The mirror flat surface of Santa Anna Inlet reflected a change in the weather as the sun rose and people began to stir early this morning. Overnight, low clouds moved in to the area, and as beautiful soft light filtered through it brought out the blues and dark greens of the thick forest in ways we has not yet seen. We were lucky to have gotten our swimming in yesterday! With anchors raised and dinghies stowed we began to slowly motor north, passing Deer Island on our port side before bending our course to the northwest into the mouth of Zimovia Strait, which divides Wrangell Island from Etolin Island. As the passage narrows, the fleet entered shallow water, playing follow-the-leader through s-curves between the tiny islands, countless crab pots, and shoaling rocks. Captain Rich’s plotted course had us all through the narrows without worry, giving us all time to appreciate the jumping salmon, murrelets, loons, and the occasional curious harbor seal, who rise to the surface and fix us with their luminous eyes as we pass.
We pulled in to Heritage Harbor at the quaint frontier town of Wrangell just after 11 am, finding plenty of space for everyone to tie up along the docks. After being in the miniscule haven of Meyers Chuck, even this quiet moderately sized marina manages to feel like a bustling port! The crews of Ajax, Navigator, and Telita, as well as the mechanic Rowan and the naturalist Greg quickly launched their dinghies and buzzed in to town for a quick peek at the masterfully carved 300-year old Tlingit house poles on display at the entrance of the Wrangell Museum before racing back to the harbor for the real highlight of the day, a visit to the world famous Anan Wildlife Observatory!
Captain Jim and guide Scott of Alaska Water’s tours picked us up right off of our dock in the jet boat Chutine Warrior, and in minutes we were streaking down the east side of Wrangell Island at 40 knots towards the outlet of the remarkable Anan Creek. The waters of the stream flow from Anan Lake through a deep valley into a shallow lagoon, and finally into the sea. The conditions created by this geography have made it one of the largest Pink Salmon spawning streams in Alaska. In Alaska, where there are fish, there are bears. While Anan has been used by humans for at least 10,000 years, it has been used by bears for far longer than that. Its remarkable abundance of food resources allows both Brown and Black bears to fish together in relative peace, something that happens in only a few spots on the planet. After a safety briefing from Jim and Scott, we walked the easy half mile trail around the lagoon, getting glimpses of Mink, Common Mergansers, Harbor Seals, and a tremendous number of Bald Eagles, all attracted to this spot by the rich salmon runs. A short ways up the valley, the creek tumbles down a series of rock rapids, and it is at this constriction in the river where the bears fish. From the open, uncaged deck built by the forest service a short ways above the water we saw 8-10 good sized black bears and a few cubs wading in the stream. The bears, conditioned to the presence of people, are so intent on the protein rich fish that they pay no mind to the group of curious onlookers. The bears swipe and bite at the thrashing fish as the salmon try and climb the falls towards their spawning grounds farther upstream. Some seem to be more adept fishermen then others, and when someone surrounded by frustrated competitors has success, tensions can run high. With ample time, space, and the opportunity to observe from both birds eye and stream level perspectives, Anan is truly a wildlife photographers dream.
After spending a couple incredible hours watching the bears, we headed back towards the boat just as a light drizzle began to fall- if anything, the sheets of mist and low clouds caught in the steep valleys of the coastline added depth to the scenery.
Upon our return to the marina, the day held one more fabulous surprise, Bill, whom has stayed behind along with the crew of Aquila, bought everyone in the fleet wonderful fresh Dungeness crab, caught the very same morning and cooked and cleaned by a seafood processor right inside the marina! One crab might not seem like a whole meal, but everything is a little bigger in Alaska, and everyone aboard Deception agreed we had not had any finer crab in our memory! With our bellies full, the sun set on another full day and we look forward to tomorrows transit of the infamous Wrangell Narrows on our way to Petersburg.