GSSR #14 – Wild Times in Petersburg

Greetings all!

Total Distance: 5,276 nm
Run so far: 913 nm
Nautical Miles to go: 4,363 nm
Tomorrow’s goal: At Anchor

Greetings all!

To reach the town of Petersburg, Alaska from Wrangell, Alaska, it is necessary to transit the ‘Wrangell Narrows,’ a 21 mile stretch of very narrow water, with currents that can run three to four knots. The narrows are used by cruise ships, ferries, and fishing boats. An interesting feature of the narrows is that they flood from both directions. In other words, the current moves two different directions, within the narrows, at the same time! If you time it right, you can be pushed by the current for the first half, and then when the current turns around, ride the current again through the second half of the narrows.

On Sans Souci, I wasn’t as concerned with trying to ride the current through the narrows, as I was with finding a time with fairly light currents, that would put me into Petersburg at, or near, slack tide. I had never been to Petersburg before, and didn’t want to tangle with entering a strange marina in a strong current. On the chart it appeared that the Petersburg marina might have current running through it, as some marinas do. Later, I discovered that it is well sheltered from the current, but, I didn’t know this at the time.

After some time studying the tide tables, I plotted our exact time that we should be at every point along our route. To ensure we didn’t arrive early, or late, we checked our time against this chart at every waypoint, and sped up, or slowed down, according to how we were doing. I timed everything based on 8 knots, figuring it was better to run slow, so that if we needed more speed, I’d have it available.

Entering Wrangell Narrows.

Wrangell Narrows has an amazing number of aids to navigation. It is an extremely well marked channel.

The cruise ship lanes are marked on the charts. I set my course to run down the center of them, but always tried to be thinking about which way I would dodge if a cruise ship did come along.

We had good luck in timing. No cruise ships, ferries, or much of anything else did cross our path. Above is a picture of one fishing boat that was southbound. Note how close he is, and imagine how this picture would look if he were a cruise ship.

We did pass one another, much smaller, fishing boat, who was fishing dead center in the traffic lane. As we approached, I assumed he would get out of the way. Instead, he waved for me to pass him. This would put me in shallower water, so I ground to a halt, and waited for him to fish his way across the lane. However, this was a very stubborn fisherman, and he insisted in staying in the lane, even knowing I was waiting. Ultimately, I did get around him, but it wasn’t easy. I can’t imagine running Wrangell Narrows in July!

We passed a lot of houses on the shore..

Overall, the run was anticlimatic, and easier than expected. The Petersburg marina was well protected from the current, and easy to get into.

Here’s a picture of Sans Souci sitting in the Petersburg marina. As you can see, we felt a little out of place! I suspect this is how it will be from here to Japan; lots of commercial fishing boats, plus us.

Petersburg is a very cool town! Apparently, a lot of people, of Norwegiain heritage, live there, and we happened to arrive during their annual Norwegian festival.

It’s Roberta in the picture petting the horse. I didn’t get the photo, but just after this, the little kid dropped an apple slice, and Shelby our dog, and the horse, each went for the Apple. Shelby lost, but fun was had by all.

My sense was that 99% of the people at the parade were locals, not tourists. I’m not sure exactly what was being celebrated, but everyone seemed to be having a wonderful time. The whole town shut down for the parade, and the locals seemed evenly divided between those in the parade, and those on the sideline.

The crews of Grey Pearl, Seabird, and Sans Souci, decided it was time to go ‘pubbing.’ To properly prepare, I spent the afternoon watching an old Patrick Swayze film; Roadhouse. Pubs seem to figure prominently in many Alaskan towns.

The pub, Harbor Bar, was packed elbow to elbow. We were lucky to find a table for the six of us. I had purchased “Extra Tuff” boots, in an effort to look Alaskan, but we were quickly spotted as out-of-towners, and attracted the attention of several locals. After a few adult beverages, one attractive young lady offered to show us her tattoos, for two dollars, which turned out to be money well spent. Another stopped by to ask if Roberta was my wife. When I said yes, she walked away, only to return a few minutes later and ask Steven (Seabird) about Carol. Once more rejected, she left for a bit before returning for her third strike (Braun).

Our plan had been to attend a dinner that was part of the festival; a Norwegian smorgasbord at the local Elks club. However, our new Alaskan friends convinced us it would be much more fun to go to the Beachcomber Restaurant, a short 15 minutes out of town, where the Pickled Herring band was playing. A $20 taxi ride later, we discovered that the Beachcomber was already overflowing with people, and even the offer of a generous contribution to the hostess’ childs college fund wouldn’t help. Back to the taxi, and a ride back to town. Impressively, the cab driver refused to accept payment, which we foisted on him anyhow. It’s probably all for the better, in that we finished our evening at a delightful Mexican restaurant.

It is strange to realize how far north we are. As you can see in this photo of Grey Pearl, there is snow on all the mountains around us. We’re only a day’s run from Juneau Alaska!

We don’t need to be in Juneau for a few days, and we’ve all been eager to do some relaxing at anchor. This is a special time. For most of the rest of the way to Japan, we’ll all have guests or crew onboard. However, for a brief few days, all three boats have only the owners on board. This provides some private time for just enjoying our boats, and some bonding time for our group.

As I type this, we are sitting at Pybus Bay, Alaska, with all three boats anchored shouting distance from each other. We ran about 60 miles to get here, with only a couple of noteworthy events. About halfway into our run, across Frederick Sound, the wind came up. We had a fairly steady 15 knots of wind on our starboard side, gusting to 20 knots. This created a three foot chop, and had all of us talking on the radio about the weather forecast. In actuality, it wasn’t much of anything, but it was noteworthy, in that it was the first water across the bow. We’ve been running in essentially flat seas ever since Seattle and have become quite spoiled.

I’ve been looking forward to the day when I’d be running side by side with a Nordhavn 62 in fairly rough seas. Several people have asked me which is the more seaworthy boat; the Nordhavn 62 (we used to own one) or our current Nordhavn 68. I have lots of theories about why each boat might be the more seaworthy, but no real information. After watching Grey Pearl and Seabird for a while, running close, I still can’t say. All of the boats seemed unfazed by the seas. My sense is that it is a non-issue. Both models have plenty of what it takes to get the job done.

As we approached PAs we approached Pybus Bay, we starting seeing whales! This caused all of us to stop for a photo session. We were surrounded by whales! I confess to somewhat conflicting emotions. Where we live, in Cabo, we see whales almost every day. They are impressive creatures, and I’m always happy to see them, however, I just completed a couple of true-life books in which boats were sunk by whales. And, recently, in Cabo, we had a sportfisher destroyed by a whale. So, I do like seeing whales, but I would confess that I like seeing them more from on shore, than hovering above them.

And, on a completely different topic…
My new Mini Vsat hMy new Mini Vsat has been tremendous for internet. We’ve had almost non-stop connectivity since leaving Seattle.That said, I am sitting here at anchor in Pybus Bay, and the mountains are blocking the signal. I have a Fleet Broadband 250, that is working fine. However, my Mini Vsat is flat-rated. I pay a huge monthly fee, but do not pay for data. The Fleet Broadband unit is my backup, because whenever I use it, I have to pay for every byte downloaded. I’ve used it very lightly this morning, and already racked up over $100 in charges. This is looking to be a very expensive anchorage. I don’t know when I’ll post this blog entry…. I’m not sure I could afford to post it from this anchorage!

And, I pronised you interviews with the crews of the different boats. Hopefully you enjoyed the interview with Seabird as much as I did. Here’s a ‘more serious’ interview with the Grey Pearl crew; Braun and Tina Jones:
PART 1: ( )

PART 2: ( )

And, lastly…

I should mention aI should mention a very cool coincidence. At the same time Sans Souci (my boat) is on our run across the Pacific, the second Nordhavn 68, Grace of Tides, is well into the Atlantic. I’ve been swapping emails with David Sidbury, her owner/captain, as he works his way to Bermuda. David is experimenting to see what the range is for Nordhavn 68s at slower speeds. He is running at 7.5 knots, and getting over a mile a gallon. One good reason for the experiment is that diesel fuel is running over $7 a gallon in Bermuda, and he’d like to get to Bermuda and back without taking on fuel.

That’s it for today! Our next stop is Tracy Arm. It will be our first encounter with Glaciers, and one I’m looking forward to.
Thank you,
Ken Williams
Nordhavn 68, Sans Souci

15 Responses

  1. Wayne:

    So far the batteries on the SPOT have been incredible. I’ve been running for a full month, and they are still going strong. I only power the unit on when we are moving, which certainly extends the life. We’ve probably ran 20 of the last 30 days, so it has been on quite a bit. I’m sure I’ll put something in the blog, or a comment, when the SPOT’s batteries finally die.

  2. Wayne:

    So far the batteries on the SPOT have been incredible. I’ve been running for a full month, and they are still going strong. I only power the unit on when we are moving, which certainly extends the life. We’ve probably ran 20 of the last 30 days, so it has been on quite a bit. I’m sure I’ll put something in the blog, or a comment, when the SPOT’s batteries finally die.

  3. 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!

  4. Ken,

    Great job of reporting your adventures.

    What batteries are you using in your SPOT? What kind of life are you experiencing? Is it necessary to have the SPOT unit outside the cabin for it to see the satellites?

  5. GSSR Capts.: As you face the water with the Goldbelt motel to your backs you will see a long building just to your left. This building sits right on the water. Inside are a couple of very interesting shops–one makes cakes/pies and ice cream that are worth the price!! and the other is a small restaurant, closed on Tuesdays, that is operated by a true Alaska character. The prices for the food are open for debate, if you are deemed worthy by the owner. If you pick up a Ulu knife, don’t get one with the “points” at the end of the blade..they get caught on everything. Get the one made from steel, not stainless. The museum is well worth the effort. Oh……the state capitol is the only US state capitol without a dome. If the Governor is in town, stop in and chat–yep you can, just check with the “gate keeper.” Skip the glacer tour–not worth the price. See if you can find the street that is a stairway. Tour the Greek Orthodox church. Tour the shops off the main drag–better goods and better prices. Pet the dog statute at the the cruise ship dock. Stop at the local airport and take a flight over the country side, better than the scheduled flights from the harbour that tout a “fish fry”. Rent a car and tour the roads–not that many but the views!!!

  6. maybe of interest to those who rely primarily on gps:

    Don’t throw out your map and compass just yet.

    U.S. officials are concerned that Global Positioning Systems (GPS) are on the verge of breaking down as soon as 2010, they tell The Guardian.

    Blackouts, failures and even inaccurate directions are possible, the officials say.

    The U.S. Air Force has maintained GPS satellites for the past decade, but according to a Government Accounting Office report, a lack of investment could lead to a deterioration of the navigation system, The Guardian reports.

    “It is uncertain whether the Air Force will be able to acquire new satellites in time to maintain current GPS service without interruption,” the report says. “If not, some military operations and some civilian users could be adversely affected.”


  7. All:

    Greetings from Tracy Arm! Where I’m anchored, the only Internet I get is the slow expensive kind, so I’ll wait to post a blog entry until Juneau. I could have anchored closer to the mouth of the bay, where the Vsat would work, but opted for greater shelter at the back of the bay.

    There’s another Nordhavn here – Crossroads, a Nordhavn 50. When they entered the bay, Stan (owner/captain of Crossroads) said on the radio: “Hey! How did I get to Dana Point?”.

    I just read my last blog update. Parts of it were apparently scrambled during the posting. Sorry about that, and hope everyone could guess at what I was trying to say. I had to do some crazy stuff to post that blog, with hardly any internet. Proof reading was not possible.

    One very interesting fact: It has now been over three weeks since I’ve done anything mechanically on the boat, other than change the oil on one generator. That is incredible by comparison to the Costa Rica trip where every morning was filled with fix-it tasks. It has been great just focusing on the cruising, and not having to fight boat-issues. Jeff Sanson (Pacific Yacht Management) did a great job!

    Today is pretty spectacular. The sun is shining, the hot tub is filled, and icebergs are sliding by. How cool is that? We’re taking Crossroads deep into Tracy Arm. Stans being a real gentleman volunteering his boat. Last year, Steven, on Seabird, and Scott Strickland on Strickly for Fun (an N47) went into Tracy Arm and both got nailed by icebergs; torn up thrusters and stabilizers. I’m not taking Sans Souci too close to the Glacier. We’ll be aboard Crossroads today.

    And… responses to a few of your comments…

    George: A great story about Patsy Ann. I’ll find her!

    Sam: Thanks for clarifying what I was saying about the whale and the sportfisher. It wasn’t my boat, just another boat in Cabo.

    hk: When I get back on my vsat, I’ll take a look at ( . That said, I’m trying to go easy on the vsat. I’ll look to see how much data it is. I’m paying for unlimited access, but worried they’ll boot me off if I abuse it.

    Ron Rogers: You wouldn’t have believed the whales yesterday. We had to stop the boat several times to avoid hitting them! They were everywhere, and in one case, when I ground to a halt, in front of three of them, they didn’t dive until I was right on them. Seeing three of those giant beasts dive, 10 feet in front of your boat, is spooky. I didn’t know if I should sit still, or could continue my track.

    Sam: She did say “Big Ass Anchor”! I was rolling with laughter when I heard it..

    Andy: You are right – we were very lucky to be in Petersburg for their festival. I’d encourage all cruisers to take May for their runs to Alaska. We’ve had great weather, and everything is easier with fewer boats around.

    -Ken W

  8. Looking at the Sport tracker, the GSSR gang are anchored up in Hobart Bay just inside the entrance to Tracy Arm this evening

    And….John & Deb on Serendipity are still underway a couple hours north of Butedale

  9. I can’t tell you how much I look forward to your new posts! What a trip!
    Thanks for posting.


  10. Ken,
    First, the lovely Admiral of the Grey Pearl is technically correct, a 300 pound anchor on a Nordhavn 62 is in fact referred to as a “big ass anchor.” It must be nice to have a wife thoroughly familiar with nautical terminology. Now if she calls the lounging space the saloon, then he is really lucky.

    I think the crew of the Seabird should give another interview, less bellicose towards Russia, and more revealing about them. The articulate couple on Grey Pearl told us why they were doing it, why this route, their concerns, and how they addressed them. It might not have been laugh a second, but it sure was educational!

    On the subject of whales, I think it unlikely that any of the three Nordhavn hulls would be damaged by a ramming whale. One vessel which sunk was a wooden sailboat and that family was adrift in their raft way off the Mexican Coast for 66 days (?) until a Japanese or Korean trawler rescued them. Ken’s story about the sportfisherman involved a sleeping whale and the boat’s going full-out either going in or coming out. At the group’s displacement speeds, it is unlikely that even the running gear would be damaged. I can see losing a stabilizer fin, though. Same for a passive stabilizer fish. These are not beligerant creatures and often are very curious, even bringing their calves over to view the boats. The crew of the wooden sailboat postulated that the whale was either feeding or mistook the color of their anti-fouling paint for a predator.

    Bill will place all this in perspective if he chooses to comment, but it is obvious that the real dangers lie in the ocean and when getting close to land in poorly charted waters.
    Ron Rogers

  11. Hi Ken,

    Great post and I enjoyed the interviews. Am I losing it, or did she say “big ass anchor”? 🙂

    Curious about your sport fisher and the whale. If you have time/the inclination I’m quite curious


  12. Ken:

    May 17th is Norwegian independence day. Your timing for Petersburg was superb. You’ll love Tracy Arm. Almost as great as Glacier Bay but no bureaucracy.


    Andy Lund

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Credits     |     Video produced by: Rock Steady Media     |     Teletype photo: Arnold Reinhold     |     PDP-11 photo: Trammell Hudson