Alaska Inside Passage

Chatham Strait: Heading South for the Summer

Wednesday, November 11, 2015S.V. CAMBRIA

As it turned out, we wouldn’t be able to find our way out of the rain. Not for very long, anyway.

We left Inian Cove in the morning, taking full advantage of the current (which can run over 3 knots) in North Passage and made our way back to Icy Strait and an anchorage on the northern end of Chichagof Island called Spasski Bay. The anchorage was nothing special, but it kept us away from the busy port of Hoonah which was being visited by a cruise ship. It also put us closer to Chatham Strait.

The conditions weren’t bad. Apart from a patch of fog here and there, visibility was good and the air was dry. The barometer was back on the rise, sitting at 1015 Mb by the end of the day. The next morning, it was up to 1018 Mb, promising even better weather to come. But in Alaska, the barometer lies . . . and so does NOAA.

We had a long day in store – 65 miles down Chatham Strait to Ell Cove. The forecast was favourable and so were the current predictions. If all went well, we could expect to knock the passage off in less than nine hours. But things didn’t go well . . . or at least not to plan.  

It was another opening in the fishing season and we had to run the gambit of dozens of purseiners. But it’s easy to see where they have their nets so, apart from a course adjustment or two, it was a nonevent.

The wind started to fill in once we entered Chatham Strait and instead of the northwesterlies that were forecasted, we had southerlies – right on our nose. But they weren’t strong, 5 to 10 knots, and didn’t seem to slow us down much. That job belonged to the counter-current we couldn’t seem to find our way out of. Despite all the data stating we would be riding the ebb down-channel, we found ourselves slogging against 2+ knots.

But then, of course, the wind continued to build and brought the seas along with it. Our speed over ground was down to 4 knots, dipping into the 3s. At rate we were going, we wouldn’t make Ell Cove until 9:30 pm, if we were lucky. I was starting to get concerned – our time in Clarence Strait had left a lasting impression. As it turned out, David was feeling concerned as well. Not for our safety, but for our fuel levels – we were burning more than he’d calculated for and we had a long way to go before our next fuel stop.

I pulled out the cruising guide and charts to look for a place to tuck in and wait for better conditions, temporarily or overnight, but there’s nothing along that stretch of water. David wanted to go into Basket Bay but the Douglass book doesn’t recommend it. They clearly haven’t visited the inlet themselves, but the excerpt they re-published from the Coast Pilot was enough for me:

The bay is exposed to the SE, has a rocky bottom and depths of 12 to 40 fathoms, and is not recommended as an anchorage.

David was certain he could find protected anchorage inside but I put a lot of faith into the Coast Pilot.* So we agreed to turn around and go back to Tenakee Inlet – we could always fuel up there if we needed to. It wasn’t an easy decision. We had to give up more than 7 hard-earned miles, but it was a good one. The wind was beginning to steadily build. By the time we turned around, we had 20 to 25 knots behind us. And just like that, our weather wind closed.  

That was two days ago and we’re still waiting for the opportunity to continue south. If it weren’t for the calendar telling me otherwise, I’d swear it was October already: The weather has been nothing but difficult lately. We have plenty of interests and jobs to keep us busy aboard but after our eight consecutive days of rain mixed with strong to gale-force southeasterlies, our patience is running thin. I’m waffling between calling it quits and heading back to British Columbia where it’s actually summer and staying in Alaska to see things through. We’ve already given up the idea of the West Coast of Baranof Island, Sitka, the El Capitan Caves. Would Wrangell and Anan Wildlife Observatory be such a big deal? After all, we’ve seen the best of the best – Tracy Arm, Fords Terror and Glacier Bay. But right now it’s a moot point. No matter what we decide to do (or not to do), we have go south and are committed to Chatham Strait.

Note: This blog entry was written Saturday, 18 July 2015.

* We later learned from our friend Tom on S.V. Impossible Dream that he had anchored there overnight safely and comfortably, so this was a mistake on my part. Winds were coming strait up the channel from the south so we could have found decent protection inside along with fair holding in 12 metres NOT fathoms (according to our charts). 

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