We took an extra day in Prince Rupert to finish running errands and rest up. After our trip from Shearwater to Prince Rupert we were pretty much out of our favorite foods, so we restocked our food canisters for the next leg. When we lay it all out on the dock it looks like a lot to eat:
This leg is around 112 miles and will take us 7 to 10 days depending on the weather, but we also have to travel up Chatham Sound and cross Dixon Entrance. Dixon Entrance is open to the swells and winds from the Pacific, and with the wrong conditions it can have huge seas that would keep us stuck on shore.
The first day out of Prince Rupert we had to wait for the tide so we would could make it out Venn Passage. The tide didn’t start to ebb until around 12:00, which meant that once we made it out the passage we would be in Chatham Sound with afternoon winds building. But we wouldn’t be able to fight the 3 knot flood current in Venn Passage, so we just had to take our chances with the winds. We left the Prince Rupert dock around 11:00 AM, and made it to Chatham Sound around 1:00 PM. Sure enough, as soon as we started to exit Venn Passage a west wind started to blow, and before long we had 2 to 3 foot waves sweeping in front of us, plus a low swell. The shoreline was beautiful, but rocks extended way offshore and there were huge kelp beds. We had to paddle way out around each point to avoid the rocks and crashing waves. When we headed west to get off the shore we could barely make progress, but when we turned north the tide helped push us along. Even so we knew we could only make a few miles so we started looking for a beach to land on.
We first tried to paddle up to a beach behind an island called Swamp Island. We should have realized based on the name that it wouldn’t be good. As we approached the beach we could see all the water between the shore and the island would dry at low tide, and while the beach looked ok, there would be an enormous muddy shore in the morning. We turned around and paddled back out against the wind and waves to check out the next beach.
We found a great beach just past the island, and landed easily without any real surf. It was stunning. It seems every time we stop we can’t believe how beautiful it is. There was a flat spot for the tent at the back of the beach, and a breathtaking view of the Sound.
During the night the wind started to blow. When I stepped out of the tent, it didn’t seem that bad, but gusts would careen in over the rocks every once in a while and push the tent into different shapes. The good news was that it was a south wind that would push us in the direction we wanted to go. The bad news was that it was blowing over 30 knots and gusting to 40, with 6 foot seas. We can travel in 20 to 25 knot winds if it hasn’t been blowing for too long, but 30 to 40 means a day in the tent, even if it is going our way. We kept poking our heads out to check the water, and although the wind started dropping in the afternoon, the waves remained too big to go out. We watched rain clouds pass over, and a new front move in.
We considered leaving as late as 4 or 5 in the afternoon, when the wind was down to 10 or 15, but even then it looked like it would be a rough ride, so we called it a day and hoped we would still have our wind in the morning.
When we got up the next morning the wind had shifted to a west wind, but we were still hopeful we could sail once we made it around the point. We headed out and within an hour we were paddle sailing along at 3 to 4 knots. The wind held all day and we paddled and sailed 23 miles up to one of the most beautiful campsites we have found. As we approached Boston Islands we saw Humpback whales feeding in the channel between Boston island and Wales Island. We watched the whales for a while in the rain then paddled to a small sand beach. The beach crossed over the island to a small cove, and as I walked over the beach looking for a tent site a Humpback rolled between the cliffs, showing me his flukes. The tent site was at the top of the beach, and we could look out the back of the tent to the cove, or the front of the tent to the channel, watching whales in both directions. We’ve camped in a lot of cool places, but this was the coolest so far for me.
The next day we needed to get some water before getting too far, so we paddled over to Whales Island and found a creek to fill up all our dromedary bags and water bottles. It was a beautiful day, and already a little hot. We headed out past Proctor Islands and crossed the border back into the United States. It felt like we were making some real progress now that we were back in Alaska. Although it is an imaginary line we crossed, everything felt a little different. There were two fishing boats off Sitklan Island, motoring around, but not really looking like they were fishing. We wondered if they were actually monitoring the border we just crossed. The Customs office was still over 60 miles away in Ketchikan. One of the fishing boats motored over to us as we approached Lincoln Channel, and chatted for a few minutes, but the wind was blowing harder and harder in our face as if it was trying to blow us back to Canada, and we had to push hard to make it around the point and into the Channel. By the time we got some protection from the wind we were beat and started looking for a place to get off the water. We wanted to get to Fox Island, but that was not going to happen for now. We paddled all the way up Lincoln Channel looking for a beach. We didn’t find anywhere to camp, so ended up going all the way to Tongass Island to another beautiful campsite at the back of a beach, looking out the Dixon Entrance. When we woke up in the night we were treated to a full moon reflecting off the water and casting shadows over the small
islands just offshore. We were both wide awake, and we probably should have packed up and started paddling around Fox Island and up Revillagihedo Channel, but we went back to sleep.
When we left Tongass Island the wind was already blowing strong from the north, but the water was flat and we were able to sail on a beam reach at 6 knots until we got about half way across Nakat Bay, where we lost the wind all together. We paddled the remaining few miles to Fox Island. When we passed between Fox Island and Cape Fox, we hit the wind head on blowing out of the west northwest, and at 9:00 AM the waves were already a couple feet on top of low swells. We decided to try and tack offshore to see if we could make our way around Tree Point, where we might be able to sail close to our course. After a few minutes beating against the wind and into the waves we decided it wouldn’t be fun, so we turned and sailed downwind back to Fox Island to try again the next day. There are big beaches on Cape Fox, but we chose a small stone beach on the Island that had an old tent site carved into the woods at the top of a natural stone passageway that created a secret entrance just above the tide line.
We had the whole day to rest, eat, and read. Fishing boats came in and out through the day to offload their catch onto a larger boat anchored off the Island. A number of fishing boats came in to anchor for the night around 9:00 PM, and they were all gone when we woke up at 5:30 AM (we were supposed to get up at 3:30, but my watch fell off our gear net at the top of the tent, and I rolled over on top of it so we didn’t hear the alarm—either that or Katey put it there after I fell asleep so she wouldn’t have to get up).
We got on the water as soon as we could, around 7:45, with no idea how far we would get before the wind started to blow again. The forecast was the same as the last couple days, and the next few days, 20 to 25 knots of wind from the northwest. When we started it was calm, so we planned to paddle hard until the wind came up. There was a string of fishing boats with nets all the way up the coast. We wanted to cut across the bays, and stay out from the rocks where the swells were crashing, so we passed close to some of the boats. As we passed one boat, the fisherman hollered something at us, so I turned around to see what he said. We were surprised when he told us the Canadian Coast Guard had broadcast a notice a couple days ago looking for two kayakers that matched our description. We pulled out our VHF and called the US Coast Guard to make sure nobody was actually looking for us. We were still on track to arrive on schedule, and we hadn’t had any problems, but our Spot Messenger had not sent an update when we were on Boston Island (although it showed the message was sent successfully). We only use the check-in messages of the Spot to update our blog with our location, and so we will have a complete record of all our campsites. If it stops working, or we lose it, or we forget to do it, or it is flaky (which it is) it doesn’t mean we have a problem. If we have a real problem we are both capable of using one of our other many forms of communication to reach help. We figure that the fishing boat we talked to off Sitklan Island was probably checking on us and reported that we were fine, but every boat in the region had heard the broadcasts.
After talking to the Coast Guard we paddled, and paddled, along with the current, to continue north. The wind never did come up. Go figure. The day before it was nasty by 9:00 AM. We paddled until 1:00 PM and made it past Foggy Bay in sunshine and low swells.
As we were debating whether to continue to the next campsite the wind started to blow from the south. We set our sails and were able to sail the last 3 miles to a sand beach with developed tent sites near Kah Shakes Cove. We traveled more than 22 miles and were done in the early afternoon. We probably could have tried to continue on to a forest service cabin, but we didn’t know if the wind would hold out. We were glad we stopped. The beach was perfect to play an endless game of ball with Lil’ Bit and stuff ourselves with burritos. I also took the opportunity to paddle over to a creek to filter more water.
When we left the next day we could either go 13 miles to the cabin, or 19 miles to a campsite mentioned by someone else who paddled the Inside Passage a couple years ago. The water was flat so we took off our sail kits and started paddling to see where we would end up. After the first hour the wind started to blow again from the south. We put our sails back up and saw that we could easily sail across the opening of the Behm Canal toward the campsite now 15 miles away. We had a ripping beam reach in moderate waves, and made 4 to 6 knots. We were miles from shore, but it was a fun sail. It was nice to know we were going to make it far enough that we could make Ketchikan the next day.
As we approached what we thought was the campsite we were still sailing fast with about 20 knots of wind on our backs. We entered a narrow channel where we thought the beach was located but we quickly passed the entire length without seeing a landing. We realized the campsite may have been in the previous bay. Our only option was to continue on or try to sail back up around the outside of the island that created the channel we just sailed down (it was too narrow and windy to sail back up the channel). We decided to try and go back upwind but as we rounded the corner of the island the current was too strong to make progress so we had to fall off and sail on. We kept watching for beaches and found a beach inside Coho Cove with g
ood protection, a few miles on. We were tired and glad to get off the water. The wind may have blown us all the way into Ketchikan, but it would have been another 13 miles and we figured that would be too long in the boats for the day. We had a great evening on the beach, but I setup the tent in a site that had been cleared by someone before us and it was far from level. It was like sleeping on the back of a giant turtle.
We slept poorly, and when I woke up at 4:30 I was happy to crawl out of the tent to make coffee. Katey wasn’t feeling great and I had to drag her out of bed, but we still got on the water by 6:50 AM (actually, Katey has become closer to a morning person after battling the afternoon winds).
We were paddling for Ketchikan, and had the current with us the whole way by leaving early. We put on our audio books and paddled in another day of sunshine. We made good time, and were entering Tongass Narrows by 10:00 AM. It was a little bizarre. There were 5 cruise ships in town, and as we got close there was a swarm of float planes, charter boats, and even snorkelers. We hadn’t seen this many people since we left Nanaimo. Even Prince Rupert seemed like a quiet town compared to the activity in Ketchikan. We found out later that during the Summer around 8000 people a day appear in Ketchikan on the cruise ships. They all pour out of the boats to explore the town and take tours, then move on to the next port.
When we paddled into the harbor at Ketchikan we had to clear customs. Even though we crossed the border days ago, we weren’t officially into the US until we cleared customs. We called the Ketchikan Customs office from Prince Rupert and told them it would take 7 to 10 days to get to Ketchikan, and they took our information and told us to call them again when we arrived. It took us 8 days. When we called in Prince Rupert, 2 officers came down, one to clear us, and one to talk to us about our kayaking trip. They were both really nice. The kayaker was planning to paddle the same direction we were going on his 3 week vacation that was coming up. He told us that we were the 10th kayakers this year who were paddling north (they don’t see the people paddling south). It is hard to believe that maybe 18 other people (if you assume the same number going south) are willing to put themselves through the pain of paddling this far. We absolutely love this trip, and haven’t felt even once that it wasn’t worth it, but it is pretty darn hard. My first trip to Alaska was a 5 month, 6500 mile, solo bicycle tour from Florida to Alaska. That was easy compared to this.
We pulled the boats up on the dock in the Marina and headed to a hotel to catch up on our sleep and resupply our bellies. We plan to leave for Wrangell on Sunday.