So we are back from our first crabbing trip on the boat. It was a great time.

We left late Friday, and had smooth waters out to the Locks. It was getting dark as we went, but we made it through the locks and to Shilshole by sundown. With just Yulia, Sasha, and myself on our boat, we had Sasha man the bow line. We were lucky to get sent through the small locks, and she was able to follow the instructions of the lockmaster with no problems.

Once we were at the guest dock in Shilshole it was late. We made a bite of food and just sacked out.

In the morning we made breakfast and were joined by PJ, who brought along bait and a third trap. He also had his fishing gear, as we planned to drop pots, anchor while they soaked, then see if we caught anything. We weren’t making big plans for catching much, but really just wanted to get out and see what we could find.

We headed just a bit north around the marina and looked for an area that wasn’t too crowded. We found a nice spot in a bit of a bay, and dropped our pots where we saw a few other folks dropping. Our first pot got it’s line tangled, and we lost it to the bottom. That sucked. The next two were fine, so we moved away and dropped anchor.

We set out some food, relaxed, and PJ started fishing. He was hitting flounder right away. We kept a big bunch of flounder, hit a few dogfish, and kept trying for salmon, with no luck. After a couple of hours we went back and pulled up the pots.

The first pot was full of crab! Everyone was excited, we went through the pot, and as expected most were too small or female. We had one keeper, and two males that were very close, but just under, so they went back too. The next pot had just a few crabs and no keepers. Even with one keeper it was fun, and Yulia was more thrilled about the flounder. We decided to head back, drop pots near the marina, and have some dinner.

We drove back to the marina, and found several traps set out there. We dropped our first pot, and got blown over the float. The line caught under the boat, and after a bit of wrestling, PJ drew the short straw, and dove under the boat. He found the line on the rudder, and once he was back onboard we gave him a shot of Rum and started the engines again. We dropped both pots without hassle, and went in for dinner.

Yulia set about getting the flounder ready. PJ cleaned the fish, Yulia prepped the pans, and I got the BBQ ready with vegetables (Roasted Portobello and peppers). Gena came over with Ribs and threw those on the BBQ as well.

The fish was great. Lots of bones, but fantastic tasting. PJ had to run after dinner, so Gena and I took his boat out to grab the pots from in front of the marina. The traps had a few starfish and some Red Rock Crab, but all small. One did pinch my thumb, but couldn’t get a grip through my glove. Still hurt like hell. I think he skipped across the water at least three times. We just headed back to have some drinks before calling it a night.

I boiled up the day’s catch as a late evening snack. That was some tasty crab. You can’t beat fresh from the sea.

On Sunday we packed up and headed back. We just missed the small locks, so had to tie up against the wooden railings out by the railroad bridge. It was low tide so we were crunching through mussels to find the tie downs on the wall. After about a half hour, we got the green light and motored into the locks.

It really amazes me how bad most people are at handling their boat. I’m not that great, but we watch folks spin around, go reverse by mistake, and pretty much everything else. Now I know why the state is starting mandatory licensing soon. Wow.

We made a slow cruise back through the Cut and Lake Union to Lake Washington. On the way back to our marina we anchored in Meydenbauer bay for a few hours to make a late lunch and swim. It’s a nice anchorage but the whole east channel was filled with waterskiers and tubers, so the chop kept drifting into the bay and knocking us about. Eventually we were too hot and tired to continue. We packed up and headed home.

Right near our dock we found a small boat ( a Cobalt – very expensive!) full of college kids, waving us down. We pulled along side, and they told us that the couldn’t start their engine, and needed Jumper Cables.

To my knowledge, they do not make 40-foot Marine Jumper Cables, but we tried to help, and their engine was cranking fine, but wouldnt start up. They said that they just filled up, so I figured that they had an ignition fuse or kill switch hit somewhere. The girl who was driving finally called her dad to help. We made sure that they were able to drift to a nearby dock for safety, as they had no anchor. (sigh) And no tow insurance (double sigh).

It was a great weekend overall.

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Our last day on the cruise was mostly a day at sea. We slept in as best we could, then spent the day by the pool relaxing and talking to people. We met a nice couple who were the parents of one of the girls that Sasha met on the trip. They were from Orange County, and were loving the cruise. They also hoped to see a little of Seattle before they flew home, so we gave them some tips on what they could see. They planned on trying to see Pike Place market, and they thought the idea of seeing the first Starbucks there was pretty cool.

We did little else but rest until we hit our final destination, Victoria BC. We docked at the main cruise terminal, which is a bit outside the center of downtown. We decided to walk, instead of taking the shuttle bus. We had a nice walk through a residential center. Apparently one of the residents really hates the cruise ships, and sprayed graffiti all over the place complaining about the ships. There was also graffiti from another neighbor complaining about the first.

Perhaps, this is not the best way to present your city.

But for us we had been to Victoria several times, and enjoyed the walk into town. At the legislature building we caught a horse carriage to take us up Government street. The girl driving our carriage gave us the quick tour. She was super enthusiastic, and didn’t stop talking until she dropped us off. In fact, I think she spoke in a single sentence the whole time. She dropped us at the back of Bastion Square, and we started walking back to and down Government street looking for a nice place to eat.

We ended up finding a really nice French Restaurant, and had a terrific dinner, a nice break from the ship’s food. After some food, wine, and espresso, we were tired. We had a few more hors in town, but since we had been here so many times before, we opted to just take a few photos and head back early. We grabbed a cab to the dock and got back on board.

We already had our departure time set. Yulia had a film the next day, so we opted for expedited departure and were going to be up at 7:15 to carry our own luggage off. We had a great trip, but were ready to get home.

Alaska was amazing. We will certainly go back.

Ketchikan was the only day where I had to set an alarm. We had originally not bought a tour, since we only had a half day here, but Yulia talked to someone who highly recommend the “Deadliest Catch Tour”. This was a tour about commercial fishing, and was held onboard the Aleutian Ballad, a retired fishing vessel that was featured in the Deadliest Catch show. It was famous because it was filmed when it got hit by a 50 foot rough wave, which tore the ship up a bit, but fortunately didn’t sink it.

Now the ship just gives tours, and everyone we asked said this was not to miss. But the tour started at 7:45am, so we had to get up and off the boat early. We ate quick and ran down the pier, getting there just in time. Naturally, everyone else was late for the tour, but we got better seats.

The working deck of the ship was now an amphitheater with a view of the launchers and coilers on the other side of the deck. The ship was run by local fisherman, some who had been on Deadliest Catch, and others who liked to make fun of the show a bit, since it only shows vessels where something is going wrong (in their opinion). As they said, not being on the show is a badge of honor, since you hadn’t done anything wrong yet.

As we pulled out they crew explained that they had a deal with a local tribe to fish in their waters, which allowed them to show us how all the equipment works, without being in season. Without this agreement they wouldn’t be able show us anything. As we drove out to the waters, we had dolphins chasing the wake of the ship on one side. After a but, we had Orcas chasing us on the other side. We tried to get pictures of both.

The crew demonstrated long line fishing, two types of commercial crab pots, prawn pots, and gave us details of what is involved from a financial and safety standpoint for them as fishermen. I remembered so many guys when I went to college who wanted to fly up and fish for a summer to make money, and then came back saying that they would never do that again. PRetty much for most of the men involved you can make a lot fast with a good haul, or go broke or get killed if things go wrong. Very high-risk high-return.

We got to handle several types of sea life as the pulled up the traps and handed things around. They even showed off a local octopus and wolf eel, but those were too dangerous to handle for the visitors. About halfway through the tour they pulled alongside an island, and fed some Bald Eagles. We had spent half the trip trying to get pictures of eagles from afar, and now they were swooping at us a few feet off the boat.

It was a great tour. We saw pretty much every kind of sea life they had, and we had a great time talking to the crew on the way back to the dock. I ended up getting a Captian’s Jacket from the boat as a souvenir, since it was very cool looking and perfect to use on our own boat.

We had just a few minutes to walk around town after the tour before we had to get back on the ship. It was unfortunate that we only had a half day here, as this town was much bigger than either Sitka or Juneau, but we had no time to explore.

The cruise south was getting hotter. We were definitely leaving Alaskan weather behind. We headed back up the the Lido deck for lunch and a few drinks. After a short time it was apparent that after all the touring, after all the walking, and photos and everything, we were ready to relax. I took a short nap in my chair. Sasha swam and Yulia walked a bit. Then they both went to the room to nap and I read. It is good when your brain finally can relax and forces you to slow down.

We had a great dinner that evening at the Pinnacle Grill, and for the third time brought our own wine to the restaurant. The reaction to our wine from the waitstaff each time has been amazement, and it was pretty clear that we were bringing wine on board that was much better than what they sold for the guests.

After dinner Yulia played some Blackjack, and won, as usual. Sasha had a dance with the cruise director in the Ocean View bar (she was the better dancer). Then we all went to the Piano Bar for Beatles night, Yulia left early to sleep, and Sasha and I stayed late to close them out.

It was an odd feeling waking up. Odd because the boat wasn’t rocking.

We looked out the window to fog. I looked down. The water was smooth as glass. We were anchored at Sitka. It was nice to be in calm water. I checked and our. Tour wasn’t until 12:30, so we were in no rush.

We had a leisurely breakfast, packed up my backpack with rain gear and the camera, and went down to the launch to get on the tender to the marina. The ride was easy, and since these tenders were also our lifeboats, I was impressed to see how well built they were. They looked more like military landing craft, very solid and well built. If something went wrong it was good to know that emergencies were planned for.

Once at the marina, we walked towards the closest street. We had two hours to kill so we thought we might see what was around. There were a couple of shops on the street, nothing too special, just small tourist shops and a few local business. But we were just really happy at that point that it wasn’t raining. This was really our first dry day for the trip, and we were glad to have it.

We stopped in a tourist shop so I could pick up a pair of cheap sunglasses, and Yulia asked the girl behind the counter where the main street was. She told us “you’re on it”

Dang.

I leaned out the door of the shop and could see both ends of the street. The girl unfolded a map across the counter and pointed out the street. I swear the map was 1:1 scale. We thanked her and walked a bit further. Ahead of us was the St Michael’s Orthodox church. This was on our tour later in the day, but we wanted to take a look inside before the crowds showed up. The tourist signs pointing out the church were already in front, letting us know that it was $2 each donation to tour the church. We went inside and found an elderly woman next to the donation box smiling and directing folks in. She looked a lot like my grandmother (on the Russian side of the family). We paid and asked her if they sold candles.

For those who aren’t Russian Orthodox; when you go to an Orthodox church, you burn candles at the various icons for prayer. We are Orthodox, so whenever we visit an Orthodox church we make sure to purchase and burn a few candles.

The Church was fairly large for an orthodox church (which is still small) but the icons were beautiful and very old. Some of the oldest and most historical Russian Orthodox icons are located in America, because so many in Russia were destroyed by the Bolsheviks in 1917. We looked about and found the box to buy candles in the corner of the church. We bought a few and went about lighting and placing them in the small spaces in front of the respective icons. I had put mine in place under the main central icon, then turned around and was surprised to see the elderly woman from the front standing right next to me.

I was startled for a bit. She was looking at me with wide eyes, and asked, “Are you Orthodox?”

It took me a second to process her question. “Uh, yes.” I replied. “My whole family is.” I pointed over to Yulia and Sasha.

She smiled and said, “I’m so glad you are here.” She reached up and kissed me on both cheeks, Russian style. She then walked over to Yulia and sash and did the same. Apparently we were the only tourists in a long time who were actually Russian Orthodox. “Which church do you go to?” she asked.

I told her that we go to St. Nicholas’ in Seattle, and she was excited since she knew our church and had been there. We talked with her for a bit and told her that Yulia was from Russia and that my family was Russian on one side. As we left, she gave each of us a souvenir pin of the church, and told us to visit when we came back to Sitka.

It was honestly a moving experience to connect with someone at random like that.

We felt good as we walked up the street, we stopped when we hit the other marina on the opposite end of the main street. Sitka was not short on marinas. We were just below the hill where Russia sold Alaska to the US. Russians usually comment that they sold Alaska, “for a knife,” meaning that they got a raw deal. It turns out that it was a 7.2 million dollar knife, and the czar was tired of shipping everything so far back to Russia, so it wasn’t such a bad deal. Hell, considering we ended up with Sarah Palin, the Russians made out like bandits.

We grabbed a quick snack at a book shop with an Espresso stand in back, and made our way back to the dock to meet our tour. We were set for a tour of the Church, some sightseeing around town, and a visit to the Raptor Center, which is basically rehab for eagles. (ah, how nature imitates the music industry….)

We learned that the original downtown burned down, and that the town had about 20 minutes warning before the fire reached the church. So everyone ran into the church and started bringing out all the icons and religious items. They saved about 95% of everything there, and once it was all over, they got the original church plans from the Smithsonian Institution and rebuilt everything.

The loop of the town was beautiful, and you could really get a feel for how isolated Sitka is from the mainland. Even the airport for the city was on a separate island originally, with no connecting bridge. You had to take a boat from the terminal in town over to the runway. Your luggage took a separate boat.

The raptor center was a volunteer organization and had been in operation for something like 30 years. It was critical when Bald Eagles were endangered, but now the Eagles have fully recovered and are not endangered, and the center works with all kinds of raptors. We got some close photos and saw how they took care of the huge birds, some of whom never recover and stay there permanently.

We also got to see a local dance group that performs traditional Russian Dances. Yulia was impressed, for a group of amateurs, they knew the dances well. These folk dances were common years ago in Russia, but are pretty unheard of know, so seeing them here is more common than seeing them in Russia.

After the tour, we caught the last tender back to the boat. The sun was out now, and you could see all the small islands in the Sitka Sound, dotted with homes and private docks. As we made out way out of the harbor, we met another fog bank on open water. The seas were not bad, but after an hour os so we turned back to the inside passage toward Ketchikan, and lost the fog and waves.

The sun went down over the islands giving us a beautiful sunset for the first time this trip. We took a few photos and headed down to the piano bar to close out the night.

We woke up to howling wind and snow. Apparently we didn’t fully lock the exterior door to the balcony, so the whole place started howling once the winds got up. We took a look at the TV channel that showed the front of the ship, and the foredeck was covered in snow. This meant it was an excellent chance to ignore everything and go back to bed.

That worked for a while, but eventually the howling and rocking got the best of us, and we dressed and headed to the Book Cafe to get some espresso and watch the sea. Yulia was not liking the storm, but as before the Cafe saw the least amount of motion on the ship, and had good espresso and pastries, so it was a great hiding place. We lasted there until we got actually hungry, then headed up for some breakfast.

The Lido deck was pretty busy. We grabbed food, and sat out by the pool. The pool has a closing roof, so it was all sealed up, and pretty steamy. At least it was warm, with two hot tubs providing the heat and steam. We looked out and could see nothing but fog around us. The snow had stopped, and the foghorn was blowing.

Yulia and I went down a few decks to watch a fruit carving demonstration while Sasha stayed above to hang out and listen to her iPod. The fruit carving was a pretty good way to kill time. We were due at the glacier at 1:00, and we were really just trying to keep busy until then.

We went back up to meet Sasha, and she was scanning the windows looking for ice. As soon as we turned into the fjord of the glacier, Sasha saw ice floating and started taking pictures. The icebergs weren’t that large, and were pretty dirty, but they were amazing to see. We went back to the cabin to get some warm clothes and raingear on, so we could watch from the lower deck and foredeck.

As we moved into the fjord, park rangers began explaining the area around. There were two glaciers in this fjord, Hubbard Glacier, which was very large, and really clean ice, and a second glacier to the side which was really dirty, and I don’t remember the name. As chunks of ice broke off, seals and their pups would swim up on the ice and hide from Orca whales. We looked out and sure enough you could see seals on the ice surrounding the boat.

One of the Rangers was a native who explained the cultural significance of the glacier by relaying the creation myth of The Birth Of Raven. This was an amazing, moving story that really gave one the feel of the importance of the area. To everyone but me, of course, since I had found the booze cart at this time and was half a glass of cognac down at this point. I tried to ignore the talking on the loudspeaker since the learning was really harshing my buzz, and focused on trying to get some photos of Orcas eating the baby seals, but no one was cooperating.

I did get some great views of the ice. The size was amazing. Once the ship stopped and turned near the ice, we went back to our room since our balcony was in the perfect spot for photos. It was quieter in our room as well, and you could hear the massive ice crack, then see little landslides flow down the face of the glacier. In this case, “little” means “size of my house”.

The ship left after a few hours, and started heading South again. This was as far North as we would go. We spent the rest of the evening playing around the ship. Sasha got to meet the club DJ and he gave her a tour of his booth and equipment, I won a trivia contest in the pub by knowing 9 out of 10 Game Show theme songs (I wasn’t sure if i was proud or ashamed), we caught a comedian playing in the theater (utterly shaming the broadway creatures they normally have there) and we capped off the night in the piano bar where it was “Elton John Tribute Night”.

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.