Words and Photos by Les and Kel Rohlf as indicated
Les keeps notes as we go, and I write my musings after reading his notes. Today’s notes are a great synopsis and good picture of life on the Intuition over the past couple weeks. I will keep my musings short today, as we are leaving soon to pass through the Rocky Pass in Keku Strait which connects Frederick Sound to Sumner Sound. We have internet in Kake, so we wanted to get a post out to catch everyone up on our adventure and share bear photos! Yes, we’ve seen bears in a couple of the bays, plus the one I saw in downtown Juneau during our Auke Bay respite.
When we left Auke Bay, I felt a sadness of leaving that area, as well as knowing that we would be saying good-bye to Southeast Alaska in a week or so. I was also wondering if the return trip would be as interesting as the trip the past couple months. As I grappled with these emotions, I was surprised by unexpected joys. The route Les planned for our return to Ketchikan covers mostly unexplored destinations, which will be some of the most memorable thus far.
Familiarity breeds complacency. My awe of the majestic mountains had waned. My hope of seeing something new and different was low. But then little by little, the landscape, the clouds and the wildlife sightings quickly renewed my reverence for this place.
On our first day out, we saw dolphins and a sea otter. Even though the waters churned up, I was able to stave off any sea nausea. On the second day, we saw a whale spouting. That evening, I was doing some tidying up, and when I looked at the shore a bear was walking along, and at the same time a sea lion swam nearby. I truly got choked up, because of the honor of seeing these creatures in their natural habitat. After watching the bear for awhile, I did get my camera out to catch him chewing on grass. On the subsequent days of cruising and anchoring out, we witnessed two bears sauntering along the banks of the bay, saw eagles and seagulls swooping to catch fish, and a sea lion entertained us during dinner.
When we left Red Bluff bay, which was spectacular with mountain views and waterfalls, we watched the sun light up the shore interspersed with a rainbow across the mountains, during a light rain. Words cannot capture the feeling of being here, nor could we ever take enough photos, but we’re doing our best to treasure and give thanks for these memorable moments. My hope is that when we’re having rainy days or frustrating days, here or back home that these moments will cheer our hearts.
Well, that’s it for now. I have been appointed the lookout for Rocky Pass. We have to get there at a favorable tide, so we need to post this, and leave our pleasant moorage here at Kake. Until next time, may the blessing of a smile be yours.
We relaxed, read, and gathered a few items to take home during our 10 days in Juneau. There was a day or two when the weather was OK, but few days without fairly high winds in Chatham Strait and Lynn Canal. It was certainly easier to deal with the sloppy weather here than anchored in a bay 100 miles south.
The big event while we were here was the Golden North Salmon Derby the weekend of 8/13-8/15. One of the reasons we couldn’t get our motor serviced earlier was that so many people had last-minute service needs prior to the derby. The salmon caught are sold with profits going toward scholarship funds for local students. There was a constant line of boats coming in and going out from the double ramp at Auke Bay all weekend.
We took the bus downtown a couple times for shopping and had lunch at the Alaska Fish and Chips and Crepe Escape – both were very good. A couple other places we ate that we would recommend: Donna’s Restaurant near Nugget Mall and the Village Restaurant just north of the airport served very good diner/comfort food. We had very good breakfasts at both. Our last night there we had date night at the Laundromat. Upstairs in the same building is Squirez Bar, so we checked it out during the wash cycle. It has a great view looking out onto Auke Bay and includes a food vendor with excellent sandwiches and burgers. I might have volunteered to do the laundry if I had known about it earlier.
One of our neighbors in Auke Bay (Kellie on Salty Dawg) generously gave us some recently-caught salmon. We grilled it on Monday – it was excellent.
Kel got the best bear photos so far when she spotted a black bear at a dumpster in downtown Juneau.
Thursday, August 18, 2021
Auke Bay to Funter Bay
We passed the Statter Harbor channel markers into Auke Bay at 6:00 am. The breeze out of the east pushed us along until we turned north to pass behind Shelter Island. We turned south around Point Retreat and into the swell of the southern Lynn Canal. Wave heights were forecast to be 3 feet today in southern Lynn Canal and northern Chatham Strait, and my planned destination for today was Pavlov Harbor in Freshwater Bay.
Initially the water conditions were good, with smooth 1-2 foot swells that we could glide over. The sea and weather conditions were kind of hypnotizing with the gray water blending into the milky, indistinct horizon. The cloud level was very low this morning, with occasional fog banks. As we headed south, a float plane passed us going the opposite direction at only 200-300 feet in order to stay below the clouds.
The waves became increasingly big, bossy, and steep as we continued, causing the boat to drop off the edge of larger waves and pound, even at our torrid 6 mph speed. Not wanting to continue pushing through for another 30 miles, especially with the tide about to turn against the wind, we opted to pull into Funter Bay. There’s a state float along the south shore, so we tied up to the back side of it about 10:30 am. There’s still a pretty stiff breeze out of the east blowing through the bay, but we’re comfortable at the float.
We rested and read the rest of the day. There’s decent AT&T cell reception here. Rain showers and low ceilings continued throughout the day. By the end of the evening, four other fishing boats joined us on the float.
Thursday, August 19
Funter Bay to Warm Springs Bay
We had very calm waters all day. We ran at slow cruise except for about 90 minutes when fighting the worst of the incoming tide. After looking ahead at the weather forecast, we’ve decided to prioritize Warm Springs Bay and Red Bluff Bay in our itinerary. There’s a couple weeks’ worth of bays to explore off Chatham Strait, but we’re now starting to realize our remaining time is limited. The goal (not schedule) is to get to Ketchikan by middle of next week and look to continue south into Canada at the end of that week.
By the time we got to Warm Springs Bay at 4:30 pm, there were no spots available on the dock. Warm Springs Bay includes hot springs (duh?) above a group of homes situated to the east of a very large, picturesque waterfall. A trail leads from the public dock up to the springs and Baranof Lake, whose outflow serves as the source for the waterfall. There’s also a public bath house with three separate tubs fed by the springs, which overlooks the bay and waterfall.
We first tried to anchor in Schooner Cove, but didn’t feel there was enough swing room for the amount of rode I’d need. We moved over to the head of the southwest arm and anchored against the head of the bay. As the light was getting dim, a brown bear appeared at the creek feeding into the bay. After wandering back and forth along the edge, he got excited by the jumping salmon and perched on a rock at the edge of the water. He made two dives into the water after fish, but came up empty.
I ended up turning off the anchor alarm because the GPS kept losing connection and triggering the alarm. Fortunately, we had a very calm night in a well-protected anchorage.
Friday, August 20, 2021
Warm Springs Bay to Red Bluff Bay
We awoke to the sound of splashing around the boat. A sea lion was fishing in the cove. It was amazing to watch it catch a fish and spend the next few minutes thrashing its head back and forth while holding the fish. I assume this behavior helps to rip off bit-size pieces – guess I need to look that up.
We pulled the dinghy down, gathered our stuff, and headed over to the dock to visit the hot springs. We tied up behind the float plane dock and walked up to the path toward Baranof Lake and the springs. We missed the turnoff to the springs and arrived at the lake. After returning most of the way, we met a lady going to the springs who showed us the path to the springs. When passing it the first time, we assumed it was just a path to the top of the waterfall, as it was much rougher and more difficult. It is, but that’s where the springs are located. The two pools are super hot and really hot, so we soaked our feet and legs for a few minutes and headed back to the bath house.
The bath house was nice, because you can regulate the temperature with some cold water. We took a luxuriating soak and headed back to the boat. We set up a bridle on the dinghy so that we could tow it the 23 miles to Red Bluff Bay, then had lunch before leaving Warm Springs Bay at 1:00 pm.
We saw a whale feeding near Point Gardner, then some Dalls Porpoises shortly after. The ride to Red Bluff Bay was comfortable, with only some long low swells. We arrived at the entrance shortly before 4:00pm. The rust-colored bluff that stands as a sentinel over the entrance to Red Bluff Bay is unique among the landforms I’ve seen on our trip. Not too many superlatives are unwarranted for Red Bluff Bay. We cruised around the striking islands that serve as a barrier between Chatham Strait and the bay, looked at the defunct cannery ruins inside the first bay, and continued the 4 miles to the head of the bay.
Two other cruisers were already anchored behind the spit at the far end of the bay, but we found a nice level section with about 35 feet of water just short of that point. We’re able to look across at the wide meadow and creek that exits into the bay. We saw a couple bears patrolling the shore along the meadow. It’s like a live version of Animal Kingdom from our dinette tonight while a smaller sea lion catches fish from around our boat.
I grilled tri-tip and potatoes while Kel explored the bay and the large waterfall across from us in the dinghy. Just before dark, a sailboat entered and anchored between us that our two neighbors. Shortly thereafter, Serengeti, a super-yacht, pulled into the bay and anchored between us and the waterfall.
Saturday, August 21, 2021
Red Bluff Bay to Kake
We left the dinghy down last night so that we could use it this morning before we left Red Bluff Bay. When we awoke, we saw two bears walking along the north shore at low tide. They eventually made it all the way around to the southeast shore near where we were anchored. After breakfast, we hopped into the tender and motored to the other side of the bay where the creek exits and watched the bears as they returned to the meadow and up the creek.
We got the dinghy back onto the roof with minimal drama and started out from the anchorage at 9:00am. While less dreary this morning, we did get a short rain shower as we prepared to leave. We enjoyed the scenery during our slow cruise out of the bay and pointed ourselves toward Frederick Sound. We ran on plane for most of the way around the north side of Kuiu Island to Kake, with smooth water almost the entire way.
I had called Kake Tribal Fuel yesterday to check on the logistics for getting gas. Fuel at Kake is delivered via a truck on the drive-down dock, since their gas dock was destroyed in a storm five years ago. Since they close at 2:00pm on Saturdays, he asked me to arrive as close to noon as possible. I called them 30 minutes out, and arrived at 12:15pm. This was also the most expensive gas of the trip, even more so than Shearwater. I didn’t fill up as I expected it to be more expensive, but still should have more than plenty for trip to Ketchikan over the next few days.
After getting gas, we continued south from Kake to their harbor a couple miles south of the main village. We’re tied off to a long dock identified for transients – the harbor is nice, protected, and about the size of the one in Tenakee Springs. Kake has apparently locked themselves down, with tight restrictions on both residents and potential visitors. Everyone we’ve met has been friendly and helpful, but it’s clear from all the posted notices that leadership is trying to stem any new introduction of the virus into smaller, more isolated communities like Kake. We walked slightly less than a mile to the SOS Hardware and Market to gather a few items. The store had a good selection of food items and would be a realistic resupply location if needed.
God, come back!
Smile your blessing smile:
That will be our salvation. (Psalm 80:3 The Message)