Notes for Alaska – 2014
From Tom and Vicky Jackson, Sunstone
These notes supplement and in some cases amend information from our notes from 2011.
We have now sailed three times from New Zealand to Alaska, by three different routes. Each has its advantages and disadvantages.
Route 1. The most common route is that from New Zealand to Papeete, Tahiti, to Hawaii, to either Kodiak or Sitka, depending on how much of Alaska one wishes to cruise or has time for. In order to arrive in Alaska at the beginning of the cruising season in early June it is advisable to leave New Zealand no later than mid-April, by which time the chances of a late cyclone are very small. This also means that the chance of a May or early June hurricane, in the northern hemisphere, are also lower than if one leaves later.
Though a good deal longer than Route 2, this route has the advantage of two stops which divide the route into three passages of similar ‘digestible’ length, around 2,000 miles. In addition, it is the most popular because it makes the most of the historically common weather conditions so long as one makes good easting from New Zealand before heading up through the southeast trade winds to Tahiti. Similarly from Tahiti it is wise to make easting south of the equator before the trades take a more northerly slant above it. If the northeast Pacific high is established this should give predominantly southerlies on the way from Hawaii to Alaska once out of the trades. However, early in the season there is a likelihood of encountering at least one strong depression in the north Pacific.
Route 2. The shortest of the three routes is that straight north from New Zealand through Micronesia to the Aleutians or possibly Kodiak. There are a variety of possible stops in the southern half of this route, in Fiji, Tuvalu and Kiribati. However, apart from Fiji, none of these stops offers much opportunity for provisioning or repairs, though refuelling is possible. The slow process of clearance in and out at some of these nations also means that ‘pit stops’ of short duration are not easy. The most useful stop is at Majuro in the Marshall Islands, which is almost exactly halfway in the whole route. For an island nation it has relatively good stocks and good communications with the USA for parts. (See specific notes below)
The weather on this route can be somewhat trying. Once again it is wise to depart New Zealand by latest mid-April, keeping a close eye on the pattern of the southern cyclone season, as late storms can brew up quickly in the Solomons or on the Queensland coast and swing eastwards across the route. Once into the trade winds, conditions are likely to be favourable until one reaches the ITCZ . The zone can be quite broad at this time of year with light, often contrary, winds. We found that there was also considerable contrary current to the west of the Tuvalu and Kiribati island chain. It may be worth trying the east side of the chain in the hope of more favourable conditions. Once through the ITCZ the trades are likely to have a more northerly component, though at first they are often easterly and relatively light. The Marshall Islands have little history of tropical storms from either north or south. However, as one sails into the north Pacific it is possible that the remains of an early typhoon may swing through from Japan.
The major disadvantage of this route, apart from the 3,000 mile length of the two passages, is that from the Marshalls northwards one will be on the wind for most of the time until reaching about 30 degrees north latitude and perhaps much higher. Though the winds are not generally strong this can be tedious. Once in the temperate zone, the likelihood of depressions crossing the north Pacific increases. If the northeast Pacific high is not too strong these depressions can give several days of moderate to strong favourable southerlies. However, there is also the likelihood of at least one strong depression which will cause a steep gradient ‘squash zone’ giving very strong though favourable winds.
Route 3. The third route is via the western Pacific islands and Japan. Once again there are a variety of options for stops in the southern half of this route, depending on how far west one wishes to go. Few cruisers opting for this route intend to go from New Zealand or Australia to the Aleutians in a single season. The major advantage of the route is the variety of interesting stops available and the relatively short length of the passages between them. However, in terms of reaching Alaska for cruising, the major disadvantage is that realistically one is unlikely to leave Japan before the end of May or early June. Once one has passed along the Aleutian chain, with or without stops, there is little of the short Alaskan cruising season left to explore the rest of this huge cruising area. As a result, one has three choices: accept that the cruise of Alaska will be relatively hurried, or winter over in Alaska and continue cruising the following summer, or winter in southern Alaska or British Columbia and return north the following season. The other important disadvantage of this route is that it is very cold, often very foggy and is on the great circle shipping route from western North America to Asia.
Few of the cruisers we know who have cruised Alaska for one season do not go back for at least one more. This is worth bearing in mind when choosing a route.
Please see our 2011 notes for more details regarding Route 3.
Majuro is the capital island of the Republic of the Marshall Islands. It has a chequered history as a colony and a protectorate. The Republic is now an independent nation, but has close links with the USA, which maintains bases at Majuro and Kwajalein. The islands were battlegrounds during WWII; Bikini and Enewetak atolls were used for numerous nuclear tests by the USA in the post-war period. Of the Pacific island nations which we have visited, the Marshalls have the best opportunities for re-provisioning and repair services of any, other than Fiji and the French colonial possessions.
Because it is outside both the northern and southern tropical storm belts the Marshalls, and particularly Majuro, have become popular with cruisers who wish to escape the cyclone and typhoon seasons but do not want to go to more temperate destinations, such as New Zealand. The town and harbour lie at the eastern end of the lagoon. The lagoon is generally clear of dangers. Those that exist are well marked, as is the pass. Charting is very accurate. The harbour is extensively used by large fishing vessels and their accompanying processing ships.
Clearance inwards is straight-forward with immigration, customs and the port authority. It is best to clear during office hours as otherwise overtime may be charged. Citizens of many, but not all countries are granted 30 day visas on entry, which may be extended on application. For more and up-to-date details, go to noonsite.com. Officials expect you to be ‘properly dressed’ when visiting them; longer skirts for women and no bare shoulders; trousers and collared shirts for men. In theory Officials wish to visit the boat before departure, but this may not be enforced. We understood that sometimes officials said they wished to visit the boat and then did not turn up. We said that we would have no dinghy available to take them out and this was accepted.
There are now two sizeable mooring fields in the harbour at Majuro. Most moorings are taken on a seasonal or semi-permanent basis, however, locally based cruisers will usually find room for new visitors even if it means moving occasionally. There is a well-established cruiser network in the harbour, supported by Cary and Karen on ‘Seal’, who are locally based. There is a daily net on VHF Channel 71. The moorings are well sheltered from the prevailing easterlies, but can become uncomfortable when an occasional westerly brings fetch the 20 mile length of the lagoon. Moorings are very inexpensive. Charges are paid to a port authority, which shares an office with Western Union opposite the Tidetable Hotel and Restaurant, near the northern mooring field.
Dinghies can be left with reasonable security at Shoreline, near the northern mooring field, where fuel is also available. Drinking water is in short supply on the island. For those without a water-maker, a rain catching-system is essential; there is usually plenty of rain. Otherwise water is available commercially from several sources, the cheapest of which is $2 for 5 US gallons. There are two large supermarkets. General food stocks are good, but fresh produce arrives only weekly usually on Saturdays. There is little or no locally grown food. Wifi Internet access is available free at the Payless supermarket with a purchase from the café; it is slow. A somewhat faster connection is available at the Tidetable Hotel, but this is $5/hour. If staying for a longer time, it may be worth buying an antenna, in which case wifi can be accessed in the mooring field through a local company. Propane is available at the western end of town, a longish taxi ride away. Taxis, however, are cheap, and can be hailed anywhere, but are shared. Car taxis are $0.75 per person for any trip. Van taxis are $0.50 per person for any trip. There is an Ace Hardware store, which is well stocked and has some basic marine supplies. Otherwise, parts must be ordered from the USA. The Marshall Islands are on the US postal and telephone systems, though deliveries come via Hawaii and can take some time to arrive.
The islanders are generally friendly and helpful. Most speak a least some English. Like the capital islands of many island nations, Majuro is overcrowded and has inadequate housing and infrastructure for its relatively large population. Cruisers we spoke to who had spent some time in Majuro said that they tried to get away often to some of the outer islands, which are far more pleasant. There are excellent opportunities for divers at some of the other islands. However, it is necessary to get a permit for visits to each other island and we understood that some of the islands charge high fees for anchoring. Local advice should be sought.
Tides run very strongly through the Aleutian Islands passes. In some cases at springs it would be very difficult for many yachts to make headway against the flow and in wind against current conditions some passes become dangerous. When choosing a pass for entry to the Bering Sea, suitable account should be taken of the likely state of tide. We have found that tides and currents (where available) are reasonably accurately predicted by both CMap and the Admiralty ‘Total Tide’ programs, so long as the computer is set to the correct time zone and time. Merely setting the time, but not the zone will give incorrect readings
We would wish to emphasise the point we made in our 2011 notes, that the NOAA Alaskan Coast Pilot provides excellent and detailed information about almost every useable anchorage on the Alaskan coast. The pilot is down-loadable free from the NOAA site, though some may prefer to buy a paper copy as the down-loaded version is difficult to ‘flip’ or browse through.
Please note too that all NOAA charts are freely down-loadable in electronic format from the NOAA site, usable by Open CPN, though at the time of writing we did find that some of the more detailed charts (of Prince William Sound for instance) were not yet available. CMap appears to include the most recent detailed chart information.
For those who have not previously sailed in US waters it should be noted that commercial craft and some pleasure craft as well make far more use of VHF than is customary in Europe. This is particularly true when commercial craft are approaching or passing yachts. The skippers of these vessels will often wish to confirm their intensions. It is essential to have a radio with the US frequencies.
The NOAA VHF weather channel forecasts are very useful, but cannot be picked up everywhere along the coast. We had no luck picking up the forecasts on SSB.
Please see our 2011 notes. All positions for our 2014 cruise are anchorage positions in the prevailing conditions and should therefore be treated with seamanlike caution. Positions are to WGS84 datum. We have checked these positions and believe them to be accurate, but cannot guarantee them.
Dora Harbor , Unimak Is. - 54:42.14N/163:16.52W
This anchorage is an attractive alternative to the Boat Harbor at False Pass, which has a heavily tidal approach and is well off the usual route to the east. Holding is good in sand, 8m. The anchorage is somewhat exposed to the south and southwest, but is otherwise well sheltered. It is popular with fishing boats during the salmon season. This is a good jumping off place for either the inshore route to King Cove and Captain Harbor or the offshore route to the Shumigan Islands. Bears and foxes may be seen along the shore.
The anchorage is well sheltered from north through west to south, but somewhat open to the east and southeast. The holding is only fair in shingle and some sand, 8m. The remains of the abandoned Unga Village to the north of the anchorage are interesting.
We did not visit this anchorage, but were told by those who did that the disused cannery there was interesting and that the caretaker was willing to give a tour. The anchorage is well protected except from the east.
Coal Harbor, Zachary Bay, Unga Island, Shumigan Group – 55:19.83N/160:36.36W
This is a well-protected anchorage from all directions, though there might be some fetch from the northwest in strong winds. The holding is good in mud, 5m. There are extensive drying flats to the south.
Please see our 2011 notes.
Trident has now opened a small store and petrol station near their fish processing plant next to the Boat Harbor. This also has a few basic marine supplies. Wifi is now available at the harbour office.
Cruisers of the southern Alaskan coast need to be prepared for anchoring in deep, sometimes very deep water. It is not unusual to have to anchor in depths of 25m or more on shingley or even rocky bottoms with only fair holding. Unfortunately the contours of many anchorages and often the lack of trees make tying to the shore, as in Patagonia or New Zealand’s Fiordland, generally impractical, though it can be used in a few places. Local cruisers tend to use short lengths of chain and very long rope rodes, sometimes with anchor weights to gain some catenary effect. For those normally using all chain rodes, it may be important to have the ability to extend this with rope. For this reason having a windlass with a capstan as well as gypsy can be useful.
From the Shumigan Islands northeastwards, anchorages are relatively far apart and the only Boat Harbor is at Chignik, well off the route. Several of those anchorages, which are available, are relatively exposed or subject to heavy williwaws in strong winds. Most cruisers we have spoken to have chosen to make longer passages to reach the more congenial anchorages in the Shelikof Strait. Please note that the NOAA VHF weather forecasts cannot be heard once beyond range of Sand Point, until nearing Geographic Harbor.
This is a very well protected and attractive anchorage, with only very small exposure to the southeast. However, it would be windy in strong northwesterlies, which would whistle down the valley at the head. Holding is good in mud and sand, 14m. There is a small river and extensive drying flats at the head, where bears may be seen. The approach is well charted but somewhat intricate.
Geographic Harbor is probably the most well known anchorage on the Alaska Peninsula, both for its scenery and for its bear-viewing opportunities. It is a largish, land-locked bay, situated in the Katmai National Park. It is entered through a narrow channel. Charting for this channel is not precise and care is needed to avoid shoals and a mid-channel rock. The anchorage above is in the northeast corner of the bay next to a small island. It is well protected except from the southwest, though even from that direction there is not excessive fetch. The holding is good in mud, 14m. We viewed bears on the beaches near our anchorage. Many visitors anchor the other side of the bay to the southwest off the mouth of the large river. That anchorage is very deep, 25-30m, with a very steep-to shelf, but does give excellent viewing of the bears, which congregate around the river when the salmon are running. During the salmon-run, float-planes and small tour boats regularly bring tourists to the river area to view the brown bears.
We did not have time to visit these anchorages, but understand from other cruisers that they are also excellent, for scenery, wildlife and protection.
Please see our 2011 notes.
This is a largish bay in which depths vary considerably. There is a very extensive drying flat at the southern end of the bay. Protection is good from east and west, but winds would tend to funnel from north and south. There is a long fetch to the north. Holding is fair in sand and shingle, 14m. In fine weather there are good views of the snow-capped mountains to the south. There are numerous sea otters in the northern approaches to the bay.
This is an attractive anchorage with good protection from all directions except south. Holding is good in mud and sand, 9m. The river in the northwest corner of the bay gives opportunities for dinghy exploration and bears may be seen on its banks. Seiners come into the bay during the salmon season.
This is a small bay with excellent protection. The anchorage is deep, mostly about 22-25m, but holding is good in mud. The major attraction of the anchorage is the salmon hatchery and the bears, which are attracted to the stream by the hatchery, during the salmon season. Other cruisers have reported as many as 30 bears around the stream at any one time. The hatchery is willing to give tours to visitors. These give an excellent insight to the business of the wild salmon fishery in Alaska and how it is maintained and managed.
Please see our 2011 notes.
There have been a few changes in Kodiak since our last visit. If possible, the Boat Harbor office now prefer visitors to give advance notice of arrival, with some indication of length of stay. The office will try to assign a slip rather than sending yachts to the transient dock. Shore facilities are very limited.
The supermarket near the harbor has ceased trading and one must now go to either Safeway or Walmart, which are both about 6km out of town, but have excellent and varied stocks. There is a large and efficient laundromat just off the road out to the supermarkets, about 3km from the town centre. The laundrromat has showers. Quite apart from Ace Hardware there is now a good chandlery. However, the stock is orientated to the fishing fleet. Most other marine services are available in the port.
Free wifi continues to be available at McDonalds and the public library, however, the latter has moved to a location near the schools at the top of the hill, 3km to the northeast of the town centre.
For those inclined there are plenty of hiking and biking opportunities close to Kodiak City or a few kilometres outside the town. The Visitors Center has some useful information. We joined a summer weekend 'group walk' sharing a car ride to the start of the walk some 10km out of town; details were at the Visitors Center. The Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge Visitors Center also has excellent information about Kodiak wildlife. The Alutiiq Museum provides interesting displays of the 7,500-year heritage of Kodiak's indigenous Alutiiq people.
Please note that St. Paul Harbor can be approached from either the southwest or northeast, but that the latter approach involves passing under a bridge with 30.8m vertical clearance. We know of a number of cruisers who have wintered in Kodiak or left their boats for the winter, either in the water or hauled out ashore
Seward is a town of about 3,000. It is a popular tourist and cruise ship destination, partly because it has good road and rail links to Anchorage, the largest city in Alaska (300,000 approx.). There is a large modern Boat Harbor, which has predominantly pleasure craft, though there are also fishing and tour boats. Berthing is initially on a transient dock (F), but harbour staff may assign a slip for longer stays if available.
Passage up Resurrection Bay is straight-forward as is entry to the Boat Harbor. Summer winds in the bay are generally predictable with a light northerly at night until mid-morning, followed by a southerly sea-breeze in the afternoon and early evening. The latter can reach 25 knots or more at times, but is generally less.
There are haul-out and hard-standing facilities as well as other marine services. There is a fuel dock in the harbour as well as two petrol stations nearby. There is a small yacht club. There are rudimentary public showers in the same building as the harbour office. There are numerous fishing charter boats operating from the harbour as well as larger tour boats. There is a large Safeway supermarket within moderate walking distance, about 1.5km, from the harbour. There are two large hardware stores with some basic marine supplies.
The train station is near the harbour. The train ride to Anchorage is reported to be very scenic, but also pricey. Hire cars are available. The drive to Anchorage takes about 2.5 hours.
For those using Seward as a jumping off point for a cruise in Prince William Sound, local yachties are very willing and able to give advice. Seward is a long day sail from the entrances to Prince William Sound. There are a few anchorages, which may be used, on the way in fair to moderate weather.
Prince William Sound is an outstanding cruising area. It has varied scenery, wonderful wildlife and scores of anchorages. There are many beautiful tidewater glaciers, though most have receded a good deal in recent years. There are many salmon streams. Sea otters, seals, seal lions, whales, Dall’s porpoises, orcas and a wide variety of birds are all to be seen within the Sound. There are three small towns in the Sound, Whittier, Cordova and Valdez. All have basic supplies and services. Whittier has easy road and rail access to Anchorage. Cordova has only ferry and air services. Valdez has ferry, air and road connections, though it is still quite isolated. The latter is a major oil trans-shipment port.
We have not visited Valdez, which is well known because of its association with the huge Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989. There are no vestiges of that spill remaining. Though wildlife was significantly impacted at the time, the general view seems to be that the creatures of the Sound have pretty much returned to their pre-spill levels. Certainly anyone visiting the Sound for the first time would never guess that there had been a spill at all.
The summer weather in the Sound is generally benign, though there are often extended periods of rain. From the sailing point of view, this does mean a good deal of motoring as the winds are often very light. Many of the anchorages involve some challenging pilotage through rock-bound entrances. However, there is an excellent guide, which we would consider essential for a cruise of the Sound, Jim and Nancy Lethcoe’s, Cruising Guide to Prince William Sound. The guide gives excellent coverage and detailed guidance on entry and anchoring positions for all the many coves and harbours. There is also extensive guidance on hiking opportunities, though we would caution that most of these are not on trails, but are wilderness treks requiring fitness, fortitude, patience, (probably a machete), and a willingness to face down bears if necessary! Because the guide is so comprehensive we do not intend to repeat its detailed guidance, but will give only basic descriptions of anchorages.
Most cruisers enter the Sound through one of its western passages. These all have strong tidal flows, but are generally not afflicted with overfalls or heavy wave action except in very strong wind against tide conditions. There are several anchorages in the Port Bainbridge area, to the west of the passages, in which it is possible to anchor waiting for favourable conditions. If approaching from Southeast Alaska, entrance to the Sound would be through Hinchinbrook Entrance between Montague and Hinchinbrook Islands. This entrance has a designated Fairway and Separation Zone for the large tankers which enter and leave for Valdez. Hinchinbrook Passage has dangerous overfalls.
Most information in our notes for Prince William Sound and Southeast Alaska is based on our 2014 cruise, but some, less detailed information, with only approximate positions, is from 2002, where indicated.
The cove requires careful pilotage past the rocks guarding the entrance. There is adequate swinging room inside, but care is needed setting the anchor as holding is fair at best on a rocky bottom in 19m. Otter Cove lives up to its booking for wildlife viewing; we saw harbor seals, sea otters, bald eagles and a black bear on the beach. The cove is a convenient stop for those who have just made the tide in through Bainbridge Passage, as the remainder of the northern end of the Passage is less tidal than the narrower southern section. Leaving the cove the following morning we also saw humpback whales feeding in Knight Island Passage.
Seven Fathom Hole, Jackpot Bay – 60:21.8N/148:13.5W (Approx. – 2002)
This is a very well protected, land-locked anchorage with very good holding, 12m.
Ewan Bay – 60:23.7N/148:09.1W (Approx. – 2002)
This is a well-protected anchorage tucked behind a small island, after some careful pilotage. The holding is only fair on a rocky bottom, 8m, with a stern line to a tree on the island. The primary attraction of the anchorage is the reversing tidal waterfall or ‘skookum chuck’ into the lagoon 0.5 nm north of the anchorage.
Nellie’s Rest – 60:28.4N/148:19.2W (Approx. – 2002)
This is formerly known as the Nellie Juan Anchorage and is not named on the chart. The cove is narrow and tight. However, holding is very good in mud and clay, 10m. This an excellent spot from which to explore the Nellie Juan Glacier, either by dinghy, entering over the moraine at higher tide or by bush-bashing around the lagoon. The latter is challenging!
Ziegler Cove – 60:50.1N/148:19.1W (Approx. – 2002)
Good protection except from the south to southwest. Good holding in mud and clay, 17m. This is a convenient anchorage from which to explore the glaciers in Barry Arm or, for a very long-day, right up College Fjord.
The entrance to the Boat Harbor is just below the distinctive, grey building on the shore, The Inn at Whittier, and just before the cruise ship terminal. The entrance is quite narrow with a sharp turn to port around a floating breakwater and leaving the fuel dock to starboard. The first dock, A, is the transient dock, however, if the harbour office is called on VHF 68 beforehand, they will try to assign a slip. Passage Canal is subject to strong, gusty winds, which may make the approach difficult at times. During the salmon season the Boat Harbor is generally very full. There are very limited facilities ashore.
Whittier was originally built as a military base and its peculiar housing arrangements, with virtually all its 300 full-time residents living in a single high-rise block reflect this history. There are some basic supplies available. There are bus and train services to Anchorage. It may be possible to hire a car, but prior reservations may be needed. There are some tourist facilities and fishing charters. Whittier has a well-earned reputation for cloud and rain, but on a sunny day it is a very scenic setting.
The cove has a fairly narrow entrance which must be carefully identified. Approach to the anchorage above is easy. Holding is fair in shingle and some mud,14m. The anchorage is attractively set in a natural amphitheatre. There are islets to explore to the south within the cove.
The cove is entered through a dogleg among rocks. Once inside approach to the anchorage is straight-forward. Holding is fair on a shingley bottom, 18m. There is striking, high scenery around the cove, with some flatter stretches at the head for exploration on foot.
Barry Arm off Port Wells, just before College Fjord, is probably the most convenient and easiest access of the glacier-viewing spots in Prince William Sound. Though almost all the glaciers have receded significantly since our first visit in 2002, you can still get close enough to get a good sense of their scale, texture, sound and movement. Because there are few good anchorages near the glaciers, Barry Arm is conveniently close to anchorages further south.
This winding and in places narrow passage east of Esther Island provides a useful short-cut to reach anchorages further east and south from Port Wells. The passage is well charted, generally deep and scenically attractive.
Approach to the anchorage is easy, but avoid the shallower area at the head toward the cascade. Holding is fair in shingle and some mud, 12m.
The anchorage is toward the small peninsula on the eastern shore well down the bay. This is one of three possible anchorages in the bay. Shelter is good except from the northwest. Holding is fair in shingle, 12m. One of the attractions of Perry Island is that it is generally considered bear-free, so that hiking is somewhat less constrained.
The cove is approached through a very narrow, rocky entrance which is partly over-hung by trees. The least depth we saw on a fairly low tide was 4m. Our cap shroud did just push aside the branch a tree. The cove is otherwise land-locked and gives good shelter. Holding is fair in shingle with some mud, 20m.
Marsha Cove, Knight Island – 60:20.5N/147:40.7W (Approx. – 2002)
The bay is approached through a rock-bound entrance. Once inside there is very good protection. The anchorage above is in the small eastern bight of the Bay. Holding is moderate in mud and shingle, 13m.
This is one of our favourite anchorages in Prince William Sound. The approach is deep and easy around a pair of wide doglegs. The anchorage gives very good shelter from all winds. Holding is fair in shingle with some mud, 19m. The surroundings are very attractive with high, but not overwhelming cliffs and two large streams at the head, one of them teeming with salmon. There are scores of bald eagles and we have seen both black bears and harbor seals.
The anchorage is very well protected, though winds from the east and west would probably blow fairly strongly down its length. The bottom is of even depth and has very good holding mud, 16m. There is a smaller tighter cove at the western end, which is fed by several streams, one of which runs down from a small lake. There are salmon in season and harbor seals.
Unfortunately this outstanding feature of Prince William Sound is much diminished and receded since 2002. It is still a huge glacier, but because it is now so far receded it is quite a trek to get anywhere near it. The description in the cruising guide of the reasons for its rapid recession is fascinating.
Long Bay – 60:59.4N/147:16.5W (Approx. – 2002)
This anchorage is in the eastern bight of the west arm of the bay. Shelter is very good except perhaps from the south. Holding is very good in mud, 13m. There is a large salmon stream at the head where bears and bald eagles may be seen. This is a buggy anchorage when there is little wind.
The anchorage has an easy approach and is well sheltered from most winds. It is very steep-sided, surrounded by cliffs and sheer slopes. Holding is good in mud, 13m.
Comfort Cove, Port Gravina – 60:42.8N/146:05.5 (Approx. – 2002)
The entrance to the cove is narrow but clear. There is good shelter from most winds. Holding is good in mud, 12m.
This is a largish bay with a wide deep approach. Beyond the island the depths become fairly even, but shoal well before the head. The bay is sheltered from most winds except strong south to southwesterlies. Day breezes blow into the bay but fade at evening. Holding is very good in mud, 7m. There is a large salmon stream at the head. There are lots of harbor seals.
The approach looks wide but is restricted by a shoal to the south. There is then deep water until a shoal off the northern point of the narrower entrance passage. Anchorage is toward the further narrow entrance to Bear Paw Cove. The area to the south toward the Cascade and large salmon stream is shoal for some distance from the head. There is excellent shelter in this land-locked anchorage, though day breezes do come down the length of the bay. Holding is very good in mud, 12m. The salmon stream attracts wildlife of all kinds, as well as freshwater fishermen, as the stream extends some way up a valley. The anchorage is in a dramatic and scenic setting.
Cordova is the most isolated of the Prince William Sound towns, as it has no road links to the rest of Alaska, only air and ferry services, which are considerably curtailed in winter. However, it is a major fishing port and very busy in the summer.
Approach to the Boat Harbor is through one of two channels from the northeast. The West Channel is quite shallow in parts but is well marked. The Orca Channel to the Gulf of Alaska should only be attempted in settled weather and with detailed local guidance or assistance. G Dock is the transient dock, though the harbourmaster may assign a slip if available. Call on VHF 68. There is no fuel dock in the harbour, though there is one outside. There are showers at the harbour office. There is a well-stocked supermarket adjacent to the harbour and other smaller stores in the high street up the hill. Both the Napa store and the hardware store in town stock some marine supplies. Internet is available at the library and at one or two cafes.
Though the town is fairly rough-and-ready, we know of a number of cruisers, particularly those with children, who have been very happy wintering in Cordova. The children were welcomed at the local school. Cordova often has very heavy snow in winter as well as strong winds.
This cove is a convenient stop when entering or leaving Prince William Sound through the Hinchinbrook Passage. The anchorage is well sheltered from most winds. Holding is fair to good in 7m once the anchor is set. However, there is considerable kelp on the bottom over mud. Since the major oil spill, a tug and barge are permanently moored in Port Etches near the anchorage, as spill-response vessels.
This entrance to Prince William Sound has strong tides and an uneven bottom, which produces overfalls and standing waves even in calm weather. In addition, there is a fairway for large vessels entering and leaving the Sound. We found the smoothest water to be relatively close in to the eastern point and Cape Hinchinbrook. In wind against tide conditions we believe this passage would be very dangerous.
In summer, if the northeast Pacific high is set in the Gulf, this should generally be an easy passage with moderate fair winds. However, if low pressure settles in the Gulf, persistent easterlies can make the passage unpleasant. Close inshore there is often fog. In clear weather there are spectacular views to be had of the coastal mountains, including Mount Fairweather, which rises over 4,000 m quite close to the coast. Approaching Cape Spencer there are also a number of tidewater glaciers. We know of a few cruisers who have entered Icy Bay and Lituya Bay. The former is well named and can have significant amounts of floating ice, as well as fog. The entrance to Lituya should only be attempted in settled weather at slack high water. Lituya is famous for the colossal wave which was generated by a huge landslide in the Bay. The wave washed 1,500’ up a cliff in the Bay. The coast pilot warns that landslides are common the Bay.
Tides run very strongly in the entrance to Cross Sound at Cape Spencer and there are significant tidally generated waves even in calm weather. The entrance is wide, but the bottom is quite uneven and shallow in places. There is often fog in the morning. The natural first port of call in Cross Sound is Elfin Cove. Care is needed to avoid the areas of shoals among the islands in the approaches to Elfin.
We would urge anyone intending to cruise Southeast Alaska and British Columbia, to obtain a copy of the most recent edition of ‘Exploring the Inside Passage to Alaska; A cruising Guide from the San Juan Islands to Glacier Bay’, by Don Douglass & Reanne Hemingway-Douglass. This cruising guide gives excellent detailed guidance not only on most of the accessible anchorages among the hundreds in the area, it also gives guidance to many of the intricate passages. The only caveat we would offer in its use is that the research was undertaken in a relatively shallow draft motor yacht and some of the anchoring depths suggested are optimistic!
Copies of this guide are still available through Amazon and some other booksellers, but we understand that it is no longer printed. Instead there are a variety of other guides by the Douglasses, published by Fine Edge, which cover the same area, but in somewhat greater detail. 'Exploring Southeast Alaska, Dixon Entrance to Skagway' (2007) is particularly useful.
Elfin Cove is a very small harbour. It is best to come in through the eastern entrance, which is narrow, but deep. Keep an eye and ear out astern, as float planes also use the entrance as a landing strip! The transient dock is straight ahead of the entrance. Rafting up is expected if necessary. The fuel dock is west of the transient float. If there is no room at the transient dock, it is possible to go into the inner harbour and anchor in the pool at the far inner end. However, the passage is very narrow and shallow. Most yachts could only access the inner harbour toward high water. There is no charge at the transient dock.
Elfin Cove is an attractive boardwalk village. During the summer there are sufficient visitors to support fishing charters and lodges, but there are only a dozen or so inhabitants in winter. There is a small general store, a laundromat with showers and a Post Office. There are no public telephones, but there is a slow Internet connection; enquire at the store.
This is a well sheltered anchorage, with exposure only to the northwest. In clear weather the setting is very attractive as there is a view down the anchorage toward the snowy peaks and snow field above the huge Brady Glacier. Holding is good in mud,10m. The tides run very strongly around and through the Inian Islands and there is often fog in the morning.
The approaches to the Boat Harbor at Hoonah are straight-forward. There is a public dock outside the Boat Harbor, which is somewhat exposed to the west, but otherwise protected. The fuel dock is nearby to the north. In the Boat Harbor itself, transient moorage is along the dock closest to the northern breakwater. There is very shallow water in the northeast corner of the harbor and along the inner section of the northern side of the transient dock.
Hoonah is one of the largest Tlingit settlements in Alaska. It has become a cruise ship destination. The ships anchor off Cannery Point. The Cannery is now a visitors’ centre where native crafts and culture are displayed or dramatised. There are showers and laundry facilities at the harbour office. There is a small supermarket in the town. Internet access is available at the library, which is in the school building a short walk from the harbour.
This anchorage is well protected from most winds except perhaps strong winds from the southwest to west. Care must be taken to avoid crab pot buoys, which are mostly on the north side of the cove. Holding is reasonably good in shingle and some mud, but the anchor needs careful setting, 20m.
There are two other mooring alternatives in Funter Bay, either at the public float along the southern shore or in Coot cove in the northwestern section. The latter is also well sheltered, except perhaps from stronger winds from the south to southwest.
The Boat Harbor at Auke Bay is the most popular transient harbour in the Juneau area, some 20 kilometres from Juneau City. Though the other harbours in Gastineau Strait are much closer to the capital city, they involve a longish passage from anywhere else of interest. In addition, with the exception of Douglas Boat Harbor, the two others are located north of a bridge, which has an official clearance of only 51’. We were told that the mean low water clearance is 62’. However, this would still make these harbours inaccessible to many cruisers.
In Auke Bay Boat Harbor, Docks C, D and E are all available for transient moorage on a first-come-first-served basis. Maximum stay in any one berth is ten days, but in fact some boats merely move berth regularly in order to stay much longer. Space is usually most available on E Dock, however, this is also most exposed to passing wash and a long walk from the ramp ashore. Having tied up initially here it is worth looking for a more protected berth further inside. There is a fuelling station at the end of C Dock. There are showers in the harbour office building. Ashore there is a small shop close by and Internet access at the Waffle café north along the road 0.5km, close to a laundromat. The Boat Harbor is several kilometres from the nearest major shopping facilities at Mendenhall Mall. There are frequent bus services, to the malls (Mendenhall and Nugget) and into the city itself.
In many of the most frequented bays and harbors in Southeast Alaska there are public floats or docks at which to tie up rather than having to anchor. The public floats are maintained by the State and are free. Some floats are docks connected to the shore others are not. Many of these floats are in bays or harbors where there is no village or any inhabitants other than bears. However, most towns also have a public float, sometimes in addition to a boat harbor run by the municipality, at which there are charges.
Approach to the harbour is straight-forward, though the tide swirls strong currents around the bay. The bay might be subject to williwaws from the surrounding high ground in strong winds. The float is connected to the shore. A rough track leads to the decaying pier, machinery and buildings of an old cannery. There are no facilities. Taku Harbor is conveniently located in Stephens Passage between Juneau and Tracy Arm or other anchorages in the southern part of the passage.
As its name implies this is a well protected anchorage. It is somewhat off the beaten track and the approach is through a narrow rocky passage in a chain of islands. However, there are few other alternatives at the southern end of Stephens Passage where it joins Frederick Sound. There is good holding in mud, 8m.
There are three Boat Harbors at Petersburg. Visitors are usually directed to a slip in the North Harbor. Call the Harbormaster on VHF16. The tide runs very strongly in the approaches to the docks so it is wise to have clear instructions about the approach to the assigned slip. The current eases significantly once between the docks. There is a shower in the harbour office block and water on the dock.
Petersburg is an attractive and prosperous small town. There is a small supermarket and a laundromat in the main street. There is a larger supermarket about 1 km out of town. The hardware store carries some limited marine supplies. There is a fuel dock near the South Harbor or fuel by jerry can from the small petrol station a short walk from the harbor. There is free, but slow wifi at the library and other wifi options at nearby cafes.
Petersburg is a natural stop for any boat heading south through Wrangell Narrows. If one departs Petersburg 1 to 11/2 hours before high water it is possible to carry fair or slack tide right through the Narrows. The tide runs so strongly in parts of the narrows at springs that many yachts would find it difficult or impossible to make headway against foul current. The narrows are extremely well marked. Quite large ships, including the Alaska State Ferries, use the narrows. Tugs also tow barges and log booms through the Narrows. A good lookout and considerable care are required.
We did not visit Wrangell in 2014. However, several cruisers we know have told us that it is now a very good place to lay up a yacht for the winter if planning to cruise Alaska for more than one season. The services of the local shipyard have been extended, as have the haul-out facilities. The only caution we have heard is that the hard-standing is now sufficiently popular that it is necessary to book well in advance if considering laying up ashore for the winter.
The approach to this small harbour requires some care, but there is good shelter inside at the public float. Rafting may be necessary as the float is small and heavily used by fishing boats in the salmon season. There are some services but these are available only for short periods irregularly. This is a very small community. The greatest activity is around the fishing lodge opposite the public float.
The northern section of the passage is quite narrow and somewhat shallow in places. However, it is well marked and passes through attractive scenery. Tidal currents are not strong. Attempting to transit the narrower sections of the passage in fog would be unwise.
This attractive and well-protected anchorage is entered through a narrow passage with a mid-channel rock, which should be left to starboard entering. Anchorage is found toward the head of the bay. Holding is good in mud, 10m.
This is an undistinguished bay giving good protection from all directions except north. Holding is moderate in mud over shingle, 12m. Holding might be better slightly further east toward the mouth of the stream. There were scores of sea otters in the waters before and after Kaguk Cove.
Craig is a busy fishing port. There are two Boat Harbors, north and south of the town, but transients are usually directed to the outer docks in the north cove. There is a good deal of rafting among the fishing boats during the busy salmon season. If arriving late in the day when the fishing fleet is in there might well be no space at the dock. There is water on the dock and showers ashore at the harbour office block. The harbour office is only manned 0900-1500 weekdays, although a call on the VHF will be answered outside these hours.
Fuel is only available from a fuel dock at the fish processing plant some distance from the harbor or by jerry can from the petrol station. There is a large, well-stocked supermarket close to the harbour, with restaurants and cafes in the West Craig.
This is an attractive, well-protected anchorage. Care must be taken in the approach to avoid shoals off the eastern point. Holding is good in mud, 15m.
This narrow passage leading into Tlevak Strait has exceptionally strong tidal currents, running at 6 knots or more at times. Attempting the passage against a spring tide would by trying and possibly dangerous. When we passed through the northern section of the narrows, we found one red buoy to be missing at approximately 55:16N/133:08W.
The bay has two arms to the east and south. Both offer very good shelter. The above anchorage is in the southern arm, which must be approached with a dogleg to avoid two drying rocks. Beyond this is a good sized pool for anchoring. There is slight exposure to the north, but protection is very good. Holding is good in mud, 16m.
The anchorage has a dogleg entrance and a straight but narrow approach. The entrance to the bay is open to the full force of any weather from Dixon Entrance and the Gulf of Alaska and would not be easy if there were heavier swell running outside. There are strong tidal eddies in the approaches; we saw many larger floating logs so would recommend keeping a good lookout. Inside, protection is good, but some swell might penetrate unless anchoring further inside beyond the small peninsula. The bay is attractive and has some opportunities for dinghy exploration. Holding is moderate in mud and shingle, 15m.