June 25, 2016
Anchor chain rattled down the hawse pipe into its locker and engines coughed to life as we got underway this morning bound east for Coghill Anchorage and College Fjord. West of Axel Lind Island a pair of Humpback whales caught our attention as they fed and lounged at the surface, slapping their graceful fifteen foot flippers down into the water in long arcs. These whales seemed more intent on feeding than putting on a show, an understandable preference given that they fast over the long winter as they migrate to and from the tropics to mate and give birth, and need to take advantage of every moment they spend up here to regain their strength before heading south again. We leave them to their meal and press on towards the narrows at Esther Passage.
Esther Passage provides a convenient and beautiful back route into College Fjord and shaves about 15 miles off of our day. The glacier-cut slopes of Esther Island and the mainland opposite are well shaded and still shelter rapidly melting snowbanks in the lowlands, which combined with the considerable melt from higher up feed raging streams which evidently offer good spawning habitat for chum and sockeye salmon, which we see leaping all around us.
Another hour or so finds us in Coghill anchorage, which is a south facing bight in low country within the wide confines of College Fjord. High mountain spines run up both sides of the fjord and glaciers can be seen on every point of the compass. We plunge into the dense rain forest to explore the lush mossy understory. We find that the salmonberries are ripening up nicely and some are already juicy and sweet, while the blueberries could probably use another week. Everyone performs admirably on the rough trail (a word used rather loosely in Alaska), especially Doc Colburn, the extremely lively 91-year-old retired Kentucky country doctor and patriarch of the Colburn family who are aboard Ajax. The high tide has swallowed up the small beach where we left the dinghies on our return and we clamber over the rocks and into the boats, happy to be heading in for a potluck dinner aboard Deception and Ajax.
A trio of special guests made our dinner all the more noteworthy; US Forest Service Rangers Tim and Barbara Lydon and their adorable infant daughter Stella join us for the meal and to tell us a little about the incredible 2 million acre Nellie Juan-College Fiord Wilderness Study Area which encompasses much of the area of western Prince William Sound. Tim led a fascinating discussion regarding the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification on the areas flora and fauna, and baby Stella instantly took a strong liking to Doc. It is always wonderful to have visitors and we hope to have them back in the future!