Prince William Sound (“PWS”) Part 3 – The Finale!
Pendana’s adventure continues and this time we moved from Cascade Bay to Mueller Bay so that we could be closer to Mears Glacier and our planned trip the next day. Mueller Bay was a beautiful little inlet, full to overflowing with Sitka Spruce and green glacial waters that had to be seen to be believed.
BEAR! BEAR! BEAR!
While Abi and I were cooking dinner, Claire happened to stroll outside to check on the rocks that were starting to protrude as the tide slowly ebbed. As she scanned the rocks nearby she shouted BEAR! BEAR!, BEAR!.
With Binocular’s in hand, we all flew outside, left our salmon to cook itself, and went to see our very first Black Bear. WOW! No fences, no admission, just nature on display for our very own private viewing. How special to see this magnificent animal in the wild. What an absolute treat.
We considered jumping in the tender to get closer, or launching the drone, but decided to simply sit back and enjoy the show nature had delivered. What a treat!
Photo below, is what the bear would have looked like if we had of been closer. Sorry folks that was not our bear! Mind you, not sure I would want to be that close.
Our trip to Mears Glacier was not as we expected. The glacier had been carving heavily and the passage towards the glacier would take forever due to reduced boat speed to avoid the large quantities of ice. The last thing we wanted was a hole in the hull or scratches all down both sides so we decided to turn about and head straight for our next anchorage, Jade Harbour.
As we approached Jade Harbour a large sized berg sat motionless in the open waters to the south and directly in Pendana’s path. With a slight adjustment to our course we passed at safe distance and took several hundred photos.
Jade Harbour sits at the mouth of the largest salt water glacier in Prince William Sound, the impenetrable Columbia Glacier. As such, ice-bergs that fill the main bay float down and lodge themselves on the moraine (which is exposed at low tide) two miles away from where we anchored. With tender at the ready, hats and gloves on, jackets and bear spray in hand (thank you Don & Sharry) we ventured forth!
There is nothing I can say other than to show you the photos. To be up close and personal with these sculptured masterpieces was a delight and a wonderful experience for all!
With time marching on it was time to get to Valdez. The town made infamous by the oil tanker disaster of March 24th 1989 when some twenty million US gallons of oil was spilt into PWS when the Exon Valdez hit Bligh Reef. Horrendous disaster!
Unfortunately for us we had arrived here on the 4th of July weekend. The marina was chock-a-block (full in other words) with only a side tie (tying to another vessel) available. As such, we opted to anchor in Shoup Bay and tender the eight nautical miles into town.
Now, I have to admit, we had a few problems finding suitable anchoring in Shoup Bay. The Guides were wrong, the water depths were wrong and so were the charts! As we floated around looking for a suitable location, we soon realised another boat was in the very position we wanted. Thankfully he called me on the radio and mentioned he was about to leave. THANK GOODNESS for that as there were simply no other options available inside the bay.
As you can see from the photo below our initial anchoring position was too close to shore and, as such, we had to up anchor and relocate about 100metres further out. This is now the second time in five years of owning Pendana that we have had to up anchor and move through poor choice. Ouch! The reason we were too close to shore was entirely my fault as allowed Pendana to be pushed with the wind and current rather than holding her firm against it, while Claire dropped the anchor! Also, the small motorboat that had just departed was watching us anchor, so I didn’t want to look like an amateur and move. The word, idiot springs to mind! Lesson learned!
The only problem now is that we are now eight miles from town. Making an eight mile tender ride in the sunshine is one thing, making it here in Alaska is another altogether, as the icy waters spray, ice chilled winds combined with the tender’s speed would make for an incredibly uncomfortable and ice cold ride. So we up anchored the next day (much to Claire’s disbelief) and moved closer to town.
A few interesting facts about high latitude cruising in PWS is that making water is a dream. There is so little salt in the water, thanks to all the glaciers, that Pendana is making water that is better than most first world countries. In terms of Total Dissolved Solids (TDS), in the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) advises against consuming water containing more than 500mg/litre, otherwise known as 500 parts per million (ppm) of TDS, although many health specialists believe that ideal drinking water should be under 50 ppm or lower. The average tap water in America contains approximately 350 ppm of TDS although it is not uncommon for municipal or local water supplies to exceed this. Pendana is making water like there is no tomorrow at around 50ppm and at very low pressures on the water maker! Fresh, fresh, fresh!
Another interesting fact is that our engine room, while underway, is now a dream to visit and perform engine room underway checks. When we were traveling through the Pacific, engine room temperatures reached 68C/154F (around 30C/86F above ambient). Now, however, the engine room is around 40C/104F making it a very nice place to visit indeed!
Valdez was, if I am honest, a little disappointing. The weather was terrible, low cloud and thick fog most days until noon and the town itself was, well, nothing special although, it did have a cute museum that was well done and well worth the visit. The marina was crammed to overflowing and with no space for Pendana available we had a two mile tender ride each way to deal with (better than eight I guess!). However, there is always a however, the two positive things about Valdez were, one, Valdez, well actually the entire state of Alaska has zero ethanol in its fuel! As most would know, outboard engines like the one we have on our tender and ethanol fuels simply do not mix. Using ethanol based fuel in virtually all outboards is a sure fire way to destroy the engine very quickly and two, Valdez has 4G wireless coverage!
In fact, I do feel a little sorry for Valdez, first the folks from Cordova shot some rail workers as they tried to build their own railway (up to the Copper mines) in competition with Cordova in 1902, then the 1964 earthquake flattened the old town of Valdez causing widespread damage and then to top it all off, the Exon Valdez disaster in 1989 cost untold billions in clean-up costs which are still being monitored to this day. Seems Valdez is destined to be infamous for all the wrong reasons.
We did hire a car while in Valdez and drive to Copper River (famous for its salmon) which was spectacular as the scenery through Keystone Canyon and Thompson Pass was simply sensational. Also during the drive north we were able to see the Trans Alaskan Pipeline which runs some 800miles from Prudhoe Bay in the north, down to Valdez. Simply amazing engineering!
Anchoring buddies, Pendana and the Northwestern from the TV show, Deadliest Catch!
The crew of the Northwestern fish Prince William Sound in the summer then head to the Bering Sea in the winter where the Discovery Channels most popular TV show is filmed.
For our fellow boaters out there, a word on water depth and anchoring. We found the sound and its bays to be very easy to anchor in with the exception of Shoup Bay. Most time we were anchoring in around 75-90 feet / 25-30 meters of water with a one to four scope. At no stage was swing an issue or stern tying necessary. There are literally thousands of places to drop the hook here in PWS so you are bound to find one that suits. We covered some 540nms while inside the sound and went around in a clockwise direction. During our time here, even the bad days were totally acceptable with mirror seas being the norm. Boating here is more like being on a huge lake. My only advice is that if you come to PWS then plan on spending at LEAST four/five weeks. We spent three weeks here and felt that we could have spent more time than that.
We left Valdez after a day of R&R and headed directly to Cordova (68nm passage) for a quick visit and to prepare Pendana for the open seas once again and for our direct run to Yacutat and then Sitka. Cordova is a lovely little fishing village with a great feel about it and unlike Valdez, has a soul and real vibe about the place. Good on Cordova for protecting their railway back in 1902 I say. Interestingly the railway is no longer working since the earthquake of 1964 so Cordova is a town that remains landlocked with the only access being by air or sea. Perhaps this is the reason Cordova is such a charming place?
Cordova is also home to the, Cordova Fishermen’s Memorial. I have seen this memorial over the years and always wanted to see it for myself. Very sobering with many plaques dedicated to fishermen and fisherwomen lost at sea surrounding it.
Our time in Prince William Sound has now come to an end and with that we bid a fond farewell to one of the most outstanding areas in the world. We came expecting something beautiful and left after seeing something truly magnificent. The Sound really is a truly special place and a place that everyone should make plans to see at least once in their lifetime with the north and north-west part of the sound being truly, a very special place.
We came to Alaska having never seen in the wild, animals such as otters, seals, Killer Whales, American Bald Eagles, Puffins, Dal Porpoise, Black Bear, Marbled Murrelets, Sea Lions, Kittiwakes, deer, and Glaucous-Winged Gulls and Beavers to name but a few. Simply priceless!
As we now plan our departure from Prince William Sound we are reminded of the reason we came. We were told, long ago, that Prince William Sound was the jewel in Earth’s crown and now we understand why. Alaska is a state of great beauty so we wonder what Yacutat and Sitka have in store as our final two destinations in this great state of Alaska. One could literally spend ten summers in the Sound and maybe then, and only then, get to see it all! For us we need to push on and reluctantly say farewell to this, the jewel in Earth’s crown!
PS: Plan is to depart for Yacutat Tuesday 12th July on slack water through nasty, nasty, Hinchinbrook Channel then onto Sitka and finally into Canada thereafter.