Timing our transit of the Wrangell Narrows today gives me time to walk the docks and see many of the fascinating fishing boats moored here in Wrangell. I am intrigued with the various types and hope to learn more about how each operates – and why a fisherman would chose one over the other.
|Iver P Nore|
I stop to watch a float plane land and taxi down our fairway, as a tiny bird sits atop a dolphin structure feeling just as important as the majestic eagles.
Smoke gets our attention as we leave Wrangell with bright, bright sunny skies above, but haze in the distance. We think it could be drifting in from the forest fires around Fairbanks AK and various areas of British Columbia. Also of note is the milky green water as we enter Stikine Strait and head between Solokof and Vank Islands on our route to Petersburg.
The Douglass guidebook describes a discoloration of the saltwater for many miles as it empties its glacial effluent near Wrangell, also called the Gateway to the Stikine River. Its name means ‘Great River’ in Tlingit and is the fastest free-flowing navigable river in North America. We see this milky green water as we leave the harbor.
I can't say enough how beautiful the scenery is on this cruise to Alaska, and I am amused at the names of coves and islands, this one in particular is named Two Tree Island. The water is flat calm.
Going north of Zarembo Island and south of Mitkof Island, we ride on gentle two foot swells, soon losing the milky green water from the Stikine River, as the tide pushes clean water toward us. Sparkles dance on the sea.
Just before entering Wrangell Narrows, we cruise between Woewodski and Mitkof Islands. Several crab trap buoys mark the entrance to this skinny 22 mile long waterway. The locals call it one of the most difficult stretches in Southeast Alaska and it becomes more treacherous due to the tides ripping up and down its shores. Large cruise ships cannot navigate, and the largest vessels that are able are the barges and 418 foot M/V Columbia, the largest Alaska Marine Highway ferry. They can only go at high tide, which has 20 foot swings.
A guidebook tells us of approximately 60 lights and buoys that mark both sides of the shipping lane.
We try to dodge the many patches of floating kelp that collect sticks in their mass, and meet the Aleutian Dream fishing boat towing her net tender and exiting the Narrows as we approach.
Herb sees Matanuska, Alaska State Ferry, on AIS, so we have a heads up on meeting her. Ray calls us asking if we want to pass port to port, and Herb replies “Port, thank you.” Oh, my, we meet her at Point Lockwood, one of the narrowest parts. As she 'suddenly' comes into view around the turn, I grab my camera in haste, but the photo is not in focus! The good news is there is room for both of us.
The Navionics photo of the Narrows on my iPad shows the relative width and it is humorous to see our red directional line pointing over rocks. Just as radar cannot see around a curve, neither can the line bend, but will shift as we turn.
We begin to see the many red and green markers directing us off rocks, guiding us in the turns, and keeping us in the deep channel. We now see a more narrow stretch and are glad we didn’t meet the ferry here.
Oh my goodness! Here is the first set of range markers that we need to line up to stay in the deep. Now a second set. The tricky thing is to keep lined up, while dodging sticks, but fortunately most of what we see is kelp.
Ray calls on VHF 09 to warn of a fast metal boat about to speed past on our port. We take a slight roll from her wake and see her stop in the channel ahead of us. Hmmm….why? There are no crab traps here to check. Oh, maybe they want to fish here; I do see one man reaching for a rod. We will need to pass her on one side or the other – but then she turns, reverses her path to go behind us.
We meet the fishing boat “Southeastern,” passing safely and do not get too shallow in this narrow passage.
Seeing a small open boat drifting as they fish, we slow and move to give them a wide berth, thus minimizing the wake we cause. They wave “Thank you.”
Finally, I say to Herb, "We made it!"
We have now traversed the Wrangell Narrows and go into the channel as it widens.
Being 30 minutes out, we call the Harbormaster at Petersburg for moorage and get our slip assignments. A couple of kids on a personal watercraft play around at breakneck speed for several minutes as we approach the marina and we keep a sharp look out for them.
We have only one more set of range markers to follow before we arrive at our destination.
A beautiful panorama of the Borough of Petersburg is before us.
Ray takes a photo of Willie's Tug approaching Petersburg, shown clearly in the photo immediately below, but only as a tiny dot in the next one. Thanks, Ray.
|Willie's Tug Nearing Petersburg|
While cruising to our assigned slip, I am surprised and delighted to see Atlas, apparently on her way back from Sitka, and moored in a different marina from where we are directed. We recall visiting with her Captain and Crew in Anacortes earlier in the Spring.
With the long daylight hours, we still have time to take a walk around town, investigating the shops and neighborhood boats, then return to Willie's Tug for a dinner of pulled pork on steamed rice, steamed broccoli with a healthful dessert of sliced apples.
|Let the Learning Begin!|
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