Alaska Gulf of Alaska

The Gulf of Alaska: Inian Islands

Sunday, November 08, 2015S.V. CAMBRIA

Low clouds and rain moved into the Gulf of Alaska, putting a damper on our last days in Glacier Bay.  The rugged, snow-capped mountains that line the inlet where no longer visible so we used our remaining time to slowly make our way south, stopping in Blue Mouse Cove and Fingers Bay as we did. Neither anchorage was remarkable under the existing conditions, but it was easy to imagine a beautiful view was hiding just behind the clouds.

It’d been five days since we’d last heard a weather report, so we stopped back into Bartlett Cove on our way out for the latest news: Unfortunately, there’s nothing but rain and southeasterly winds in the forecast for the next week. Not ideal for what we have planned but, forever the optimists, we moved 20 miles west to an anchorage called Inian Cove with two goals in mind: To explore areas of the park outside the permit zone (namely Brady Glacier) and spend a day in nearby Elfin Cove.

We wouldn’t accomplish either one of them.

With the break-neck pace of Glacier Bay out of the way and a forecast full of rain, we took a day out to catch our breath and regroup. We’d travelled 1700 miles since April and were feeling shell-shocked from the past couple of months. There was so much to assimilate – Misty Fiords, Fords Terror, Tracy Arm and now Glacier Bay. We were beginning to understand why so many people come back to Southeast Alaska year after year. Trying to cram it all in during one season feels next to impossible: If the weather conditions don’t get in the way, the miles will.

Our season up to this point has been well-planned. I spent weeks researching possible destinations and deciding where and when we would anchor. In the end, it wasn’t too difficult – what goes up, must come down. But I stopped with Glacier Bay knowing that we would need to reevaluate the rest of our season and make a decision based on how we were doing, how the boat was doing and (most importantly) what was happening with the weather.

There are a couple of options on the table: We could go down the west coast of Chichagof and Baranof Island stopping off in Pelican, Sitka and Goddard Hot Springs, Egg Harbor and El Capitan Caves along the way (to name only a few) before backtracking up Chatham Strait to Gut Bay, Red Bluff Bay and Baranof Warm Springs. Or we could take the inside route down Chatham Strait.

Our permit for Anan Wildlife Observatory (to see bears fish for salmon!) isn’t until the 7th of August which gives us four weeks to fill before we need to be in the Wrangell area. Slowing down our pace and finding some nice anchorages along the way to explore by kayak sounds pretty appealing. A passage on the “outside” in fog, rain and unfavourable conditions does not.

In the end, we decided to skip Sitka. It just doesn’t make sense for us. We’re not “city” people and the thought of a destination that requires a couple of nights in a marina doesn’t appeal to either one of us. There are a lot of people who disagree – Sitka is a favourite for most Alaskan cruisers. But the current forecast is calling for strong to gale-force southeasterly winds which isn’t ideal for a southern open-ocean run. If we change our minds, we can always take Peril Strait (which separates the two islands) and keep to the inside waters.

In the meantime, we were anchored in a lovely spot with a west-coast feel that merited exploring while we waited (and waited and waited) for an opportunity to see Brady Glacier in Taylor Bay.

Besides, we still needed to get to Elfin Cove.

We upped anchor close to slack tide Tuesday and made our way over to Elfin Cove – a short 9-mile run that takes you into open water. It was nice to feel the swell of the ocean again but it was a rainy, cold and generally miserable day. David wasn’t really in the mood and we probably shouldn’t have made the attempt. He was a little cranky, most likely still recovering from a cracking headache he’d had the day before caused from a change in the barometric pressure (a condition we both suffer from and call “barometer head”). But everyone, when asked, had told us the same thing – Elfin Cove is a “must-do”.

We arrived shortly after the small National Geographic cruise ship, the Seabird, had anchored. While they were busy transporting passengers to shore by the dinghy-load we searched for a place tie up. There wasn’t any room at the public dock and the best anchorage had been already been taken by Seabird. Right or wrong, we gave up (way too easily) and slogged our way back to Inian Cove against a 2.5 knot current.

And that, I’m afraid, was the extent of our foray into the Gulf of Alaska. One day the sky did manage to clear enough that I caught a glimpse of Brady Glacier, but it was short-lived and we can’t afford to wait any longer for a better opportunity. A weak low-pressure system is approaching and we need to create some space between ourselves and the coast to see if we can find our way of this seemingly incessant rain.

Note: This blog was written on Tuesday, 14 July 2015.

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