Juneau and more

Taku Harbor dock

July 10, 2008
Approaching Bartlett Cove, Glacier Bay N.P., Alaska
N 58 degrees, 25.680 minutes
W 135 degrees, 55.762 minutes

Dear friends and family --

When I last wrote, we were leaving Tracy Arm, where we got so close to the glacier, watched it calve, saw recently born seal pups and remarkable fantasy shapes of icebergs. That was our last sunshine for awhile, and we moved on the next day to Taku Harbor, about 15 miles south of Juneau. Because it's so close to Juneau, and it was the weekend, the harbor was fairly full with weekend cruisers from Juneau. One of the yacht clubs was having an around-Admiralty-Island race or cruise outing, and many people were there for that. Others were using it as a place to tie up at night, socialize with their friends, and fish during the day. Among the fishing pleasure boats, there was a lot of drinking. Among the sailboats, there was a lot of socializing (and a little drinking).


Taku Harbor cannery ruins

Taku Harbor is a marine park, formerly the site of a big cannery. The cannery buildings are melting into the forest and bay. There was some big machinery up on a small segment of pier, sort of an altar to ancient industry. Surrounding the bit of machinery were hundreds of pilings, no longer with any pier on top. Most of the pilings were sprouting small trees out of their tops. Some governmental authority has built nice docks for pleasure boats, and perhaps 1/4 mile of path along the shore. There is a cabin for kayakers, and several big fire pits. The Douglas book warns that bears have been known to come out onto the docks, looking for garbage on the boats ("Secure your garbage!") We didn't see any bears, but one of the boats already on the dock when we arrived reported there had been a brown bear (grizzly) on the trail the day before. There was a big pile of bear poop on the trail as evidence of the same. We put on our bear bells and carried pepper spray for our walk ashore. (The joke goes, "How do you tell black bear poop from brown bear poop?" "The brown bear poop has bells and pepper spray cans in it.") (We never did see a bear there).

We met Juneau residents Beth and Jim, and son Glen on the next boat down the dock from ours. Beth and Jim are biologists (specializing in marine mammals), and they're planning a trip to the South Pacific. We got together over crackers and cheese and enthusiastically exchanged information about Alaska and the South Pacific. They very kindly offered us the use of their car once we reached Juneau, and extended a dinner invitation. As it turns out we did both (more on that later).

The next day we sailed up to Juneau. This time, I do mean "sailed." It was our first good sail of the trip, with a steady 25-30 knots of wind from the southeast, and occasional higher gusts (our instruments recorded a 48 knot gust!) The radio was full of mishaps requiring coast guard attention (including one sailboat we passed close by, with shredded sail and a line fouled around their propeller.) We had a great time, though, enjoying the free motive power of the wind.

We stayed in Juneau three days. We scouted out downtown Juneau, full of those giant cruise ships (four of them this time), and tourist shops catering to their baser instincts. The shops ranged from tacky souvenirs to French jewelry and perfumes, Thai silk scarves and an occasional native art shop. The more interesting shops are on the back streets -- great book stores, and the Alaska State Museum store come to mind.

Half the workers in Juneau work for one government or another (federal, state or local). So at 5:00 the parts of town other than the tourist areas pretty much shut down. A hoped-for restaurant described in the Lonely Planet turned out to be lunch-only. We went back to the tourist area and ate in a Chinese/Japanese restaurant, owned and staffed by Koreans. Something for everyone, but good food.

Mark and Fern left us, going back to Portland's 90 degree heat wave. Ian arrived, in shorts, which lasted only a few hours. We had a brief crisis with a lost cell phone (our internet modem!) It turned out we accidentally dropped the phone in the back seat of a car in which we had hitched a ride from the marina to a local outboard shop. We would have been totally out of luck, but I happened to remember the business name on the door of the car, and we were able to track him down with the help of the outboard shop (Willie's outboard) and Google. Anybody from Juneau reading this should patronize these two wonderful Juneau businesses: Willie's Outboard and "Thyme Savor Personal Chef" (the guy who gave us a ride!)

With Beth and Jim's car, we were able to make a shopping trip to Fred Meyer (just like being back in Scappoose!) and when Ian arrived we took him up to see Mendenhall Glacier. The viewing area was mobbed with thousands of cruise ship tourists, but the glacier is pretty impressive. It's as though a tidal wave is cresting through a gap in the mountains and about to inundate Juneau. But it's all frozen into place.

Mendenhall Glacier - Craig & Barbara - Photo by Ian Johnston

Beth & Jim

Later we had dinner with Beth and Jim at their house, and did more information exchange about Alaska, the South Pacific and various and sundry other topics. I hope we're able to stay in touch with them!

Yesterday we traveled from Juneau to Hoonah, an interesting Indian village near the mouth of Glacier Bay. There was a giant cruise ship outside Hoonah, "Radiance of the Seas." It was anchored and disgorging its tourists onto the shores. They were wandering the beaches, and some more daring ones were taking the bus up to a promontory, where they could pay $90 and slide down a mile-long zip line to the shore. We did more mundane things like acquire more herring (for bait), rain pants (for Ian) and showers (for all of us).

At the moment, we're approaching Bartlett Cove, the headquarters for Glacier Bay National Park. There we have to get "oriented" which I gather means being told the rules for where we can anchor, how fast we can travel, and what precautions to use when near whales. I'm hoping we can send this message from there, so I'll close now.

Best wishes to all!

Craig & Barbara Johnston S/V Sequoia

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