transiting the Inside Passage  aboard "room Seven"

Days 13-15

22-24 June 2012: Gambier Bay & Stephens Passage, Alaska


Just a quick combined entry to catch up on the last three days as we head out of Auke Bay on Monday morning, bound for Excursion Inlet tonight.


We left Petersburg under brilliant blue skies on Friday morning, with smooth seas and a light wind chop at our back. By 1600 we were inside Gambier Bay, exploring the many coves and islets that dot this magnificent area.

Day 12

21 June 2012: Wrangell Narrows & Petersburg, Alaska


Today starts well, with a big breakfast intended to stoke the crew for the arduous navigational challenge of Wrangell Narrows that lies ahead.


With names along on our route that include Danger Point Ledge, Vexation Point, Spike Rock and No Thorofare Point, surely there must be dangers lurking around every turn!


As we lay at anchor in Roosevelt Harbor about 0830, we watched a line of milky green water advancing toward us from the mouth of the inlet. It drew closer, and we could see masses of kelp and small pieces of driftwood riding in the current. Ahead, the foam crab pot buoys surrounding Room Seven began to trail miniature wakes as the advancing current swirled around them.


Although we had lain securely at anchor all night, as we watched the trees on the shore we could see them start to move. Since trees generally don't migrate, that meant our anchor was dragging and it was time for our small crew to once again jump into action.


As breakfast cooled on the stove, I fired up the engines while Kent and Julie ran up front to pull the anchor. Since there were still 3 hours before we planned to leave, we figured we'd simply re-anchor in the middle of the bay, let out some more scope, and ride out the tidal exchange from a more secure position. As I bumped us forward, they engaged the winch but quickly found that the chain would come up only so far, but no further. We were snagged on something!

After a quick planning session with Kent, I threaded a length of half-inch poly line under the steel cable and speared it with the boat hook. Once I had both ends of the poly line aboard, I tied off one end to a cleat and the two of us horsed the other end with all our might. The cable gave just a little, and we finally managed to disengage the hook just as the rising tide obscured it from view.

After a great deal of maneuvering, we got the hook up far enough to find a length of steel cable stretched tight, pinning us in position while the incoming tidal current swept debris against the hull. We thought of launching the dinghy and having someone try to release the snag, but the tide was coming in so quickly that we figured the stuck anchor would be underwater before we would be able to reach it. Note the "wake" on the cable, which shows how fast the current was sweeping in.

As soon as we got underway, I popped open Garmin's tide & current window and found that the commencement of our unexpected voyage backward into the steel cable coincided exactly with a minus 1.7 moving to a 14.6; more than 16 feet of water moving through in less than 7 hours!


Not wanting to risk further entanglement, we steered a course for open water and asked Otto to steer us toward the south end of Wrangell Narrows at half speed while we enjoyed our interrupted breakfast. Even so, we reached Woewodski Island an hour and a half before the current laid down enough to begin our passage, so we anchored up again to wait for the tide.

This is a distinctly working waterfront, crammed with boats that quite clearly earn their living from the sea. Mixed among the fishing boats are large, expensive motor yachts hailing from ports of call such as Santa Barbara, Bellingham, and San Francisco. Here's a phalanx of Alaskan fishing boats and a visiting yacht. Why is it the Thurston Howell cruisers always back into their slips? Afraid to go nose-to-nose with a "real" boat?


I stopped in Petersburg on a friend's converted crabber about 3 years ago, and I'm pretty sure this mossy beauty was here then. If anything, its studied tattiness is even more photogenic now. Sort of a floating terrarium with harbor fees.


Ended the day with a yummy carry-out pizza and red wine shared with friends on the top deck, under the Midnight Sun of summer solstice. We are on Day 11 of a planned 21-day trip, with ten days behind us and another ten ahead, so today makes a sort of "voyage solstice" for us as well.

The Coast pilot describes Wrangell Narrows as an exercise in piloting, rather than a navigational challenge. The roughly 21-mile channel is marked by no fewer than 60 navigational aids that include not only the familiar green squares and red nuns, but also red-and-white vertical range markers, and red-and-green day-beacons marking obstructions that the mariner may pass on either side.


Not only that, but the incoming tide floods from both ends simultaneously, meeting somewhat north of halfway through the channel and producing currents that can reach 4-5 knots and also produce unexpected 2-knot side currents that set diagonally across the channel.


Here's a shot taken from one place in the channel where we had something like 12-15 nav aids in view at once, and another showing the current rushing past the markers and pushing us around the slalom course that is Wrangell Narrows.


We enjoyed a beautiful, blue-sky day on the water, and reached Petersburg with little fanfare, tying up in our transient slip at 1600. The town (population apx. 3500) was founded by, and named for, its founder Peter Buschmann who built the first cannery and sawmill here in the late 1800s. The town is known to be proud of its Nordic heritage, and it shows in ways large and small. As we strolled around town under the lingering Solstice sunshine, here are a couple of sights that caught my eye.

Saturday marked our one "rest" day of the trip, where we had planned to hang out at Gambier Bay and enjoy the scenery and the break from driving 7 to 12 hours every day. The weather couldn't have been better for a day off, and we were all in shorts and sandals.


As we motored between anchorages, the engine temp alarm sounded for the port engine. This had happened once before, a day out of Ketchikan, but the reading returned to normal on its own and I figured it was a piece of kelp momentarily blocking the seawater intake for the heat exchanger. This time, though, the temp stayed in the red and we limped to Snug Harbor on one engine.


While half the crew launched kayaks and explored the shoreline, the other half pulled the sea strainers and cleaned out a bunch of goo. While the strainers were off, I cracked the two sea-cocks in turn. The starboard one produced a pretty good gurgle, but the port side not a drop! Time for a dive.


With a pair of needle nose and a coat-hanger, I dug a solid clump of seaweed the size of a chicken egg out of the through-hull intake strainer. I checked the starboard side, and it was about half plugged so I cleaned that, too. Somewhere along the line we had apparently swallowed a mass of kelp; I'm amazed the engines were cooling at all.

Saturday marked our one "rest" day of the trip, where we had planned to hang out at Gambier Bay and enjoy the scenery and the break from driving 7 to 12 hours every day. The weather couldn't have been better for a day off, and we were all in shorts and sandals.

We lazed around in the Gambier sunshine and got a late start up Stephens Passage early Sunday afternoon. As soon as we rounded Point Gambier, we felt a steady SE wind of about 15 knots pushing us up the 88-mile-long channel. After a couple of hours (and another 20 miles of fetch) the wind had picked up to about 25 knots, and the seas grew from their forecast 5 feet to more like 8-footers. They were so steep and confused that we had to continuously muscle the wheel back and forth to avoid being dumped sideways into a trough. For more than 3 hours, Kent and I spelled each other in 15-minute turns at the wheel, steering until our arm muscles burned.


Here are a couple of shots as we approached Grand Island at the N end of Stephens Passage. As rough as it looks, double that and you'll have an idea how much we were bouncing!


Our plan had been overnight in Auke Bay, but we were so exhausted that we anchored for the night in Admiralty Cove. Julie had valiantly battled the waves to make a delicious dinner of baked pork chops, apple compote and sweet potatoes, which we devoured practically before the hook was down.


After a quick fuel, beer and grocery stop in Juneau, off to Glacier Bay!