Cruising Southeast Alaska - 2009

By Linda Lewis


7. Ketchikan to Petersburg via Wrangell Narrows


Ketchikan still has its 100% boarding policy, but here’s a new twist. If you call Customs about 30 minutes before your arrival in the area (say, at Mountain Point for a 7 Knot boat) and give them your pertinent information, they will let you stop at the fuel dock. (Be ready during the call with your boat registration numbers, Passport – names & numbers, and User Fee Decal number.) Then they’ll meet you at the fuel dock and finish up the process.

As we headed for Bar Harbor Marina after our clearance, we were quite surprised to see only two cruise ships in Ketchikan. Quite a difference from the five! we saw in 2007.

Both ships decided to leave the dock in quick succession. David had gone off in the Green Devil to park it and meet me at our assigned moorage in Bar Harbor Marina.

In the mean time, I wanted to get a quick photo of Casey Moran (former City Floats). I had heard it has excellent recreational boat “open moorage” now. And that was true. Open moorage in SE AK means just picking a spot, tying up, then calling the Harbormaster.

As I was peeking into the opening I was really impressed with the facilities. Power and water; relatively close to town; not the greatest cruiser amenities – as in no really close grocery store, boating store, or laundromat. We still like Bar Harbor for those reasons. But others have stopped at Casey Moran and enjoyed it for a few nights.

While I was maneuvering for the photo of Casey Moran, the second cruise ship decided to pull out and hailed me on Channel 16: “Royal Sounder, Royal Sounder, this is the Infinity Millennium.” Now I am rarely tongue-tied, but in my effort to respond I was saying: “Infinity Minnelenmum …" er Infinity Minmimumlem…" er "Infinity this is Royal Sounder.” We hopped over to Ch 13 and in their polite way they asked me to fish or cut bait. As in: move out of their way by either going into Casey Moran or not. I opted to not and said: “Infinity: I am diverting.” You bet. I know when I’m outsized and outmaneuvered.

Approaching Bar Harbor I was again reminded of the oddly placed, very low float that houses the marker to the marina. If you’re not ready for that one it might be quite a surprise.

See how it sticks out perpendicular to the breakwater like a log float? Here’s a clearer look.

When we got our perennial assignment to Float 8 (we are 45’ LOA), we were delighted to renew our friendship with Heidi – who lives on her boat on this dock, with her Lab, Jade.

We met Heidi in 2000 when we had helped a friend of hers maneuver his boat back to his home port (her dock in Ketchikan) after suffering what seemed to be a mild stroke. He was wandering around, confused, in Exchange Cove and needed to get his boat back to home port. My E.R. nurse background came in handy as I assessed his symptoms and suspected a TIA (Transient Ischemic Attack – mini stroke). Ultimately the E.R. doc came to the same conclusion. Dave boarded his boat and helped him bring it back to Ketchikan. Heidi has been our friend ever since because we helped her friend in a time of need on the water.

At home, Dave feeds squirrels. Here is the Ketchikan version of feeding the squirrels: Heidi’s duck-feeding station.

We love being in fishing ports and in fact we often need to move because the slip we are in is needed by its rightful tenant. They call that “hot-berthing” up here. On this particular day, this seiner was returning to his slip right next to us. And I do mean right next to us. Big. Black. Imposing.

The crew had a big orange “walking” fender they were moving along ‘just in case.’

We really appreciated the careful Skippering and that extra courtesy and felt comfortable just watching and admiring their approach.

The Skipper seemed to delight in our admiration and wanted to show off his great King Salmon catch.

What goes round comes round. He liked our interest and gave us a wonderful filet from that King Salmon - the best of the fish that he had kept for himself. That’s SE AK for you.

After we left Ketchikan we decided to try a new anchorage on our way to Wrangell Narrows and stopped in Coffman Cove. I was fascinated by the off-loading of numerous fishing boats on to the tender "Miss Mary". Here are several gill netters hovering while one is being off-loaded. The tender affords the fisherman the opportunity to off-load their fish and take on ice without having to return to a fish-processing port.

See the big blue bag of fish being craned over to Miss Mary? We watched that kind of thing going on for at least an hour.

Wrangell Narrows (on the way to Petersburg) is probably the best-marked passage in SE AK. It is a route between (among other places) Wrangell and Petersburg. I wish they had named it Petersburg Narrows. Well, actually, I wish they hadn’t named it “Narrows” at all. Yes, it gets quite narrow in a few places, but it is not a passage that must be done at slack water. You’ll definitely buck a 3 K current if you do it at the wrong time, but it can be done. Even by slow-go boats like us (we cruise at 7-8 Knots).

I even exchanged a VHF discussion with a couple I had taught (back in the Seattle area) just below the south end of Wrangell Narrows as we were approaching it. Both boats were in Sumner Strait - crossing wakes; they were headed for Ketchikan. The skipper said: you taught us not to fight the currents – but, he also added, I also remember you saying the predictions aren’t always ‘right’. In fact, we’re a much slower boat than they are so we were slowly making our way to what we hoped would be a favorable current by the time we got there.

Here is a radar-screen shot of a section showing TEN markers at “Christmas Tree Rock” – a term coined for this particular spot by the Douglasses in their invaluable cruising guide: Exploring Southeast Alaska published by Fine Edge

It’s a mess, isn’t it? That makes the point. This is a passage where you must look out the window and move from marker to marker. Here’s what that looks like in the real world.

There are TEN markers in this picture. Hard to see in a photo. But oh-so-welcome as you proceed along this passage.

Here is the approach to Petersburg.

The South Harbor

And the North Harbor – which we love. It’s closer to town and full of fishing boats. We were told they are going to do an upgrade on these North Harbor docks over the coming winter.

Everyone seems to be interested in catching the millions of herring that congregate in Petersburg, living on the discharge from the fish plants. David says: “What is illegal in the lower 48 is a fountain of life in SE AK.”

Here’s David trying to get his piece of the herring action.

And here are two young girls doing the same. Except their catch is a baby cod.

Even these Bonaparte Gulls are in high thrall as they waltz their way through the feast.

Everyone is proud of their catch, no matter how large or small. (David freezes the herring to use for bait.)

Here is one of the unusual sights we see now and then along the Inside Passage. Small boats. And I do mean small boats.

These two young women were kayaking from Gabriola Island (Gulf Islands, B.C.) to Glacier Bay in SE AK (a thousand miles). Yes – in these kayaks. We came across them on the dock in Petersburg pouring over their paper charts. Angela (L) and Christine (R) have a wonderful blog where you can read all about “The Dream” at: They describe this trip as being about “learning how to fly”. I urge you to check out this blog. Christine (the dream originator) is a truly lyrical writer infused with passion.

We awaited the arrival of David’s dearest friend, Michael, while we were in Petersburg.

The next email will reveal what two long-time buddies can manage to get into when released on a boat together. Oh boy. Stay tuned.




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