June 12, 2016
We left Cordova amongst a flurry of small Salmon fishing boats rumbling out to net Sockeye on the Copper River. The fishing fleet turned south and the bustle soon dispersed and again we found ourselves alone in the majesty.
The history of this place is written on the walls, where great glaciers long since gone shaped the mountains and valleys, leaving enormous streaks of polished stone where millions of years not even the hardy spruce trees can grab hold. As soon as mountains form nature goes to work trying to beat them back into the earth, and nature evidently is not finished with this place however. Wind, rain, tides, snow, and enormous earthquakes continue to shape the land. The Good Friday Earthquake of 1964 is the second largest earthquake ever recorded and stands as the most recent example of change in the ever shifting landscape. Landslides scoured slopes, local tsunamis scraped clean low hills and shifting bedrock thrust the seafloor up more than thirty feet in several places. All of it adds so much to this place and travelling here by boat an incredible opportunity to be enshrouded within it.
As in SE Alaska, Humpback whales arrive here in great numbers to feed though the summer, recovering from their long winter fasts in the tropics and preparing for the next. Spouts along the shorelines betray their positions, and on occasion one of the massive beasts leaps free of the water, crashing down with a volcanic splash. We paused to watch one individual leap again and again, and had just prepared to move on when a group of Orca approached us from the other direction; an adult male with his huge dorsal fin knifing through the water, two females, and at least two small juveniles, who swam close by their mother’s sides, breathing frequently. It is an extremely exciting sight to see Orcas reproducing here in Prince William Sound. After the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989 the local orca population plummeted and has been slow to recover, so the birth of any young is a cause to celebrate.
The impacts of the spill, in which 11 million gallons of crude oil hemorrhaged into this Eden, have been long lasting and more complex than anyone could have anticipated. It is on all of our minds as we turn north and pass close to Bligh Island, where the tanker went aground 27 years ago.
Our anchorage is in Landlocked Bay, a well-protected cove on the Sound’s eastern edge. The complex geology has provided for the mariner an almost limitless supply of good anchorages here, and Landlocked Bay does not disappoint. Waterfalls drain the snowfields above, spruce forest and muskeg peatlands ring the bay, and it its head sweet clear streams meet the bay in a wide grassy meadow, where we find fresh Brown Bear scat, gorgeous, wildflowers. The wild berries need about a week until they ripen, but when they do, the bears will move into the forests to gorge on fruit until the salmon arrive.
The evening is warm, short sleeve weather, and Ajax hosts the whole fleet for an excellent potluck dinner. The quality and variety of dishes is always surprising, and the bar was nudged even higher by tonight’s ad hoc menu!