Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Craig to Sitka - Otters, Rain and...Trapped

We made a beeline from Craig up to Sitka in mixed weather and seas. Rather than return up El Capitan and Rocky Pass, we headed directly west towards the ocean, then turned north up Chatham Sound. We passed through beautiful Sea Otter Sound on the way, with intermittent fog and sun. The water was glass.

Leaving Craig at 5:30 am. Those aren't sailboats. It's a sea of trollers with stabilizer poles.

We had fog part of the morning

Sea Otter Sound

Cosmos Pass

Approaching the Pacific Ocean

Aptly named Cape Decision. Mountains of Baranof Island across south Chatham Strait

Magnificent Baranof Island

Our route included a new anchorage for us, Elena Bay, a quiet spot deep within Tebenkof Bay on Kuiu Island. We made a note to further explore Kuiu which is known for remote anchorages and the possibility of spotting wolves and moose. Coming out of Elena we saw several clusters (colonies?) of sea otters, each numbering twenty or more. I couldn’t help myself, shooting picture after picture, so please bear with me posting pix of these cute little critters. Actually, they’re not that little. The typical sea otter measures 6 feet from head to toe.
It's a happening

"What can I say?"

We headed up Chatham Strait, angling over towards Baranof Island where we found dock space at Baranof Warm Springs, a tiny community deep in a fjord, next to a huge waterfall. The attraction, of course, is the promise of hot natural baths. We felt lazy. It was raining lightly. Rather than hike up the trail, we opted to use the bathhouse at the top of the dock. Hot water is piped down from the springs and fills huge metal tubs that look like watering troughs for cattle. A 2 foot pipe stuck in the drain allows the water to fill the tub, big enough for two (or more.) When you’re done with your bath, just pull out the pipe and the tub drains down to the beach below. Simple. Effective. And the view of the mountains and waterfall from the tub is something to write home about.

Docked at Warm Springs Bay

The waterfall is loud, and the current at the dock is a challenge. The hot spring pools are near the top, up a trail, overlooking the waterfall.

The bathhouse, for folks like us who are feeling lazy

View out the window

This is also where I had my little adventure. Across the channel from the docks is a remote lagoon called Salty Lagoon. You enter through a long, narrow channel. I had read about its beauty and sense of remoteness, and there was something else I had read, but I could quite remember. I set in the kayak. I dressed warmly, had rain gear and brought a walkie talkie to call Glenda—just in case. As I paddled through the channel I realized it was shallow, from inches to perhaps a foot deep, and the tide, which was rising, was flowing into the lagoon at a pretty good clip. The entrance is 75 yards long and it was a pretty thrilling ride, a little like running a rapids. But the instant I was inside I realized my mistake. There was no way I was going to be able to paddle out, at least until the lagoon had filled and the current slackened—which was scheduled to happen in three hours! It was raining and a bit chilly, and boy, did that place feel like the end of the world. After calling Glenda to share my embarrassing predicament, I settled in to explore. After 2 hours and a dicey experience finding a place on the slippery rocky shore to get out and pee, I decided to try to escape my prison early.

No way Jose.

I couldn’t make headway against a current that swished through the cut making a sound like a waterfall, whirlpools threatening to spin and swamp my kayak.

But every experience is an opportunity to learn. My grand lesson (after accepting my dumb mistake) was to relax and enjoy solitude. Gliding through the lagoon, hearing the birdsong, watching fish swim under my boat, the whole situation morphed into a gift, a heady mix of fear and exhilaration, feeling slightly out on the edge, fully alive. A rare opportunity to shed the armor of 21st century life.
My courage grew. Instead of waiting until slack, I decided to give the rapids one more shot. This time, paddling as hard as I could, I was able to make headway. Sweating under my rain jacket, breathing hard, muscles sore, I finally broke into the calmer waters of Warm Springs Bay, a short quarter mile paddle back to the boat.

You know what? I wouldn’t trade the results of this dumb mistake for anything.

The narrow entrance viewed from the dock

Rock weed, low tide in Salty Lagoon

Set against mountains shrouded by cloud

My own little world

We headed down Peril Strait, separating the north end of Baranof Island from the south end of Chichagof Island, spending a rainy night in one of our favorite anchorages, Baby Bear Cove.

Seals lounging near Chatham Strait
Raining evening in Baby Bear Cove

Rain Patterns

Two days later we arrived in Sitka, my favorite town in SE Alaska. We’ll stay for six nights, doing boat chores, cleaning, laundry, shopping for our next guests, and meeting up with friends—new and old. We met David, who single handed his 37ft Nordic Tug up from La Conner. David is 76 years old and doesn’t look or act a day older than sixty. An inspiration! (I resolved to single hand up here when I turn 76.) He joined us on our boat for a delightful evening with Doug, an old friend and my former medical partner, working part time in a Sitka clinic. Bill, another fellow physician from Port Townsend and his wife Karen arrived today, assigned a slip just fifty feet down the dock. Such a small world! We’ve seen so many friends from back home it almost feels as if we haven’t left. But that’s what’s so cool about the Northwest. It’s like one big, long community.

Tomorrow, Jane and Michael fly in. After a day playing in town, checking out the raptor center and experiencing Sitka’s famous Ludvig’s restaurant, we’ll head north, towards Icy Strait and WHALES. If it works out the way I hope, the next blog will contain some fun shots of humpback whales cavorting.
Stay tuned!

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