Thursday 26 March 2020

Into Lituya - Site of the Megatsunami and La Perouse's Lost Crew

As a child I read, in National Geographic I suspect, about the 1958 megatsunami in Lituya Bay and sure enough when I did the initial planning for our Alaska adventure there it was pretty much on our rhumb line. The megatsunami was one of the biggest waves ever recorded ...  a 1,720 ft wave ... Obviously we needed to stop there ...

We anchored in Lituya Bay after short overnight passage from Yakutat. We had great mountain views on the passage including Mt St Elias (18,008 ft) and Mt Fairweather (15,300 ft) lit by sunlight and then the northern lights. At first we anchored just inside the bay near where La Perouse (a French explorer following a few years after Capt Cook's last voyage) lost over 10% of his crew when their long boat was swept out of the pass on the ebb tide in 1786.  Despite this history, it was an amazingly beautiful spot and even after a brief nap to recover from the overnight passage it was tempting to linger.  However, we moved up the fjord to see the effects of the 1958 tsunami.

Anchored at the mouth of Lituya Bay. It was so tempting to stay longer with views like this.
As we approached northeast end of the fjord where the Gilbert and Crillion Inlets were supposed to be, we had a surprise.  Both inlets had disappeared, and there were mud flats about 7 ft above chart datum 1.3 nm out from where the beach was supposed to be.  Crillion Glacier was about 0.9 nm further towards the sea than the charts show (we have Navionics and NOAA charts).   This was especially impressive as Crillon Inlet was shown to be 380 feet deep on the chart.

The blue arrows roughly correspond to the same location.  The Navionics chart and reality rather do not match.

And here is the view using the latest NOAA raster charts showing about 70 fathoms of water where we anchored. We anchored in about 17 fathoms and the shore line was over a mile closer than indicated

and using the latest NOAA vector charts it is about the same - approx 400' of water expected.  We anchored in about 100' and the shore line was over a mile closer than indicated
We anchored Fluenta in 100' (should be about 400' according to the chart) very close to the shore (not an overnight anchorage !) and the kids and I did a minor expedition ashore to walk to the glacier face.  We saw lots of bear and potentially wolf prints so kept the shore excursion short.

Liz looking more cheerful than I think she was feeling about anchoring here.

You can see there is not a lot of swinging room.  Note we did not stay overnight and we left Liz onboard to monitor the situation while the kids and I went ashore.
the cool patterns where the glacier outflow mixed with the fjord water.

The shore party heading to the beach.

Checking out the bear tracks.  We did a quick hike to the terminal moraine in the distance.  The teenagers took the first photo in this blogpost from the top of the moraine.
Yet another location where we would be happy to spend lots more time but alas the season was moving along and we had a weather window to continue south to join the masses in SE Alaska.

The Google Earth view of where we anchored.  Note the shore line has moved closer to the centre than even what is in the Google data.

A schematic showing how the tsunami occurred. (from Wikipedia)
A photo from 1958 showing where the landslide started from (the red arrow) and then where the largest wave was located (yellow arrow) (From Wikipedia)

As seen from Fluenta, the difference in the vegetation is still apparent.
And for folks looking to follow in our path, a copy of our tracks are below:

Yakutat to Lituya

We anchored in both the western and north eastern ends of the fjord although only for short stops.  I have read reports of yachts waiting out bad weather in the western anchorage.

Wednesday 25 March 2020

Across the Gulf of Alaska to Friendly Yakutat


Eventually we had to leave Prince William Sound so as a short weather window revealed itself we departed in early September for Yakutat.  In case the weather turned against us we selected Icy Bay as our port of refuge as it was slightly closer.   As it turned out we had a lovely light air downwind passage.  The Alaskan mountain ranges were visible during the daylight and then at night the Northern Lights entertained us.  Sunrise over the mountain ranges was especially spectacular for the on-watch crew.

Yakutat was as friendly or perhaps even friendlier than the previous towns in Alaska - a very high standard indeed.  On our first walk into town - after being warned again about bears on the walk - we were invited to the school opening ceremony with the children dancing in full traditional regalia.

Traditional dances for the start of school

Not a lot of sailboats visit Yakutat so we received a lot of friendly questions.  We tied up to the public harbour the first night but then moved to the anchorage as it is free and actually closer to town.

Anchored "downtown".  It was much more convenient to the stores in town (and the playground). You can see the state trooper boat in the background.

After our tour of "Enforcer".  Due to OPSEC we did not take any photos onboard.

While we let the weather pass by I caught up on some maintenance while the teenagers worked on their school work with some of the somewhat available internet.  Benjamin was excited as we anchored the closest to a playground as we had ever been in seven years.  We also had a chance to tour the state trooper patrol vessel and invited one of the friendly local police officers over for a visit (she actually drove down to the docks after the school ceremony it see if she could find us to say hello).

Giving Lorena,  one of the friendly local police officers, a tour of Fluenta.  She grew up in Yakutat so we learnt a lot from her and Benjamin was quite smitten.  Alas we could not stay long enough to take up the invitation to go halibut fishing.

Not only are there stores but a great playground !  The other side of this wall has a story about each family group of the Tlingit

Caged !

Cruising ... chasing internet for home school in exotic locations.

After a few days the weather abated and it was time to move further south as we were getting further into September.  Yakutat is famous for its surfing and fishing (although we were invited by the local police to go out) but alas we did not get a chance to do either.  Next time !

We can carry a lot of diesel in Fluenta but it is nice to have full tanks to be on the safe side.  Still aways to go, and lot of motoring, until Juneau.

The chart showing our track in red from Prince William Sound to Yakutat.  You can see our port of refuge at Icy Bay if needed.

The close up of Yakutat.  We briefly tied up at the harbour at (1) but moved to anchor at (2) as it was free and closer to the shops and the playground.

Tuesday 24 March 2020

Following Captain Cook again - Port Etchells and Nuchek

Sea Lions

We had been told by many sailors and fishermen that we needed to be across the Gulf of Alaska before the end of August.  We struggled to tear ourselves away from Prince William Sound by late August but eventually pre-positioned ourselves in Port Etchells to shorten the passage across the Gulf.  As has happened numerous times in our seven year adventure, we found ourselves anchored near where Captain Cook had anchored.  This time we were near where he had anchored in 1778 a few months before his death in Hawaii.  His crew acquired a few sea otter pelts from the natives which they then sold in China for multiples of their annual salary thus starting the English interest in the maritime fur trade in Alaska (the Russians had already started a few years early).  The fur trade almost pushed the sea otters to extinction but ironically one of the places they first came back in big numbers is Constantine Harbour just north of where we were anchored.

Anchoring in Port Etchells was intended to be just a stop to prepare for the Gulf of Alaska crossing but we were tempted by the scant information we had about a Chugach camp at the old abandoned village on Nuchek Island.  The Russians established Fort Saint Constantine at the village of Nuuciq in 1793 to safe guard their trading networks and there is still a Eastern Orthodox Church in the same location.

It was about a nine nm round trip in the dingy so we set off early hoping the trip would be worthwhile.  It certainly was.  On the trip into the village we saw the greatest densities of sea otters we had ever seen.  When we arrived at the Nuuciq Spirit Camp it was deserted.  We had a quick look around but felt that we were trespassing.  We headed back in the dingy but just as we started to go we saw the caretaker, Leonard, waving from ashore.

Leonard lives a the camp most of the year and keeps up with the maintenance. His pride in the camp and its work was palpable.  We were there for several hours and then on our departure he very generously gave us some tasty canned salmon from the camp.  Our departure was a bit delayed as it was now low tide and our dingy needed to be dragged through deep mud.  Thank goodness for our newly acquired hip waiders.  On our way back to Fluenta the sea lions put on a bit of a sunset show for us.

Lots of sea otters !

Leonard showing us the traditional baidarka kayaks that were built at the camp.

Traditional baidarka kayaks

The Eastern Orthodox Church on the site of the original Fort Constantine church.

Heading back after a long day out

Watching the purse seiners at work.

1 - Garden Bay Anchorage, 2 - Nuchek Island

Monday 23 March 2020

More Prince William Sound - Cascade Bay and Whittier

While Tuition Cove was our favourite location in Prince William Sound, we also enjoyed our time in Cascade Bay and Cow Pens in late August.  We also had an nice visit to Whittier to catch up on logistics and to visit friends.

Fluenta anchored in Cascade Bay

The snorkeling was a bit different than the tropics

but the paddle boarding was good.

Lots of hiking too
an amazing number of salmon

And then off to Cow Pens with great paddleboarding

Every time we went out on the boards we saw sea otter and sea lions and ...

sometimes bears.  Hard to take photos from a paddle board ...

Cow Pens anchorage

Fluenta on the dock at Whittier

Visiting with SV SEAL who run amazing charters as far a field as the Aleutians.  Pretty tame compared to their previous stomping grounds of the Antarctic.  They too have kids onboard and Kate has even written a book on homeschooling.
Liz went to Anchorage for logistics with our friends Jenn and Bruce so the boys and I went for a hike.

1 - Cascade Bay, 2 - Cows Pens, 3 - Whittier