It was mid-afternoon when we left Columbia Glacier, so instead of trying to make any progress westward we decided to anchor in a cove on nearby Glacier Island. The island had been recommended to us by Arctic voyager and fellow Blue Water Sailing contributor Claudia (s/y Belle Epoque) though she hadn’t given any details about why it was one of her favorites. That was just fine by us, though, since it makes everything more of a discovery and more unexpected—the same reason we don’t always carry cruising guides.
We steered for a bay at the north end of the island, protected on all sides by a peninsula and some smaller islands. Years ago bergy bits probably drifted down this far but for us it was completely clear and made the perfect anchorage in 35 feet and gravelly mud. Although it was August 5th, the days were still wonderfully long at nearly 61 degrees north, so we had plenty of time to explore our surroundings.
We rowed into a gravel spit and immediately stumbled upon a decaying boardwalk trail. Following it uphill we found what must have once been a tent platform, and beyond it a swinging wooden bench with an incredible view of the Chugach range behind Columbia Glacier. We walked around more of the decaying boardwalks (hiking on the land itself is not much fun because so much of it is ‘muskeg’, boggy ground you easily sink into…), saw some old bear scat and wondered if the animal was a nice herbivorous black bear or a rather more omnivorous brown. We came out onto another pretty pebble beach lined with purple loosestrife and saw a big flock of plovers camouflaged against the stones.
Some wavelets lapped at the shore: we were on the side open to Columbia Bay and Prince William Sound now rather than our quiet anchorage. Then we went back to that wonderful bench, happy that Claudia had left it for us to stumble upon on our own.
Before returning to the boat, we made a circuit of our anchorage in the dinghy, on the look-out for bears and otters but glimpsing only a shy harbor seal. Throughout Alaska we’d been surprised at how few seals there were (at least in comparison with the general abundance of wildlife), considering how common they are in Maine waters. Back on board Celeste we toasted one of our favorite days so far with a glass of rum and ice from the Columbia Glacier. Because of the compressed air in the thousands-of-years-old ice, it crackles and bubbles in the drink! (Thanks to Schippi of Victoria, BC for Celeste‘s bottle of Mount Gay!)
Next morning we weighed anchor and set our course west, aiming for an inlet on the mainland close to College Fjord, so called because the glaciers on the east side are named after the Ivy League and on west side after the Seven Sisters. We had both really wanted to visit College Fjord (and of course I wanted a photo in front of Yale Glacier for my class notes!) but it looked like the weather wasn’t going to cooperate. We would have one sunny day with kindly breezes (much needed for drying out the boat and her sails!) and then a day of strengthening SE winds before a real blow would kick up bringing quarter-mile visibility and steep chop even inside the Sound. Not ideal conditions to be picking one’s way through ice!
So our plan was to head for the town of Whittier, wait out the blow in a marina, and do some chores. Whittier was two day-sails away from Glacier Island and the first of these was beautiful. Soft breezes caught our full main and genoa to push us west, then died and we carried on under power past rocky headlands, tall mountains, and evergreens. We spotted a few fishing boats and whale-watching boats and saw the spouts and flukes of the humpbacks they were observing. We dried our sails and aired out the boat with the hatches open.
The wind picked up again in the afternoon, but from ahead so we tacked against it until the tide started pushing us so far off course that we had to motor-sail. The wind died again behind a collection of islets so we resorted once more to our trusty Yanmar and puttered the last couple of miles to Squaw Bay and the little indent inside it, Papoose Cove.
Coming up the inlet in the evening, I scanned the muskeg-covered hills for wildlife and was rewarded with a glimpse of a black bear foraging. We went up to the head of the bay in hopes that we might see more animals and were greeted by the saddest sight: a sea otter—probably the most adorable creature in the world—was hanging onto another otter who’d passed into otter heaven. He wouldn’t let go, and at the sound of our engine tried to drag her away into safety. We left him alone, of course, and turned back to Papoose Cove, saddened by the poor otter.
Papoose Cove soon turned our attention to our own safety, however: our electronic charts were once again not so good (and we hadn’t been able to find paper charts of the Sound back in SE Alaska); it looked like the cove shelved steeply and had submerged rocks on one side but we weren’t sure of the accuracy of this information; if it was accurate, we would have to stern-tie rather than swing freely on our anchor. We nosed in slowly and found it much deeper than the chart’s soundings: we gave up and dropped the hook in 70 feet, thankful for the holding power of our Mantus anchor and for Celeste’s electric windlass. But then Celeste’s stern swung into 20 feet (this was at high tide!) so we knew the quickly shelving seabed was real. I jumped in the dinghy with the stern line and soon the boat was secured at an angle that kept her in deep water.
With the brief stress over, we could enjoy Papoose Cove, a gem of a spot with a waterfall flowing into it and the forests coming in close to make it quiet and private. We liked it so much that we thought about weathering the gale there but decided it wasn’t quite safe enough given the badly charted rocks and the extreme depth.
So we decided to stick with our plan of going to Whittier. Little did we know what horrors were in store there. That’s the risk you run by not having cruising guides. . . .