Happy 2015 to the Gone Floatabout subscribers! Sorry (again) that we’re so behind on our posts about our Alaskan adventure this past summer, but we hope you’ll enjoy this next installment about our last bit of exploring on the Kenai Peninsula!
The last post left us in a hidden and uncharted lagoon on the evening of August 18, having just seen a beautiful little coyote. After that magical moment, Seth and I realized that we would be in the lagoon until the tide changed. The rapids that hurled us in had hardly slackened, so we rowed the dinghy to a sliver of mud beach, tied her to a tree, and went ashore. The perimeter of the lagoon was a short walk so we started looking for ways through the forest to the other side. The undergrowth was too thick everywhere, until we found a wide, much-used path, the branches broken away up to about chest or neck level. A brown bear highway. Or tunnel. This must have been where our swimming bear of the morning had come from!
Talking loudly to alert any bears to our presence and thus not scare them into unwanted action, we plowed through the bear tunnel till we reached a beautiful long pebble beach fronting the entrance to our bay. Waves from the strong wind we’d ducked out of that morning aboard Celeste came booming onto the beach, majestic and perfect for standing the camera on a tripod for a slow shutter speed shot. (Seth’s favorite!)
We walked the length of the beach and watched a big blue sloop approach from the southwest and then turn into our bay. Another voyaging boat, obviously coming from either the Alaska Peninsula or Kodiak Island. Unlike us going the other way, they’d had a fair wind and still had their spinnaker pole out, which must have been supporting a genoa on the windward side for wing ‘n’ wing sailing and maximum downwind speed.
Sadly we found a lot of plastic trash along with the driftwood and kelp at tide line, so on our way back to the bear tunnel we tried to pick up as much as we could carry in our hands. That was just a tiny fraction of the whole: bottles, caps, floats, polypro rope, fishing nets, unidentifiable fragments. We’ve seen this in all the world’s oceans (a lawn chair in the Pacific, mountains of flip flop sandals on beaches in the Indian Ocean), and everywhere it’s a problem for the fish, birds, and mammals that ingest it.
A lot ends up in the North Pacific Gyre (now starting to be known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch) and also in the less famous Alaska Gyre (where any Pacific salmon you might eat spend much of their saltwater lives). An article about a recent effort to clean up Alaska’s beaches and put on an exhibit highlighting this issue can be found here for those interested. (One of the reasons we approached ZEAL Optics to sponsor our voyage was because of their commitment to alternatives to plastics, materials that biodegrade instead of ending up in the gyres.)
By the time we returned to our dinghy in the lagoon, the tide had flooded enough for the rapids to have abated into merely a strong current under still water. Rowing with all our might we made it out of the entrance we’d flown through on our way in and then tried to keep up the pace all the way home once we realized that Celeste was in shade now and dew was probably falling on our airing blankets!
Fortunately the blankets were still dry, so we hurried them below and closed the hatches before rowing over to greet the blue boat we’d seen enter the bay. They were going to bed soon (having left Afognak Island at 4:30am), so invited us aboard for a quick drink rather than accepting our invitation to come over to Celeste. Stepping into their cockpit, the air temperature suddenly went up—they had a pilot house and hard bimini (roof) from which hung canvas panels to enclose the cockpit entirely. The door (door, not hatch!) into the cabin was open, letting their enormous diesel/kerosene heater waft warmth into this screened-porch-like cockpit. Luxury!
It turned out they were Kiwis and their boat was home-ported in Opua, the little town in northern New Zealand where Seth had spent 6 months aboard Heretic in 2007-8 and I had spent nearly 3 months total, managing to visit Seth and work on Heretic while I was also finishing my studies at Yale.
Our new friends had actually left Opua the same month and year (May 2008) as we had, although we had sailed for Fiji and they for Vanuatu (the next island group to the west). We had both gone west to Australia, but they had turned north for Asia when we’d kept west for Africa. After a few years there, they had sailed up to Japan and had crossed over to the Aleutians and Alaska this summer. We wanted to know all about Japan (which they said was interesting but not ideal on your own boat due to the clogged fishing harbors and various regulations), about their Pacific crossing (beautiful, in the middle of a high pressure the whole way), and the lands we were headed towards (spectacular!). They in turn wanted to hear about the places we had come from and where they would be spending the winter. It felt great to fall into yet another voyaging friendship, just as we had countless times before. Funny how long distance sailing reveals both the immensity of the globe (since we travel at a little faster than a jogging pace) and the smallness of it (when we meet people like these Kiwis or like the boat we’d met on Baranof Island in July).
Then it was time to ready Celeste for the morrow’s departure.