Alaska Baranof Island

A Record Setting July

Sunday, December 13, 2015S.V. CAMBRIA

Today marks the end of a difficult week. Not difficult in the sense that we had to stand anchor watch 24/7, or that boat system after boat system broke down and need to be repaired. The problem was much simpler than that . . . but just as frustrating. The root of our evil was rain. And this past week it rained like we’d never seen it rain before.

The Inside Passage has many moods and personalities that come out during changing weather and some of its most stunning moments are cloaked in mist and fog. It’s easy to lose oneself in the beauty and mystery of the rainforest on these days: Old-growth coniferous trees rise up from thick, lush moss in more shades of green than the eye can see. Rain collects in small pools that overfill and give life to falls that roar down granite rock faces. Colours become more vivid and the world grows still. In my mind, it’s pure perfection. 

Brown bears roam the shore on a foggy morning in Misty Fiords National Monument
But this was something completely different.

After listening to the updated forecast from NOAA, we decided to cut our time in Takatz Inlet short and enjoy the last day of fine weather in a new anchorage – Red Bluff Bay on the southeast coast of Baranof Island. Named after the iron deposits that colour the hills at the entrance, Red Bluff Bay is a popular spot and we regretted giving up our new-found solitude within minutes of entering the inlet. But what the anchorage lacks in privacy, it makes up for in scenery: A triangular snow-capped peak sits at the head of the bay and overlooks “Bear Meadow” while rugged mountains line the inlet and feed a large waterfall with melting snow.

I went out in my kayak to take some pictures and heard someone call my name as I was climbing back aboard Cambria. It was Tom and Gale on SV Impossible Dream. I’d seen them come into the anchorage but hadn’t recognized them because they were with another boat. The other turned out to be John, Tom’s brother, and the boat was SV Gypsy Woman – maybe leaving Takatz Inlet wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

We had dinner together aboard Impossible Dream and sat in the open cockpit sharing stories and laughter late into the evening – pure cruising heaven! It was seventh anchorage we’d shared with Tom this season, despite the fact that we’ve been on entirely different tracks since leaving Ketchikan. Something tells me it won’t be the last . . . at least we hope not.

Our reunion was short-lived and they left the following morning. Maybe we should’ve gone as well, but our plan was to hang around Red Bluff Bay for a couple of days and take our dinghy up the creek at high tide to look for bears. After that, we’d move down to Gut Bay for a night or two before making our way east and back towards Petersburg. It was a good plan; except for one thing – it started to rain and, with very few exceptions, didn’t stop.

We wouldn’t make it off the boat after that.
I’m not talking about your regular run-of-the-mill average summertime rain in the rainforest, the kind that sticks around for a day or two and then moves on. This was something else entirely: Day after day after day of torrential rain with no end in sight. Rain that was so cold and heavy, it felt more like November than the height of summer. Rain that kept us trapped inside for close to a week and left us feeling deflated, if not defeated.

Here’s what David had to say in Cambria’s log:

Thursday, 20 July 2015: Red Bluff Bay. About ten days ago I posed the question, “What do I think of Alaska?” and after yet five more endless days of sitting out in incessant rain and low overcast clouds and fog I can truthfully answer the question. I consider myself reasonably long on patience and even longer on perseverence, yet I’m done with this. It feels like October in July – hiding out from weather for days at a time. I sense no change in the weather patterns over the next days and weeks, and feel exposed when I have no access to current forecast information, and particularly access to offshore synoptic charts. So yes, tired of waiting and waiting for weather to clear. Irrespective of what the barometer predicts, the conditions seemingly do not change. So yes, I’m done. Ready to get out of here and find some sunshine – any sunshine at all – wherever that may be. And despite having seen some incredible sights first hand, my advice to anyone thinking of cruising Alaska will be, “Keep an open mind and be prepared for anything. Unless you are ready for the time, effort and number of miles involved in reaching Alaska; the possibility that, after having put in all the effort, the weather will not be sufficiently clear to enable you to truly enjoy the area and the experience, and see the real sights; the real possibility that you may spend much of the season in layers and wet weather gear, or trapped inside your cabin for days at a time, then don’t bother – it really isn’t worth the effort if the season isn’t in your favour.” And for those cruisers who have experienced the marine layer and fog banks along the west coast of Vancouver Island afloat, just be prepared for more of the same. 

We needed to do something. And fast.

The situation was getting grim, mentally more so than physically, and it was time to come up with a new plan of action. Sitting around waiting for the conditions to improve so we could actually see what Gut Bay had to offer wasn’t working for us. It was time to come up with a new plan. 

We were finally able to receive a VHF signal and listen to the forecast on Thursday, and it wasn’t good news. Another low was approaching the coast and would be situated off Sitka bringing more rain and rough seas: We weren’t going anywhere . . . yet. Meanwhile, it was clear in Petersburg and the possibility that we’d been sitting in the worst of the weather came home to roost. With that in mind, we decided to give up on Gut Bay and make a run east towards what we hoped would be better conditions. It was disappointing, the anchorage is supposed to be beautiful and home to abundant wildlife, but we have to find our way out of this rain.

We woke up this morning to clearing skies and a rising barometer – both good signs. After listening to the forecast, we weighed our options and decided to go back to Warm Springs for a well-deserved soak in the tubs before crossing Chatham Strait tomorrow. It felt really good to be moving again and even better to be putting the month of July behind us. We have no idea how much it rained over the course of the last 31 days, but we heard Juneau saw more than ten inches and broke a long-standing record for the month. Only time will tell what August has to offer. We just hope it’s not more of the same.

Note: This blog was written on Friday, 31 July 2015.

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  1. Ugh...sounds like a true test of patience to sit inside and wait out all that rain. There's only so long you can stay onboard before you start to lose your marbles.

    1. Yeah. The highlight of our day was deciding what movie to watch at night (which we expect in October but got us down a bit in July when everyone south of us was basking in the sun).

  2. Rain in the Northwest is often a mental game - an attitude of "What rain? I'm going kayaking!" can make it much more bearable. Yet, I can imagine how hard that must have been - once clothes are wet, they're not at all easy to dry out on a boat when not at dock.

    1. I wish it was that kind of rain. We lived in New Zealand (which can be very wet in the winter months)for 6 years and have been in the PNW for the last 7 . . . all whilst living aboard. You go outside rain or shine (especially when you have a dog, which we did for 15 14 of those years. This was something else entirely. Not only would we not have been able to dry anything for days (and believe me, the boat was wet enough with humidity as it was), but there was nothing to see -- the rain was coming down that hard.