After a couple of days at anchor in Auke Bay we moved to a berth in the marina which made access to the shore a lot easier and enabled us to top up with water and stock up with fresh food. The settlement itself had little to offer apart from a laundrette and a pub (what more could a girl want?) so we took the short bus ride into Juneau. After having a great meal to belatedly celebrate my birthday we had a look around. The economy of the town seems to depend upon tourism from the cruise ships but it is also the state capital and so must be supporting a certain amount of bureaucracy as well.
We peered through the windows of jewelleries and gift shops for a while and then we retired to the Alaskan Hotel for a beer. This is the oldest pub in SE Alaska and has a lovely frontier feel about it with low ceilings and a first floor balcony looking down in to the bar below. There was a guy sitting at the bar with a parrot on his shoulder. It didn’t take much imagination to picture the drunken miners and sailors swilling beer and fondling the buxom hussies! Probably time we left!
We departed Auke Bay bound for Petersburg and visiting the Sawyer Glacier on the way. We had heard wonderful tales of the prodigious salmon to be found at Sweetheart Creek which was about a day’s sail, so we anchored there on the first night. Have I mentioned how incredibly calm the water is in this area? In the straits the water surface may be rippled and even a bit choppy where the currents and wind are interacting, but in the bays it is always calm as a mill pond and it’s so quiet that you feel that as if you’ve been embalmed. The air is crispy clear and the reflections in the water, particularly at sunset, are breathtaking.
Sweetheart Creek (in the bay gloriously named Port Snettisham) was the place of our first bear sighting. It walked along the shore for just half a minute as we were anchoring but we managed to get a few photos while we were getting the pick down. Despite having seen none before, we knew Grizzly and Black bears are numerous around here. We had been briefed about how to behave when in bear country, particularly if we happened to share the same bit of beach or forest with one. We figured this one was a grizzly because, although its body looked almost black, it had a large brown head. We were very excited but sadly didn’t see any more there.
The next day we headed up the creek in the dinghy for a fishing trip, but it turned out to be very shallow so we had to get out and walk. The long grass on the river bank showed trails where the grass had been crushed by bears, apparently they often roam along the same tracks. We were armed with fishing rods and bear spray (mace) but felt quite nervous and were talking loudly to make our presence known. We found a lovely waterfall pool not very far up, it looked perfect for salmon but not a one did we see. We practised casting for a while, found some bear pooh and decided to call it a day.
The Sawyer Glacier lies at the end of a fjord named Tracy Arm, however the nearest anchorage is at the mouth of the bay. We anchored there on the second night and got up early for our 50NM round trip into iceberg country. We had also been briefed on the difference between growlers (icebergs not bears!) and bergie bits, advised to keep a sharp lookout and warned to steer clear of ones that looked top heavy in case they rolled over. There were only a few icebergs in the first half of the trip, but they got denser as we got closer to the glacier. Dodging between them was a bit like a computer game and we really only had on near miss, when I was on lookout!
The icebergs made access to the South Sawyer Glacier very hazardous but we could get up to the North Sawyer Glacier. We followed a tourist boat in and, using their experience to guide us, we got to within 200m of the glacier front. It was very active with ice blocks tumbling from the top and huge icy blue slabs fracturing off the front accompanied by a grumbling roar. Neil was in the dinghy taking pictures of the boat and I had to turn quickly to shelter him from the ensuing wave as the slabs landed in the water. We didn’t hang around long and it was soothing to return to the tranquillity of the fjord and watch icebergs float by and marvel at their sculpture.
On the move again and we motored further south to Sandborn Canal which is another fjord with a meandering river and waterfall at the head. The channel this time was deep enough at high tide to go up in the dinghy but we didn’t want the noise of the engine to scare off the wildlife. There was a light north wind which blew us quietly up the river, with a bit of paddling now and then to keep us on course. It was fantastically scenic and peaceful. We didn’t see a bear or a moose but found a deep pool filled with flocks of salmon, we could have caught them with a net if we’d had one, or a rod or even a boathook! The tide was turning so we decided to come back the following day better equipped for fishing.
The next day we went back, tied the dinghy to the shore and climbed up on to the bank. It gave us a great view of the groups of salmon in the crystal clear water. While we were fishing from the bank we were surprised to hear the eerie sound of music wafting down from the head of the valley. It sounded like a crowd singing in a distant stadium but had a moaning, ethereal quality to it. It lasted for several minutes and was really strange and slightly disturbing. We couldn’t think what it could be until we met some friends who said they had heard wolves baying in the same place.
We were followed up stream by two seals and from the height of the bank we watched them hunting the salmon in the pools. This did not bode too well for our fishing success but surprisingly I managed to snag one and Neil got it on to the bank. Once we’d killed it we were very worried that a bear would smell the blood so we hurriedly got everything back into the dinghy and, after we’d gutted it and cleaned it up, we fished on the other bank for a while longer.
We are now in a town called Petersburg. It was originally settled a hundred years ago by a Norwegian who opened a cannery here because of the quality of the glacial water. It still has a very Norske feel to the place with rosemaling paintings on the eaves and shutters of the houses and Norwegian flags everywhere, apparently from the Norwegian Independence day on 17 May. We caught up with Nancy and Warwick, friends on S/V Flashgirl, who we had last seen eight months ago in Fatu Hiva in the Marqueas. It was great to see them again and catch up on all the news.
Cheers for now!