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:

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

PS Don’t forget! The best part of the blog is your comments. You can only view these if you go to the website ( 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!

18 Responses

  1. 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!

  2. JC:

    The group hasn’t discussed Korea. Currently we’re scattered out, with our various guests, just enjoying our last bit of sightseeing before tackling the Gulf of Alaska.

    Overall, we haven’t done much talking about ‘life after Japan.’ It’s such a long way there, and there are so many variables, that I think we all know that any effort put into trip planning is probably a waste of time.

    Originally, I had thought the group might break up in Japan. Roberta and I even talked about possibly taking a summer off from the boat, and just renting a house in France. But the group has felt better than I think any of us expected. There’s no way I would be making this trip without the other two boats. As I think about the countries beyond Japan, particularly Asia, it feels like such a huge unknown, that I think there is a darn good chance our group will hang together, or even grow.

    With respect to Korea specifically…

    Were I forced to make a decision today on Korea, I would not go there. The whole region feels ready to explode. A year is a long time. Hopefully things will calm long before we get there.

    -Ken W

  3. Ken,
    What are the groups thoughts on happenings in Korea? Does it affect your plans? I guess you have some time to let it develop before you get that far. Interesting that you can aviod trouble areas (pirates) and weather but politics seem to follow you everywhere. You blog is a great escape and I pray the best for you and your crew.

  4. Hello Ken and All,

    Following your adventure into Bartlett Bay in the Glcier Natl Park Sys. Am I reading this right? A 20 ft tidal range? Anyway, the rules seem to change after June 1: “Vessels are required to call Bartlett Cove upon entering Glacier Bay (Pt. Gustavus across to Pt. Carolus).” and, get a cruising permit. Looks like a bit of rain on you for a few days, sorry, but the scenery overcomes just about anything…. Be safe, enjoying your voyages from FL.

  5. Marty. You should also look into how your colleagues in Homer supply internet. This is the 21st century even in Kodiak.

  6. Marty:

    It’s great having a real harbor master post on this issue (marinas that don’t offer internet). Your marina (Kodiak) is probably very unusual, in that I doubt you see a lot of recreational boaters, which is different from a city like Juneau that has transient boaters in and out every day. That said, I suspect even your regulars would love to have internet.

    Would the City Managers be open to Internet at the marina if it came from a third party company? Most of the marinas in the Pacific NW and Western Canada are served by Broadband Express ( ( ). They do a good job, and I would be willing to bet there is some revenue sharing relationship with the marinas. Their website says they serve 109 marinas in the US, Canada and Alaska. Many of us cruisers, such as myself, have an account with them, and automatically sign into their internet as we move from marina to marina.

    Working through them means you don’t have to “be in the internet business” with all the support and liability issues that go with it.

    We’re all looking forward to seeing you soon!

    -Ken Williams

  7. Ken:

    Read your comment about the lack of wifi in most, if not all, of the Alaska harbors. In Kodiak I’ve had no luck convincing our city manager and coucil that Kodiak should offer it. You are welcome to walk to my home (or to Bill Harrington’s) to use our wifi.

  8. Dear Ken and the gang. Thank you so much for the T-Shirts you left on our deck,it was a nice surprise. Have a great trip, be safe.
    Ole & LaDonna Gundersen F/V LaDonna Rose

    P.S. LaDonna is glad you thought two dollars was well worth it….LoL

  9. Elfin Cove: too bad. Great place to visit and chat with the residents. You now have a reason to go back!!
    Enjoy the ride.

  10. Ken,
    For all of your readers, there is a relatively new product out called Autonet Mobile that was designed for cars to make them a wifi hotspot. It works similar to the cellphone air cards for laptops except that it makes your car a wifi “hotspot” for about a 150′ radius and the technology allows it to seek out the next cell tower so that you don’t loose the wireless connection like you do with an air card. It looks similar to a Linksys wireless router. The cost is approximately $500 to purchase and then $29 per month for a substantial amount of usage but for unlimited usage, it goes up to $59 dollars per month. This product would be great for coastal cruisers or those that cruise the inland waterways. It works wherever you have cellphone coverage. I saw a demo of this product about two weeks ago and it is fantastic!

    —Reply posted by King, Kimberley on 9/28/2019

    Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately depending how you look at it), there isn’t much cell service while boating in SE Alaska.   Even now in 2019.   

  11. Hi Ken, very nice blog. I have been following it for a few weeks now and am really enjoying it.

    My wife and I along with our two children know you and Roberta from the many happy hours we spent playing King’s Quest and Space Quest. We managed to replace TV for a while.

    I have a small blog that you might enjoy. It covers part of the Great Loop from Columbus Miss to Punta Gorda Fl. (

    Thanks and good luck with the rest of your trip.

  12. We had a juvenile orca run headlong into our sailboat (only 26 feet) near the bow at the starboard side. The mama dove below the boat. We It was SO LOUD! We had the same shaky voice as those on Grey Pearl had until we discovered we were not going to be swimming for Lime Kiln. I am pretty sure mama orca told baby orca – “ya know if you kill ’em , ya gotta eat ’em…”

    Love following along on your adventure!

  13. Don: I don’t think we’re going to get to Elfin Cove. We have two sets of guests coming in, so we get to do Glacier Bay twice, plus have been talked into going to Pelican by several friends, and have a big “going away party” planned for Hoonah. That said, our plans seem to change daily, so who knows? Thanks for the recommendation. – Ken W

    Stan: Thank you again! How are you doing internet? I couldn’t find any in the marina? -Ken W

    Hal: All advice appreciated. This is our first time here, and we’re having a great time. I can now understand how there are boaters who come here year after year. I thought I’d hate it, as a non-fisherman, who doesn’t even eat fish, but I would definitely come back. -Ken W

  14. The residents of Eflin Cove probably will be overjoyed to have Ken and Roberta visit. Their main communication/entertainment is via computer and it’s not all that reliable.

  15. Hi Ken & Roberta,

    Just looked at your blog entry on Tracy Arm and see that through you we have achieved our 15 seconds of fame. Enjoyed our time with the GSSR gang and wish you well as your voyage continues. See you along the way….at least until you make that big left turn.

    Stan & Diane Heirshberg
    CrossRoads N50-01
    the “Sacrificial Nordhavn”

  16. Glad you got to Sawyer Glacier, Ken and Roberta. With two weeks left, including I assume a few days in Glacier Bay, you are well positioned to see a few more of my favorite sites: One night in Hoonah to see the incredible site of hundreds of bald eagles on the breakwater in the morning, a possible run down the inside of Chicagof island to Tenakee Springs, a night in Elfin Cove, and possibly a run down to Pelican for a couple of nights.

    There is usually good crabbing in Funtner Bay, an easy run on your first day out of Juneau.

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