For the first time in 10 days we saw the sun on the evening of August 16th. Anchored in our sheltered inlet at the southern end of the Kenai Peninsula, we watched the rain ease, then cease. The clouds rose higher, then started to break up, and by late evening we were treated to a glorious sunset. The next day would be perfect.
We weighed anchor under vaulting blue skies in the morning and raised sail for our passage to Kodiak Island. We had a spectacular view of a glacier as we came out of our bay, and then we headed up to sail close-hauled towards Gore Point, the end of the Kenai Peninsula.
The further out to sea we got the bigger the waves became and the stronger the wind. We reefed our main all the way down and were still flying our small Yankee jib that we’d bent on outside Whittier, but the strain on Celeste was intense. She was burying her bow in practically every wave and we could almost hear her rigging protest. Nonetheless, we would have carried on if we could have laid our course. But at this rate we would cover double the rhumb line distance in order to reach Kodiak. So we tried to point for the Alaska Peninsula (the mainland opposite Kodiak) instead. But we found we couldn’t point that either. So after about 3 hours of beating to windward, we put the tiller over and turned back to our anchorage.
Favorable winds were forecast for the day after next, August 19, so we’d leave then. In the end we would arrive at about the same time as we would have if we’d kept sailing, but we and Celeste would have a much better time of it.
As we scudded downwind back to the anchorage, both of us were very disappointed. Even a delay of two days at this point would mean we would have to skip Kodiak Island and its closer neighbor Afognak. They were about 90 miles out of our way, and visiting their many interesting bays and straits would take time away from our sail down the Alaska Peninsula. Forced to choose, we decided to sail direct to the Peninsula when the wind turned favorable.
But as soon as we re-entered our mountainous bay with its many waterfalls, we forgot our disappointment.
A whole raft of scoters (little black birds with red beaks) flew up in front of our bow; a sea otter peaked at us; and I saw another sea otter off to port. We came closer to him as we glided into the bay, and I trained our 400mm zoom lens on him. Funny looking otter, I thought. His fur was a much richer color brown than usual, and he was swimming on his stomach? They never do that. After the second click of my shutter, I realized he wasn’t an otter at all! He was an Alaskan brown bear!
We drifted behind him as he steadily swam across the bay. He reached the rocky shore and hauled himself up, curtains of seawater running from his body. His powerful muscles stood out under his wet fur, clearly revealing what we often forget when we see cuddly images of furry bears, that this is a top predator able to run fast and crush pretty much anything. Still, he was obviously more scared of this 40ft boat behind him that smelled strangely of humans (his nostrils flared when he looked at us) than we were of him and he was soon gone into the trees.
We re-anchored in the same spot and decided to spend the next day on a dinghy adventure. Before launching the little rowboat in the morning, though, we opened up all the hatches and spread bedding, clothes, etc. out to air in the sun. It was a wonderful feeling after all the rain and hints of mildew we’d encountered in Prince William Sound.
Our dinghy adventure took us first to the small river delta at the head of the bay where we hiked up the river until coming to a beautiful waterfall.
Our idea had been to hike inland, but the undergrowth was much too thick so we had to turn back and make a circuit of the bay by rowboat instead.
We poked into several little coves before coming across what looked like the opening to a completely hidden lagoon. There was nothing marked on our chart there, so it felt like a true discovery! Before we knew it, we were being sucked into the lagoon by the flooding tide. Mini rapids surrounded us in the narrow gap and then we were through, into a still and peaceful lagoon, almost landlocked and bathed in warm afternoon sunlight. Mergansers glided past. In the grass on the opposite side, I spotted a small canine-like animal. I thought he might be a fox and, hoping for a picture, we guided the dinghy quietly closer. He was a coyote. I’d often heard coyotes howl outside my bedroom window, but I’d never seen one. He was so much smaller and his fur more beautiful than I’d expected. He looked up at us, studied us for a moment, and then turned and disappeared in the tall grass.
Yet again, as we’d felt several times already on this voyage, we were glad weather and circumstances had prevented us from leaving that day.