Kenai Fjords and Glaciers

When we last “talked,” we were in Kodiak, and it was just Mike, me and Henry.  Right before leaving there, we were joined by Dan, Carmel and JD (longtime Hawaii friends) for the next part of the trip northeast to explore the Kenai Fjords and the many glaciers in that area.

The first day out was a wildlife extravaganza!  Right off the bat we saw sea lions that were hamming it up and, I would swear, posing for photos. On our transit to Tonki Bay, we saw a humpback whale, puffins, sea otters, a bald eagle, and Orcas!  Both the humpbacks and orcas were just magical – so majestic, yet so graceful with their water acrobatics.  They were fascinating, and I could spend hours just watching them frolic in their natural habitat.

The next morning during breakfast, we noticed a big boulder on the beach, but thought nothing of it. A few minutes later, that boulder had moved –  somebody grab the binoculars!  It was a big beautiful black bear.  It was so fun to watch him foraging around on the beach. He looked really furry and cute – from afar.  Once the bear had moved along, we took the dingy ashore for a brief walkabout.  We were careful not to go far and brought along our bear repellant spray.  Yep – there is such a thing – I had no idea.  No up close bear sightings though – thank goodness.

During our transits from one fjord to the next, we often slowed to fish in the more shallow areas. One afternoon, Dan caught a good sized Lingcod.  What a bizarre and ugly looking fish! He sure was good eatin though.  Another afternoon while Dan, Carmel and JD were off in the dingy exploring, I was down below reading when I heard Mike yelling for me. When I asked him what he needed, he calmly said he could use a little help up on deck.  Well when I got up there, he was fighting something apparently huge on the other end of the fishing line.  When he got it closer to the boat, we were excited to see it was a ginormous halibut!  We decided Mike was the one least likely to go over the side while handling the net, so I took over the rod, and he got Mr. Hal E. But onboard.  We think that big guy was somewhere near 40 pounds!!!  Boy were our guests surprised when they got back to the boat and saw him.  And good guests too – Dan and Carmel offered to clean and filet the whole thing.  We’ve been having amazing halibut dinners ever since – and still have some left in the freezer!  On yet another afternoon, Dan managed to reel in a beautiful Coho salmon. The dinner menu quickly changed and we enjoyed amazing freshly caught wild salmon that evening with wonderful friends.  It just doesn’t get much better than that.

So by now, you must all be thinking how amazing and easy a life this is.  And it is amazing.  And adventurous.  And it can also be a little crazy and scary and hard.  I’ll describe one particular day as a case in point.  First thing that morning when we were trying to pull up the anchor, the circuit breaker for the anchor windlass popped and was fried.  No replacement on board (there’s a lesson there). So the guys brought the anchor up by hand – an inconvenience, but not a huge deal.  So we went on about our day and were coming into our next anchorage when we had a soft, momentary grounding.  It literally went from 30+ feet to 4 feet in a split second. Thankfully the guys saw it on the depth sounder before we felt it and were able to back right off.  Whew – we got lucky on that one!   Now in this particular location, we needed not only an anchor, but also a line tied off the back of the boat to something on shore.  Did I mention it was pouring rain this whole time ? And, naturally, everyone was already a little on edge from the earlier excitement.  Anyway, that meant someone had to go ashore in the dingy and tie off a long line to a huge boulder.  I won’t go into the details, but during this mission, that line managed to get wrapped around Air Bender’s port-side prop – that was still turning.  Oh my – not a good thing.  Well we got the line ashore secured and then went about trying to get the line off the prop and assess the damage.  No matter how hard we prayed our what we tried, nothing was working.  It was time for Cap’n Mike to go in the water and attack the problem right at the source.  Thankfully, as good captains do, Mike had thought ahead and purchased a full cold water wetsuit before we left Hawaii.  We all felt awful that he had to go down there – that’s some cold water, and the sun wasn’t even out.  But in true Mike fashion, he donned the wetsuit, jumped right in the water and had the prop free of the line in no time flat.  We were expecting him to jump right out of the water, but he then proceeded to swim up front and check to make sure the anchor had a good hold.  My hero : )  That whole thing could have ended much worse, but luck was on our side once again.

In the midst of all this fun, we had 3-4 straight days of rain.  Let me tell you, the boat seems a lot smaller with 5 people and a dog on board when the weather is bad for several days straight, and no one wants to go outside.  But – we made the best of it.  Movies were watched, cards were played, and probably a little too much comfort food was consumed.  And my – how much more you appreciate the sunshine after you’ve been cooped up inside for a few days – the sun was just glorious when it finely decided to come out!

This leg of the trip was all about glaciers, and the first one we saw was the McCarty Glacier.  We hopped in the dingy to go take a closer look. It was breathtaking – I had truly never seen anything like it before.  It ranged in color from snow white to a beautiful aquamarine blue, and was massive in size.  It is a tidewater glacier, meaning it terminates or comes all the way out into the ocean.  As we sat there listening and watching, we heard what sounded like thunder and loud bangs that sounded like a shotgun going off.  This is from the cracking and calving going on both in and outside of the glacier.  It was mesmerizing to just sit and listen and watch, waiting for a huge chunk of ice to go tumbling into the ocean below.   Up close to the glacier there were ice “islands” or small icebergs floating all over the place.  A bunch of seals were sunning themselves on one of those icebergs, and they were not shy at all about having their pictures taken.

The locals in Kodiak told us we must grab some of the small chunks of glacier ice out of the water and break them up into small pieces to use for cocktails.  They promised it would be the purest and best tasting ice we’d ever had, so the chase was on.  While floating through the icy bay, Dan and JD were on bergy-bit duty.  What a hoot!  We all had fun watching them try to net the ice, which was always much bigger when it got close than it had originally appeared.  Between Cap’n Mike’s skillful boat maneuvering and Dan and JD’s enthusiastic efforts, we ended up with plenty of “dinosaur ice” to go around.  And you know what? That eons-old ice makes a darn good drink!

That night we anchored in the most beautiful setting yet – Moonlight Bay.  It was like God had carved out a perfect bowl-shaped cove just for us, and it felt like we were the only people in the world. Towering mountains covered in lush green carpets of grass and endless pine trees surrounded our secluded little cove.  If that weren’t enough, there was a beautiful big waterfall in a horseshoe-shaped grotto less than 100 yards from where we anchored.  We soon realized that we didn’t have the cove entirely to ourselves, as a National Park Service boat came in later that afternoon and anchored nearby.  That evening while making dinner, we realized we were completely out of butter.  Oh no! How did that happen, and how are we supposed to survive several more days with no butter?  I was a little worried and feeling like a poorly prepared hostess.  I should have known better though.  The next morning while we were lazily enjoying our first cup of coffee, the guys devised a plan to trade the Park Services folks some Hawaiian coffee for a stick of butter.  As soon as we decided to go for it, we looked out and they were pulling up their anchor. We figured they couldn’t mad if we sent our adorable 9-year old crew member with his dad to make the deal, so that’s exactly what we did.  They came back with a big, fat stick of luscious butter!  Crisis averted, and big bonus points for Dan and JD!

Another beautiful anchorage was Coleman Bay.  We joined a sailboat, Xena, that was already there when we arrived.  We enjoyed a delectable dinner of halibut picata with fettucine, courtesy of Chef Mike.  During dinner, there were several mentions, in jest, about doing the polar bear plunge. Several glasses of wine later, I told Carmel I’d do it if she did.  Well that’s all it took.  I should know by now that Carmel is never one to back down from a challenge.  She was off to put on her bathing suit before I could get up from the table.   A few minutes later we were standing on the swim step waiting for the guys to get the cameras ready – because, of course, we needed proof!  A quick countdown and off we went, hand in hand – our own little Thelma and Louise moment!  Carmel practically levitated back up onto the boat – neither of us stayed long.  Let me just say this – it was invigorating!  And awesome!  But I don’t feel the need to do that again anytime soon.  Not to be outdone, JD went next.  He’s such a brave and adventurous little man.

Time for more glaciers – this time Ailik and Holgate.  We sat in front of the Ailik glacier for 30 minutes or more just listening to the thunderstorm of cracks and watching it calve.  Definitely one of the most breathtaking things I’ve seen and heard – I highly recommend it for your bucket list.

The next morning we were escorted out of our anchorage by twin Dall porpoise.  These little guys looked like baby Orcas, and swam  just ahead of the bow, zigzagging, pirouetting and jumping for a good 10 minutes or more.  Just enchanting.  The day was topped off by a visit to Northwestern Glacier.  The 360-degree view was just incredible.  Snow-capped mountains, lush greenery, the glacier itself and huge chunks of ice in the water.  I’m telling you, God has some mighty good artwork up here.

Finally, we made our way to Seward.  Stunning snow-capped mountains provided the backdrop to our pier,  but the view was often obscured  by visiting cruise ships.  One of the best parts about where we were moored though, were a group of 8 sea otters that made their home in the marina.  They put on quite a show every day, and were just adorable.  Our first night in Seward, we enjoyed an amazing dinner at Ray’s, just at the head of the pier.  It was so good, in fact, that we went back again a few days later for more oysters, salmon and halibut – all freshly caught.  We also visited the Seward Brewery (the crabby toast was scrumptious), the Alaska Sea Life center, made some boat repairs and did a major provisioning run.  Sadly, we had to bid adieu to our good friends while in port, but we made some fabulous memories that will last a lifetime!  I’m so thankful we were able to share these adventures with them.  Next up we will explore Prince William Sound, so stay tuned.  Until next time…live the adventure!

Air Bender in Seward, AK

Polar Bear Plunge Preps

Handsome JD

Mike and Col

Carmel and Dan


Glacier Time!

Starfish in the Crab Trap

Dinosaur Ice!

Flying the Spinnaker



Love the Seals

Celebrating the Halibut Catch

Nap Time

Cap’n Mike in the Water

Lingcod for Dinner


Dan’s Catch

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