Morning light brought vistas of cloud draped hills above Wrangell and banks of pillowy fog drifting slowly outside the breakwater. Although successive bands of heavy driving rain passed over the fleet last night Larry aboard Ajax braved hypothermia to carry on his tradition of sleeping out every night on the flybridge! After taking the time to watch the shapeshifting clouds and drink a cup of coffee, we cast off our docklines and by 8 am had left the marina and set our course west by northwest. The waters of Sumner Strait were calm as we looped under the south shore of Mitkof Island towards the entrance to the infamous Wrangell Narrows.
On our way we passed the aptly-named Two-Tree Island and saw murres and guillemots diving to feed in the still water, tinted green by the silty glacial outflow of the Stikine River to the east. Small islands are nearly beyond number in this part of the world, and each one has its own unique history. Many in this area were used for commercial fox farms for the American and European fur markets up until the depression of the 1930s. One struggles to imagine the mental state of a man stuck on a tiny Alaskan island with only a horde of yowling foxes for company, but it’s a fair bet that rocking to sleep in a 50’ Grand Banks is a far sight nicer.
Sabine’s gulls and Black-legged Kittiwakes swirled around us as the fleet slalomed slowly around the occasional deadhead (a waterlogged trunk which floats vertically in the water) as we drew up to Point Alexander and the southern entrance to the Narrows. Wrangell Narrows are an often painfully constricted and obstacle-strewn run at times no more than 100 yards wide. Stretching 22 miles south to north towards the small town of Petersburg, the Narrows contain more than 70 navigational markers, making it one of the most signed passages on the globe. To complicate things even further, it is the only protected passage between Juneau and the rest of the world, so everyone from the smallest hand-troller to ocean going tugs with fully loaded barges as wide as the channel fight for space within the markers. Today we are lucky, and only the occasional skiff passes us. Ray on Telita briefly spots a Sea Otter, out first of the trip, and white-winged scoters flash alongside our beam. Two hours later we round Turn Point and coast into the roomy south harbor at Petersburg against a knot and a half of current.
Petersburg announces its Scandinavian heritage as soon as you step off the dock The Sons of Norway hall with its half-scale Viking long ship, rises over the harbor and the colorful murals and scalloped trim on the buildings along Main Street put you in the mood to pull on your thickest sweater and grow a beard. Town is quiet on this Saturday afternoon, and after strolling through town and poking into the quiet shops, it becomes evident that the busiest spot in town is the bar, crowded with fishermen and cannery workers. The mood is convivial and friendly, the windows steamy, and the beer cold.
After exploring town, the crew of Deception was invited over to dinner on Telita, whose German crew regaled us with tales of adventures around the world and educated us on the internal battle evidently raging in Germany between rival factions, each convinced that their region’s potato salad is the best.
Sunset brought heavy rain, sorely needed after several weeks of uncommonly dry weather, and the drumbeat of droplets on the deck lulled the Mother Goose crews into a restful slumber.