July 15, 2012
On Sunday morning (July 15th), we planned to make an early departure from Deep Bay so that we would get to our next anchorage by mid-afternoon. However, we were slightly delayed when Randall pulled up his crab-trap to find an astonishing 14 Dungeness crabs packed into it. Everyone had assured us that Alaskan crabs were very fussy and only liked salmon bait but Randall had been putting whatever he had in his bait bag including bits of the herring left over from mooching and some mahi mahi skin pieces that we had kept in the freezer since the early part of our passage to Alaska. Perhaps the crabs liked the exotic taste of the tropics? Seven of the crabs were female and one male was undersized and so they were automatically returned. Of the remaining four, Randall could only keep three on one day (the daily bag-limit) but instead he decided to keep only the largest two which fed him well for the next couple of evenings (I am not a bit fan of shellfish).
Once we left Deep Bay, we had an assisting current for the rest of Peril Strait, a briefly opposing current once we turned south into Chatham Strait, and then a slight, favorable current for the rest of the afternoon. Another dry day, the clouds were much higher than on our trip to Deep Bay so we could see all of the surrounding mountains which gave the channels and bays a much more dramatic context. To the southwest we could see the east faces of the same snow-covered, central Baranof Island Mountains that had provided the distant backdrop to Sitka.
Just before we left Peril Strait, Randall tried calling “Alaskan Story” on the VHF radio, knowing that they were heading towards Sitka and thinking that he saw the boat on the south side of the Strait. Amazingly, Geoff replied immediately and loudly and turned out to be just ahead of us on the north side of the Strait. It was a slightly spooky coincidence but a good chance to exchange our travel plans. Since it turned out that Geoff was going to be in Washington for almost their whole week off, we decided there was no need for us to rush back to Sitka which then allowed us to be a bit more relaxed with our plans. Geoff could not resist teasing Randall for not having a sail up given that we had a reasonable following wind, so once we were off the radio, we unfurled the jib and motor-sailed until we were almost in Chatham Strait, when the wind dropped.
We joined Chatham Strait where it is about 8 nm wide, with Admiralty Island is on the eastern shore. The eastern coast of Baranof Island that we were now heading down is known as the Waterfall Coast and the reason was immediately apparent. Several miles down the coast we could see the massive flume of Kasnyku Falls cascading down a steep hillside directly into the Strait. It is such a dramatic white slash down the dark green, forested slopes that it is easy to become fixated on it. We would not explore it until the next day but as we cruised down the coast there were numerous other waterfalls all over the mountain sides, presumably in good spate because of all the recent rain and because there was still plenty of snow on the higher peaks that must be melting.
We saw some humpback whales as we progressed southward including a good view of one that had an almost completely white underside to its tail. We also noticed that about 10 nm further south there was a string of more than 30 fishing boats across the Strait, some obviously raising nets. We wondered if they were at the edge of some area where there was a change in fishing regulations. However, brief chatter on the VHF radio suggested that they were working together to cover the possible passage of salmon along the wide channel. They would be after one of the four Alaskan salmon species (coho, sockeye, chum, or pink) other than the king salmon for which the commercial season was closed.
Based on a description in our book by Elsie Hulsizer, we decided to try anchoring in Ell Cove. This is a tiny cove shaped like a backwards L. An AIS signal showed that one boat was already in the far end of the L, completely hidden out of sight of the entrance channel, so we approached slowly in case there were other non-AIS-transmitting boats. There were not and although we realized that we were slightly spoiling any hopes of complete seclusion that the crew of the private motorboat might have hoped for, there was plenty of room for us to anchor in the corner of the L with a view out of the entrance channel. The Hulsizer book had talked about being there with two boats anchored in the bay so we decided that this was not unreasonable.
Almost completely surrounded by steep, forest-covered hillsides, we were beautifully sheltered and the trees were completely motionless. After spending so much time on islands where the trade-winds maintain almost constant motion in the taller vegetation, it was taking me quite a while to get used to the stillness and quiet of the tall, narrow conifers that blanket the landscape here. Cascading waterfalls that were visible only high up on one hillside appeared to reach the cove in a tiny stream that was mostly hidden under the rubble at the shoreline and this provided a soothing sound-track for us in the anchorage.
The static vegetation should make it easier to see any bird movement but there did not seem to be many terrestrial birds visible from the water. We could hear the high-pitched whistling of a few small forest birds (well, mostly Randall heard it and had to tell me where to look) but during our evening in Ell Cove the only birds we saw were a raven and a pair of bald eagles.
In the morning, I noticed that the eagles would sit on one high perch overlooking the cove for a while and then one or both would move, either to different areas or close to each other. They occasionally gave chattering cries and head-nods to each other but it was not obvious whether this was a friendly or competitive interaction. It did seem likely that this was a cove that at least one of them felt territorial about and I wondered just how big an area of shoreline each eagle needs. We saw a seal’s head a few times and there were many large and tiny jellyfish in the water but no obvious stream for salmon to return to so we wondered whether these eagles ate from the cove or went further afield to feed. Whatever their needs and behaviors over the long-term, we were very pleased that for one night they seemed willing to share their secluded and peaceful cove with us.