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GSSR#15 - Tracy Arm

Total Distance: 5,276 nm
Run so far: 959 nm
Nautical Miles to go: 4,317 nm
Tomorrow's goal: 57 nm to Juneau

Greetings all!

I'll start today's blog with a brief snippet from a conversation yesterday....

“You could have been killed!” exclaimed Roberta.

“Yeah! Isn’t it cool.” answered Steven Argosy, from Seabird.

If that conversation makes no sense, it's my fault. I am telling the story backwards. As they say, the best place to begin a story is at the beginning. Which in this instance, means picking up from Petersburg Alaska, from where I posted my last blog entry.

Our run from Petersburg to Tracy Arm was long and slow. We had to run for 60 or so miles straight into 18-20 knot winds, with 2 to 3 knots of current against us.When plotting the course the prior evening, Nobeltec had claimed zero knots of current. Generally, Nobeltec has been dead-on accurate, but in this instance, Nobeltec got it wrong. What this translated to was many hours spent staring at a speedometer which said 6.5 knots, even though I was burning fuel at a well-above-normal rate. I did have the option to run my normal 1,350 RPMs, and run at 5 knots, but that would make a long day even longer. Instead, I just shoved the throttles forward, and didn't get much to show for it.





Complicating an already slow ride, was a non-stop parade of whales. Several readers of my blog wrote me, after my last blog entry, to say that I should not worry about hitting a whale. Whereas they might damage a fast-moving boat, or a light weight boat, they pose little risk to a 120 ton trawler moving at 9 knots. This may be true, but it sure doesn't seem like it from on Sans Souci. On the run to Tracy Arm we dodged whales several times, including once, when we had to quickly slam on the brakes to avoid hitting three whales directly in our path. After we stopped, they leisurely dove within 50 feet of our bow. Once the whales dove, I wasn't sure whether or not I could safely resume speed. I compromised by relaxing a couple minutes and then running at idle speed until out of the area.

Grey Pearl had a very close encounter with a whale that breached almost directly alongside their boat. When they reported the incident with a shaky voice, I tried to make light of the situation by saying (on the radio), "Remember. If you kill it, you must eat it." They did not find my comment humorous, and responded, "That might normally be fine, but it wasn't the whale who was at risk."

One bright spot on our run to Tracy Arm was that we noticed another Nordhavn running a few miles in front of us; Crossroads, a Nordhavn 50. I had briefly met the owners of Crossroads, Stan and Diane Heirshberg, in Ketchikan, when looking to give away all of my Pacific NW and Canadian charts. We need all the space we can get on Sans Souci, and it is likely to be a decade before we are in these waters again. One side note on Crossroads is that prior to Stan and Diane buying her, Crossroads was called Sundog, and accompanied Sans Souci and Grey Pearl across the Atlantic a few years back on the Nordhavn Atlantic Rally.




On the chart Tracy Arm appears to have a fairly tight entrance. Crossroads would be making the entrance first, and we teased Stan that the rest of us were going to wait to see if he survived before deciding whether or not we'd give it a try. This lead to us jokingly referring to Crossroads as  'The Sacrificial Nordhavn.' Cruise ships regularly traverse the entrance to Tracy Arm, so we weren't really worried, and of course all four boats went through with ease. Here's a picture of the full GSSR group at anchor just inside the entrance to Tracy Arm.


Several friends had described Tracy Arm as a "must see" location. Some have said that it is superior to Glacier Bay. It is an enormous inlet, over 20 miles deep, with a glacier at its head. Chunks of ice regularly fall off the glacier, and are carried throughout Tracy Arm. The closer you are to the glacier, the more of these floating icebergs you see. Some are small, but others are huge. Some are as big as a house, and there is more of the iceberg beneath the water than can be seen on the surface.



We felt it was a very good omen that one of the first icebergs we encountered seemed modeled on our own GSSR logo! (isn't that a polar bear standing on that Sushi Roll?)

Icebergs are not always visible, and do not always sit still. They float on the water, and sometimes seem to be attacking you. When at anchor, on a flood tide, large numbers of icebergs can be pushed into the anchorage. You can be peacefully sleeping when a monster-sized iceberg floats up to your ship, rubbing against the side, usually harmlessly. Seabird had an incident last year, when they and another Nordhavn (47 - Strickly for Fun) were approaching the glacier, where Steven ran across an iceberg, floating just at the surface. He pushed it under the boat, and could see bottom paint on it after sliding over it.

Rather than run the risk of taking our boats too deep into Tracy Arm, and dealing with potential iceberg damage, we made the decision to take the tenders to the Glacier. This would require a 90 minute run each way up the 20 mile channel.

However, later in the evening, Crossroads came on the radio to say: "As the Sacrificial Nordhavn, I would like to make the following offer. We are going to take Crossroads to the glacier. Any of the GSSR crews who would like to ride aboard Crossroads are invited, or, you can take the tenders, and warm up inside Crossroads whenever you like." This was an offer too good to refuse! Within minutes, all three GSSR boats had signed up to spend the day with Stan and Diane aboard Crossroads. Grey Pearl offered to have Crossroads tow the Grey Pearl tender (known as Mini Pearl), so that if the ice got too thick we could go the rest of the way via tender.



Along the way, we passed many great waterfalls, and Stan exhibited a natural mastery at dodging icebergs. We moved slowly, and watched the water very closely.

At the Glacier, we took time for photos.


Stan and Diane Heirshberg, Crossroads, Nordhavn 50, with the Sawyer Glacier in the background.



Here's a photo of the full GSSR group. Left to right: Steven Argosy (Seabird),, Roberta Williams (Sans Souci), Tina Jones (Grey Pearl), Ken Williams (Sans Souci), Braun Jones (Grey Pearl), and Carol Argosy (Seabird).

There are actually two glaciers within Tracy Arm. Whereas we could take Crossroads close to one, the ice field blocked the other, so we decided to drop the tender.

With the ice in the water, it was unbelievably cold. We measured the water temperature at 39.7 degrees. This led to a discussion about how long someone could survive if they fell out of the raft. I have since researched it and found that unconciousness would be likely in 15 to 30 minutes, with survival estimated at 30 to 90 minutes.




Seeing this giant iceberg, we noticed what appeared to be a navigable channel, and took the tender through it. Within minutes after passing through the iceberg (we had to lift the engine to make it through the shallow water in the iceberg passage), we heard a loud crashing noise behind us. It took us a bit to figure out what had happened. The iceberg, through which we had just transited, had just collapsed on itself. Our passage was no more. Whether it would have collapsed anyhow, or we somehow impacted it, I do not know. What I do know is that I'm happy we were not beneath it at the time, and that it did not send out a sizable wave. This is the incident which triggered the conversation between Roberta and Steven when our tender returned to Crossroads. The message here is: Tread carefully around icebergs. They may be pretty, but they can be very dangerous.


A look at the fresh ice revealed when the iceberg collapsed.


Perhaps it was our encounter with the iceberg, or the density of the ice ahead, but we decided to go no closer to the Glacier.



Here's another iceberg we passed, this one loaded with birds.

Returning to our anchorage, we noticed another Nordhavn anchored near our boats: Patience, a Nordhavn 46. There seem to be a lot of Nordhavns running around Alaska! The folks at Nordhavn would be quite proud if they could have seen the anchorage.

We really didn't get any great footage of the icebergs. If the video player does not appear below, click this link to see the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6pgniQHxP6E



And, on a different topic....

I haven't mentioned one of the best things about cruising Alaska. The days are VERY long. It starts becoming light by about 4:30 in the morning, and stays light until nearly 11pm! The cruising day can be very long, which is fantastic. That said, an excess of daylight isn't ALWAYS a good thing. Roberta and I usually like to hit the hot tub at night, while at anchor. However, this isn't easy when the days are so long. On our last night in Tracy Arm, we decided to wait until dark, and went to the hot tub at 10:30pm. It was absolutely daylight! Perhaps an hour later we might see stars, but at this time I couldn't tell you if Alaska has stars or not.

And, a brief word about Internet access...

As many of you know, Sans Souci has many different solutions for accessing the internet. The #1 cheapest and fastest solution is usually to just use the wifi in marinas. That has never been a problem, anywhere in the world, until Alaska. For some reason, at the last three marinas, we've struck out. Specifically, at Petersburg, Wrangell, and here at Auke Bay, the harbor masters have all seemed surprised by the question "Is there wifi in the marina?" I do have other ways of accessing the internet, so I'm not complaining, but I'm sure this is an issue for 99% of cruisers. Hopefully this will change...

As I've mentioned before, my primary "not in a marina" method of accessing the internet is via my Mini Vsat. This is a terrific device that gives unlimited broadband internet, but at a high initial and monthly cost. Anyone who can afford it should consider Vsat. That said, it wouldn't work at Pybus Bay, or in Tracy Arm. High mountains tend to block the signal. My backup system, Fleet Broadband has been 100% reliable everywhere. Unfortunately though, this comes at a price. Roberta and I racked up an amazingly high bill while at anchor in Tracy Arm (over $1,000 in just two days!, with very minor usage).

And, lastly....

We're celebrating a couple of milestones on Sans Souci. We are only a couple days short of finishing the first month of our trip, plus we're just wrapping up our first thousand miles of cruising. Thus far, everything has gone flawlessly, and I can't be happier with the trip or the boat. That said, although we have covered about 20% of the distance, a cynic, such as myself, might comment that we've done nearly 90% of the easy miles, and soon will be venturing into the tricky bit of the ride. Until June 7th, when we enter the Gulf of Alaska, we are traveling primarily on well documented, and well protected, waterways. Once we leave the protection of the Inside Passage, it will be a very different trip.

Thank you,

Ken Williams
Nordhavn 68, Sans Souci
http://www.KensBlog.com

PS Don't forget! The best part of the blog is your comments. You can only view these if you go to the website (http://www.kensblog.com). When you get to the home page on my website, just pick any blog entry, and post your thoughts, and read others. You'll be surprised what you learn!



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