Wrangell to Petersburg (June 30-July 3)

Words by Les and Kel Rohlf and Photos by Kel Rohlf (unless otherwise indicated)

Les’ Notes

Slip 57 at Petersburg (North Harbor)

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Distance: 46 miles

Hours today: 6.5

We pushed away from the dock in Wrangell shortly before 5:00am with hopes of getting across Sumner Strait before the winds picked up. It was pretty smooth as we came around Five Mile Island and threaded our way between Vank and Sokolof Islands. The next 12 miles or so to the Wrangell Narrows entrance was a splashy but not uncomfortable ride at 8 mph.

The Wrangell Narrows is a 20+ mile winding, narrow (duh?!) channel that provides the most protected yet direct route north for all but the very large cruise ships. It’s well-marked and well-charted, but requires attention to stay in the confined deeper channel and avoid all the other vessels using this passage. AIS indicated a larger vessel (tug, I assume) entering the channel northbound ahead of us, and another very large cruiser exited southbound as we approached.  We didn’t meet anything larger than small fishing boats until we neared Petersburg. There was a bit of a traffic jam of small fishing boats from the lodges near Green Point.  

Channel marker in the Wrangell Narrows

We left Wrangell just before high slack tide, so I expected we’d have to fight the current during the first half of the narrows. Indeed in a couple spots we paid a 4 mph penalty for this, though we had a push after passing the point at which tidal currents from each end of the narrows meet. We arrived in Petersburg shortly before low slack, which limited the amount of current we’d wrestle when docking. We’re at a slip on Float One of the North Harbor, very close to the Harbormaster Office and the compact downtown area. Tomorrow we’ll catch up on laundry and do some exploring in town.

Wilderness Explorer

This evening we watched as the Wilderness Explorer, a smaller cruise ship, passed by Petersburg to begin its southbound passage through the Wrangell Narrows. I’m thankful we didn’t have to contend with traffic of that size during our passage.

Friday, July 2, 2021

Petersburg out-and-back to Le Conte Glacier

Distance : 53 miles

National Geographic Venture cruise ship

We took a day trip today to Le Conte Bay in hopes of seeing Le Conte Glacier, the southernmost tidewater glacier in North America. We met the National Geographic Venture cruise ship as she entered the narrows from Frederick Sound; we cheated slightly outside the channel to allow them room.

The 15 miles across Frederick Sound to the mouth of Le Conte Bay were very smooth, and we didn’t need to slow down for ice until we reached the west entrance to the bay.  Low clouds limited visibility and blended with the horizon. The Douglass guide and notes from Active Captain describe the bay as tricky and treacherous, with a narrow entrance and shallow bar. (A bar is the place where the water shallows as you enter a bay.) We came in just after a 13-foot high tide and didn’t see less than 33 feet of depth across the bar.  We saw only a few pieces of ice until we rounded Indian Point. The valley walls and waterfall opposite Thunder Point were beautiful as the clouds lifted just enough to see glimpses of the peaks above. 

Waterfall opposite Thunder Point

We saw a larger boat, Northern Song, ahead of us. This is an 84-foot steel-hull charter expedition yacht with 4 cabins and room for 9 guests.  They stayed ahead of us as we rounded the last point to see the face of the glacier. Though I’ve seen lots of pictures, it’s hard to describe the enormity as we saw the glacier face firsthand. We were able to get within a mile of the glacier before I got less than comfortable with the amount of ice. Northern Song and a tour boat from Petersburg that arrived after us continued to a point about a half mile closer. We hung around for 30-40 minutes and saw the glacier calve a couple times. We saw a few seals on the ice, though a local I talked with later said they are usually thick in the bay. All in all, a very awe-inspiring experience for our first glacier.

Le Conte Glacier (photo credit: Les Rohlf)
Northern Song with seal in forefront

We had another very flat run across the sound on our return to Petersburg, as the clouds cleared to a sunny and comfortable afternoon. For dinner we joined Ron and Michele Hall and their friends Jeff and Susie. Ron originally owned Viking Lady, a CD-25 that I remember from earlier promotional material. Both couples now own Krogens which they keep in Alaska.  We had a very good dinner at Inga’s Galley, which serves Thai food in addition to fish and burgers. We’ll stay in Petersburg through tomorrow to watch fireworks and then head up toward Juneau beginning Sunday.

Kel’s Musings

Highlight of the trip: witnessing our first glacier

We arrived in Petersburg around noon on Wednesday, which gave me the opportunity to connect to the internet. I wanted to watch the live stream of my niece Brianna at the Fort Worth IEA Western National Finals. We are extremely proud of her, as she earned second place in her event. Way to go Brianna!

Wednesday afternoon, we scoped out Petersburg to see where the grocery, laundry and showers were located. Thankfully the shower was right at the top of our dock’s ramp. Thus far it was the best shower for the value, $2.00 for 7.5 minutes. I am glad to report that all my showers here have been successful with hot water and plenty of water pressure. For dinner, we enjoyed Papa Bear’s pizza.

Thursday, we puttered around doing laundry and then hiking to the bigger grocery store about a mile away, because Les noticed that the one on Nordic Street didn’t have much selection in their meat department. It was a nice day for a walk. I used my cart to take the laundry up, but Les figured we wouldn’t need it for groceries. We ended up with four bags of groceries, and a nice afternoon with no rain, so we didn’t mind the return walk. About one block into our walk, a woman pulled up next to us to ask if we’d like a ride. I hesitated, then said yes. Les agreed, and we hopped in and enjoyed chatting with our local driver. Her family owns a salmon tender, which they we’re getting ready to take out this weekend, so she knew exactly where to take us, since their boat was on the same dock. While we didn’t need a ride, we both commented on how it was kind of her to offer, and that was the main reason we accepted. Lesson of the day: accept help when you may not really need it. It brought us joy, and it seemed to give her added gladness to her day, too.

We didn’t get a chance to ask her what a salmon tender does, but later some other friendly boaters explained it to us. A salmon tender is a boat that goes out to the fishing boats to collect their catch to bring it back for them. Also while they are out there picking up a load, they provide a canteen with burgers and such, and have showers on board for the fishers to use. Pretty cool!

It started raining Thursday afternoon, after we put away our groceries, so we just lounged around the boat and ate leftover pizza. We went to bed early, because we planned to set out early Friday morning to see our first glacier. Like Les said, the immensity of it is hard to describe, and I couldn’t help but take lots of photos of the glacier and all the “ice sculptures” floating in the bay.

Ice “sculpture” in Le Conte Bay (to see more photos check out Kel’s Facebook page)

A highlight of the day trip to Le Conte Bay, besides the gorgeous ice forms, was netting our first bergie bits. I did not know this, but when the calved ice that floats in the bay starts to melt, smaller clear chunks of green ice split off. Bergie bits are these ice pieces. People use a net to take some to use in their coolers. So we both caught some, and then in the evening Les explained further that the ice was actually fresh water, even though we harvested it from salt water. He estimates that the ice that came originally from the frozen glacier may be a thousand years old. It’s apparently very pure ice. We chipped off a chunk for each of us to use in our cocktails that evening. I made a Gin and Ti-tonic. G&T over my bergie bit from an iceberg. So many new experiences, it’s hard to contain all the awesomeness.

Gin & Ti-tonic

Friday was a full day with the out and back to the glacier, and then I did some shopping downtown to look for souvenirs. The hardware store, the grocery, the drugstore and the local newspaper all carried paper products and craft supplies. I had fun getting envelopes, stickers, art supplies and other sundry items. I also bought a couple flowering plants to add to my “vegetable” garden on the boat. Friday evening we enjoyed taking notes and listening to stories from the two couple we joined for dinner, since they each have spent multiple summers in the Inside Passage.

Saturday finds us puttering around, buying a few more groceries, enjoying the festivities for the holiday weekend and planning our next leg to Juneau. We will be exploring bays along the way and anchoring out. Too bad we can’t hire the salmon tender to come out and cook us burgers and use their showers, but we’ll survive.

I will leave you with some wild life photos:

Light, space, zest—
that’s God! (Psalm 27:1 The Message)

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