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July 25, 2007

The Routine


Day 28

First Presbyterian Church, Wrangell, AK

Wrangell, Alaska is home to ten churches and two bars. Probably the only town in the state able to boast that kind of ratio. Becky and I are in the Presbyterian Church of Wrangell today. The Catholic Church is right next door, but this place has a hostel and our room is in the bell tower, overlooking the harbor, with an intriguing rope hanging through the ceiling. I keep egging Becky in, hoping she'll pull the cord and wake up the town. Not only is this church the oldest continuously functioning Presbyterian church in Alaska, it also has a neon cross on the steeple that shows up on nautical charts as a navigational aid. We're here resting and resupplying for the day. Its nice to have a little break from the paddling, do some laundry, shower and rest the shoulders and backs. Although Beck and I are by now muck stronger than we were three weeks ago, joints and muscles are a little sore.
We've fallen into a bit of a routine having been on the water this long. Days are structured around the tides, we plan to make the most of favorable currents. Not that we always guess the water's mind correctly, but it is nice to pick up a knot or a half if we can. The trick is to decipher the weather forecast to predict what the wind might do. Having a sleep-in to catch a favorable afternoon tide might backfire if the wind picks up. Nothing like paddling a loaded boat into 15 knots of wind to kick your butt in a hurry!

Some mornings, like the one we crossed Chatham Strait, dodging the wind might mean waking at 5am to be paddling by 6:30. Most days we're awake around 6am. One of us will retrieve the food bags (hung out of the reach of Yogi Bear), set up the kitchen, pitch the megamid if its raining, and cook brekkie. The other will pack up the tent and related gear, and do dishes. Once camp is packed and our engines are fueled with farina or oatmeal we schlep all our gear and boats to the water's edge. This is trickier than it sounds since the water's edge is always moving. Its a bit of a bummer to spend 15 minutes loading your boat only to find it left high and dry by a falling tide.
After a brief warmup stretch its into the boats to paddle away the day. Breaks are determined by out hydration level and its a common occurrence to sprint to the beach for a snack and a much needed pee. Around 3 to 5pm we start looking for a nice steep pebble beach to camp on, we reverse the morning routine, have time for a swim, walkabout, or just dinner than bed. We usually cover about 15-17 miles a day.


Rocky Pass


Day 22

Devil's Elbow Forest Service Cabin

Fabulous day today! Perhaps one of the best yet. Covered 15 easy miles thanks to the tidal current. Foggy morning from Pup Island to Entrance Island on compass. Caught the beginning of the flood current into Rocky Pass at 10am. At Entrance Island the fog lifts to reveal a narrow, well marked waterway between Kuiu an Kuprenof Islands. Narrow passes, reefs, islets, rocks, kelp and current. Just enough current to speed us along. No real rapids except right at "The Summit" where the passage is so narrow and shallow it has been dredged to accommodate boats up to 50 feet. It sure would be tight though! We rafted the boats for lunch and ate while drifting along at about two knots!

Saw no one until reaching what the Douglasses call "Baidarka Anchorage". Paddling over to the Lacretia B we chat for a bit with the couple on board. They are about to haul anchor to slip south through a tricky spot, Devil's Elbow, at high water slack. "You came all the way from Glacier Bay in kayaks?! Where's all your gear? And you're going to Bellingham, in kayaks?!" Its awesome to see folks so flabbergasted. They're from Sitka, but have wintered in Bellingham and know our friends Chara and Emmo! Small world. They even offered to send an e-mail to Chara for us to keep her posted on our whereabouts. Three cheers!!

The next kicker of the day is the Forest Service A-frame cabin. Tucked away on an isthmus between two tidal flats it has a cozy downstairs with two double bunks, a large kitchen counter and table with two benches, oil stove for heat and sleeping loft upstairs. Big windows top to bottom front and back, nice view out front over the salt grasses and mud flat. South exposure with a wooden deck and patio and today is a bright sunny day, perfect for drying gear and charging batteries with the solar panels. There is even a nice creek nearby for a quick bath courtesy of Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap. Beck is baking biscuits while I write and soak up the sunshine. No bugs either!! How is that possible? Later we take a stroll on the flat and discover he tracks of bear, moose, deer, wolves, and heaps a waterfowl.

We are both ecstatic that we are having this experience together!
Thanks to all our friends and family for the support and comments. We love you!

July 24, 2007

Crossing Frederick Sound

Crossing Frederick Sound

Day 20


Surprise Harbor, Southern Tip of Admiralty Island

Well, we hoofed it 22 miles yesterday to make the most of a favorable weather forecast. That long day put us into camp late in the evening and preparing for the crossing kept us up even later. It took a bit of stamina to stay awake plotting courses, checking charts, and reading the Coast Pilot on the PDA, but we're taking the crossing seriously.

Frederick Sound is the longest crossing of our trip, 10 miles of wide open water. It is a major thoroughfare for ferries, tugs with barges, fishing boats, and gargantuan, gleaming cruise ships. While the forecast calls for "light winds and seas less than 2 feet" we're still treating it with respect. We've plotted a compass course on the chart, plugged coordinates into the GPS, and we're planning to cross as the tides are changing in order to avoid the worst of any current out there.

Fog is the theme for today. Early this morning we could barely see 1/4 mile. Not exactly great visibility for little kayaks in big water with giant ships. After all, we don't exactly show up on radar. Fortunately, the slack water for today falls in early afternoon which allows us a lazy morning watching the fog lift. Around 11am we push off the beach and say goodbye to our bear-free island campsite.

The southern tip of Admiralty Island, Kootznahootoo "fortress of the bears" to the Tlingit natives, is deeply indented by several island-filled bays separated by narrow, forested peninsulas. It is as if the island were stretching its own bear claw out into Frederick Sound. The coastline is rough, steep, and rocky. We lucked out last night to find our pebble beach campsite. Paddling out of our bay we turn east and aim for Carroll Island. Looking south, across the sound, all we can see is flat gray water blending seamlessly into flat gray cloud. Its hard to tell just how far we can see, but the visibility seems good enough for us to give it a go, especially since there is no wind.

Soon we turn, set the GPS, check the compass and paddle off towards the nothingness. It is a bit disconcerting pointing the boat at a distant fog bank and paddling away from shore. There is a faint horizon, but no land in sight. The only sounds are the paddle blades dipping and the low hum of a fishing boat somewhere out there. Beck and I paddle on in silence for about 30 minutes, snugly wrapped in the mist.

A loud woosh followed by an elephant's trumpet announces the presence of a humpback. The vocalization startles both of us out of our trance. The whale surfaces twice more, its glossy arched back showing each vertebrae through the skin, looking just like a sea monster. After the last throaty breath its fluke rises high and disappears without a ripple. Three quick breaths and a dive, then the silence is back and we are alone. Eventually we see a few boats buzzing in the distance, a helicopter flying east and finally, squinting into the haze, we spot the trees of Point Cornwallis. We're still 1.5 hours away, but at least we can see the other side. Yes, there is actually land over here, just like the chart shows. Becky starts a word game and we toss place names back and forth the rest of the way across.

After about 3.5 hours of continuous paddling we reach the point, butts aching and needing a pee. The rain, real SE Alaska rain, has set in by now as we locate a small pebble beach and step ashore. We groan and stretch, pitch our Megamid tarp shelter and hide out with a thermos of hot tea.

Frederick Sound is behind us and the elements were kind to us; zero wind, seas flat and not much current. It was also nice to find Point Cornwallis exactly where our compass and GPS said it would be! A few miles later we'll camp with some yachties in Honeydew Cove and sleep contentedly.

July 13, 2007


Greetings from Angoon, AK. Nick and I have arrived safely to our second resupply in the small Native community of Angoon. We came in early yesterday evening in the pouring rain and were incredibly fortunate to stumble upon the warm and inviting Kootznahoo Inlet Lodge, and it is by their graces (through the owners home computer) that we can add this post to the blog. Thanks Albert and Sally!!
We have had a fabulous two weeks and find ourselves warm, dry well fed and overall very prepared. We spent a week in Glacier Bay under clear skies and unseasonably warm temperatures. We took a charter boat from Park headquarters halfway up the Muir Inlet, and took a few days to paddle to the terminus of the Muir Glacier. This where our journey south would begin (and also the furthest point for home). We had a spectacular tour in the Bay and saw icebergs, puffins, humpback whales, sea otters and all the other usual stuff (YEAH!).

From Glacier Bay we crossed Icy Straight on nearly glassy seas and landed on Pt. Adolphus, a notorious humpback whale feeding ground. We were not disappointed in our viewing. When we set off to paddle away from the point, four humpbacks came up for breath no more than 20 ft. from our boats and headed straight for us. We must have taken them by surprise and they escaped collision only by diving right beneath our boats. It was a special experience but feel bad to have spooked these docile creatures.
We stopped in Hoonah for the Fourth and shared a rib feed with the community and then watched fireworks from a small island just out of town. We then paddled down Port Frederick to attempt the portage into Tenakee Inlet. It was easy going despite the quarter mile drag down a small creek.

One morning on our paddle out Tenakee Inlet, we were treated with a classic mist hanging from the hills, a rainbow and a pod of Orca whales actively working their way up the inlet. We made fast time on the glassy seas and arrived in Tenakee by noon. We tied our boats to the sea plane dock and wandered into town where we quickly found the harbor master sitting in front of the cafe sipping coffee. Tenakee is known for it's hotspring bathhouse and you bet we put our time in soaking our bones. Most of the down is built on stilts and hangs over the intertidal, such as this privy. Tide comes in, tide goes out.