Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Sights of Juneau - including Uno

Views of Juneau across Gastineau Channel from Douglas Island
We departed Taku Harbor around 9am, briefly escorted by a whale that positioned himself between Uno and Got d’ Fever before moving off towards the shore.  After a pleasant 3-4 hour cruise, we entered Gastineau Channel leading into Juneau.  
Downtown Juneau
We planned to spend several days in Juneau preparing for the daunting task of crossing the Gulf of Alaska and doing a little sightseeing.  It was time for Got d’ Fever  to receive some routine maintenance, including changing her fuel filters, emptying the sea-strainer’s, and checking the steering oil level among other items on the check-list.  
Downtown Juneau
We rented a car the following morning and made a trip to Costco to restock the galley and planned to meet Phil and Uno around 11am so they could also make a trip to Costco.  Shortly before eleven we received a phone call from Phil telling us that they made the decision to leave their boat in Juneau and fly home to Anchorage and that they would not be making the long 50-hour Gulf crossing (20hrs to Yakatat, another 30hrs to Henchinbrook Island in Prince William Sound).  Certainly a smart decision on their part due to the fact that they are still getting familiar with their boat, still learning new boating skills, and Phil’s wife still getting used to being at sea.  First Phil would need to find permanent moorage for Uno so he contacted Juneau Harbors; unfortunately, Juneau has limited moorage space at this time since docks are currently being renovated and newly installed docks won’t be open until June 1st.  However, Juneau Harbors also manages the docks at the small nearby village of Auke, located about 13 miles north of Juneau.  Uno was given a space at Auke Bay and Phil wanted to move his boat to its new location.  
Tide Levels at Juneau
There are two ways to get to Auke Bay by water from Juneau – backtrack out Gastineau Channel and follow Stephens Passage around Douglas Island, approximately a 4-hour trip; or continue north up Gastineau Channel to Fritz Cove and Auke Bay.  Phil chose to go through Gastineau Channel which becomes very narrow and very shallow north of Juneau.  Two miles of the channel goes dry even with a 10 foot tide.  In other words, boats will still hit bottom at a 10-foot tide above “mean low, low water.”  Locals report that according to the tide tables, at least a 16 foot tide is needed to safely transit the Channel for a boat that has a 4-5 foot draft.  After some quick telephone goodbyes, Uno departed Juneau and we decided to take a short sightseeing trip with the rental car.  As we drove north along the highway towards Mendenhall Glacier, we saw Uno heading up the Gastineau Channel.  While Uno was cruising up the channel, we visited Mendenhall Glacier, a popular tourist site within easy reach of Juneau located near Auke Bay just off the highway.  
Mendenhall Glacier and Nugget Falls
Visitors can hike the one-mile trail out to the Glacier for a closer look and stand below Nugget Falls, which we did to cool off from the 70 degree heat.  
Nugget Falls at Mendenhall Glacier
The Glacier is within the Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area and Tongass National Forest.  The Juneau Icefield Research Program has monitored the outlet glaciers of the Juneau Icefield since 1942, including Mendenhall Glacier which has receded 1.75 miles since 1958 when Mendenhall Lake was created.  
Mendenhall Glacier and Mendenhall Lake
It is interesting to note that Mendenhall once covered the valley when Joseph Whidbey, master of the HMS Discovery, toured with George Vancouver’s 1791-95 expedition, visiting the area in 1794.  Recently, scientists have found tree stumps and logs with roots and bark still attached located under the glacier from a pre-glacier time and are looking to see how old these trees were or are.  
Mendenhall Glacier seen from Auke Lake
After visiting Mendenhall Glacier, we stopped by the small village of Auke Bay to see if Uno had arrived; while overlooking the marina, we received a call from Phil - “We are aground on the mud bottom.”  Uno would have to wait another two hours for the tide to come in and float them off the mud before they could return to Juneau.  
Uno aground in Gastineau Channel
As we drove back to Juneau, we saw Uno listing to starboard in Gastineau Channel, which parallels the highway; I snapped a picture as we passed by.  We could see that they were pointed south and had apparently tried to turn around but it was too late, by this time there wasn’t enough water to get back.  While waiting for the tide to come in, Phil and Uno took the dinghy ashore and relaxed over a cup of coffee.  We joked with Phil that it was a creative way to get a cup of coffee!  Leonard and I stopped in downtown Juneau to do some typical tourist shopping and get our cup of coffee.  
Uno aground in Gastineau Channel, Photo by Phil
By this time Phil had texted us a photo of the incident and told us that Uno was back in port with no harm done, not even a scratch.  It was fortunate that they were listing to starboard and not to port where the exhaust openings are located.  When water begins to rise, seawater can get into the exhaust openings, potentially damaging the engine.  Additionally, Gastineau Channel is not the best place to go aground as it is highly visible in a small, tight-knit community.  The word spreads like wildfire.  While strolling along the waterfront, we met two local guys who struck up a conversation with us noting that we were lucky to have such nice weather.  We told them we had arrived in on our own boat rather than off the cruise ship.  “Oh, are you the people who got stuck in the Channel?”  No we said, but we know the people who did.  They told us that it's a common occurrence, at least 2-3 boats get stuck in the Channel every year.  They also confirmed that it’s not the best way to go unless you have a 16 foot tide or better.  Unbeknownst to Uno, they had become part of the day's tourist attractions.

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