To Alaska in Ranger 7

Ranger 7 was built at Gravina Island, SE Alaska, in 1926 by the U.S. Forest Service. She was used by the Forest Service as a work boat until 1962, when she was purchased by a logging company. They replaced the old Atlas engine with a more powerful diesel, which remains in the boat today. In 1980, she was purchased by a Bellingham couple who restored her and used her until 2000, when she was purchased by Jim Compton, her owner at the time. In August, 2002, the Tongass National Forest celebrated it's centennial and invited Jim to bring Ranger 7 up for the festivities.

Stan, a long time friend of Jim's and I agreed to bring "Ranger" up from Seattle. Stan and I were retired and fellow boatbuilders and had known each other for several years. Jim joined us for two weeks, starting in Prince Rupert, and flying back from Ketchikan after the last "Ranger Roundup". In the picture below, that's Stan, standing on the bulwark with his coffee mug in hand during the Ranger Parade in Ketchikan. Jim and I are inside the pilothouse.


Reid Passage is a pretty, but narrow passage. It was here that we got our first experience with GPS navigation showing us over ground on it's screen, when we were in water. Paper charts, we decided, were still a necessity.


The still waters at Oliver Cove in the morning were quite peaceful.

The sunset at Goat Cove was quite colorful. This was a rocky bottom anchorage and we were entertained by a larger boat trying to set a tiny Danforth anchor with no success. They finally just let the anchor down and since there was little wind or current during the night, they were still in the same spot in the morning. Ranger has a huge anchor with over 600 lbs of chain, it held everywhere, despite some very windy nights.

Sunset at Goat Cove

In the picture below there is a bear on the left edge of the waterfall. His head shows as just a black dot. The bear managed to catch a salmon as they attempted to jump the falls on two separate occasions. We listen to fish jumping all around us that night, but all Stan was able to catch were too small to keep. The flies and mosquitoes did more than their share of biting us however. After that evening, we kept the doors closed and opened the screened port holes.


Jim caught this nice salmon near Ship Island in Clarence Strait. He skillfully prepared it for our dinner. Stan, behind him, is preparing a pasta dish. It was a delicious meal and we had salmon and crab salad the next day with the left over salmon.
Fish Preparation

The morning at Santa Anna Inlet. This was more typical of our Alaska weather while we were there, quite cool for August.
Santa Anna Inlet

This picture was taken from a Forest Service cabin on Berg Bay, on the east side of Wrangell Island. I rowed ashore in "Grace", Ranger's tender, which Stan built. There was a boardwalk on the other side of the cabin which apparently went on for several miles. We all took a turn rowing Grace.

Berg Bay

By the time we reached Petersburg, we had a serious exhaust problem and had to have repairs. The local shipwright managed to squeeze us in between a couple of larger projects and quickly and skillfully had the exhaust back in order. This flange section was built up from plate stock, using a cutting torch, grinder, drill press and welder and expertly reassembled and insulated so Ranger is like new again.

Exhaust Pipe Weld

This is a picture of Petersburg with the "Dragon's Tooth Range" in the background. This range is quite unusual compared to the rest of the mountains that we saw. They were typically round topped and covered with trees.

Petersburg and Dragon's Tooth Range

On the way back, Stan and I detoured to stop here at Bishop Hot Springs, where we had a refreshing soak in the warm water. It involved having to launch Grace since the float was nowhere to be seen. It was well worth the effort.

Bishop Hot Springs

In the morning at Work Bay, we could see the narrow passage we had passed through the night before. It had been pitch dark, in heavy fog when we came in. GPS showed us already on the rocks but the depth sounder was showing a 150 foot depth, so with me standing on the foredeck with a hand spotlight and Stan at the wheel, we inched our way in, finally finding the advertised depth.

Work Bay

Fishing boats were a common sight along the way, these being trollers in Johnston Strait. The problems we had were with the gill netters and purse seiners, who always chose to run their nets across traffic. I guess they felt they couldn't help it if we chose to run in the same direction as the fish. It used to be that you could pass the netters along the shore side, but we found that they were often tying one end of their net to the shore and overlapping each other out in the middle.

Fishing Boats in Johnston Strait
Fishing Boats in Johnston Strait.

After a trip such as this, I always feel a great sense of accomplishment. It's a really good feeling and for some trips the feeling is greater than others. On this trip the feeling has been quite strong. In watching my four year old granddaughter's enthusiasm for coming to visit "Papa and Annie", as she calls Annamarie and I, I could see how I had captured some of that same thing in my travels. Seeing new things, pitting our skills against new challenges, it's all about learning, I suppose. Exposing ourselves to the new and unknown, seeing things afresh. Boating into new areas seems especially rewarding in this respect. Each day is new and different than the one before. On this particular trip, I thought a lot about the pilothouse sailboat I'm building and how it will be to sail in these same waters and beyond to Glacier Bay. I think it will be the perfect boat for the trip.

The Route

Bellingham, WA - This is where I joined Stan for our trip north. Jim, Stan and his wife Marian had brought Ranger up from Seattle. Our first project after loading the boat was to remove the starboard pilothouse door for repairs since it had been sticking. We then fixed a problem with the shift lever and got it working as it was supposed to.

Waldron Island, WA - We anchored here briefly to replace Stan's mooring buoy, which he keeps there. The wind blew over 30 knots which made the replacement impossible, as Ranger's 28 tons were doing a slow whip on the anchor chain in the wind and we could not hang onto the buoy line long enough to make the swap. We decided to just tie the new buoy on to the old one and stop on the way back. This proved to be not our only problem as the windlass repeatedly spit out the metal dog that locks the chain drum to the capstan. When this happens, the chain free wheels out of the chain locker until stopped by the brake. I finally resorted to holding the dog in the slot by hand as it turned around and we were able to get the anchor up out of the water.

Bedwell Harbour, South Pender Island, BC - We arrived here with only minutes to spare before the customs office closed. In the morning, we removed the capstan and winch drum and tried to figure why the dog wasn't doing its job. It was obvious it had too much clearance, so we shifted shims around, reducing the gap.

Dodd Narrows, BC - We made it through an hour before low slack, which proved exciting. This route kept us inside the Gulf Islands, protected from the swells in the Strait of Georgia.

Henry Bay, Denman Island, BC - This proved to be a good anchorage with good wave protection but pretty open to the wind. We barely got the anchor up in the morning as the dog was still slipping frequently.

Seymour Narrows - We passed through with no effect from being 20 minutes early on the high slack. This route is shorter than the eastern route through Desolation Sound, although less scenic.

Port Harvey - We opted for the anchorage in the far end, which offered quite good shelter and good swing room. An excavator worked until dark in what appears to be a commercial development. In the morning, the anchor refused to come more than a few feet off the bottom, the dog refusing to catch. This left us adrift, so we set our secondary anchor and disassembled the gearbox under the winch to see why the shaft was rising. Seeing that there was no retainer for the shaft, Stan drove the shaft back down while I watched the progress from below. After shifting the shims back to their original spots we reassembled the windlass and we had no further trouble the rest of the trip.

Walker Group cove, Queen Charlotte Strait - This has a very narrow entrance and is quite small, but otherwise a good anchorage. We picked this spot as it put us on a path up to Cape Caution in the morning which is more protected from the westerly swell than going outside Pine Island.

Shearwater, BC, via Lama Passage - Showers, dinner out, and a place to buy a fishing license. This place has a well equipped repair yard. This was our longest one day run on the way north, 96 miles.

Oliver Cove, off Reid Passage - Snug, but quite small.

Goat Cove, off Finlayson Channel via Oscar Passage - Rocky bottom and a shelf that drops off. I'd not recommend this spot in a windy condition.

Lowe's Inlet, off Grenville Channel via Hiekish Narrows - An excellent anchorage with a good bottom and depth. It's a popular anchorage, but with room for a dozen or more boats and well protected. The waterfall provides entertainment with bears catching salmon as they jump the falls.

Klewnuggit Inlet Inner Cove, off Grenville Channel - It's a long way to get into the far end, but it's nice. We had periodic high winds, which whipped us around a bit and the end shallows so quickly that we had to re-anchor into deeper water.

Prince Rupert - Showers, dinner out, and groceries.

Venn Passage - This is an interesting and well marked shortcut, which saved us an hour in our route. Larger boats take the long way around.

Ketchikan, via Revillagigedo Channel - A great Mexican Restaurant. We had flaming seafood fajitas.

Santa Anna Inlet, via Ernest Sound - Beautiful spot.

Berg Bay, via Seward Passage and Blake Channel - Great anchorage next to a Forest Service float and cabin with a boardwalk.

Wrangell Narrows - Well marked. We only experienced 1 to 2 knots of current, but having it with you is certainly nice.

Petersburg - A warm and friendly town. We were able to get the genset water pump and our main exhaust pipe both repaired here with expertise and efficiency. Our Forest Service host, Ted, took excellent care of us during our stay. This was our first of the four ports "showing" at the "Ranger Roundups", where we had many visitors.

Wrangell, via Wrangell Narrows again - Much more rural than Petersburg, but lots of friendly locals.

Zimovia Strait - This interesting route has some ninety degree turns in it and was quite pretty.

Thorne Bay - This little logging town seemed to celebrate our presence. We had over 10% of its small population sign our guest book. We were treated to more fish than we could eat.

Ketchikan - A cruise ship town. We were treated as locals by the locals, I suppose because we were wearing blue jeans and had no umbrellas.

Foggy Bay - lived up to it's name, both coming and going. It was quite a welcome site to put the anchor down.

Prince Rupert via Venn Passage - Both again.

Lowe's Inlet - Again.

Bishop's Bay Hot Springs - A great spot! Well worth the time it took to get there. This wasn't an overnight.

Work Cove via Hiekish Narrows - Very snug. Not sure more than one boat could fit, however. After a 94 mile day, it was quite welcome.

The west side of Ivory Island - This route is more exposed but bypasses Reid Passage and Oliver Cove and is slightly shorter. We did get bounced around and rolled a bit as we turned our broadside to the swells from the Pacific Ocean.

Shearwater - Again.

Port Hardy, via west side of Pine Island - We arrived in the dark and left in the dark... This 99 mile run was our longest of the trip.

Brown's Bay - This was the noisiest place of the trip, although the dinner we had was good. This was a 98 mile day, which seemed longer since most of it was in Johnston Strait.

Silva Bay, Flat Top Islands, BC - Almost too crowded, and rock music from the local dance hall was a distraction. This was a 95 mile day but it seemed shorter since we got a 5am start to get through Seymour Narrows.

Friday Harbor, San Juan Island, WA - A customs stop. It was busy on a Labor Day weekend, but the customs dock was quite accessible.

Waldron Island, WA - This time we anchored and within 15 minutes had Stan's new buoy properly attached to his mooring and were on our way. Having no wind to contend with and a working windlass made the difference between an impossible job and an easy one.

Mac Kaye Harbor, Lopez Island, WA - This was our bounciest night of the whole trip. The winds blew and we swung on anchor all night.

Kingston, WA - Here Marian and their grandson, Tynor, replaced me as crew and Ranger was returned to her home in Ballard. The trip took 37 days and covered over 1700 miles.

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