|Welcome to Ken's Blog
GSSR#16 - Tracy Arm to Glacier Bay
|Run so far:
|Nautical Miles to go:
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.
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
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.
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:
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.
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?
Flat Earth N5025
Ko Olina, Hi. (But not for long)
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.
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....
Tracy Arm is by far the most scenic trip there is. On my trip I saw unbelievable calving glaciers, bears, humpback whales, killer whales, beautiful waterfalls and much more. I definitely recommend going to Tracy Arm. In fact, there is a movie on Tracy Arm called "Alaska, The Tracy Arm Experience". The film captures the beauty of this incredible place. You can buy the film here from Film Baby:
I highly recommend Tracy Arm. If you get a chance, experience it yourself. And don't forget to buy the film too!
by Adam Kelly on Jul 15, 2009, 04:46 PM EST
THIS IG GREAT I FEEL LIKE I AM SHARING YOUR ADVENTURE
by Unknown on Jun 17, 2009, 07:04 PM EST
Regarding TV in Alaska...
Prior to this trip I had DirecTv on the boat. I asked the electronics guy working on my boat (Ed Harvey, Harbor Tech Systems) to study our route and tell me which satellite system was most likely to work. His recommendation was that we swap to Dish Network. We did the swap, and Dish Network failed around Ketchikan. Seabird has DirecTv, and they also lost television around Ketchikan.
To be accurate with respect to Dish Network - they have two satellites: 110 and 119. We lost satellite 119, but 110 was still coming in fine. Unfortunately, 119 carries the news programming. Thus, we needed to make a chance.
We thought about Starchoice, but the KVH satellite positioning unit I have wouldn't work with it. So, we bought ExpressVu, and it has been rock solid. We are in an impossible location currently, surrounded by vertical walls on all sides, and the ExpressVu is still working. It will stop sooner or later, but we don't know when. Later is better.
Dish Network just announced a new satellite, 129, which may be the best solution. Our KVH unit isn't programmed for it yet, but it should be possible. If you think about swapping to Dish Network, ask them about 129.
Obtaining ExpressVu isn't easy. It is only available to Canadians. You'll need a Canadian address.
by Ken Williams on Jun 03, 2009, 11:17 AM EST
We are just outfitting a Nordhavn 60 in Sidney, B.C. Will cruise to Alaska this summer. Did you have Direct TV on your boat? did it work in SE Alaska ? I saw where you got Bell Express, just wondered if Direct TV worked similar to that service.
by John Schwamm on Jun 02, 2009, 09:09 PM EST
by Unknown on Jun 02, 2009, 06:37 PM EST
Too bad you aren't a fisherman, you are going to be there just in time for their 2009 - 6th Annual King Salmon Derby (http://www.pelican.net/King.htm). The Pelican website makes it look like a fun and tiny place to visit. Just like the plant I worked in as a kid on Shuyak Island (north of Kodiak).
by Chet on Jun 01, 2009, 07:13 PM EST
We're enroute to Pelican Alaska, just a small town that is supposed to be fun to hang out in.
We almost had a mutiny on the GSSR! The water here is dead-calm, and we poked our nose into the Gulf of Alaska where it was 5 knots and gentle rolling seas. Roberta and I seriously considered "just going for it", but many friends are converging on Hoonah on June 6 to say goodbye to us, and it would have been rude to them. That said, Murphy's Law says that by waiting we are going to get slammed. The weather gods might be upset that they gave us a break and we didn't take it. We did speak with Seabird who agreed that as tempting as it is, we need to relax for another six days before heading out into the Gulf.
by Ken Williams on Jun 01, 2009, 04:35 PM EST
SPOT says you are on the move again; next stop?
by Chet on Jun 01, 2009, 04:11 PM EST
David: Email me offline (for Phil's email address). I probably shouldn't post it publicly.
-Ken Williams (ken @ kensblog.com)
by Ken Williams on May 31, 2009, 03:24 PM EST
Ken, How can I contact Phil Eslinger Flat Earth N5025, in Ko Olina? Very interested in learning more about his plans to 'Solo Cross' to Alaska. Appreciate your help and thank you for your continued updates. David Palmer - Family
by David on May 31, 2009, 03:07 PM EST
Greatly helpful and insightful comments. It does make sense that boat function and boat form and boat people would align along poles of interest. Fred, I haven't perceived snobbery but was simply posing the academic question. My general social theory is that community, whether it is boating or quilting, is what brings richness to our lives and stability to our social systems.
by Unknown on May 31, 2009, 02:46 PM EST
I'm a little surprised at Alan's comments. I haven't noticed any snobbery in this blog or with boaters in general. Of course there are some, but I would guess less than in the general population. I'm a Mainship owner and there are Mainship clubs and a very good site on Yahoo Groups where Mainship owners exchange solutions to problems with their boats and exchange ideas. Each boat and each boat manufacturer will have specific issues with their boats and owners of those boats can learn from each other. So a Mainship owner may have a little more in common with another Mainship owner etc.
by Fred K on May 31, 2009, 01:29 PM EST
Alan: With respect to North Korea... Roberta and I both follow politics and world events closely. Commenting on politics is a sure-fire way to alienate half the readers of the blog, so I tend to stay as far away from anything controversial as I can.
That said, I do think we are in a percarious time. The world economy is such that for many nations, domestic issues are outweighing global issues. To be less obscure in my comment, I'll say that the #1 priority for many Americans is not whether or not Korea (or any other aggressive country) makes a land grab, it is whether or not they have a job, and can afford to feed their families. This is a time when we have our own problems, and rallying support to invest heavily defending other countries has to take a back seat. Were I an evil dictator, I'd be thinking that this could be the right time to make a move. Whether this is right or wrong is the meat of politics, and opinions vary. But the facts are that there are some nasty people out there, and the weak world economy, particularly the weak US economy, gives these people, arguably, an opportunity to maneuver that they might not have had a few years ago.
Sans Souci does have plans to go to Korea, but were today the day to make the decision, it would be a "no-go". I do hope, and believe, that things will calm down, but I wouldn't go there today.
by Ken Williams on May 30, 2009, 11:47 AM EST
Sam is right ... most of the major boat models have owners groups. When we had our Glacier Bay power cat, we participated in their owners group. In the first video I made, there's a scene at Roche Harbor of the Selene Owners Group, which is very active. Even though I was a Nordhavn owner, the Selene owners were quite gracious and let me hang out with them.
If you think about it, the primary reason that owners groups tend to be so active is that the purchasers of a given boat tend to have common interests, challenges, cruising plans, etc. There are some common themes that generally link Nordhavn owners. I'm not sure exactly what they are, but I suspect Nordhavn knows exactly who the target market for their boats is. That said, there are certainly variations by model. The buyer for an N46 is probably quite different than the buyer for the N120. But not completely. There may be differences in net worth, but that's only one of hundreds of personality attributes. I believe that a more relevant theme amongst Nordhavn owners is that they want to go places. If all one wants to do is coastal cruising, you might be able to get something cheaper that could meet your needs. Nordhavn owners tend to go places with their boats. Some might be waiting for retirement, but generally, these boats are owned by people who have visions of seeing the world. It would be interesting to see the average number of miles traveled, ranked by boat brand. My guess is that the Nordhavn owners would clearly show as well outside the norm. There is a distinction between people who have an idyllic fantasy of seeing the world, and those who really go out and do it. Nordhavn owners tend to be aggressive, make it happen, figure it out, fix it when it breaks, and go somewhere, people.
As to snobby... as with any community, there are always some snobs. That said, I've met a lot of Nordhavn owners, and I haven't yet met one. It is not uncommon for me to randomly introduce myself to other Nordhavn owners while walking the docks, and I have yet to be told to "go away." Of course, as I said at the start of this overly-long response to your question, I also received a warm welcome from the Selene owners, so it's not just a Nordhavn-thing.
One very important aspect to all of this is that Nordhavn owners are very good about helping out their peers. I came to boating as a software developer. The skillset to program computers, and run/maintain a boat, are quite different. Over the years I've had to rely heavily on the owner's group, and on other owners, to help me figure things out. It is not uncommon for me to call David Sidbury, owner of the second N68, and ask his help solving a problem.
Hopefully this answers the question...
by Ken Williams on May 30, 2009, 11:32 AM EST
Alan, I can't speak for Nordhavn owners but many different brands of boats have their own "club". One of the boats we own is a C-Dory 22. C-Dory's have a very loyal following and have been cruised extensively throughout the United States and Canada. I know a number of people who have taken 22 footers from Seattle to SE Alaska, out to the west coast of Vancouver Island, done the Great Loop, etc... While these boats are much smaller and less luxurious than any Nordhavn, the owners are adventurous and have a great time with each other. It's quite common to be cruising along and get hailed by a fellow owner or, if in the same marina or anchorage, get invited over for drinks/hors d' oeuvres/dinner/conversation... Owners gatherings routinely attract 40+ boats.
My point is its not just a Nordhavn thing. I think it's more of a unique boat thing. Unique boats tend to attract people with similar ideas of how they want to use their boats. Nordhavn buyers buy their boats to cruise extensively. They don't just sit at the dock. I think it is this desire to explore that drives people to buy Nordhavn's (and certain other boats) and the owners naturally get along because of it.
This is my observation and belief, but it will be interesting to see what Ken says.
by Unknown on May 30, 2009, 02:31 AM EST
Thank you so much for your time and efforts in posting such an interesting and entertaining journal. You mentioned on the 29th that you enjoyed the interactions with other Nordhavn owners. I'm wondering about the dynamics of this--I know that manufacturers of other brands push clubs and associations as a marketing ploy (buy our boat and become one of the cool kids). Is there subtle snobbery here (Nordhavns are expensive)? Are you getting some type of Nordhavn honorarium? I am slugging it out in the working world now in hopes of taking such a journey as yours, but I am afraid that if I don't buy a Nordhavn I will be a loser and no one will invite me to have drinks in Alaska. What about the length of the Nordhavn? Do owners have size issues? Also, I think you should extend your trip slightly and go to North Korea and sort that situation out.
by Alan Muskett on May 29, 2009, 10:54 PM EST