Cruising SE Alaska – part 5

Juneau Mt. Roberts
Juneau from the Mt. Roberts Tramway
Our attention to all those navigation aids from Glacier Bay, Pelican and Elfin Bay paid off, as we negotiated the narrows of Cross Sound successfully in two easy days to Juneau.

Juneau is such a gem, it should have been named Jewell. Of course it is the capital of Alaska, and with 30,000 people is by far the largest city in Southeast. And there is lots of transient marina space. In Alaska, at least this southeastern portion that we are cruising, public marinas are built with long docks providing side ties for all vessels, which are mostly transient. Twelve miles north of town center is Auke Bay with 6000 lineal feet of dock space, and it is all designated for visiting boats with a ten day maximum stay. That’s enough room for several hundred boats, and with lots of room between docks for turning and maneuvering. In one whirlwind weekend, our old friends Fred and Jo who we met in Tahiti 27 years ago, showed us all the sights.

Mendenhall Glacier
Mendenhall Glacier and Lake
We dined on fresh King salmon, enjoyed a wonderful dinner in a restaurant, saw bears, the Mendenhall Glacier and lake, and were treated to wondrous views and hikes at the top of the aerial tramway on Mount Roberts, 1800 feet above the city. Lots of fun, but the clock was ticking.

On the final Monday in August we turned south on our way to Holy Grail’s winter destination, Wrangell, some 250 sailing miles away, including side trips. Traveling at night is not an option for us. Even with all our aids to navigation, transiting through tight quarters and unable to see floating dangers in darkness seems too dangerous to risk. So we plan for conservative distances each day, making sure we can reach a safe and reliable anchorage by mid afternoon, with alternates in mind “just in case…” It was an easy 35 mile run to Taku Harbor where we side tied to a big public dock in an otherwise deserted bay. These public floating docks, built in remote bays and coves by cities or the state, are dotted all over Southeast, especially in bays that are too deep for small boats to anchor, or in areas where other convenient and safe anchorages do not exist. they are very strongly constructed of heavy timber, attached to massive pilings designed for the 100 knot winds that occasionally occur here. We were very grateful for this dock, as a storm with heavy rain blew through that night and all the next day with winds reported above 80 in some nearby places. We were snug in the cabin with the diesel heater roaring, the popcorn supply dwindling and the scrabble board well used.

If one, impossibly, had only one day in all of Southeast, and could only visit one of the many wonders, we would unquestionably recommend Holkham Bay as the number one choice. After running the bar with it’s swift and swirling current (a little scary!), we found a calm anchorage in “no name” bay with ice bergs for company.

Tracy Arm Anchorage
“No Name Bay” anchorage in Tracy Arm
This day, the day after the storm, was bright and calm, and the next was even better in full sun. Calculating the tides, we started out in the chill just after dawn. Destination was South Sawyer Glacier at the head of the winding and narrow 22 mile long Tracy Arm fjord, the walls of which rise to more than 5000 feet!
Tracy Arm
Tracy Arm
Some of the walls were bare stone scoured and striated by the glacier, with waterfalls, and some vistas back into deep canyons. But all along the serpentine route the half mile wide fjord felt very narrow compared to the soaring walls above, and especially when a huge cruise ship rounded a corner as we were making our way down.
South Sawyer Glacier
South Sawyer Glacier
After running four hours from our anchorage, we reached the berg choked foot of the glacier and picked our way slowly as close as we dared, about one-third mile from the calving monster. We were alone for a time, the first boat to arrive this morning. The water moved constantly, both in the direction of the current, which by now was carrying the bergs away from the glacier – and up and down as the swells generated by the huge quantities of calving ice hit the water with a boom. It was quiet except for that roar. We anchored again in “no name” bay after the 47 mile round trip up unforgettable Tracy Arm fjord.

to be continued…

Author: Howard

Captain Howard is a lifelong sailing nut. His third and present boat, Holy Grail, has been in the family 26 years after he and the Admiral Stephanie built her in British Columbia. They have sailed her about 45,000 miles from B.C. Canada on a circuitous route through Mexico, Easter Island, Pitcairn, The Australs and through many islands to Australia, Solomons and Papua New Guinea. In 2017, they ended a five year visit to Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.