The current tugged ever so gently at our mooring lines this morning as if imploring us to cast off. We heeded it’s call and by seven o’clock found ourselves whisked briskly along by the rising tide. Wrangell Narrows was first charted by George Vancouver as an inhospitable mudflat, but has since been dredged out first by enterprising fishermen and soon after by the coast guard, who not maintain the more than 70 navigational aids that mark its many twists and turns. Today, with clear weather, slow currents, and little opposing vessel traffic the Narrows is merely an interesting passage with gorgeous scenery to boot. It can easily display a meaner side however, and anyone who traverses it regularly can tell tales of thick fog, unpredictable tide rips, and the disconcerting games of chicken that can take place when a passenger ferry and tug and barge meet head on in a narrow channel.
Soon enough, we are spit out of the southern end of the narrows by the current and find ourselves in the wide calm waters of Sumner Strait, where we turn east and make our way to Wrangell, where we tie up to the docks in quiet Heritage Harbor. Wrangell is a subdued, remote community, and a stroll through town on this Sunday Afternoon reveals glimpses of small town life that Norman Rockwell couldn’t have painted any prettier.
The crews of Hele Mai and Anamcara are met on the docks by local outfitter Breakaway Adventures for a trip to the Anan Creek Bear Observatory, 30 miles shout of town. Their transportation is a stout shallow-draft aluminum jet boat, capable of rocketing up the shallow waters of the Stikine River all the way to Canada. Their trip to see bears does not disappoint, and from the open observation platform above the rapids they are able to watch tens of Brown and Black bears fishing, fighting, playing, and nursing under trees that sag with the weight of the Bald Eagles who gather to gorge on the scraps. The bears are intent on the bounty of salmon and pay no attention to the people who gather to watch them, which makes for a fascinating opportunity to closely observe these powerful creatures.
Those of us who stay in Wrangell take our dinghies five minutes up the coast to the downtown docks, where we set out to explore Petroglyph Beach or climb the boardwalk trail to the top of Mount Dewey, where John Muir once famously enjoyed the “best campfire of his life”.
A quick tour to the island in the middle of the Harbor takes us to Shakes Island, where an exquisite reconstruction of a traditional Tlingit Longhouse and its associate totem poles serves as cultural center for the Stikine Tlingit Band, whose hereditary chief Kah Shakes commanded the most powerful Tlingit band in Southeast Alaska.