ALASKA: 2016 LEG 6 – TRACY ARM TO PETERSBURG | NW Explorations

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ALASKA: 2016 LEG 6 – TRACY ARM TO PETERSBURG

It is a little over 70 miles to Petersburg from Tracy Arm, and we set off early to cover the significant distance. A healthy ebb tide swept us swiftly over the moraine at the mouth of the fjord and south across broad Holkham Bay under the foot of the Sumdum Glacier. It was but a few minutes before the sharp obsidian fins of two enormous male Orcas cleaved the surface of the water ahead of us. We came to a stop with our hearts in our throats as they dipped below the surface. Would they hold their course and pass through the fleet or give us a wide berth?

With the rush of their exhalation they surfaced just in front of AnamCara and passed languidly among the boats, bearing steadily towards the entrance to Endicott Arm, perhaps on a mission to hunt the harbor seals that cruise its quiet waters. Three, four times they rose among us and then were gone as silently as they arrived. It is always a curious feeling to be in the presence of the predator that dominates 80% of the earth’s surface. They seem to project a clear, calm intelligence, a preternatural awareness of everything around them, and a vague and mysterious sense of menace. It is a real privilege to be able to share the seas with these magnificent creatures.

Farther south the coastline falls away into a misty blue green and the wide-open expanse of Frederick Sound spreads out in front of us. This is one of the world’s great hotspots for Humpback Whales, and almost immediately spouts erupt all around us. For the next two hours, flukes and shining black backs rise around us as the whales surface and dive, feeding in the rich waters. Mothers and calves swim in tight pairs, passing close by to us at times, the spray from their respirations speckling the windows. The show continues as we pass the wild and remote Five Finger Light and turn east and south towards the Leconte Glacier, Stikine River, and the little Norwegian fishing town of Petersburg.

The sun beats down on the wide new docks in the north harbor where we tie up, the top of the ramp dumping us right on to main street downtown. The town center is a compact few blocks of, labyrinthine hardware stores, restaurants, shops, and friendly no-frills bars where fishermen gather to celebrate good fishing, commiserate over a poor season, or just out-lie one another. In front of town fishing boats ply the waterfront on busy errands between the many fish processors. Sea lions and eagles feed and squabble animatedly on fish scraps. Petersburg sits at the northern end of Wrangell Narrows, a narrow 20-mile-long shortcut between Fredrick Sound and Sumner Strait, and the tide rushes through powerfully, bearing with it fishing boats, tug-and-toes, 400’ Alaska State Ferries, and tomorrow, the mother goose fleet on its way to Wrangell. For now, we enjoy the long warm evening and lingering sunset amongst the forested peaks.

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