The sun shone and the wind slept for our first two days on the Alaska Peninsula, conditions we knew couldn’t continue. This whole area is known for its severe weather, and Shelikof Strait—between Kodiak Island and the mainland—has a particularly vicious reputation for strong currents and the resulting steep waves. These beautiful days could only be the calm before the storms that start up in late August and carry on all winter. We had to keep moving or there was a real possibility that we wouldn’t reach our end destination.
So the morning following our expedition in search of bears, we weighed anchor and set sail. The breeze was against us, as it always is in fine weather here, but the current was also against us so we had smooth seas if slow progress. We kept close to shore as we’d be instructed to do by our Kiwi friends (who’d had the advice from local fishermen) in order to stay out of the worst of the current. I noticed that the moment we stood out too far into the strait on starboard tack, we not only slowed but encountered chop. If I could feel it in perfect conditions, it must really be bad in a gale!
Our route close to shore had the added advantage of lots of wildlife: puffins, murrelets, pipers, a few sea otters, and lots of sea lions barking away on their rocks. These Steller sea lions are a subspecies that the IUCN Red List considers endangered, while the other subspecies we’d seen in SE Alaska has been increasing in population.
After a full day tacking to windward, we reached the maze of islands outside our next anchorage. We lowered and furled Celeste‘s sails and puttered carefully through, keeping a bow look-out the whole time because our chart was again frustratingly vague. It also had a rock marked right in the middle of the last channel, the narrowest part!
We never saw the rock, but we did see the huge bowl of a bay we entered once past! Mountains rose all around us, covered in shrubs on the lower slopes and then turning to sand and red rock. A surreal and beautiful landscape.
Dark shapes were moving on the gravel and sand beach at the bay’s head: bears! We spent a little time searching for a place to anchor: we were encountering the same problem of a quickly shelving bottom.
We finally tucked away in the southwest corner in 60 feet and, as we dropped the hook, I saw another swimming bear! This one wasn’t actually so much swimming as bathing. He was curious but not scared of us and kept sticking up his head to get a better look.
I couldn’t wait to get in the dinghy and explore!