Rainy Ketchikan

June 26, 2008 At Anchor, Blashke Islands (near Wrangell, Alaska)
N 56 degrees, 07.313'
W 132 degrees, 54.921'
Dear Friends and Family:

We're currently hunkered down in a tiny anchorage among the Blashke Islands. This is our first time venturing into a place where the charts, and the guidebooks, tell you that the entrance dries at low tide. In other words, you have to get in there when the tide is high, and not plan on getting out again until another high tide. As it turns out, the charts and the book are mostly wrong: the entrance appears to always have water, although it's perhaps shallow enough at low tide that it would be prudent to wait. This idea of having a twenty-foot swing from low to high tide is new to us, and we're extra careful to take that into account in our anchoring.

We dinghied around this afternoon to have a look at some of the different islands in this group -- there are at least twenty. Once again, the Douglas book held out the hope of bear and marten, but we haven't seen any. We did put down the crab pot, but it yielded only two undersized rock crabs, and three humongous starfish dripping with slime. We returned them all to their underwater homes, and instead plumbed the depths of the refrigerator for dinner.

Blashke Islands anchorage chart
We had a brief bit of sunshine when we arrived here yesterday afternoon, but mostly it's been overcast, with a bit of rain, and near constant wind. More rain is promised for tonight, tomorrow and the next day, and then it sounds a bit more hopeful after that.

Our ultimate rain experience so far was in Ketchikan, which must be the rain capital of the world. There were four giant cruise ships in Ketchikan the day we came in, only one the next day, but then again four of 'em the day we left. They seem monstrous, and each of them disgorges 2000 passengers into the tourist shops of downtown Ketchikan. Some of the tourists find brief fishing charters, and others wander from souvenir shop to jewelry shop, to native art shop. Some of them take the duck tour: an amphibious vehicle, sometimes a bus and sometimes a boat. The duck tour passed by our boat in the Bar Harbor marina, and I guess we were part of the tour. At one point, a duck boat broke down on the next dock over, and all the tourists had to get off, walk along the dock, and then up the very steep ramp to the land (it was low tide). Some of them have sweatshirts proclaiming visits to the Carribean, and some have glorified plastic bags, pressed into service as raincoats.

We made the acquaintance of Tim, a hard boiled fisherman, cleaning small salmon at the base of the ramp. We admired his fish, and he offered us a couple. Tim said someone gave them to him, and he was trying to give them away to all his friends. How could you turn that down? One went into the refrigerator for dinner, and the other is in the freezer for a future dinner.

We took our laundry up to the laundromat, through the driving rain, where we not only got our laundry done, but met some interesting people. Ramon, who arrived on a bicycle, came in primarily to get out of the rain (he had no laundry to do). He wanted to know if I lived in Ketchikan, because he was looking for work, doing gardening. He had a real hard luck story, and was just trying to save up enough money so that he could get his mobile home onto the ferry, and go to Bellingham, where he hoped there was more work.

After that Erik came in with two large plastic bags, holding sleeping bags. He asked for advice on how to wash sleeping bags, and we struck up a conversation. He and his wife are living on their boat while their house is being cleaned up -- they had a furnace fire while they were away, and the whole house is smoke damaged. Erik had lots of good advice on anchorages as we headed north, and good fishing grounds.  We enjoyed his company so much that we invited him and his wife over for drinks and appetizers on the boat.

  (clockwise) Barbara, Erik, Craig, Paula


After they arrived, the rain and wind rose to full force outside, so they stayed to dinner, and that little salmon we got from Tim proved to be more than enough for the four of us. (Yummy!)

Erik and Paula live in Ketchikan six months of the year (he's an anesthesiologist at the local hospital), he takes temporary positions elsewhere for four months, and they travel for the other two. Paula frames art -- some for the tourists, and some for the locals. We lamented with them over the very narrow focus of the downtown: tourists. With fuel prices rising, and the economic downturn continuing, will the cruise ships continue to come?

There didn't seem to be quite as many eagles in Ketchikan as there had been in Prince Rupert, but we noticed that some of the boats in the Bar Harbor marina had eagles atop their masts. I imagine that if an eagle decided to seriously camp out there, you'd have a real mess to clean up.

Each morning in Ketchikan, the float planes started flying at 6:30 a.m. on the nose. For about 20 minutes, there's another float plane every couple of minutes. The marina is just across the channel from the airport, so there's plenty of noise from that as well. Lots of boat traffic in the Tongass Narrows makes deep rumbling noises. Add to that the sound of the wind -- not just in our rigging, but in the rigging of hundreds of other boats -- mostly fishing boats -- in our vicinity, and you have quite a symphony going. Add to that the rain beating on the cabin top...

Mast-top eagle in Ketchikan
Tomorrow we plan to head for Wrangell. I read John Muir's account of the 1879 village of Wrangell (pretty rugged), and thought it would be worth seeing. Not too far from there is the Anan Creek bear observatory, where they've set up a blind for watching the black bears and brown bears catching and eating salmon. Everyone we've talked to about it says that it is not to be missed, although it may still be too early in the season.

Best wishes to all!

Craig & Barbara S/V Sequoia

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