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Old 12-20-2007, 07:11 AM   #1
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West Coast of Chichagof

Some years ago, we were on our first SE Alaska cruise in our little C-Dory 22. We had worked our way north from Sitka, toward Cross Sound and Elfin Cove along the outside of Chichagof Island, and ducked inside some of the small islands just north of the Khaz peninsula via an intricate route called Piehle Passage. Went back outside maybe 15 miles further north at Imperial passage, and then turned back into protected waters at LisianskiStrait. Weather was fine, and we loved the route.
Two weeks later we headed back south along the same route, anchoring for the night halfway down to Sitka. This time we had with us a guest, who had never seen waters any wilder than Lake Powell. Next morning wind was up to maybe 15 knots from the SW, but it didn't look too bad. We were inexperienced interpreting barometer changes for weather prediction, and were out of weather radio range. We proceeded down through Piehle Passage, poked our nose out of the narrow opening, and found we were heading into 8-10 foot relatively gentle waves. Thought they might be just piling up as the swells came in to the shallower water there, and if we crossed them to deeper water we might be OK to head SSE, outside the Khaz peninsula toward Sitka. It turned out not to be such a fine idea.
Just outside the narrow exit into open water, we managed to get kelp wrapped around our Yamaha 90 outboard, shutting off the water flow and activating the overheat alarm. So now were in big waves, without power. I fire up the 9.9hp Suzuki kicker (it started right away, thankfully), but then we could go only basically straight out into the waves while the big motor cooled down. So I sit out in the rain steering the kicker, watching the bow go up and down ever higher, for maybe 15 minutes, while every so often Cindy tries the big motor, until finally it comes on without the alarm. By this time we're a mile or so offshore, and the waves are getting really big. I come back into the cabin, and we try to figure out what to do.
Don't want to head SSE to Sitka, because there would be 15 miles of unprotected water and the waves are already up to 15+ feet. Wind is only maybe 20 knots, but later we learned that the waves tend to pile up especially big in that area, where the bottom comes up from very deep to only 200 feet or so, when the wind comes long enough from certain directions. After all, theres nothing west of us until the Aleutians.
We don't want to go back into Piehle Passage, because of the kelp, and the narrow rocky entrance.* We decide to go with the wind and waves, NNW 8 miles to Khaz Bay, a much wider opening. Heading that way is tricky, as toward the shore there are big rocks just below the surface. They create huge explosions of spray when the water is moving up and down that far. On and off from the massive wave tops we can see these boomers, looming out there in the rain. The waves keep driving us closer toward them, and we decide we'll never make it on this course, so we have to bear left. The size and steepness of the waves keep us from bearing just a bit left, so we have to tack maybe WSW to gain sea room, then come back to our desired NNW course. After a mile or two of that we turn back NNW, eventually get to the mouth of Khaz Bay, and slide in to safety.
We had estimated the following seas at 15-25 feet. While Cindy was navigating, I had been concentrating on steering and continually adjusting the throttle, so we would climb up the back of a wave, slow down and mush through the top of it, then maintain our heading down to the next trough, not going so fast as to stick our nose into the next wave. The C-Dory was so good! We never once took green water over the bow, in maybe 1.5 or 2 hours of this (we were too busy to look at a watch - sure wish I had videotape). I would hate to try the same thing in the much heavier deep-V boat we now have.
At anchor later, whilst thanking our lucky stars, we were scanning the radio (still out of CG broadcast range) and listened in on two commercial fishermen who had been out in the same stuff in a 38 and a 54-footer. They clearly had not enjoyed it. We broke in, told of our adventure, and asked them how big they thought the seas had been. They said 20 to 30 feet, with an occasional 35. Thank you again, C-Dory!
Over the next three days we holed up, waiting for the seas to moderate. We tried poking outside three times, and each time came back in with our tail between our legs. We called fishermen who were on the outside for conditions reports, and finally got one that said waves were down to halfway reasonable. We asked him if he thought wed be OK in our 22-footer, and he said yes. As we came out Imperial passage heading north, he called us back. He had been talking to his mate, and revised his opinion. "You could make it, but it sure wont be a cake-walk". Two hours of 10-15 footers later, with our hearts still up in our throats, we gratefully rounded the nun into the mouth of Lisianski, and began to relax. Pulled into Pelican, went to have a warm breakfast, and must have looked so bedraggled the waitress asked us if we were "in for the closing" (of salmon fishing).

Our guest has not been back to cruise SE Alaska to this day.
*

*


-- Edited by RCook at 08:13, 2007-12-20

-- Edited by RCook at 08:20, 2007-12-20

-- Edited by RCook at 08:21, 2007-12-20

-- Edited by RCook at 08:26, 2007-12-20
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Old 12-20-2007, 08:48 AM   #2
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RE: West Coast of Chichagof

Another great story!
I've been through those same waters in a 32' aluminum fishing boat. The conditions, though, were much more benign and the trip was super. Having done some cruising in the Carribean, Med, Sea of Cortez and Southern Cal, I must say that noe of it compares with S.E. Alska.
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Old 01-28-2008, 03:01 PM   #3
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RE: West Coast of Chichagof

RCook*

First of all, Thank You for the great story.* I have some questions if you dont mind answering in your spare time.* When did this trip take place?***

We were up in SE in 2002 in our Commander 30, and we were the smallest boat that we encountered, that made the round trip.* Did you drive the C-Dory up from WA or trailer or ferry part way?***

Reading your story brings back a lot of memories.* We only traveled the route you describe, in the Southerly direction, from Glacier Bay to Elfin Cove to Pelican .* The best part, as you point out, is the stretch from Pelican to Sitka, using Lisianski Strait and Imperial Passage, Ogden Passage, Smooth Channel and Khaz Bay.* I didnt have the courage to try Piehle Passage.* We stayed in Kimshan Cove for a night and when the weather turned a little ugly (nothing like you encountered) we spent 2 nights in Double Bay, and exited back into open water at Khaz Bay.* The stay in Double Bay was kind of special thanks to a humpie doing headstands in the opening for us.***

I would enjoy any other Alaskan experiences you would be willing to share.* Have you been back in New Moon?*

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Old 01-29-2008, 07:27 AM   #4
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RE: West Coast of Chichagof

Hi OS,

Thanks for the kind words.*

That adventure was in 1996.* We towed the C-Dory some 1800 miles from Salt Lake City to Prince Rupert, launched at Rushbrooke, and went across the Dixon Entrance to AK from PR.* Spent two glorious months in AK - the first time we had ever taken more than a 2-3 week vacation.* It was incredibly wonderful, though a little cold and wet in that tiny boat sometimes.

Sounds like you've followed almost exactly the same route on the outside, and stayed in some of the same places.

We've been back to SE Alaska in New Moon four more summers since then, but until 2006 never had the combination of weather conditions and courage to travel the outside between Sitka and Elfin Cove.* When we finally did so again in 2006, it was far less scary - Yea!*

We met some folks in Sitka in 1999 who actually live on a remote island somewhere near Khaz Bay.* They said they make the trip to Sitka only when the wind is from E or NE, to avoid the buildup of those huge swells.

We've done several long BC cruises as well.* I'll see what I can come up with in the way of more AK or BC stories.* Meanwhile, here are some AK 2007 pics:

http://picasaweb.google.com/bounty257/Alaska2007

and a few more cruising pics:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/18035626@N05/
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Old 01-29-2008, 10:38 AM   #5
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RE: West Coast of Chichagof

Richard:

I would have responded sooner, but the Admiral and I were watching the third re-run of the slideshows.* That Scrappy is one heck of a photographer ... and also a bit of a ham when the camera is pointed at him.* He seems pretty capable at helping out when you're landing fish, too.

Your photography is first rate.* I have to learn to work the angles the way you folks do.* That shot of the collapsing waterfront building at Butedale and the Falls in the background is excellent.* Your camera angles for the glacier shots were terrific.* I think I recognized some of the bergie bits from 2002.* Well done!*

Sorry, I have to go now ... the Admiral is starting the fourth re-run ...

OS
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Old 01-31-2008, 10:30 AM   #6
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RE: West Coast of Chichagof

Richard,

What a great post!* The slideshow of the Alaska trip was fantastic, especially for someone like myself who has never been.* Your narrative on the C-Dory was excellent also.* Painted a picture that made one thankful to be reading about the adventure, and not actually living it!*
*
Thanks for sharing the experience.* Looking forward to more good reading*in the future.

Mike Wiley
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Old 01-31-2008, 10:53 AM   #7
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West Coast of Chichagof

WOW!!! I love the custom flybridge on the C-dory!!! ANd the pics were awesome. What kind of camera are you shooting with?
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Old 01-31-2008, 12:06 PM   #8
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West Coast of Chichagof

The custom flybridge is on our Bounty 257. It's powder-coated aluminum, and supposedly weighs only 100lb. It's great for warm weather boating (Lake Powell, in our case), or the occasional really nice day in the PNW. Was originally developed for tuna fishing. The Bounty was too heavy in the bow to add a normal flybridge.

Camera is an excellent Nikon N90 film camera. The Picasa pics are slides scanned at Costco for 28c each (not real great resolution), and the Flickr pics are prints we scanned at home with a very reasonably priced Epson scanner. Current Nikon digital that would compete with an N90 is the D80. Full size interchangeable lenses, but smaller and lighter body than the N90.

We find that the pocket-size digitals are great for snapshots, but don't have big enough glass for good quality scenery shots.

-- Edited by RCook at 07:34, 2008-02-01
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Old 03-17-2010, 06:03 AM   #9
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RE: West Coast of Chichagof

Updated picture link:

http://picasaweb.google.com/bounty25...SEAlaskaAndBC#
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Old 03-19-2010, 08:57 AM   #10
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RE: West Coast of Chichagof

"Photos by Richard" !!!!

Richard doesn't do a half bad job of taking photos!

Thank you for sharing!* Where are you headed for the summer of 2010?

OS
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Old 03-19-2010, 09:36 AM   #11
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RE: West Coast of Chichagof

Hi OS!

Launching in Prince Rupert, summer in SE Alaska - just that same ol boring stuff....

Maybe this year I'll finally make it to Rocky Pass.

Still trying to be a better fisherman,
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Old 03-19-2010, 10:47 AM   #12
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RE: West Coast of Chichagof

Quote:
RCook wrote:

Hi OS!

Launching in Prince Rupert, summer in SE Alaska - just that same ol boring stuff....

Maybe this year I'll finally make it to Rocky Pass.

Rocky Pass is highly recommended, but not to be taken lightly.* As of last summer, all the bouys and day marks were in place, although some have moved to different locations than what is shown on older charts.* All the rocks are still in the same place though.* Passage is best made at high slack water, and be ready to plow your way through some kelp although your still in the deepest water.* There are several anchorages just before and after the pass where you can wait for high water. One nice one to the North (the name escapes me at the moment) has a forest service cabin worth exploring while you wait.* A friend once landed his float plane there at high tide, and when the tide went out, the plane tilted as such an angle that a lot of the fuel ran out of a loose gas cap.* The story ended with a dead stick landing at the closest airstrip, a near miss.* Enjoy................Arctic Traveller

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Old 03-19-2010, 11:44 AM   #13
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RE: West Coast of Chichagof

Hi Arctic Traveler,

You and OS have both mentioned the kelp in Rocky Pass.* My boat is sterndrive powered, and has been known to catch kelp on the drive, blocking the water intakes.

Any idea how difficult it might be for me to get through without such an incident?* Easier to do earlier in the summer?

I guess I could tilt the drive up some when approaching kelp, so that the kelp is more likely to slip on by under me, but at the loss of some steering control.
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Old 03-19-2010, 03:52 PM   #14
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RE: West Coast of Chichagof

Richard,* as of last fall, there was only one area of kelp you couldn't avoid, and it's North of Devils Elbow, for about 100 yards.* At times it's avoidable at high tide, but no matter what , it's only for a short time.* I'm not sure raising the drive would help much as the stuff is on the surface. Passage is made on a slow bell, and your through so fast anyway that I don't think it will be much of an issue.* Simply raise the drive and clear it after passage.............Arctic Traveller
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Old 03-19-2010, 08:54 PM   #15
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RE: West Coast of Chichagof

Richard:

When you hear the high temperature alarm, there is nothing as effective as 10-15 seconds of hard reverse to remove the problem.* You do have to dodge all the kelp bits raining down on your boat, however.

Be like the Nike guy, and "just do it".

OS
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Old 03-19-2010, 09:24 PM   #16
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RE: West Coast of Chichagof

Thanks OS,*

I learned that in Wrangell Narrows a couple of years ago!
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Old 04-02-2010, 04:55 PM   #17
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RE: West Coast of Chichagof

Mr Cook,
Come and stay w us in Thorne Bay if you like. In Rocky Pass do the Elbo at high water and min speed. Stay attentive the whole time. Even good skippers make mistakes here. Some photo's***** ..* I was busy in the tight spots.

Eric Henning
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Old 04-02-2010, 05:04 PM   #18
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RE: West Coast of Chichagof

Hi Eric,

Thanks for the invitation! I haven't yet stopped in at Thorne Bay - a fine reason to do so.

I'll let you know if my plans gel,
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Old 04-20-2010, 08:11 PM   #19
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RE: West Coast of Chichagof

Currently we are in Meyers Chuck and may do Rocky pass tomorow.* If so, I'll see if I can take a few photos to post............Arctic Traveller

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Old 04-23-2010, 01:36 PM   #20
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RE: West Coast of Chichagof

Well,* we didn't go that way due to a water heater pressure relief I discovered trying to dump all my fresh water into the bilge and overboard.* I'm rather partial to fresh water, so we detoured directly to Petersburg.* Perhaps in the fall we will go that way........Arctic Traveller
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