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Alaska: Kodiak, Seward, Whittier 17.8.- 14.9.2003

updates: 17.8.  24.8.  1.9.  6.9.  14.9.  

17.8.2003 Kodiak, Alaska

We have lived a week between depression and hope. It wasn't that easy to extend our Cruising License, which expires the 18th of December. Another license cannot be issued until at least 15 days have elapsed since the previous license expired, and the vessel has been out of the country. We could have stayed in USA, but not Kristiina. The thought of sailing 1500 miles to Canada with autumn pressing on, was depressing. And in spring we would have had the same 1500 miles back. We wrote an application to the customs asking if we could hold Kristiina in USA until the end of September 2004. The result was a compromise: 6 months more. As a matter of fact the Cruising License was re-written in Hawaii and the 6 months replaced with 12. We have to leave the country by the 18th of June 2004, in the middle of the best summer season, but we are anyway pleased that we can overwinter here.
Tim from the Immigration (first time a immigration officer introduces himself only by first name!) was very helpful and encouraging. We thank Tim for help and the customs people for their flexibility.

People in Kodiak have been great. We ended on the front page of the local paper, which caused several contacts. Finnish related Marya visited us with her daughter Liz and son-in-law Andy. We were asking about any possibilities for a sauna, and the next evening we were taken to Carl and Naina. They call sauna with the Russian word banja. In the corner was an impressive stove and the heat was just as powerful as you could expect from the amount of stones. And we enjoyed it! We sweated and scrubbed off all the dirty skin. And felt thoroughly clean since a long time. After the bath we sat in the cosy livingroom with walls full of interesting objects: a three metres long baleen, a walrus scull with long teeth, different wood carvings, and two narrow kayak paddles. The families of Carl and Naina come from Scandinavia, Russia and Aleutians.
Aldona and Tom living opposite the harbour invited us to their home, and we spent a pleasant evening in their beautiful house. They lived nine years in their sailboat Equinoix, of which three in Valdez. We got again good tips and a lot to think about. Now we are considering Valdez instead of Cordova as a wintering place.

Kristiina on the front page of Kodiak Daily Mirror!

The massive stove of banja gave perfect steamheat

As nice time we have had in Kodiak, it's getting very expensive in the harbour and it's time to move on. Next we are heading to Geographic Bay located on the Alaska Peninsula. There should be a lot of bears. Harbour Master Marty pointed out several sheltered anchorages on Kodiak, Afognak and Shuyak islands, so there is plenty to explore.

24.8.2003 Geographic Harbor, Alaska
kodiakkarttareitti.gif (64791 tavu(a))Click the map to see our route on Kodiak and over the Shelikoff strait to Alaska peninsula.

The past week in the nature harbours has been magnificent: superb scenery, sheltered anchorages, smoked salmon, blueberries and lots of animals - best of which the bears. Wait until we get to an internet and put all the bear photos on the homepage!
But lets start from the beginning. We didn't go right away bear viewing, because the forecest promised hard winds. Instead, we motored to the Izhut Bay on Afognak Island, where we found a perfect anchorage. On high tide we managed to hop over a shallow bank into a round bay, which was like a Finnish lake. High spruce trees were growing down to water edge. The mirrow calm water was broken only by salmon jumps and a couple of sea otters, who came to see who entered their territory. On our way we had catch our first salmon, and we smoked it in our little smoke-box. That was delicious! We stayed three nights in the bay, and during that time also the forecasted wind wiped over with rain.
One evening a young bear appeared to the shore and swam over to a little knoll opposite us. It climbed up and ate something from a bush. We went later to see what the bear had eaten, it was a blueberry bush. We had been looking for blueberries - on ground. But we should have look up, here the blueberries grow in bush. Neat, you don't hurt you back when berrypicking. Well, the bear had finished that bush, but on our next anchorage we found a lot of blueberries and got several litres in no time.
The last weeks activities include also a visit to the Kitoy Bay hatchery. Salmons are fertilized there, in a rather cruel way, by cutting their stomacs open, taking the eggs or milt and mixing them. The Pacific salmon will die after spawning, unlike the Atlantic salmon, which maybe explains why the fish are killed instead of milking them. Fertilized eggs are hatched in rich-oxygen water. 
After emerging the fry is kept in fresh water tanks for a various period, some species as long as one year. The young man introducing the hatchery to us maneioned so many figures that we were confused, but if we didn't get it all wrong, there were 35.000 salmon waiting in the end of the bay to be "operated". One female carries some 1600 eggs, and the fertilation percentage is high, 80-90, so the hatchery produces millions of salmon every year. After some years the salmon will return to its birth waters, and in turn, might end to the cutting table. The hatchery is located in the river estuary, but the river is blocked so that the fish end up circling the bottom of the bay, where it is easy to catch. Part of the salmon fry will be carried to various lakes in Alaska. Fishermen are paying a percentage of their income to maintain the hatchery.
One night we spent among the sea otters. Sea otter is a funny creature. It swims and floats on its back. Belly functions as a table from where it's handy to grab mouthfulls with the little pawns. When the sea otter wants to see further, it streches it's neck up from the water like a hairy skittle. Also a whale was spending the night with us. We heard the long and strong blows from the dark night.
On Friday we left the Kodiak Islands behind us and crossed the infamous but narrow (only 30 nm) Shelikoff Strait with beautiful weather: sunny and 10-15 knot southerly wind. The Geographic Harbor is a unic place to see the bears from close distance. Not alone, though, since the place is not favoured by bears only but humans as well. Ysterday there were eight nature photographers with huge objectives and a group of six people with a guide on the strand. But that is why you get close to the bears, they are used to people. Alone we would not have gone even to the shore, now encouraged by the others, we were as close as one-twp metres. Wriing this there are two motor boats and three aeroplanes moored in the bay (which is not a good anchorage for the uneven and deep bottom). Tourists are getting here by small sea planes. Today the spot was also visited by two rangers.

Cubs looking for the mom

Bears come to the river mouth to eat the migrating salmon. There are various ways to fish. One is sitting on the bank, diving from there to get a catch. Other is wading in the river rushing every now and then after a fish. Although bear has bad eyesight, it sees close quite well. The bear fishing from the embankment was quite far from the water, but it must have been suitable distance for it to see the salmons. It was concentrating on the water before the dive. And got a fish pretty often. Bears started to fish early in the morning, having a siesta during the high tide, when fishing gets harder in the deep water. Today the high tide was in the midday, perfect for the hot day. One moved from the bushes to sleep in the water, obviously cooler there. The cubs are playing rather than seriously fishing. Usually they get the fish from the mother, sometimes with a fight. The males have a rank, sometimes someone gets chased or an angry growl. Yesterday there were 10, today 18 bears at the same time.
These bears are brown bears, same than we have in Finland, and smaller than the Kodiak bear. They weight 150-250 kg. Some of the males we saw were at least that big, maybe even bigger. Female gives birth to 2-3 small size cubs, and nurses them for three years. Bear is defined as a beast, and some species, for instance the Kodiak bear, are the largest living land beasts. On the point, one photographer was advising us not to generalise the behaviour of a bear by these ones. Elsewhere a bear can be dangerous. It either runs away or attacks when meeting people. So it's best to continue noise-making in the forest.

We have two weeks more in the wonderful nature before we have to be in Seward, meeting Hannu's brother Jaakko and Teijo, a friend of ours (and the commodore of our yacht club) who are coming for one week's visit.

1.9.2003 Seward, Alaska
The previous update was late because connection problems (there was a power break in Helsinki.) 
The month in Alaska has been uncredible wonderful. Every anchorage has surprised us somehow, with new animals or different scenery. After the bear bay, we stopped in a couple of places on the Alaska Peninsula before sailing back to the northernmost island of Kodiak Islands, the Shuyak. It's a state park, which means that you can fish, camp, boat, kayak and hike. There are tracks and four rental cottages. Park is monitored by rangers, two young men, who had a nice wooden lodge, big and new, which we visited. We didn't see any bears on Shuyak, but that was only good. On the previous anchorage at Hidden Bay we barely got to the shore because the bears were constantly walking around the bay not paying any attention to our shouting. On Shuyak we saw some tracks of bear, but not the animals. It was nice to walk along the trails. The forest was like in a fairytale: old odd-looking spruce tree covered with soft moss. Even we made noise, we managed to see three deers.
On Shuyak we invented a new catch method: hookfishing. It's quite easy to catch a salmon from the stream by the fish hook. And much more exciting than luring. Besides, you can choose the fish you want. We have been eating smoked, grilled, salted and cooked salmon. 

New catch methd: hook fishing

We would have stayed longer on Shuyak, but the forecast promised hard northerlies after a couple of days, and we had 80 miles ahead of us to the Kenai Peninsula. It seems that weather prediction is difficult here, it changes every six hours. The hard wind never came, but we couldn't take the risk. We motored 14 hours over the calm sea to the mainland, slept, and continued the next day along the coast towards Seward. A new animal sight was a mountain goat. They are so high up on the mountain slopes that only binoculars prove them to be live animals. White spots on the green background are easy to see.
Thunder Bay, our anchorage before Seward, was again very beautiful and different. Waterfalls, one really big one, were running down the steep and high slopes. There were two salmon streams in the inner bay, and black bears this time. They are smaller than the brown bears we saw. But as fat of all the salmon they have eaten. And berries: all the blueberry and cranberry bushes were empty. There was enough salmon for us all, the bears, tens of screaming sea gulls and us. So we went hookfishing. First we had to noise the two fishing black bears away. Their big, fat asses jumping they run into the bushes. Hannu went to the river, Auli remained in the dinghy with camera. Suddenly we heard growling on the spruce tree above the river, and two angry black bear faces were peeping through the branches! So it was proved that a bear can climbe a tree. There they continued arguing against the intruder. Hannu almost escaped to the dinghy, but hold his mind cool and got a fish. We left, leaving the stream with its tens of salmons to the bears.
There was a tiny, shrinken glacier in Thunder Bay. We walked to it and took a piece of ice. Later we saw a wolverine on the beach. When the dim started to turn in, we made a fire of drift wood and sat there with black bear mother and three cubs fishing salmon the low tide had captured in the stream only 150 metres from us.

6.9.2003 Seward, Alaska
We know three people from Alaska, and two of them, Andy and Lisa from sv Indefatigable are sailing somewhere between NZ and Hawaii. Third person, Nina, walked to us on the harbour dock! We met Nina in New Zealand in November 2002, when she was selling her gorgeous wooden sailing boat built in the beginning of 20th century. Knowing a local changes always everything. We can use shower in the yacht club instead the yacky two-dollar public shower. And the best: Nina offered to drive us to the Anchorage airport to meet our visitors, Hannu's brother Jaakko and our friend Teijo. Namely, it's not that easy to travel here. Public transportation is limited and the schedules didn't match. The only car rental company asks 150 dollars for one day. It will be interesting to find out how we get the men to airport from Whittier, the place we have planned as our destination. After the tourist season there is no public transportation at all from Whittier to Anchorage (the last train goes two days, and the last bus one day before the guys leave!), there is no taxis or rental cars.

Nina works on a tug boat. Unbelievable to meet by coincidence!

Also the 3000 inhabitants' Seward lives on tourism. Between May and September four big cruising ships visit the town every week. There are tens of smaller and bigger charter companies. Tourists are taken out to the fjord to see glaciers, marine mammals and scenery. There are fishing tours and kayak rentals. The shore side is full of RVs. Seward is the end of highway, about 200 km (130 miles) from Anchorage, a 2,5 hour drive. Naturally, tourism affects the town image. There is a "tourist-village" near the harbour: charter offices, bars, cafés, restaurants and souvenier shops. The atmosphere is totally different than in Kodiak. We got a slip from the charter boat dock, where nobody says hi or comes to chat.
But there are some positive things too, for instance a sauna! Seward's vocational college has a sport hall and sauna for four dollars. Stones are hot and there is a real sauna bucket for water. Yesterday we met there a girl with a Finnish last name, Nikkari. However, the third generation American didn't speak any Finnish.
Now we are eagerly waiting for Jaakko and Teijo (and rye bread). We hope that the guys get as pleasant weather as we have had: 15 deg C and clear skies. Our intention is to spend the week in Prince William Sound (see tha map above), which is said to be the most beautiful place on this area.

Hannu climbed to Mt. Marathon, which is raced every 4. of July 
It took three hours for Hannu, the race record is 43 minutes!


14.9.2003 Whittier, Alaska
Jaakko and Teijo arrived to the Anchorage airport on schedule on Sunday evening bags full of books, magazines, rye bread, salmiak, koskenkorva and greetings. On Monday we stayed in Seward, tried to catch some salmon among other things. Because salmon doesn't eat when spawning, the style was similar to our hook fishing: there is only a hook and weight you throw into water hoping that the hook finds a fish. So special and new style that finally we had to buy a salmon from the guy next to us. It costed 10 dollars, the fishing license 10, and hooks another 10, so it became quite a costly fish. But tasty! 
On Tuesday we started to head towards Prince William Sound. We have had wonderful weather the whole week, but bear viewing has limited to one shy black bear. Also catching salmon from the rivers didn't go as planned: now salmons are really dying or dead. Rivers stink far of the rotten fish that is lying in the water and along the shores. All our smoking wood has stayed untouched. Instead of smoking salmon we have grilled sausages.
Offshore we saw some Steller sealions. They are around 1000 kilos, big and fat, much bigger than the sealions we saw on the Galapagos Islands. When we entered Prince William Sound along the narrow Bainbridge Passage, a whale research boat was calling us asking for any whale sights. Later we saw four humpbacks, which we reported to the researchers.
A new and magnificient scenery was a glacier. We motored to Icy Bay, full of ice - of course. Ice blocks - or bergy bits - were much smaller than in Greenland, but we managed to moor Kristiina along one piece (don't do this, the ice blocks can turn around). In the end of Icy Bay was active Chenega glacier, which means that bits of ice are constantly falling off - with a big bang. In front of the glacier was a dense area full of ice, and a lot of seals sunbathing on the ice floats. As we had four people onboard, we took some photos of Kristiina in front of the ice - as all the high latitude sailors do.

Teijo went for a swim every morning (the water is about 5-8 deg C) and got finally Auli to join him. We'll see if Auli's old habit of winter swimming will continue after the guests have left.

Ice swimmer Teijo

...and fire
Auli and two times Aulin

The week has gone quickly. We motored to Whittier (population about 300) from where a friend of Nina, Anna, will take Jaakko and Teijo to Anchorage. There is no other transportation than private cars out of Whittier either. The town was once built as a military base. Presently it is famous of being the ugliest place in Alaska - not for vain. Well, that is one kind of sight, too.
After the guys are gone we will continue exploring the Prince William Sound.


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