Fish or Die
Jupiter completes her exploration of Prince of Wales Island at Craig, the principal pelagic settlement. The town has a fish-or-die feel with twin harbors crowded with idle vessels and idle deckhands, game to gather any species at any time the Alaska Fishery sets an opening.
“On a foggy afternoon in 1982 the Investor, a salmon fishing vessel was engulfed in flames near the tiny village of Craig, Alaska. All efforts to stop the blaze were repulsed by the heat and fury of the fire – until the blaze had run its course. Eight people, including a pregnant woman and two small children, were missing”Blurb from Leland Hale’s true crime thriller, What Happened in Craig, Alaska’s Worst Unsolved Mass Murder
Today Craig seems too peaceful and untenanted to resurrect its tough, dope-dealing, gangland past, but scaly rages may still lurk.
Rushing into Russian Waters
With human settlements in our wake we shape a course towards Russian America and Baranof Island, eponymous for Aleksandr Andrevich Baranov manager of the Russian American (Fur) Company and Governor of Russian America from 1790 until 1818.
Baranof, the great western Island, appears on charts like an ancient canoe paddle broken evermore into splintered fiords and inlets. Her many steep and snowy mountains emerge, from afar, like a troop of Cossacks seated upon coniferous benchmarks, dysphoric of visitors.
Baranof Island and Jupiter’s sea-route to join her coast, is guarded by the broad Pacific Ocean, heaving with great ground seas thrown up by bygone storms in the distant west. It is said that weather and the waves here originate in Russia and one can imagine those disturbed lands beyond the horizon.
Jupiter’s way is to avoid troubled waters. We follow protection of the land until we must wade into exposed ocean. We plan to stopover two nights inside protected anchorages on outlying islands – stepping stones to narrow the gap before the requisite leap.
Yawning Warren Cove on Warren Island charts protection on the east side but the elastic western groundswell enwraps the island and refracts back into the harbor. Keeping food on plates and bedding on bunks becomes the evening’s rolling sport.
Next day, long and narrow Egg Harbor on Coronation Island appears more restful but entering the inlet finds Jupiter bowing and praying to the turbulent standing waves at the entry bar.
A mile past the breakers we reach a watery accord with the weather.
Egg Harbor, lined with limestone caves, is an historic rendezvous site for indigenous canoe navies out to collect birds eggs at the tiny Hazy Islands ten sea miles distant.
Late in the evening we are joined by a small sloop smartly handled onto her anchor. Smoke from her wood-burning stove soon warms the scene. This is the last vessel we see for a week.
Binnacle to Pinnacle
A fair forecast compels an early departure from Egg Harbor, and we point Jupiter along twenty-five sea miles to Cape Ommaney at the tip of Baranof Island’s paddle. Rain squalls begin to dampen the seaway.
At noon Jupiter’s canorous navigator, Simon Garminfunkel leads us reliably to a small inlet appearing remarkably like a cat on the chart.
Motoring slowly past the entrance island, awash with determined rollers, we meet dozens of hirsute sea-otters – mothers with kittens, and others holding hands like old friends, bobbing sunny-side-up, eating and grooming within a welter of kelp.
Anchor down within cozy Cat’s Head Cove we find ourselves intimate with the mysterious mountain demesne. Only a collapsing cascade nearby interrupts the silence. Words, like silent raindrops fall.
During the night the boat scarcely swings, unmoving above her heap of heavy chain. The waterfall and rainfall continue and soon we are awash in a plunge pool of sleep.
Pox and Passes
Weather warnings forecast large western seas and we think it wise to withdraw from this anchorage idyll before breakers overwhelm the egress.
Cat’s Head anchorage provides an opportunity to examine inspiration for totems.
Standing one reflection on-end reveals to us Kneeling Mother
Coasting northwestward we find protection within anchorages that connect up with a smooth water route, looking for fun and feeling the groove of the narrow passes.
Here the mountains appear to have disbursed themselves, slip sliding away into the sea, fashioning scattered islands, and a pox of rocks seen and unseen. Prudent mariners navigate this maze warily and it shakes our confidence daily.
Watch kept from the bridge over troubled waters.
Jupiter passes through three constrictions in the following days: Second Narrows, First Narrows and Dorothy Narrows. The entrance into an anchorage near First Narrows is deep but compromised by a great mid-channel stone pile. We anchor in seven fathoms in what lee we find inside our island enclave, and all we have to do is dream.
The depth of silence that pervade each of these tranquil anchorages is unplumbed. Stillness displaces action in both body and spirit with an acute awareness exceeding everyday observation. The slightest movement in air, sea or shore alert the quiet watcher of life beyond the boat.
We are lonely together, content, remote from our own species yet keenly conscious of the otherworld. Even in the rain and fog, sights echo vividly in the sounds of silence. Every solitary sense is settled and stoked simultaneously.
The weather deteriorates further justifying posted gale warnings. Extremely high and low tides, the range reaching fifteen feet is managed by the full and super moon with dramatic effect.