Holkam Bay is aflutter with birds. As Jack tries to keep Aurora on course among ripping whirlpools, Piers and I pass our single pair of binoculars back and forth. We are just off a tip of land covered with bright pink Alaskan fireweed where a turquoise iceberg has been beached by the low tide,
The Arctic Terns are glorious fliers. Nice of them to take a break here before their their long journey to the next summer, in Antarctica. We are close enough to the small group of Puffins to admire their fine plumage and huge colorful beaks. (We’ve seen the beaks decorating Haida tribal cloaks; they must make pleasant noises to accompany dancing.) As we slip past, the puffins beat it, awkwardly attempting to walk on the water before taking off, doing neither very well.
But the most endearing birds are those we later identify as Marbeled Murrelets. There are hundreds of these small mottled brown birds. As the boat approaches, those on port, nearer the lee shore ,dive. Those on starboard, take flight, wings pumping, little brown webbed feet trailing, splayed. They fly about 18 inches above the ripples in broad counter clockwise arcs and land on the water in front of the boat 50 yards from where they started.
With the bright blue Sumdum Glacier (“Some dumb glacier”, says Piers) appearing from the clouds, our short hour in Holkam Bay was among the most memorable of trip. We hoped to go further but the fog was unpredictably active and there were bright blue icebergs all around. Piers and Jack were reluctant to give up on a possible excursion to Ford’s Terror, but it was beyond our usual level of comfort. I’d done the reading and too many situations coincided: unreliable charts, unstable ice bergs, a tiny window of slack to enter and leave anchorage at Ford’s Terror, the name itself, and the steep walls of the fjord that obstructed VHF and GPS and meant 22 nautical miles without a place to stop.
We made our way to a peaceful green anchorage. (Passages are blue, anchorages are green.) At the newly built, Alaska state dock were some folks from Tacoma who’s been in Ford’s the night before. They were in a much faster Grand Banks with a spare engine and they’d been the only boat there. Next year we need to team up with another boat and go back to Holkam Bay and on to the spectacular, tidewater glacier tipped fjords of Tracy Arm and Endicott Arm.