Sheets of heavy rain this morning as the fleet arose to a dramatic and beautiful morning on the docks at Petersburg. Despite the rain, five intrepid members of the crews of Telita, Ajax, and Deception slipped into their boots and foul weather gear and braved the rain to cross the channel to the state dock on Kupreanof Island and the Petersburg Creek loop trailhead.
Southeast Alaska is beautiful on sunny days, but its true character becomes most apparent when the fog rolls in and the rain pounds down. The trail, a lovely path looping across the lower slopes of Narrows Peak, led us through ancient stands of Sitka Spruce and Hemlock which towered over shoulder high wild blueberry bushes laden with fruit. At times, the forest gave way to muskeg, the moss laden wetlands of the north, with soil too acidic to support much beyond a few specialized plants and the occasional gnarled hemlock. Much of the trail passes over raised wooden boardwalk, and everywhere we went flowing water cascaded through the forest, rivulets gurgled under out feet and disappearing into the moss. Gem-like droplets clung sparkling from every leaf and branch and ravens sat quorking through the mist from sheltering tree tops. We returned to the dinghy as the rain lifted, and harbor seals and seagulls bobbed in the current on our way back to port.
We decided to leave sleepy Petersburg behind at midday and cruise across to Thomas Bay, a deep inlet ending at the foot of Baird Glacier. About an hour outside of Petersburg as we passed by the diminutive Sukoi Islands, we spot a solitary male Orca. Greg the naturalist surmises that he is a member of the transient class of killer whale, small groups which ranges over wide areas of ocean and specialize in hunting other marine mammals. After three quick sightings he submerges and vanishes- a quick snapshot of the world’s greatest predator.
Turning the corner into Thomas Bay a flock of nearly 7000 scoters lines the low-tide shoreline. In groups they begin to take flight and form into neat lines, silently shooting over our bows like avian warning shots.
The slopes falling into Thomas Bay are sheer, and the depth sounder reads 600’ just 100yds from shore. Baird Glacier slips in to view at the head of the valley. A former tidewater glacier, Baird now sits back a half mile or more from the water’s edge. Vast mudflats stretch from the waterline to the base of the ice, and sedges and willows find footing and provide perches for songbirds which flit among the branches.
All the recent rain has overwhelmed the soil’s ability to absorb and the excess moisture has nowhere to do but down. Waterfalls arc out from the precipitous rock walls above us, crashing into the calm waters as we look for an anchorage at the protected cove south of Ruth Island. With the hooks set, mist again closes in and rain beats down, mingling with the sound of the falling water.