Sitka, Baranof Island
Heading south! We have reached the northern most point of our trip this season. Over the last couple of weeks we have sailed from Petersburg to Sitka, through Frederick Sound, across Chatham Strait and north along the eastern coast of Baranof Island, through Peril Strait (where we had our northern-most anchorage in Deep Bay) and finally through the small cluster of islands and islets just north of Sitka inside Kruzof Island.
Our nephew Sawyer joined us in Petersburg and his addition to the crew amped up the adventure. It was also impeccable timed, the beauty of nature between these ports of call has been at the top of the list of what we have experienced on the trip so far. The Humpback whales that went beyond counting in Chatham Strait and as we moved along the east coast of Baranof island, at any moment we could see spouting, or tail slapping or a great tail tipping up into the air - hanging for a moment and then slipping ever so elegantly into the sea. We spent several days in their company, often they were far from us though their massive percussive tail slaps would carry across the water like distant canon fire. We had a couple surface near us, one that came up fairly close to the boat and began to methodically pound his long flipper on the water's surface.
The sailing itself was spotty, as it has been for most of the trip, with the exception of our crossing of Chatham Strait which was the the stand out day of sailing of the trip to day. A steady 28 knots and a healthy swell working up from the Gulf of Alaska made for a fast and exciting crossing. Other days we might get the sails up for a few hours before the winds disappeared.
Our first night out of Petersburg we anchored in Thomas Bay with views of glaciers and some impressive peaks. Only a few miles from town and that part of Alaska begins to feel remote. Baird and Patterson Glaciers are pretty large and when the mist parted for a glimpse of Patterson it was an impressive sight - a large face, hundreds of feet high, covering the side of a mountain.
Red Bluff Bay was the favorite anchorage. After a wild ride across Chatham Strait, and with the winds still blowing in the high-20's we motored into the narrow, winding passage at the bay's mouth and in moments the winds dropped to a couple knots, the waters stilled and the world calmed. Red Bluff Bay is a lengthy, winding passage through high cliffs with impressive waterfalls, over 20 from the mouth to the head of the waters. The moment we came into the entrance we felt we were crossing over into a forgotten spot slipped out of time, there were comments about Jurassic Park with all the waterfalls, lush greenery and little islets. The anchorage had views of a massive waterfall cascading from a lake hidden from view, and when the mists when clear we could see snowy peaks and an impressive granite spire.
At Red Bluff Sawyer had what will in the years to come be taken as a tall tale of fishing, and I'm sure he'll have to defend the story. It is sad that fishermen through the ages have embellished their accomplishments to such an extent that when one really does have a true story of "the one that got away" it will only be met with arched eyebrows and skepticism. Let me set the story down now so that skeptics can park their eye rolling and appreciate for a moment the beauty of the salmon lost. On his first cast (really!) Sawyer gave a slight tug of his line and looked over the water as though something not quite right was going on, before telling us that he maybe had a fish on. There was a moment of suspended belief when none of us really thought he'd hooked a fish, then the tip of the rod arched downward with a great jerk and we all shouted out, and set to work gathering up the net, running to life lines, and yelling encouragement. The salmon made a break for it - running deep and hard away from the boat, Sawyer had to work his way around the shrouds, stern arch and across the cockpit, as the salmon made the occasional mad dash and then dove deeply only to be reeled in ever so slowly. After a good deal of this the salmon surfaced and floated, exhausted. I leaned over with the net and it made a short run for it, tricking us into believing it was tuckered out. I went for another grab with the net, this time the salmon went head first into the net, it felt like I'd swooped up a large dog, the net seemed far too small for the fish, as I went to scoop it up it thrashed around, left the hook in the net, backflipped itself out of the mess and disappeared. In short - skillful rod work brought the salmon in, a net too small for such a beast let it slip away.
Fishing went downhill from there but we did have some great kayaking!
Our next anchorage along the coast of Baranof Island was Warm Springs, a small community of houses tucked up along the edge of a rain forest. The houses and boardwalk are all wood deck on supports, the ground is so damp and constantly shifting. We followed a boardwalk up into the forest behind town to a hot spring pool beside a waterfall and spent a couple of hours soaking in the pool and taking in the beauty of nature. There were a couple of small rock pools built around large boulders that cascaded into a stretch of white water at the head of the waterfall that drops into the bay. We anchored for the night in a small cove in the bay, hidden from the view of the community. There we were entertained by a baby seal and kayaked over a school of salmon, who had zero interest in our fishing lures.
Over the next few days we motored north in very light winds through Peril Strait, which we caught on a calm day. We saw Dall's porpoises in the strait and a few more Humpback whales. We were up early to catch the slack tide to run through Sergius Narrows, a beautiful, raw passage that at the ebb gave us a 4 knot boost. Currents there can run to 9 knots off ebb, frightening. But we had a swift, lovely passage and made for an anchorage off the east side of Kurzof Island, a nice spot with a wide shallows to one side and a cluster of small islets to the other. I kayaked over the shallows and noticed that they swiftly went from 20 feet or so to a few inches. Later that day when a Nauticat sailboat came into the anchorage I saw it making for the shallows and hailed the skipper on channel 16 - he responded with: "Yeah, I think I know what you're calling me about. I can confirm it shallows here" and was stuck. The tide was pretty much out, but over the next hour his boat listed over heavily and was a sad sight. He took his anchor out by dinghy and came over to say that it was no big deal, he was going to go fishing until the tide came in. He wasn't bothered a bit and soon was floating again.
All too soon we were motoring into Sitka, where we spent a couple of days sightseeing with Sawyer, enjoying the luxuries of unlimited water, fresh veggies and a great food truck. We were sad to put him on the plane home, we had a great time and it was a different adventure for us to have someone to share the trip with. Poetry nights and fair weather late night dinners were the highlights for me. The timing worked out so well, we saw more wildlife and had some of the best anchorages of the trip.
We are in Sitka for a few more days. We have had ongoing issues with what we thought was the prop but now think might be with the transmission. We had a diver do an inspection and he gave the prop a clean bill of health, we sent recordings of the sounds we were having with the engine to CSR in Seattle and they are leaning toward transmission problems. We will be heading south along the outside passage and want to be sure the problem is cleared up before we do. Sitka is a great town and there are excellent boat facilities, hopefully this goes quickly and isn't too painful.