Gone Floatabout

Sailing, Photography, Wilderness

Last stops in SE Alaska


Thanks to everyone for being patient about our lack of internet.  We have finished winterizing our floating home Celeste and have, after much struggle (that story comes later!), arrived back in our land-based home where we’re dying of the 68 degree heat 🙂  Now that we have an easy Wi-Fi connection, I have no excuse not to post more about our Alaskan voyage!


We used our time in Hoonah, our last real town in SE Alaska, to do chores: laundry, stocking up on fresh groceries for our passage to Prince William Sound, and filling up with fuel and water.  We tried to access the internet, but a small earthquake had put it out of commission throughout the area.  So we left Hoonah on July 27 naively thinking we might be able to put up our August blog posts and pay our online bills in Elfin Cove.


Petersburg to Elfin Cove

Elfin Cove is the last dot before our route heads out to the Gulf of Alaska. Hoonah is the one just before that.

The wind was up and down for the 40 miles to Elfin Cove, located just before Cape Spencer and the exit to the Inside Passage.  The tides rip through the islands there, but we’d timed the trip well and didn’t burn unnecessary diesel when the wind died altogether in South Passage.  We both noticed the very glacial color of the water there near the exit of Glacier Bay, which has the biggest concentration of tidewater glaciers in the world.  (Unfortunately we weren’t able to visit Glacier Bay itself: we hadn’t gotten permits and we had many more miles to go before heading back to work in the fall.  In the end it turned out well that we didn’t go because we would have missed the last weather window for crossing the Gulf of Alaska.)

Sailing in glacial meltwater

Sailing in glacier-colored water near Glacier Bay

A little further on, as we entered South Inian Pass, sea creatures we hadn’t seen in a while appeared.  The low-hanging mist and the craggy islands certainly made a wilderness backdrop for the otters, sea lions, and harbor porpoises.  Then, just as we were nearing Elfin Cove and its precipitous forests, a humpback whale breached full out of the water.  And again, and again!

Humpback whale breaching

We turned off the engine to float and watch him, and after he sounded for the last time and we were puttering towards the little village, a pod of orcas came coursing past!

Orcas in the lifting mist

Orcas in the lifting mist


We didn’t end up reaching the harbor until practically nightfall because of all our wildlife viewing and photographing, so it was dead low tide when we tried to get through the narrow, shallow, and rock-strewn pass into the inner harbor.  With me standing on the bow pointing at submerged rocks and attached kelp, and with Seth nervously checking the depth sounder every half-second, we nosed through the first section.  The lowest depth was 9 feet, so we managed that.  But then, in the first little area of docks, it went down to 8.5, 7.9, 7.5, 7.2!  (We draw more than 6!)  Seeing someone on the boardwalk above us, I shouted up to ask if it got worse in the second little pass.  “Another sailboat got stuck yesterday,” came the reply.  “You could probably do it on the high.”  So out we went, thankful that with our modern fin keel we could turn on a dime and not brush any closer to the rocky banks.

Elfin Cove inner harbor - the pass was too shallow for us to enter so we docked in the outer harbor

Elfin Cove inner harbor – the pass was too shallow for us to enter so we docked in the outer harbor

The dock in the outer harbor was completely full with fishing boats, so we illegally tied to the floatplane dock and were grateful that we could move forward at 5am when one of the fishermen left, well before the first morning flight.  Elfin Cove is a lovely boardwalk town, battling back the forests and hanging on to the steep shore by its fingernails.

Ellen walks the Elfin Cove boardwalk 'streets'

Ellen walks the Elfin Cove boardwalk ‘streets’

We made friends with the proprietor of the general store and although she helped us try and find internet, the earthquake had affected Elfin Cove even worse than Hoonah.  We’d almost decided to say to hell with it when Seth discovered we’d left some important paperwork at the internet café/Chinese restaurant back in Hoonah!  A really nice fisherman let me use his wireless booster to call the restaurant and make sure they had it before we cast off and headed right back the way we’d came.

Glacier Bay

A gorgeous glimpse of the snowy peaks behind Glacier Bay on our emergency return trip to Hoonah.

Forty miles and seven hours later, all through thick fog (we were glad we’d installed the radar!), we arrived back in Hoonah, ran to the Chinese restaurant, and were restored to our papers.  The internet had been fixed, so we were able to pay our bills and put up last month’s blog posts.  We checked the tides and downloaded GRIB weather files from OCENS, which looked as good as we were going to get: calms and light winds from ahead, governed by a stable high pressure system.  We’d be motoring a fair bit to Prince William Sound, but a least we wouldn’t be battling high winds and big seas.

2 thoughts on “Last stops in SE Alaska

  1. Wow!! Sounds more exciting than Eggemoggin Reach. How will you be able to learn of ice conditions before starting voyage next summer?

    Steve Feinstein

    • Hi Steve,
      Good to hear from you and glad you’ve been enjoying our updates! Regarding ice conditions, unfortunately there’s no foolproof way to predict what the arctic will look like very far in advance. Environment Canada issues a prognosis in June, so we’ll definitely study that, and then we’ll monitor individual ice charts from the Bering Sea to Greenland (issued by both National Weather Service and Environment Canada). If the last two years are an indication of what to expect, though, it might not be possible to explore too far into the Passage. We’ll wait and see!
      Hope you’re well and enjoyed some good sailing this summer!