The swirling currents that course through Wrangell Narrows on every change of the tide ran at our stern this morning as we pushed off from Petersburg on the southbound run through the treacherous channel. With the group all tucked neatly into Deception’s wake, captain Rich deftly led the fleet between the more than 70 navigational marks that delineate the route. Almost all the north and southbound traffic on the inside passage must pass through the Narrows. Tugs pulling massive barges, Alaska state ferries, fishing boats, yachts, and myriad of other vessels jockey for space in a channel. Today however we were lucky and only the occasional skiff or small crabber passed us by with a friendly wave. The confines of the narrow provide an excellent view of the forested shoreline, and it wasn’t long before sharp-eyed Barb aboard Ajax spotted a moose browsing in the tall grass on the shoreline. The year’s first sighting for mother goose!
The weather deteriorated slightly as we left the narrows and turned east at Point Alexander into Sumner Strait. The clouds hung low and a breeze ran against the current, picking up a sharp chop that flecked the cabin windows with salt spray. A sodden group of kayakers in bright red rain gear hugged the shoreline, paddling west towards Kuperanof Island with the wind at their backs. The breeze slowed gradually, and the surface was unruffled once more as we passed the accurately named Two-Tree Island and entered the passage between Vank and Sokolof Islands. Many of the islands and bays retain the names of the Russian explorers and hunters who were the first Europeans to settle this area in their quest for Sea Otter pelts. Their campaign was a successful one, and even today the Pacific coast’s Sea Otter population has yet to recover from the near extinction it experienced in the late 1800’s.
Heritage Harbor is just south of Wrangell’s city center, and the constant stream of small fishing boats loading and unloading at the seafood processing plant provides a source of interesting sights. Just a few minutes after we tied up to the pier, a bright purple jetboat from Breakaway Adventures rumbled up to the dock to take some of us to the Anan Bear Observatory.
Don and Kris from Aquila and David and Helen from Telita sat up front as the 800hp beast howled down Eastern Passage and through Blake Channel, covering the 40 miles to Anan in record time. We stepped off the bow of the boat and onto the boardwalk trail. Although the rain fell heavily at times, the tall trees above us protected us from the worst of the downpour. The trail curls around a shallow lagoon which teems with salmon and harbor seals at high tide. After a gorgeous half mile of gentle trail we arrived at the observatory, a deck perched above the roaring Anan creek, swollen to double its normal flow from the heavy rains. A fantastically fluffy young female black bear fished in the creek bottom and eagles swooped overhead. Glistening salmon launched themselves upstream against the raging torrent, the strong currents allowing only the fittest fish to return to their spawing grounds, ensuring the continuation of strong genetic lines.
As the day drew to a close, we made our way back to the boats, our guide Robbie shooing the occasional bear from our path as we walked. As we returned to the dock in Wrangell with visions of bears in our minds, rumors flew that hollywood actor Dennis Quaid was aboard a large yacht in the harbor. Only in Alaska!