The day started early for the crew of Deception, who set out at sunrise in the dinghy along with last night’s unexpected Danish guests to recover their tent and belongings. We cautiously and noisily stepped ashore on the gravel beach and waded through the waist high grass, passing the pressed down spots where the bears had slept. Miraculously we found all the kayaker’s effects unscathed. They quickly packed up and we said our goodbyes and rushed back to raise anchor and head up Tracy Arm.
By seven o’clock we left the cove behind and curled out into the mouth of the fjord, swinging wide around an enormous sapphire blue iceberg caught on a submerged rock off the point. The last morning mist burned away and the sun burst in to view -one of southeast Alaska’s greatest and rarest sights! Steaming northeast the fjord began to narrow and steepen and the dewy cliff faces shone brightly. Fed by rainwater and melting snow and ice high in the towering peaks above the Arm, waterfalls tumble and from the rocks and crash into the sea. Some fall from such heights that the breeze dissipates the stream and only a light mist reaches the ground. Looking east up the fjord we are afforded glimpses across the border into Canada of mammoth peaks draped in the same glacier ice that flows in to Tracy Arm.
We take a right where the fjord branches and head first towards South Sawyer Glacier, picking our way gingerly through the thick ice which floats in the approaches. Our early departure time has paid off and we find ourselves alone at the front of the glacier. We couldn’t approach closer than three quarters of a mile due to the thick ice, so we cut or motors and drift, listening to the cracking and groaning of the great frozen mass as it shifts, a slave to gravity. Inquisitive harbor seals gaze at us from their perches on the bergs and seagulls circle in front of the looming ice face, throwing into perspective the size of the glacier. With some regularity sheets and blocks of ice break off from the face with percussive snaps and fall, sometimes crashing against the ice and rocks below and exploding into clouds of white shrapnel.
The bright summer sunshine and the icy breezes flowing off the glacier put some of us in the mood for a dip, so Rowan and Greg from Deception leapt from the swim step into the silty bitterly cold water between the bergs. As Rowan put it, it is better to go through life with a couple of “wish I wouldn’t haves” than a whole bunch of “wish I would haves”.
The currents began to shift and the ice circled around us, indicating a good time to leave, so we started up the diesels and made for the north arm of the Sawyer Glacier, which reaches into the water in a narrower section of fjord. The glacier is compressed by the constricted channel, and the highest point is nearly 300’ above the waterline. The face of glacier continues down well below the surface nearly 400’ to the bedrock below. As we idled about a quarter mile from the face of the glacier things were suspiciously quiet. The incremental downhill motion of the glacier never ceases, and if pieces don’t calve off continuously the compressive stress within the ice can build up until it reaches a major breaking point. Thirty minutes had passed and no ice had fallen. We sat contemplating the incredible forces at play, when suddenly a great boil of water appeared in the still water at the foot of the wall. From the boil erupted a stupendously large block of ice, so dense and old it appeared almost black. The apartment building-sized block bucked up and pitched over, shedding rock and mud and thousands of gallons water.
This phenomenon, known as a “shooter” occurs when a block of ice breaks free of the glacier below the water’s surface. We all agreed that even among those of us who have been many times to the glacier none had ever seen one so huge. Any boat that was so unfortunate as to have been in the spot where it appeared would have been immediately destroyed. A powerful reminder of why it isn’t safe to motor close to the glacier!
We cruised back towards No-Name Cove, stopping to nose the bow pulpit under a freezing waterfall- a great way to rinse off the anchor and an even better way to rinse off the captain! Rich on Deception led, followed by Jim and Katie on Navigator and Mike on Ajax. Felling much refreshed after a long day on the water, we pulled back in to no-name cove around six just in time for dinner.
The evening passed with only a brief sighting of a bear far away across the cove. The sun set slowly, lighting the clouds a brilliant red. They say that red sky at night is sailors delight, and we certainly hope it’s true because tomorrow we cross the sometimes wild (but often whale-filled) Fredrick Sound.