Wow, we finally were able to leave Ketchikan on Friday morning, and we sailed out of town at 6 to 7 knots. It was sweet! We sailed out the Tongass Narrows to Clarence Strait. When we got to the strait the low clouds obscured the tip of the Cleveland Peninsula, but we had 3 or 4 miles of visibility, so we took a compass bearing and started sailing across. The wind was still blowing from the south, but there were 2 to 3 foot waves heading northeast up Behm Canal, making it a bumpy ride. Even so, we sailed across without having to paddle. As we entered Clarence Strait the wind started to drop, but the waves kept on rolling in, lifting up the back of our boats and quickly setting us down in the troughs. It wasn’t rough, but I already had a headache, and the quick up and down acceleration started to wear on me. As soon as we got close to shore we pulled over to stretch and eat some food, hoping my headache would go away. We sat on a log for a few minutes, but the beach our boats were sitting on was less than ideal, and the tide was quickly going out. We got back in the boats to see how I would feel. After just a few minutes my head started to pound again, so we looked for a good beach where we could stop for a few hours and see if my headache would go away. We rounded False Island and found a decent stone beach and pulled over.
We sat on the beach in the rain for an hour. My headache wasn’t going anywhere, and it was getting cold just sitting in the rain, so we decided to setup camp. We weren’t really thrilled with the beach because there were lots of piles of bear scat. Bears were clearly digging through the high tide line looking for food earlier in the day, which probably meant they weren’t finding a lot of other food to eat. Even so, we put up the tarp and flattened out a tent pad under a giant spruce at the top of the beach. After unloading our boats and making dinner, we peeled off our soaking wet “dry” gear and crawled in the tent. The first night out of town, away from the endless buzzing of seaplanes, was beautiful. I would easily accept the rain and cold for the solid 10 hours of sleep I got on the beach.
When we woke up at 5:15 we were still tired, but my headache was gone. I crawled out of the tent and dropped our food bags from the bear hang. As I was making coffee I looked up to see a lone kayaker silently paddling past the beach. This was the first touring kayaker we saw in 900 miles of paddling. I whistled and tried to get his attention, but he was pushing hard through the rolling waves and wind and he didn’t see or hear me. He was already on the water, and we were barely out of bed. I finished making coffee and crawled back in the tent out of the rain to leisurely absorb my daily dose of caffeine. We wondered if the kayaker was the customs agent we talked to in Ketchikan, and thought we might run into him later, but we never saw him again.
As we were loading the boats a family of humpback whales swam past our bay, surfacing one after the other, with 1 or 2 whales arching their tails into the air to show us their flukes every other breath. It was a nice diversion from hauling our heavy, wet gear to the water. By the time we got on the water the wind had dropped a little, but it was still blowing from the northwest. We tried to paddle sail into the wind for a while, but then the wind died altogether. They were forecasting south winds in the afternoon, and we wanted to leave up our sails, but decided to drop them to paddle through the glassy water. Throughout the day we passed beautiful stone beaches that would make great campsites, and hoped maybe they were an indication of what the beaches would be like through this part of Alaska.
We stopped a few times during the day to rest and eat on a beach, a luxury we hadn’t had for a long time, but we thought if the wind picked up from the south we could make it to Meyers Chuck. Late in the afternoon the wind did start to blow, so we raised our sails for the last few miles.
We pulled into Meyers Chuck around 5:00, and tied up on the back side of the dock behind a beautiful, big trimaran from California. We chatted with the owners for a few minutes, then one of the residents walked down to the dock to tell us we could camp in her yard. She and her husband had purchased and renovated the old schoolhouse, where our guide book said we might be able to stay, so she looked out for kayakers to let them know the schoolhouse was no longer available, but there were some good places to pitch a tent. It was really nice. When we carried our gear up to shore it started to rain, so we moved onto the deck of one of the cabins to get out of the rain. Nobody was home, and we hoped they wouldn’t mind, but we really wanted a chance to dry some of our gear out.
We slept great in this quiet little community of cabins. We woke up early again to catch the current and wind. There was an outside chance we could make it the 28 miles to a forest service cabin at Frosty Bay. When we got on the water the wind and current were with us, so we rounded Lemesurier Point and made a beeline for Eaton Point, 10 miles away. It wasn’t a fast sail, so we paddle sailed downwind for most of the day. Motivated by a dry night in the cabin, we kept moving, gladly taking whatever help we could get from the wind. Eventually, we pulled into Frosty Bay and found the forest service cabin empty. It was unbelievably decadent to start the heater and cook our dinner indoors. These cabins don’t have electricity or running water, and have wooden bunks for beds, but they do have a diesel heater that makes them perfectly cozy.
We woke up early again, after a long nights sleep, and packed up our boats. We were only 36 miles from downtown Wrangell, so we were either going to have a short day if the wind was against us, or a long day if it was with us. The water was like glass as we headed across to the tip of Deer Island.
We could see swirls of current flooding around the end of the island, and we couldn’t tell how much the current was going to help or hurt us, but we made good time. After we passed Found Island the current started pushing us a bit, and it looked like we would have a chance to make it to Wrangell so we paddled steady. After about 9 hours of paddling we both decided we weren’t going to make it, but would probably
end up about 12 or so miles short on one of the islets off Wrangell Island.
We kept paddling, and as we rounded Nemo Point Katey remembered that we were going to call one of her friends to see if her parents were at their cabin in Wrangell. We were thrilled to find out that not only were her parents at their cabin, but that we were pretty close and it would be ok to stop and visit. We paddled on, and after 11 hours and 28 miles for the day we pulled up on the beach in front of their cabin. We were both beat, but Mark and Diana and their neighbors Steve and Ginny came down and helped us unload the boats and carry them up. Steve and Ginny had a spare bedroom they offered to us, and Mark and Diana made us dinner. It was so nice to not only be (almost) to Wrangell, but to be welcomed indoors for food, a comfortable bed, the company of dogs and an endless supply of entertaining stories. In fact, it was so nice we decided to take a couple days off and recover from our 4 day, 100 mile paddle from Ketchikan before continuing on to Petersburg just 30 miles away.