After being weather-bound for two weeks in Yakutat, we were finally able to set sail on September 1st. The forecast was for 30 hours of light westerly breeze before the next southeasterly gale arrived. It was 140 nautical miles to the shelter of the Inside Passage, so we would have to average 4.67 knots to make it in time. Normally (but what’s normal in Alaska? okay, so, in a decent breeze) we average 5 to 6 knots under sail, but this forecast was for very light winds – the calm before the next storm – which meant we’d have to motor at least part of the time. But after thinking we’d be in Yakutat all winter… motoring seemed a small price to pay.
We departed Yakutat at the tail end of the last southeast gale, as it was dying down, around midday on September 1st. That day and night were an uneventful mix of sailing and motoring and looking out for the many fishing boats that were also taking advantage of the good weather. The skies gradually cleared overnight so that soon after dawn we had stunning views of the whole enormous St Elias Range. Colossal glaciated peaks marched up and down the coast on our port side, a few of the glaciers coming right down to the open ocean. What a sight to make up for all the rainy days in Yakutat!
Late in the afternoon we came into Cross Sound, the northernmost entrance to the Inside Passage – the waterway that runs all the way from Puget Sound to Juneau, protected the whole way by thousands of islands. Both of us felt such relief to be back: with autumn already well underway, the shelter of the islands meant we’d be able to make progress south (almost) regardless of the weather, so we’d make it to warmer climes yet!
We kept on going well into the night to make the most of the beautiful clear, calm weather and drew up to the dock in Hoonah, a Native village we’d visited in 2014 on our way north, at around 2AM.
As we expected, the southeast gale that arrived that morning raged outside (and up by Yakutat) but was essentially a non-event on the Inside. So Seth and I used our day of rest to go fishing in Hoonah’s big bay. We didn’t have to wait too long before three big coho (silver salmon) bit our lures, and we landed the two biggest!
One of the salmon had obviously just been eating: when we fileted him, we found two whole herring still in his stomach!
We don’t have a freezer on board Celeste and we’d caught more fish than we could eat before it went bad in the fridge, so the next day was devoted to another bout of canning in the pressure canner before we continued south in the evening. An overnight trip brought us back to our favorite hot springs spot, which seemed to have acquired a resident brown bear since our visit coming north three months earlier.
The waterfall was still running strong, but had come down quite a lot since early June, when we’d seen it near its peak with all the snow-melt. It’s still a big waterfall, though – the resident brown bear fishing in front of it gives it some scale….
We spent a lot of time getting prune-y in the hot springs, but we also clambered up the mountains behind the anchorage to a lovely lake we’d hiked to on a previous visit (last year). The trail was a lot wetter and in worse condition this time around, but the views, the tranquil lake, and a ripe blueberry patch made it the highlight of our few days there.
After a few days there, we felt rested and a lot more relaxed than we’d been since the stress of worrying about weather in Yakutat. Refreshed, we felt ready to do a marathon Inside Passage, sailing day and night until we’d covered the 800 or so miles we still had to go before reaching Port Angeles, WA again. It was already the 9th of September and by October 1st we wanted to be around Cape Flattery (the northwestern tip of Washington State) and be on our way south to California. So we had to get going!