SE Alaska – Season’s End

The days are now numbered, but the adventure seems limitless. Quite by accident we found Sanborn Canal, which is not included in any of the cruising guides. On the southern shore of Port Houghton, it runs in for two and a half miles, looking protected in any winds. It is on the charts but marked “unsurveyed,” so the depths shown are mostly unreliable. We decided that by using the chart plotter, depth sounder and radar all together, we could probably creep in the narrow two and a half mile long inlet and find a suitable anchorage.

Storm Clouds in Frederick Sound
Storm Clouds in Frederick Sound
It was here that the moose and her calf were photographed right behind Holy Grail by Lee and Ellen on SeaRoamer. Lee and Ellen have been cruising and fishing these waters for twenty years and told us that Sanborn Canal is one of their favorite spots. So many anchorages to explore and so little time. We found it hard to resist visiting just a few more before we had to be in Wrangell for our date with the travel lift.
Rainbow in Frederick Sound
Frederick Sound and Sun
This letter has now come full circle, back to where we started writing in Ruth Island Cove, five miles from the entrance to Thomas Bay. If coming in yesterday was thrilling with the swift current over the bar, and accompanied by an Orca, leaving was chilling in a pea soup fog with zero visibility. We were completely on instruments; radar and chart plotter to negotiate all the turns and shallows over the bar out to Frederick Sound and our next stop, Petersburg and the Wrangell Narrows. The chart plotter guided us five miles out to the bar, where radar confirmed the exact location of the buoys marking the shallows and channel. There were two dogleg turns, and suddenly we were in the tidal race, working hard at the helm to stay on course in the active current, and within moments we squirted out safely into the calm of the Sound. THAT was exciting! We would have preferred to wait until the fog lifted, but the state of the tide at our destination required that we leave when we did, or wait another day. A similar situation controlled our next run through the Wrangell Narrows, 20 miles long and as little as a few hundred yards wide. There are lots of buoys, ranges and markers, but still clear weather is best. If you start the transit late on a rising tide, the current will be with you the entire 20 miles, as it switches for you about half way. We had to start at 4:50 a.m. to catch the right tidal current. Fortunately, it was clear, but not for long. The center five miles was in dense fog, but with a little visibility and radar we could pick up each of the markers and work our way from mark to mark. Another exciting day and another ideal anchorage in St. John Harbor just four and a half miles across Sumner Strait from Wrangell Narrows. We anchored early in the day, fortunately, as a storm was coming. By midnight the harbor was full and overflowing with boats seeking shelter in the wind and rain. They were forced to anchor in water too deep for their ground tackle and were in peril. We watched from our safe vantage, and listened to them on the radio, but were powerless to help. They had to fend for themselves, and do the best they could. It was another popcorn, scrabble and heater night for us.

Finally it was Wrangell, known as the friendliest town in Southeast. There are about 2400 residents who take that reputation to heart, including the harbor personnel. There are hundreds of boat slips in two harbors, all with water and power, and a huge boat yard with a 150 ton travel lift, the largest ever used to haul out Holy Grail. For several weeks we made preparations for winter, made a cover, and emptied the water tanks against freezing. Poor old girl, Holy Grail was abandoned for the winter a week before the end of September, waiting for winter to come and go and for us to return in Spring.

Howard and Steph

The Captain and Admiral at Mt. Roberts
The Captain and Admiral at Mt. Roberts

Author: Howard

Captain Howard is a lifelong sailing nut. His third and present boat, Holy Grail, has been in the family 26 years after he and the Admiral Stephanie built her in British Columbia. They have sailed her about 45,000 miles from B.C. Canada on a circuitous route through Mexico, Easter Island, Pitcairn, The Australs and through many islands to Australia, Solomons and Papua New Guinea. In 2017, they ended a five year visit to Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.

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