GSSR#17 – Bear Quest (plus, wolves, otters, puffins, and even a Pelican!)

Total Distance: 5,276 nm
Run so far: 1,285 nm
Nautical Miles to go: 3,991 nm
Tomorrow’s goal: 0 nm

Greetings all!

The mileage indicator above is wrong, and I’m not sure what to do about it. It says that we have come 1,285 nautical miles (nm), which is accurate, but it also claims we now only have 3,991 nm to go. In actuality, the weather has been great, and we’re running ahead of schedule, so we are making side trips which were never planned. My guess is that we’ve added at least a hundred miles to our trip just bouncing around the local area. Oh well… I’m sure you’ll forgive me for running MORE distance than we originally signed up for.

We are now positioned to exit the Inside Passage, on June 7th, venturing into the Pacific Ocean. Here’s a photo which gives you an idea of where we are:

Glacier Bay is about 55 nautical miles deep. (a nautical mile is about 15% longer than a ‘normal’ mile).  However, there are only three or four anchorages. This isn’t a problem, in that only a handful of boats are allowed into the park at a time, and you feel as though you have the whole place to yourself. Most of Glacier Bay is simply too deep to anchor. We were mostly in waters over a thousand feet deep, and rarely saw water under a hundred feet deep.

Our first night was spent at the North Sandy Cove anchorage, a spectacular anchorage tucked in behind  a couple of islands. There are two ways to get into the anchorage; one of which is pictured above. This entrance looked fine on the chart, but I took the more conservative approach, around Puffin Island.

We departed early morning from Sandy Cove headed to the Marjorie Glacier; a 30nm run.

Several miles before arriving at the glacier we started seeing small icebergs. At first the ice was easily avoided, but it was rapidly getting denser. There was so much floating ice we finally gave up steering around it, and just tried to push it aside with the bow. Each iceberg was perhaps a foot across, with the majority of the iceberg floating just beneath the surface. Seabird had made this same run last year and made it all the way to the glacier, so I knew that it was possible. However, we were still miles away and there was just too much ice.

The ice wouldn’t politely push away from the bow. Instead, it was pushing down, and under the boat. CRUNCH!!! We heard a horrible crunching sound as one iceberg went under the boat. Roberta was driving at the time, and I said “One more and we turn around.” Five minutes later, another loud crunching sound from beneath the boat. That was it and we turned around.

Here’s a photo of Seabird, deep in the ice, from their trip to Glacier Bay last year. I wanted a similar picture of Sans Souci, but didn’t want to risk damage to the props or stabilizers. I am jealous of this picture of Seabird, but, oh well…

The scale of everything at Glacier Bay is impossible to comprehend. A couple of cruise ships a day are permitted into the park, but co-existing with them is not a problem. Here you see a cruise ship we passed. This ship is probably home to over 2,000 people, yet it looks tiny in comparison to the surrounding landscape.

We headed to an anchorage known as ‘Blue Mouse.’ En route, we passed by Reid Inlet, and its glacier (pictured above). A few years ago, this was a tidewater glacier, meaning that the glacier touched the water, but now, as you can see, the glacier has retracted such that there is a beach separating the glacier from the water.

It is possible to anchor in Reid’s Inlet, just in front of the glacier, but it is not very protected, and the weather reports were claiming a storm, complete with five foot seas, would be coming.

Blue Mouse is an immense anchorage, surrounded by overwhelmingly beautiful vistas. We dropped the tender and did some exploring. At the back of the anchorage, there is a pass, easily navigable in a tender at high tide, which would give us access to another large bay; Skidmore Bay. We started to head in, but then I remembered the park rangers saying that some places were off limits. I radioed to the ranger station who said “Skidmore is shut off from visitors. Please do not enter. Thank you for asking.” Darn. It was probably good they said no. The tide was dropping rapidly and we wouldn’t have wanted to get caught in the wrong bay when the channel between the bays dried up.

While we were at the Blue Mouse anchorage,  Grey Pearl was a hundred miles away in Juneau picking up incoming crew, and Seabird had dropped anchor at North Sandy Cove.

The next morning, as nice as Blue Mouse was, our guests wanted to go back to North Sandy Cove, where the odds of seeing bears would be much higher. I radioed Steven to ask what the weather was like: “Dead Calm” he said. I reported to him the weather report I had heard, given by the rangers, the prior evening. “Three foot seas, and 15 knot winds, becoming five foot seas and 25 knot winds.” Steven asked “Are you sure that is for Glacier Bay?” I confirmed that it was. Both Steven and I were seeing nothing but calm seas. Although our guests wanted to return to Sandy Cove, but I didn’t want to put them through rough seas. We had a group discussion, and decided to go for it.

The weather report wasn’t completely wrong. We did experience three foot chop, but only for a couple of hours. Overall it was a very smooth ride, and North Sandy Cove was beautiful on arrival.

Along the way, we were able to see an otter floating in the water. These are very cute creatures who float on their backs. We were also able to see a Puffin bird, which is a big deal in our family. Unfortunately, we didn’t even know we had seen it until I blew up the photo above, and there it was (albeit blurry). Shelby, our dog, is a Norweigan Lundehund, which is a puffin bird-hunting dog. We’ve always wanted to show her a puffin, just to see if she would instinctually recognize it.

At North Sandy Cove, the weather was incredible, and we spent a couple days just hanging out, enjoying our guests.

We took the tender out, and did see several black bears. No one was brave enough to step ashore, we just floated along the shore, watching the bears eat, and taking their pictures.

I know nothing about animals, so I was surprised to see the bears eating clams. The bears seemed to like wandering the beach at low tide, looking for clams. And, to my enormous surprise, the clams would shoot large streams of water. We were fascinated seeing the clams randomly shooting out two foot streams of water! It was like they were putting on a show for us.

Here’s Seabird watching a bear from their tender (this picture was taken from our tender, just behind them)

My stepmom, Sandra Williams, Karen and Ray Hoffman, watching the bears from Sans Souci.

Karen and Ray Hoffman enjoying themselves in Glacier Bay — with a black bear behind them..

Thus far, we’ve only seen black bears. We hunted for the larger brown grizzly bears, and still haven’t found them. No worries. We’ll see plenty of them in Kodiak and Geographic Harbor.

The picture above looks grainy because it is a capture from the video. I wish I had it in higher quality, because arguably, this is amongst the most important photos posted on my blog. It captures better than I ever could with words the essence of what boating is really about. Here you see all the key elements for a perfect day: friends, the barbecue, an incredible anchorage, music, steaks, and wine. Life don’t get much better.

It was disappointing to leave North Sandy Cove, but we had to take our guests to the airport in Gustavus for their flight home. Here you see Seabird pulling anchor. Like us, they have a high pressure chain wash. Frequently, the chain and anchor come back to the boat coated with mud. Our prior boat didn’t have an anchor wash and it was miserable standing on the bow with a hose trying to get the anchor clean, and then clean all the mud off the bow. I’ll never be without one again!

We had been recommended to visit the town of Pelican Cove, which is about 10 miles back a narrow channel.

As we approached Pelican, we were close enough to the Pacific, the Gulf of Alaska, to see the water that we’ll soon be traversing. We’re randomly exploring now, but the trip will turn serious, on June 7th, when we start across. I have been tracking the weather in the Gulf, and as predicted, it looked remarkably calm. The forecast for the next three days called for 15 knot east winds, with six foot seas. This sounded VERY good, and triggered a conversation between ourselves and Seabird on whether or not we should “just go for it.” With blue skies, plenty of fuel, a great weather report, and calm seas, what was stopping us? We were fairly serious for a few minutes, and then realized it just wasn’t practical. Grey Pearl was still in Juneau, and many friends have been looking forward to seeing us off. The idea was discarded.

Pelican Cove is a very small town, and a very attractive one. I saw one estimate claiming 100 year-round residents.The entire town is built on stilts, and all the homes border the waterfront. There is a fish processing plant, which is closed and up for auction. The grocery store is linked to the fish processing plant, and was also out of business. Someone must still believe in the town, because there is a new nine million dollar facility going in to generate power from a nearby stream. We watched some of the construction and were very impressed.

Pelican is home to the infamous Rose’s Bar and Grill.

L to R: John Buchan (Flyer), Steven Argosy (Seabird), Ken Williams (Sans Souci), Rose, Gloria Buchan (Flyer), Roberta Williams (Sans Souci), Carol Argosy (Seabird).

In the picture you see our friends, John and Gloria Buchan, who keep a small boat in Juneau for local cruising during the summer.

In an effort to liven things up Rose talked our wives into tending bar. I’d say it worked.

Our plan had been to stay several days in Pelican, but our wives started talking about going to anchor at Dundas Bay. My friend John has been coming to Dundas  for a decade and considers it one of his favorite anchorages in Southeast Alaska. Everyone was quickly convinced, so at 6am the next morning, we were underway for the 36nm run from Pelican to Dundas.

Dundas is a gorgeous, but lesser known anchorage, just west of Glacier Bay. Entering Dundas is simpler than it appears on the charts. There is plenty of water, and no current. Until recently, there were no depths on the charts for the bay, which severely limited access. My friend John mentioned being at anchor, many years ago, when a 100 passenger cruise ship entered the bay and struck an uncharted rock. The boat sank, and John assisted in the rescue. (No one was injured or hurt.)

As we would be anchoring eight miles back a narrow channel, next to the rock where the cruise ship sank, I decided it might be a good time to work on my Sonar skills. I advised Seabird of my intention to run very slowly down the channel. It was a useful exercise, and I am happy to report that the charts were accurate. When we get to the Aleutians, there will be bays where the charts can’t be trusted, and the Sonar will come in handy.

Dundas is an incredible anchorage! As you can see in the photos above, the weather, and the bay, is too good to be true.

We even saw a wolf. How can you distinguish a wolf from a dog? I don’t know. I’m not sure what he is eating. The skeleton appears to be an animal, or at least I hope so…

As you can imagine, an anchorage this awesome creates a perfect opportunity for filling the hot tub! Here’s the view from Sans Souci’s hot tub. Not too shabby! One very strange thing: We tend to hit the hot tub late at night. Last night we were in after 11pm, and it was daylight! There are very few hours of darkness here. I’m not complaining! When the cruising is this good, I’ll take all the hours I can.

And, on a completely different topic…

We’ve been talking about whales recently, so here’s a “whale story” from John Marshall, on Serendipity (Nordhavn 55), presently at Juneau, where our third GSSR boat is:

“…we’re a couple of slips over from Braun and Tina on Gray Pearl, and two more slips away from Stan and Diane on Crossroads. In Auke Bay/Juneau. We’ll all going up in a chopper this afternoon to buzz the glaciers. 

Weather is so warm and brilliantly sunny that my pilot house is too hot, even with doors and windows open. Going to get hotter the next few days. But no way I’m going to turn the AC on in Alaska and piss off the local weather gods. The audacity of that would probably guarantee us 40 days and 40 nights of rain.   Stan and I froze our asses off on Friday fishing for salmon in the rain, so today is most welcome.

We damn near got done in by a humpback this morning… Stan and I were both exiting the marina in our dinks when a humpback breached high into the air right in the marina entrance, right in front of our (suddenly) very, very tiny dinks. We killed our engine and just sat there, hearts pounding shouting “Holy SH*T!”. Impressive to the point of being scary. Braun on Gray Pearl had been watching the whale (they weigh about 80,000 pounds) working his way along the breakwater, and saw it go airborne right in front of us, but we weren’t paying attention and had no clue the whale was there until we were looking up at it. Needless to say, that’s a different experience than looking down on it from our tall boats.  …”

And, lastly…. I haven’t posted anything technical in a while. To be honest, the boat has been running so flawlessly, that other than changing the oil in the generator, I’ve hardly been in the engine room. Therefore, to keep the technical amongst you interested, I’m passing along this message that I posted last week on the NordhavnDreamers Yahoo group. There was a discussion on generator usage, and I was sharing with the group how we use the generator aboard Sans Souci.

“…I did something unusual on Sans Souci, with respect to the generator, and power, that has worked out well.

First a quick overview of Sans Souci’s electrical system:

– 14kw of inverter capacity (a huge amount)
– 20kw and 25kw generators
– 1500 amp hour (at 24v) battery bank

The 20kw generator has auto-start, meaning it can be set to come on whenever the boat senses low voltage. There is a button I can flip to control the generator manually if I prefer. Our standard mode of operation, on Sans Souci, is to run the boat off of the inverters. With 14kw of capacity, there are few limits as to what we can run. With the generator in auto-start mode, it decides on its own when the batteries need charging. The generator is so quiet that the only way we know it is running is to look at the gauge in the pilot house. When a lot is happening on the boat (stove, a/c, washer, etc) the generator kicks in about every six hours, for four to six hours. In other words, it runs about half the time. At night, when little is happening, the boat seems to run ten to twelve hours before the generator fires.

 I would say that we have accomplished my original goal, of reducing almost completely the focus on power management. We have plenty of power, and the generator runs no more or less than it is needed. One very important part of all this is our diesel furnace (Kabola). It is responsible for space heating and water heating. The Kabola uses almost no electricity, and very little fuel. We have seemingly infinite hot water on Sans Souci, without the electrical spikes I’ve had on other boats as the water heater kicks on and off. Anyone designing a boat, of any size, should seriously consider adding a diesel furnace (we had one on our 27′ power-cat, so they aren’t just a big-boat item) In a similar vain, I just added soft starts to our a/c units (VFDs), which allow the a/c to kick in with no electrical surge.

The bottom line:

By adding complexity, I’ve eliminated virtually all focus on power management. However, as a rule of thumb, complexity on a boat is a bad thing. This said, all is working flawlessly, and the boat has been a real joy. …” “…

That’s it for today. I do have some great video of the bears and ice, and even took some video in the engine room, as several of you requested. Unfortunately, my internet is very borderline here, and I can’t upload the video to my server. Maybe a few days from now.

Thank you!
Ken Williams
N6805, Sans Souci


17 Responses

  1. Ken The U.S. Climate Prediction Center says in a new advisory that an El Nino of undetermined size appears to be forming in the equatorial Pacific.Here in California El Ninos normaly bring us a very wet winter. Im currious to know if you know how they efect the the weather on the other side of the pacific.I know your busy now but hopefully youl find some time later to talk about the weather.

  2. Hi Ken,
    Discovered your site while reading Circumnavigator. Am busy catching up on the information you’ve provided. Your current voyage sounds like a great adventure. Thank you for sharing your experiences. I am particularly interested in the route you are taking. Best wishes for a safe and enjoyable journey.

  3. Sonaia:

    Always great to hear from you! As you said, today is a big day. We’re in Hoonah for a BIG send off party, and then tomorrow morning things turn serious. In a way, things have already started changing. On Grey Pearl, they just loaded on three serious looking guys as crew. I have two professional crew joining us later today. The whole personality of the boats has changed from the three couples who were sitting at anchor enjoying the sun just a couple days ago.

    I should have clarified in my blog entry that I am still doing engine room checks. Those are not a big deal, whereas last year, it felt at times as though I was living in the engine room. Last year was our first year with the boat, and there were some electrical issues that made life “interesting.”

    One of my projects for today is to make up a checklist for the engine room checks. We’ll have three professional crew for the trip across the Aleutians, and I want to decide where I want them to focus on the engine room checks. Because our boat has a monitoring system, there are some things that are already being constantly monitored by the computer, and don’t perhaps need checking by a human. The time could be better spent looking at other things. For instance, the monitoring system is measuring the temperature at all times of the shaft bearings. On our N62, I used to shoot them with a temperature gun on all engine room checks. Now, it isn’t as necessary. I still shoot them once in a while, just to verify the reading matches what it is in the computer, but it isn’t an every time thing. There are over 200 items the monitoring system always looks at.

    Here’s what I check when I go in the engine room (these are things the monitoring system really can’t know):

    – Are the valves on the fuel filters right (they sometimes get kicked. I have wire ties on them, but these have even gotten messed up)
    – Are there any funny sounds. Do the engines sound right? The fans?
    – Are there any funny odors?
    – Do the fan belts seem to be vibrating?
    – Does the sea chest look full of water?
    – Is there any oil or water spotting beneath the engines?
    – I double-check the sight gauges on the fuel tanks. The monitoring system is measuring fuel, but fuel is so important that a double-check is worthwhile.
    – In the lazarette, I look at the steering rods to see if anything looks like it is coming loose
    – Is there any oil or water in the bilge? (We have dripless shaft seals, and run a dry bilge)
    – I look at the pressure gauges on the fuel filters, just to see if they are getting dirty. Also, on the pressure gauges on the pre-filter for the water makers

    Sorry to hear you are selling Goleen (a Nordhavn 57). I shall never forget running along side you and Chris across the Atlantic. It was the trip of a lifetime!

    Best wishes, and thanks for writing!

    -Ken W

  4. Thanks for the info, Ken. I’ll look forward to your sonar video. Best of luck to you all as you embark on the next big leg of your journey!

  5. Ken, Roberta & Co.,
    Tomorrow is the BIG day hey? The day you will seriously start putting your names on the ‘map’ and writing history! BRAVO!

    Have the MOST safe, enjoyable and happy trip!
    Live every moment of this exciting and challenging experience.
    We will be thinking of you and chanting for your safe arrival in Russia.

    On the ‘technical note’ I was surprised with your comment: “I’ve hardly been in the engine room.”
    Before such a trip shouldn’t we be visiting the engine room very often so we do not find the ‘NEED’ to visit it at all?
    Well… maybe it is just us that are a bit of an ‘engine room freaks’ before and after departing to any trip at all including, if possible, engine room checks every hour before the log entries while cruising 🙂

    All the best!
    Sonaia, Chris & Tootsy xxxxx 🙂

  6. Tom F:

    Thank you for requesting some of the photos in Hi-Res. I would like to post a bunch of them in maximum resolution, and will when I can .. but, I still have not been to a marina in Alaska that has Internet!!!

    I have broadband on Sans Souci, but am limited in how much data I can use per month. The Mini Vsat is new, and KVH doesn’t quite have everything figured out. When I asked how much data I could use with my unlimited subscription, the answer was “Not too much or we’ll cut you off.” When I said, “How much is that” they said “We’re not sure. We’re still deciding.” So, I asked: “OK. How do I know how much I’ve used?” They said “Go to your customer control panel.” I checked, and called them back: “It isn’t there. Now what?” They said: “Oh. We can look it up for you, but only after the end of a month.” I’m waiting for them to tell me my usage… Until then, I’m afraid to do anything that uses a lot of data.

    As John S has said, the photos are actually at 1200×800, which isn’t perfect, but should work for most uses.

    Dundas was amazing. It was BY FAR the prettiest anchorage we’ve ever been in.

    -Kne W

  7. Adam:

    The auto-start feature on my generator is tied into both the Inverters and the Generator.

    The inverter has the intelligence. It is doing all the monitoring and giving the commands, whereas the auto-start on the generator just does what it is told.

    As to Sonar: I’ve been working on a video about my engine room. It turned out to be harder than I thought, and I’ve been lazier than expected. Once I get that video done, I’ll look at how to do a Sonar video. The Sonar takes some getting used to!

    -Ken W

  8. Hal:

    I’d like to stop at Lituya Bay, and have read about it, plus spoken with people who have gone in. I also know of at least a couple boats who timed the entrance wrong, and had really bad days. I’m confident we could do it, and that it would be worth the effort, but haven’t been able to rally support amongst our troops, or even Roberta. The smart answer is almost certainly not to try it .. we’ve already got plenty of challenge ahead. It would be cool though.

    Dundas was incredible. We wound up staying three days, and didn’t want to leave!

    -Ken W

  9. Tom,

    Actually, most of the pictures Ken posts are 1200 x 800, which, depending on your screen resolution, would be almost sufficient for your desktop background. Simply click on a photo to display it on its own, then right click on it, and save it locally. You’ll notice that the file is much larger than what it appears like in the blog. They’re posted smaller in the blog to minimize the time it takes for the page to load, but in the background, the actual photo is there for the taking.

    Hope this helps.

    – John S.

  10. Ken as captain of Sans Succi youve taken on alot of reponsibility i have one suggestion you might want to to delegate Puffin spoting to Shelby thats the way theyve done it with much success for generations in Norway.And thank you for bringing us Dreamers aboard.

  11. Ken…consider a stop at Lituya Bay as it has quite an interesting history, do a quick Google Search

  12. Hi Ken. We just got back from another fishing trip. I see you have had exceptional weather in Southeast. We just took 27 hours of pounding into 30-35 knots to get back from AK Peninsula. A little different. Spent 2 days prior to that on anchor waiting to fish. Thus, one more trip. We leave Friday at midnight. Business has been slow, maybe the fish gods are angry with me for forsaking them to go cruising. Gale of wind today but it will moderate. We will be back close to your arrival date. Good news is the grizzlies are awaiting your arrival in force. We saw many while on anchor and on shore. Lots of packages have arrived at my house for you folks. I opened one that was addressed to me but was meant for you. A book of pictograms for communicating with non English speakers. It’s hilarious. Wait till you see the pictogram for, shall we say, “Montezuma’s Revenge”. I have a book of rudimentary Japanese that I will bring so we don’t embarrass ourselves. I’m fairly good with languages. The Harbormaster sent a message and it appears he’s trying to make good arrangements for you. He and his wife are very gracious people and I’m sure you will enjoy meeting them. Please leave a message at my home phone and Skymate if you head this way while we are offshore. You will be able to blog from my house on our wireless. See you soon. Best regards. Bill

  13. Ken,

    I love reading your blog but this one in particular is making sitting in my office without day dreaming very difficult. Any chance you could post some of those pictures in hi resolution somewhere for desktop background usage? Looking forward to the videos.


  14. Ken, a couple of technical questions:

    – Is your generator’s auto-start a feature of the generator, the inverter, or both? I’d love to know more about how those systems are connected.

    – Do you have any photos of your searchlight sonar in use? It would be very cool to see some screen shots of the sonar alongside pictures of the chart, showing how the sonar represents the marked underwater hazards.



  15. The store at Pelican was open in 2007 when I visited for the 4th of July parade. Rose goes all out for the Fourth, with complimentary buffet Hors d’Oeuvres, ribald contests involving much consumption of adult beverages, etc.

    I also loved Dundas bay. We went all the way to the back, with a gorgeous view of the mountains to the north.

    Consider Elfin Cove if you didn’t stop there earlier. Best to anchor east of the town off the marina.

    And consider a stop at Lituya bay. I’ve always wanted to go in there and see the evidence of the mega-tsunami that visited there.

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