Our next stop was Swanson Harbor, a nicely protected bay surrounded by islands that came and went with the tides. On the way, we saw whales!
There are two free floating docks, which made the stay extra nice not having to worry about the anchor.
We took dinghy rides around the bay catching a glimpse of a dolphin and the token eagle. We also took a jaunt to shore at low, low tide and there were many starfish to see – if one can find them all blended into the rocks!
After our wonderful stints at Fords Terror and Tracy Arm, it was time to head to Juneau for a crew change (both sad and happy times). We would have so many more videos of Christian’s drone footage but our connection barely allows us to upload photos so we’ll have to do a video montage page at the end of the trip… stay tuned!
We found a slip in Harris Harbor near downtown, got settled in, and then headed to town. We found Norma & Jeff on the way to the first stop, Red Dog Saloon, for duck fart shots and some quick bites.
We ate a quick dinner at the Alaska Fish & Chips Company before Christian & Liz had to scramble to make their flight. There was some worry of luggage weight overage with the many souvenirs bought but they were under the limit and made their flight back to Seattle for a week to transition to their Sweden trip. They were most excellent crew!
The next day we spent the morning reprovisioning and then in the afternoon took the sky tram up Mount Roberts to take in the view of Juneau and more. Norma treated us to beverages and fish and chips while we took in the sights. We checked out the large gift shop and visitor center. On the walk back, we took a pic with the Juneau sign thanks to some friendly Wisconsinites (tell your folks I says hi!) and walked the boardwalk to Roma upon a recommendation for some tasty pizza and lasagna.
We heard many good things about the Tracy Arm, so we decided to take a full day to explore it. The day was overcast and misty. There were many more waterfalls along the way running down the steep hillsides to the green-blue water dotted with floating icebergs flowing down the arm from the glacier. We reached the end with the Sawyer Glacier and its deep blue hues and craggy peaks. There were many seals dotting the floating ice at the bottom of the glacier. It was truly awe-inspiring to see and photos again don’t seem to do it justice.
A nice treat was when Coda saddled up with fenders down to hand over a hot cup of cocoa for Tonia who stood in the rain on the bow with her beverage keeping her warm. Couldn’t have it any better!
Christian got some nice drone footage of a nearby boat at the glacier so Liz took the plunge and called the boat, Ticket to Ride, on the radio. They caught the hail and provided an email address to send shots to. However, it turns out that they were in the bay we anchored in for the night and we waved them over when on their dinghy ride to grab some iceberg chunks. Frank & Mary Grace along with their son and Hawaii guests Eric & Amelia then invited our group for a polar plunge. There was some hesitation though Liz and Barbara were ultimately in! Liz may have had the shortest stint in the water (last in, first out) but she did it! And Barbara jumped in twice! They must have impressed the Ticket to Ride group as they came by later with crew shirts for their boat for Liz and Barbara. They were both thrilled. (Side note: Ticket to Ride’s name is based on the Beattle’s song, not the board game. 😉)
We left around 10am to head to Fords Terror to hit the 1:04pm high-tide window for entering. As we were leaving the anchorage, we were called by vessel La Vida asking our intentions. After we told them Fords Terror, we had a few exchanges about hoping there was enough room and we’ll see what happens when we get there. In the 2.5 hours it took to reach Fords Terror we assimilated La Vida into our group and had plans to add them to our raft for the night.
Arriving at Fords Terror there was a boat that had passed us and decided to not go in. They communicated that there were already two boats waiting and they did not want to risk the crossing with other boats. We briefly had the same thought but decided to push on. The worst-case scenario was that we’d have no place to anchor and would have to leave at the late-night high tide. Not the most optimal of outcomes but we’d make it work.
It turns out that one of the boats waiting was a charter and had no plans to go into Fords Terror. They had their dinghy down and were ferrying people in and out of the area so they could kayak and see the sites inside. The other boat waiting was a smaller boat, and another smaller boat came in behind us and radio that they would follow us and there was going to be plenty of room. Turns out that was Intuition, the red boat that was checking at the Sydney border crossing just before us!
After a brief wait, it was time. We headed for the rapids right before the tide time, but the current was visibly slower. Coda led the way. It was a fun ride. We all went a little sideways and Coda was probably closer to the side wall than I’d prefer but we all made it thru with just a little jockeying. Check out Christian’s drone video as it does a good job of showing the ride.
The area inside Fords Terror is amazing. Great waterfalls and an overall awesome experience. The anchorage is rather deep being in the 90-foot range. We sent Tonia and Christian off in the dinghy, and they set a stern anchor in the mud flats with some finagling and resetting to reach Coda’s stern line. The bugs were not friendly but Christian was quite the trooper! We set a second anchor off the front, and we were set in our 3-boat raft.
Our new boat in the raft was La Vida and their crew was Konrad and Lea from Dallas. La Vida was a charter boat that they picked up in Sitka as part of a group and they broke off for two days to visit Tracy Arm and Fords Terror. We all got together for a delicious potluck dinner.
After dinner we went out and checked the shrimp pot and were pleasantly surprised with a bunch of shrimps. The next day we had multiple hours until the high tide at 1:45pm. Just before coffee we went out and pulled the shrimp pot and got a full load of just about 3 quarts. Enough for snacks, dinner, and leftovers with a to-go baggie for La Vida too. I would say we’re getting better at shrimping, but it was our only real success so probably need more data.
After coffee, we took the dinghies around the area to check out all the waterfalls and the other side of the arm. Steve and Barbara pulled the dinghy up to shore and planned to walk around but that was cut short by a bear that happened to be feeding nearby. The bear took off running and Konrad and Lea got a video of it swimming and running for the hills. Steve made a quick retreat to his dinghy as well!
It was eventually time to head back to the rapids and our 1:45 high-tide appointment. We broke up the raft, pulled in the stern anchor, stowed the dinghies, and motored back to the rapids.
I would have to say that the trip back across the rapids was not easier, and it was actually a little more anxiety-inducing and terrifying. We were the last boat thru after watching La Vida and Coda traverse. La Vida looked to pause in the middle, and we had a little fright that they may end up in the rocks. Coda took it a lot faster and made it with a little side motion. For us, I think we went just when the tide was switching, and we had some swirly action. We also had radio chatter about a boat on the other side that was a little impatient and was going to go so we had additional stress. Luckily, the boat stayed put when they saw us around the corner.
Overall, Fords Terror was amazing, and I would highly recommend it even with the 15 minutes of stressful maneuvering it takes to get in and out. Here’s the rest of the photo dump:
Today was primarily a transit day. We wanted to get up closer to Juneau and set ourselves up to see Fords Terror and Tracy Arm before Liz and Christian depart on the 10th.
It took us about eight and a half hours to make the journey. The wind was tolerable for the most part and we had a decent ride across Stephens Passage.
We saw whales multiple times during the voyage and had to stop once because a whale appeared out of nowhere 30 feet in front of the boat. Thankfully Liz called it quickly so we could avoid a collision! Another whale was giving a WWF smackdown show with multiple whacks of its tail in a row. Quite the sight to see!
This was the most popular cove/bay we’ve stayed in so far, likely since there are not many nearby options and it’s a great jumping off point to both Tracy Arm and Fords Terror.
One of the recommendations from locals, in particular a family we passed at Anan Wildlife Observatory, was the Le Conte Glacier. It’s a two-and-a-half-hour excursion straight east from Petersburg. We started to see floating ice or mini bergs in the open water before even starting up the 9-mile arm to the glacier. It was quite the amazing sight to see the glacier at the end!
Once we had our fill of the glacier, we made our way back down the arm, catching another whale glimpse on our way to our next anchorage in Ruth Island Cove.
The trip from Wrangell to Petersburg took us up the Wrangell Narrows. I’m not sure I’ve seen so many aids to navigation (ATON) in my life. It’s a great place to see every ATON in the navigation book. The narrows were pretty straightforward. There was a lot of traffic from smaller boats and we were lucky not to meet the ferry going thru. It traversed after we had docked at Petersburg.
We arrived mid afternoon and got to town in time to watch the egg toss and catch the end of the street fair activities. After a corndog for yours truly, we walked around a bit and headed over to watch the blindfolded rowing, log rolling, and herring toss. The rowing part took forever, and we all were getting tired and hungry so we headed back to the boats for dinner. Unfortunately, Petersburg had their fireworks on the 3rd as well so we called it an early night.
The trip to Wrangell was pretty easy and smooth. The highlight was seeing over 20 eagles gathered on a beach along the way. It was really cool. Liz also caught pics of some deer by the water.
Our excitement was really getting boarded by the US Coast Guard. They were doing full sweeps in anticipation of the holiday weekend. Luckily all our paperwork was in order, Matt had his Mariner’s Credentials, and safety protocols were all up to date. Coda got a laugh passing us watching the boarding happen… but SI got the last laugh watching Coda get boarded next!
Once we were settled in Heritage Harbor at Wrangell, we made the about one-mile walk to town and stopped first at what was supposed to be a dive bar: Rayme’s Bar.
Lonely Planet quote: “If you’re on a tour of gritty Alaskan bars that smell of spilt beer and old carpets, pop into Rayme’s, where inhaling deeply is usually enough to make you feel light-headed.”
Rayme’s doesn’t exactly live up to dive bar status as it looked like it had an overhaul (no old carpets and nice high-top tables) in the last few years since the Lonely Planet review, though there is still a deer butt on the wall.
Next we ambled through town and settled at Stikine Inn for drinks and apps. We had great outdoor seating overlooking the water to watch kids jumping off the pier. After that, Liz, Barbara and Tonia walked to the Petroglyph Beach Park and then we settled in for a movie and watching fireworks from the boat. The start time was slated for 11pm but the real show didn’t start until 11:40 – it was good but a late night!
What a great morning. Ok, it’s overcast and there are few dozen pesky gnats flying around, but hey, did I mention that I’m unemployed and don’t have to worry about work?
The tides looked favorable for launching and we headed to the Anan Wildlife Observatory around noonish. The guide info said to enter the lagoon – bad idea! The tide was such that we got in but quickly realized the tide was out fast. We decided to abandon the lagoon though not before the current launched us in the wrong direction getting us stuck on rocks! Christian and Tonia hopped out to lighten the load and help maneuver. Matt also got out and realized his Alaskan sneakers (aka Xtratuf boots) were not quite high enough. We did manage to get free and Tonia and Christian rock climbed up to the trail, which was thankfully not too far overhead.
We hiked the trail (just about a mile from trail head) to a lookout station over the freshwater creek passing old and fresh bear dung. We hung out for a long while with no bears in sight. We finally decided to call it and head back. Shortly into the return hike, Tonia halted the group as she spotted one momma brown bear with her two cubs wandering on the other side of the lagoon. The rest of the observatory was pretty sparse of bears – mostly because the salmon are not yet coming upstream. A lady we passed also said that all the trails were recently upgraded, and it has temporally moved the bears farther away because of the noise.
Upon getting back to the dinghies we found that the trim was stuck up and we couldn’t get it the prop back in the water. With no tools Capt. Steve towed us back over to the mother ship. It took forever! And once back and equipped with screwdriver the trim was fixed in about 5 minutes. [Note to self: add screwdriver to dinghy cubby.]
We had a wonderful dinner of homemade pizza. Steve made a foe hamburger, Barbara made spinach Italian pizza, and we made taco pizza a la Happy Joe’s style.
After dinner we went back to the observatory to see if any fish were coming in at high tide and thus bring in the bears. The fish weren’t running but we did get to see one solo bear and the mother and two cubs on the shore entrance to the stream.
I’m officially unemployed! [Matt to be clear. 😉] After 22 years, 5 months, and 19 days, my time at Microsoft has come to an end. What am I doing now? Boating of course!! At least for the next three years: Alaska, California, Mexico, Panama Canal, and then the Great Loop!!
Today’s float plan included heading towards the Anan Wildlife Observatory to see some bears. Since the anchorage there is tight, we decided to anchor in Fools Inlet. It is just across the Bradfield Canal from the observatory and will be a quick dinghy ride over tomorrow.
On the trip up we were joined by a playful group of dolphins that were playing in our wake and swimming out in front and across our bow.