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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.

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