Voyages North

Entering Fords Terror. July 1 &2, 2019

09 July 2019 | Posted at Juneau
Elsie Hulsizer
Photo: Osprey anchored at the entrance to Fords Terror. The haze is smoke from distant forest fires.

We entered Endicott Arm of Holkham Bay and turned up-inlet, weaving our way through blue and white icebergs to arrive at the entrance to Fords Terror at 5:00 pm. We planned to spend the night anchored in outer Fords Terror, go up Endicott Arm the next day to view Dawes Glacier, and return in time to enter Fords Terror at highwater slack.

Although Steve and I had entered the small fjord of Fords Terror twice before, it would still be a challenge. We wouldn't know the exact time of highwater slack; estimates put it at 40 minutes either side of high water at Juneau. To find the entrance we would have to locate a certain triple waterfall, put it on our stern and follow an exact compass course to avoid uncharted rocks. The channel turned just after the entrance, creating a blind corner that hid boats approaching from the opposite direction. Since boats had to both enter and leave at high water slack, the opportunity for confusion and even collision was high.

We found the triple waterfall, shrunk to a double by drought. The tide was falling and some of the entrance rocks were already uncovered. We followed the shoreline past the entrance and into a small basin just beyond. It was deep right up the shore but not so deep we couldn't anchor. We could hear the roar of outgoing current. Our guests, Mike and Sheryl, exclaimed at the beauty of the anchorage. "Wait until you see Fords Terror," I told them.

The next morning we could see two lines of menacing rock bars extending out either side from the entrance to Fords Terror. It was near low water slack so we crept cautiously out of the basin into open water beyond. It was sobering to think we would be navigating through the rocks at high tide that afternoon when we couldn't see them.

Entrance at low water
Photo: Entrance to Fords Terror at low water.

We returned at 1:30 after a day of watching seals, icebergs and the blue Dawes Glacier. As we approached the entrance to Fords Terror, we could see white water and hear the roar of ingoing current. We waited for it to quiet down, amazed at the difference just a few minutes made. The small cruise ship Island Spirit was visible on AIS inside the fjord and we were able to talk to them on VHF before the rock walls blanked out their image. They were waiting to go out while we were waiting to go in.

Finally, only gentle swirls ruffled the water. Steve moved the Osprey to put the double waterfall on our stern into position, and headed toward the entrance. The current swirled, but Steve kept us on course. Steep rock walls chiseled with glacial gouges climbed up on either side.

Ahead we could see the Island Spirit approaching. After we passed, they called us and told us that in their experience high water slack was usually 25 minutes after high tide at Holkham.
We anchored for two nights in the West Arm off a green marsh with views of mountains, waterfalls and bears. We were the only boat in the whole inlet for two days. The only disruption to the beautiful scene was a thin haze of smoke from distant forest fires.

As we left two days later a fleet of small motorboats, tenders to several small cruise ships that had anchored in the outside basin, roared in and a fleet of kayaks clustered near the entrance. We had had Fords Terror to ourselves for two days. We were leaving just in time.

View from West Arm
Photo: View from our anchorage in the West Arm of Fords Terror.

On Google maps, search for "Fords Terror" to see where we were and what the entrance is like.
Comments
Vessel Name: Osprey
Vessel Make/Model: Annapolis 44 sloop
Hailing Port: Seattle
Crew: Steve and Elsie Hulsizer (author of Glaciers, Bears and Totems and Voyages to Windward)
About:
Elsie and Steve Hulsizer have sailed northwest waters since arriving in Seattle via sailboat from Boston in 1979. [...]
Extra:
2017: local cruising including South Puget Sound and San Juan Islands 2016:north up West Coast VI, across QC Sound to central BC coast 2015: trip to SE Alaska 2014: Seymour and Belize Inlets through Nakwakto Rapids 2013: SE Alaska and back. 2012: from Seattle up the west coast of Vancouver [...]
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