S/V Tango. Log entries 2008-9

Part 7: Glacier Bay National Park
June 25-July 7, 2009

Thursday, 6/25/09. At Juneau, we took the bus to the airport, where Peter rented a car. We drove to the Fred Meyer store (just like home) and stocked up on groceries, ice, and beer and took the provisions to Tango. We met Dmitri Todd (my 10-year-old grandson) at the airport, left the rental car, and took a taxi back to the marina.

Two eagles perch on a listing navigation marker.

We left the dock about 19:00 and motored until setting anchor in Funter Bay less than an hour before midnight. It was still light enough to see the floats of the crab traps.

Friday, 6/26/09. Everyone aboard slept late today. The day's voyage would be only 25 miles, and negligible currents were predicted, so we didn't get underway until after noon. Before leaving, Dmitri and I rowed to the shore to explore the remains of a beached vessel and get some exercise.

As we crossed Icy Strait, the wind rose from astern. We enjoyed a few hours of sailing on a beam reach before the breeze dropped. We anchored in Flynn Cove on Chichagof Island, ready to enter Glacier Bay on the flood tide tomorrow.

Visitors to the park are required to phone the park office to confirm their reservation 48 hours before the entry date or their permit will be canceled. Fortunately, we had cell phone coverage as we passed through Icy Strait and I was able to call them. We won't have phone service for a week or more, so we made calls to our loved ones.

Saturday, 6/27/09. We caught the first of the flood tide as we entered Glacier Bay. I called the park headquarters on the VHF radio as we crossed the park boundary to receive their instructions. We were told to stay a mile offshore or in the middle of a narrower channel, keep our speed below 20 knots (no problem), and make a perpendicular turn into Bartlett Cove. We were in whale waters. The humpbacks feed in the shoals, and the shore south of Bartlett Cove is a hot spot.

We approached something floating in the water. The way it bobbed in the waves, it couldn't be too big. Maybe a meter-long chunk of wood—three dark points stuck above the water. As we got closer, I recognized the points—a sea otter head and two hind flippers. He was lying on his back, comfy as if in a Barcalounger, holding something on his chest with his front feet. He seemed completely oblivious as we passed within twenty meters.

I had anticipated the mid-channel directive and had set an appropriate course in the GPS. I was glad that I had, because the terrain and surrounding channels could lead a mariner to come too close to the points that guard the north and south of the cove. We turned the radar on so we could measure our distance from the shore and stay mid-channel.

Peter, Dmitri, and Dennis.

We landed at the dock in the early afternoon, cognizant of the three-hour limit for visiting boats, visited the lodge, and tried to get computer access so we could check our e-mail and I could upload the ship's log. (I had been very frustrated in Ketchikan and Juneau trying to get computer access so I could update the svtango web site.) But to no avail. The lodge's computer system was slow and unreliable, according to the desk staff, and there were half a dozen people on laptops trying to get access. I set up my laptop and tried it—within five minutes I gave up.

We followed a well-developed trail through the woods around the lodge. This is the oldest forest in the park, but it's still young. None of the trees are more than a century old. There's little downed wood. Pioneer species still prevail.

A bog orchid.

Devil's Club, a spiny shrub related to ginseng, is a very important medicinal plant for indigenous people.

Northern rice root lily among strawberries. The lily's bulbs were an important food source.

A freshwater lake near the lodge.

Some spruce trees have been carved in native motifs.

Because the forest is so young, few snags can be found. Here, they remain after rising pond levels drowned tree roots.

Roger Philips arrived on the shuttle bus from the airport. We loaded his gear aboard Tango and moved from the dock to the anchorage in the cove. Roger had just come from organizing and supervising sailing flotillas in the San Juan Islands and was happy to be relieved of his mother-hen responsibilities. He had helped move Tango from Alameda to Newport when we first bought her. We were pleased to show him the upgrades and improvements we had done.

Sunday, 6/28/09. The tidal currents running through Sitakady Narrows north of Bartlett Cove can be speedy, so we had to wait until the flood tide to leave the cove. While Dmitri slept, Roger and Peter went to the lodge for breakfast. I tried again without success to upload the log in the lobby, then went to join them. The waiter informed me that they didn't serve breakfast after 09:30, and it was now 09:35, but if I wanted to help myself from what was left of the breakfast buffet, I was welcome to it. There was plenty of good food left that they would have to discard, so I helped myself.

We took on fuel, but it was painfully slow. The nozzle was too large for the deck fill, so Peter had to use a funnel. The high pressure in the hose filled the funnel way too fast, the valve was so hard to control, and the flow through was so slow that his hands must have been painful after the ordeal.

We left the cove just after noon and caught a favorable current through the narrows, sails up, motor off, a mild breeze, tee-shirt weather, dramatic scenery ahead. We idled past South Marble Island, watching the sea lions lounging on the rocks and hearing the barking and the deep bellows of the bulls. As we passed downwind, it smelled like a cross between a fish market and a stock yard.

Sea lions crowd together on the Marble Islands.

Monday, 6/29/09. In a cool, overcast morning, we set off from Fingers Bay into the main arm of Glacier Bay. The mountains grew taller, more snowy, and less tree-covered. We raised the sails but got only half an hour of wind, so we motored at 4 to 5 knots until mid-afternoon, when we entered Reid Inlet and anchored on the east shore.

Snow scallops decorate the side of Reid Inlet.

As we were approaching Reid Inlet, I saw several white specks along the shore north of us. Through the binoculars, I saw that they were Grand Banks trawlers, a fleet of five that had tied up at the Bartlett Cove dock just as we were leaving yesterday. Peter commented that they were like a mother duck and her ducklings as they motored in line, the biggest at the head. They rafted together in the customary anchorage at the northwest side of the inlet, just inside the bar. We were more antisocial and anchored alone on the east side nearer the glacier.

An oystercatcher eyes the camera.

Reid Glacier no longer calves icebergs; it now terminates on land, just above high tide, so we didn't have to worry about sharing our anchorage with any growlers or bergy bits. There was a 20-knot katabatic wind off the glacier, but the anchor set so well that we didn't worry. It was too windy to row Clara T ashore, to Dmitri's dismay, and the air was so cold we wore fleece whenever we were on deck.

Reid Glacier.

6/30/09. Peter and Roger rowed to the near shore of the inlet in the stillness of the morning. The wind had stopped some time during the night. They walked to the terminus of the glacier, or as close as they could get without wading across the outflow river. When they returned, they brought a big chunk of ice for the cooler. Peter scraped off the larger chunks of moraine grit and rinsed most of the smaller pieces off. The ice should last--it's really solid and dense.

The ice scavengers present their prize.

After Dmitri woke up, we went ashore to visit the glacier.

Dmitri is a safe distance from the glacier, despite the foreshortening by a telephoto lens.

Water cascades down from every side.

Willow-herb grows amid the rocks.

The view out the mouth of Reid Inlet.

We didn't get out of Reid Inlet until early afternoon. On the way out, we saw several Kittletz's murrelets, a species of small diving birds found almost only in glacial outwash waters.We noticed that there was a thin layer of fresh water, laden with glacial flour, atop deeper green sea water. When Tango passed through, her wake was a clearer green than the surrounding water.

This tough rock split the glacier that carved the classic U-shaped valley behind it.

We motored slowly along the face of Lamplugh Glacier, no longer calving into the bay. Its toe is just at the high tide line. A large waterfall, maybe four meters high, came pouring out of a tunnel in the face and splashed into the sea.

Lamplugh Glacier.


The high-speed tour boat Fairweather II cruises in front of the talus-covered face of the Grand Pacific Glacier, the main stem of the glacier that once filled the bay.

7/1/09. On a calm, overcast morning, we toured Tarr Inlet. We stopped the engine in front of Margerie Glacier, actively calving. The sounds of ice crunching, seracs falling against each other, boulders crashing from the ice face into the sea, and the occasional roar of a big chunk slumping into the water were mesmerizing.

Dozens of tufted puffins swam near the boat. Black-legged kittiwakes flew to and from their rookery on the cliff face on the left side of the glacier.

Kittiwakes on an icy perch.

Peter is dressed for the cold katabatic wind that sweeps down the glacier.

The cruise ship S.S. Westerdam crossed our path. Roger called the skipper on the VHF radio to determine their course and to describe ours. Everyone is so considerate and polite on the radio. It's probably because there is so little traffic here. We were lounging, adrift, off the corner of a glacier when a smaller cruise ship approached. They stationed themselves at the other end of the glacier face while the guests admired the scenery. Before they approached our position, they radioed ahead to inquire about our intentions.

We had just started the engine and were preparing to leave, so we informed them that they were welcome to our spot. As we idled away, a call came from a large cruise ship entering the neighborhood. The skippers of the two ships agreed to follow our path counterclockwise across the glacier face so that we wouldn't intrude on each other.

A glacier carves a cirque bowl above a National Geographic cruise ship.

As we cruised down the east side of Tarr Inlet, we saw a grizzly bear walking among the boulders in a river delta. Sometimes he'd stop and turn over a rock, but I don't think he caught anything while we were watching.

A grizzly (brown bear) hunts in a rocky river delta.

An icy sea monster.

Dmitri plays computer solitaire.

Our intended anchorage was Blue Mouse Cove, one of the most popular harbors in the park. I expected to see the Grand Banks flotilla and a few other boats there, but it was empty. I had to double-check the chart to make sure we were in the right spot. We got the choice spot, in 48 feet of water (most of the cove is deeper) and set the hook well. Later, a small tug-style yacht anchored near the shore, but otherwise we had it to ourselves.

A marvelous array of rocks on shore.

7/2/09. We rode the falling tide to Bartlett Cove, short of groceries and long on need of showers. Along the way, we drifted to listen to humpback breathing. On the VHF, a cruise ship reported a pod of orcas near Russell Island, but we didn't see them.

Waterfalls emerge from cliff faces and disappear in talus slopes.

A few miles from Bartlett Cove, the engine started to race then sputtered to a stop. It had all the symptoms of running out of fuel, but the gauge said we had half a tank. I bled the system and found a lot of air in the primary filter and in all the bleed points downstream. Fortunately, we were at no risk as we drifted in calm air and favorable currents. I checked all the valves, switched primary filters, and switched fuel tanks before bleeding the system. After running the engine for an hour on the alternate tank, we switched back to the tank we had been running on when the problem occurred. We made sure we were in mid-channel in open water before we did, for fear that the problem would re-occur. But it didn't, and I'm still mystified about the cause of the fuel starvation.

We landed at Glacier Bay Lodge at 15:50. Roger and I rented bikes and rode ten miles to the store in Gustavus, where we stocked up on too many groceries. My duffle bag was full of frozen meat, half and half, a six-pack of Coke, and a lot of other heavy stuff. At first, I tried carrying it by its shoulder strap, but that was untenable for a ten-mile ride. I found that I could balance it across the handlebars and the ride became much easier. Extra analgesia was required after we returned to the boat!

7/3/09. On a beautiful, sunny morning, with the sun already 30 degrees above the horizon by 06:45, we pulled away from Bartlett Cove to explore Muir Inlet. Near the head of the inlet, we had to dodge bergy bits and growlers. We stopped Tango in the middle of the channel so Peter and Dmitri could row Clara T to get ice for the cooler. Peter lassoed a growler with the dinghy's stern line and towed it back to Tango. We lifted it onto the deck, where he used a claw hammer as an ice pick to break it into chunks small enough to fit in the cooler. We are set for ice!

As we were motoring along, the engine revved up then quit. It was the usual sign of running out of fuel, but we had plenty of fuel in every tank. I bled the system, changed to a different fuel tank, and we got underway again. I could see no cause for the air in the system.

McBride Glacier calves bergy bits and growlers.

Observers aboard the research vessel Gravina count water birds as the boat follows a transect line.

At the head of Muir Inlet, we shut off the engine to listen to harbor porpoises breathing, birds calling, and waterfalls hissing. That evening, we enjoyed a wonderful anchorage at North Sandy Cove. Dmitri and I rowed ashore to walk on the beach, skip stones, and swat bugs. We saw a moose crossing a meadow and lots of wolf tracks on a sand bar near the beach. I was hoping to hear wolf calls that night, but there was no canine music.

Dmitri compares his hand to a wolf track.

Dmitri learned to row.

The beaches held a marvelous variety of rocks, including good skipping stones.

Tango at rest in North Sandy Cove.

Dennnis and Dmitri returning from the beach.

Sunset from the cove.

7/4/09. As we left the cove, we saw a young black bear hunting for food along the beach where Dmitri and I had walked the night before. Peter thought the bear was so young that its mother couldn't be far away.

Kayakers enjoying the calm water.

We motored a few miles to the edge of the Beardslee Island group and anchored off the NW corner of the archipelago, just out of the no-motorized-vessels wilderness area. It was a very exposed location, with miles of open water to the north, west, and south, but the sea was so calm that we might as well have been in the most protected anchorage around. Roger, Peter, and Dmitri rowed into the islands to explore while I stood watch aboard Tango. The views were spectacular—Mount Fairweather to the west, 15,300 feet high, barely overtopped the chains of mountain peaks that shouldered one another across the western and northern quadrant.

Ranks of mountain peaks over 10,000 feet high mark the north-western horizon.

Roger relaxes.

While we could have stayed overnight at this exposed anchorage, we chose to err on the side of caution and motored into Beartrack Cove, where we dropped the anchor in a very tight little nook just north of Beartrack Island. There wasn't much swinging room, but Tango didn't move on her anchor chain all night.

Alpenglow from Beartrack Cove.

I came to the realization that this may be the first Independence Day in my life when I haven't heard or seen fireworks. I like it.

7/5/09. We got up early to catch a favorable tide to Bartlett Cove, where we took showers, did laundry, and filled the water tanks. In mid-afternoon, we reluctantly said goodbye to Roger, who was scheduled to fly out of Gustavus in a couple of hours, and pulled away from the dock to ride the ebb tide out of the bay. As we were leaving, Peter radioed the park headquarters that we were on our way out. There was a pause at the other end, then the operator came back to say that our permit had expired the day before. “Oops, sorry,” was all we could say.

We motored toward Flynn Cove, where we had anchored before. There was a favorable breeze, so I unfurled the genoa and shut off the engine. That lasted only about 15 minutes. The fickle wind dropped, leaving us to start our engine again. It rose after we had set the anchor. The breeze kept the bugs ashore and rocked Tango gently as we slept.

7/6/09. We got up early to make way to Auke Bay, where we hope to find moorage for Tango for ten days while we return to Eugene for the Oregon Country Fair. It's a transient-only marina with no reservations taken. We may have to wait to get the right spot.

But when we tried to start the engine, it cranked and cranked without firing. I found that there was (again!) air in the fuel system. I bled the filter, injector pump, and injectors and it still wouldn't start. It took repeated tries, re-bleeding, and ether sprayed on the air cleaner before it would start. The fuel system was set to draw from the starboard aft tank, which was the same tank we were using a couple of days ago when we had a similar problem. Why it would have an air lock after sitting overnight is a mystery. We plan to run it on the starboard forward tank, the one I had serviced earlier in the trip, to see if it's an issue with the starboard aft tank.

The weather in Icy Strait was benign, with a little breeze and few waves. But when we turned north into Lynn Canal, we had a 20- to 30-knot wind on the nose. It would have been a great wind for sailing on any other point of sail, but not for us. The current atlas predicted a favorable current. Instead, we were bucking a 1- to 2-knot adverse current. Every few minutes, a wave train would come along that had just the right frequency and wavelength to cause Tango to hobby-horse. By the third or fourth time her bow smashed down into the trough, our speed over ground dropped to less than two knots. Spray flew over the dodger and bimini. We just had to slog along, and in an hour or two the wind dropped to half its former speed and when we made the turn around Point Retreat and got out of Lynn Canal, the wind and waves abated to insignificance.

When we got to Auke Bay, we nosed down the alley way between docks to see if we could find a good spot. There are no reserved spaces at this marina—even season moorage holders have to hunt for a place to tie up every time they return to the marina. We couldn't find a spot on “B” dock, where shore power was available, so we tied up at the breakwater, hoping someone would vacate a good spot. We had our eyes on one nearby, where a 20-foot boat was occupying a space big enough for 44-foot Tango.

We hung out for quite a while, watching other boats nose in then turn around and exit, then decided to take a walk along the dock to stretch our legs. When we got back to the boat, we found that our intended spot had indeed been vacated by the little boat—but it had been taken by a big motor yacht from Scappoose.

I called the harbor office and got a reservation for a slip at Douglas Harbor, where we'll keep Tango until after the Oregon Country Fair. Although it's only 10 miles away as the raven flies, it's 30 miles by boat—we have to do a nearly complete circumnavigation of Douglas Island because the Mendenhall Bar blocks the channel between Auke Bay and Juneau.

When we got into Gastineau Channel, a strong cross-channel, easterly wind heeled Tango over as if she had sails up. Gusts hit 40 knots on our beam, raising chop despite the short fetch across the channel. We got to Douglas Harbor and waited for a bit of a lull before we tried docking. As we approached our assigned slip, the wind pushed us hard toward the dock. I put the transmission into reverse to slow us down, but the prop walk kept us from being able to make a port turn into our slip. I revved the engine up to keep us from hitting the dock, which swung the stern toward the other boat sharing our slip. While I held Tango off the other boat, Peter swung the bow around and we manhandled Tango stern-first into the slip. It could have been a more graceful landing, but it worked. Peter reported later that other boaters wondered how we'd docked and whether we had a thruster. He didn't fill them in on the ugly details.

--Dennis Todd

Photos by Dennis Todd and Peter Ffolliott.

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