Gone Floatabout

Sailing, Photography, Wilderness

Weatherbound, Part Two


Play fighting bearsBack on the boat after watching the flirting bears and the people ashore next to them, Seth and I checked on Celeste‘s anchor.  It was going to be a very rough night outside and we weren’t sure how rough it would get even inside our almost landlocked bay.  We had all of our 175ft of chain out and a stout snubber line to take the shocks of Celeste moving around on it in sudden gusts.  At the moment not a ripple disturbed the water, and the chain went straight down to lie flat on the bottom, ending in our 45lbs Mantus anchor.  We thought briefly about hauling it up and replacing it with our 65lbs Mantus just in case, but decided against it.  So far we hadn’t felt a breath of wind inside despite consistent 35-40 knots outside.

Glassy calm in the anchorage before the gale

Glassy calm in the anchorage before the gale

Well, it must have really howled outside that night.  I don’t like to think how much wind must have torn up Shelikof Strait if we were getting 35 knots inside the complete shelter of the hills and islands.  We were both up with the first of it, checking things on deck, checking our position relative to shore, and setting the anchor alarm on our GPS.  Everything was okay.

We woke several times in the night and our track on the GPS was a messy black splotch, showing we’d stayed in about the same place all night.  Good.

At dawn, the bay was calm again; the skies were clear; and Celeste was sitting pretty, far enough from shore, the black splotch on the GPS showing she hadn’t moved.  But we both swore we were farther from the beach than we’d been before we’d gone to bed.  I turned on the depth sounder again.  90ft.  We’d been in 60ft the evening before, at high tide.Anchored on Alaska Peninsula


I remembered from anchoring originally that the shore shelves steeply, almost in two big steps.  The first step went from 90ft right to 60ft, plateaued, and then jumped to 20ft at the second step.

Our Mantus anchor after the williwaws in Haida Gwaii

Our Mantus anchor after the williwaws in Haida Gwaii

We must have anchored closer to the first step than I’d realized.  The first blast of the storm jolted Celeste, and her anchor had dropped off the step.  It must have dug in again immediately, because we’d been fast out of bed and setting the anchor alarm, and she hadn’t moved since then.  Our anchor had proved itself before, in williwaws in the Queen Charlotte Islands, and in a gale on the Kenai Peninsula, but the fact that it had set and held so quickly in 90ft of water boosted our confidence that much more.  We didn’t re-anchor.  It wasn’t going anywhere now!

Bears and PeopleOver breakfast, Seth broached his idea.  It was clear he’d been mulling it over since the arrival of the people the day before.  He wanted to join them on the river bank watching the bears. Needless to say, I was extremely hesitant.  But in the same way Seth can get me to ski down almost anything with his very reassuring type of persuasion, he managed to convince me.

The people had been set up with cameras and camp chairs for over an hour before we secured our dinghy to a rock and started walking slowly and silently towards them.  Half a dozen bears, including a mother and two cubs, went about life, completely ignoring us and the other people.  We instantly figured out who the two guides were—the only ones without enormous tripods and telephoto lenses.  (They were also wearing the Alaskan uniform of brown ExtraTuff boots.)  Before we could ask, one of the guides was beckoning us to take an up-turned bucket and join the crouched line-up.Bears fishing

A moment later he was by our sides, introducing himself as Eric and explaining how the whole thing works.  He and the rest of the crew bring the two boats over from Kodiak. The passengers—max eight per boat—arrive by floatplane so as to avoid the rough sea crossing.  Then they spend about a week in that bay and a couple of others nearby, photographing or simply observing the wildlife. He and the other guide carry hand-held distress flares to set off between the tourists and any bear that might really act up, but he almost never has to use them. As long as everyone gets down low (the bears interpret standing positions as threatening) and stays quiet, calm, and very still, the bears wouldn’t be startled or see us as a threat. Eric is a biologist, he told us, and specializes in brown bear behavior. The other guide ashore that day was the engineer. They also had a captain, mate, and cook on each boat.

With Eric’s friendly assurances/instructions in our minds, we slowly and quietly unpacked our camera gear and took turns behind the lens for the rest of the morning.Bears fishing-2


12 thoughts on “Weatherbound, Part Two

  1. Pingback: Alaskan Brown Bears, Up Close! | Gone Floatabout

  2. I have the same 45lb Mantus, good to know it held up well!

    • We love ours—the plow-type we used to have dragged several times in big blows, so it’s a relief to have something better! Don’t think you’ll be disappointed!

  3. Well fed bears are generally low risk bears. When they are on a salmon stream during a run, they are totally focused on the food source, and as long as humans (or any other creatures, including bears) don’t challenge, or threaten their fishing spot, they fish, eat, and sleep.

    At the McNeil R. sanctuary, not far from where you were anchored, visitors sit about about 20 feet from the river on a bank about 10 feet above river level, and the bears pretty much ignore them totally, as long as they behave predictably, and stay on their turf. The wait for McNeil permits is long, so the guides and their clients you saw are apparently taking advantage of the fact that the peninsula harbors a huge population of bears, as well as hundreds of significant salmon streams, so bear viewing opportunities abound. But as you know from getting yourselves there, access is difficult,

    You were right to exercise caution though. The isolation that allows those healthy salmon runs and bear populations means that if a problem arises, you might be on your own with that problem for a good long while.

    Looking forward to seeing and hearing about what you encounter on the rest of the voyage. When do you head back to Celeste? Snow is melting here in interior AK, although rivers will not be breaking up for another month or so…

    • Hi Andy,
      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. What you say was certainly backed up by our experiences and by what the guides on the other boats said. You’re also right on, though, that it’s not good to get complacent, even with well-fed bears, especially considering the isolation of where we were. I didn’t know about the McNeil River and the permit wait—that probably is why we saw these groups.
      We’re heading back to Celeste in June when we can get time away from work. Looking forward to it!

  4. Glad the rough night didn’t get to bad:) Celeste looks beautiful anchored up in the bay. Great bear pictures!

  5. What a way to enjoy an anchorage in strong weather! You must have been delighted with these close up shots of the bears!