Alaska Inside Passage

Juneau where we are? No, but I'll Alaska

Wednesday, September 16, 2015S.V. CAMBRIA

In 2007, David and I spent the summer in England visiting his brother and family. By that time, Derek and June had lived in the same home for several decades and were part of a group of friends that had been around equally as long. We were impressed. Neither one of us had planted solid roots in our lives and didn’t have many long-term relationships, outside of family, as a result. So when David remarked to Derek about how special we thought that was, he replied, “Yes. But you have friends all over the world.” It’s true. Over the years, we’ve become friends with people who are scattered across the globe. Some we’re still able to see. Others are now pen pals. And others still have completely slipped by the wayside. Our friends, Paul and Julia, fall into a category all their own.

We met while cruising in Tonga twelve years ago and they’ve been stuck with us ever since . . . whether they like it or not. But our lifestyles usually have us on opposite ends of the world: New Zealand. Alaska. The South Pacific. The Pacific Northwest. Occasionally, our paths cross. A few times in Opua and Auckland. Once in Newport Beach. Another time in Las Vegas. And now in Juneau

But we had to get there first.

Worn out from our long day in Tracy Arm, we slept in Monday morning and then made our way up Stephens Passage to Taku Harbor, the former site of a commercial cannery. From all accounts, it’s an interesting place to take a walk and explore. But we couldn’t even muster the energy to get off the boat, telling ourselves that if you’ve seen the remains of one cannery you’ve seen them all.

Feeling better rested on Tuesday, we continued up Stephens Passage to Auke Bay in Juneau. Along the way, we could see a humpback whale breaching a few miles off in the distance. David asked if I wanted to move in for a closer look. It was tempting, but the whale was already being followed by ten or more tour boats and we didn’t feel right about joining the frenzy. We’d soon regret that. Through the binoculars we could see that there was more than one whale and they were working together – slapping, jumping and lunging – to feed. No doubt about it, the tourists were treated to an amazing show that day and we lost out.

Auke Bay is busy. Very busy.

To add to the chaos, it’s a “first come, first served” marina which (to them) means if you see an open spot, take it. Commercial fishing season had started a few days beforehand and the floats were full of boats waiting for the next opening, so we weren’t able to find a berth when we got there. Paul and Julia’s flight wasn’t due to arrive for another two days, so we found a nice little spot to anchor in a couple of miles away where we vegged out and waited. Our time was meant to be spent more productively on things like oil changes, laundry and provisioning but, once again, we found ourselves unable to muster the energy to get off the boat. This time, though, it was because David had a cracking headache.

Thursday morning, we upped anchor just before 9:30 and made our way back to the marina hoping to find an opening so we could pick them up. As we did, Paul and Julia’s plane flew directly above us. We lurked around the floats a bit and managed to grab a spot after a boat left. By the time we’d secured our lines, gathered all our trash and started walking up the dock, there they were – a sight for sore eyes!!!

We had to wait out some weather, so we decided to stay in the marina a couple of nights. I wanted to rent a car so we could access upper Mendenhall Glacier and some of the trails but wasn’t able to plan ahead so we all piled on the city bus and went back to the airport. There was only one car available, an SUV at $125 a day, so we decided to pass and took the bus downtown. When we arrived, it was bustling with activity and didn’t take us long to discern that the downtown area was made up of the usual suspects – jewelry stores, souvenir shops, galleries – all tailor-made for the cruise ship crowd, despite the fact that Juneau, as Alaska’s state capital, is a thriving year-round city.

More interested in the locally brewed beer than window shopping, we walked to the Red Dog Saloon, a western-style sawdust-on-the-floor tavern that’s popular with locals and tourists for some Alaskan Ambers. When we arrived, the place was packed. But by four or five o’clock, it had emptied out – apparently it was buffet time on the cruise ships. After a few drinks, we went back outside in search of some dinner ourselves. The streets, like the Red Dog, were nearly deserted.

We’d all had enough of downtown and tourist attractions; so we kept things low-key on Friday and decided to take a walk through Tongass National Forest while we continued to catch up with each other in person . . . a really nice change from our regular e-mail exchange.

By Saturday, the weather had moved out and we were ready to do the same.

Finding a nice anchorage close to Juneau is easier said than done. But when we were anchored off Auke Bay, a local lady out of Haines stopped by Cambria for a chat and recommended St. James Bay in Lynn Canal, adding that you could spend a summer exploring the area. So, off we went.

St. James Bay is a nice, quiet anchorage with a beautiful mountain view and she treated us well during our short stay: A commercial crabber stopped by and offered us four large Dungeness (which we graciously accepted), Paul and Julia were able to get out in the kayaks where they saw a brown bear and the long, warm nights gave us all the chance to hang out in the cockpit and enjoy each others company. All and all, a brilliant two days!!!

But all good things must come to an end.

Monday morning we upped anchor and made our way back to Auke Bay in the rain. When the time came, the four of us walked up to the bus stop and took the express to the airport. We said good-bye the best way we know how – at the bar over a couple of beers. But before our glasses were empty, their flight was called.

And just like that, our weekend was over.

Note: This blog was written on June 29, 2015. Title “joke” courtesy of David and his horrible sense of humour. 

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