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Kodiak and Alaska Peninsula for Cruisers

The weather. Around Kodiak the weather can be very local indeed: it can be blowing one direction on the SE side, the other on the NW; wind strengths in the Shelikof Strait are usually higher than elsewhere. The common wisdom is that the months of July and August are the most stable, and also the sunniest; once September arrives, winter comes quite quickly.   Fog is quite common in August, but usually burns off by the afternoon. Fronts pass, and the winds switch, every two to four days; NE winds bring rain and overcast, SW winds clearer skies, stronger winds; but long calms are also common. The local forecasts are available by VHF (where there is reception) and are updated twice every 24 hours; they are “interpreted” in Kodiak but based on region-wide NOAA forecasts; in our limited experience, they tend towards the pessimistic.

Charts. We had several sources for charts. We bought Jeppesen C-MAP chip  NA-M035 Pacific Coast and Central America (Alaska to the Panama Canal, including British Columbia) for our chartplotter. We also downloaded all the US Alaskan charts, both raster (RNC) and vector (ENC). We viewed these charts with OpenCPN. Often the raster chart gave better detail especially when navigating into small, rocky anchorages.  And of course we had the free C_MAP that all cruisers have. We also had Bellingham photocopies as paper backup. All gave excellent coverage and it was nice to have them all. Occasionally we resorted to Google Earth (Ouzinkie for example).

Nautical publications. We downloaded the US Coast Pilot 9 and printed the relevant chapters for easy reference (it might have been cheaper to buy the print version).  Given that most of the time you do not have easy or cheap Internet access we purchased:

  • NOAA Tide Tables - West Coast of North & South America, Including the Hawaiian Islands
  • Tidal Current Tables 2014: Pacific Coast of North America & Asia
However, in Kodiak we picked up local tide (but not current) tables for free.  

In planning a cruise, it is as well to take the currents into account, especially in passes such as Whale Passage, which has a certain notoriety. The tides are almost twice as large on the West side of the island (and on the Peninsula) as on the East.

We had several sources of tidal current info – chartplotter, C-Map on latop, American downloaded charts and printed Tidal Current Tables. These did not always coincide with their predictions – discrepancies of up to an hour were not uncommon. Our tactic for passes such as Whale Passage was to arrive at the approx. time of slack, but make sure that after slack that the current was going to be favourable.

Kodiak Island

St. Paul Harbour, Kodiak
, is the most convenient harbour for cruising yachts; St. Herman Harbour is larger but it is a much longer walk to town; it is possible to anchor within the walls of St Herman Harbour. Call on Ch 12 (24/7) for berth assignment in either harbour, or (for St Paul) tie up on the wall side of the long finger that points straight at you as you enter the harbour. See Kodiak Harbour’s website
for rates and more info; fresh water is free and abundant; electricity not included; although electricity is available, there is a hefty connection/disconnect fee (inquire). Washroom close to the harbor master’s office, closed at night. No showers; for showers either go to the fine public swimming pool that is attached to the High School – 15 mins walk – or to the launderette that adjoins Spennard’s hardware store, 20 mins walk. There are a number of good chandleries and a canvas-repair shop very close to the harbour, but no grocery store; Wal Mart and Safeway are about a 40 minute walk away. There are various fast food joints also close to St Paul Harbour – including McDonald’s and Subway – but the favourite if more upmarket restaurant is the Japanese-themed Old Power House, overlooking the channel between Near Island and Kodiak. There is an excellent public library with free internet.

Haulout: Fuller’s boatyard can haul boats of almost all sizes by Travelift. We paid 166USD each way for our 27 foot sailboat. It also offers long-term storage on land, but for standing on the hard (even short-term) you will need to have your own cradle built (Fuller’s manager, Bill Fader, can advise). Electrical work: Kodiak Service Inc, 1819 Mill Bay Road. For a modestly-priced, comfortable and accessible hotel, the Shelikof Lodge is the best bet.

There are several daily flights to and from Anchorage, but these are often liable to cancellation due to fog in the Fall. The MV Kennicott provides regular ferry service to Homer and all the way to Bellingham (Washington; about one week duration), while the MV Tustamena sails in the other direction, as far as Dutch Harbor (summer only; three days). 

Kodiak is mountainous and rugged, the second largest island in the USA after Oahu; there is a modest network of surfaced roads radiating out from the town of Kodiak, the furthest accessible point being Cape Chiniak. Five or six other small settlements are served either by float plane or the Tustamena; in the Fall, when the salmon are running, bear watching flights are a favourite with tourists; Kodiak’s grizzlies are the largest bears in the world. Every summer weekend, the Audubon Society organises free walks in the mountains, starting from the information center near the ferry dock; the Society has a good hiking map, available for purchase in several locations. Sights in and around Kodiak include the Russian Orthodox Church and The Baranov Museum.

Long Island, eight to ten nm from St Paul Harbour, offers tranquil anchorage in reasonable depth. Entry to its natural lagoon is straightforward and is via either a North entrance or a South entrance; the latter is easier; in either case it is best to enter half-way up a rising tide, as there are hidden dangers on either side of the respective entrance channels. South anchorage: 57 46.185N; 142 16.398W in 14m.To move from the S anchorage to the N (which is more protected), you have to cross a bar that has only 30cm of water at low tide; choose your tide and proceed slowly to 57 46.722N; 152.15.178W in 11m.A network of paths leads through the forest to the ruins of several once-large WW2 military encampments and to two coastal batteries on the twin headlands at the S tip of the island. Many eagles and puffins; otters offshore.  Entrance waypoint: 57 46.438N; 152 16.401W

Proceeding 14nm west from Long Island into Narrow Strait, the native village of Ouzinkie (pop 150), on an island and just short of Ouzinkie Narrows, is the closest village to Kodiak. There is a new marina in the bay, not shown on our US chart or on C-map; we used Google Earth and went on the inside of the longest finger.  Usually there is lots of space. Charge is USD $1 per foot payable in working hours at the “City” Hall. Ouzinkie is a quiet, quaint village with a wooden boardwalk around the head of the bay. There is a small, old Russian Orthodox church. Post office but no shops. There is an Aluutiq cultural center, with some traditional outfits and head-dresses on display. There is an airstrip with a service to Kodiak. The MV Tustamena calls in occasionally.

Continuing west through Ouzinkie Narrows (which run at 2 to 3 knots), leave Shakmanof Point to port and turn into the wide Kizhuyak Bay. To port, a maze of islands hides several entrances to Anton Larsen Bay (not to be confused with Larsen Bay, elsewhere on Kodiak), ten miles from Ouzinkie. The clearest channel (average depth 15m; least 8m; best done on a flood tide) is the westernmost. Waypoints: 57 53.464N 152 38.395W.

Once inside the lake-like N-S bay, avoid a drying rock plumb in the middle and turn to starboard through another maze (one of the charted “rocks” is actually a treed island), to a perfectly-protected lagoon; our anchorage at 57 52.097N; 152 39.479W, 13m.The raster chart was useful here. There are a few cabins around this lagoon, which are visited on the weekends; a road from Kodiak comes to a launching place at one corner of the lagoon. From the launching place there is a 90-min walking trail (on a black plastic base designed for ATVs) to Sharatin Bay. Many salmon berries in season.

Tucked behind a protective hook of land on the western shore of Kizhuyak Bay is the small village of Port Lions, with a new marina behind an artificial harbour wall. Close to the entry, a green beacon is peculiarly placed; there are rocks to the NE of it; favour the tip of the harbour wall. 57 52.322N; 152 51.968W. This village is about 50 years old, and was created (with support from the Lions Club of Kodiak; hence the name) following the 1964 tsunami, that destroyed villages on the S side of Afognak Island. Marina fees: 50c per foot, plus a $5 discount for prompt payment (honour system in the shack at the head of the pontoons). The village is a 20-minute walk from the marina; no shops; there is a long boardwalk across the head of the bay to the dock used by the Tustamena. Russian Orthodox Church.

Close to Port Lions is a constriction between Afognak Island and Kodiak Island that creates powerful tidal currents; oddly the tidal range on the W side is about double that on the E side. There are two navigable channels – Whale Passage and Afognak Strait – and a third, Raspberry Strait,  that virtually dries. Whale Passage offers the most direct route West and is quite heavily used, but the current runs as fast as 7kts (notwithstanding the official tables that indicate only 4kts); Afognak Strait is wider, less transited and with slower currents. At the East entrance of Whale a beacon sits on a rock (Bird Rock) almost in the center of the entrance; it can be passed on either side. Time your passage carefully (see above note on tidal current predictions); a wind-against-current effect at the East entrance can raise dangerous seas; fog is common. As you might expect, whale sightings are common here, as are rafts of sea otters. 

Continuing West through Whale Passage you enter Kupreanof Strait; with good visibility you may be able to see all the way down it to the snow-capped mountains on the Alaska Peninsula, some 50 to 60 miles away. The most convenient anchorage in Kupreanof, from which you can set off either to the Alaska Peninsula or down the SW coast of Kodiak, is Port Bailey, site of an abandoned cannery.  Port Bailey is best approached from the NW, via a channel between Dry Spruce Island (at whose tip there is a green beacon) and Bare Island. In tranquil conditions and/or winds between N and E, the best anchorage is in a bay on the S shore of Dry Spruce Island, at 57 56.956N; 153 02.862 W, 13m. The chart shows three mooring dolphins, but these are long gone. On shore there is an old, beached pile-driver and – oddly – in a shallow lagoon behind the beach, the pontoons from Port Lions’ former marina. In strong W or SW conditions this location – and most of Port Bailey – can become very choppy, with strong gusts bouncing off Mt Kupreanof, in which case it is best to move either a short distance to the lee of Bare Island, or to the SW corner of Port Bailey at 57 55.324N; 153 01.108W; 17m, close to a mooring dolphin; here some swell comes around the point from Port Bailey but the worst of the wind is avoided. 

Kupreanof leads to the relatively open waters of the Shelikof Strait, which separates Kodiak/Afognak from the Alaska Peninsula, and which is 25 to 35 miles wide. The Shelikof has quite a bad reputation: winds tend to rise and fall quite rapidly – more often than not in the afternoon - and can create a short, steep sea very quickly. Regardless of what the regional forecast is, the wind is either up the Strait or down it; if heading South it is obviously best to wait for a Northeaster (which usually brings rain/overcast) and if heading North wait for a (typically stronger) SW wind, with clearer, dry skies; if the destination is across the Strait, on the Alaska peninsula, either can work, depending on the precise destination. Wind speeds rise quite dramatically around the steep capes on either shore of the Shelikof.

Turning South, the various arms of Uganik Bay (pronounced You-GAN-ik), to port, look inviting on the chart but there are few protected anchorages, and they are deep. Much more suitable are the various arms of Uyak Bay (pronounced YOU-yak), the next set of indentations to port.  The pilot recommends anchoring behind Harvester Island, at the West entrance of the bay; this is another old cannery site and a few people still live in the immediate vicinity, mooring their boats on a shallow bar off the South end of Harvester. However, even though Harvester Island would appear to block winds from the NE, in these conditions we found a heavy chop throughout the channel that is the recommended anchorage; this would be “comfortable” only for large vessels.

Further into Uyak, on the West side, is a rectangular indentation that is home to the large and active cannery of Larsen Bay. The settlement has to be approached through a zig-zag narrows, through which strong currents can run; we heeded the advice of the Pilot and chose not to enter in a wind-against-current scenario.

Over on the East side, between Amook Island and Kodiak are several much easier options. The most northerly of these is off Brown’s Lagoon at 57 31.237N; 153 48.951W; 14m (even though the chart shows only 5m here), 55nm from Port Bailey.  With a strong NE blowing in the Shelikof, a little swell worked its way in here, but no wind; if the wind were to become a true Northerly, it is very easy to make a short zigzag through a set of narrows just west of this location, to 57 30.740N; 153 50.004W, 15m, off a large red house. Brown’s Lagoon can be explored by dinghy; we suspect there may be enough water in here for a shallow draft boat, but the chart has no soundings; at its head a stream may be followed for some distance; you can leave the dinghy at a low waterfall and walk on up to a wide valley that is favoured by bears when the salmon are running. 

Continuing South along the half-mile wide channel between Amook and Kodiak, a grey gravel sand bar juts out from Amook, almost blocking the way; keep well to port then head straight back over to the Amook side to dodge a large, high island. Just past this island is another good anchorage that we called Amook Central, off a fishing lodge called Munsey’s Bear Camp: 57 28.502N; 153.49.024W, 16m.  It’s interesting to explore the Kodiak shore south of Munsey’s. Here (as marked on the chart) are the ruins of the Amok Mine (sic), which dates from about 1913, abandoned in the 1920’s.

Off the South tip of Amook Island, a buoy marks Aleutian Rock, where the steamship Aleutian was wrecked in 1929. Another good anchorage can be had South of Alf Island, at 57 23.496N; 153.50.531W; 16m. There are good beach walks here: a lonely, beautiful spot. At the head of Uyak Bay, another ten miles on, you can anchor on the flats; this is favourite haunt of Kodiak bears.

Off Uyak Bay, oriented NW/SE,  is Zachar Bay. At its entrance, on the South shore, a clutch of islands provides good shelter but little swinging space at approx.  57 34.181N 153 49.555W. A number of drying rocks need to be given careful berths. Should a strong wind start blowing from the Southeast, it is best to proceed four miles up to the head of the bay, past the old cannery on the North shore (now the Zachar Bay Wilderness Lodge) and anchor on the flats at about 57 32.582N; 153 43.491W; 14m.

Alaska Peninsula

One of the most popular cruising destinations on the Alaska Peninsula is a clutch of anchorages in the immediate vicinity of Geographic Harbour, so named by the National Geographic team that came here in the wake of the massive Novarupta volcanic eruption of 1912. What look like patches of dirty snow on the mountainsides are in fact areas of fine, whitish ash from that eruption

Approaching from the Northeast, Cape Atushagvik is used by fishing boats as a temporary anchorage (“Russian Anchorage”). Proceed past the Cape, leave Takli Island to port and turn to starboard into Amalik Bay (53nm from Port Bailey): 58 05.373N; 154 28.831W; 18nm. A very high mountain gives protection from strong Northeasters, but these can bounce back from mountains at the other end of the bay, effectively reversing the direction, and putting you on a lee shore.

A narrow, winding channel leads to an inner set of bays; we anchored in the entrance of a bay to starboard, just before Geographic Harbour proper, under some high cliffs: 58 06.369N; 154 33.684W; 16m.  The tidal range is as much as 8m here, so careful positioning is needed, and an anchor watch for the first cycle of tides. Grizzly bears abound, commonly coming to forage on the beaches at mid to low-tides; they are not fazed as long as you stay on your vessel or in the dinghy; you may see as many as ten or twenty in a day. They don’t minds swimming either: one swam right past our anchor chain.

To the Northeast of Geographic, another inlet penetrates even further into the peninsula; at its head, reached by a narrow channel between a pair of 15m cliffs, is the well-named lake-like Hidden Harbour. Stick to mid-channel in the narrows, and enter on a rising tide; at low tide, shelves almost halve the width of the channel. Anchor at: 58 12.041N; 154 29.311W; 22m; 14nm from Geographic. This is a spectacular, lonely location, entirely encircled by mountains – but, again, take account of the large tidal range. Many bears.

Still further to the Northeast on the Southeastern shore of the Peninsula, 33nm from Hidden Harbour, is Kukak Bay, another favoured bear-spotting location. This has a much more open feel than Geographic and Hidden, with the glaciers of the Hallo Glacier a spectacular backdrop, and there are a number of possible anchorages. On the South shore of the Bay, between the mainland and Aguligik Island, is good location off the rusting remains of an old cannery: 58 18.952N; 154 11.439W; 14m. Sea otters and river otters are common here, but bears are more easily seen on the tidal flats at the head of Kukak Bay. The Katmai Wilderness Lodge is on the starboard side as you enter Kukak; in season floatplanes come to spot bears. Timothy Treadwell and his girlfriend were eaten by bears near here (see Werner Herzog’s “Grizzly Man”).

Afognak Island

Afognak, separated from Kodiak by Whale Passage and Afognak Strait, has almost no permanent inhabitants; but parts have been heavily logged, so it does not always feel as pristine as Kodiak. There are a number of good anchorages along its southern shoreline.

Emerging from the Strait (heading East), the first inlet to port is Afognak Bay. Anchor off the house near its head, at 58 04.211N; 152 46.889W; 11m. In case of a strong southerly, you could edge further into the narrowing inlet that heads west from the head of the bay. As you row up this inlet you come to the abandoned village of Litnik on your right; at a timber bridge abutment (the bridge itself has long disappeared) you can leave the dinghy and walk up a logging track that follows the North shore of the river through dense forest for about three or four miles; there is a ruined hatchery on the lake at this point. Many bears in the woods.

The next bay to the East is Kazakof Bay; as this is also named Danger Bay (!) we decided to give it a pass, and instead kept on going East to Izhut Bay; the mouth of Izhut is a popular fishing location, and you are almost sure to see whales in the vicinity. There are several possible anchorages here. On its Western shore is Ruth’s Bay; anchor at 58 12.489N; 152 19.463W; 12m; fishing boats may come and go at all hours, so make sure you use an anchor light. The area has been logged; there is the wreck of a burned-out fishing boat on the beach.

In the NE corner of Izhut, only 4nm from Ruth’s Bay, is Saposa Bay: more pristine, very well-protected: 58 15.237N; 152 14.485W; 14m. Bears.   From here it is 32nm back to St Paul Harbour, Kodiak.


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