Back to simpler times

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After all the big water, ocean going boating experiences this summer I cannot describe how great it felt to be back on the Kenai River last weekend.  We’ve had our little raft almost as long as we’ve been in Alaska, and it’s been the vessel for many memories:  getting engaged on the Gulkana River, Clark’s float hunts on the King Salmon, and camping with a grizzly bear on the Kenai. We’ve floated with grandparents and friends, aunts and uncles, parents and cousins.  It’s where the kids catch fish and the dogs run free.  Good times.

Simpler times.


The kids loved it all over again.  We’ve named all of our favorite gravel bars and pull outs along the river, and from Camera Stop to Bear Island to yodeling under the Halfway Bridge they remembered them all.

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It was the first time for Tess on the raft, and she did great.  She ran like a banshee every time we stopped, and she was alert and sniffing while we floated.  She still doesn’t love the water, but she did finally swim!

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Just listen to the laughter… this day was a gift!


Boat Log 7

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August 18, 2014

Clark’s mom came for a nearly 3 week visit, so we were confident we’d be able to get her out on the water.  Unfortunately, the weather and seas did not cooperate.  By the time things finally calmed down I was back to work, but we decided to make the best of it and go for a quick evening excursion one day after work.

We took the 4:30 tunnel to Whittier, and since it was a Monday afternoon it wasn’t busy at all.  We headed to Shotgun Cove and had all the shrimp pots dropped by 6:15.  The water was flat calm and the sun was blazing – it was a great start!


We decided to explore somewhere new this time and headed up Blackstone Bay.  As we got closer to the glacier the temperature dropped noticeably.  We saw a kayaker and two otters, but not much in the way of wildlife.  There were a few chunks of glacier ice floating, but we didn’t get too close.  I was nervous about navigating the narrow, shallow moraines around Willard Island so we turned around at the tip of the island.

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We did manage to scoop up a nice sized chunk of glacier ice for Sam’s ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.  We thought this would add a nice Alaskan flair to his task!  Clark and Sam netted it together and we put the 20 lb. chunk in a bucket on the back deck.


We headed back to Shotgun Cove to jig for a bit.  The tiny kelp greenling liked our lures and each of the kids reeled up three fish.  Clark caught a small rockfish, but we released them all.

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At about 8:45 we pulled the shrimp pots and were pleased to catch half a gallon in a few short hours.  Grandma was looking forward to a tasty midnight snack when we got home!  We cleaned the shrimp and put them in a bucket of sea water next to the glacier ice.

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After a quick stop at the rookery we motored back into the harbor.  This is where I always get nervous – launching the boat is getting easier, but landing it is the hard part.

Clark suggested I stand on the gunwale as we approached the dock.  He thought this would make it easier for me to hop down onto the dock.  It was worth a try, so I hoisted myself up, hanging onto the top of the boat with one hand and the bow and stern lines with the other.

He brought me in 2-3 feet from the dock (we have differing memories of the exact distance).  I was worried I wouldn’t be able to jump both down 3 feet from the gunwale and across 3 feet to the dock, especially since my jump would push the boat even further away from the dock.  But another boat was already landed ahead of us, so there was no time for fear about little things like getting squashed between our 6000 lb. boat and the dock if I couldn’t make the jump.

So make the jump I did.  I took a deep breath and launched myself.

This might be a good time to mention that I’m not the most athletic of souls.  Or nimble.  Fear and adrenaline got me to the dock, but they certainly didn’t keep me on my feet.  I came down hard and started rolling, and kept on rolling all the way across the dock.  Thankfully I came to a stop just before toppling into the water on the opposite side.  I was tangled in the lines but did not drop them, so I scrambled to my feet and tied up the boat before promptly bursting into tears.

I wasn’t terribly hurt – just a few scrapes on my elbows and knees – but I was absolutely humiliated.  I heard the two men ahead of us say something like, “Well that was a fail!” but luckily it all happened so fast that they didn’t have time to videotape the incident.  The next thing I heard was Clark barking at Sam and Maggie, “Stop laughing!  You have jobs to do!”  I looked up to see them staring at me wide-eyed through the cabin windows.

We quickly and quietly loaded up the boat before heading for home.  I was still feeling sulky as I rode in the back seat, full of frustration for being such a klutz.  It had been such a great evening up until that last moment!

We pulled into the driveway around 11:00 pm, and I boarded the boat to get the shrimp and glacier ice.

But guess what?  They were gone!

The latch to the door on the back deck had come undone, the door was open, and the buckets must have slid out onto the highway as we drove home.  I pray no one was behind us when the buckets came crashing out or we could have caused an accident.  Not to mention we had littered, lost the glacier ice, wasted the shrimp, and blown the midnight snack.  As if my banged up elbows and ego weren’t enough?

It looks like Grandma will have to come back again to get her fresh shrimp.  Hopefully by the time she returns we can go boating without any of these ridiculous incidents!!


Boat Log 6

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July 25 – 27, 2014

We had been anxious to do another overnight trip on the boat, and this weekend seemed ideal.  Calm seas were the priority, even though cloudy skies and rain were in the forecast.

We caught the 2:30 tunnel to a very rainy Whittier, but the launch was flawless!  By 3:30 we were motoring out of the harbor.  It was very foggy, but we didn’t plan to go far.

We dropped shrimp pots for the first time this trip.  We sent four pots down into 350-450 feet of water near Ziegler Cove.  From there we went into the cove and anchored.  Clark took Tess and the kids to shore while I organized the cabin and prepared a spaghetti dinner.


We were cozy and warm in the cabin and played a game of pitch (Maggie just learned!) after dinner.

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Later that night we pulled the anchor to go check our shrimp pots.  We were thrilled to find 41 jumbo shrimp!  They totaled about two gallons.  What a delicious midnight snack for Clark and the kids!

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We dropped the pots again and were optimistic about how many shrimp we might catch when the pots had time to soak all night.

We anchored again in Ziegler for the night.  The waters were incredibly calm – so calm that the bugs were awful.  We tried to leave the cabin windows open all night, but it wasn’t the best decision since several mosquitoes decided to bunk with us. No one slept much between 4:30 – 7:30 AM thanks to a restless dog and buzzing bugs.  Finally Clark gave up and took Tess to shore and the rest of us a caught a few more zzzzz’s.

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The good news was that the skies had cleared and it was a beautiful morning.

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We were pretty disappointed when we pulled our shrimp pots at 11:30 and there were only four shrimp.  We dropped the pots again and motored to the head of Pigot Bay, where we found another beach to explore and had a quick lunch.

We spent the afternoon trolling for salmon, but only caught pinks so we didn’t keep any.  It was still plenty fun!


When the kids got bored with the fishing, they simply headed into the cabin for some solitaire:


We had slightly better luck fishing for bottom feeders and reeled up a Dusky rockfish and kelp greenling for dinner.  We of course hoped for plenty of shrimp to go with the fish, but when we pulled the pots around 6:30 there were only about 25 shrimp – maybe half a gallon.

It was still a pretty amazing dinner, with the fresh seafood, green beans, cucumbers, and a side of pasta for the kids.  We are figuring out the stove and it is a nice cabin for cooking.

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After dinner we played another game of pitch before heading to bed around midnight.  Unfortunately, rain moved in overnight and we had the bow window open (it’s the only one with a screen) so we got a bit wet.  It wasn’t too bad, and overall we all enjoyed a much better night of sleep.  Sam moved to the floor at some point and liked that better.

Despite the rain, Sunday started very well.  We had a lot of fun pulling up the very heavy shrimp pots – there were 85 shrimp in all along with a handful of crabs that we set free.  Our luck was back!


I was getting more comfortable driving the boat, and somehow brought us right alongside the buoys for our pots so Clark could scoop them on board.  Despite the electronic pot puller, pulling the line took some effort bending and pulling up the pots, but it was fun to work together.  The kids liked to watch the yellow line emerge, which signals the last few feet of rope.  After that the pots are visible and you never know what you will pull up from the ocean floor!

Done shrimping, we stacked the shrimp pots on the deck and started motoring toward Pigot where Clark wanted to troll for salmon again.  I was driving as he prepared the fishing poles.  When he decided to start the kicker motor – for trolling – everything on the entire boat suddenly went dead.  Blip.  Main engine power – gone.  Kicker power – gone.  Even the radio was completely dead.  We had no navigational devices or way to communicate.  We were drifting in (last we knew) around 400 feet of water, so manually dropping anchor was not an option.  We were very worried we would eventually crash into the large rock wall on our starboard side, so we grabbed a cell phone and tried to call all three of our boating friends.  We hoped one of them might know what went wrong.  Unfortunately, no one was answering!

The shrimp pots – which had been such fun less than an hour before – were now completely in the way.  We were checking batteries, crawling into the engine compartment, and basically starting to panic.  The kids were oblivious as they played solitaire in the cabin below.

Clark stood on the deck and began waving a red life vest to indicate we needed help.  There were many other boaters trolling in the area, and right away a boat motored up to us.  It was the Merle out of Seattle (or so it said on the hull) and the Captain and young men aboard were so helpful.  They pulled up parallel to us, and we both tied up our bumpers.  We then roped our boats together and their Captain boarded our boat.  What a relief!

He really had no idea what had gone wrong either.  Josh, the Captain, and Clark crawled into the engine compartment and fiddled with the fuses and connections.  Everything seemed to be in order.  He assured us we’d checked all the obvious places.  After 15 minutes of fumbling around we all stood on the deck scratching our heads, and on a whim Josh turned the key to the kicker engine.  It started!  Mysteriously, all power was back and we were able to fire up the main engine.  What a relief!!

Thank you to the entire crew of the Merle!  They refused to accept anything but our gratitude, which I still feel in spades.  They said they had spent the previous evening helping some other boaters who were in trouble, and it had been a very late night.  I believe in karma and pray those weary fishermen hit the motherlode later that afternoon… they deserved it!

Needless to say we weren’t in the mood for fishing any longer, so we headed straight back to the harbor.  We didn’t want to take a chance shutting down the engine again!

There was a lot of traffic in the harbor that afternoon, but landing the boat went well.  The line to the tunnel was stacked deep, but we made it out in time.

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As we drove back to Anchorage I was fairly certain we needed to get out of the boating business.  Maybe a nice, safe RV instead?  Or a cabin – something we could use year round?  Wouldn’t either be safer recreational options for our family?  It had been a nearly perfect weekend, but those 30-45 minutes were all we could talk about on the drive home.

I mean seriously… we both grew up in Nebraska.  How much farther from the ocean can you get?

Back home, Clark got in touch with his boating friends and they talked us off the ledge.  It sounds like a “simple” loose connection to the battery was the most likely culprit.  Sure, simple.

Some lessons learned on this trip:

1.  Hand held radios are a must.  Also, we need to keep the main radio on more often so we know which of our friends are out on the water at the same time.
2.  Charge both batteries when the engine is running.
3.  Extra everything – fuses, etc. – is a necessity, not a luxury.
4.  Fellow boaters don’t mess around.  When people are in trouble, someone will help.

And perhaps the biggest lesson was that getting scared can cloud a person’s common sense.  When I shared our saga with a friend, she pointed out that a pull start on the kicker  motor might be a good idea.  I mentioned this to Clark at dinner the next night, and he had to stop mid-chew to avoid choking.

Because guess what?  Our kicker does have a pull start!  We tested it, and it works flawlessly.

Our entire panic could have been averted if we had remembered this simple fact.  But when you are in the moment with a new boat and new territory it’s easy to overlook the most obvious solutions!

I do believe we will survive this first season of boating.  We are looking into a Boating Skills and Seaman’s course put on by the US Coast Guard this fall, and are surrounded by many friends with countless hours of experience who are happy to mentor us.  The spectacular beauty of Prince William Sound make this learning curve worth the effort!

Boat Log 5

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Sunday, July 13, 2014

Clark has several one-liners that he repeats ad nauseam.  “Well, success is measured in many different ways…”  is one of his favorites.  He typically puffs up his chest and releases this phrase in one long exhale after an unsuccessful hunting or fishing excursion.

I’ve heard this gem more than enough for this lifetime (no offense to his hunting or fishing prowess) but would like to steal it just this once to describe our last boating excursion.  Success is indeed measured in many different ways, and in this case success = survival.  Forget the National Geographic whale sightings or epic fishing luck… neither are necessary.  Survival, baby… from this case out that is all I care about.

That, and to not crap my pants with fear in the process.

We barely made the 10:30 tunnel to Whittier.  We left home in plenty of time, but needed to stop in Indian for fuel and found ourselves in line behind a few oversized boats that needed hundreds of gallons of gas.  After a 20 minute wait we filled our tank and sped south.  We were among the last through the tunnel, but we made it!  Lucky?  Time would tell.

We met friends at the launch:  Brandon, Keri and Emily were heading out in their boat, and Clark’s coworker John was there with his family as well.  John had spent the day before helping Clark rig up our shrimp pots, and we planned to drop pots together in Culross Passage.  It would be our first attempt at shrimping.

The launch went pretty well.  No wind in Whittier makes a huge difference.  The only stress was a blaring alarm after the boat started, but after feeding the engine some outdrive oil it was happy and we were on our way.  Another warning?  If so, we ignored it.

The marine forecast predicted 2 foot seas and 10 knot winds, so even though it was very overcast we expected a good day.  This trip was about fishing and shrimping rather than sightseeing.

It all started well, but when we motored to the East side of Cochrane Bay the water suddenly became very choppy.   One minute everything was fine, and the next we were pounding across large waves.  This kept up for over 30 minutes – the cabinets in the berth popped open and slammed closed.  The buckets on the deck rolled about.  Worst of all, our skiff – the little raft tied to the top of our boat – came crashing onto the back deck.  Clark had to stop motoring, climb onto the bow, and tie the skiff back on top of the boat while we drifted in 4 foot seas.  (And yes, he was smart enough to put on a life vest for this chore.)

I was terrified of the rolling waves, and watching John’s boat being tossed about next to ours didn’t help.  It seemed he could capsize at any moment, even though both guys have since reassured me that our boats could have easily handled more.  Brandon and Keri had already turned around by this point.  John and Clark decided we would keep going, but when our skiff came crashing onto the back deck a second time we turned around.

Clark begged me to “be a rock” for the kids, but they weren’t scared in the least.  In fact, they rode in the berth on their knees, flailing their arms above their heads and pretending to be bull riders.  This ride was like an Alaskan roller coaster to them, and they were having a ball.  If anyone needed a rock, it was me!  A rock of solid ground!  At one point Sam asked, “Mommy, why are you crying?”  I tried to convince him I’d just been sprayed by one of the waves that was crashing over our fishing deck.

When we motored back to calmer waters we connected with Brandon and Keri on the radio, who said they were now fishing in Pigot where it was raining but calm.  We headed that way, where we trolled for salmon and John dropped his shrimp pots.  Our pots remained unused on our deck, as I wasn’t particularly interested in learning how to drop them and waiting hours to see what we could catch.  Clark trolled a bit more in Shotgun Cove and the kids played solitaire, but before long we called it a day and headed back to the harbor much sooner than expected.

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John spent years in the Coast Guard and estimates that the seas were 4-5 feet with strong gusts of wind.  After debriefing, it sounds like all three of the guys would have powered through the rough water had it been a “dude fishing trip.”  But since all of our boats had wives and kids aboard they played it safe.  Clark said it best:  we are recreational boaters, and no one was having any fun.  (That, and I might have mentioned putting the boat on Craigslist…)

We ended up motoring into the harbor right behind Brandon and Keri.  We had buoys and lines ready on both sides of the bow – a huge help – and when we saw the opening at the dock it was no problem to quickly hook up the stern line and bumper.  Keri was on the dock so I tossed our lines to her and she easily helped land us – at least something went without incident!

Clark went to get the trailer, and Maggie took Tess on a much needed potty walk.  Meanwhile, Sam helped me walk the boat up the dock as boats ahead of us pulled out of the water.  He was so proud, and I was grateful for his genuine help.  But we did hit one last glitch here… our boat was safely secured to the dock and I stepped away to help Keri walk theirs up to the retrieval point.  For some reason Sam thought I told him to follow with our boat, so he untied it and tried his best.  When I looked back and saw our 63 lb. child trying to hold onto our 7000 lb. beast of a boat I nearly had a heart attack!  Luckily the dock was full of helpful souls with the same panicked reaction.  We all rushed and grabbed the lines from him.  Sam’s emotions ranged from embarrassed shame to defensive frustration.  I knew the feeling, with my lack of helpfulness out in the big water just hours before.  I grabbed his life jacket and pulled him into a huge hug and reminded him we are all learning right now.

When it was our turn to move the boat again he was apprehensive, but he swallowed his fear and clenched the bow line.  I followed with the stern line and silently whispered that I would always have his back.  Always.

Finally, I got to be the rock.  (It was admittedly easier from the dock…)

We popped out of the 5 PM tunnel to sunny skies and it was a beautiful evening in Anchorage.  As we caravaned back to town we all decided the best way to celebrate the sunshine and our success – our survival! – was with a few pizzas in a sunny back yard with friends.  A relaxing end to a stressful day!


No Fireworks Necessary

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We avoided the crowds and spent the 4th of July with friends at their family cabin on a lake.  Sunscreen was mandatory on this incredibly warm weekend, with temperatures pushing 80 degrees.  Usually I take our children back to Nebraska in the summer so they can enjoy outdoor swimming, but on days like this it’s actually possible right here in Alaska!

The kids bounced between swimming, paddle boating, badminton, kickball, fishing, shooting BB guns, riding four wheelers, hiking, and playing fetch with the dogs.  No mind numbing electronic devices allowed, or even requested.  That alone made the weekend a success for me!

Not one of the kids even asked about fireworks.  It’s just as well, because even the best pyrotechnic display couldn’t have competed with the booming laughter of our children or the explosive beauty of the scenery that surrounded us.

Happy Birthday USA!  Alaska may have been late coming to the party, but we’re so happy to be part of the club.

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Boat Log 4

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Friday, June 20th 2014

This was the trip I dreamed about when we bought the boat – the chance to take out my family who was visiting from the Midwest.  It would test the boat with 10 passengers, but we ran the numbers and came in under the maximum weight.  Our friends Brandon and Keri were on the water this day as well, and we told them our call name on the radio would be “Temporarily Overloaded.”  (We really need to settle on a name for our vessel!)

We hit the 10:30 tunnel to Whittier.  The winds were blowing like mad and it was overcast and spitting on the other side of the tunnel.  A lady was walking a reindeer on a leash down the middle of the street, which is not a site you see every day!

We had a new strategy for the launch.  This time Clark turned the truck around and backed part of the way down the ramp.  Then he got out and held the boat lines, while I backed the trailer the rest of the way into the water and launched the boat.  This was a great decision because with the 35 MPH wind gusts even Clark  had a hard time walking the boat to the end of the dock.  I hopped out and helped, as did another woman whose family was launching ahead of us.  I think we will stick with this method from now on – it was much easier, and on days that aren’t as windy it should work great.

As usual, we motored to the kittiwake rookery for a few minutes.  From there we went up Passage Canal towards our favorite spot – Hobo Bay.  The seas were calmer than last week and the skies were clearing.  It was blue and the mountains and glaciers looked impressive.  Even with 10 people on board Clark was able to get the boat on step as long as most of us stayed down in the berth.  The kids all slept on the drive out:

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Everyone except Maggie hopped right up in Bettles Bay when we saw our first whale.  It was a single humpback with a distinct white tail – I wondered if it was the same one we saw here last time with Lor and Zach?



We spent quite a while watching this whale, who was close enough to see and hear but not frighteningly near the boat.

Clark decided to wash the upper boat windows, but as he dumped a bucket of sea water on the windshield it all splashed into the berth!  The windows down below were open.  We soaked the paper towels, matches, guide book, and two iPhones.  Not to mention poor Kylie!

Eventually we said goodbye to the whale and finished our cruise to Hobo Bay, where we anchored in 30 feet of water.  Clark wanted me to drive in closer to shore, but I was too nervous.  As a result he had to row quite a bit further than he’d have liked – we had to shuttle 3 times to get all 10 of us to shore in the raft.

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Tess was much more agile and exploratory on the beach this time.  She immediately started running like a banshee through the grasses.  She splashed in the sea water but knew better than to drink it.  We found a little pond and she waded in up to her chest and took a few good drinks.  All this activity tuckered her out and she slept like a baby when we got back to the boat:

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Mom loved the shore and roamed all over with her camera in hand.  Kylie stretched out on the rocky sand and dried out her pants.  As usual, Maggie went off on her own to play in the sand and mud at the tideline.  Clark found a $100 Sog knife that we packed out (after letting the kids whittle some sticks), along with some garbage a previous group had left.  Frustrating that even in the middle of nowhere people leave trash.

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We kept a careful eye on this eagle, who was probably keeping a careful eye on our puppy!


After we all had a nice break, snack, and drink Tyson had the honor of shuttling us all back to the boat.  I think it gave him a new appreciation for Clark’s upper arm strength!


We raised the anchor and cruised toward the head of Port Wells, where we again saw the sea otters and pups.  On the way back we stopped south of Pirate Cove to fish.  There was another whale in the distance, but we focused on making some sandwiches and fishing instead.  Kylie caught a Pacific cod, and when Dad got a bite he let Madi reel it up.  It was an ugly Irish Lord with lots of worms, and Madi actually kissed it before we released it back to the sea.  Yuck!  Later in the trip Tyson caught a small black rock fish that we decided to keep, but that was the extent of our luck.


The whale luck continued however.  The lone humpback in the distance was moving closer and closer.  All of us watched in awe as we drifted with him – we could hear his blows, see his bubbles, and at one point he breached 50-60 feet off the side of our boat!  I drove Clark crazy with my vocal worries that it was going to breach right under us – it was simultaneously thrilling and terrifying!

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For scale, here is Mom’s head and arm (she is taking pictures) with the whale in the background:IMG_1721 IMG_1703 IMG_1702 IMG_1701

Time was ticking and at this point we still didn’t have any fish in the boat, so we said goodbye to this whale too and headed towards Piggot Point for some trolling.  Madi proved to be a good driver!


We didn’t have any better luck fishing in Piggot.  Ty had a bite but it got away, but he did bring up the small black rock fish here.  It made for a small midnight snack that evening, as well as a dissection lesson for the kids.


As we rolled into the harbor the winds picked up again.  I rode on the bow this time and waited until we saw which side of the dock was open before tying on the buoy and line.  It was quickly apparent to Clark that the wind would be an issue, so we asked a guy on the dock for assistance.  I threw him the bow line and Dad tossed out the stern line, and he expertly attached us to the dock.  We still didn’t do it solo, but it went better.  And this time we were sure not to forget to raise the boat motor!

We were all pretty happy as we washed up the boat this time.  Mom and Amy were just thrilled with the whale sightings and experience – who wouldn’t be?!  We couldn’t have asked for better scenery, weather, and wildlife!  It was an ultimate family day that I will remember forever!

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We drove home into some of the most unique skies I have ever seen over Anchorage and the Inlet, adding one more element to this unforgettable day!

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Boat Log 3

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Saturday, June 14, 2014

The day was a bit overcast, so we didn’t make the decision to go boating until after breakfast.  Dad and Mom were here for a visit and we wanted to get out so we decided to give it a try.  We all packed our rain gear and crossed our fingers that we wouldn’t need it.

We saw Cliff and his dog Paint at the launch and I marveled at his ability to launch solo.

We didn’t have any trouble getting the boat off the trailer and into the water.  Clark and Dad went to park the truck and we were finally ready to head out around 2 PM.  Unfortunately it turned into our most stressful launch yet.  Everyone but me was on board, and as I tossed the ropes on and prepared to board myself the boat died.  Clark drifted away from the dock and I was helpless.  He tried to throw a line back to me, but we missed and now it was floating in the water.  He couldn’t start the engine again with the line in the water, so luckily Dad was there to walk around the boat and climb onto the bow to pull the rope in.  Clark restarted the engine and got the bow back to the dock, where I scrambled on board.  It was pretty nerve-wracking and Mom commented that we might end up on YouTube that evening!

We all took a deep breath and cruised over to the waterfalls and kittiwake rookery.  From there we motored up a very choppy Passage Canal.  We hoped to see whales again, so we headed back to Hobo Bay where we had so much luck the week before.  We didn’t see any, so continued further into Port Wales towards the moraine.  We did see sea otters and pups – just as adorable as last week!

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We went to Granite Bay for some fishing.  This was an especially scenic bay with amazing rock formations and small islands.


The kids reeled up one fish after another – it was almost comical to hear them exclaim, “Got one!  Got another!” every few seconds as poor Dad’s line bobbed along the bottom without a nibble.  They mostly brought up small Pacific cod, but we did see an ugly Irish Lord covered in worms.  At one point Maggie appeared to have a very large fish, and Clark felt the pole and confirmed it was a big one.  He told me to get the net ready.  Maggie struggled for a few minutes to reel in her catch, and we were all waiting with anticipation to see what it would be.  Imagine our surprise when it finally came to the surface and was a rock!  She was devastated.  “All that work for a ROCK?!?” she exclaimed.  We all laughed – especially Mom – at poor Maggie’s frustration.

We decided to move on and troll for salmon, but since we didn’t plan to go to shore on this short excursion there was the bathroom business to think about.  Mom was game to go off the back of the boat rather than use the toilet on board, so we all turned the other way to give her privacy.  A few moments later Dad quipped that the sea level had just increased by a few feet and the water temperature was elevated as well.  Sam got the joke immediately and burst out laughing – he chuckled about it the rest of the day.

Our lack of fishing luck continued as we trolled for salmon near Esther Island.  Clark had one bite but it got off right away.  The kids weren’t as interested in trolling and moved down to the berth of other entertainment:


Tess was with us but she literally slept the entire day on the boat.  I was worried she would keep us up all night.

And then it was time to head back to the harbor.  Since I was now walking around the boat I hoped it would go better.  Unfortunately there is no way to know in advance which side of the dock will be open for retrieval until you get there.  We had the buoys set up on the wrong side, so I had to scramble up front to untie them and the line at the last minute.  I yelled at a man on the dock and asked him to give us a hand.  I had the buoy moved, but threw him the rope before it was attached to the boat.  Another fail!  Somehow we managed to get tied to the dock before damaging our boat or anyone else’s.  Clark went to get the trailer, and again the boat loaded up easily.

Just when we thought the stress was complete Clark started pulling the trailer out of the water, but we had forgotten to raise the boat motor so the prop was dragging on the pavement of the ramp.  We were all yelling and screaming for him to stop but he couldn’t hear us over the noise of the diesel truck.  Finally he saw us waving our arms and stopped before major damage was done.

We were both a bit short-tempered as we washed up the boat, but when we got home we started to plan how we can do things differently in the future.  An extra set of lines and buoys for the front of the boat will eliminate the last-minute scramble.  Mom and Dad reassured us that with practice we will figure it out  Let’s hope they are right!


Boat Log 2

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Here is the second entry from our boating journal.  It is hard to type these without adding anything but photos, and especially difficult not to edit!

Friday, June 6 2014

Our 2nd excursion included friends from out of state:  Lori, Zach, Kalea (10) and Emi (7) were here from Boston, and we were thrilled to share the boat!

We hit the 11:30 tunnel to Whittier.  It would have been nice to leave earlier, but with sunny days this close to solstice the kids were all staying up l-a-t-e and sleeping in, so we didn’t want to push it!

Even though we had help, Clark really wanted us to launch the boat ourselves since that will usually be our reality.  He backed the trailer into the water, so all I had to do was keep a firm grip on the bow and stern lines to make sure the boat didn’t float away or hit anything else!  It went pretty well and hopefully will get easier with time.

We motored over to the rookery with beautiful waterfalls and thousands of kittiwakes.  I especially love hearing the sounds of nature – in this case the squalks from the birds and the roar of the falls – and Zach took many great photos.


From there we motored up Passage Canal to Port Wells.  Clark noticed the extra weight from 4 additional passengers right away, and Lori and I needed to move into the berth so he could get on step.

As we motored through Port Wells the mountain scenery was spectacular.  I think the mountains are part of what called us in that direction – we just kept driving towards the most beautiful point on the horizon.  Not an easy choice with stellar views in all directions!

It turned out to be a great choice.  We saw several rafts of sea otters, many floating with pups on their bellies.  So adorable!


As we neared Hobo Bay we saw our first whales – they appeared to be a mother and adult humpback swimming together.  We all marveled and watched them for quite a while before we slowly cruised into Hobo Bay and set anchor in 30 feet of water.

It took 3 trips in the dingy to row all 8 people plus the dog to shore.

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It was a great beach with some incredible geology – trees growing out of incredible rock faces, sharp shale in fascinating layers, lots of driftwood, and of course the mountain views.  Kalea and Maggie found some tidepools with small fish and tried to catch them in their hands.  I found a few dead starfish and Clark found a flat spot that had obviously been used by many tent campers.  There was a nice stash of chopped firewood stashed under a big tree – in its hollow.

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We could still see the whales out at sea and they kept coming closer!  Lori and I saw one breach right near the shore, and we all made our way to a small spit where we perched on a driftwood log and watched whales just off the shore for over an hour.  We were kicking ourselves for not bringing cameras (other than the ones on our phones) ashore!

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The tide rolled in quickly while we were on shore.  We stuck a large stick in dry land at the waterline when we first came to shore, and by the time we left there was only a foot of it above the water!

Back on the boat we planned to pull anchor and head for fishing spots, but the whales kept coming closer!  There were several by now, surrounding the boat and feeding right in front of us!  We pulled anchor and motored out into 100-200 foot waters, where we cut the engine and drifted.

It was amazing!  The whales came in closer, and we could hear their blows and splashes.  Zach got some incredible photos!  We were absolutely alone except for the whales.  I’ll admit there were a few minutes when I was worried they might breach under our boat!  But they kept within 150-200 feet as we silently drifted among them.  That was plenty close for me!

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Clark fished a bit while we were whale watching, but this trip was more about watching wildlife that catching it!  What a spectacular show!

Eventually we had to leave – much before the whales.  We headed back to the harbor and Clark gave Sam and Kalea each a turn to drive.  (Emi and Maggie were in the berth playing some sort of imaginary dog game!)  Tess slept almost the entire time on the boat, and played hard while we were at shore.

It started to rain as we pulled into the harbor.  This time there was no line, but there was also no help from any Whittier harbor employees.  Clark wanted us to land the boat alone, so I put out one of the buoys and held the bow and stern lines as he approached the dock.  I stood on the back deck waiting for the stern to get close enough for me to hop out and secure the boat, but we came in at an angle that made it impossible.  Luckily Zach walked around the outside of the boat to the bow, and I tossed him the lines so he could secure us to the dock.

I think I need to practice walking around the boat the next time we are anchored in a cove  – or even here at home – so I am more prepared next time.  I need to build both my confidence and skills to be of more help!  Clark can’t do it alone, so if this is going to work I need to step up.

It was tight, but we made the 9 PM tunnel out of Whittier.  The tunnel is a blessing – because we couldn’t access these waters of Prince William Sound without it – but it does add a bit of stress.  It puts a stopwatch on both the departure time from home and the boat retrieval in Whittier, because we don’t want to be stuck waiting a full hour if we miss a tunnel.

This trip was much more relaxing than the first – possibly because we did less and stayed out a few hours instead of a few days.  But maybe (hopefully!) we are a bit more comfortable on the boat as well.

It was so fun to share this boating adventure with friends, especially ones who were so appreciative and in awe of the magic of Prince William Sound.



Boat Log 1

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Well, we did it.  After years of dreaming, we actually bought a boat.  It’s a 24-foot 2003 Bayliner Ciera, pictured here in Prince William Sound on our Maiden Voyage:

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There are more sensible ways to spend money, but this will be a great way to unplug and explore as a family.  We have a limited amount of time to pack in childhood memories with the kids, and hopefully when they’re teenagers they’ll be willing to hang out with their dear parents if it means camping in one of the most pristine wilderness areas on the planet.

Plus Clark really, really wanted a boat.

As a boatwarming gift, I bought him a journal and promised to record our boating adventures.  Here is the first entry (but this digital version has photos):

May 24 – 26 2014 – Maiden Voyage!

We were so excited to get the boat in the water for the first time.  It was Memorial Day weekend, so a bit busy at the launch but it’s a big ocean with plenty of room for all.  We spent 3 days/2 nights in Prince William Sound.

Clark launched with Cliff around 11:30 on Saturday 5/24.  They spent several hours cruising to Shotgun Cove, Po Bay, and Ziegler Cove learning about the boat.  An alarm blared due to low fluid in the outdrive, but once that was fixed all was well.

The kids and I met Clark around 5:30.  Cliff had left in his own boat, so our family was solo for the first excursion.  We also had 8-week-old Tess, who did great for her first boat ride!

We spent the first night in Shotgun Cove.  The water was flat calm and we anchored in 30 feet of water.  It was overcast, but temps were in the 50’s – 60’s and it did not rain.  We made several excursions to shore and explored a wrecked ferry on the beach there.  Sadly, we also saw a few otter skeletons and even a dead otter washed ashore.

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Sam loves to skip rocks on the beach, and Maggie enjoys collecting rocks and shells.  As for Tess, she seems to enjoy eating kelp!


The kids and Clark fished a bit, but we didn’t catch anything worth keeping.  It was still fun to see all the unique creatures from the bottom of the sea.  Sam was the luckiest fisher for this trip.  We caught several small Pacific cod, some black rockfish, kelp greenling, and one ugly Irish Lord!

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We all slept great on the boat.  Maggie didn’t even need her Dramamine – maybe it was the calm seas, or maybe it was our close proximity to shore.  Either way, we were all relieved she did not get sick!

The next morning we discovered that our fresh water tank was leaking, as the spigot sputtered its last drops while Maggie brushed her teeth.  We had a few bottles of water and decided to stick with our plan to camp a second night.

We moved to Pirate’s Cove for the second night.  The grill worked great to heat up some chicken and link sausage.  We also tested the stove to boil some pasta for the kids.



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The kids were excited to help raise/drop anchor, steer the boat, and oar the dingy to shore.

We brainstormed for new boat names, but so far nothing has grabbed us.  I like Big Red, Clark likes Boss Hogg, and Sam just wants to call it Bob.  So for now the name remains the Julia Christine.  The throw ring says “Double D” and we can also see another name that has been removed.  Some say it is bad luck to change a boat’s name, but we will christen it properly when we find the right name!

By the end of the weekend we had burned 36 gallons of fuel.  The tunnel fee with a boat was $20 (Bear Valley – Whittier), launch fee is $20, Clark’s parking fee was $27 (plus my car $30 for 3 days).  Clearly this is not the most economical hobby, but somehow it feels worth it!

When we entered the harbor in Whittier there was a large queue of boats waiting to take out.  This was probably the most stressful part of the weekend.  Between the breakwater and harbor slips, there was a very narrow path to navigate.  Luckily the harbormaster opened another takeout lane and helped us land the boat.  To expedite the line, he was even giving people rides to their vehicles/trailers.    Clark did a great job of quickly loading and securing our boat to the trailer so the line could keep moving.

Clark and I both agreed that it was a wonderful weekend, but not terribly relaxing.  We saw spectacular scenery, a bit of wildlife (three seals) and enjoyed the family time.


It was great to all be unplugged and enjoy old-fashioned games like shut-the-box and Connect Four.  (The kids also enjoyed new games like Pokemon!)  We also had fun with the children’s activity books from the Coast Guard – talking and teaching about boating safety.  We all have a lot to learn!

We were so exhausted by the time we got home that the kids cooked dinner – goulash – and it was an early bedtime for all.  Luckily unpacking and cleaning up the boat went pretty quickly, since much of the supplies and gear will remain aboard.

This should be the first of many memorable family excursions!

Sam Bam

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Tomorrow Sam turns 10, so this is our last snapshot of his single digit years:


I think he looks happy?  We’re not messing up too terribly, right?

He was still up reading at 11:53 pm, so I yanked him out of bed.  It was only seven minutes until his birthday, and I needed to clutch him close and tell him that the past decade has been the most blessed of my life.

Being someone else’s dream come true is a lot of pressure, but I figured seven minutes of showing it wouldn’t scar him too terribly.

So we spent seven minutes together, counting down until midnight.  He sprawled across my lap; his head still fit in the crook of my elbow, but his legs sprawled halfway across the couch.  When did that happen?

Tomorrow is just another day, but it already feels so different.  Is there any chance we can slow things down for the next 10 years?

Happy Birthday Sam… we love, love, love you!