Photo: Rain in Rocky Pass
The rain started on our last day in Glacier Bay. That morning we left our anchorage in Fingers Bay early to give ourselves time to provision in the nearby town of Gustavus before our Glacier Bay Permit expired.
As I steered, Steve stayed below, making one of his famous gallimaufries for breakfast. John and Maureen stayed in the cockpit helping me navigate. My foul weather gear was drenched and my glasses fogged as I peered through the rain for oncoming boats.
"You were lucky," I told John and Maureen. "You could have had a whole week in Glacier Bay like this!"
"Oh, we know!" they chorused.
After leaving Bartlett Cove that evening we headed west through North Passage to Inian Island in Cross Sound. Fog and rain shrouded the land and an adverse current slowed our passage. I stared at the chart plotter, watching our speed drop from 7 knots to 5 to 3 to 2. The current tables we'd consulted had given no hint of anything like this. Would we be stuck in this murk all night?
Steve drove Osprey
closer to shore and soon a back eddy brought our speed back to 3 knots, then 4. The rain stopped, the fog lifted and I breathed a sigh of relief. To our port, Lemesurier Island appeared wreathed in fog.
July 12. Inian Island to Elfin Cove, Cross Sound. We left the anchorage in thick fog, planning a route through Middle Passage to see the sea lions. Steve took one look at the fog in Middle Passage and said, "I don't feel comfortable going through there," turning Osprey
away. Suddenly, the fog lifted and he swung the boat back toward Middle Passage. We proceeded through the narrow passage lined with marble-streaked rocks. Sea lions cavorted off the rocks, jumping like dolphins.
Photo: Sea lions in Middle Passage
The sun came out as we docked at Elfin Cove. The rain is over, I assumed. After all, the long-term forecast for Alaska was for continued dry and warm. I joined the others in a walk along the boardwalk, only to be drenched by the first shower of the day. But by afternoon, we were picking blueberries in the sun.
July 13. Elfin Cove to Pelican. Strange shaped rock stacks rose out of the wet mist as we entered Lisianski Inlet. After docking in the rain, we rushed to the Lisianski Inlet Café in our boots and rain gear. Inside, we found a whale baleen over the counter, photos of fishboats on the wall and empty tables. "I just closed," said the owner, then took pity on us. "The grill is off but I can heat up the borscht and clam chowder." I remembered the borscht from our last trip here and didn't object.
Photo: Lisianski Inlet Café
Our rain gear and boots stayed on as we walked the boardwalk, splashing through puddles. Rumors of the town's demise were false, I concluded when we purchased frozen salmon at a new seafood plant. After ringing up our purchase, the owner gave us a pound and a half of salmon burger meat -- free. "This is something new we're trying," he told us. That evening, our rain gear still with us, we chatted with Rosie at Rose's World Famous Bar, checked our email at the library, and ate pizza at the Lisianski Lodge.
July 14, 15. Mirror Harbor, west coast Chichagof. Light rain fell as we made the difficult entrance past Fairway Rock and through narrow rock-strewn Fleming Passage into Mirror Harbor. I often tell people that once you've entered Mirror Harbor, all other entrances will seem easy, so why was I so nervous for my second trip into this harbor? The tide was higher than for our first trip but not as many of the rocks were visible. "Go more port, go more port," called a passing kayaker as we slowly negotiated the turns.
Photo: Entering Mirror Harbor in the rain.
With rain stippling the water surface, we procrastinated over the long trek to White Sulphur Springs. A second kayaker paddled up to Osprey
. Even in the rain, he wore a friendly smile. "Would you like a sockeye, or a coho?" he asked, gesturing to the seven or eight fish tied on the front of his kayak. He handed over two fish, one for us and one for the other sailboat in the anchorage whose owner was out kayaking. As he turned to leave he told us he was going to hole up for a few days and smoke the remaining fish.
Steve got out a fillet knife and fish-cleaning board and proceeded to clean the two fish in the rain. By the time he finished, we all agreed we should stay another day and walk to the hot springs in the morning.
The owner of the other sailboat kayaked over later for his fish. "That kayaker's famous. He kayaks all summer and collects things to make jewelry in the winter. I don't remember his name," he told us. Hearing that I knew immediately who he was: Kayak Kelly. Sharon Morris, a member of my writing group, had written a blog post about him, Whales, Bears and Stormy Seas.
The next day the sun cleared and we took a hike over a very soggy trail to White Sulphur Hot Springs. In places the boardwalk was underwater from yesterday's rain. Relaxing in the hot springs shelter with the window to the ocean wide open, we agreed we'd done the right thing to wait a day.
Photo: Inside the new Forest Service shelter at White Sulphur Springs
Khaz Bay inlets, West Coast Chichagof Island. July 16 and 17.
For two days we wove our way around islands and through narrow passages in the rain, our voyage made more difficult by the reduced visibility. On the first day I dressed as I had in previous years for Alaska rain: long underwear and fleece under foul weather gear. But, despite the rain, it was warm. The second day it was back to jeans and long sleeved T-shirts under my foul weather gear. Still, I wasn't comfortable. My expensive jacket by Gill and slightly less expensive (but not cheap) rain pants from REI, were proving inadequate. The jacket kept me almost dry but its outer layer absorbed water like a sponge. The REI rain pants leaked, leaving my jeans decidedly damp.
On the second day we reached Klag Harbor, site of the former Chichagof Gold Mine (see chapter 9.4 of Glacier, Bears and Totems for the history of this now abandoned mine). Abandoned machinery loomed out of the mist and brown water rushed out of nearby creeks.
Photo: Klag Bay
"I don't think we need to go ashore," said Steve. The rest of us looked at the falling rain and agreed.
We waited for the tide to change and motored out through the Gate to anchor in Double Cove for the night. Through the rain, we could see breakers on the rocks where the bay met the Pacific Ocean. The weather forecast called for west wind and no rain the next day. We had 15 miles of ocean sailing the next day. I hoped the forecast was right.
July 18. Double Cove to Kalinin Bay.
rose and fell on easy swells as we sailed south in a 15 knot westerly. To the west the rugged green mountains of Chichagof rose above us, the first time we'd seen them since coming to this coast. How could we be so lucky to have both wind and sun for our one day of ocean sailing?
Photo: No rain and a good sail bring out smiles
Gray clouds greeted us in Salisbury Sound but had moved on by the time we anchored in Kalinin Bay. We had just time for a hike. (see Too Close for Comfort
July 19- 20. Sitka.
"We need indoor sightseeing," I declared, as we sat in the Highliner Café, pools of water from our rain-soaked jackets on the floor beneath our chairs. John and Maureen had only a day and a half to see Sitka before their flight back home to California, but obviously the Totem Park wasn't going to cut it. The Russian Bishop House, part of the Sitka National Historic Park was only a few blocks away.
We were the only people on the tour. As an American of Christian heritage, it's humbling to learn how much more accommodating representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church were to Alaskan Natives than the Christian missionaries who came later. Russian Bishops and priests translated the bible into Native languages, taught children in their own languages and accepted the native traditions. As a result, there are still loyal members of the Russian Orthodox Church in Alaska's Native towns.
Photo: A scene in the Russian Bishop House
As if to assure us, it doesn't always rain in Sitka, the next day was cloudy, warm and not raining (to say dry would not be quite true). We were walking into town when we passed Murray Pacific, the marine supply store that caters to fishermen. "I just want to see what they have for foul weather gear," I said. I left the store half an hour later with a set of light weight orange Grundens, the favorite foul weather gear of Alaskan fishermen. I had been mistaken in believing that all Grundens were heavy and bulky. My new set even had Velcro cuffs in the sleeves. In my Xtratuf boots and orange Grundens I almost look like an Alaskan fisherwomen. But why are there no pockets and where am I supposed to put sail ties?
"Fishermen don't have small items like sail ties," said Steve, a longtime wearer of Grundens. I don't believe him.
July 21- August 6th.
John and Maureen left for home the next day, no doubt looking forward to the California drought. Steve and I settled down to getting business done before leaving. But when we got out our box of envelopes for paying bills, we found the flaps were all glued to the envelope in the damp.
And so it went. With so much rain, we doubted we'd see much of the west coast of Baranof Island. We decided to head east through Peril Strait to Chatham Strait instead. In Peril Strait, the weather teased us with two days of sunshine and only scattered showers.
The rain returned when we got to Warm Springs Bay. After a soak in the bathtubs, we crossed Chatham Strait in rain and 35 knot southwesterlies - at least we got to sail. In Rocky Pass the rain was so dense we could barely see the red and green markers. In Wooden Wheel Cove, I picked blueberries in the rain, shaking the bushes before I picked to avoid ending up with a bagful of water.
Photo: Blueberries along the boardwalk in Wooden Wheel Cove
From Wooden Wheel Cove, we headed east into Sumner Strait, then south down Clarence Strait, stopping in Ratz Harbor just as the sun came out. Except for morning fog, the sun stayed with us through the next day in Meyers Chuck. I took a paddle with my kayak and remembered why we liked coming to Alaska.
"We've had three weeks of rain and now we're going to Ketchikan, the rainiest city in Southeast Alaska!" said Steve as we entered the Bar Basin Harbor marina the next day in a light rain. We weren't happy with our slip assignment; we much prefer Thomas Basin. Sea planes flew overhead every two minutes, the surrounding buildings were utilitarian and unappealing and there were few restaurants nearby. When we walked into town the noise of the road seemed unbearable. But by evening the sky cleared, the seaplanes stopped flying and we sat comfortably in our cockpit talking to Lu and Andy (see An Epilogue
"This is a common weather pattern, to clear up like this in the evening," Lu told us. "Especially in winter, but in summer too." Winter! It was time to head south.
It was raining the next day again with high winds predicted from the south in Clarence Strait in two days. We decided to cut our stay in Ketchikan short, sail to Foggy Bay while winds were still light, and hole up there until the winds diminished.
We motored south on a cloudy bright windless and rainless day. As we passed Thomas Basin we could see why no slips had been available. Salmon seiners were anchored right in the Channel, far more than Thomas Basin could handle.
Photo: Salmon seiners and cruise ships in Ketchikan Harbor.
The forecasted winds never arrived but the rain did. That evening with the rain reduced to only an occasional drop, I paddled the kayak around the anchorage, admiring the green vegetation underlain by shale and quartz. The forest was a mixture of cedar, spruce and pine -- multiple shades of green woven together. Small islands topped with hats of soft moss decorated with fern and lichens dotted the shoreline. This was the other side of the rain: the incredible productivity of the forest even on rocky land. I just wished it wouldn't rain when I'm there.