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June 2008 - Alaska Inside Passage Exploration

Northern Portion ABC Islands

Admiralty, Baranof, Chichagof Islands 

June 11, 2008 ~ Wednesday
52F Overcast

An early morning call, to answer mother nature, found the boat surrounded by thousands of small bait fish. Later that morning we had what we thought was a seal gorging on these small bait fish that were attempting to use our boat for shelter.
Shanna warmed up pre-made frozen breakfast tacos that really hit the spot and then we were off to check our crabs pots for “Dungees” AKA: Dungeness crabs. John asked if we had been dreaming about what we had in the traps to which we replied “No.”: he had, all night. John wanted us all to guess how many crabs we thought would be in the three pots. John guessed zero, Shanna also predicted zero and Jeff, Mr.Optimistic, guessed three. The anticipation was building as we slowly motored toward the buoy. John hand pulled the 100 feet of line. Out of the 35 foot depths, came our first pot and John let out a loud “woo-hoo!” We were pleasantly surprised as our traps continued to reveal crab. Our three pots yielded a total of 8 huge male crabs, which are the only gender legal to keep according to ADF&G regulations. An interesting side note, our traps that were baited with hooligan caught the crabs while the high dollar shrimp bait didn’t catch one crab. But, it is labeled as “shrimp bait” and not “crab bait.” I guess the crabs can read. All eight of our crabs met the size requirements of at least 6 ½ inches across the back of the shell, the carapace. We were excited as crab after crab measured much bigger than our gauge. We put them in a 50 qt ice chest and filled it with fresh sea water to keep them alive.

Dungeness CrabWe established a routine of changing their water every 30 minutes throughout the day to ensure our catch would be alive when they finally met their fate later in the evening. We continued making our way down the coast at a slow cruising speed of approximately five mph with only one engine running to conserve fuel. Along the way we spotted several humpback whales as well as many eagles. Jeff suggested we start a log of the daily wildlife sightings in order to keep track of the species as well as the numbers we spotted.
The count has begun: whales (mostly humpbacks), eagles, bears (both brown & black), seals and sea otters and numerous water birds.
As the afternoon wore on, John announced that it was time for Jeff to don his survival suit during a mock evacuation drill. The first attempt took Jeff approximately 4½ minutes -- hope the boat doesn’t go down too fast! He practiced one more time and managed to shave two whole minutes off his total time. He slashed his donning time to a lightening speed of 2½ minutes. This was certainly no record breaker, but improves the chance that he could put it on in a timely manner should the need arise.

Shortly after the drill, we were surprised by an enforcement boat belonging to NOAA which seemed to quickly sneak up behind us from our 7 O'clock. John pulled the controls back to idle and opened his window to see what they wanted. They yelled across and asked if we had any fish onboard to which John promptly answered, “No, just crabs.” They were satisfied, brought their power up and took off to find their next victims. We continued on our way to Excursion Inlet in search of the perfect place to set out our shrimp pots. We set the pots out around 3:00 PM to soak. After dropping off the pots we continued further into the inlet to explore an operating cannery belonging to Ocean Beauty Seafood of Seattle. The cannery is one of the last remotely operated canneries in Souheast Alaska and completed isolated. The complex appeared quite large from the water with multiple buildings -- both modern and mid 1900‘s construction -- it was enticing us to explore it. We tied up alongside a large floating dock, which was obviously owned by the cannery, and made our way up the steep ramp. Not far from the top of the ramp on the path leading toward the complex, Shanna noticed a large pile of bear scat. The decision was made to return to the boat and retrieve the bear spray, just in case we met up with the owner of the scat. With weapons in hand, we started our exploration at several large wooden floats which were currently on dry ground because it was low tide. Shanna was eyeing the various tools left on the floats with anticipation of how they could be used to help us clean our Dungees for tonight’s dinner. After much coaching, we convinced her that the right thing to do was leave the cannery tools laying and become more creative when it came to crab cleaning. Another one of the floats was an old abandoned work barge which at one time had housed a store and what appeared to be living quarters. The place was vacated and left just as it was years earlier. Some type of animal had been calling it home as it left it’s calling card scattered around the inside.

Bicycle dump

We continued our journey around the complex by wandering down the various gravel roads. John & Shanna happened upon several young men from McAllen, Texas who was just starting at the cannery. Shanna asked if they’d seen any bears and they warned of a large black bear who called the area home. While strolling down another path in the compound, John noticed bear paw prints smeared on the outside of a window. Obviously a black bear was trying to get a better look inside the building. That certainly would scare the hell out of you if you peered out of your bedroom window to see Mr. Black bear looking in. As we ventured through the area we observed


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