Mist Cove Ship Overview and Embarkation in Juneau
The Mist Cove of The Boat Company sails 7-day Alaska cruises between Juneau and Sitka. This 24-passenger small adventure ship offers the opportunity to explore a small part of the Tongass National Forest region of Southeast Alaska.
The Captain and onboard naturalist adjust each week's schedule based on the interests of the passengers, the time of year, and the weather. Whichever quiet coves, hidden meadows, or sparkling rivers the Mist Cove Captain chooses, the passengers can enjoy hiking, fishing, kayaking and just marveling at the magnificent wilderness scenery and wildlife.
Join me for a week on the Mist Cove. As noted above, the daily schedule and anchorages might change some each week, but all cruises are from Juneau to Sitka (or reverse).
Embarkation in Juneau
Our delightful Southeast Alaska wilderness cruise on the small ship the Mist Cove of The Boat Company began with a late afternoon transfer from the Juneau Airport to the Westmark Baranof Hotel in downtown Juneau. Since most flights from the lower 48 arrive in the afternoon, and sometimes weather is foggy, an overnight stay at the hotel is included in the fare. This historic hotel is located within easy walking distance of everything in downtown Juneau, including the cruise ships. Since it was raining, we enjoyed a lovely dinner in the hotel restaurant rather than venture outdoors. (Basically, I was too lazy to dig out the raingear.) The hotel staff was friendly and very helpful, and we liked having an excellent bed, free WiFi, a refrigerator, and coffee pot in the room.
The next morning, we spent a little time walking around Juneau, checking out all the ships at the dock, including ours! It seemed SO small docked next to the larger mainstream ships. At 11 am, we joined the other Mist Cove passengers in the hotel lobby to go to the ship. The crew loaded our luggage on a van, but we all chose to walk the few blocks downhill to the ship.
Boarding the Mist Cove, we had our photo taken so that the crew (and our fellow passengers) could learn our names quickly. One of the crew showed us to our cabin and gave us a short tour. Not much chance of getting lost on a 157-foot long ship! After the tour, we gathered in the salon for the safety briefing from the Captain, crew introductions, and an explanation of the week ahead. We completed passenger questionnaires to express our activity preferences for the week, which the captain and crew used to plan our cruise.
We sailed from Juneau about 12:30 pm and headed south in the Gastineau Channel for Stephans Passage and Endicott Arm. We enjoyed our first lunch onboard and were excited to find the Mist Cove food was so good -- tomato basil soup, Caesar salad, foccacia bread, and dessert bars. There went another week of not dieting! After lunch, we were outside to see the huge Sumdum Glacier basking in the sunshine. We also saw some harbor seals and eagles, but the biggest excitement was a pod of orcas (killer whales) just past Bushy Island in Endicott Arm.
The Captain anchored the Mist Cove between two waterfalls at North Dawes Inlet, Endicott Arm. We enjoyed fresh grilled salmon for dinner and retired early, looking forward to Glacier Bay the next morning.
Mist Cove Alaska Day 2 - Glacier Watching and Halibut Fishing
Early the next morning on the Mist Cove, many of us were out testing our teamwork in the 2-man kayaks. Boarding the kayaks was a little challenging since we certainly didn't want to overturn in the icy water, but Ronnie and I did fine. We paddled down North Dawes Arm towards the glacier and got within a few feet of some growlers and bergie bits. Ronnie even picked up a growler (very small iceberg) to take back to the ship and ice down our drinks. The sides of the fjords loomed overhead and made us feel very insignificant. Paddling quietly close to the three waterfalls, we kept an eye out for wildlife and relaxed as we soaked up the cool morning air.
Returning to the ship, we ate a hearty breakfast of pancakes, bacon, and eggs. All that paddling made us work up an appetite. At mid-morning, we boarded the 20-foot skiffs (four passengers and a crew member in each skiff) and rode the short distance to Dawes Glacier. The 382-passenger Silversea Silver Shadow was leaving Endicott Arm as we approached the glacier. Although much larger than the Mist Cove, the ship is much smaller than most ocean ships. The Silver Shadow still looked tiny when flanked by the huge blue glacier, and it was good to have some perspective as to just how large the Dawes Glacier is.
Viewing the massive glacier from the skiffs was a fantastic experience. Because of the possibility of calving or pop-ups, we stayed about a quarter-mile away, but still were treated to numerous calving events; several had loud cracking noises, and two were large enough to cause waves to rock our skiffs. It was a wonderful morning, and I was glad Jeremy (the naturalist) had told us to wear all the cold-weather clothes we had brought. After watching the glacier for a while, our guide pulled out a large thermos of hot chocolate and homemade chocolate chip cookies. She even had small bottles of Bailey's Irish Cream and peppermint schnapps to give the hot chocolate a little kick! Delicious and only one of many special touches we had during the week.
While we were eating a late lunch on the Mist Cove and comparing glacier notes, the Captain pulled up the anchor and moved the ship to Woodspit in Holkham Bay. We bought fishing licenses on the ship, and spent the afternoon halibut fishing, touring the area in the skiffs, or on a guided kayak tour with Jeremy. The fishing was fun, but the catching was not. Neither Ronnie nor I caught a halibut, but we enjoyed watching Jola, a retired chemist from New England, catch one. Since it was our first halibut, Jola decided to share the 25-pound fish with the passengers and crew the next night for dinner. It was delicious.
Returning to the ship, the Captain moved the Mist Cove to Windham Bay for the evening. One of the crew spotted a bear on the shore, but it was getting dark, so we didn't get a good look at him/her. As we stood out on the deck, dozens of salmon were jumping all around the ship, and the Alaska sunset was as beautiful as those in the tropics. The next day we were whale watching, halibut fishing, and hiking.
Mist Cove Alaska Day 3 - Whale Watching, Halibut Fishing, and Hiking
The Captain pulled up the Mist Cove anchor about 7 am and sailed from Windham Bay. After breakfast, we cruised down Stephans Passage towards the Five Finger Lighthouse and Frederick Sound. The day was relatively calm, and the humpback whales were everywhere! We were all so mesmerized that most of us didn't take many photos. The whales breached the surface of the water numerous times, and we cheered them on. Each time a humpback threw up its fluke (tail), we sighed. Like many nature lovers, I never tire of watching wildlife, especially these huge, graceful creatures. The Captain cruised around the area for a while, anchoring the Mist Cove near The Brothers islands in the late morning.
Before leaving the ship, we all packed our own sack lunches to eat either in the skiff while fishing or ashore on a picnic. The ship's sack lunch choices included wrap chicken sandwiches (either pesto or roasted red pepper), several choices of chips, cookies, trail mix, fresh fruit, and snack bars. No chance of starving when away from the Mist Cove!
During breakfast, Jeremy had told us to man the skiffs in groups--those who wanted to fish more, those who wanted to hike more, and those who wanted to do a little of both. With only 16 passengers, it didn't take us long to match up with a woman who wanted to mostly fish like we did. Ronnie and I both caught our first halibut, and we were serenaded the entire time by a group of stellar sea lions and by the whales. It was a perfect sunny day, with almost no wind, so we could hear the whales from huge distances. Certainly different than summer fishing back home in Georgia. The "musical" entertainment show of the sea lions during the lunch break was no extra charge.
The fishing slowed down after a few hours, so we went back to the Mist Cove for a potty break, followed by time to explore nearby West Brother Island with Jesse, one of the crew. The tidal pools and rocky shoreline quickly changed into dense green forest with a magical glow. I kept expecting to see a Hobbit walk out of the thick overgrown wilderness!
We returned to the ship in the late afternoon, and the Captain moved the ship through Frederick Sound to the tip of Admiralty Island. Dinner was delayed while we watched an amazing humpback whale extravaganza. The Captain stopped the ship and the whales came very close to us. Since the water was flat calm, the show was even better than that in the morning. I took dozens of photos of whale flukes, whales bubble feeding, and whales rolling.
Before anchoring for the evening, the Mist Cove and her sister ship the Liseron rendezvoused. It was nice to see The Boat Company's other ship. The Captain anchored for the night in Nelson Bay of Baranof Island.
Mist Cove Alaska Day 4 - Salmon Hatchery, Fishing, Kayaking, and Hiking
The next morning the sun was shining as the Captain pulled up the anchor in Nelson Bay and sailed north up Chatham Straits for the Hidden Falls Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association (NSRAA) salmon hatchery in Kasnkyu Bay on Baranof Island. NSRAA conducts salmon enhancement projects throughout northern southeast Alaska including the hatchery at Hidden Falls. Millions of baby salmon are released by the hatcheries into the sea each year.
The smolt (baby salmon) released at Hidden Falls are imprinted with the small river there, so the salmon return to the hatchery when they are ready to spawn and die. During the busy season, spawning salmon are routed through a shed where the eggs and milt are removed and mixed in plastic buckets. The fertilized eggs are incubated until hatched and then allowed to grow until old enough to go to sea and the process is repeated. The day we were at the hatchery, workers processed about 8,000 salmon, removing millions of eggs. The salmon carcasses are sold, as are the immature eggs. The process was fascinating, and the hatchery benefits both commercial and sport fishermen.
After touring the hatchery, we did a little salmon fishing of our own from the skiffs. The coho salmon were just starting to run, but none of us caught any from the skiffs, although there was a lot of activity. The fish were just not biting. (Guess they all had spawning on their minds!) The fish did attract some eagles, and we enjoyed watching them soar overhead or perch in the trees.
Instead of fishing, two women in our group chose to do a "butt buster" hike up the Ell Cove ridge with Jeremy, and they had gorgeous views from the summit. The hike started at an unusual white sandy beach, nicknamed "Cancun beach" by the Mist Cove crew. Following their hike, one of the women took a short swim from the beach. She's braver than I am!
While we were fishing or hiking, a bear and her two cubs came out of the forest near where the Mist Cove was anchored. The crew and passengers who had stayed onboard hopped in a skiff and quietly motored near the bear family. From the safety of the skiff, they watched them for quite a while, and radioed the other skiffs to come in to see the action. By the time we got there, the three bears were moving back into the woods, quickly disappearing in the thick wilderness. It's no surprise that bears are common around the hatchery during the salmon run, but the hatchery workers have the right idea--there's plenty for everyone, man and bear alike.
While we were eating lunch, the Captain moved the Mist Cove to the Middle Arm of Kelp Bay. Two passengers went fly fishing with a guide, two others went kayaking with a guide, and the rest of us went halibut fishing or touring by skiff. The wind had picked up, and we didn't get a halibut, although I caught a rockfish The fly fishermen didn't catch anything either, but like us, they had a good time trying. The kayakers got caught downwind and had a difficult time paddling back to the ship. A skiff was sent out to retrieve them, but they stubbornly paddled back in, arriving proud of their accomplishment, but exhausted.
The Mist Cove moved to the picturesque South Arm of Kelp Bay before dinner. After another excellent meal, we gazed at the beautiful Alaska mountains in the early evening. The next day we were going stream fishing for salmon.
Mist Cove Alaska Day 5 - Hiking, Fishing, and Bears and Orcas
The kayaks were out early the next morning in beautiful Kelp Bay. After breakfast, five of us went stream fishing with two guides while the rest of the group went on a meadow hike. The two fly fishermen waded upstream with one of the guides while the other four of us stayed near the mouth of the river. The fishing was excellent, and we caught many chum and pink salmon on light spinning tackle. The weather was good, and the time passed by quickly as the three of us caught and released salmon while the guide ran back and forth helping us land and release the fish.
After a couple of hours, the radio crackled, and we heard the fly fishing guide say something like "bear" and "call skiff". Within a few minutes, the two fly fishermen and guide were walking purposefully back down the stream. They had seen a mama bear and two cubs and wisely decided to head for the boat. Although the Mist Cove guides always carry shotguns or rifles when going ashore, no one wants to shoot a bear who is just defending her fishing area and cubs. We looked past them and suddenly saw a bear stand up in the tall grass about 100 yards behind them. She and her cubs had followed them down the stream, but disappeared into the grass as quickly as they appeared! It was spooky, since brown bears are very fast. The skiff was on the beach by the time we reached it, and although our fishing time was cut short, we returned to the Mist Cove with a great story.
After the hikers returned, the Mist Cove left Kelp Bay and we moved north in Chatham Strait, anchoring just below Thatcher Passage off the east side of Catherine Island. That afternoon, we went halibut fishing for the last time and had the best luck of the trip. Ronnie and I both caught fish, as did the other couple in the boat. We also caught some more rockfish, which we took back to the boat for some "fish painting" the next day.
Some of the Mist Cove skiffs were treated to an orca show while halibut fishing. The orcas (killer whales) were exhibiting play activity similar to their porpoise cousins. The Captain volunteered to keep watch, and he sent the rest of the crew out in the last skiff to watch the orcas. Our boat was further away, so we missed the orcas, but heard about it over dinner. I'm sorry we missed the show!
We sailed into the narrow Peril Straits and anchored in Saook Bay for the evening.
Mist Cove Alaska Day 6 - Saook Bay, Fish Painting, and Home
Our last full day on the Mist Cove was our first rainy one. How lucky we had been! However, the day wasn't too cold, so a little water didn't keep our intrepid group from the lovely salmon fishing stream in Saook Bay. Since the three of us had such good luck the day before, most of the Mist Cove passengers decided to give it a try.
The clouds hung low over the mountains as we hiked across Paradise Flats towards the river system. The rain was a fine drizzle, just enough to get you wet if you weren't wearing rain gear. We lined up on the bank of the river, and the man standing next to me got one on the first cast. The pinks were running! Over the next three hours, our group caught and released dozens on salmon on spinning tackle and fly rods. A few folks even caught some Dolly Varden. We also were entertained by a young eagle dining on a salmon nearby, unfazed by our noise.
After a while, the rain stopped, but luckily the fun didn't, although it slowed down a little. Some of the group took an early skiff back to the ship, but we were having so much fun, we stayed as long as allowed. This was the only day that the schedule could not be changed, since the Mist Cove needed to pass through the very narrow sections of the Peril Straits at the right tide.
While we were eating lunch, the Mist Cove pulled up the anchor and we headed towards Sitka. The ride was lovely, and the narrow passageway was almost like sailing on a river. That afternoon, the fantail was transformed into an art studio by covering the tables and floor with newspaper. We put on bright yellow slickers and took turns painting some of the rockfish that had been caught. The Mist Cove crew said that the activity was originally designed for children, but the adults enjoyed it so much that it is now included on most voyages. Some people did t-shirts, others did aprons. It was great fun, and the fantail provided good views of the passing scenery.
After our last dinner onboard, we had a tour of the engine room, galley, and crew quarters. One of the crew said it was a good way to get them to clean their cabins once a week! After the tour, we gathered in the salon for a slide show of some of the photos the crew had taken during the week. I think we all loved re-living our memorable week on the Mist Cove, but it was a little sad to leave our new friends.
The next morning, we had breakfast and said goodbye to the Mist Cove crew. A few passengers who lived on the west coast were flying home that afternoon, but the rest of us spent the night at the Westmark Hotel in Sitka, planning to fly home the next morning. Like the Westmark in Juneau, the staff were friendly and the room comfortable. They happily stored our fish in their freezer.
It was a good decision to explore Sitka, stay overnight, and unwind a little more before heading home. The next day we said goodbye to Alaska, as we flew away with our 46-pound box of frozen halibut, a few additional pounds on our bodies from the chefs' good cooking, and a thousand memories of the Mist Cove and the Tongass National Forest region of Southeast Alaska.
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary cruise accommodation for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, About.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our Ethics Policy.