Log #59e Into Alaska – Ketchikan to Wrangell

July 9, 2015 in Log Series 50-59, Logs by Series, Series 59, The Logs

Craig, Alaska
July 13, 2015
Hi Folks,
I hope you got my Log #59d a few minutes ago, as here is Log #59e already. I had it ready and was going to send it tomorrow, but it is a mile walk uphill to get to this library for its slow but reliable WiFi.
We have a major snag in our plans for Haida Gwaii. We cannot go directly to Haida Gwaii as there is no Canadian Customs office on the entire island. That means we have to go 165 miles back to Prince Rupert on the mainland to check in and then another 125 miles across to Haida Gwaii. Whereas it would only be 55 miles directly from the tip of Prince Of Wales Island where we would leave Alaska to Masset on Haida Gwaii. As well, we need to make reservations to go to the large national park on the southern islands of Haida Gwaii, and pay up to $60.00 a day if we intend to land. I am so frustrated by all this that we may just spend more time up here then check in at Prince Rupert and go down the BC coast skipping Haida Gwaii. We still hope to go down the west coast of Vancouver Island.
I hope you enjoy this first log of Alaska.
All the best,

Log #59e Into Alaska –Ketchikan & Wrangell

July 9, 2015

We left Dundas Island at 0518 June 6 (D-Day) as we wanted to make Ketchikan 57 miles away the same day to avoid any complications with US Customs by anchoring in US waters before checking in. That’s why we chose Dundas Island as our starting off point before entering US waters only 10 miles away. It was a grey day with little wind and we motored all the way except for a few minutes when we tried to fly the genoa unsuccessfully. The cloudy day turned to mist then rain as we motored up the Tongass Channel towards Ketchikan.

It was quite cool, and so for the first time we lit the furnace while under way. It worked fine and made the cabin warm for whoever was off watch. We then opened the hatch boards and found the cockpit warmed up a bit with the full enclosure buttoned up. We appreciate the furnace, but it occasionally gives off some soot which is very hard to remove from the upper deck.

Rain in Ketchikan

It always rains in Ketchikan! It is in a rain forest area, and has the largest rainfall on the west coast. By the cruise ships dock there is a rain gauge (euphemistically called a Liquid Sunshine Gauge) which registered over 14’ 5” to date this year, and the record (which may be broken this year yet) is 17 feet.

Liquid Sunshine Gauge at 171 inches in June

It has been raining all three times I have been to Ketchikan. In fact it was because of the rain we knew Ketchikan was famous for that we initially did not want to sail all the way to Alaska. It rained the two days we were there, but the sun actually came out a bit the day we left.

As we motored up Tongass Narrows we saw through the rain the Longhouse and totems at Saxman Park.

Longhouse at Saxman Park

(note the cruise ship tourists huddled in their rain gear on the right)

Other totems in the park

Cruise Ships

Ketchikan is a popular cruise ship destination, with five large ships in port the day we arrived. When you consider the town is the fourth largest in Alaska with a population of only 8,000, it can be inundated with up to another 10,000 tourists daily from the cruise ships. We were cruise ship tourists in Ketchikan in April of 2014 when we arrived on the Volendam from Japan.

As we approached Ketchikan this time we were hailed on VHF by the cruise ship Coral Princess asking our intended course as it was astern and slowly overtaking us. We indicated we could do a 360 degree turn to starboard away from it to come up astern of it and out of its way. The officer of the watch just requested we increase our speed to clear its course so it could go alongside the cruise ship docks in Ketchikan. Fine, we throttled up to a full six knots, and veered to mid channel allowing the ship to alter to starboard inside of us to proceed to its berth.

Coral Princess

That day there were five cruise ships along the docks.

Carnival Line and Disney ships

Many of the cruise ships have passed us several times, coming and going as the Inside Passage is a popular route for the cruise lines. We like the Holland America Lines and have gone on two cruises with them, first on the Veendam, from Santiago, Chile, down to Antarctica and up to the Falklands landing in Buenos Aries, and last year on the Volendam on its repositioning cruise from Japan to Alaska and landing in Vancouver. We saw the Volendam again in Ketchikan.

Holland Cruise Line ship Volendam

We have another cruise lined up this September on the Statendam from Vancouver to Hawaii, the Marshall Islands, the Marianas, Guam and the Philippines to land in Singapore, after which we will spend another month touring China and Viet Nam before returning to Vancouver in November. I have an insulated plastic mug with the phrase DAM Ships, and listing the names of all the Holland American line ships which end in DAM.

US Customs and Border Protection

We called the Customs office from the marina office to report in, and a couple of hours later two agents arrived and cleared us through. We had some meats in our freezer and technically no meats were to be brought in to Alaska. However, rather than confiscating the meats we were advised just not to take any ashore. We arranged a one year cruising permit, but did not have any US currency to pay the $19.00. We indicated we would go to their office next day to pay.

We caught a courtesy tourist bus from the boat harbour to the federal building down beyond the cruise ship docks next day. The same agent was there and gave us the permit. No hassle and they were efficient and friendly, a pleasant contrast to the inefficient and hostile service we had when checking in at Corpus Christie, Texas a couple of years ago.

In Alaska we need to check in only at major ports, not the many anchorages in between. When coming down the east coast of the US a few years ago we had to check in every place we stopped, including out of the way anchorages. Another irony is that when we leave US waters we don’t have to check out. Thus they have no idea of how long we stayed in US waters. The checking in is easy as it is just a phone call to give the information on our cruising permit, but we do have to have a phone, as the customs and border authorities are not on VHF radio. In contrast, we have travelled all over the US with our trailer and have never been checked out.


We wandered through the throngs of rain drenched cruise ship tourists on our way back to the boat, stopping at a monument to the founding groups of natives, miners, lumbermen, fishermen, and prostitutes.

Ketchikan Founders

The prostitute was included as the remaining board walk along the river, now a tourist attraction, was lined with houses of ill repute to service the miners and fishermen.

Riverside Boardwalk

We also stopped at a chandlery / hardware store where we bought a convection fan to mount on top of our furnace. It is a handy addition as it operates off the heat and convection air of the furnace spreading the warmth more evenly around the cabin. Another purchase we had to make was a Trac phone from the local Walmart. Our Canadian phone did not pick up any signal, and so we needed a phone if for no other reason than to contact Customs and Border Protection Services as we sailed through Alaskan waters.

To Wrangell

June 8 at 0655 we left Ketchikan for a 40 mile passage up Clarence Strait and Ernest Sound to a tranquil anchorage at Vixen Harbour. En route we saw a whale in Clarence Strait. Next day at 0407 we headed off for a 46 mile passage to Wrangell. As we were heading up Zimovia Strait on the west side of Wrangell Island we noted the water had an grey opaque colour, resulting from glacial melt from a glacier north of Wrangell coming down the Stikine River.

We refueled at a dock in Wrangell before going alongside the Reliance Harbour visitors’ dock (56 27.877N, 132 22.901W). Moorage was quite economical at 40 cents a foot and for Veleda at 32 feet we paid only $13.60, tax included. The main part of town including a grocery store, hardware store and several small boutiques were convenient to the marina along the main street. We enjoyed the Nolan Museum with an excellent display of Tinglit culture. Unfortunately Chief Shakes Longhouse was not open, but the remains of original totems were protected beneath a covered shed behind the house.

Chief Shakes Longhouse

Remains of original totems

Town totem in Wrangell

We had a supper and breakfast at a hotel/lodge by the cruise ship docks as it had good WiFi connections and I was able to send out a log and other correspondence. Along the Visitors’ Dock we had a talk with a young couple on the sailboat Lea Scotian whom we had met earlier in Shearwater (Bella Bella). Judy had given a set of her dad’s children’s books to their baby at that time. Another familiar boat on the dock was Thelonius which we saw in Fury Cove a few weeks earlier, but no one was aboard.

Thelonius in Fury Cove

Tidal Grids

Beside the marina was a quite serviceable tidal grid. We have seen several of them in both BC and Alaska. The ones in BC were no longer used (I believe because of the pollution problems of power washing off bottom paint.) but those in Alaska are still used. Alongside the grid I saw one fisherman patiently sitting on his boat having a smoke, waiting for the tide to come in so he could float off.

The grids are an economical way of getting a boat out of the water for a few hours between low tides. The boat ties up alongside the pilings of the grid at high tide, and adjusts the lines carefully as the tide goes out, allowing the keel to sit on the bottom pilings of the grid at low tide. A person then has the few hours until the tide rises again in which he can clean the bottom of the boat with a power washer if he has such, and may also have time to slap on a coat of bottom paint. Other hull repairs can be done such as replacing zincs, cleaning through-hull fittings, or checking for potential damage to prop or hull.

Tidal Grid in Wrangell at low tide

We use these features in England and France, but there the bases were concrete pads rather than timber grids.

Veleda at low tide in Poulliac, France 2005

In the above picture Veleda had its bottom cleaned with a fire hose, and is ready for a coat of bottom paint. This tidal marina is at the northern end of the Canal du Midi, and we are ready to step the mast (see it on the dock) which had been on deck for a month as we motored through the canal from the south of France up to Bordeaux. As you can see from the mud, it is a messy job cleaning the bottom between tides.

We needed to clean the hull, but went to a boat yard in Sitka to get hauled out to do the bottom work.

On we went next day, June 10th, making our way up to Petersburg and our first view of a glacier in my next log.