Waterfall Cove to Kalinin Bay via Piehle Passage. July 15, 2011.
18 July 2011 | posted at Sitka
Photo: Rocks and islands in Piehle Passage.
“This passage is extensively used by small craft with local knowledge but is difficult for strangers.” That understatement is the only information the Alaska Coast Pilot provides for Piehle Passage, a narrow, rock-strewn pathway between Slocum Arm and the Gulf of Alaska. By taking it we could save ourselves almost 12 miles, 6 in open ocean. Fortunately, we also had a sketch of the passage in Exploring Southeast Alaska by Don Douglass and Reanne Hemingway-Douglas. The Douglasses recommend using the passage only in fair-weather and at low tide when you can see the dangers. We had broken clouds and no wind, weather that qualifies as fair in Alaska. And the tide was low with the sun behind us.
We entered the passage between Khaz Peninsula and an unnamed island to the north. Ahead we could see a field of rocks and islands with breaking seas beyond. We used our chart plotter to tell us where we were in relation to the rocks around us and the chart and sketch to tell us where to turn. We first threaded our way through some small rocks and islands then hugged the Peninsula shore to avoid a string of rocks. At one point we had to go through two patches of kelp with only a few feet between them. There were some anxious moments and some muttered curses from the Captain. From the kelp we passed a group of small rugged islands that looked beautiful in the sun. They reminded me of the islands around Nuchatllitz, one of my favorite places on the West Coast of Vancouver Island. Finally, we were facing the open waters of the Gulf of Alaska. We had waves breaking over rocks to our starboard and more visible rocks and islands to Port. But we got through and finally were in the open waters of the Gulf of Alaska.
The rest of our voyage that day was uneventful. Glassy waters with rolling swells that made the trip uncomfortable but not stressful. We anchored in Kalinin Bay. The open coast part of the trip was over. We had made the right decision to go down the west coast of Chichagof Island instead of going inland.