ALASKA 2016 Leg 7: Gordon Cove to Crescent Inlet | NW Explorations


ALASKA 2016 Leg 7: Gordon Cove to Crescent Inlet

The path from Gordon Cove led us back out past the ruins of long abandoned canneries past shoaling waters where salmon leap and huge flocks of gulls wheel above rock reefs. A turn to starboard puts us in Carmichael Passage, which runs south from Cumshewa Inlet between Moresby and Louise Islands. It provides a protected and beautiful route to the Gwaii Haanas protected area. At a constricted neck where the islands nearly come together, an extremely narrow and shallow channel has been dredged through what was once a drying flat to make the passage navigable.

The tide, which can reach nearly 30’ in range on these islands, can generate some truly nasty currents in Louise Narrows at a full ebb or flood. We have calculated our arrival to avoid the fastest flowing waters, and are please to find only a couple of knots of current flowing north against us. Deception leads the flotilla into the mouth of the channel in a single file line, bumping our engines in and out of gear, finding the delicate balance between maintaining steerage and not outstripping out ability to navigate precisely into the deepest possible water. The water in the narrows is clear and calm, which affords us a perfect view of the mussel beds, crab and starfish passing by at times only two feet beneath our keels. Kingfishers dart noisily between our stern and the bow of the boat behind, perching on the barnacle clad pilings that demark the limits of the channel, nearly within arm’s reach of our gunnels. The dark-bodies of salmon darted past us, riding the current in the opposite direction as we cleared the day beacon at the channel’s southern end and moved into the relative safety of water where our fathometers read in the double-digits.

The flooded glacial valleys of Selwyn Inlet lay before us, their steep sides bearing the marks of heavy commercial timber harvest. Vast stretches of mountainside clear cut in the last half century are covered with low shrubby forest of uniform height. Doghair stands of spruce and hemlock root into the rocky soil, and bands of light green alders grow in horizontal stripes out of the beds of abandoned haul roads. All along the channels huge landslides have swept down into the water where unmaintained roads have given way, carrying tangles of stumps, saplings, and abandoned steel cable; the consequence of the poorly managed slash-and-burn free for all of the 1970s that led to a homegrown Haida resistance to all out clearcutting, and eventually to the formation of the Reserve and the implementation of much stricter controls within the Haida Gwaii timber industry.

Our anchorage for the night, Crescent Inlet, lies just on the northern boundary of the Gwaii Haanas reserve, and at its southern tip a healthy salmon stream flows quietly through monumental stands of old growth spruce. The stream continues out through a grassy marsh where ducklings paddle hurriedly behind their mothers, their flight feathers beginning to displace their down.

A huge dorsal fin slices through the water between our anchored boats, and schools of Pink salmon leap frantically in the shallows. At first glance we assume it is an orca, what else is that big and fast around here? Another look however, reveals that the skin of this creature is silver grey and streaked with scars, not the stark black and white of the Orca. Another look gives us a quick view of its blunted head and long sleek body. A Risso’s Dolphin! This is truly a rare sighting of a creature more typically seen in the deep waters near the continental shelf. The lone dolphin spends about half an hour hunting in the inlet before slowly meandering elsewhere, probably in search of dessert.

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