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 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, 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 ice probably drifted down this far but for 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 soon 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. We came out onto another pretty pebble beach lined with purple loosestrife and saw a big flock of plovers camouflaged against the stones.
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. Back on board Celeste we toasted one of our a great day 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. I had particularly wanted to visit the icy College Fjord (and not just because 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 blow was supposed to 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 gale 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 to our 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 a sea otter—one of the most adorable creatures in the world—hanging onto another otter who looked fully grown. It could have been a large baby, but it didn’t seem to respond or swim so I think it may have recently perished. The otter wouldn’t let go, and at the sound of our engine tried to drag the unresponsive otter away into safety. We left her alone, of course, and turned back to Papoose Cove.
Papoose Cove soon turned our attention to our own concerns: if our not-very-detailed chart was accurate, we would have to stern-tie rather than swing freely on our anchor due to submerged hazards that made the cove smaller than it looked. We nosed in slowly and found it much deeper than the chart’s soundings: we gave up and dropped the hook in 70 feet. Celeste’s stern soon swung into 20 feet (this was at high tide) so the seabed did indeed shelve quickly. I got in the dinghy with the stern line and soon the boat was secured in deep water.
Then 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.
The next day we went on to Whittier. Little did we know what horrors were in store there. That’s the risk you run by not having cruising guides. . . .