Devilfish’s Garden

A protected anchorage on our route has been recommended by the Douglasses, along with the warning that some people find the place downright creepy.  In 1975 a scientific research team based there fled after a few days. Hmmm. Was it the admonition of the Coast Pilot that “the channel should not be attempted until it is seen at low water” thanks to a reef smack in the middle? Or the noise of the mid-summer snow melt crashing down into the water on all several sides? Or the freaky visions of the shore line at a still low tide? Or maybe it’s just the name?  Devilish Cove.

Morning mist over inlet

It so happens that our long, rainy, winding journey down El Capitan Passage leaves us, exhausted and exhilarated, at the mouth of Devilfish at mid-tide, when there is water under our keel but we can see the long reef in its dog-legged entry. We creep along the reef near the south shore, moving away for a winter slide that has deposited trees and rocks near shore. But then we are in. We have to feel our way around in circles to avoid a couple of rocks at the end of the cove where it opens into a spectacular display of granite-faced peaks still under snow pack and a lush green shore full of the promise of bears. That would be black bears. Here on Kosciusko Island which snuggles under the armpit of Prince of Wales Island, black bears rule the day, in contrast to the ABCs (Admiralty, Baranof and Chicagof), islands that have only brown bears. With Jack at the helm and me in the bow, we coordinate the anchor drop over the roaring rush of a nearby stream.

Polka dot devilfish at Totem Bight

After lunch of a bowl of hot chili and with the corn tortilla quesedillas (that Cruz got us hooked on), we retire with our books. My rather random reading brings the realization that “devilfish” is simply the Native name for octopus! Well, that’s just fine, I think, remembering the lovely red polka-dotted octopus I’d seen I’d seen wrapped around a totem pole near Ketchikan, its two central tentacles joined in perfect symmetry in the shape of a heart. (Contemporary look notwithstanding, this is actually the work of a nameless carver who lived long ago, faithfully reproduced by one of his Depression era descendants working in a Civilian Conservation Corps project.) How good it is to know our temporary abode, Devilfish Cove, is the merry, Beatles-memorialized Octupus’ Garden!  I’d like to be…under the sea… in a devilfish’s garden…with you!

A freaky “totem” in Devilfish’s still waters

In the morning we awake to the absolute calm and a shore of horizontal totems. Not real totems but the low water shoreline mirrored in perfect lateral symmetry from bright ochre seaweed to black rock to sedge or moss to fallen trees to the sweeping bows of hemlock, cedar and spruce to the mountains rising above. The illusion is spellbinding. As we creep out of Devilfish Cove. it appears that every manner of devilish fiend and demon has appeared to beleaguer us from the waterline. It’s no wonder that some observers see in this this phenomenon, which we first encountered on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, the inspiration for the art of the totem pole. I am beginning to think they are right.


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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