Inside the Inside Passage

At the end of a most amazing day, we gazed out on this.

(This was written on August 2 or 3 but didn’t get posted. It really goes after Gunkholing in Desolation Sound and before We’ve Run the Rapids!) We left Gorge Harbour and easily navigated Uganda Passage, which had looked impossible to use when we’d views it from the road during a Cortez Island walk two years ago. Skipper Jack then piloted us from the waters of Desolation Sound into the inside of the Inside Passage. This is the place where the waters change direction: South of Desolation Sound the tides flow in and out from the South, through Malaspina and Georgia Strait. By the time you get to the 50th parallel, currents are restrained; this one of the attractions of Desolation Sound, which nonetheless has remarkable and interesting tides. North of Desolation Sound, tidal waters generally flood south and ebb north. Here Vancouver Island lies very close to the mainland. Not that you can tell in this swiss cheese of land mass what is mainland and what’s not. It’s all watery. Islands separated by relative narrow passages.

Commercial traffic travels west of here fairly close to Vancouver Island. We have not seen a cruise ship since Vancouver. We passed a skid road where a small timber operation was rolling logs into the water; but no tugs towing log booms. Those vessels use Johnstone Strait, which can be sixty miiles of williwaws howling in the afternoon.

Instead, we’re dealing with rapids. The first set lie at the end of the appropriately named Calm Channel between Sonora and Stuart Islands. These can only be taken at slack waters. Skipper Jack sits down with the tide and current tables and calculates when it’s optimal to pass. Yesterday we did three closely grouped sets of rapids. Well before slack we arrived at the Yuculta Rapids and restudied the charts while watching the southbound boats speed past on the flood.

There was also some significant drift and we followed that as well, to learn the currents. We saw one particularly large log with a bald eagle perched on it. The log was spinning around just like a merry go round and the bird was clearly enjoying it. How fine to see a bird playing! I thought back to an afternoon in Yemen when we’d watched a group of crows play tag with a plastic bag, snatching it from one another’s beaks in wild mid-flight. Then suddenly the eagle took flight toward our boat; instinct had kicked in and it was in hot pursuit of a plover a tenth its size. The would be prey executed a series of heart stopping ariel manoeuvres and avoided the jaws of death.

Jack calculated the time to enter the rapids perfectly. A slow boat like our needs to start in the Yuculta Rapids 45 minutes before the slack and fight the current of the flood. Aurora was up to it but the size of the drift logs and the masses of entwined ell grass kept us on our toes. We arrived at Gillard Passage ten minutes before the tide turned and were though them just as the northbound ebb started and took us rapidly past the Dent Islands and the notorious Devil’s Hole between them.

The day was waning and it was raining quite hard by now, but it was fine as we were through what some consider the most difficult part of the entire trip to Alaska. Soon we found ourselves at the most extraordinary intersection of Cordero Channel, with Frederick Arm to the north and Nodales Channel to the south. It’s a vast expanse but the waters were calm and the light was perfect for spotting orcas. It was high tide and there was no shoreline – tree covered slopes fell right into the sea.


Author: Carol McCreary

10 Inside Passages to Alaska. 10,000 miles. 10,000 hours on the S/V Aurora. This is the story of how Jack and I took up sailing late in life and are now finally getting the hang of it.

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