Log #8

Wrangell Narrows, Petersburg, and More Humpbacks than We've Ever Seen

I'm dashing off a quick update before we duck into Tracy Arm, about 18 miles south of Juneau. Many glaciers and high mountains in that area, and the mountains will block the satellite signal.

Friday June 18

We departed Wrangell at 10:20. Today we head towards Petersburg. It's another overcast, rainy day, with temperatures in the low 50s. Within a few hours we entered Wrangell Narrows--a 21 mile narrows that connects the east end of Sumner Strait to the southeast end of Frederick Sound. The narrow, intricate channel, has many dangerous ledges and flats, and very strong tidal currents.

Our guide book says that "Wrangell Narrows reportedly has the highest concentration of navigational aids in the world--67 lights and buoys. At night, however, because the navigational lights are so close together, distances between them are difficult to determine, and we don't recommend transiting unless you use radar."

Fortunately, we are transiting during the day, with radar, and the passage is uneventful for us. How cruise ships make it through here is difficult to imagine. The distance between some markers appears to be only several hundred feet wide, not much given the beam of some of these large cruise ships. While it would have been very educational to watch one of these ships negotiate the twists and turns along this route, we never saw one. (And fortunately never had to dodge one either.)

After a cold, soggy day, we arrive in Petersburg at 16:30. The harbor master is the most courteous we have encountered, and we are soon settled down the dock from Windrush II. The crews from both boats rendezvous for dinner at the local Chinese restaurant, which is about a mile's walk.

After dinner, Lee, Ronalee, and Chris (from Windrush II) stop by Andanté for some conversation. Chris and I ended up playing a game of chess (I won this one), after which I read a story from my Patrick McManus collection--a Christmas gift from my daughter Erica several years ago. The selected story is Muldoon in Love, which has us all laughing uncontrollably within a few short pages.

Saturday June 19

More overcast and rain. It's been like Seattle in November as far as the rain is concerned. Today is an errand day in Petersburg: doing laundry and changing oil on Andanté.

Around 22:00 we receive company--the crew from Dancer, which had come into Petersburg earlier in the day. Richard Packard, the skipper, teaches physics in San Francisco. Susan Page is an author on personal relationships. Her husband, Mayer Shacter accompanies them as well. They stay until about midnight.

Sunday June 20

This morning we had breakfast at the only restaurant in town that was open--the Chinese restaurant. First time I've ever had breakfast ala Chinese, but they seemed to have mastered the basic pancakes and bacon without too much difficulty.

We got a late start at 16:30, which was delayed more by stopping at the fuel dock. Heading east out of Petersburg we ran into a stiff 3.5 knot current, so we had to rev the engine up in order to make any headway. A short time later, now heading north in Frederick Sound, we spotted our first glacier of the trip, as well as small chunks of glacial ice floating in the water. Glacial ice must be where the term "blue ice" comes from, because the ice is a deep deep blue color. With no bubbles in the ice, it looks like blue crystal.

We see another humpback whale in the distance today.

We arrived in Thomas Bay around 20:00, and found Windrush II already anchored there. Because they had just caught many fresh crab and spot prawns, they invited us over for dinner. All we had to contribute was several baked potatoes, and a bottle of wine.

Monday June 21

This morning we rowed the dinghy ashore and hiked up Cascade Creek, a creek with a huge, powerful waterfall. The falls weren't very high, but the narrow rock canyon walls created a thunderous volume of water, with incredible hydraulics. Heading back to the dinghy, Tracey found the shore, at low tide, covered with mussels. So we harvested about 30-40, and carried them in Guy's rubber gloves, which we folded inside out. Didn't get underway until 14:25.

During our trip, we again saw another humpback whale, about 1/2 mile away, diving deep as his tail flipped vertical into the air before each dive.

We anchored in Cleveland Passage, inside Fanshaw Bay, under miserable weather: cold, low overcast, and rain.

Tuesday June 22

Guy climbed on deck this morning with rod and reel, and hooked a 15 pound skate. Shaped like a manta ray, skates are low, thin, flat, and wing-like in structure. While he cleaned the skate, I rowed to shore to inspect an old abandoned cabin. Upon closer inspection, not much of the cabin remained. Although the walls and roof still stood, it leaned over ready to fall, with no sign of its distant human occupants.

We are underway around 12:30. At 14:50 we are motoring north in Stephens Passage, and are surrounded by sea life. In addition to a school of Dall porpoises that swims by to check us out, we have three or four humpbacks around us, within 1/2 mile or so.

One humpback is particularly close, so we cut the engine. This attracts his curiosity, and he approaches, unbeknownst to us, until Guy says that he sees something large directly in front of the boat. We all stand to look forward, but see nothing.

Suddenly he is upon us, but we hear him before we see him. We hear a huge breathing sound coming from an enormous cavity. Hearing this sound triggers a primitive instinctual fear--the presence of something huge and possible predatory that you can't control. Then his low dorsal fin emerges from the water about 80 feet behind Andanté's port stern, followed by a magnificent tail fin rising up from the water. We are close enough that we can see the texture of his gray skin, and the barnacles that have attached to the corners of his tail. And all this without a sound, as he glides silently below.

He definitely came over to give us a closer look. The next time we see him again he is almost a mile to our stern.

Sending now because we're nearing the Point Astley, and sat. signal. Will attempt to send photos separately later.

Up Next ...

Log #9—Tracy Arm

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