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My wife grew up here in Sitka. She knows every corner of this town. But she’s seen very little of our corner of the world outside of town. She’s travelled around the archipelago with her dad, Ernie. Ernie was a commercial fisherman and she made many trips with him on their small troller. Ernie was also a child of the depression and saw these as business trips. He would fish all day and find a cove where he could anchor and get some sleep. There was no sightseeing, there was no exploring. It was work, work, work.

My experience differed greatly. I spent three decades in the Coast Guard, most of that here in Alaska. I had free time to see the sights and even to do a little exploring. My first year after retiring from the Coast Guard, I was Chief Mate on a small cruise ship where my job was to see the sights and explore Southeast Alaska. It was a grand summer. My only regret was not getting to share these times with my wife. I knew she would love to see and experience these things.

Now every chance we get, we make forays to these places together. Not only do I get to see them again, I get to experience them anew through my wife’s eyes. Last summer we spent a long weekend in Glacier Bay National Park. We flew to Gustavus on a small commuter plane and explored Glacier Bay and the sights, including staying at the lodge for two nights. This year we made our own trip to Stephens Passage.

We own a small thirty-two foot boat, the Shenanigans. Thirty-two feet isn’t a small boat until you take it into the large bodies of water we transited on this trip: Chatham Strait, Frederick Sound and Stephens Passage. We planned for months, checking provisions and making sure the safety equipment was up to date and functioning. The boat treated us well with only one machinery casualty that kept us in Juneau for two unplanned nights.

My biggest concern for the trip was the weather, this year has been very damp and very windy. Typically, July is one of the mildest times of year for us. I was hoping for sun but was more worried about wind. The places we were going the water can get big. It rained every day, which was unfortunate. Good light makes good pictures. But the wind never got above fifteen miles per hour. While the water was lumpy in places, it was nothing the Shenanigans couldn’t handle.

We were fortunate with our animal sightings: numerous Brown Bear, Sitka Blacktail Deer, Dall’s Porpoise, Harbor Porpoise, Humpback Whales, Sea Otters, Seals, Sea Lions and more. The best of which were a bear sow and her cub two hundred yards from our boat one morning and our journey down Stephens Passage surrounded by hundreds of Humpback Whales displaying every whale activity you could imagine.

We did have one benefit from the pandemic – there were no cruise ships or even tour boats around. We made our journey to the end of Tracy Arm in solitude. We passed two small charter boats that were leaving the fjord as we neared the glaciers. When we got there, we had them to ourselves. At Sawyer Glacier I maneuvered as close as I dared and shut down the engines. We enjoyed the quiet, broken by the occasional groan from the slow-moving ice. My daughter was entranced, she sat atop our boat for a half hour just absorbing the experience.

As we approached South Sawyer Glacier my wife doubted we would get close; the waters were choked with ice. She was right. We were only able to get about a mile from the face when we had to stop. We drifted for a while, trying to keep our distance from the seals resting on the bergs. They’re on the ice, most with pups, because it’s a safe place from predators. If you approach to close, they “flush” off the ice into the water. Better to leave them on their sanctuaries.

We were disconnected from the world, no internet, most of the time not even cell service. This was a trip for my wife, we were blessed to share it with two of our children too. We overnighted in Sitkoh Bay, Juneau, Holkham Bay, Kake and Warm Springs Bay. I haven’t measured, but I think it was 600 or so miles. Our boat is terribly slow, it was less than eight miles per hour for most of the trip. And while we saw some wondrous and amazing things along the way, the best part of the trip was sitting around the table playing cards nightly with my family.

Please enjoy these few images from our journey.