2015 Alaska Sea Camp – Mike’s Story

Mike’s perspective

I’d like to say how happy I am that I got to participate in the Alaska adventure. I had been hoping to find a big trip. This was right opportunity. I didn’t have any ocean experience and knew that wasn’t in my favor.  I’d trained hard locally and did the best I could, but didn’t know if that would be enough. Well, I did get to join the trip and was very pleased. I started reading about tides and currents, reading books about the area we were  going to and talking to those that went before. The series of prep questions were fun and challenging. Answering these questions help to familiarize us with our charts and the area.

I joined the Cumberland Island adventure to get a little taste of salt water before heading to Alaska. Going to Cumberland Island gave me a chance to learn a little about tides and currents first hand. Jeff and Michelle were good about talking about route planning and how we had to consider the tides and currents so we could use them to our advantage instead of fighting them.

I hadn’t been on an airplane in over twenty years, so we studied up on air travel and learned what we needed to know and everything went pretty well. My wife Lynette and her brother Brad joined me on the flight to Juneau, they stayed in Juneau and toured the area while I was on the ocean with the group.

Packing for the trip was a challenge, we were instructed to bring only enough to fill half a kayak. Of course, we didn’t know exactly what kayak we would be paddling. We had to pack light, something I’m bad at.  The usual way I pack for a trip is test pack my kayak in the garage, I pack stuff in until it’s full and that’s what I take. For this trip we had to carefully consider what we brought. Everything had to do double or triple duty. Several people suggested using a golf bag as luggage and that worked well. I found one long enough to hold my paddles and big enough for most of my other gear.

The flight to Seattle went pretty well, Lynette put her knee brace in her carry on and got the once over for that. My belt buckle set off the alarm so I had to remove my belt and hold up my pants until we cleared security. Aside from those minor things it all went just fine. We had a fairly long layover in Seattle, Sharell and Bernie caught up with us there and we were on the same flight to Juneau. Jeff and Michelle met us at the airport in Juneau and showed us where we would catch the flight to Hoonah the next day.

When we arrived at the airport for our flight to Hoonah they weighed us and all our gear and divided us into two groups. It took two small plains for us and a third plain brought much of our gear. I really enjoyed the flight in the small plain, flying low and slow you started to get a feel for the area.  After landing in Hoonah we had to ferry all our gear and us to the cabin we would spend the night in. It was a nice cabin. In retrospect I think we were slowly being introduced to what our reality in lodging was going to be because by the last night the quality of our accommodations had dropped off considerably. We looked at our chart and talked a little about what we were undertaking then went to a restaurant. As we were leaving the restaurant we were given a crab for our lunch the next day.  The people we met were nice to us like that the whole while we were in Alaska.

 

 

The next morning we had to ferry our small mountain of gear to the dock. The kayaks that had been rented for our use had to be carried about two blocks down to the dock. Us and all our gear where loaded on to two water taxies for the trip out to Yakobi Island. The boat ride out was great the captain and his friend who was acting as deck hand were a wealth of information and darn good company. We  saw Humpback Whales Stellar Sea lion and Dall’s porpoises on the way out and were given advice on possible camping spots and bear avoidance. When we arrived  at Green Top Harbor cabin there were some folks occupying it. Brock our deckhand politely and diplomatically evicted them for us, what a great kindness. The cabin was delightful it was cozy but quite adequate for our group. Jeff Michelle and Ryan slept down stairs while the rest of us Found a piece of floor to stretch out on up stairs. The privy was on the open side, Fred rigged a tarp to block the view then found a buoy that he hung in the middle of the trail, the idea being when you went to the privy you left the buoy in the trail and when you were done you hung it off to the side, Thanks Fred.  We all took turns doing chores, helping prepare meals making drinking water, cleanup after meals.

We talked about navigation and worked on our kayaking skills. Practicing our bracing, including sitting on our back deck with our feet in the cockpit.  This gave us ample opportunity to practice rolls and rescues. We worked around the nearby rock features  which was a lot of fun.

We played in the gaps in the rocks. When it was my turn to go Ryan said “go now”.  I thought, but the water was low now.  Ryan said it won’t be go now! A wave would come from behind lift you up and shoot you through the gap. I learned an important lesson, look where you want to go not at what you want to avoid. I looked at the rock wall and kayaked right up and over the rock it made a lot on noise and scared the hell out of me. Aside from that, it was kind of fun. It was interesting the way the features we were playing around kept changing with the tides making them either easier or more difficult. The tides always kept changing what you experienced.

Part of our homework was to plan a trip to White Sulfur Springs. My plan was actually fairly reasonable. The day we traveled to the hot spring, we encountered the biggest conditions of the trip. They really weren’t all that bad. A family was staying in the cabin by the hot springs, they seemed concerned when ten kayakers descended on them. When they learned that we were staying at Green Top Cabin they were very friendly. They built a fire for us shared their cookies with us and gave us a big king salmon fillet. When we were going to leave they said if conditions were too much to come back and they would ferry us back with their boat. What nice folks.

I guess my favorite part of the trip was the journey back to Hoonah. The water taxies brought us out via the Lisianski Strait and that would have been a fine way to paddle back if we had to but we were lucky enough to paddle back on the ocean side of Yakobi Island. The weather was great conditions weren’t a concern and the scenery was spectacular. Along the way we were coached in navigation and seamanship. We were treated to many wildlife spotting along the way humpback whales, sea otters, sea lions and a couple of bears were just a few of the critters we saw.

 

 

We made camp the first night of the journey back in Hoktaheen Cove. Probably not as many miles as we wanted but it put us in good position to take advantage of the currents the next day. We found a nice spot to camp with a nice place to set up tents and a stream. The stream would be a good source for fresh water. There were salmon jumping in the ocean by the stream and I thought that might attract bears so I asked if we could check out the next little bay over and see if that was suitable for our group. Jeff, Bernie and I went to check it out and the first thing we saw was a bear. That being the case we stayed put where we were. We had a bear free night and it was a beautiful spot to camp.

The next day was our longest day of paddling, something in excess of thirty miles. We did get some help from the current and it was a good day of paddling. It was also the day Sharell decided she should paddle euro blade. I had made Sharell and I two piece sticks for the trip ( I didn’t want to be the only stick paddler on the trip). Sharell was taking a turn paddling one of the big tsunami 175s that day. They are a big tub of a kayak that were a blessing for their gear hauling ability and not highly prized for much else. She did a fine job of paddling that big kayak with its heavy load  but thought she would do better with a spoon blade paddle. It was nice not being the only stick paddler but you have to do what’s right for you and if something works better for you then do it. We camped a little closer to the high tide line than we really wanted to but we stayed dry.

The next day was our last day on the water, Ryan told me I was going to make Sharell’s day because we were going to trade boats. I had the good fortune to paddle the Tide race boats a major portion of the time so I was ok taking another turn in the tsunami. Sharell really enjoyed paddling the Explore M and spent most of the day leading the pack. Jeff had a rough go of it, he was paddling another of the tsunamis. The rudder was broken and the tsunami had a bend toward the stern of the boat, so it wanted to turn all the time and the faster he paddled the worst it got. As we got closer to Hoonan the signs of civilization were more frequent. I’m not sure I was ready to go back as I had enjoyed our trip so much.

When we got back to Hoonah we rinsed our gear and started shuttling gear to our accommodations for the night. When Ryan came to get us we were told we had to hurry as he had talked the restaurant in to staying open to serve us. We got to the restaurant dressed in the base layers we had been wearing for most of the trip. The waitress nonchalantly slipped open a few windows, I guess a week in the same cloths will do that for you. That night we bedded down in what could only be described as a shed. It didn’t look big enough for us all to stretch  out in but we managed. We all managed to find a place to shower. Sleep came easily and I slept late by my standards the next morning. After breakfast we spread our damp gear in the parking lot to dry, then packed for our return to civilization.

I’m very glad I could participate in this adventure, for ten people to live in close quarters and get along so well was just a joy. Ryan was an excellent leader and coach, he was very enjoyable to work with. It was the first chance I had to work with him and he left a good impression. Jeff and Michelle did a great job of planning. The logistics and meals for the trip was a huge undertaking which they performed very well. The meals were plentiful and tasty and much appreciated. The beauty of the area, the warmth of the people we met and the camaraderie of our group will long be remembered. I hope to have the chance to participate in more of these kind of adventures  but this one will be hard to top. Thanks to everyone for making it such a great trip.

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