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The Adventures of The Audrey Eleanor- Part 9

Nosing into the rocky shoreline, I am to fill our water jugs with this wildly fresh water

Tracey Arm channel of icebergs

Word has gotten out that Tracey Arm rivals Glacier Bay for magnificent glaciers and stunning scenery. The ice walls calve and collapse into the ocean with a force that creates huge resounding waves. Waves tinkle the neon blue icebergs like giant ice cubes mingling with new friends in a crystal glass. This solid granite canyon must have been created when the earth experienced an extreme upheaval and the rock cracked like a hard-boiled egg to expose wide white bands of contrasting colour that offset the milky green water. This is the ultimate in exterior design.

Tracey Arm is south of Juneau, Alaska by approximately 50 K. Icebergs ranging from barely noticeable (bergies) to spectacular glistening jewels guard the entrance to Tracy Arm. Navigation is difficult because the ice can obscure the range markers at the entrance, or solid blue crystals block the pathway, “Bergs or bergies” do not move readily.

At low tide the whole procedure becomes quite interesting as swirls and tidal rips develop in the sea and mountains of ice sway in the current, intent on blocking your route…while we have had to do some tricky navigating to get inside, it is worth it.

Traffic has increased since we first explored this channel; the cruise ships now navigate the rock canyons. Depending on the year, the icebergs can limit your access up the 30 K channel and tides of course affect everything.

We are making our way south this time and cannot resist trying once again to get a look at Sawyer Glacier. A past attempt to reach the end of the arm and see the glacier had been thwarted by a flotilla of icebergs at the 10 K range, the tides aren’t running in our favour this time either, but what the heck, and as I’m sure you know by now “God hates a coward”.

The anchor gets dropped in the little bay in the mouth of the arm. There are several boats here this time. A 45’ sailboat has tied to the trees along the shore and looks to be about 4’ away from the sheer rock edge. It is difficult to anchor with a combination of baby icebergs and boats all crowding for the limited space. This is quite a difference from the last time we visited, when we were the sole occupants in the cove. From my galley window I can see a little iceberg that’s attempting to rub shoulders with Audrey, it’s fairly small and is floating, so no worries. The little iceberg needs to worry; the Captain has decided that he wants to fill the ice coolers with berg ice. This ice is compressed, ancient and lasts way longer than any ice we can buy or make, it makes such a beautiful blue contrast against red crab.

We are a few days from Petersburg and will stock up on King crab when we get there. By stock up I mean we will eat all that we can and get a whole live one for the road. Any seafood if better when it’s fresh, so our philosophy is to catch it as we need it or flag down the commercial boats to see if they are able to sell or trade their catch. The prawn fishers seem to prefer swapping prawns for beer rather than cash. This barter system is often preferred, fresh bread goes almost as far as beer, but not quite.

Seafood is so delicate it takes no time before it acquires a freezer flavour that reduces it to mystery fish. Hmm are you sure that this is halibut, tastes like salt cod! How much do two people really need? I would like to come back tomorrow and still be able to get King crab. Leave the big guys for reproduction and throw the little guys back so they can grow up.

The little “berg” is roped to the side of the boat and the Captain hacks away at crystals of brilliant blue. He passes me one of the bigger chunks to feel, it is heavier than regular ice.

In the morning a huge cruise ship is leaving the Arm, we wait for the ice to quit moving from their wake before we head up the channel. The tide is returning so we are following the bergs into the Arm, we hope that we have enough time before the tide changes and we have to fight our way against the ice.

On a little rock ledge there is a momma bear with this years cubs hiding between her legs. It’s a straight drop into the ocean below if they slip. We are not sure of what she is trying to accomplish and she’s looking a little uncertain herself. Audrey slows down and we stay far enough away from her so we don’t add to the confusion.

With a roar a thirty-foot tour boat comes out of nowhere. The idiot pilot stops his boat right under the bears and cameras click like typewriters gone berserk…the poor bears scatter up the cliff, the babies are bawling in fear with the whites in their eyes showing in terror. They are slipping and falling, we fully expect to see one of them drop the 20 feet into the ocean. The Captain is furious, if we would have found anything on board to throw at this stupid tour operator it would have happened

The tour boat hits full throttle again and roars off around the corner, leaving the rest of us to deal with the ice banging against our hulls from the wake they’ve created. The bears shoot dirty looks over their shoulders as they top the 60-foot cliff; obviously they are glad to be done with all of us. I can see momma bear muttering, ”some people’s children, no manners at all!

Our necks are cramping from looking skyward up the straight flat rock that heads straight up to the sun and drops directly below the surface of the ocean. With the shear drop into the ocean the depth of the water allows for some unusual boating.   Waterfalls cascade down the rock all around us, spilling beautiful crystal clear glacier water into the sea.

The Captain brings Audrey’s bow toward the shoreline between two waterfalls. I am on the bow, not sure what he is doing. He slowly inches us forward until our bow is touching the sheer rock face between the two falls. This is so out of the realm of usual that my instincts are on full alert, “we’re too close to the rock, we’re too close to the rock.” What comes out my mouth is; “what in the hell are you doing?” He laughs, puts Audrey in neutral and throws me the water jug. “You’ve always wanted to take a shower under a waterfall” he says, “I expect by the time that the jug is only partially full, you will be soaking wet.”

I cannot back down because this is true, I do mange to fill the jug AND stay fairly dry. It’s an incredible feeling being underneath tons of falling water with mist blowing around you, I would love to do it again, in warmer water! This liquid ice will be great for drinking and it makes exceptional coffee.

Around the corner under full throttle cruises the “Empress of the North”. She’s a replica of an old riverboat complete with fake waterwheel. If you glitzed up the SS Klondike in Whitehorse, Yukon and she would be a smaller twin. Her hull is smashing through the ice and we wonder if she’s been re-enforced as an icebreaker. We have seen her several times before, her passengers always seem the happiest of the cruisers. They hang over the sides and wave and shout as they go by, lots of the other cruise ship passengers don’t respond to a friendly wave. Everyone is heading for the glacier.

A small thump resonates a vibration through the hull, then a bigger one and a bigger vibration. We are two kilometres from the glacier, but the tide has turned and now the icebergs are bumping against our hull, it is amazing how little “give” there is in a floating block of ice. I’d assumed that our bow wake would simply push the ice to the side, that isn’t what happens. The little ones will move, by little I mean no bigger than three feet in diameter, after that it’s like hitting a rock wall. Sitting still we can feel the ice hitting the hull, causing vibrations through Audrey’s bones, it’s time to back out of here. The ice is packing quickly so we do have to back up to get out of the icepack. Again, so close and yet so far, next time we’ll make it.

P.S. The Empress of the North has a record of running aground at least once a year. She ran aground again shortly after we saw her and was out of commission for the rest to the season. Whatever they are doing they seem to have the most fun while they are afloat.

The Empress of the North in Tracy Arm, Alaska

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The Adventures of The Audrey Eleanor- Part 8

The Adventures of The Audrey Eleanor- Part 8

 

A Sleeping Giant

A Grey whale snoozes beside the Audrey Eleanor, the clank of the anchor wakes him and with a single graceful sway of his tail he moves on.

Audrey pulled away her moorage in Haines, Alaska on July 26, 2006.   Haines was difficult to leave; we’d established wonderful friendships on the docks and in the community as well. Richard from the Eleanor S would no longer commission us to spy on his daughter, she sometimes spent the night onboard the Eleanor S. He wanted to know whom she was holding hands with. She prepared her own reports for us to pass along to Richard her vigilant father.

Carl off of Driftwood Charters had married Jenny and was no longer perusing Canadian girls. We had enjoyed many Dungeness crab fests at his little house tucked into the Alaskan wilderness with an outlook over Mud Bay. While we ate he quizzed us on available Whitehorse women. His honesty was refreshing; Carl was looking for a wife. Not a maid or a nurse, but a wife who would be his partner during his life. He had criteria to follow and was direct in his approach. Jenny ended up being his lady.

This does not remind me of Carl, but it jumps into my mind as part of the usual gyrations of northern romance. I am reminded of a time when my brother Joel and I were in Haines years ago. He was chatting up the barmaid and asked what had brought her to Alaska, her reply, ‘the men’. His eyes lit up at the response. When he asked if she had been successful in her search she replied, “The odds are good and the goods are odd.” I laughed for days over this.

Judy from the homebuilt ship the Arcturus, gave us her personal copy of a book that she wrote on edible plants in Alaska. The University of Alaska was in the process of having it published, it supplied us with invaluable information on edible plants and seaweed in Alaska. I developed a fondness for sea asparagus.

B.J McLean from Whitehorse donated a copy of her CD ‘January Thaw’ I’m not sure if it helped with the homesickness or made it worse…it sings of our Yukon home and is still one of our favourites. B.J.’s songs bring the northern night skies and friendships crawling up onto your lap anywhere that you go. She suggested that the Captain pay particular attention to the “Plump and Friendly Northern Girl” song. He loved flirting with her.

My brother Kurtis had decided that we needed an escort from Haines to at least Hoonah, Alaska. Kurtis uses ANY reason to escape to the sea. Our escort grew to include my parents, Ricks’ youngest daughter Alanah, Kurt’s wife Janine and my little niece Jianna Mia, who was five months old at the time. Jianna is a very special little girl; we waited for her for 10 years. She finally arrived after her parents spent a most wonderful long weekend boating in Alaska.   Mia her middle name, stands for Made in Alaska.

We end up dropping the hook behind Sullivan Island the first day out; our 8 knots couldn’t out run the weather we ran into alongside Eldred Rock. The next afternoon we motored into Hoonah, Yukon. That is not a typo; there were more Yukoners on the transient dock than Alaskans. The flying bridge on Audrey is a most social place. The Captain deep fried fresh halibut on the back deck and the fishing stories on the bridge grew as the pinks and purples of the summer night sky reflected back at us in the glass calm water.

Fishing in Hoonah! For some of us in the north, this is what summer is! Icy Straight is thick with marine life; salmon jump out of the water saying pick me, look at me, pick me. I know, I know I’ve heard the sea lice theory, I prefer mine. People say that Icy Straight is a living aquarium and I agree. Kurtis heads out to scout out the fishing ground. We are the mother ship, most meals are done aboard Audrey and the jolly jumper is easy entertainment for Jianna and us as well. A little wake action winds up the jolly jumper and gets that baby swinging in all directions.

At 8knots (approx. 10mph) we get to see a lot of things that I suspect a person misses at 20+ mph. Porpoises love our bow wake, they ride it and roll and race each other. If you lie on the bow and hang your head over the edge they roll over and make eye contact. They will continue to stay in the wake with eye contact as long as you can carry on an ANIMATED conversation with them. It’s harder then it sounds, a one-way conversation with a marine mammal runs out of steam quickly, what to say to a porpoise? A friend of mine who knows these things says very loud female opera keeps them fascinated for half an hour at a time…I have yet to try.

We catch up with Kurtis at the fishing ground, anchors are set, fishing lines are baited with squid and dropped, the games have begun. Once the engines are cut, the quiet drops down off of the mountains and the sea sings its song. We are surrounded and serenaded by choruses of whale song. Their calls pulse deep through the black water and resonate in our bones. In their world, even in a large boat we are comparatively very, very small. Thank goodness they tolerate us and allow our intrusion into their life. The sonar and depth sounders are silenced, these waves can kill sea life, yes especially whales. Turn off you sonar around sea life and especially Whales.

The whale songs remind me of when I was a child. I would swing apiece of garden hose through the air for sound effect; it’s a close second to the sound of these humpback whales. I touch Audrey’s hull and the vibration of their songs carries through the wood and in to my hands and vibrates to the tips of my fingers. I have contact.

The majority of the halibut we are catching are chickens, (roughly 40lbs and less) and in my opinion the best eating. I tell our boys at moose hunting season, you don’t eat the antlers; try to shoot a nice young bull. The smaller the horns, the younger the animal and the better the meat. With some of the big old bulls I believe that the horns would be better eating than the tough old critter it came from. I believe that the same applies to halibut. Mercury levels in fish rise as the age of them increases the longer the time frame of growth, the more the toxins accumulate in the flesh of the fish.

With all of our concentration focused on hauling in halibut we don’t notice that a sleeping giant has slipped quietly into the neighbourhood.

One by one we notice our visitor, we need to pay attention and pull in our fishing lines. Everyone tip toes and whispers as we edge closer to the port side of the boat. There, a few feet from the gunnels is an incredible sight, a sleeping whale. This giant male is suspended beside us in the sea and is very close to the same size as the Audrey Eleanor. We are in awe, we whisper to each other in amazement. Then we begin to worry, he hasn’t moved for a long time, is he hurt or possibly dead?

We’ve never seen a sleeping whale before. The whale is drifting with the tide. It is getting closer and closer to the Audrey Eleanor. The Captain decides that we need to pull anchor, if the whale wakes and is startled we don’t know how he will react. One quick flick of his gigantic tail could be the end of us all. We have been told that the few disastrous whale encounters have usually been while they are asleep or they are startled out of sleep. The clank of the chain and anchor wake him and with no effort he moves his colossal tail and leaves us to wonder.

The captain now begins to wonder about his crew. I have put Audrey in reverse and begin to slowly back away…holy shit! Our day’s catch of halibut is tied under the swim grid off the aft deck. I cut the engines quickly and we all rush to see what kind of damage has been done. The screws (propellers) have perfectly cut off the tail of one fish and slightly chewed the tail of another. Tonight’s supper is intact and I am singing with whales, hallelujah!

Elfin Cove is located on the northwestern corner of Chichagof Island, west of Juneau, Alaska. This is just on the outside edge of the inside passage, still in fairly protected waters, the outer edge leads straight to Japan. We have been repeatedly told that our boat will not be able to navigate the narrow and shallow dredged channel that leads into the protected inner harbour of Elfin Cove. ‘God hates a coward’ are what the Captain responds with, his war cry. Audrey is soon safely secured to the dock, in Elfin Cove, in the inner harbour.

What is this place? We have entered another world. Crooked little houses in bright colours hang off of the rocky cliffs. Flowers are being grown in anything that will hold dirt: an old boot, hollowed out log, rusty teapots sprout beautiful blooms. There are no cars or trucks, there are no roads! Boardwalk webs connect house-to-house and house to dock. Fly here or boat here, lack of access keeps the crowds down in this place of magic. Halibut are caught off of the dock, still. Who could have discovered this tiny harbour tucked into this remote Island? What a jewel was uncovered with the discovery of this tiny harbour, they first explorers must have been elated to discover this magical space.

Monsoons in Alaska. Ask anyone who has boated here and they will verify the truth of this. Tonight it is pouring, a deluge. Our 32-volt chest freezer onboard is loaded with the last few days catch of halibut. Dinner is in the saloon of the Audrey Eleanor; packed wall to wall with steaming people our house lights slowly fade and are becoming dim. The heat from the oil fired Dickinson stove in the galley is competing with the chill and wet of this down pour, setting off its own clouds of condensation. Lights are fading into black and it is getting harder and harder to see, we think it’s from the steam of soggy people, but begin to realize that the lights are dimming from some other sinister reason.

Power is being lost. Oh no, the freezer is full of everyone’s halibut, how long will they stay frozen? Salmon and crab cakes are forgotten as everyone throws their solution in the melting pot of ideas. On board one of the fish boats the electrical repair guy, he knows nothing about a 32-volt system. He recalls that his grandfather had one on his fishing boat, but that’s extent of that. By process of elimination the Captain has narrowed the solution down to; we need to go to Juneau for parts, quickly, before the fish thaw.

Kurtis heads over to Pelican Cove the next afternoon, we have to wait for flood tide to leave the inner harbour. Audrey and the crew make waves for Juneau, possibly Hoonah. Old systems can be fixed; this is why we have maintained our 32-volt system. Over all it mostly works and if it doesn’t replacement parts can either be found or made. Basic mechanics puts things right again. 32-volt light bulbs are expensive; on the other hand I have not had to replace a bulb in years.

We experience our first real Ocean swell as we leave Elfin Cove. Open to Russia and Japan the sea rolls into the mouth of Icy Straights. Swells are telling you that there is a storm out on the open ocean somewhere distant. Pay attention, it could be coming your way. Swells warn you to take cover on the inside. As fast as our 8 knots can go we are heading to Hoonah. The rise and the fall of the great swells underneath us are exhilarating, this is fun. It makes it difficult to see the whales.

Great greys are slapping giant tails on the Ocean; they breach and fall back into the mighty sea with huge waves that ripple mini tsunamis. These giant whales are in their home element. Dahl porpoises zip in rings around each other, looking like baby killer whales; they remind me of puppies chasing each other’s tails. I love their grace and ease as they slice through the water with smiles on their porpoise faces. I now realize the reasons that salmon begin to spring in the air for no apparent reason; someone underneath them wants them for dinner. They are trying to escape.

Manoeuvring parts of this and bits of that the Captain has managed to coax the compressor on the fridge and freezer to produce cold again. With the freezer crammed to capacity the halibut maintained its temperature, so no spoiled fish.

P.S. The morning that we finally left Hoonah, I woke to find an incredible gift sitting on the back deck. Richard Boyce’s daughter that we were supposed to be spying on in Haines was in Icy Straight commercial halibut fishing with her father…she left me a giant barnacle as a going away present. The size of it is hardly believable. Almost two years later we ran into her in La Paz, Mexico. She was working as 3rd mate onboard the “Sea Lion” a National Geographic ship that was doing exploration work in the Sea of Cortez. You just never know, where are you now Lucy?

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The Adventures of The Audrey Eleanor- Part 7

The Adventures of The Audrey Eleanor- Part 7

Behind Sullivan Island

Our friends from Texas, Lubor and Tena lounge on the flying bridge of the Audrey Eleanor, the Captain Rick Cousins is in the background.  We are leaving Sullivan Island.

For a quick escape into the wilder, wilderness of Alaska aboard the ‘speed demon’ Audrey Eleanor it takes approximately 2 hours and is roughly 30 K.  We love to cruise behind Sullivan Island, south of Haines, Alaska and swing on the hook for few days of solitude.

The warmth of friends who came along for the ride enhances memories of these excursions; they were all shanghaied as willing crews.  David brought his guitar and sang ballads about the Yukon and Northern B.C. that he had written himself.  My favourite is still the one about being “up behind the mine in Faro,” where’s the C.D. David?

On this particular trip we have a large stash of fireworks aboard.  Shooting off fireworks in the Northern summer has always been a bit of a conundrum to me.  I think the fireworks that we shoot off on July 01 could be saved for the winter so that we can actually see them.  Fireworks are visual; it is supposed to visual is it not?  The venue changes if you are sitting in a harbour that is encased in huge snow capped mountains.  These create a perfect backdrop and reflector of sound, these mammoth stonewalls create the perfect platform for an echo, an echo, an echo, echo.

 

David and Don go ashore to light the entertainment.  Diane, Jean and myself sit on the flying bridge waiting to see what the results will be, it is June in the land of the Midnight Sun after all, a summer solstice month.  The Captain is on the bow with the binoculars watching the whole procedure.  “It’s lit”, he calls, and even with our naked eyes we can see the little puff of smoke on the beach.  A thin trail of smoke follows the tiny, tiny light that straggles into the sky and dies out with a disappointingly small bang.  A collective breath escapes the audience, oh well; we have all had this experience before.

But what is this?  An echo begins to build in the mountains.  It sounds like a gunshot in the distance as it rolls around the mountain rim and grows in volume.  The little bang has grown in strength and begins to echo back and forth between the rock walls.  This is very interesting, now the fireworks do have some entertainment value.  The guys are excited as they set off a combination of rockets.

Sounds start small and grow with a crescendo of deep booms.  Bursts of staccato gunfire shots engulf us.  We are yelling in excitement but can’t hear each other.  The vibrations are felt through the deck and climb the legs of our chairs.  This is the three dimensional effect that Disney has been trying to duplicate.  Round after round of fireworks rattles the chairs. We are sure that they must hear it in Haines and are preparing for the much-anticipated invasion of Terrorists we keep hearing about from our Southern neighbours.  The homeland security gang wasn’t here this weekend thank goodness.

The pyro crew climbs back into the zodiac on the beach we can barely see them for the gunpowder smoke.   A distant echo reaches further and further, and finally climbs back over the last mountain.  We are silent; shadows of the thunder from the rockets are still reverberating in our empty cranial chambers.  Sound, loud sound empties the mind. With a great sigh, the top level of silence is broken; David will have to sing his heart out to top that…he does.

Tides in Alaska are stronger and much larger than in Texas.  The Texans would never agree to that, but it is reality.  Friends of ours from Texas will have to attest to that.  Lubor and Tena wanted to go ashore to explore the Alaskan wilderness.  The zodiac and kicker are heavy; you can sort of drag them along the beach if there are no barnacles or such to tear and rip out the bottom of this rubber boat.  On a wet tidal beach the boat sucks down deep into the muck and it is impossible to get it to move without removing the kicker.  When we told them about the tide, I believe that they thought that nothing could be bigger then anything in Texas.  This simply wasn’t possible or the concept didn’t register.  They teach them that in Texas you know.

The Captain and myself stayed aboard to clean up and re-organize and to let the couple have a bit of a run away.  They often visit the Yukon and Alaska to re-charge and escape the crazy pressures of life in Houston, Texas. Sometimes in day-to-day conversation with our friends I wonder how they survived their lifestyle in that wasp’s nest.  They in turn could not understand our priorities.  I only know that if I wanted to relax and regroup I wouldn’t be going to Texas to do it.

This couple would show up in Whitehorse stretched to the limit and looking like they could not spend another day in their world.  When it was time for them to leave, the light was back in their eyes and they souls were re-charged.  I often wondered what would happen if they just stayed.  Simply stepped out of their other life in the big city. What type of people would they become with all of the material fluff removed from their lives?  I wanted them to know that most of us already knew about that “other” life and we had chosen to leave it behind.  We chose to be Northerners.

The tide rises 26 feet some days and it drops 26 feet some days.  Today was one of those days.  They caught it about half way out and pulled the zodiac on the beach so it wouldn’t leave.  This was very thoughtful for sure. With the tide going out though, getting the zodiac back to water was going to be HARD!  After a leisurely walk on the beach they returned to find themselves with the zodiac high and dry.  Tena is not a very strong lady and the weight for Lubor to pull alone was simply too much.  They tugged and pulled and made no headway.

We can see a momma grizzly and three babies off in the distance.  Now we are feeling a little excited.  We don’t want to scare these southern people just yet. Lubor removes the kicker and heads towards the ocean.  He doesn’t set it close enough to the water, I’m sure he is considering that the tide should now return…it would be in Texas.   He returns to the zodiac and without the weight of the kicker he and Tena can now drag the zodiac to the water.  The water is now further past where the kicker is set.  The zodiac is left at the water’s edge and the whole procedure is repeated, a few times over.  They start their return to Audrey exhausted.

In the meantime, momma grizzly and the three cubs have gotten to the spot where the initial parking of the zodiac took place.  Momma is agitated because from the opposite end of the beach a big Black boar bear is approaching her and her family on a collision course. Plus she can smell humans on her beach. We watched from on board, the Captain with his hand on his rifle.  Our two Texans are rowing toward the boat unaware of this whole other drama going on, we never did tell them.

Tena must have had an extra sense about the whole thing though.  She stayed on board the next day and was sitting on the flying bridge in 27c sunshine with her jacket on.  She kept trying to call out on her cell phone, finally in frustration she yelled, “the damned thing won’t work, what am I going to do?”  I told her that it was unlikely that the cell would work behind this Island and that was one of the great things about this area, NO CELL service, life slows down when you get rid of the cell phone.  She gave me a variety of reasons why she had to stay connected.  The reasons were all rationalized away. When the truth finally showed it’s naked face there really was not much I could say, she blurted,  “ Well when the bears swim out to attack us how can I call 911?”

The Captain had his first hummingbird experience behind Sullivan Island.  No, this is not code for something else.  Hummingbirds move so quickly that it’s hard to see them the first time, especially against the water.  I am trying to explain to my hard of hearing Captain what they sound like, not a chance.  In the state of Michoacán, Mexico there is an ancient archaeological site with a village called Zinzunzan.  These ancient peoples named the village after the sound that a hummingbird makes.

My Captain is lying on the front deck, shirtless in the sunshine; I am climbing up from inside the saloon and call to him.  He sits up just as a hummingbird decides to check out this strange flower.  There they are.  The hummingbird suspended in mid-flight with his needle like beak, maybe an inch away from the Captains beak.  They both try to focus on their opposing obstacles to no avail.  I can’t tell if the hummingbird is cross-eyed, but the Captain sure is. The hummingbird gives up trying to figure out this cross-eyed flower and whirls (zinzunzan) off into the sunshine.  Now the Captain knows what Hummingbirds sound like…and look like.

P.S. Lubor now you know, the” Rest of The Storey.”

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The Adventures of The Audrey Eleanor- Part 6

I am glad to have my clothes on, the author Dawn kostelnik at the helm of the Audrey Eleanor motoring from Juneau Alaska to Haines Alaska

Nude Whale Observation

I am glad to have my clothes on, the author Dawn kostelnik at the helm of the Audrey Eleanor motoring from Juneau Alaska to Haines Alaska


 

It is a beautiful HOT spring day as we leave Juneau, Alaska (the capital city of Alaska) heading for Haines on the last leg of our trip to home moorage in Haines, Alaska.  We are crewing our 1948 wooden Yacht, the Audrey Eleanor from Prince Rupert, B.C. Canada

The sky is a brilliant blue that is matched by the swells on the ocean.  Without the snow tipped mountains as a break it would have been hard to tell where sky ended and sea begins.  The gentle rolling of the swells is rocking us to sleep as the heat builds; the sun is finally radiating some warmth. The golden rays are penetrating our bodies, wave upon wave of warmth.  Equally, layer-by-layer our clothing is coming off, it is finally summer.  The flying bridge on Audrey is portioned off from most views by a two and a half-foot barrier of blue canvas.  If you are lying on the deck on a lounge mat as I am, you cannot be seen by anything less than a cruise ship at close range.  There is no chance of that.

The warmth of the sun feels wonderful; my inner core may actually be defrosting after another long winter.  Both the Captain and I have little left on in the way of clothing. We are cruising through isolated Alaskan waters, who would want to sneak up on middle-aged nudists. The Captain is at the helm clad only in his boxers, I think he could remove the hat. I must have dozed off in the comfort of the sun; I wake startled from a deep sleep to “starboard, starboard!” I roll over to the rail and pull myself up to take a peek overboard.

A Grey Humpbacked whale mom breaks the surface of the sea with a gentle sway of her giant tail; her baby energetically celebrating its new life by jumping for the sun.  It circles its mother and leaps skyward ‘grabbing air’ and landing with gigantic baby belly flops.  The residual waves are large enough to sink a kayak.  This is a good-natured mother.  She slows down to allow for the special playtime.  You can feel the joy of the baby as he tries again and again to reach the sun.

I am totally focused on the baby whale. My concentration is broken by an evil little chuckle vibrating in the Captain’s chest.  This is the sound of a deviate, I know this sound, this sound means that somehow I am about to be embarrassed; someway, somehow.  Being so absorbed in the whales I hadn’t noticed the cruise ship approaching us directly from the bow, it appears to be on top of us.  This is one of the smaller ships that offer a more intimate cruising experience.  Their experience with the Audrey Eleanor and its crew is way too intimate for my liking.

Whales are now swimming off towards the Icy Strait ‘aquarium.’  The happy family is hedging out of view of the binoculars wielding crowd that hangs over the rail of this ship.  This little ship sits higher in the water then Audrey Eleanor does.  They will soon have a direct line of sight into our flying bridge.  With the whales gone they are looking for new material to query with their privacy invading extended eyeballs that hang by black idiot strings from their necks.

My clothes are hanging over the back part of the rail on the opposite side of the deck.  I am trying desperately to meld with the blue canvas wall that is my only source of cover from a hundred prying eyes.  The passengers are waving enthusiastically at this classic lady (Audrey).  As her bow slices through these brilliant blue waters, she creates a magnificent picture.  They are probably trying to figure out what that disembodied head is doing crabbing along the rail behind the blue canvas.

The ‘head’ is cursing the laughing Captain who simply has stepped down into the cockpit; he quite frankly doesn’t care who sees him in his underwear.  He would not care if he weren’t wearing underwear either.  They haven’t realized that there is a naked, panicked first mate crawling along the deck behind the canvas trying to maintain just a little dignity.

Just as I am deciding that moments of misery by being exposed while I grab my clothes is possibly minor, compared to being pinned down nude behind the canvas indefinitely, their ship swings to Port side; something else has caught their attention thank goodness.  The Captain is howling in glee, I don’t like him sometimes.

We are now north of Auke Bay; we had spent three days moored at Douglas Island.  At full moon the tide can rip a bit in front of Juneau.  We are in the land of the Midnight Sun so visually being able to tell if the moon if full or not can be problematic. We appreciate the tide charts.

Approaching Juneau from the south we had timed our arrival to coincide with the flood tide to make mooring as easy as possible.  The wind had been howling and clawing at our backs for days prior to our landing.  We tried to raise the Harbour Master as we searched for transit moorage.  Call after call goes out, as we get closer to Juneau.  No one is coming back on the radio. We pass the U.S. Coast Guard; the crew on board jumps to attention to give us a full salute us as we pass.  This is an unexpected compliment; the hours of sanding and varnishing are paying off.

Audrey is now in the middle of the boat maze that is the downtown harbour.  Still no response on the radio, we will have to back out of this mess.  Bow spites on sailboats turn up as bow piercing spears where they shouldn’t.  The Captain is best at backing up. We are back out in the channel that is now a racing tidal river. The tide is ripping and the wind is whipping up water as it pushes and shoves against the running tide.  We head for safe moorage at Douglas Island.

The response we have been waiting for on the radio now comes through.  “Hey, are you guys in that classic old boat?”  “Would love to see her close up, sorry no moorage, we are moving boats out right now, try Douglas Island!”

Douglas Island is on our Starboard side, it’s difficult to see the entrance to the Marina.  There is a long rock wall that appears to run in a continuous line, we can’t see the opening into the harbour.  The Captain does not have the luxury of taking his time; the tide is running hard so we have to go in under full power.  He swings us blindly and hard to Starboard; common sense dictates that there has to be an opening at the southern point of the rock wall, we can see sailboat masts behind the wall, but where?

YES!  Right in front of us is the rather small opening.  It may only seem very tiny as we arrive under full power backed up by 30 tonnes.  I am standing on the bow with the ropes ready; I hate this part of mooring.  There is a 4-foot drop from Audrey’s bow to any surface.  Sometimes there are rails on the docks, sometimes-giant cleats and in Petersburg, Alaska; there is a solid length of pipe to secure your lines to.  I landed on that pipe once; it really hurt.  There is no one else, I AM THE CREW!  I ready myself for the jump to the dock and prepare to secure our lines.

Looming up suddenly and directly in front of me is a solid steel pillar. We are on a collision course with direct and immediate impact.  30 tonnes of ship will not slow down in this limited amount of space and time.  I drop and flatten to the deck; I can visualize my toes clawing through my shoes trying to anchor me to the strips of teak on the deck of the Audrey Eleanor.  I see me splatted against the steel pillar and sliding down into the water in classic Road Runner style. I wait for the impact…and wait, time has changed into slow motion and impact doesn’t happen.

Looking up I can see a man and woman standing on the dock watching this performance, I jump to my feet and throw them the rope in a flash, they quickly tie us up.   After taking a deep breath I look around trying to figure out what has happened. The Alaskan fisherman on the dock yells,” Man that was some bad assed boat driving!”

Audrey has her nose stuck into a 25-foot slip leaving 30 feet of her aft end blocking the entrance to the rest of the marina; the Captain looks a little pale.  My eyes query him, ‘how did you do that?’ He simply shakes his head.  The Harbour Master shows up, he has an amused look on his face.  “I’m sure you know that you’ll have to move your boat,” he says, “you are kinda blocking the harbour.”

I can see that he’s having difficulty keeping his laughter under control.  The Captain says “I think I should sit up on the top deck and have a beer before I do anything.”  The Harbour Master is a great guy, he throws us the keys to his car and says,” you might want to go into Juneau and buy a whole case.” We had use of his car for the three days that we were there.

 

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The Adventures of The Audrey Eleanor- Part 5

In recognition of his amazing abilities as Captain, I bought “ZIMMIE” as a mascot for the Captain. She has seen us through life and death situations and kept our heads and hearts out of Davey Jones’s locker. Zimmie is short for Zimovia.

Zimovia Straights

The Audrey Eleanor leaves Meyers Chuck, Alaska early in the afternoon.  We have made plans to meet up with the “Jenny” and her crew, the floating dentist and his wife for cocktails, but the Inn was full.  Anchoring looked to be a bit precarious at Meyers Chuck; we felt it was best to head for the next horizon.

Santa Ana Bay looks to be a great place to spend the night; we head north to find out.  I can hear a strange sound, zz-zzzz-zzing sound like razors slicing through material at a high speed…no I have not experienced that, but it’s the best way that I can describe it.  A very excited Captain yells “quick, look portside!”  The ocean is alive, alive with Dahl porpoises.  They look like miniature killer whales and they move like lightening.   They cut the water so fast that it sounds like electric knives or razors.

This pod or pods of porpoises have discovered a school of salmon.  There are hundreds of shiny black and white bodies surrounding the boat. The ocean is roiling with porpoises and escaping salmon.  It only takes seconds for the eagles and gulls to come screaming in for their share. It’s a cacophony of screaming, fighting birds and rolling mammals.  On the bow we have a front row seat and narrowly miss getting whacked in the head by eagles.  They are concentrating on stealing what fish they can and nothing else matters.

The gulls come in shrieking a bluff at the eagles and dart back out of claw and slashing beak range in the last second. Porpoises streak through the water and grab air with their catch of salmon flopping desperately in attempts to escape.  It’s a boiling, roiling soggy wet dining room.

As quickly as it starts, it ends.  The porpoises now have leisure time to digest dinner.  They appear to think that we are a large black floating obstacle in their dining room, moving way slower than they are.  But what the heck maybe they can force us to slow down while they digest that lovely salmon and catch a ride in the bow wake of this slow old tub.

This is my first encounter with curious porpoises.  I lean over the bow to watch them play in the wake; it’s about five feet to the water. They are more curious than I am.  A quick flip on their backs and we have eye-to-eye contact.  Are they smiling at me?  It sure looks like it with their standardized grin.

What to do?  Say hello of course, ask how they are doing, would they consider today’s catch a good grade of salmon, where are they going to be tomorrow? How’s the weather down there…one way conversations run out of steam quickly.  As long as I talk to them they stay on their backs watching me.  Any lengthy pause in the conversation and they are gone as quickly as bored teenagers.  I have mentioned in a previous storey of a friend who knows about such things, she said they like female opera singers; I would like to try to play some opera for them to see if this is so.

The porpoises follow us just into the mouth of Santa Ana Bay and they leave.  We head further into the cove and pass under double rainbows. This must be a place of magic, to have such an escort and be able to enter through a gateway of rainbows, were are we?

Santa Ana is a beautiful bay with a fresh water river trickling in at the mouth, at low tide it is a river that roars.  The anchor is dropped and we decide to roar ashore to explore, we do not row, we roar.  The last water that we filled the tanks with had been heavily chlorinated so we are happy to find fresh drinking water.  There are fresh bear signs everywhere; this is heavy bush so we don’t venture too far from the shore.

As the tide falls the big round river boulders are exposed.  Beautiful indigo mussel shells cover the rocks and sparkle like jewels in the sunshine.  There are millions of them blanketing the rocks, ranging in size from barely visible to 6 inches in length.  This is heaven; I have to say that I have a weakness for mussels in white wine.  Damn reality, or the realty known as the Captain, he tends to be really real sometimes.  He points out that we don’t know if this area is affected by red tide.

I do know that as a rule May is not a usual time for red tide and these are icy cold waters; do we want to take a chance?  Well I suppose not, he volunteers to rub some on his lips to see if there is a reaction (something that he used to do with mushrooms when he was trapping).  No, I do not want mussels that bad. Now I wonder why the bears aren’t eating the shiny blue mussels.  In this land of plenty, only salmon bellies may tempt them with their oily goodness.

Several days later in Wrangell, Alaska I call the Fish and Wildlife Department to ask about red tide reports.  We were going to be travelling in this area for some time so why not find out from the source?  The lady on the phone had a very strong south of the border accent.  When I asked her about the mussels and the red tide she firstly stated that only the low of the low would eat mussels and as far as the red tide thing went, “when we read ‘bout it in the ‘bituary” (obituary) we know we got us a problem”.  Good enough, we know that we are defiantly on our own.

By now you may have noticed that we like to try things that out of the ordinary or off of the beaten path.  Well Zimovia Straight is hardly a path.  ‘God Hates a Coward,’ my Captains war cry and here we go.  The entry isn’t too bad and there are range markers dead ahead as I can see with my trusty binoculars.  As we get closer to the starboard marker I say to the Captain that they must have had a storm in this area and the marker has been washed up on shore.

The range marker (these are aids to navigation) appears to be in the water along side the bank, the tide is running hard enough that the marker is laying flat with water rooster tailing up over it.  Its decision time, what to do? I am adamant that the marker must have been blown ashore, how on earth could they expect a boat to get that close to the shore and not run aground.

The Captain cranks us hard to portside and behind us over our shoulders is the next marker that we have to have to our starboard side.  We head towards this navigation aid and all of a sudden the depth sounder begins to yell that we have no water underneath our hull. Get out, get out!

Slamming her hard back into reverse the Captain pours the power to our dual engines.  The sudden action and full throttle creates a great wake that lifts us off of the shoal.  We sheepishly (me mostly) head back toward the shore bound marker that we needed to stay by in the first place.  The Captain has to stop and start to pivot us around the navigation aids in these narrows.  At one marker we had to stop and back up so that we could round the marker.  No more narrow escapes, no more second-guessing the markers, no more doubts about the aids of navigation.

Wrangell Narrows was spoken about in our Power Squadron course as being a nerve-wracking challenge.  I believe that I counted 64 navigation lights in Wrangell Narrows, it is also known as Christmas Tree Lane.  Starboard lights are red and portside lights are green, so the colors alternating all along the narrows do make it feel kind of Christmassy.  After Zimovia, Wrangell Narrows feels like a freeway.  After we had finished talking to Fish and Wildlife in Wrangell we decided to go down to the pub for a beer.  Some of the local fishermen were taking a break as well.  They asked us if we were off of the old wooden boat and then the usual questions, which way did you come and how was the weather?

When the Captain replied that we had come through Zimovia Straights and that the weather had been wonderful, there was a brief lull in the conversation.  One of the older fishermen asked the Captain again, did you say Zimovia son? (The Captain really liked being referred to as son).

We had established that this was our first trip on our new old boat and that we were green as grass.  The Captain said “yes, Zimovia”.   The fisherman replied “well my boy, you missed a lot of rocks out there, especially in a boat that size, I don’t think you can call yourself green no more.”

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The Adventures of The Audrey Eleanor- Part 5

In recognition of his amazing abilities as Captain, I bought “ZIMMIE” as a mascot for the Captain. She has seen us through life and death situations and kept our heads and hearts out of Davey Jones’s locker. Zimmie is short for Zimovia.

Zimovia Straights

The Audrey Eleanor leaves Meyers Chuck, Alaska early in the afternoon.  We have made plans to meet up with the “Jenny” and her crew, the floating dentist and his wife for cocktails, but the Inn was full.  Anchoring looked to be a bit precarious at Meyers Chuck; we felt it was best to head for the next horizon.

Santa Ana Bay looks to be a great place to spend the night; we head north to find out.  I can hear a strange sound, zz-zzzz-zzing sound like razors slicing through material at a high speed…no I have not experienced that, but it’s the best way that I can describe it.  A very excited Captain yells “quick, look portside!”  The ocean is alive, alive with Dahl porpoises.  They look like miniature killer whales and they move like lightening.   They cut the water so fast that it sounds like electric knives or razors.

This pod or pods of porpoises have discovered a school of salmon.  There are hundreds of shiny black and white bodies surrounding the boat. The ocean is roiling with porpoises and escaping salmon.  It only takes seconds for the eagles and gulls to come screaming in for their share. It’s a cacophony of screaming, fighting birds and rolling mammals.  On the bow we have a front row seat and narrowly miss getting whacked in the head by eagles.  They are concentrating on stealing what fish they can and nothing else matters.

The gulls come in shrieking a bluff at the eagles and dart back out of claw and slashing beak range in the last second. Porpoises streak through the water and grab air with their catch of salmon flopping desperately in attempts to escape.  It’s a boiling, roiling soggy wet dining room.

As quickly as it starts, it ends.  The porpoises now have leisure time to digest dinner.  They appear to think that we are a large black floating obstacle in their dining room, moving way slower than they are.  But what the heck maybe they can force us to slow down while they digest that lovely salmon and catch a ride in the bow wake of this slow old tub.

This is my first encounter with curious porpoises.  I lean over the bow to watch them play in the wake; it’s about five feet to the water. They are more curious than I am.  A quick flip on their backs and we have eye-to-eye contact.  Are they smiling at me?  It sure looks like it with their standardized grin.

What to do?  Say hello of course, ask how they are doing, would they consider today’s catch a good grade of salmon, where are they going to be tomorrow? How’s the weather down there…one way conversations run out of steam quickly.  As long as I talk to them they stay on their backs watching me.  Any lengthy pause in the conversation and they are gone as quickly as bored teenagers.  I have mentioned in a previous storey of a friend who knows about such things, she said they like female opera singers; I would like to try to play some opera for them to see if this is so.

The porpoises follow us just into the mouth of Santa Ana Bay and they leave.  We head further into the cove and pass under double rainbows. This must be a place of magic, to have such an escort and be able to enter through a gateway of rainbows, were are we?

Santa Ana is a beautiful bay with a fresh water river trickling in at the mouth, at low tide it is a river that roars.  The anchor is dropped and we decide to roar ashore to explore, we do not row, we roar.  The last water that we filled the tanks with had been heavily chlorinated so we are happy to find fresh drinking water.  There are fresh bear signs everywhere; this is heavy bush so we don’t venture too far from the shore.

As the tide falls the big round river boulders are exposed.  Beautiful indigo mussel shells cover the rocks and sparkle like jewels in the sunshine.  There are millions of them blanketing the rocks, ranging in size from barely visible to 6 inches in length.  This is heaven; I have to say that I have a weakness for mussels in white wine.  Damn reality, or the realty known as the Captain, he tends to be really real sometimes.  He points out that we don’t know if this area is affected by red tide.

I do know that as a rule May is not a usual time for red tide and these are icy cold waters; do we want to take a chance?  Well I suppose not, he volunteers to rub some on his lips to see if there is a reaction (something that he used to do with mushrooms when he was trapping).  No, I do not want mussels that bad. Now I wonder why the bears aren’t eating the shiny blue mussels.  In this land of plenty, only salmon bellies may tempt them with their oily goodness.

Several days later in Wrangell, Alaska I call the Fish and Wildlife Department to ask about red tide reports.  We were going to be travelling in this area for some time so why not find out from the source?  The lady on the phone had a very strong south of the border accent.  When I asked her about the mussels and the red tide she firstly stated that only the low of the low would eat mussels and as far as the red tide thing went, “when we read ‘bout it in the ‘bituary” (obituary) we know we got us a problem”.  Good enough, we know that we are defiantly on our own.

By now you may have noticed that we like to try things that out of the ordinary or off of the beaten path.  Well Zimovia Straight is hardly a path.  ‘God Hates a Coward,’ my Captains war cry and here we go.  The entry isn’t too bad and there are range markers dead ahead as I can see with my trusty binoculars.  As we get closer to the starboard marker I say to the Captain that they must have had a storm in this area and the marker has been washed up on shore.

The range marker (these are aids to navigation) appears to be in the water along side the bank, the tide is running hard enough that the marker is laying flat with water rooster tailing up over it.  Its decision time, what to do? I am adamant that the marker must have been blown ashore, how on earth could they expect a boat to get that close to the shore and not run aground.

The Captain cranks us hard to portside and behind us over our shoulders is the next marker that we have to have to our starboard side.  We head towards this navigation aid and all of a sudden the depth sounder begins to yell that we have no water underneath our hull. Get out, get out!

Slamming her hard back into reverse the Captain pours the power to our dual engines.  The sudden action and full throttle creates a great wake that lifts us off of the shoal.  We sheepishly (me mostly) head back toward the shore bound marker that we needed to stay by in the first place.  The Captain has to stop and start to pivot us around the navigation aids in these narrows.  At one marker we had to stop and back up so that we could round the marker.  No more narrow escapes, no more second-guessing the markers, no more doubts about the aids of navigation.

Wrangell Narrows was spoken about in our Power Squadron course as being a nerve-wracking challenge.  I believe that I counted 64 navigation lights in Wrangell Narrows, it is also known as Christmas Tree Lane.  Starboard lights are red and portside lights are green, so the colors alternating all along the narrows do make it feel kind of Christmassy.  After Zimovia, Wrangell Narrows feels like a freeway.  After we had finished talking to Fish and Wildlife in Wrangell we decided to go down to the pub for a beer.  Some of the local fishermen were taking a break as well.  They asked us if we were off of the old wooden boat and then the usual questions, which way did you come and how was the weather?

When the Captain replied that we had come through Zimovia Straights and that the weather had been wonderful, there was a brief lull in the conversation.  One of the older fishermen asked the Captain again, did you say Zimovia son? (The Captain really liked being referred to as son).

We had established that this was our first trip on our new old boat and that we were green as grass.  The Captain said “yes, Zimovia”.   The fisherman replied “well my boy, you missed a lot of rocks out there, especially in a boat that size, I don’t think you can call yourself green no more.”

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The Adventures of The Audrey Eleanor- Part 4

A combination of Cruise ships and live-aboards creates an interesting environment in Thomas Basin a marina in Ketchikan Alaska

Dockside

I love tying up at the docks. Anchoring out is wonderful, but being able to meet new and unusual people is always welcome after weeks of challenge and solitude. One of my favourite marinas is Thomas Basin in Ketchikan, Alaska. It has an entry that is easy to miss, as it is tucked in behind a great sea wall and the cruise ship dock. This solid wall of cruise ships makes Skagway look like a sleepy fishing port in comparison…the crowds and noise are exciting for a few days, but only just a few. Soon you begin to listen for the bell that herds the cattle back on board the cruise ship and THEN you head for town. At night-time a forty-foot high wall of ship lights flickers shadowy daylight to the docks.

On our first moorage in Ketchikan we are fortunate to borrow a temporary berth from a fisherman who is out trying his luck with his fishing nets. The Harbour Master shows up minutes after we’ve docked, gives his nod of approval and welcomes us to Ketchikan. This is our first port of entry into the U.S. after heading north from Prince Rupert, B.C. Canada.

The Captain calls customs and asks how they would like us to proceed…the customs lady is very nice, she also welcomes us and states that she is glad that we have made port, they had been expecting us two days earlier and were concerned. We had reported to customs in Prince Rupert and given them a rough ETA for Ketchikan. The infamous Dixon Entrance gave us a run for our money and our lives, so we were a little late.

It is suggested that we walk up to the pink building that houses customs and sign in, we can see it from the stern. The Potlatch Bar is at the top of the ramp; it has a laundry attached to the side of it and definitely is the centre of all social activity on the docks. If you want to check the weather, the fishing conditions, find someone who knows how to deal with a 32 consta-volt system off of an antique boat, this is the place.

The top of the ramp features an assortment of bicycles, all coloured rust in different degrees. These bikes are a definite sign of “live-a-boards” on the docks, a dirty word in some places of imagined importance. Live-aboards are people who live aboard their boats, seafaring gypsies they are. Although sadly some of them end up as harbour Queens (boats that for one reason or another never leave the docks). I would like to say in defence of that, I believe anyway of living on the ocean is better than no way of living on the ocean.

Live-a-boards are some of the most interesting people that you’ll ever meet. There are plenty of questions about boats and living aboard that are never ending to a greenhorn. These are the people that may answer your questions. They need to be approached cautiously, never presume that they want talk to you, never mind answering your obviously childish questions. After direct attempts at establishing contact I’ve learned that reverse physiology seems to be the best non-approach. Swabbing the decks is always open to comment and the makings of new friends.

Audrey’s good looks and age attract the boating community and soon repair stories and preventative ideas spring upward and the conversation begins to grow skyward. There always needs to be an inspection of each other’s boats and this should now be discussed over coffee on board of course. It’s so much fun!!

A 32 volt system always opens dialogue…things like “Oh, yeah, I remember that, my grandpa had that on his fishing boat,” this from a fifty-year old. When you are looking for parts for this antiquated system that we use aboard the AUDREY ELEANOR, they are difficult to find, but the quest may lead you to people like Only.

His name is Only; he is a draft dodger that lives on an Island close to Ketchikan, that is populated with other draft dodgers from the 60’s. They have since received amnesty, but their ideals and lifestyle have developed into a self-sufficient, ‘there is nothing wrong with things as they are’, challenge any form of authority kind of idealism that we used to see in the Yukon, it kind of felt like the good old days in Dawson City. They believe in barter and bow before the god of ‘hordism’. (Throw nothing away, ever)

Thank goodness they throw nothing away, they have 32-volt system parts for all kinds of things. Only is our man, he replaces our consta-volt and we have to repay him with rum in the Potlatch Bar.

Only also shows up to work bringing us dinner. Fresh Red Snapper filets that one of the fisherman is giving away on the dock to locals. The fisherman setting deep nets for halibut are also pulling up Red Snappers, by regulation they are required to “process” them. It isn’t unusual to see huge red snappers floating around the dock with teaspoon-sized fillets scooped out of their sides. This minimum of work in ‘processing’ deems that the silly regulation requirement has been met.

The floating dentist and his wife Jennifer pulled into the berth across from us on our last night at Thomas Basin. Their boat is home made, called the “Jenny” is about 45’ in length; she is a big bottomed girl, with a great wide beam of 15’. Wide beams are lovely things in rough seas and I have a definite soft spot for the ride and security of them. The Jenny and her crew have been cruising the coast of Alaska for 25 years. They now winter in the Southern U.S., but spent numerous years living aboard in Alaska. They raised their two daughters aboard but moved south when the girls needed higher education.

Appointments are set up in the early spring for all small coastal communities the ‘Jenny’ then spends the summer stopping at all the ports and fixing teeth. You enter their boat from a walk through on the aft deck; plants and two small trees are growing in pots that frame the doorway. The first room you enter is the dental office, complete with all of the dental equipment that you never want to see.

There is a full sized dental chair that can be curtained off from the reception area; it is exactly what you would see in a dentist office located ashore, with a little wave motion thrown in. Those of you who come into marinas under power, thinking that the “no wake” signs are meant for somebody else remember this. There could be some poor bugger in that dentist chair about to get drilled.

Jennifer invites us into their very cosy galley and saloon for tea. Their saloon is heated with the smallest wood stove that I have ever seen. The firewood must have been cut with an electric knife. It is early spring so the nights on the water are cool; the wood fire looks and smells wonderful. (Can you imagine, they burn cedar wood down there!)? The Dentist proceeds to tell us stories of rogue waves and funnel winds that would rip the house off of your boat, currents that suck you into the depths of Davey Jones’s locker etc, etc. Why in the hell would he still be on the sea?

After he works himself into a frenzy of terror he leaves us and the boat to walk the dock in an attempt to calm down. His wife Jennifer is sitting in the saloon looking like a poster wife of the 1950’s, her hair coiffed, her nail polish matches her shoes and she has on one of those frilly little aprons that my grandma used to wear on special occasions. She exclaims “Oh my, isn’t he just such a snoopy dog!” “Would you like more tea?” We are sitting with our mouths hanging open, not sure about what happened or what she means by the ‘snoopy dog’ thing.

It turns out that they had extremely bad experiences with the seas in Southeast Alaska and this is a ritual for the Dentist. Before they left the docks at Ketchikan, he exorcised his demons by visualizing and verbalizing all of the worst possibilities before they set out for the summer. I hope this drama worked for him, it left me with nightmares.

P.S. September 01, is the cut off day in the U.S. for most of the insurers of recreational boats. This is one of the reasons for the mass exodus of boats to the south, they have to be below Queen Charlotte Sound for their insurance to be valid after Sept 01, besides the weather just gets miserable. Like the Captain says “Any fool can cruise the inside passage in the summer time, it takes a serious fool to do it in the winter.” We resemble that remark.

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The Adventures of The Audrey Eleanor- Part 4

A combination of Cruise ships and live-aboards creates an interesting environment in Thomas Basin a marina in Ketchikan Alaska

Dockside

I love tying up at the docks. Anchoring out is wonderful, but being able to meet new and unusual people is always welcome after weeks of challenge and solitude. One of my favourite marinas is Thomas Basin in Ketchikan, Alaska. It has an entry that is easy to miss, as it is tucked in behind a great sea wall and the cruise ship dock. This solid wall of cruise ships makes Skagway look like a sleepy fishing port in comparison…the crowds and noise are exciting for a few days, but only just a few. Soon you begin to listen for the bell that herds the cattle back on board the cruise ship and THEN you head for town. At night-time a forty-foot high wall of ship lights flickers shadowy daylight to the docks.

On our first moorage in Ketchikan we are fortunate to borrow a temporary berth from a fisherman who is out trying his luck with his fishing nets. The Harbour Master shows up minutes after we’ve docked, gives his nod of approval and welcomes us to Ketchikan. This is our first port of entry into the U.S. after heading north from Prince Rupert, B.C. Canada.

The Captain calls customs and asks how they would like us to proceed…the customs lady is very nice, she also welcomes us and states that she is glad that we have made port, they had been expecting us two days earlier and were concerned. We had reported to customs in Prince Rupert and given them a rough ETA for Ketchikan. The infamous Dixon Entrance gave us a run for our money and our lives, so we were a little late.

It is suggested that we walk up to the pink building that houses customs and sign in, we can see it from the stern. The Potlatch Bar is at the top of the ramp; it has a laundry attached to the side of it and definitely is the centre of all social activity on the docks. If you want to check the weather, the fishing conditions, find someone who knows how to deal with a 32 consta-volt system off of an antique boat, this is the place.

The top of the ramp features an assortment of bicycles, all coloured rust in different degrees. These bikes are a definite sign of “live-a-boards” on the docks, a dirty word in some places of imagined importance. Live-aboards are people who live aboard their boats, seafaring gypsies they are. Although sadly some of them end up as harbour Queens (boats that for one reason or another never leave the docks). I would like to say in defence of that, I believe anyway of living on the ocean is better than no way of living on the ocean.

Live-a-boards are some of the most interesting people that you’ll ever meet. There are plenty of questions about boats and living aboard that are never ending to a greenhorn. These are the people that may answer your questions. They need to be approached cautiously, never presume that they want talk to you, never mind answering your obviously childish questions. After direct attempts at establishing contact I’ve learned that reverse physiology seems to be the best non-approach. Swabbing the decks is always open to comment and the makings of new friends.

Audrey’s good looks and age attract the boating community and soon repair stories and preventative ideas spring upward and the conversation begins to grow skyward. There always needs to be an inspection of each other’s boats and this should now be discussed over coffee on board of course. It’s so much fun!!

A 32 volt system always opens dialogue…things like “Oh, yeah, I remember that, my grandpa had that on his fishing boat,” this from a fifty-year old. When you are looking for parts for this antiquated system that we use aboard the AUDREY ELEANOR, they are difficult to find, but the quest may lead you to people like Only.

His name is Only; he is a draft dodger that lives on an Island close to Ketchikan, that is populated with other draft dodgers from the 60’s. They have since received amnesty, but their ideals and lifestyle have developed into a self-sufficient, ‘there is nothing wrong with things as they are’, challenge any form of authority kind of idealism that we used to see in the Yukon, it kind of felt like the good old days in Dawson City. They believe in barter and bow before the god of ‘hordism’. (Throw nothing away, ever)

Thank goodness they throw nothing away, they have 32-volt system parts for all kinds of things. Only is our man, he replaces our consta-volt and we have to repay him with rum in the Potlatch Bar.

Only also shows up to work bringing us dinner. Fresh Red Snapper filets that one of the fisherman is giving away on the dock to locals. The fisherman setting deep nets for halibut are also pulling up Red Snappers, by regulation they are required to “process” them. It isn’t unusual to see huge red snappers floating around the dock with teaspoon-sized fillets scooped out of their sides. This minimum of work in ‘processing’ deems that the silly regulation requirement has been met.

The floating dentist and his wife Jennifer pulled into the berth across from us on our last night at Thomas Basin. Their boat is home made, called the “Jenny” is about 45’ in length; she is a big bottomed girl, with a great wide beam of 15’. Wide beams are lovely things in rough seas and I have a definite soft spot for the ride and security of them. The Jenny and her crew have been cruising the coast of Alaska for 25 years. They now winter in the Southern U.S., but spent numerous years living aboard in Alaska. They raised their two daughters aboard but moved south when the girls needed higher education.

Appointments are set up in the early spring for all small coastal communities the ‘Jenny’ then spends the summer stopping at all the ports and fixing teeth. You enter their boat from a walk through on the aft deck; plants and two small trees are growing in pots that frame the doorway. The first room you enter is the dental office, complete with all of the dental equipment that you never want to see.

There is a full sized dental chair that can be curtained off from the reception area; it is exactly what you would see in a dentist office located ashore, with a little wave motion thrown in. Those of you who come into marinas under power, thinking that the “no wake” signs are meant for somebody else remember this. There could be some poor bugger in that dentist chair about to get drilled.

Jennifer invites us into their very cosy galley and saloon for tea. Their saloon is heated with the smallest wood stove that I have ever seen. The firewood must have been cut with an electric knife. It is early spring so the nights on the water are cool; the wood fire looks and smells wonderful. (Can you imagine, they burn cedar wood down there!)? The Dentist proceeds to tell us stories of rogue waves and funnel winds that would rip the house off of your boat, currents that suck you into the depths of Davey Jones’s locker etc, etc. Why in the hell would he still be on the sea?

After he works himself into a frenzy of terror he leaves us and the boat to walk the dock in an attempt to calm down. His wife Jennifer is sitting in the saloon looking like a poster wife of the 1950’s, her hair coiffed, her nail polish matches her shoes and she has on one of those frilly little aprons that my grandma used to wear on special occasions. She exclaims “Oh my, isn’t he just such a snoopy dog!” “Would you like more tea?” We are sitting with our mouths hanging open, not sure about what happened or what she means by the ‘snoopy dog’ thing.

It turns out that they had extremely bad experiences with the seas in Southeast Alaska and this is a ritual for the Dentist. Before they left the docks at Ketchikan, he exorcised his demons by visualizing and verbalizing all of the worst possibilities before they set out for the summer. I hope this drama worked for him, it left me with nightmares.

P.S. September 01, is the cut off day in the U.S. for most of the insurers of recreational boats. This is one of the reasons for the mass exodus of boats to the south, they have to be below Queen Charlotte Sound for their insurance to be valid after Sept 01, besides the weather just gets miserable. Like the Captain says “Any fool can cruise the inside passage in the summer time, it takes a serious fool to do it in the winter.” We resemble that remark.

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The Adventures of The Audrey Eleanor- Part 4

A combination of Cruise ships and live-aboards creates an interesting environment in Thomas Basin a marina in Ketchikan Alaska

Dockside

I love tying up at the docks. Anchoring out is wonderful, but being able to meet new and unusual people is always welcome after weeks of challenge and solitude. One of my favourite marinas is Thomas Basin in Ketchikan, Alaska. It has an entry that is easy to miss, as it is tucked in behind a great sea wall and the cruise ship dock. This solid wall of cruise ships makes Skagway look like a sleepy fishing port in comparison…the crowds and noise are exciting for a few days, but only just a few. Soon you begin to listen for the bell that herds the cattle back on board the cruise ship and THEN you head for town. At night-time a forty-foot high wall of ship lights flickers shadowy daylight to the docks.

On our first moorage in Ketchikan we are fortunate to borrow a temporary berth from a fisherman who is out trying his luck with his fishing nets. The Harbour Master shows up minutes after we’ve docked, gives his nod of approval and welcomes us to Ketchikan. This is our first port of entry into the U.S. after heading north from Prince Rupert, B.C. Canada.

The Captain calls customs and asks how they would like us to proceed…the customs lady is very nice, she also welcomes us and states that she is glad that we have made port, they had been expecting us two days earlier and were concerned. We had reported to customs in Prince Rupert and given them a rough ETA for Ketchikan. The infamous Dixon Entrance gave us a run for our money and our lives, so we were a little late.

It is suggested that we walk up to the pink building that houses customs and sign in, we can see it from the stern. The Potlatch Bar is at the top of the ramp; it has a laundry attached to the side of it and definitely is the centre of all social activity on the docks. If you want to check the weather, the fishing conditions, find someone who knows how to deal with a 32 consta-volt system off of an antique boat, this is the place.

The top of the ramp features an assortment of bicycles, all coloured rust in different degrees. These bikes are a definite sign of “live-a-boards” on the docks, a dirty word in some places of imagined importance. Live-aboards are people who live aboard their boats, seafaring gypsies they are. Although sadly some of them end up as harbour Queens (boats that for one reason or another never leave the docks). I would like to say in defence of that, I believe anyway of living on the ocean is better than no way of living on the ocean.

Live-a-boards are some of the most interesting people that you’ll ever meet. There are plenty of questions about boats and living aboard that are never ending to a greenhorn. These are the people that may answer your questions. They need to be approached cautiously, never presume that they want talk to you, never mind answering your obviously childish questions. After direct attempts at establishing contact I’ve learned that reverse physiology seems to be the best non-approach. Swabbing the decks is always open to comment and the makings of new friends.

Audrey’s good looks and age attract the boating community and soon repair stories and preventative ideas spring upward and the conversation begins to grow skyward. There always needs to be an inspection of each other’s boats and this should now be discussed over coffee on board of course. It’s so much fun!!

A 32 volt system always opens dialogue…things like “Oh, yeah, I remember that, my grandpa had that on his fishing boat,” this from a fifty-year old. When you are looking for parts for this antiquated system that we use aboard the AUDREY ELEANOR, they are difficult to find, but the quest may lead you to people like Only.

His name is Only; he is a draft dodger that lives on an Island close to Ketchikan, that is populated with other draft dodgers from the 60’s. They have since received amnesty, but their ideals and lifestyle have developed into a self-sufficient, ‘there is nothing wrong with things as they are’, challenge any form of authority kind of idealism that we used to see in the Yukon, it kind of felt like the good old days in Dawson City. They believe in barter and bow before the god of ‘hordism’. (Throw nothing away, ever)

Thank goodness they throw nothing away, they have 32-volt system parts for all kinds of things. Only is our man, he replaces our consta-volt and we have to repay him with rum in the Potlatch Bar.

Only also shows up to work bringing us dinner. Fresh Red Snapper filets that one of the fisherman is giving away on the dock to locals. The fisherman setting deep nets for halibut are also pulling up Red Snappers, by regulation they are required to “process” them. It isn’t unusual to see huge red snappers floating around the dock with teaspoon-sized fillets scooped out of their sides. This minimum of work in ‘processing’ deems that the silly regulation requirement has been met.

The floating dentist and his wife Jennifer pulled into the berth across from us on our last night at Thomas Basin. Their boat is home made, called the “Jenny” is about 45’ in length; she is a big bottomed girl, with a great wide beam of 15’. Wide beams are lovely things in rough seas and I have a definite soft spot for the ride and security of them. The Jenny and her crew have been cruising the coast of Alaska for 25 years. They now winter in the Southern U.S., but spent numerous years living aboard in Alaska. They raised their two daughters aboard but moved south when the girls needed higher education.

Appointments are set up in the early spring for all small coastal communities the ‘Jenny’ then spends the summer stopping at all the ports and fixing teeth. You enter their boat from a walk through on the aft deck; plants and two small trees are growing in pots that frame the doorway. The first room you enter is the dental office, complete with all of the dental equipment that you never want to see.

There is a full sized dental chair that can be curtained off from the reception area; it is exactly what you would see in a dentist office located ashore, with a little wave motion thrown in. Those of you who come into marinas under power, thinking that the “no wake” signs are meant for somebody else remember this. There could be some poor bugger in that dentist chair about to get drilled.

Jennifer invites us into their very cosy galley and saloon for tea. Their saloon is heated with the smallest wood stove that I have ever seen. The firewood must have been cut with an electric knife. It is early spring so the nights on the water are cool; the wood fire looks and smells wonderful. (Can you imagine, they burn cedar wood down there!)? The Dentist proceeds to tell us stories of rogue waves and funnel winds that would rip the house off of your boat, currents that suck you into the depths of Davey Jones’s locker etc, etc. Why in the hell would he still be on the sea?

After he works himself into a frenzy of terror he leaves us and the boat to walk the dock in an attempt to calm down. His wife Jennifer is sitting in the saloon looking like a poster wife of the 1950’s, her hair coiffed, her nail polish matches her shoes and she has on one of those frilly little aprons that my grandma used to wear on special occasions. She exclaims “Oh my, isn’t he just such a snoopy dog!” “Would you like more tea?” We are sitting with our mouths hanging open, not sure about what happened or what she means by the ‘snoopy dog’ thing.

It turns out that they had extremely bad experiences with the seas in Southeast Alaska and this is a ritual for the Dentist. Before they left the docks at Ketchikan, he exorcised his demons by visualizing and verbalizing all of the worst possibilities before they set out for the summer. I hope this drama worked for him, it left me with nightmares.

P.S. September 01, is the cut off day in the U.S. for most of the insurers of recreational boats. This is one of the reasons for the mass exodus of boats to the south, they have to be below Queen Charlotte Sound for their insurance to be valid after Sept 01, besides the weather just gets miserable. Like the Captain says “Any fool can cruise the inside passage in the summer time, it takes a serious fool to do it in the winter.” We resemble that remark.

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Low Water, High Dungeon, and Dead Beavers (Part 4)

A view of McIntyre Creek | Photo: Murray Munn

Text and photographs by: Murray Munn
(Part 3 of 4)

(Click here to read part 1)
(Click here to read part 2)
(Click here to read part 3)

But why would the existence of a pond be a detriment to a housing development?  I hoped a subdivision was not planned, not after Whistle Bend has gone through and taken out so much productive land, but I could only see detriment on the side of the wildlife; surely a pond would be an asset to humans, and an otter disaster for beaver and the songbirds and ducks, foxes and eagles it would impact.  (Although there are stories told by such truth-tellers as the great nature-writer Andy Russell of determined dogs’ bellies being ripped open by beavers as they chased pokily after the expertly swimming big rodents.)

All that summer and fall, I had noticed flagging tape, surveyors’ sticks and machete-slashed trees in the College pond area—near the highway and north of the upper pond, as well as further in toward the footbridge—and at first thought it might be a Yukon College class learning the trade.  But now I am sure the area was being staked and surveyed—for what, I don’t know.  Still, I don’t think a new subdivision would be a reason for which beavers would be dispatched.

My best guess as to lower water levels in the so-called “pumphouse pond” is that Yukon Electrical needed to trap more water in its upper creek penstocks—up toward Mount Mac and Fish Lake—and that is why the pumphouse pond was very low.  I don’t know if duck broods were lost, let alone what other effects there may be when water is held back (does the pond have crustaceans?  frogs?  muskrats?), but I do have photographs showing larger numbers and greater varieties of ducks in other years.  As I stated, I believe I saw some canvasbacks in there a few years back, but could not determine what they were with certainty.  There seemed to be more swallows, more songbirds (I’ve seen yellow warblers, myrtle warblers (I prefer the old name), common yellowthroats, and I’ve heard American tree sparrows, ruby-crowned kinglets and many other birds that I couldn’t see, let alone photograph).  There was, or seemed to be, more of everything in other years.  But it’s just an impression with unknowable numbers to back it up.

This piece has been my attempt to discover what happens behind anecdotal, impressionistic events at a popular recreational area.  And at a would-be popular wildlife corridor.  Was the water lower in the summer of 2012 than in previous times?  There’s no doubt of that, in my mind.  It seems to be back “up” now.  Were the stories true of beaver being trapped, and of the incidental otter?  Most definitely … and the otter, allegedly, but quite likely.  (I’m told that otter have been known to prey on beaver—presumably the smaller ones—so if there are remaining beaver in these ponds, I’d guess they are pleased.)  We just never see this side of the College pond area; for obvious reasons it’s not broadcast.  I wanted to find out.

A homemade bridge near College pond that could have been designed by Jim Robb | Photo: Murray Munn
A homemade bridge near College pond that could have been designed by Jim Robb | Photo: Murray Munn

Are “experts” helping to advise when water should be held back, and when not?  Is YECL required to seek advice, or to heed it?  Was the water held back by YECL this summer?  I think also that we forfeit a lot of power to scientists, or rather that even science is very much subject to the inclinations and interests of its purveyors and their bosses as any other area of study.  (It was I, not the scientists I then worked amid, who wondered aloud, on hearing the explosions that were making a pathway that was to become the Hamilton Boulevard extension, if then-hibernating ground squirrels would wake up concussed come spring.)  Non-experts have knowledge as well, and may have more experience in an area than the scientists and technicians in charge, if only anecdotal.  Scientists are as apt to ride ATVs through the mossy woods as the uneducated, in my experience, to hunt with machine assistance as those who never went past Grade 6, or to not see environmental decay that their employers don’t pay them to see.  Perhaps we need to reap the knowledge of other interested parties—the walkers and the amateur birders, etc.—before taking decisions.  And maybe agreements made with community involvement need to be adhered to.

People are upset about the loss of wildlife and woods in the City.  Things happen and, after a few months of no beaver sign, people sense or see the evidence of events they had no control over or input into.  They feel offended they were not informed or consulted.  True, it’d be an onerous process if every decision involved canvassing all interested parties … On the other hand, a citizen-journalist will bring it to the public’s attention, as I am doing with this admittedly ponderous article.

As for the yowling, shrieking night sounds that one caller told me of hearing somewhere around 1989 in the area of the upper pond?  It may have been a battle of the beaver, as they surmised, but romance—sex—seems the likelier basis.

My thanks to all those who phoned or e-mailed, and especially to those who answered my numerous and confused questions.  Any holes in this dam, any breaches in journalistic procedure, are the fault of the writer.  (But there are so many little sticks…!)

(The End)