Alaska Inside Passage

Moose, Crab Pots and Bear. Oh My!

Saturday, August 08, 2015S.V. CAMBRIA

Coming out of Thomas Bay Friday morning, the wind was already blowing 15 knots out of the west (right on our nose) and we seriously considered tucking into an anchorage along the way before the seas built up. But the conditions subsided with northing, so we carried on. The 50-mile day was long . . . and boring. The clouds kept the best of the scenery hidden and the whales had no interest in keeping us entertained. Things started to improve, however, as we approached the south side of Admiralty Island and Pybus Bay came into view.

Cannery Cove is a beautiful anchorage – green and lush with steep, mountains that surround a river valley. If it weren’t for the snow-capped peaks, you could easily mistake the large bay for one in the South Pacific – the Marquises or Tahiti. But like so many places in Alaska, it keeps you at an arm’s length: Even by kayak, it wasn’t possible to get too close or personal with this stunning place.

We left Sunday morning to make our way across Stephens Passage and over to Sandborn Canal in Port Houghton. At this point, we could have gone straight up to Tracy Arm Cove for about the same amount of miles, but the anchorage comes highly recommended by the Douglass cruising guide. He writes that it’s “worth visiting even if it is out of the way for most cruising boats. We have seen more wildlife here, including bear and moose, than almost any place in Southeast Alaska. It should be protected as natural habitat and a well-sheltered anchorage.” Bear and moose? Count me in!

It was another long day but the sky was clear and we could see the rugged mountains that line Frederick Sound and Stephens Passage – they seem to go on forever, one after the other, leading way north. A pod of dolphins helped break the monotony of the trip when they came over to play in our bow, and we could see humpback whales lunge feeding a mile or two in the distance. It was a beautiful day and our excitement started to grow as we approached Port Houghton and got a taste of what was to come.

We anchored at the head of the canal off the creek where we thought we’d have a better chance of seeing wildlife but, in all fairness, the scenery would have been much better at the mouth of the inlet. That didn’t matter much to us, though: Our plan was to kayak up the creek at high tide the following afternoon, so we needed to be close.

Monday got off to a bad start and never really improved. It all began when a couple of crab boats came into the anchorage to lay pots along the shore and at the head of the bay. By the time the second boat came down to add more, there were over a dozen pots just a few feet from Cambria on both sides and at the bow (which was pointed towards the head of the bay).

David was still asleep so I went outside and called over to the crab boat, reminding them that we were anchored there and they might be pinning us in. I was told to “deal with it” and we’d be fine. Of course we’d be fine. Fine had nothing to do with it, but common courtesy did: If the wind turned to an inflow breeze (which it did), we’d be sitting on their pots (which we were) and would have to move (which we did). I wish I’d explained our position more clearly but, frankly, I was flabbergasted by his remark – “deal with it”? Only a person who’d never had a crab pot wrapped around their prop would say that . . . or a complete asshole. I’m guessing he was both.

Now, David’s a man who doesn’t take kindly to people being rude to his loved ones, particularly his wife and especially when he’s not around. So I knew he was going to be upset when he got up and I told him what had happened. Predictably, he was . . . until he saw the dozens of pots around us and then he was down-right pissed off. Here’s what he had to say about it in the Cambria’s log (which I should add showed considerable restraint compared to his actual mood):

At anchor in Sandborn Canal, Stephens Passage. Unbelievably, at approx. 8:00 AM today, a crab boat set several pots literally within feet of the boat despite our questioning and challenge. And the response? “Deal with it” – a direct and unforgettable quote. And the fact is that I would have been happy to deal with it – by cutting each and every one of the pot lines. Yes, that would deal with it. Quite nicely. And should I have taken such action perhaps there would have been a lesson or two learned by the fisherman; one being to be more sensible and respectful in setting the gear – that is if it is ever hoped to be recovered; and two, being able to recognise and understand the kind of character to whom the suggestion of “deal with it” is put forward. What ignorance! On reflection it’s quite fortunate for this character – his lucky day in fact – that I felt too tired, or lazy, or even unbefittingly considerate, to launch a kayak or dinghy to “deal with it.” On any other day . . .

In the end, when Cambria swung around and we ended up smack dab in the middle of all their pots, we pulled several metres of chain in (without the motor running) to get clear and then moved, but I think we were both a little disappointed that it wasn’t necessary to cut the lot of them free.  

With the morning’s excitement over, it was approaching high tide but the deer flies were out in full-force and neither one of us felt much like battling them all afternoon so we decided to cut our losses and move on. We hemmed and hawed over where we should go and by the time we came to a decision, it was too late – the wind was already blowing out in the channel and we’d be bashing against it, so we just sat around all day stewing over crab pots and looking for wildlife that never showed up.

Note: This blog was written Monday, June 15, 2015.

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  1. The crab pot story is funny (in an "I sympathize" kind of way). Crab pots can be so numerous sometimes that they take over a whole anchorage. I've mainly seen this happen in BC. I wonder if BC has less stringent crabbing limits than the US. A limit of 2 pots per area per person would seem reasonable. Just as I wouldn't go to an anchorage and drop 10 mooring balls, one person dropping 10 crab pots is using all of the resource for themselves.

    1. We don't crab, so I guess we're not as sympathetic as most people but, yeah, it drives us a little nuts when the best anchoring spots have been taken over by pots or people place them in channels. These guys were commercial crabbers so the number of pots they were dropping had to somewhere around 20 to 30 a piece. Most of the crabbers we met after that were really nice though and offered us free crab.