Vancouver Island to the Aleutians and Beyond - Part Nine

Dutch Harbor to Sand Point. June 20th to July 4th.


Tony in Hot Springs Bay Stormy morning Hot Springs Bay Progomni Volano, Unimak Island King Cave Harbor Bears in Captain Harbor Eagles in Captain Harbor Wet ride in Captain Harbor Departing guests in Captain Harbor Windy dawn Captain Harbor Retrieving anchor, Dolgoi Harbor Stormy passage Pavlov Bay Stormy passage Pavlov Bay 10 PM in Canoe Bay 11:45 PM in Canoe Bay 11:45 PM in Canoe Bay Pavlov Volcanoes Venture Console Abandoned cannery Squaw Harbor Haystacks Haystacks Haystacks Haystacks Haystacks rock formation Gulls fishing Tufted Puffin Abandoned Ulga village Venture anchored at Delarof Harbor Curious but wary river otter Sea Star on anchor chain Sand Point. The fleet's in for the 4th Fuel dock in Dutch Harbor Venture anchored, Hot Springs Bay Steam in Hot Springs Bay Hot Springs Bay Fox in Hot Springs Bay Curious fox

After some last minute provisioning and a final meal ashore at the Harbor View Bar and Restaurant the previous evening, we leave the marina on Friday July 19th and head for the Delta Western fuel dock where we have an appointment at 0900. This busy dock caters mostly to large commercial vessels and they tell us they move over one million gallons per week. We do not completely fill the tanks because fuel will be cheaper in Kodiak. We leave the dock in thick fog, the first we have experienced in an area famous for it.

We go by way of the Baby Islands in hope of seeing Whiskered Auklets. The birds are found only in these islands, plus a few spots west of here in the Aleutians and on Komandorski which lies between Aleutians and the Kurile Islands. They zip past in fast moving flocks - more like swarms - or dive in areas where the water is at its most turbulent. The current is very strong and there are short periods when the boat speed is up to 17 knots at only 1100 rpm.

We anchor initially in Surf Bay on Akun Island. On shore is an elaborate installation with modern buildings, a good access road and a windsock. We see vehicles but no people. We have no idea of its purpose. Christine spots three horses grazing on wild land and, later, a few cattle with some similarity to highland cattle found in Scotland. Buffeted by gusty winds and choppy water in this open bay we relocate to Hot Springs Bay on Akutan Island. As we enter the bay we see steam rising from the shoreline all across its head. Later the steam disappears and we surmise this might be because the rising tide covers the beach.

Saturday June 20th

We arise at 0500 with the intent of making an early start for False Pass. There are no suitable anchorages on Unimak Island so we will need to keep going for the full 112 mile passage. The wind is blowing at a full 30 knots so we abandon our plans and decide to remain where we are. As a consolation I prepare a breakfast of bacon and eggs.

In the afternoon we take the small tender ashore. We see steam seeping through the black sand but in disappointingly small amounts compared to yesterday. Our infrared thermometer records figures as high as 154F. While beachcombing I see a fox watching me from the vegetation fringing the beach. He appears quite unfazed by my presence. I talk to him and he allows me to come quite close to take his (or, maybe, her) photo. Capricious gusts of wind bombard us with stinging showers of sand.

Sunday June 21st

We pass an uncomfortable night with gusty winds turning Venture sideways to the swell causing her to rock and roll. We vote this the worst ever anchorage for Venture. After being awake since 0200, I finally abandon my berth at 0430 while it is still dark with just a faint hint of dawn. We pull anchor and are underway at 0532 with winds gusting in excess of 40 kts. The VHF reception is poor and we can only receive snatches of weather forecast. Murphy's Law ensures it repeatedly cuts out for our area. Once out of the lee of Akun Island the seas become alarmingly large. Ferocious winds scoop up waves thrust aside by Ventures flared bow and hurl them against the windshield. Chris rightly advocates turning back and, picking the right moment, makes a 180 in the tumultuous waves and we return to Akun Island - this time to the better protected anchorage in Lost Harbor. We are reasonably sheltered but clouds of sand are whipped up by the gale and blown along the beach.

Monday June 22nd

For the third day in a row we rise at 0500 in the hope of making passage to False Pass. We are underway at 0545. The wind has dropped considerably and the seas greatly reduced since yesterday. They reach their maximum early in the crossing of Unimak Strait but settle down as we approach Unimak Island. They become completely calm and the wind drops to just a few knots as we pass along Bering Sea side of Unimak and come fully under its lee. Progromni Volcano looks magnificent as it appears out of the clouds. Numerous puffins scoot out of our way across the water or, with furious wing beats, wing across the sky in line astern like a series of widely space black beads along a fast moving necklace.

Finally we reach False Pass through which we will leave the Bering Sea. The approach from the north through Bechevin Bay is very tricky and the pass is well named. The Coast Pilot recommends local knowledge as the mud banks frequently alter position. We wait until just past low water to avoid going aground on a falling tide. We proceed cautiously - and very slowly - sticking to the well-marked channel which makes seemingly erratic and puzzling deviations across the bay. The water is shallow and we see depths as low as 6' beneath the keel. We are reassured to meet several fishing boats on their way north but clearly they have the requisite local knowledge. We anchor in Traders Cove just off Isanotski Strait at 1837 - just a few minutes short of being 13 hours underway. Today we have covered 120 nm. We are now back at the end of the Alaska Peninsula and spot two bears along the shore.

Tuesday June 23rd

Underway at 0740, we negotiate the narrow channel past the small town of False Pass. Human settlements are few and far between in this part of the world and appear as mere scratchings on a vast canvas. We decide to go to King Cove rather than Cold Harbor and arrive there at 1254. We are instructed to tie up South Harbor but after, Chris and Christine check in with Harbormaster, he suggests we relocate to North Harbor because it is more convenient to town and has 50 amp shore power. Both harbors are virtually empty because almost all the boats are out for an opening. The town does not offer anything we could see in the way of restaurants so we eat on board. I am able to connect to the local Hotspot and get e-mail

Wednesday July 24th

The temperature is above 50 degrees this morning and feels quite warm after a long spell of temperatures in the mid forties. At least 20 boats have entered the harbor overnight and we see others waiting to unload their catch as we leave at 1114. The sea is calm and we travel only 17 miles before reaching Captain Harbor at 1310. We are very surprised to see two sailboat masts as we approach and we imagine their crews will be dismayed to see a large powerboat appearing in their secluded anchorage. Once inside we drop anchor well away from them in the bay which is very protected and appears landlocked once inside. This is the first time since leaving Prince William Sound that we have shared an anchorage with another cruising boat and that was just one boat for one night - Teacup.

Later we launch the tender and introduce ourselves to the couple on the smaller of the two boats - Orca registered in Emden, Holland. We meet Ann who is from Sweden and Udo who is German. It turns out that both boats are from Holland and have reached this remote spot after an immensely long journey. They arrived in King Cove direct from Hawaii a couple of days ago. We are invited to come aboard at six this evening. On the way back to Venture we see a female bear with two cubs who look at us and, sadly, decide to retreat into the undergrowth.

We enjoy a very pleasant evening aboard Orca and meet Jan and Trees from the other boat, Santana. While we are there they speak on the radio with 70 year old crossing on his own from Hawaii to Ketchikan on his boat called Firewater. He has been en route for more than six weeks and still has 250 miles still to go. I invite everyone to Venture for dinner tomorrow. Both the couples have come from Northern Europe down the East Coast of South America through the straits of Magellan, up the coast of S. America across to the South Pacific and from there to Hawaii where they spent 3 months. It makes our trip seem insignificant.

Thursday July 25th

Today begins as a lovely morning in lovely anchorage. A panorama of green hillsides glides smoothly past the salon windows as Venture swings to her anchor in a moderate breeze. During the day, this changes as powerful williwaws descend from the hills to the north. Dark outriders race across the surface of the water leading a stampede of hissing white horses, their manes alive with spindrift . The anemometer records gusts in excess of 40 knots. In the afternoon, Chris calls Orca on the VHF and asked how they are doing. They say OK but are concerned whether their tender will be powerful enough to make headway against the waves. Chris offers to collect our guests in our larger and more powerful tender. They have a wild ride and arrive drenched. Their wet weather gear has to go into the engine room to dry out. I have prepared a dinner of roast pork and trimmings which, much to my relief, goes according to plan and we all enjoy a convivial evening. Fortunately the wind drops and veers to the south by the time Chris returns our guests to their respective boats.

Friday June 26th

I awake just before 0500 to hear the wind howling. I ascend to the pilothouse to take a look. The wind is back from the north at over 30 knots but we have not moved and, despite the outside turmoil, all is under control so I return to my nice warm bed. After 0900 we conclude this must be a local wind event. We raise the anchor at 0950 with Venture swinging wildly in all directions as the wind catches the hull. As soon as we reach the entrance to the bay, the winds drop to 5 kts but increases back to 25 when we come opposite the next valley. Once in open water, the wind drops to about 5 kts. We pass the remains of Velkofsky village before turning in to Dolgoi Harbor on Dolgoi Island where we anchor at 1230. Rising beyond the verdant hills bordering the bay, the snow-clad peaks of Pavlov Volcano and its two siblings reach into a sky of forget-me-not blue. The waters around us are of a darker hue. Overhead, citadels of cloudscapes form and reform in response to winds we can only imagine. Within two hours Orca and Santana join us in the bay.

Saturday June 27th

By the time we surface at 0730, Orca and Santana have already left the anchorage. The winds start to blow as we raise anchor at 0930 and increase to 25 knots as soon as we round the point and turn and turn towards Pavlov Bay. Dramatic storm-rent clouds present an apocalyptic prospect (view ahead) and conceal the volcanoes from our view. Many fishing boats are in action. The tight entrance into Canoe Bay is one of those that must be entered at slack water. We time our arrival accordingly and negotiate the narrow channel as the tide begins to ebb. We tour the bay which is 3.8 miles long and surrounded by low lying hills. We spot two sets of buildings on the north shore - the first in good condition and the second derelict. Unlike yesterday, it is gloomy with mist and light rain. We anchor just inside the entrance at 1449.

Sunday June 28th

We plan to spend the day here entering the inner bay in the tender but our plans are thwarted by mist, rain and squally conditions which last throughout the day. It is only at 10 pm that the low clouds begin to lift to reveal landscapes of magical hills under a kaleidoscope of memorable skies. But, after a grey day, nature has not yet finished with her palette. Seeing color seeping through the portlight curtains at close to midnight I go back on deck to find the skies ablaze with color from horizon to horizon. The range of skyscapes to which have been treated these past two days is unforgettable.

Monday June 29th

Today dawns just a grey as yesterday with no hint of the flamboyance of the sunset. The clouds dissipate after we exit Canoe Bay into Pavlof Bay and we are treated to magnificent view of Pavlof volcano and her daughter peak. We enjoy a calm passage around the southern tip of Unga island past dramatic headlands with towering cumulus clouds overhead. We pass a large, abandoned cannery at Squaw Bay and anchor at the head Delarof Bay on Unga Island at 1600. By this time the temperature is a balmy 56 F and the sky is still high in the sky with hardly a single cloud. We are not used to all this bright light!

Tuesday June 30th

We are surprised to awake to brilliant sunshine and a cloudless blue sky. In the far distance, across the other side of Popof Strait, we can see the spouts of many humpback whales. Once underway, we drive in the direction of Sand Point hoping for cell phone coverage. Finally we succeed but have to go right past the town to get it. Communications satisfied, we head for a group of sea stacks called the Haystacks. They are very dramatic and home to vast numbers of sea birds. After spending time here, we continue on to Nagai Island and anchor in a spot named Pirate's Shake - a strange name for which we have no explanation. All these islands are part of the Shumagin group named after Nikita Shumagin, a Russian sailor who died on Nagai Island on August 29th 1741. The shoreline of our anchorage is littered with the remains of bleached and battered logs; the surrounding hills a tapestry of luminous green dappled with darker patches of shaggy brush.

Wednesday July 1st 2015

Another beautiful sunny morning with high mackerel sky - an indication that wind may be on the way. The sea is absolutely calm and glassy. Under these conditions the Shumagin Islands, with their saw-tooth profile, are magical and seem almost to be floating on the surface of the water. I try to take photos of the many Tufted Puffins that scoot frantically across the water to get out of our way - although they would have been perfectly safe if they had stayed where they were! I take dozens of photos with little success. We return to the southern end of Unga Island with the idea of anchoring off Ocean Beach and taking the tender ashore but the surf is running too high for a safe landing. Along the way we are drawn to a group of offshore rocks by their intriguing shape.

We continue north up the east coast of Unga Island and anchor in Delarof Harbor, site of Unga village abandoned in 1969. We drop anchor and tour the bay in the large tender, passing rugged and ragged cliffs which are home to millions of sea birds. We return to Venture and take the small tender for a beach landing at the abandoned village. It is sad to walk among the tumble-down buildings in this lovely site. We spot a pair of curious - but wary - river otters playing peek-a-boo with us from among the weathered timbers along the shore. Chris does not feel this to be a secure anchorage, especially as SE winds are forecast, so we up anchor and relocate to Baranof Bay - where we were two nights ago. Here we are surprised to see both Orca and Santana already swinging at their anchors.

Thursday July 2nd

Today we are back in Sand Point. It is another beautiful day - we can't believe our luck. This morning the anchor came up with a colorful sea star clinging stubbornly to the chain. We are now tied up at the dock surrounded by cruisers - mostly sail boats - who have all arrived here from the other side of the world. One is on the last leg of a thirteen year global circumnavigation! We are truly tourists in this well-traveled company. We will be here for the 4th of July and the harbor is filling up with fishing boats in port for the break. My next blog will be from Kodiak around the third week of July.