June 24, 2016

A cool calm morning today as we picked our way around the narrow dogleg at the entrance to Beartrap Bay and steered southwest across Port Gravina and then north into the open center of Prince William Sound where a gentle following sea pushed us along at a good clip. The high cloud cover allowed us glimpses south towards Hitchenbrook Island and past into the open Gulf of Alaska, as well as east to Naked Island and out towards Whittier.

At midmorning we passed by Bligh Reef, the somber site where Exxon Valdez went aground 27 years ago. Although the impacts of the tragic spill are still playing out in both the ecology of the area and the psyche of the local population, the recovery has been encouraging. Over 20,000 gallons of raw petroleum is estimated to still remain below the surface in the rocky beaches of the sound and sticky tar balls of rotten oil still wash up on occasion, but on the surface it least, there are no obvious signs remaining of the havoc the still wrought here. As if to punctuate this thought, we were joined by a boisterous group of Dall’s Porpoise who surfed and frolicked on our bow waves for more than 10 minutes as we drew away from Bligh Reef.

The porpoise departed as Glacier Island began to grow in our windshields, and drift ice disgorged by the far away Columbia Glacier began to slide by to port and starboard. The ice melts rapidly as the winds and tides draw it away from the glacier and the pieces take on shapes that could fit easily into any modern art museum. Delicate abstracted swans and ducks bob in our wake and mingle with strange geometric forms that seem to transform as we pass by. We dodge our way through and into Growler Bay, named for the washing machine sized ice chunks that find their way inside.

Anchoring near the head in a light rain shower, we don our raincoats and head up to explore the delicate moss-laden bogs that drape the hillsides above the bay. Shallow ponds dotted with lily pads and ringed by heathers and heath. White orchids grow alongside blue iris and the diminutive and insectivorous sundew. The tiny and ornate flowers, mosses, lichens, and stunted trees which abound here are a botanist’s dream, and without question beautiful for the layperson as well.

In the later afternoon some of us set out to explore the bay by kayak and dinghy. The crew of Hele Mai came aboard Deception for a lovely meal of salmon and halibut. We slept easily with the sound of raindrops now and then pattering on the cabin top.

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