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Voyages of the “Exodus” No. 15

If the water was warmer, we'd stay here forever. Alaska part 2.

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Exodus Pybus Bay- Click for Larger

Oh the splendor of vast unexplored wilderness! So many sites, so many experiences, and so little bandwidth to send you our latest tales and photos from the good ship Exodus.

Exploring from our summer base in Juneau, we have each found our favorite spots that we will cherish in our hearts, our minds, our stories and our photo albums forever. For me it would have to be Cannery Cove in Pybus Bay. Captain Peter, who has plied these waters for….. I don't know, 100 years or so….. claims it is the most beautiful anchorage he has ever seen. This small, u-shaped cove with a tidal river at one end is backdropped by spectacular snow covered peaks with no less than 10 small waterfalls that empty onto the valley floor. We planned to stay just a single night and finally left 5 days later.

Each day at low tied we watched dozens of bald eagles feasting on pink salmon and crabs on the beach. On one occasion I counted eleven mature eagles on a single dead spruce tree beside the riverbank, a truly inspiring site that triggered a tremendous rush of patriotic feelings – America The Beautiful!! (can't you just hear the music). But the eagles were not the only inhabitants of this wilderness paradise feasting on nature's bounty. That's right, I'm talking about those giant furry carnivores (OK, I know they're omnivores, but that doesn't sound as cool) – real live grizzly bears. One day I counted 9 bears in the cove, including one I affectionately dubbed “Junior” as he was by far the smallest kid on the block. Each evening about 8:00, Junior would show up on the beach to scavenge crabs and catch pinks in the shallow river delta. One evening Captain Peter took his son Gunner down to the beach in the dink to get a close-up look at Junior and his odd fishing techniques. No sooner had our illustrious Captain (and hard core naturalist) pulled into the shallows at the end of the cove than Junior decided to forgo river fishing in favor of a nice evening swim in the cove. This silly little bear jumped into the cove and promptly swam straight for the dink. I swear that bear got to within 25 feet of the dink (which had the motor off so as not to spoil the tranquil scene) before Peter cranked her up and slowly idled to a safe distance. That little bear swam around the cove for almost an hour before deciding to go back to salmon fishing in the river. The whole time I'm watching this scene in amazement from the bridge of the mother ship, fully expecting Marlin Perkins and his trusty sidekick Jim to come trudging out of the spruce grove to extol the virtues of a life insurance policy from Mutual of Omaha.

In addition to beauty and bears, the shear bounty of Pybus Bay was another significant part of the allure of this amazing anchorage. One morning Captain Jason and I took the dink to the end of the cove where we proceeded to catch 32 salmon before Juanita had breakfast on the table. Talk about shooting fish in a barrel!! To supplement our fresh Salmon (we only kept three), we set out our crab pot each morning with scraps from our day's catch. Each evening we would gather up the crab pot and keep a select few of the best and biggest Dungeness crab. Juanita and Ainsley made fabulous crab omletes, chilled crab claws, crab salad, and the ultimate culinary delight, Juanita's toasted sourdough crab melt with Camembert.

The wildlife and fresh seafood not withstanding, the decision to remain in Pybus Bay an extra 4 days was not an easy one as I had guests scheduled to both arrive in, and depart from Juneau the next day. Our Anchorage was about 85 miles from Juneau, which is an 8-hour cruise for Exodus. Running at 1200 RPMs on our twin Cat 3406's with one of our 69.5 KWH Cat generator running (yeah, we are a regular electrical power plant) we burn around 22 gallons an hour. When we topped off the tanks way down in San Diego we paid about $.96 a gallon for diesel, so to get to Juneau and back we'd burn about $360 in diesel (plus all the other operating expense), and I wouldn't get to fish or watch Junior that evening. So after a few calls on the satellite phone, we hooked up with the good folks at Alaska Seaplanes. For $330, these fine folks flew out our new guests and took our sad faced departing guests and luggage back to Juneau for their flight back to the non-cruising world. Many of you may remember that we first discovered the floatplane in 2000 when Brad had a pizza and beer attack on anchorage at the Island of Epi while we were sailing through the South Pacific paradise of Vanuatu…….but I digress.

From Pybus bay we sailed back to Tracy Arm to show our new guests the calving action at South Sawyer Glacier. Negotiating the narrow arm when it is choked with icebergs proved to be an interesting and often nerve racking bit of navigation. At one point we passed a spectacular waterfall pouring into the arm and Captain Peter decided that we should head towards it and stick our bow under the frigid torrent of water. Pretty soon dares were made, chests were puffed, and testosterone laced boasts were flying around the bridge like trailers in a Texas twister. Promptly thereafter Brad found himself in a dry suit on a lounge chair on the foredeck as our captain deftly eased the Exodus under this vertical river of glacial run-off. First a cold mist, than the deafening roar of thunder, and finally a raging torrent or 33 degree water pounding Brad reletenlessly as thousands of gallons of water poured onto Brad and filled the foredeck with 6 inches of water. Not to be outdone (OK, you all know that I am almost always outdone by Brad), I quickly donned just my bathing suit, jumped into the lounge chair and told the captain to take us under again. For those of you who haven't experienced this, it is truly amazing how very painful it can be to have your mostly naked body pounded by 1,000 gallons of freezing water per second that is falling from a height of over 120 feet! Very painful but a fantastic rush! Obviously I won the battle of the testosterone boast that day, although I did suffer from a headache, not to mention some serious shrinkage for about a day and a half.

We proceeded up the arm and after a few hours of 3 knot zigzagging around icebergs, and way to many attempts to act out that scene from Titanic – you know the one “Iceberg- dead ahead!!!!”, we pulled within 400 yards of the vertical face of the glacier. We sat on the flybridge for hours, wrapped in blankets and drinking coffee with Bailey's, watching intently as the giant glacier gave birth to dozens of new icebergs. Some calved icebergs were 600 pounds, some were 600 tons – but all were a surreal shade or cerulean blue. The smaller chunks hit the water with a sound like a cannon shot as they accelerate during their 100-foot free fall. The larger chunks slough off up high on the glacier and slide down the 10-story face with a crackling, grating noise and then collapse into the frigid water with a tremendous roar. Months of calving action in the spring had created a giant ice cave at the right hand side of the base of the glacier. This cave must have been 3 stories high from the water line to the roof and nearly 150 yards deep. For hours we discussed racing into the cave in the dink, touching the back wall and racing back out – it seemed like an executable, if somewhat fool hearty plan. Just as we had decided that we would indeed attempt this course of action, the glacier let out a deafening CRACK. We all turned our heads just in time to see the entire roof of the ice cave crash into the water with the sound of 10,000 rifles going off simultaneously. The iceberg that previously comprised the roof of the cave was at least 1,000 tons and came off as a single slab of blue ice. And then the wave came. A soft swell at first which built, and built and built into a 6 foot wall of water moving across the glassy stillness of this tiny fjord. It really caught the girls in the galley by surprise!!!

From Tracy Arm we cruised towards Haines for a little exploration. The wind came up hard and the seas were 3 ft with a heavy wind chop. We were dodging fishing nets all morning, which were very hard to see since the white caps camouflaged the floats. Lunch had just been laid on in the dining area on the bridge and there was considerable activity and conversation on the bridge, primarily focused on Juanita's guacamole and fresh halibut tacos. Brad, who was at the helm, noticed that a purse seiner about a half mile off had just done a 180 and was running hard right at us – a sure sign the captain of that vessel thought that we were encroaching on his nets. Just then Brad noticed a row of floats on the crest of a wave about 100 yards out and quickly grabbed the wheel and took Exodus hard over to port. Now the good ship Exodus weights about 180 tons and she doesn't exactly stop on a dime, so Brad decided in a flash that the best course of action would be to execute this hard turn and go around the net. OK, so here is the problem with that. Exodus will respond to the wheel when the autopilot is on, but unless you disengage the AP, she'll return to her original course. Our hard turn to port had left us running parallel to the net, which was just 10 yards to our starboard. A collective sigh of relief could be heard from everyone on the bridge, followed promptly by an “Oh shit!” from Brad when Exodus's AP decided to right her course back to starboard and take us right through this guy's net. Our ever so slight angle of attack as we breached the net wall placed our big shafts just off of parallel to the top of the net (as opposed to our initial course which was exactly perpendicular) which allowed the props to firmly grab the nets float line and begin wrapping it around the shafts at 1200 RPM. Had we stayed on course and immediately idled the props, we would have punched a nice, neat, 30-foot hole in the net. But our well-intentioned maneuver, and our bone-headed move on the autopilot (trust me, I've made many more than Brad), chewed up about 400 feet of very expensive net.

This leads us to our regular words of wisdom from the explorer yacht cruising files of Exodus:

Exodus Experience #49: Never forget Susan's birthday, or to turn off the autopilot when making an emergency course correction with the wheel. Both could potentially have dire consequences.

And, a slightly different but related bit of wisdom.

Exodus Experience #49B: If you are at the helm when something bone-headed is about to happen, promptly hand the wheel over to the trained, professional Captain. It may not change the ultimate outcome, but you'll feel much better recounting the tale later over drinks when you get to say “..and then Captain so and so ran right over this guys fishing net.”

Coming up in installment 16: With a name like “Ford's Terror”, it has to be good! The Straights of Georgia,
and the real scoop on installing stabilizers (OK, this one will be a total guy thing).

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Owners and Crew of the M/V Exodus

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Broker John DeCaro
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33316 USA
Telephone: 954-646-1411

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