ALASKA 2016: Leg 7 – Forward Harbour to Squirrel Cove | NW Explorations
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ALASKA 2016: Leg 7 – Forward Harbour to Squirrel Cove

Today is a day of rapids. From Forward Harbour to Squirrel Cove, we must negotiate no less than four sets of tidal rapids. Formed when the flooding of ebbing tide reaches a bottleneck, the large tidal range and complex bathymetry of this region can generate whitewater to rival the wildest river. Current speeds in excess of 14 knots at some of the rapids are not unheard of, and enormous standing waves and whirlpools are commonplace. Unlike a river, however, the rapid here come and go on a regular schedule, disappearing entirely for a short time twice a day during slack water. In this way they act a giant natural stoplight for marine traffic. and assemblages of yachts, tugs, supply ships and more often congregate above and below the rapids waiting for an opportunity to dash through.

Whirlpool Rapids is the first rapid of the day, just outside the mouth of Forward Harbour. With our departure dictated by slack water, we get underway around ten o’clock and coast over a glassy calm where only minutes ago Whirlpool Rapids did all it could to earn its name. From there we once more plied the waters of Johnstone Strait, bending south around the wind-battered lighthouse at Chatham Point before entering Okisollo Channel, where a series of three large rapids stood between us and the invitingly named Calm Channel. Tough little tour boats loaded with poncho wrapped tourists screamed past us towards the rapids, currently running at over nine knots. Lacking both ponchos and hte ability to go 35 knots, we opted instead to drop anchor in a scenic bay above the rapids and enjoy a late lunch in the warm sunshine.

By late afternoon, the current had subsided enough for us to pass, and we nosed out into the stream, where boils of water and small whirlpools still swirled around us. After lower and upper Okisollo Rapids we loitered at the narrow entrance to Hole-in-the-Wall Rapid to allow oncoming traffic through. A few Orca surfed passed us, heading south passed teh Octopus Islands and on towards Surge Narrows, clearly enjoying the ride as much as we were!

Once through Hole-in-the-Wall without incident, we entered Calm Channel and turned south towards Desolation Sound and Squirrel Cove. Sarah Brooks, the 55′ Fleming ranged ahead and called back a few minutes later to report that they had stumbled on a group of Orca just off the Rendezvous Islands! No fewer than seven adult and three juvenile orca plied the waters close to shore as we cruised past, they swam unconcernedly, rising and breathing in unison, the vapor of their respiration hung in the air, shining in the evening sunshine. The orcas precipitated what was to be a lovely calm cruise down Calm Channel as the sun set and the hillsides became cloaked in the blue-grey of evening.

We turned the point and entered the protected confines of Squirrel Cove just as darkness fell, finding anchorage among the anchor lights of quiet sailboats.

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