Today was a day for mariners. Yes, we had some fun wildlife, including our first harbor porpoises of the trip, but mostly the day was about Wrangell Narrows. This long passage separates Mitkof and Kuprenof Islands, and it is decidedly narrow. So narrow, in fact, that the Coast Guard has placed a bewildering array of over 70 cans, nuns, bell buoys, day marks, and range marks, to keep the boats off the rocks and out of the mud. Were this not enough challenge to engage a sailor’s attention, there is also the fact that an Alaska state ferry might be sailing in the other direction. A tug towing barges of containers around Southeast Alaska might be overtaking from astern. And, of course, on yet another bluebird Summer day, anyone with free time, a fishing pole, and a boat bigger than 16’ was out trolling for salmon in the middle of the channel. Navigating Wrangell Narrows is a challenge any mariner might feel proud to accomplish.
When we entered the Narrows, we found ourselves astern of the Alaska State Trooper’s vessel Enforcer. This may have helped keep the salmon trollers orderly, but it kept all of us on our toes. Jody acted as navigator on Grand Adventure. She had her finger on the paper chart marking every buoy she passed so she always knew exactly where we were. A human chart plotter! Very old-school and highly effective.
As we passed the freight terminal south of town, Captain Jordan told tales of his tugboat days when he barged fish from Petersburg down to Seattle. Tiny Petersburg is one of the top 15 ports in the United States for the dollar volume of its fish catch, and all the frozen fish heads south through Wrangell Narrows in refrigerated containers. Jordan explained how plugging in power to 300 (!) containers per barge made shore power for the Mother Goose fleet seem easy.
As we approached the ferry dock, Noel told the fleet how an Alaska ferry lost control in Wrangell Narrows currents and crashed into one of Petersburg’s fish processing plants right on the water’s edge. No such mishaps for our fleet; all our mariners did a top-notch job on a significant boating challenge. Their reward was an ice cream cone or a beer, as personal preferences dictated, in the lovely Norwegian-American town of Petersburg.