After a couple days of rest upon reaching the sheltered waters of Southeast Alaska, we set off for a nearly non-stop trip south down the rest of the Inside Passage. We started on this marathon on September 9 and our goal was to be back in Port Angeles, Washington in two weeks.
The tidal currents in certain sections of the Inside Passage can run in excess of 10 knots, which meant we had to time these areas for slack water. So our first stage was very short, just 20 miles to the village of Kake, where we spent the night and awaited the next day’s tide through aptly named Rocky Pass.
There are two ways to go between the northern part of Southeast Alaska (where the striking peaks of Glacier Bay and such are) and the southern part, where one finds slightly mellower terrain (for Alaska, anyway) but still plenty of wildlife and interesting islands. The obvious route is Wrangell Narrows that ends in the north with Petersburg. This is well-marked and pretty straight so that, as long as you time your tides (they meet in the middle), it’s easy. We had taken that way several times previously – it’s low stress and we love the town of Petersburg. This time we wanted to try something different, so we went for Rocky Pass. It’s also well-marked, but it’s twisty, narrow, rocky, and very shallow, so with a draught like ours (6.5ft deep), we could only do it on slack high water. We had no troubles and enjoyed our trip, despite the low clouds and drizzle.
Once through, we just kept on all night down Clarence Strait so as to reach Ketchikan by evening of the next day. A friend of ours from our winter in Port Angeles, an Aussie sailor who’s done the Inside Passage over the last few years in his motor boat, met us on the dock. It was great to meet up, even if it was too briefly (just dinner on board), before we took off again for Canada.
Alaska gave us quite the farewell on our overnight to Prince Rupert. First a pod of orcas visited us:
Then we had a lovely clear sunset, and finally in the middle of the night, right at our change of watch, we were treated to a spectacular show of the Northern Lights, dancing green over our wake. Alaska, we’ll miss you!
We couldn’t get a shot of the aurora from CELESTE’s deck (which was moving too much for night photography!) but here’s a shot we took in Iceland a few years ago that gives an idea of what it was like:
We were both struck by the summery weather we encountered the next day as we came into Prince Rupert. We seemed to have chased summer south and left fall behind. We didn’t want to let it catch up, though, so after clearing Customs and checking email, we set sail that same afternoon and kept on.
We had some lovely sailing in the wider channels and some pleasant putters in the narrower, calm ones. We crossed Queen Charlotte Strait (north of Vancouver Island) on a black, black night (overcast, no moon), which was slightly nauseating due to choppy sea conditions but also really pretty cool when a pod of Dall’s porpoises came to play around CELESTE, leaving blazing phosphorescent contrails!
Port Hardy, at the northern tip of Vancouver Island, was our next port, where we planned to wait out the southeasterly that was in the forecast. It was kind of a non-event, but we were happy to have a day to walk around and catch up on rest. We were still ahead of fall – the blackberries were at their height and we picked a big bowl of them.
Then it was onward again, overnight through Johnstone Strait, where the oscillating showers and sunlight made for gorgeous rainbows:
And thence to Seymour Narrows, one of the spots that rips with current. We arrived at Seymour Narrows a bit late, with the tide running at its height in a favorable direction. We debated between just going for it or waiting for the next slack water in an anchorage. We decided to go for it. Seymour Narrows is dead straight, no curves, so we were fine and had a great run, with CELESTE hitting 15 knots through the water!
A bit of a southeasterly wind came up once we were through so, instead of spending a frustrating night battling it down the Strait of Georgia, we sheared off for Cortes Island, where we’d been when we’d first bought CELESTE in 2013. On our way into the anchorage, another pod of orcas showed up, this one with a baby in the mix!
Cortes was the end of our overnight passages for a while. The next day we sailed to the island where I’d spent a lot of my childhood. It was wonderful to catch up with old friends and revisit some of my favorite spots. We could really only spare a day, but it was cherished one.
Next up was Gabriola in the Gulf Islands, where friends of ours had settled and built a house. They’re a couple we met while sailing around the world, and we actually hadn’t seen them since the Panama Canal 10 years ago! We’d lost touch, too, and they’d found us thanks to this blog – pretty good! We had a great evening with them – again, too short! – before we set off on a long (slightly hung-over) 80-mile day-sail back to Port Angeles. We got there around 11pm on September 22nd, so we’d made it in two weeks and still seen and done a fair bit!