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GSSR#21 - Grizzly Bears at Geographic Harbor

Total Distance: 5,276 nm
Run so far: 1,981 nm
Nautical Miles to go: 3,295 nm
Tomorrow's goal: 98 nm


Greetings!

You may have noticed that the usual thermometer above has been replaced. That was an experiment for this particular blog entry. I don't know that I'll stick with this format. My first reaction, seeing the map was that we haven't come very far. It was partiicularly disappointing that Kodiak and our current location are indistinguishable. We are a hundred miles from Kodiak, up on the mainland, and that doesn't come through on the map.

While on the topic of Kodiak...

Kodiak is one of the 10 largest towns in Alaska, yet only has a population of around 6,500 people. Alaska is a huge state, twice the size of Texas, but not a lot of people live there; fewer than 700,000, half of which live in Anchorage.

Although Kodiak may not have a huge number of people, it is significant in some other ways....




Kodiak is home to the largest Coast Guard base in the world.




The port at Kodiak is home to over 700 commercial fishing vessels, and is consistently ranked as one of the top three commercial fishing ports in the US.







Our first two days in Kodiak were spent on various boat projects. We also did some shopping (Safeway, Walmart, and even a miniature Costco).

Finally, Roberta and I took a day just to drive aroiund Kodiak....



As we were leaving town, we observed these giant windmills. I have no idea how many of these are planned, or what percentage of the town's electricity they might produce, but they are building them quickly. They sprang up while we were in town, and are the largest I've ever seen.

We had been told that the road out of town ended in 42 miles at a hippy town. Alaskan hippies? That might be worth seeing.

On the way to the end of the road, we saw a sign that said "Kodiak Launch Complex". We had heard rumors in town that Kodiak island was home to a star wars missile defense project, and wondered how close we could get. Hippies or missiles? It was a tough decision, but the missiles won, primarily because we got a late start and the missiles were closer.



As we approached the Launch Complex, we started seeing signs promising a surfer beach. Alaskan surfers? That would be even better than hippies! This sidetracked us immediately. The beach, called Fossil Beach, was an incredibly beautiful black sand beach. We didn't see any surfers, but there were waves, and there were even families with towels stretched out on the beach. The water was ice cold, but we saw some kids playing in the water anyhow. Kids don't care.




A few miles further down the road we did indeed find the Missile  Launch Complex. There wasn't too much to see. My guess is that most of the facility is underground. Given the current activity in Korea I expected heavy security and serious activity, but all was calm.



How often can you take a picture of a buffalo, with an Alaska Missile Launch Station in the background?




All three boats enjoyed our time in Kodiak, and could have easily settled in for a longer stay. My sense was that if I'd suggested to Seabird and Grey Pearl that we wanted to stay another week, they would have considered it seriously, but we all know that we're on a tight schedule. We essentially have the month of July to scoot across the Bering Sea, after which the weather will worsen. When we have a "weather window" we must jump on it.

On maps Kodiak Island looks bigger than it really is. However, the top third of what appears to be Kodiak Island is really a series of smaller islands. To reach our next destination, Geographic Harbor, we needed to travel through these islands to get to the northern side. This would mean traversing Whale Passage, a narrow channel, with high currents. Bill Harrington, the commercial fisherman now on Sans Souci, said that this would be easy, and not to worry. He then pointed out a large commercial fishing boat, and said: "See that boat? It went on the rocks at Whale Passage." He followed this with a few other stories about boats having bad days when captured by the current. When we reached Whale Passage, pictured above, the currents were running 3.5 knots, but compared to some of the other passes we've run, it was anti-climactic. Other than a boost in speed we hardly noticed the current.




Our luck at Whale Passage was not really luck. We timed our departure so that the current would be running the right direction, and at a manageable speed. This meant a late, 1:30pm, departure, and didn't leave us time to arrive at Geographic Harbor in the daylight. Instead, all three boats dropped anchor in front of a long sand beach on the north side of Kodiak Island.



We anchored just past Last Timber Point. Bill explained that it was so named because it marked the furthest western point that there were trees! We will not see trees again until arrival in Russia. Past this point, all of the hills and mountains will be covered with the peach-fuzz green stuff that we see everywhere. No more trees? Perhaps we really have fallen off the edge of the earth...




There was already one boat at anchor when we arrived. Soon after we anchored, another boat tied to the first boat. The blue boat on the left, in the image above, is being used for "tendering". When commercial fishing boats are far from their home port, they want to catch all the fish they can, and not be limited to the number of fish that can fit in their hold. The blue boat collects fish from fishing boats, until it is full, and then tenders them back to Kodiak for processing. This allows the fisherman to stay fishing. The blue boat is surrounded by fenders so that other fishing boats can easily come and go. Fish are vacuumed from other boats onto the tendering vessel, and weighed as they are brought on board. I asked Bill if there were ever disputes as to how much fish was transferred to the tender, and he said that it had happened, but that generally the tenders are honest. He said that he runs a count as he brings fish on board, and always has a very good sense of how much fish he has.

The next morning, we crossed Shelikof Strait to reach Geographic Harbor, within Katmai National Park.



One of the reasons that we wanted to enter Geographic Harbor during the daylight is that there is a very narrow passage, which appears on the chart to be impassable. The entrance shows as obstructed by a large rock. Bill has been in before, and insisted we'd have no problem going through the passage, and that it is much larger than it appears on the chart. On the video below you can hear me making him promise that we'll make it through the narrow part of the entrance, without hitting the rock. In the pictures above, you can see that it really wasn't as narrow as on the chart, and that we had no problem whatsoever. I had sonar going, and never did find the rock in the entrance, although I have no doubt it is there.









As I mentioned in my last blog entry, it is a great place to see Grizzly bears. I'm typing this while at anchor, and it is raining. We've seen a fair number of Grizzlies on shore, and took the tender a couple of times to see them, but for the most part, the cold and rain, has limited our exploration. Also, we recently watched the documentary Grizzly Man, about Tim Treadwell and Amie Huguenot's tragic encounter with Grizzlies near here. It gave us a healthy dose of conservatism in dealing with Grizzly Bears. Viewing them from a greater distance than we did the black bears seemed like a really good idea.




Our day finished with a major, and delightful, surprise when another Nordhavn, an N40, called Samba, dropped anchor near us in Geographic Harbor. We couldn't believe our eyes. It was just a lucky encounter. Samba had heard that there were three Nordhavns headed to Japan, and was nearby. Above you see Samba's owners; Josh and Nastasha Tufield. They also cruised here from Seattle. Josh mentioned that they had cruised the south pacific in a sailboat before buying their Nordhavn. You can't see it in this photo, but on the floor beneath the dog is a large shot gun. No one goes ashore here without a shot gun.

Our next major destination is Dutch Harbor. We have 500 miles of mostly open Pacific to cross to get there, and the weather has turned against us. The forecast for tomorrow is for 25 knot winds and 10 foot seas, dropping to 7 foot seas in the evening. I fear that the days of gentle seas and sunshine may be behind us.

Lastly, we have TWO videos today.

The first video is footage from Bill Harrington. It was taken aboard his boat, the Miss Lori, and shows how they catch halibut. The process is interesting, and the video shows them capturing some LARGE halibut. I think you'll like it. The first few minutes of the video are kind of grainy, but it's all I had to work with. Stick with it for some bonus shark footage towards the end. Bill loves to answer questions about fishing, so if any of you have any questions, feel free to post them on the website at www.kensblog.com -- just look for this blog entry, and look for the words "post comment" towards the bottom of the page. Alternately, feel free to email questions to me, and I'll post them for you (ken @ kensblog.com). That said, it is easier on me if you just post them yourself.

If you don't see the video below, then try clicking this link: 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VqRsRNKR5PU



The second video shows our arrival in Geographic Harbor, including our first encounter with Grizzlies. It's worth watching, just to see us paddling the tender in water six inches deep, while trying to decide if we can outrun a Grizzly. For those of you who are boat-geeks, I shot some footage in the engine room. It isn't for everyone, but those who are excited by motors and pumps will find much to love.


If you don't see the video below, then try clicking this link:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q_y4qTdsaUI



That's it for today. Thank you,

Ken Williams
N6805, Sans Souci
www.kensblog.com

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