transiting the Inside Passage  aboard "room Seven"

Day 11

20 June 2012: South of Wrangell Narrows, Alaska


Santa Anna Inlet was the site of an old Northwest Fisheries cannery in the early 1900s, and we anchored last night just offshore from the crumbling remains of the pilings that mark the cannery dock. Kent and I both have our dive gear along on this trip, and we wanted to make a warm-up dive here, looking for old bottles and other discarded treasures from yesteryear.

The water was dark with tannins from all the ground run-off, but below 40 feet or so the underwater visibility was a murky 15 feet over a soft mud bottom. We found lots of modern beer bottles, mayonaise jars, and the like, but the old stuff must be buried in the muck after nearly a century. We did see lots of dungeness crabs scurrying across the bottom, but they moved a lot faster than us, and catching any proved out of the question.


We're 78 miles from Petersburg, and we need to catch the last of a flood tide at the south end of Wrangell Narrows. That's too far a run to catch an early-afternoon tide, so we're steaming about 40 miles to Roosevelt Harbor on Zarembo Island. That will put us about 2 hours from the south end of the narrows, which we need to hit at 1320 tomorrow.




Day 9

18 June 2012: crossing into Alaska


Dropped the hook at 2315 last night in Brundige Inlet on Dundas Island, the northernmost Canadian anchorage along this stretch. Exactly 13 hours underway yesterday; a long, tiring day but we all feel good at how far ahead of schedule we've managed to get.


Day 10

19 June 2012: Clarence Strait


Spent the morning finishing up our shopping, then motored north in the channel to the fuel dock. With airport ferries crisscrossing the passage, idling floatplanes jockeying for takeoff position, approaching cruise ships, and lots of pleasure and fishing boat traffic, just negotiating that mile-long stretch was a "Power Boating 101" refresher.


Broke out the credit card, swallowed hard, and filled 'er up. The good news is that the Flow-Scans were right on the money, registering within a gallon or two of our consumption estimate. We have covered about 735 miles (counting side trips) and burned 350 gallons since La Conner, for an average of 2.1 MPG. With sales tax included, diesel here is $4.32 per gallon. What a pleasure not to have needed fuel all through Canada, where some of the out-of-the-way fuel docks were charging over US$6.00!



We agreed to get up at 0700 and have breakfast underway, fingers crossed that conditions in Dixon Entrance would be as good today as they were last night. Some confusion with the cell-phone alarm clocks, as mine had picked up an AT&T signal from the Alaskan side of the border (one hour earlier than BC) and Julie's phone was still on the Canadian network. Since neither one of us had service at the anchorage, whose cell phone clock would determine our go-time?


Excited to be returning to American waters, everyone got up early anyway.

Forty minutes after getting underway, we crossed the border into Alaska waters in a gentle, 2-foot swell from the Gulf. Our charmed weather from Canadian waters had followed us once again!

At 1215 AST we passed Angle Point at Bold Island, a little over 9 miles from Ketchikan. Ahead we spotted a flotilla of pleasure boats, floatplanes buzzing overhead, and in the distance the looming white shapes of cruise ships moored along Ketchikan's waterfront. We called the harbormaster for a slip, and tied up in Bat Harbor at 1350. I'd phoned in our vessel and passport information to the local Customs office by phone on the way in, and shortly after we docked a Customs officer arrived at our slip to ask us about contraband and welcome us back to home waters.



First order of business included hot showers all around, after which we divided chores between the four of us. Julie hit Safeway, Monica headed to the laundromat, Kent went to Ace Hardware and the marine store, and I stayed aboard to give Room Seven a long-overdue cleaning, inside and out.


While I worked on the boat, a big 50-foot motor yacht approached to take the empty slip next to ours. I jogged over to help grab his line, and after he'd docked we got to visiting about boats, local waters, etc. He and his family ( wife, son and grandson) had been out on a Father's Day fishing trip, and he gave us a pile of fresh-caught crab and a Ziploc full of shrimp. Welcome to Southeast! The sun even came out for a few minutes, and we enjoyed a fresh seafood feast and a really good night's sleep.



From Ketchikan, we ran N up Clarence Strait in a following 3-foot chop. About 8 miles S of Meyer's Chuck, we hit a firewood-log-sized chunk of wood that lay hidden in a mass of floating kelp. The wood made a solid "thunk" sound on the hull; no louder or harder than others we've heard on this trip. About that time, Kent pointed at two red lights on the dash and mentioned that two of our four bilge pumps were running.


To be on the safe side, I went downstairs and popped a bilge access panel in the floor about one-third of the way from the bow. Kneeling on the floor with a flashlight, I stuck my head in the bilge upside-down and saw a steady sheet of water raining in from someplace forward. Every boat leaks a little, but this was a truly alarming flow!


Just as when we lost steering in Grenville Channel, we went into crisis mode once again. First thing (and worst-case scenario) is figure out where we are, and look for some kind of beach where we'd have a chance of running her aground if the hull breach proved catastrophic. Next, alert everyone aboard that there is a potential problem, and have them stand ready to assist in whatever way might be needed. Finally (and really just seconds later) is figure out what the hell happened, and what to do about it.


Since the spraying water was all the way at the forepeak, I needed a way to inspect the damage. The chain locker. I ran to the V-berth and pulled open the access hatch, exposing a triangular area about 2 feet on each side where the anchor chain resides when it's not in use. It was flooded with about 8 inches of seawater.

The shower I had seen from underneath was water overflowing from the chain locker and running down the forward bulkhead of the V-berth into the bilge. This was not looking good!


It turns out that our hull was not breached, and that Room Seven was not, in fact, going down by the bow. What had happened is that the half-inch drain hole at the bottom of the chain locker, which is intended to get rid of water that comes from the wet anchor rode, gets enough back pressure from our bow wake when we're underway that a jet of water shoots into the hole and fills the locker. It could be that the boat has always done this, but since the water drains back through the hole when you throttle back or stop, nobody ever noticed it before.

Flat calm as we approached the town of Wrangell, but after the bustle of Ketchikan we're in no hurry for civilization. Instead, we turned left and dropped anchor in a small inlet on Zarembo Island at 1915. The water here is milky with runoff from the Stikine River, and there are a dozen or so buoys in the anchorage marking commercial crab pots. There's a US Forest Service float at the head of the bay, but a recent reorder from Wrangell has his 36- footer tied up there on a long-term stay, so we're happy anchoring out in the middle amidst the crab floats.


I spend the evening reading up on tomorrow's run up Wrangell Narrows, and decide to leave about 1130 for the estimated 2-hour run to catch the S entrance at 1330, which is just over an hour ahead of high slack.

In our case, the boat is loaded heavily for our voyage, with fuel drums stowed at the bow and other gear under the V-berth. The extra weight may have been enough to depress the bow (and increase the bow wake), allowing water to fill the chain locker. A few minutes with the shop vac, followed by an custom drain hole plug fashioned from a piece of rubber and a quarter-inch stainless screw, and problem solved! Once we get home and lighten the load, I'll see if water continues to come in. If it does, I'll figure out a back flow preventer of some kind.


With the delay caused by our emergency drill, it was 2140 before we reached Santa Anna Inlet on the E side of Ernest Sound. We've decided to take a detour around Etolin Island, and will rejoin the main Inside Passage route at the south end of Wrangell Narrows in a couple of days.