July 15-19, 2014
Our last anchorage before Juneau was in Funter Bay, at the
junction of the Saginaw Channel and Icy Strait. We got to sail across the
Saginaw Channel on a reach, the longest distance we’d sailed since our trip
down to Redbluff Bay. Funter Bay was non-remarkable as an anchorage---and it
probably wouldn’t be a good one in a blow---but as we passed Bare Island in the
entrance to the bay, we saw that the fireweed was in bloom.
The next morning, we rounded the Mansfield Peninsula, the
northern tip of Admiralty Island, and entered Stephens Passage.
|Fireweed blooming on Bare Island|
We passed the Mendenhall Glacier en route to Juneau. As we
approached Gastineau Channel, the channel on which Juneau is located, we began
to see the influence of the glaciers north and south of Juneau on the color of
the water. We saw hues we hadn’t seen since the tropics, only opaque and milky
instead of air-clear.
|Lighthouse complex on Mansfield Peninsula|
(As an aside, many of the seaways in southeast Alaska
have an interesting olive-brown color not seen elsewhere, a result of the
tannins from the myriad yellow cedar trees leaching into the surface runoff.)
|Tropical hues, revisited|
Juneau occupies a dramatic setting, at the base of steep
mountains along the Gastineau Channel.
|Tannins in the water of Silhouette's bow wave|
We had to anchor temporarily in a bay across from the town
of Douglas before we could enter Harris Harbor. The bridge between Douglas and
Juneau only has 51’ clearance at mean high water, and Silhouette’s mast is 50’
tall. We arrived during the full moon, the time of month with the highest and
lowest tides. Patrick decided to wait for the high tide to ebb for a couple of
hours before attempting to enter the harbor. Although we had enough clearance
when we entered, it was still a challenge keeping the boat lined up with the high
point of the bridge, due to current in bridge’s vicinity, and then making an
immediate turn to starboard after clearing the bridge into the entrance of
|Approaching Juneau along the Gastineau Channel|
|Preparing to go under the Juneau-Douglas Bridge|
We didn’t find Harris Harbor---or Juneau itself---particularly
cruiser-friendly from a logistics
standpoint. (The people we met in Juneau were very friendly and welcoming.) We
probably wouldn’t make the long detour up the Gastineau Channel to resupply
|Current en route to the bridge|
Downtown Juneau has become very much a cruise ship tourist
destination: At any given time, there
are three or four large cruise ships at anchor in the channel.
|This line of cruise ships reminded me more of ocean liners than the other lines|
Some of the
downtown shops specifically catering to the tourist trade probably rival those
on 5th Avenue in New York!
|Life boats on the cruise ship Statendam|
Seaplanes bringing tourists to and from the glaciers were also constantly to-ing and fro-ing from the port of Juneau.
|The Cartier store in downtown Juneau: Another kind of "ice"|
Since Juneau is Alaska’s capital, it also
has its share of government buildings, including the Governor’s Mansion.
|Empty floating hangars in Juneau: Seaplanes dock on the outer edges|
Juneau has a history as a gold mining town. Led to the
source by their Tlingit guide Kowee, Joe Juneau and Richard Harris struck gold
in Gold Creek. While we didn’t visit the “Last Chance Gold Mine Museum,” some
relics from the mining days---such as ore carts and a pulley-operated cage used
to lower miners into the mine shaft and bring them up again---were stationed
around the cruise ship terminal area. Unfortunately, the State Museum was closed
for renovation during our stay.
Towering over Juneau is Mt. Roberts. We didn’t take the
steep, five-mile hike to the top (from which you can either take a tram or walk
down), but that seemed like something worth doing. We did take a nice forest walk
that passed along an old wooden flume, used not for logging, but for hydropower
in Juneau’s past.
From Juneau, we continued south along Stephens Passage.We
had such fair weather the day we left Juneau, we didn’t make an intended stop
at Taku Inlet, but carried on down to Tracy Arm. We passed our first icebergs
in the inlet---and had a view of the Sumdum Glacier---on the way to the
anchorage. We anchored in Tracy Arm Cove along with about half a dozen other
|The Sumdum Glacier in evening light|
The next morning, we were underway at 7:00 a.m. to make the
trip up Tracy Arm to visit the North and South Sawyer Glaciers, a trip that has
proved to be one of the highlights of our Southeast Alaskan cruise thus far. The
gray skies had returned, but at least it wasn’t raining. Tracy Arm shares an
opening with Endicott Arm; that’s why it’s considered and arm; but Tracy Arm is
really a steep-sided fjord. It’s towering granite faces remind one of the
massive rock walls in Yosemite and Zion National Parks, only these granite
walls have been carved out by glaciers. Some of the faces look absolutely
tortured with scars, as if barbed-wire and not ice, had carved out their
features. Other rock faces were worn smooth by the passing glaciers. In this
amphitheater, ice was the artist. In powerful, masterful strokes, the ice
carved out Tracy Arm, and then---ephemerally---just melted away. It’s difficult
to comprehend the powerful force of the ice and its transitory nature at the
same time, but looking at this landscape, it’s impossible not to think about it.
|Boats at anchor in Tracy Arm Cove|
|A hanging glacier and glacial valley in Tracy Arm|
Just as we arrived at the approach to South Sawyer Glacier,
the miraculous occurred. The sun broke through just enough to highlight the
deep cobalt and turquoise colors in the glacier ice.
|South Sawyer Glacier|
You hear the calving glacier before you see it. Cracks, creaks,
and groans in the ice precede actual chunks of the glacier falling off,
creating seawater explosions like miniature mushroom clouds. This process, it
appears, has been linked to giving birth, since the name for it is “calving.” We
saw calving at both the South and North Sawyer Glaciers. The icebergs we saw
all the way up the 25-mile long Tracy Arm, as well as in the anchorage and well
out into Stephens Passage, all originated at one of the two glaciers.
|Granite and ice at South Sawyer Glacier|
saw areas of bare rock at both glaciers which we believe indicate areas where
the glaciers have receded (which is both a natural process and one that has
probably accelerated due to climate change). Passing the entrance channel for
the North Sawyer Glacier en route to the South Sawyer Glacier, we couldn’t even
see the glacier. Patrick remarked that the last time he was there (2004), you
could see the glacier from the main channel.
As we were sharing views and oohing and aahing over
the South Sawyer Glacier, the crew of a motor-sailer (LaRose), with whom we had shared the anchorage the previous evening
and the trip up Tracy Arm, offered us a ride in their dinghy to get a picture
of Silhouette in front of the
glacier. LaRose had about five people
aboard and could leave a crew on the boat, while several people went out in the
dinghy. I accompanied them in the dinghy and took this picture:
|Approach to North Sawyer Glacier 2014: Glacier not yet visible|
Patrick shot this photo of me at South Sawyer:
|Patrick and Silhouette in front of the South Sawyer Glacier|
I had also snapped multiple photos of LaRose during the trip up Tracy Arm and in front of the glacier,
which I promised to send to the boat’s owner when we got to Petersburg.
|Kirsten at South Sawyer Glacier|
|Motor-sailer LaRose transiting Tracy Arm|
Loved the photos. Alaska is in my future! Great picture of you btw!ReplyDelete
I have no doubt that it is! And thanks!Delete
Nicely done! This makes me want to do the HI -AK loop next year.ReplyDelete
Decisions, decisions...Hawai'i in the summer or Alaska in the summer? They are both great cruising grounds in that season!Delete