July 7th, 2016

Variety as the Spice of Cruising

We woke to find we were rafted 5-deep with the seine fleet which had come in late to Valdez.  It is small-harbor Alaskan etiquette to let other boats raft to you at the dock.  If you’re on the outside of the raft, however, it’s also etiquette that you move when the boat on the inside wants to go.To make our 0800 departure, we needed them to move.  Jordan Pemberton achieved new heights of dockside popularity by waking up the crews of four seine boats!  It took a half hour of delicate maneuvering, with fishing boats, seine skiffs, and yachts to-ing and fro-ing in the narrow waterway, but we were shortly untangled and on our way.  Not a voice was raised or a flake of paint scratched.  I think the fishermen were pretty impressed with the skill of our captains and crew! They needed to be good, because we sailed into a thick fog bank immediately outside the harbor entrance.  This was a new experience for some, but the radars spun up, the fog horns sounded, and shortly we had overcome this challenge as well.  Sea lions and Dall’s porpoise who are, after all, oblivious to fog, accompanied us down Valdez Arm.We saw our first iceberg even before reaching Columbia Bay.  Yes, I said iceberg, by international definition a floating block of ice more than 4 meters tall.  This was really new.  As one crewperson put it so eloquently, “the closest I’ve ever been to a glacier is a frozen margarita!”

We worked our way through the small brash ice to the bigger growlers, and finally to massive bergs bigger than our boats.  Mom harbor seals guarded their pups on ice floes, safe from prowling orca and arctic terns searched for their fishy prey overhead.  The Columbia Glacier opened up a mile-wide in front of us, spectacularly blue and white in the bright sunshine.  Jordan grabbed some ice for the coolers and drinks.  McKenzie scored a personal and Mother Goose first by doing a little stand-up paddle boarding through the ice.  Amazing!

A lovely sun-drenched muskeg backed up to our anchorage in Heather Bay.  Needless to say with this adventurous group, we were off for a bog walk before dinner.  The best flower of the walk was a star gentian, a purple jewel with frills and curls in every dimension.  Lichens hung from trees and grew on stumps.  “British Soldier” lichen stood erect with the conspicuous red hats of their namesakes, and some interesting tube lichens grew on bark.  While lichens might appeal to the few, the ripe Alaska blueberries appealed to the many.  They were a sweet treat to cap a day as varied and full of new experiences as you are ever likely to have on the water.

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