm. We pulled anchor and headed to Keyhole Bay.

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When the storm slackened, we explored the marshy bog lands in Cedar Bay.

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We also stumbled upon a flock of geese, solving the riddle of “what is pooping in the area and making these small trails?”

Keyhole Bay looks like a giant keyhole on the chart. It is surrounded by towering waterfalls and was one of our deepest anchorages yet. Dropping anchor in 125 feet, we noticed a greenish tinge to the water from the immense amount of runoff from the rain. The storm was breaking, so we headed out for a hike along the keyhole. We climbed up grassy, granitic mounds offering incredible views of the area. We spent a significant amount of time hiking, a blessing after being holed up inside for so long.

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Hmm…kind of looks like a keyhole…

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The rain sure created numerous waterfalls in Keyhole, like this one we tried to bushwhack to.

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We settled on the view from our boat instead.

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During our daily exercise, we spotted two bald eagles perched at the top of a tree enjoying the break in the weather.

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We also enjoyed Keyhole’s rocky, indented shoreline.

The weather finally returned to the usual 10 knots of wind and we motored to Emerald Bay near Columbia Glacier. We rounded Glacier Island expecting to find tons of ice, but the water was empty. We headed slightly out of our way to collect more ice. Our ice supply was low, thanks to us using our woodstove during the storm.

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Top-o-the-morning! Krystin gets ready to pull anchor in Keyhole, complete with gloves and bug net. The weather had calmed and we were headed to Columbia Glacier.

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As we rounded Glacier Island, we spotted numerous sea lions on a beach. They were everywhere in the water peaking up at our boat, but we couldn’t get a good shot of them!

We dropped anchor in Emerald Cove and climbed to the usual overlook near the moraine of Columbia Glacier. One of the fastest retreating glaciers in the Sound, Columbia is no longer visible from the many nearby anchorages. Since the area was still overcast, it was not nearly as impressive as last summer, though one can enjoy the view much better without food poisoning.

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Not the impressive view that we had last year, but we enjoyed seeing part of a glacier through the wispy clouds.

That night we headed out to bathe again. This time, the stream we selected was unusually cold. We later determined that it may have been glacier-fed, or we are finally getting old. We snuggled up under our 6-lb Filson blanket watching a Great Courses about food history (naturally) when we heard the low drone of a boat engine entering our cove. Before we knew it, we had two salmon tenders and two seiners anchored in the cove, all of which were running their generators. So much for peace and quiet!

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Phooey! So much for our peace and quiet. Two salmon tenders with loud generators joined us in the cove.

After a restless night, we pulled anchor and pointed our bow east. We had filled in a few spots on the north, with a few to go for coming summers. We needed to make progress to Cordova for the annual Salmon Jam, so east we went, fighting the winds and currents of the Valdez Arm and Tatitlek Narrows.

Aialik Venture

July 2, 2014

Every summer we strive to head west to at least one of the fjords in Kenai Fjords National Park. A few summers ago we were lucky enough to explore all the fjords. Last summer we had boat issues, so we only ventured west once. This summer the weather has been against us. Luckily for us, this past weekend we had a break in the weather and managed to fight 7-foot swells with familial unit in tow to round into one of the most beautiful destinations out of Seward: Aialik Fjord.

Aialik Fjord is frequented by boats taking loads and loads of tourists up to the heads of glaciers to view wildlife. Despite the number of boats, a visitor on a personal vessel hardly sees them since there are numerous private anchorages and great fishing spots in the area. We spent much of the weekend playing tour guides of our own, showing off Holgate Glacier, fishing extensively, and anchoring in two of our favorite anchorages. Bixler even took advice from a couple aboard a small powerboat anchored nearby to hike up a notch for some killer views of the cove and beyond.

We had two interesting milestones on this trip. The first is we ate polar bear. Nope, polar bears are not on the endangered species lists, so take a breath. And yes, Alaska Natives do hunt, eat, and use the hides of such bears. Through a series of circumstances, we were gifted polar bear and warned of the taste. For the past few months, the polar bear meat has been sitting in our freezer due to our skepticism. We decided to finally give it a try. For a bear-to-bear comparison, we coupled our usual black bear burgers with polar bear sliders, both with the same glob of guacamole on top. Black bear is sweet, mild, and peppery; polar bear is not. The meat is distinctly fishy smelling and gamey with a strange aftertaste. Usually we can stomach just about anything – except polar bear. Ironically, our family unit loved it and he hate his entire slider.

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Dinner of Champions: Black bear burger on the right, Polar Bear slider on the left. Mmmm…..

Second, we successfully caught salmon trolling off our sailboat. Trolling is difficult on a sailboat mostly because we have so much momentum that controlling our speed can be an issue. Also, trolling requires patience, which neither of us have. We really wanted to catch a silver (coho salmon) and master the art of trolling to try to capture the sailboat category in the Seward Silver Salmon Derby in August this year, so we put our trolling to the test.

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Bixler stands proudly with his silver caught by trolling off the sailboat.

Fishing was slow and we caught one silver and one pink (humpy salmon). Our moods were uplifted during the monotony of trolling when the nearby whales started putting on a show! Here’s a short video:

And here are some great pictures of the scenery. On Saturday we had amazing weather that was so hot we switched to complaining mode. Thank goodness is socked into the usual misty gray skies the next morning.

 

Meanwhile in our Backyard…

June 26, 2014

A common question people often ask is: Do bears every get into our trash? The answer is yes. Usually, as the silver salmon start running in Seward in late August, bears emerge from the woods and knock trash cans down on their way to the many salmon-filled streams. It is part of the quirkiness of living in Alaska. The Lower 48 has problem animals like raccoons; we have bears.

The other day we headed out for some trout fishing at our secret lake. On our way home, we noticed someone pulling out of our driveway and a camper parked in the street. Note to self: Buy No Trespassing signs.

Oh no! Robbers? Not likely. Bears. We had been leaving our trash cans out because normally bears aren’t a problem this early in the summer.

As we rounded into our driveway, we saw what little trash we had in our can strewn about. The trash can was flattened and bear poop was right next to our porch. The people in the camper, tourists from Australia, were ecstatic because a brown bear sow and her cubs had been munching on our trash just five minutes before. Bixler gave out his email to get the pictures, especially since the brown bear cubs were apparently fascinated by our porch.

The Australians left and we set out to clean up the trash and move our trash cans indoors. As if the gravity of the situation wasn’t obvious enough, a neighbor we had never met parked in our driveway and walked over. We recognized his car as the one that almost t-boned us at the intersection, so he obviously knew of us. He proceeded to berate and belittle us, calling us irresponsible, telling us he was unhappy with the location of our trash cans, and telling us there are bears in the neighborhood. Just before this Bixler had gotten into the argument with the She-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named post office employee who is counting down her retirement by fighting with each and every resident in Seward. We were on edge and defended the situation considering we practically just moved in. Note to self: Buy Trespassers Will Be Shot signs.

A side note: for all the late 20-something/early 30-something readers out there, we aren’t sure if this a frequent situation for you, but it happens a lot to us. We tend to look younger than we are and for some reason the older generations seems to have the urge to offer unwarranted advice, usually in a rude or belittling manner. Here’s the conversation from last Sunday when we were cleaning our boat:

Old Man: You just bought this boat. (Statement, not question)

Bixler: No, we’ve had it for five years.

Old Man: Well, it sat for a while.

Bixler: No, they [the previous owners] brought the boat up in September and we bought it the following April.

Old Man: Oh. (walks away).

After the ordeal, we were fuming with anger. Bixler cleaned up the trout as we talked it over. We mutually decided we needed a “calming down” hot tub just as Bixler’s mom arrived for dinner. While we were suiting up, she said a bush in the backyard was moving wildly. Krystin peaked her head out the window in our office and saw two brown bear cubs digging through our lawn clippings playfully. The sow emerged and starting eating the wild greens while the cubs started investigating our resource (not junk) pile.

Bears that are accustomed to humans is a dangerous situation, so Bixler grabbed a gun and walked outside in just his swimsuit to yell at them. The cubs seemed interested in the loud pink creature with curly hair, but the sow was huffing. They bear family disappeared into the back half of our property, making for an exciting and uplifting evening.

Wild animals in our backyard in Alaska? Teaching the bears to be afraid of humans? How “irresponsible” of us!

Solstice Sail and Celebratory Halibut

June 23, 2014

Carpe Ventos is back in action! After three weeks of gale-force winds, we settled on going out after a brief spat about the 20 knot winds forecast. Of course that 20 knots was only Resurrection Bay and right on the nose, so we motored through it. As we turned into the Day Harbor, the seas were like glass.

We fished our secret rockfish hole and Bixler pulled up one of the largest black rockfish we’ve ever seen. We figured we were off to a good start, but out in the distance a storm was brewing on the horizon. Regardless, we dropped anchor in one of our favorite spots: Safety Cove.

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This large black rockfish may have been an omen of fish to come.

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Safety Cove while the seas were still nice and glassy.

Safety Cove was not entirely safe that night. As we sat on deck and admired the green scenery, williwaws started gusting from all directions. Clouds were rapidly appearing. By the time we headed to bed, Safety Cove was filled with sustained winds.

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Hmmm….mackerel sky…

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Williwaws started to appear that night in Safety Cove. Even the lagoon behind the cove had wind on it.

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Carpe Ventos moving around in the wind. This was still early in the night before it got really bad.

Krystin didn’t feel so safe, but Bixler thought otherwise. We decided to pull anchor and return to Resurrection Bay. It was nearing midnight.

Wrong decision.

Most of Day Harbor is open to the eastern Gulf of Alaska where all the prevailing weather originates. Though Safety Cove was slightly windy, the Gulf was gusty with steep waves and short periods. Though we were nearing the solstice, the clouds were so thick that the sky was black. Only white buffaloes could be seen on the horizon.

Bixler steered while Krystin sat uncomfortably seasick. After a few hours of being needlessly knocked around, we dropped anchor in busy Sunny Cove at 3 am. Krystin was still sick. Bixler was pissed. It was a dumb decision. We won’t be doing that again.

We awoke at noon the next morning and headed out for some fishing. It had poured rain all night, but the skies were clearing. There wasn’t a drop of wind on the glassy seas.

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We returned to Day Harbor to fish only to find perfectly glassy seas.

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A storm had obviously passed in the night. Look at those dramatic clouds!

We headed towards Bear Glacier in western Resurrection Bay in hopes to find some halibut. The seas were calm enough for us to anchor and soak for the large fish. A few boats had the same idea, so we anchored shallower and further away. Bixler set up the halibut soaking gear on our jigging rods: circle hooks with salmon heads, doused in “butt juice” (a scent attractant for halibut). Bixler then put a small lead head squid jig on a spinning rod and caught two greenling off the bat. He dropped again and felt a nibble. Instead of the small greenling, the fish took off, taking most of his line. At only 20 lb test, it was hopeless. “There are big halibut here!” Bixler speculated. Quickly, he reeled up the jigging rods to reset the salmon heads and use the carcasses of the greenling as additional bait.

An hour or so went by. We made a delicious dinner out of rockfish collars. As we sat on the deck drinking the last of the wine, Krystin’s small TigerLite jigging rod began to bounce. Bixler carefully lifted the rod out of the rod holder and let the fish take line. He increased the drag. Immediately, the reel began to whirl and the fish took off. Bixler used a combination of brute strength and careful tightening of the drag to control the fish. It started to head deeper. Bixler let it go, then reeled it in, trying to tire it out. He barked orders. “Clear the deck, move the other rod, grab the GoPro, move the cooler, move the dinghy (we tend to tow our dingy from place to place when making short moves).” Krystin abided and moved over to the starboard gate with the gaff to figure out what was on the line.

Bixler managed to gain control of the fish. He moved it closer to the boat. Near glaciers, the ocean water is a soft milky blue. As he reeled up, the first thing we saw was the salmon head. We both looked at each other in confusion. Then we saw it. Emerging from the milky water was the distinct mouth of a halibut. And this was no small halibut; this was a big one. Bixler screamed with joy, “HALIBUT!” He gave Krystin the rod and told her to keep it steady. Halibut can pause and then take off at any moment. Because of their strength, large halibut can be dangerous to people and boats.

Bixler ran inside the boat and grabbed Krystin’s Walther PK380. Krystin reeled the live halibut up so its head sat just below the surface of the water. The fish was tired, but very much alive. Bixler fired four shots into the head and gill plate (while this may seem gruesome, this is really the only way to deal with large fish). The fish bled out while Krystin supported the deadweight on the rod.

We contemplated how to get the fish into the boat. Sailboats have very high gunwales, so lifting was out of the option. We thought about running a line through the mouth and gills and winching it aboard. Krystin looked at the dingy and suggested we pile it into the dingy, tow it, and fillet it ashore.

Bixler hopped in the dingy and pulled in the halibut. It was far larger than we expected and filled the entire dinghy. He made sure it was dead and we towed it to our next anchorage: Bulldog Cove.

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Wow! Look at that fish!

Once anchored up in Bulldog, we gathered all the necessary equipment for filleting – or rather butchering – a halibut of this size. Our first task was to measure the fish to obtain an estimated weight since our scale was far too small for this fish (also, we couldn’t lift it). Our measurement was 65 inches. According to the back of our tide book, the estimated weight for a halibut of this size is 141 lbs! Dressed out that is 106 lbs of delicious halibut to fill our freezer.

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Bixler with Krystin’s rod and the fish on the beach.

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A friend had told us to use salmon heads as bait. We guess they work!

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Bixler in the classic Teddy Roosevelt pose with large animal.

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Had Krystin taken the picture top down, it would read 65 inches.

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And here’s what the tide book says about the weight of a 65-inch halibut. Of course Alaskan tide books would have this information.

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A screen shot from video of the catch. Bixler is about 5’9″ and the halibut isn’t much shorter.

We butchered the halibut and spent the rest of the evening enjoying the scenery and beaches in Bulldog Cove.

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Whew, need some scenery to calm us down.

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The famous rocky point at Bulldog Cove that we have so many pictures of.

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Bixler films in the mass of greenery.

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The lake at Bulldog was crystal clear and filled with some sort of fish we speculated got washed into the lake during a storm.

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Flowers in full bloom on the beach.

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The dense greenery was quite a change as we usually visit Bulldog in the spring before everything blooms.

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Carpe Ventos’ final resting spot for the evening. She’s happy about her first big halibut!

What started as a somewhat miserable trip ended on a high note. With the summer solstice on Saturday, the same day we caught the halibut, we had double the reason to celebrate. We finally succeeded in catching a very large halibut off of our sailboat!

Halibut and chips, anyone?

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One of the four halibut fillets!

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