James and I loved cruising Alaska and British Columbia. We loved catching up with new friends and old. Fun and excitement were on the cards every day. On our way back to Vancouver, Gaila had a great time answering the often asked: “So will you fly straight home?” with “Now we are going sailing”.
We were able to walk right off the ship on the 31st August and into Vancouver. A few texts alerted us to the fact that our friends had arrived and we would go to Nanaimo to collect S/Y Enchanted the next morning.
The ICOYC (International Council of Yacht Clubs) began a Cruise of the Canadian Sunshine Coast co-hosted by the Royal Vancouver and Seattle Yacht Clubs. We were looking forward to visiting the Royal Van and several outstations. We are looking forward Princess Louisa inlet and the Chatterbox Falls and discovering what Outstations are. There are three boats of Australians, we know it will be a wonderful ten days.
We are about to start the second chapter of this vacation.
The Sojourn sailed into to Prince Rupert on the 28th August. Sandy and Gaila were not sure our visits would coincide, so it was a surprise when we received a text saying hello.
It was very foggy, rainy and visibility was low, so the ship’s fog horn blowing as we came up the channel. The noise woke Ric up and he said we are having breakfast come up to the Crest hotel. It was right next to the dock, so we walked up prepared for the 5 minutes in the mist.
On the way up to the hotel, we passed the Museum of Northern BC. This post and beam building isn’t Corinthian. The beams are massive. The museum itself is created to resemble a Northwest Coast longhouse. The artifacts are incredible.
The masks and artifacts are handsome. There are weavings, capes made of maarten skins and walrus whiskers. Buttons are incorporated into the weaving and made of mother of pearl. This red mask might have given you pause on a misty evening.
Afterwards, Sandy wants to go for a walk in the pouring rain. She is serious. She has an umbrella. She shows us the trail map. The rain is getting heavier.
We go back to the Soujourn and find our raincoats and umbrellas and change to our mud shoes. Walking past the Port Edward waterfront, past the entire industrial waterfront and then on a path, at the end we will find a restaurant. The industrial waterfront goes on for quite a ways, the trail is the old goods train line that has been converted to a hiking trail. When we finally got to the trail head, the outlook was gorgeous and large bridges made the trail easy to traverse.
Still, it was raining.
The restaurant at the end of the journey had every appearance of being closed. Luckily for us, it was open and had the best French dip sandwich in Canada.
We return to the dock and we are getting used to the incessant rain, so we go and look for the Sunken Gardens, a small two story gardens near the courthouse. This rain means the Sunken Gardens are lush, even in late summer.
We will be meeting up with Ric and Sandy in September in Vancouver, but it’s great to catch up in Prince Rupert, BC. Even in the rain.
The Sojourn is still in the Inside Passage, but now we are in British Columbia, Canada. We were on track to reach Klemtu but it was totally fogged in. Incredibly it was mistier than Misty Fjord. Our excursion there was cancelled and the Captain took us to Ocean Falls, Canada. We are the second cruise ship to visit the harbour of Ocean Falls, I hope someone has updated Wikipedia.
This was an unexpected destination and many Canadians were very excited. Ocean Falls had been a very busy town but it is shrinking because it has lost its industry.
Our next destination was Alert Bay, a small settlement on Cormorant Island. We were delighted to wake up to a clear blue-sky morning, just a bit of chill to the air. and watched as Sojourn anchored off the town. Our orange Zodiac took us to the pier, where we all cleared customs on the dock. They counted us off and then counted us back on.
Alert Bay excited us with eagles. A parent eagle, almost rolling its eyes at the incessant cries for food by the juvenile.
The juvenile was larger and noisier than the adult. It takes two to four years for the juvenile to develop a white head. While young they are very dark shades of mottled grays, maybe as a form of camouflage.
Alert Bay is the home of many First Nation Namgis peoples, the local cemetery is sacred with old tombstones and totem poles. Captain George Vancouver visited in the late 1700. The First Nation Namgis people used Cormorant Island as a sacred ground to bury their dead. Their cemetery full of totems and headstones, right on the waterfront.
The Harbour is full of fishing boats and the foreshore is home to gigantic logs washed into the harbour on a high tide and fishing boats on the dry. Orcas must visit and feature into their folklore. They speak about Orca Dreaming.
Living in California meant I was lucky enough to visit Yosemite and learn about the noted naturalist, John Muir. He visited Misty Fjords and compared the area with Yosemite. Glaciers gouged deep U-shaped channels in the granite.
George Vancouver was an early European explorer, in 1793. He discovered Eddystone Rock, a volcanic plug 72 metres tall. This column of basalt heralds our entrance into the Misty Fjords. Compared to the sharp sunny day we had in Wrangell, Misty Fjords are very soft-focused. Clouds spill down the mountains and obscure the connection of land and water. It is a dream like space enveloped in mist.
We anchored in amongst pines and eagles, reveling in the other worldliness of the Misty Fjords.
Hands up if you knew Wrangell is the third-largest city in the US by land area (2,541 square miles), with a population of about 2,500 people.
We simply could not pass up on the opportunity to show you sunny Alaska photos.
We came north from Ketchikan and had a quiet day in Wrangell. We walked up past totems and churches to Volunteer Park. A gorgeous park, which is tended by Wrangell volunteers, so we expected to see see people out in the sunshine but in Volunteer Park we saw only bald eagles soaring overhead and at every green forested corner or boggy muskeg, we would shout out “Hey, Bear”. We did consider that we may have missed the ‘there are bears in Volunteer Park, give it a miss this weekend’ notice. Every rustle in the woods would inspire us to chat away. We did not want to startle a bear.
Muskeg is an Alaskan bog, comprised of sphagnum moss and decomposing plant materials. Muskeg can hold up to 30 times its weight in water. The bog slows and captures spring floods and rain allowing the moisture to release slowly in drier conditions. Great country for beavers, but we didn’t see any. Only eagles and one little brown bird with a bit of red, that hid as soon as we appeared.
The Wrangell museum was splendid, one of our favorites. Considering the area Wrangell was in has been governed by four nations and three flags, the museum weaves through the artifacts left by Tlingit, Russian, English and US settlers. Wrangell was a major supply center for the Klondike Gold rush.
There were also Asian artifacts which show both Japanese and Chinese came looking for glory and riches.
One thing we loved about the town, was that everyone seemed to have a small green house in their yard, to start their vegetables before the ground was thawed.
What a surprise! We strolled down the gangway and see Sandy, Sarah, Ric and David waving to us. They had been able to see the Sojourn docking and they came over to meet us.
Ric & Sandy in front of Uncruise
We went over to see their ship, the Uncruise which was much more of an expedition ship, smaller – only 76 passengers and with even more toys than the Sojourn. The Salts went to the ferry to make their connections to Denali and the four of us went to explore Ketchikan and find coffee.
Of all of the Alaskan towns James and I visited, Ketchikan was the one that looked like you could live there. Very hilly, so many of the houses had a view. Many kindly locals would say as you walk up the hill: “Make noise, there is a Mama Bear around”.
It is no wonder the bears were nearby, because the salmon were running. We walked up to Creek Street and watched the salmon in their struggle to go upstream, with insistent interference from a friendly little harbour seal trying to catch his lunch.
We followed the road up the stream to watch the different varieties of salmon on their way to spawn. By the time the salmon are this far along they have shed their scales and soon arrive at the natal stream. Wikipedia says that salmon are a keystone species, as the nutrients in their carcasses are transferred from the ocean to both wildlife and riparian woodlands near the ocean. The female salmon searches for the gravel bed of her youth and uses her tail to create a depression, called a redd. She will lay up to 5000 eggs and then continue upstream before moving on to make another redd. This usually happens about seven times. After spawning, they quickly die and the owners of a house located on the stream say the putrid rotting fish smell lasts for about two months.
Some males will develop humps, before they travel upstream. The hump attracts the sight of the bears, hoping to protect the females and the roe. They also develop teeth to fend off other salmon from trying to fertilise their eggs. You do see the males fighting in the streams. Some local children told me they were zombie salmon. Bears will eat salmon only before they lay their eggs.
We walked from the stream up to the Ketchikan Totem Heritage Center, with beautiful First Nation artifacts. The pre-19th century totem poles are one of the largest collections of unrestored totem poles, found at abandoned villages. They have other crafts on display like this ceremonial robe and new totem pole.
Noted California naturalist, John Muir, visited the South Sawyer Glacier in 1880. How did they visit these icy places before Gore-Tex? He camped on these boulders next to the iceberg.
The glacier was calving, giving our guide, Nikki, a few worries about her newbie kayakers, getting too close to a ‘growler’, or a rolling iceberg, which could take us with it. They are beautiful, often totally compressed to a color of deep blue.
Laying on the ice at South Sawyer Glacier and also plentiful in the water with us, are Harbour seals. Young seals in the water, heads bobbing up with a piercing look, then ducking away. On the glacier are dozens of Mama seals, with their newborns. The glaciers are so treacherous a terrain, the Mamas and babies are safe from predators. Wolves or bears won’t venture onto this erratic ice field.
Some of the icebergs are so big, they are like a hill that can almost hide a ship.
We woke with two thoughts: we are in Alaska and it is a blue-sky morning. Alaska lends itself to a feeling of rejoicing and buoyancy when you come into port and look out on a sweet town with blue skies to lighten up your day.
We had just crossed over the dock and the ferry from Skagway came in, so we ran right over and jumped aboard.
We were glad to get to Skagway and know we could get back in time to explore Haines. It seemed as if a quarter of Sojourn guests had left at 6:30am to take a ferry to meet up on the White Pass Summit Scenic Railway. The 100-year old train once took miners through the rugged North country on their way to the Klondike. We missed booking this narrow-gauge train and James has it firmly back on the bucket list, along with Denali.
We met a couple from Arkansas, who had driven to Haines and were taking the ferry to Skagway. It is a 15-mile ferry ride but about 359 miles to drive it. We enjoyed the ferry ride there, we saw waterfalls and helicopters taking tourists out for scenic tours. Majestic is the only way to describe the landscape.
Skagway had at least four cruise ships in port, that added almost ten thousand people to the streets. There was a souvenir for every taste and possibly a beer for every taste too. I felt like I was in Disneyland and found myself looking for the fun-rides. We took our ferry back to Haines instead.
By the time we arrived back at Haines, it was raining. But we donned our waterproof jackets and set off for the museum. (No photo, just keep the sunny image of Haines in your mind.)
The little bit of Sitka is just because we saw a raft of otters. Really a group of otters is called a ‘raft’. Our otters had a raft of kelp and were incredibly cute and we just have to share.
We had the best of excursions planned for Juneau, which was a tour by Skip at Gastineau Guides to take us to see whales, glaciers, bears and eagles. Amazingly enough we saw all four and a waterfall.
A shuttle collected a group of us at the Sojourn, everyone with a camera in hand. Among other things, Skip is a photographer and a local cinematographer. The brilliant part of the tour was finding the animals and Skip’s passion for the local wildlife, which he caught from his local high-school biology teacher. Both on the bus and the boat, he had still photos, prepared earlier, to show us what to look for and how to be careful. Alaska can be unforgiving.
One of the best photo tips, was how to be prepared to photograph the whale tale and we had practice with several whales being in the vicinity and learned to spot the hump they do before diving to the bottom to feed.
It was raining when we got to the dock, but even before we boarded the boat, an eagle posed for us. Eagles mate for life and like the rest of us start off with a small nest and spend the next 20 years improving and renovating every year. Their nests get bigger and bigger. One winter a tree crashed down and with it the huge eagle’s nest. What they found in the middle were several cat and dog collars. Not a great image for the majestic bald eagle.
After spotting whales in a few different spots in the harbor, we left the boat and we were back in the shuttle for the trip to Mendenhall Glacier. Mendenhall Glacier has been retreating since the mid 1700’s and as we walked into the park, we could see signs showing where the glacier was in 1910 and 1917 and so on. There is a torrential waterfall near the glacier, booming down the side of the hill, filling the lake with last year’s snow melt.
As we walked through the park we saw elderberries, fungi, mushrooms and bear scat. We also saw the remains of the bear’s salmon dinner. Skip advised us that Mama bear would have caught the salmon bit it’s head off for a favourite appetizer of brains and then eat the roe in the belly. The cubs would need protein and they would get the rest of the salmon so they could build muscle.
We walked around the corner and we found Mama and two baby cubs, snoozing underneath a Spruce Tree. Even though we were making plenty of noise, Mama bear continued to sleep. Skip explains this phenomenon – there are so many people in the park, male bears will stay away and she doesn’t have to worry about the safety of her cubs. Rather gruesomely, males might kill the cubs, so the female will come back into heat. With cubs, she is off the market for three to five years.
There is a wonderful meadow lined with spruces and hemlocks and full of fireweed. You can see clouds and fog spilling down off the glacier and the hills. Just remember to call out ‘Hey Bear!’, so you don’t surprise them.
Originally, we were departing Seward and heading to Aialik and Holgate Glaciers, but the Captain said a front was moving in and we best try the less visited Hubbard Glacier instead. We sailed into Yakutat Bay, with the imposing Mount Saint Elias acting as a beacon, making it easy to find the bay.
From a distance of five miles you can see the glacier. It is imposing. The ice face of the glacier is six miles wide and 400 meters high. It is not far from the Malaspina Glacier, on the next headland.
We could hear massive cracks and groans, even when we didn’t see the actual calving. Ice would float out to the ship and you could see a dinghy sized piece of ice just beside the ship.
The next day found us anchored off Icy Strait Point and we went looking for Eagle’s nests and visiting the town of Hoonah. The industry here had been fishing with a handsome cannery, which has now been turned into a museum and gift shop.
Walking back from the town, we were almost at the cannery and an eagle swooped down from a tree and majestically flew over the beach. Looking up into the trees we could see an immense nest and wonder if it belonged to our eagle. Eagles are important to the Tlingit people but I am not sure if this is an eagle or a raven. With the blue skies, the red school-house and the colourful totem poles really stood out.
Please note the blue skies, wish I had been fast enough to catch the eagle in flight.