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Roberta,Ken And The Pups Cruise The World On A Relatively Small Boat

GSSR#16 - Tracy Arm to Glacier Bay

Total Distance: 5,276 nm
Run so far: 1,085 nm
Nautical Miles to go: 4,191 nm
Tomorrow's goal: 20 nm

Greetings all!

This past week has been extremely busy. The three GSSR boats traveled as a group, from Tracy Arm to Juneau Alaska, without incident. We moored the boats at Auke Bay Marina, about 15 miles north of Juneau. All three of us rented cars, and for the most part, spent our time working on various boat projects and provisioning (the nautical way of saying "Grocery Shopping".)

Juneau is Alaska's capital. Similar to the other Alaskan cities along the inside passage, it is a major cruise-ship stop. In the picture above there are five cruise ships! When visiting the city museum, there was a sign-in sheet, with a column labeled "Cruise Ship". I didn't see anyone who didn't list a cruise ship name, so I just wrote "Sans Souci." For no rational reason, I didn't like being thought of as 'just one of the cruise ship tourists.'  

Juneau is an amazingly beautiful city, backed by the Mendenhall Glacier, and tall snow-capped mountains. My photos do not do the city justice. I tried to capture the scenery, but it is on too grand a scale, and I didn't have the time.

We have been considering Juneau as our last chance to provision the boat. Some shopping will be possible in Kodiak and in Dutch Harbor, but Juneau was our last bite at the 'big city shopping' apple. Juneau has Costco, Fred Meyer, Safeway, and more, all of which we visited on multiple occasions.

Unfortunately, I planned poorly when mooring Sans Souci, and we were located impossibly far from the parking lot. This meant very long walks, pushing or dragging overloaded wheel-barrels packed with food to the boat, and returning with wheelbarrows of trash to the parking lot.

Finally, when we could find nowhere on the boat to stuff any more food, we took a day to 'just be tourists'...

When in port, we like to eat out, and have had good luck finding restaurants in the towns we visit. The restaurants Twisted Fish and Hanger came highly recommended, but we found them a bit 'touristy.' I confess to being prejudiced against any restaurant located too near a cruise ship dock. I asked one waiter: "What's the best restaurant in town? We're looking for something a little upscale. Good wine list. Romantic. Something for a special night." The response: "Nothing like that exists in this town." Actually, we had dinner twice at the restaurant Zephyrs, a couple blocks off the water front, and a very nice lunch a the adjacent italian restaurant Tarantinos.

While on the cruise ship docks, we took Shelby to visit the statue of Patsy Ann, an English Bull Terrier who, during the  1930's, roamed the shops along Juneau's waterfront. Patsy Ann, although deaf, had an uncanny ability to sense incoming ships, and would rush to the dock to greet them. Shelby is getting to that age where her hearing isn't what it was, and we thought she might like Patsy Ann.

Speaking of Shelby...

I remember being excited when we saw our first eagle, but, that was then, and this is now. The eagle above perched himself on the top of the mast of a nearby sailboat, and we feared that s/he might view Shelby as a potential source of nourishment. When walking the docks, we kept Shelby on a very short leash. Shelby has a 'doggie door,' and wanders in and out of the boat whenever she wants. We had several discussions about whether to lock-down the doggie door, and ultimately left it open, without incident.

No visit to Juneau is complete without a trip to the state capital. Alaska's state capital building is the only one without a dome on top. About a block from the capital building is the Governor's Mansion. We didn't see Govenor Palin, although we did notice a trampoline and children's' toys in the yard. The non-stop parade of people and tour buses passing by the Governor's Mansion were an indication that her notariety has not waned since the election.

Roberta's parents left the boat in Ketchikan. My stepmother joined us in Juneau. Here you see us doing a very good job of impersonating standard tourists posing in front of a bronze bear. As you can tell, I fought posing and lost.

One of the best things about owning a Nordhavn is the instant camaraderie as you encounter other Nordhavn owners. Our GSSR group had the good fortune to be moored in Juneau next to three other Nordhavn boats; Crossroads (N50), Patience (N46) and Skookum (N40). This led to a party on Sans Souci. In order to practice for our arrival in Japan, Sushi was consumed. Crossroads and Grey Pearl decided that they also needed Karoke practice, as can be seen above (Tina from Grey Pearl).

We are now in Glacier Bay. I'll save talking about Glacier Bay until my next blog. That said, I can share a bit about our first reaction arriving here...

Glacier Bay is a national park, and tightly controlled. There are tight quotas on the number of boats that can enter the park at any time, and I don't know the exact quota, but believe it is only five to ten boats. The bay is roughly forty miles deep, and 10 miles wide, and as recently as 250 years ago contained one giant hundred-mile-long glacier that has now retreated to a dozen or so smaller glaciers. In order to enter, we applied for our entry permit many months ago.

I had been warned that the rangers at Glacier Bay are highly protective of the bay (as they should be), and can be intimidating, and "gruff." We're still a bit pre-season, so our experience may not be typical, but the rangers have been extremely nice to us. They have made us feel very welcome.

We anchored our first night at the entrance, in Bartlett Cove, just in front of the ranger station. At the suggestion of friends we called a taxi and went about 10 miles away to the town of Gustaves for dinner, at the Gustaves Inn.

I asked the cab driver the population, and he said "Exactly 438." This got me curious about the town, so I quizzed him, as well as everyone else I met, about what it was like living in Gustaves. I also read several editions of the local paper. During our trip we have visited several towns in Alaska, but they've all been comparatively "big" tourist towns. This was our first exposure to rural Alaska and I was curious about the challenges one faces, living this far from civilization, and why anyone would want to do so.

One thing that was immediately obvious: The people that live in Gustaves are passionate about living in Gustaves, which is somewhat surprising, given that much of what many of us believe is important, simply doesn't exist. No professional sports teams, no movie theaters, no fast food places, no professional theater, no cable tv, not much in the way of shopping. Etc. The weather in Alaska can get pretty nasty at times, and there isn't the same level of infrastructure for clearing roads that many of us take for granted. Even the schools are in a whole different category. I noticed an article in the paper mentioning that the graduating class, of their ONE school, that handles kindergarten through 12th grade was only five students, making it the largest graduating class in many years. An editorial in the local paper suggested alternative solutions to coping with the burgeoning population that threatened to expand the phone book beyond a single page. The suggested solution was to list a single entry for families, rather than individually listing their names.

The #1 issue everyone mentioned was the difficulty of shopping for everyday things. Milk is over $10 a gallon. Most shopping is done via phone calls to Juneau, 75 miles away. The goods have to be flown in, adding tremendously to their cost. One person mentioned that to save money they ordered non-perishable items months in advance, so they could be barged in.

I never really received an answer on why people live in Gustaves. No one responded "I wanted to live in Gustaves." Everyone I asked had a job related answer, like "I came here because my spouse came here for a job". Perhaps it is that simple, although my theory is that there are people who like big cities, and people who like living in the middle of nowhere, and it's different strokes for different folks, and that's just how it is.

And, on a completely different topic...

I noticed a posting on a Yahoo message group (Southbound Group) which had some interesting information, and had me thinking:

"...a few years ago I tallied seasonal arrivals in Horta in the Azores (the principle but hardly the only destination to Europe from North America) and did some similar research for the Pacific, and then shared those #s with Donia at Noonsite for Jimmy Cornell's review. His estimates were similar to mine, and they boiled down to the following:

-- a bit less than 500 boats begin a westward voyage from the west coast of the Americas each year into the Pacific. All but a few do not return to the West Coast from the Pacific. The largest percentage of these are North Americans but of course there are a mix of Europeans (mostly Germans and Brits, tho' a sizable portion of French) and also a passle of Antipodeans (isn't that a quaint phrase? Kiwis and Aussies...) plus a small mix of other nationalities.

-- about 1,000 +/- boats cross the Atlantic to Europe each year, roughly half of them Europeans completing their Atlantic Circle. Perhaps 800 go by way of the Azores with the balance going direct to N Europe (mostly Britain and Ireland) from N America.

For what it is worth, during our Nov-Dec return to the Caribbean, we heard via SSB of 4 boats lost over the span of that 3+ weeks (so hardly "the grapevine"), plus one fatality due to an onboard incident (unexpected gybe, throwing owner's head into a winch). Totally a seat-of-the-pants thing, my guestimate would be that roughly 5% of each year's fleet migration, leaving from one side of an ocean to the other, is at risk of either the loss of a vessel or serious injury.

You might find this an odd thing for me to say... but I actually think those are very good odds. My rationale is that, when you look at the experience base of all the crews and the condition of all the yachts which make up each of those fleets, and the percentage of solo sailors (who by definition have more finite resources with which to address issues), it would seem guaranteed that some crews & boats are going to have a very challenging time of it. Fold in some odds (like an unusual month of weather conditions) and it might be surprising that the fatalities and boat sinkings aren't greater.

Of course, this relates to ocean crossings. Don't have a feel for the coastal cruising stats.

Jack ..."

His estimate of 1,000 boats crossing to Europe seems high, but I can believe it. When we were in Horta there was a good stream of boats coming and going. I was amazed at how many boats pass through there. The 500 boats proceeding West across the Pacific also feels reasonable. It's higher than I would have guessed, but in the realm of reason. If he is right that it is a one-way trip for most, I can't explain it. Why wouldn't the boats return? Strange. Lastly, his guesstimate that 5% of the boats starting a trans-oceanic passage don't make it is grossly out of whack, or at least I hope so. If his number is right, of the 1,500 boats crossing the Atlantic or Pacific, 75 will sink, or have major injury. No way. Or, perhaps as he suggests, there are some boaters who become unfortunate statistics, that never should have been out there in the first place. Amongst Nordhavns, I haven't the vaguest idea how many have made cross-oceanic passages, but I'd hazard a guess, which is probably low, at 200. Were this stat applicable to Nordhavns, there would have been 10 boats which had bad days, and I'm not aware of any.

Anyway, enough of that...

My last blog spoke about our close encounters with icebergs, and triggered this email from a Nordhavn 50 owner, now in Hawaii:


Flat Earth is in Hawaii preparing for a Pacific crossing back to the mainland in another week. We are headed back up to the PNW for two more years before heading South through the Panama Canal.

Tracy Arm was one of our high lights of our cruise the Inside Passage. I guess that N50 owners are just more adventurous than others. We too, took Flat Earth to the end of the Arm up to the Sawyer glaciers. Then we used the dinghy to get close to the South Sawyer Glacier, picking our way through the ice field. The North Sawyer Glacier was relatively ice free so we used the opportunity to take pictures of Flat Earth right up against the ice. I was sitting in the dinghy and the painter was still tied to the stern when there was an explosive sound like a dynamite explosion. We looked up and a huge block of ice calved off the glacier. I yelled for a crew member to untie me and my brother ran for the pilot house to get Flat Earth out away from the rocks. I started the dinghy engine and the crew member untied me and threw the painted into the boat. Unfortunately, he missed and the painter got sucked up into the prop, killing the engine. My brother gunned Flat Earth and left me with a dead engine facing an eight foot wave coming right at me. I was lucky and the dinghy simply rode up one side of the wave and down the other. Flat Earth got clear with no problems.

Another time, we edged up close to a water fall for pictures. I got too close and the turbulence began sucking me into the falls. I put the boat in reverse, forgetting that we, too, were towing a dinghy. The line wrapped around the prop, but loosely because I was fast in getting it out of gear. We were also lucky that the little bit of reverse I got was enough to pull us clear of the water fall. But, I had to go into that 39 degree water to untangle the prop. I had a wet suit but no hood. I had my crew tie a line around me in case I became incapacitated and I used a "spare air" emergency tank which contains about 3 minutes of air. The line was easy to untangle. I was in the water for only about 60 seconds; but when I came out, I had the biggest "ice cream headache" that I have ever had in my life.

Keep having fun up there and be safe. I hope that you guys have reservations for Glacier National Park. Our favorite anchorage in there was Sandy Cove which is a well protected small bay with an island in the mouth of the bay and a channel around either side of the island. The hump back whales were feeding by the hundreds on the other side of the island outside the bay. We also had a mother and a baby who liked to play around our anchorage inside the cove, as well as a grizzly mother with two cubs on shore.

What hull number is Crossroads?

Phil Eslinger
Flat Earth N5025
Ko Olina, Hi. (But not for long)

As I mentioned earlier in my update: the best part of owning a Nordhavn is the other Nordhavn owners. Did you notice how Phil so casually mentions that he will be crossing, alone, from Hawaii to the Pacific Northwest in the next couple of weeks? Very cool.

And, lastly...

My apologies, but no video with this blog. I haven't had internet for several days, and had trouble even posting this entry. My next report will be on cruising in Glacier Bay, and hopefully I'll be able to include video.

Thank you!

Ken Williams
Nordhavn 68, Sans Souci

PS: Note to other Alaskan cruisers: Roberta and I swapped our television over to the Canadian ExpressVu. We have had perfect reception ever since. I'm sure the television will croak at some point, but really don't know when....

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