The route south to Wrangell is a torturous pilotage exercise – untangling the Wrangell Narrows. The channel is a well marked and charted, but rarely seen passage between Kupreanof and Mitkof Islands.
Jupiter is deep into shallow Russian waters.
This is our third transit of the Narrows and, as on previous passages, the channel is blurred in mist. Tattered cloud sags into grey waters depressed by passing rain squalls, then arises again to haunt the moss-hung shore forests.
We once flew the length of this passage in a floatplane, and studied the narrowness of the channel and the shallowness of the flats and bars that border it. From the pilot house the multi-dimensional prospect is invisible, but remembered.
The greater view today remains a secret, as we find our cautious way between the oncoming day-marks and buoys that materialize from the luminous gloom.
Heading south red marks are to port, greens to starboard. Most do double duty: once as traffic wardens, twice as roosts for gulls and angling eagles.
Currents driven by tidal exchanges of twenty feet in the irregular waterway can set a vessel awkwardly off course.Like several passages in Southeastern Alaska, this channel has a submarine summit where tides from north and south meet. The preferred way to navigate the Narrows is to plan departure from either end to arrive at the summit near Papke’s Landing at high slack tide. This affords the well-timed vessel a push uphill and an aqua-slide down the other side.
Jupiter rides the flood up and the ebb down.
A captivating hand-illustrated flip-book gives landmarks and headings for each of the 46 turns in this 21 mile slalom. Colored in pastel pencil, its palette yet seems bright against the tapestry of grey-green outside.
The names of shoreside landmarks chill the old bones of forerunning mariners: Blind Slough, Spike Rock, Boulder Point, Danger Point, Point Humbug, Blind Island and Deception Point.
Early Wrecks in Wrangle Narrows
1865: The Steamer Corona runs aground and is stranded.
1889: The Steamer City of Topeka goes on the rocks during the evening sustaining three holes in the bow.
1913: The Steamer Cordova is grounded.
1919: The Passenger Liner Northwestern is grounded.
1920: The Steamer Admiral departs Petersburg. A passenger goes berserk with his gun firing shots into the smoking salon and wounding 7 people. Reportedly he was never found. It was assumed he jumped overboard.
1945: The Steamer Aleutian runs aground.
It is easy to disregard the ubiquitous when observing lucullan environs. Gulls are our constant companions, present in myriad species, often intermixed in flocks. Each species has at least three plumages; costume changes determined by age, wear, and season. Given their propensity to hybridize, the identification puzzle becomes complex.
In every configuration they entertain us with their raucous complaining, puerile behavior, and inability to remain stationary, leading the eye of the observer from place to place until some greater theatre diverts the watcher from the common gull.