As we approached the island beach at the end of a thirty mile day we aimed for the clear section just to the left of a large patch of rocks. But as we got closer the rocks began to move. Hundreds of seals lifted their heads on chubby necks and began to take notice as my kayak skidded onto the beach only twenty feet away. The nearer seals threw themselves down the beach at what would have been a breakneck pace had it not been for the fact they had to worm crawl and throw their massive bodies with appendages woefully ill designed for land. It was like watching a synchronized swimming routine as each seal was consecutively awoken by their neighbor heaving themselves into the ocean. The pups were slower, unable to throw their little sausage bodies quite as far in their worm crawl, but they weren’t near as slow as the heavy sleepers that awoke alone on the beach confused untill they saw me pulling myself from my kayak and desperately made their break down the beach. The seals now comfortable in their environment bobbed just off shore, hundreds of heads peeking out of the water as if timidly saying, “Hey, are you guys staying here? ‘Cause this is kind of our beach.” We found a perfect campsite in the trees above the beach that had a view of both sides of the island and the ocean that encircled it. The seals watched us closely unpack and move into the trees.
This morning we were awoken by a thudding that sounded like kayaks floating away. I got out of the tent and looked down to see our kayaks right where we left them surrounded by seals and humpback whales chucking themselves into the air just off the island, their bodies thudding as they re-entered the water in belly flop fashion. As Doug and I began moving around camp the seals hearing us once again became wary and have begun to send reconnaissance seals that swim over stare strait at our tent, their heads bobbing in the waves, then swim away.
Sailing to Juneau
On our last day into Juneau we had wind. It started slowly in the morning just light enough to lift the stray hairs that curled out of my dry top hood, but as we paddled on, the flat water started to ripple and we put up our sails. By 10 o’clock it was a steady 15 knots pushing at our backs and filling out our sails as if willing us to Juneau. By 11 o’clock it was a steady 20 knots straining in our sails coaxing us into surfing down waves. By noon it had risen to 25 knots ripping at our sails, pulling my curly wisps of hair strait, and tossing us into the waves like a bucking bronco. As we rounded Grand Island just before crossing the last stretch of Stephens Passage the wind still ripped at our sails but the waves that had been building on the large open passage before the island broke on it’s face leaving flat water in it’s lee. These were ideal sailing conditions. With a steady 25 knot wind and no wave troughs to slam through and steal our momentum we quickly sped to 7 – 8 knots, a speed that is respectable in a full-size sailboat. It was the best sailing we’ve had yet! We were excited about the prospect of sailing all the way to Juneau feeling almost like we deserved this windfall, but as always the moment you feel entitled to something is usually when it is taken away. And just before entering Gastineau Channel, where three other channels collide, their winds met, shook hands, and died leaving our sails limp and listlessly swaying in the calm air. We paddled the last ten miles to Juneau making a total of 32 miles for the day.