Four Weeks in Prince William Sound: Week 3 – Say Goodbye to the Sun
This is part of a four-part series on our month-long excursion through Prince William Sound. Links will be updated as posts are posted.
As July came to a close, we crossed from Cordova to Port Chalmers on Montague Island. Another uneventful crossing, we said goodbye to two familiars: the sun and summer. Summers are notoriously short in Alaska and we felt that Alaska had used up its good weather allowance early, meaning August would be a cold transition into fall.
With a nip in the air, we anchored in Port Chalmers on Montague Island. We were later joined by a tender (a large vessel that takes on salmon from seiners or bow-pickers) that ran its generator loudly all night. So much for sleeping. The next morning, we left in overcast weather to transition to Knight Island, our return to the western side of Prince William Sound. We stopped to fish, catching a few rockfish, and motored on through steep chop caused by currents to Snug Harbor.
A single seiner was anchored in Snug Harbor. We anchored far enough away to give them room. After we dropped anchor and added oil to the engine to curb some of the supposed overheating issues, the seiner pulled anchor and motored over to us. He informed us of a bear on the beach he saw earlier and said we should be careful. Krystin informed him of our 12-gauge shotgun and .44 Magnum that we carry with us on hikes. Immediately, his expression changed from “idiot sailors” to “wow, cool dudes!” and he proceeded to say that the head of the cove was cool with a “f-load of salmon.” We thanked him and spent some time on the deck reading and eating dinner.
A float plane landed in the cove to refuel and, as he left, our friend joined us in the cove. His wife’s friend’s husband and son were joining him for some hard fishing. Like us, they didn’t have much luck as the fish were “slippery” that day. We talked of fishing and food poisoning and even tried a hand at snagging salmon from the shore. The next morning we kept in contact as Bixler pulled up another lingcod and big yelloweye.
We headed up Knight Island to Bay of Isles and anchored in the South Arm, slightly different than the lagoon we anchored in before. Again, even after idling while fishing, our engine gauge showed overheating though the actual engine temperature topped at 180 degrees F, the ideal operating temperature. We fiddled with the temperature sender and gauge, and fixed cracks in the strainer basket lid. The next morning showed no change in the temperature. However, as Carpe Ventos surfed large current-driven waves, the gauge changed each time we slid down a wave. Dropping anchor in Disk Cove, we pulled apart the panel, tested the gauge, and determined our temperature sensor was faulty. Since then, we’ve resorted to a “you go in the boat, you shoot the engine with the infrared thermometer” policy until we can get it fixed.
Disk Cove is another favorite cove of ours. A small lagoon nestled in an island, Disk has a narrow entrance that can be overlooked by less experienced Sound travelers. Since we have a sailboat, we need to watch our rigging as a tree slightly overhangs the entrance.
Once anchored up and after diagnosing the engine, we headed onshore to find what Disk is known for: blueberries.
Alaska is full of fat, juicy blueberries that ripen near the end of July and beginning of August. Disk Cove is loaded with these delicious Alaskan candies and our hike had berry bush, upon berry bush, upon berry bush. Disk has two main varieties: the standard high bush blueberry and the huckleberry, lighter in color and similar in flavor. Bog blueberries dot the boggy areas, but they aren’t as big as their high bush cousins. There is a trail that leads one to the blueberry Mecca, and we aren’t going to tell you where it is!
Full of berries, we made a short move the next morning for Solf Cove in Upper Herring Bay. Mislabeled as “Soft” Cove on our electronic charts, Solf is a notable cove because it has a lake that was uplifted in the 1964 earthquake. The uplift cased a significant change in the outlet waterfall that Alaska Fish and Game feared the red run in the lake would be compromised. Fish and Game installed a small dam to keep the water from draining out of the lake along with a fish ladder to lead salmon up to their spawning grounds.
Our guide book recommends trying to portage a dinghy up to the lake to explore. The only viable way up is to pull the dinghy up the waterfall. When the dam was constructed, there may or may not have been a staircase as rebar remains pounded into the rock. We devised a plan to hike all the gear (fishing, camera, gas, and outboard) up the access trail first then pull the dinghy up the rocks. With all the gear safely stowed near the dam, we started to pull the dinghy up the rocks. Bixler was upstream pulling the dinghy up while Krystin negotiated the rebar. At one point, Bixler took command of the dinghy while Krystin snapped pictures and video. Krystin stood at the top of the dam and watched Bixler yank on the dinghy. Unbeknownst to him, one of the pontoons snagged on the last piece of rebar near the top of the dam. He pulled the dinghy painter and, in a fraction of a second, there was the characteristic hiss of a popped pontoon. Krystin went down to lift the dinghy above the dam and view the damage. A large hole was near the back of the port pontoon. Having hauled the dinghy all the way up the lake, we decided to motor anyway. We didn’t get far. All of the oil leaked out of the outboard and it was smoking badly.
We aborted going to the end of the lake and returned to the boat to haul and repair the dinghy. In the distance, red salmon jumped and gloated our lack of transportation to land. We ignored them knowing we were out of ice at this point.
The overcast skies continued the next day and the first gale of our trip was forecast. Usually, we spend a whole trip through the sound avoiding gales in various hiding spots. With 35 kts forecast, we decided to speed towards Icy Bay to get ice and back to 7 Fathom Hole, by far the best spot to wait out a storm. Full of ice, we dropped anchor in 7 Fathom anticipating a two-night stay in this cove, something very rare for us.
The rain started and we hid inside, hearing the trudge of another diesel engine in the distance. Of all things, a sailing catamaran joined us in the cove. Great, we thought sarcastically. We hopped in the dinghy to do some exploration and look for the mysterious red run. As we passed by the catamaran, we noticed the hailing port as Santa Barbara, CA. Being from California ourselves, we struck up a conversation and learned that the sailors, Mike and Annette, had just brought the boat from Thailand via the Aleutian chain. They invited us for cocktails in the future and we offered them some advice on touring the Sound. We ended up pushing that off for a day so we could investigate the salmon scene by Jackpot Creek.
Bixler deposited Krystin on the shore while looked for reds among running pinks. As Krystin explored the shoreline, a bear popped out of woods, grabbed a salmon, and left. Excited, we returned to the boat without salmon, but with our first close bear sighting. Summer was coming to a close and bears were starting to fatten up on salmon before hibernation.
The weather turned for the worst with rain and gusting winds, so we tucked in for the evening. Mike and Annette were still in 7 Fathom Hole the next morning, so we invited them for a lesson on salmon snagging. We needed some fish for dinner and Annette explained her Alaskan goals of catching salmon and shooting guns. Bixler coached her in catching a salmon. Mike and Annette invited us over to Rum Doxy for cocktail hour. We brought over smoked salmon canapés and a collection of Alaskan and West Coast beers. In exchange for the fishing lessons, they gave us distilled sake from Japan as a gift. Annette mentioned again that she wanted to shoot a gun, so Bix grabbed our shotgun, .44 Magnum, and Krystin’s .380 for shooting large halibut. We shot rounds off of the back of Rum Doxy. Krystin handed her .380 to Annette who only wanted to shoot one round, but ended up firing off the whole clip and cheered in excitement. We suggested a few coves, enjoyed the rain clearing, and wished them farewell on their trip south.
Like so many people who discover Alaska, Mike and Annette wished they could stay longer. Despite the gale, the pouring rain, and foul weather, they were like so many people we met who felt the pull of cruising the northern latitudes. We are happy to have met them and glad we could help accomplish their Alaskan goals. Our goal was to finish our trip with a bang and hope there wasn’t a gale forecast for our transition back to Seward.