Tracy Arm

Fern & Mark in Tracy Arm July 3, 2008
Underway, Tracy Arm
N 57 degrees, 53.174 min.
W 133 degrees, 35.406 min.

Dear friends and family:

Well we finally made it to the land of whales and icebergs. We are currently motoring up the first portion of Tracy Arm, about to make a 90 degree turn toward Sawyer Glacier (some 20 miles distant, actually, once we make the turn.)


 We started seeing icebergs before we left Stephens Passage, little white specks in the distance, getting more fantastic as we turned into Holkham Bay. It's easy to see camels, alligators, unicorns, rude hand gestures or pure fantasy in the various icebergs.

More fantasy icebergs.

Swedish sled, perhaps?
We anchored last night in Tracy Arm Cove, along with 5 or 6 other boats -- more than we've seen in any anchorage since southern British Columbia. A cruise ship was disappearing up Endicott Arm as we anchored, and we expect to see more cruise ships today. The sun is trying to shine through a thin overcast, and we consider ourselves very fortunate not to have that sideways rain and minimal visibility we encountered in earlier parts of this trip. Leaving Petersberg: Craig & Fern

We were joined in Petersburg by our friends, Mark and Fern, and they've brought the sunshine with them. (We understand it's been 90 degrees in Portland!) That first day out of Petersburg, we saw numerous whales -- mostly in the distance, spouts of spray, followed by the glint of sun on a shiny back or tail flukes. But one fellow surfaced about 20 feet off the port side of the boat, and then again on the starboard side (obviously, diving under the boat.) We've all read the stories about whales cozying up to sailboats, so everyone took a good grip on something. But for whatever reason, he was apparently just looking us over (or perhaps we were just in his way) and he decided not to bump us. He surfaced a couple more times, and then up came the tail flukes and he was gone.

We stopped briefly to fish, and Craig caught a nice (but small) halibut -- just perfect for dinner for the four of us, and oh so yummy! People tell stories about catching halibut of 100 pounds or more, and I certainly hope Craig doesn't catch one of those. This one was just right. Mark holding the just-caught halibut
St. John Harbor sunset

St. John Harbor fireworks from fishing boat

Before we reached Petersburg, we anchored for the night in St. John Harbor on Zarembo Island. That's a favorite anchorage of the fishermen in the area. We were treated to a gorgeous sunset that went on and on. It was intensely red-orange for at least an hour, and altogether you could call it a sunset for about three hours. Toward the end, as it was getting darker, one of the fishing boats started shooting off 4th-of-July fireworks, and the display intensified. We got pictures of the sunset, but the fireworks were pretty difficult, given the slight rocking of the boat. I got up in the middle of the night, 1:30 a.m., and the yellow-pink band of sky had shifted a bit toward the east -- the sunset was changing into dawn.
From St. John Harbor to Petersburg, the route is through Wrangell Narrows, a 21 mile channel with many twists and turns, and at least 64 channel markers. Apparently the Alaska State Ferry goes through there, but it's difficult to imagine how they can navigate some of those turns. And it doesn't seem like there could possibly be any room left for the rest of us! Fortunately we didn't meet such a ferry.

Petersburg is a charming town, aggressively Norwegian, full of gruff but friendly fisher folk. The biggest grocery store in town offers a transportation service to and from the dock. The driver told me that he used to live in Oregon, then Washington, but the traffic got to him. He visited Petersburg 8 years ago, and has never returned. We've heard so many stories like that -- people -- many from Oregon or Washington, who love it in Alaska and wouldn't consider going back. Still, a clerk at the grocery store told me that she goes crazy in the spring when it just rains, and rains, and rains. But when the sun comes out, it's so glorious!


Petersberg harbor

I've been reading John Muir's "Travels in Alaska." He was very interested in glaciers, and their mechanism of molding mountains. His first love, of course, was Yosemite. So as he visited these northern glaciers and the valleys they created, he was constantly comparing them to Yosemite. He even invented a new adjective, "yosemitic." We're seeing plenty of yosemitic things today, and I'll write more later.

North Sawyer Glacier, Tracy Arm

Later: We made it all the way up to north Sawyer Glacier, and watched it calving icebergs, with a thunderous roar. We anchored, briefly, about a half a mile from the face of the glacier, and had lunch in the sunshine. A nearby waterfall roared, the seals watched us curiously, and occasionally there was thunder from the glacier.

More Tracy Arm pictures

More seal pictures

Tracy Arm is about 25 miles long, and every turn brings a new incredible vista of waterfalls, icebergs and "yosemitic" granite cliffs, with the striations of past glaciation clearly visible. There is even a yosemitic dome. North Sawyer glacier has receded to the point that it is mostly landlocked, but South Sawyer glacier (which we only saw in the distance) is actively putting house-sized blue icebergs into the water. The channel approaching South Sawyer glacier is clogged with icebergs, and we didn't attempt to get close. At the junction of the two channels, we had to proceed at a crawl, and even then we didn't miss all the bergy bits. Some of the icebergs had seals resting on them, including a few newborn pups.  

Yosemitic pictures

Tracy Arm iceberg snagged for beverage ice I think our sunny interval is at an end, and rain is forecast for tonight and tomorrow. But we retrieved a very small iceberg, threw out our cube tray ice, and packed the ice cube box with genuine thousands-of-years-old glacier ice. Beverages tonight will have that special antique ingredient!

Best wishes to all!

Craig & Barbara Johnston
S/V Sequoia

Back to the previous report On to the next report