Back in Touch...
We have been traveling through wilderness places for about two weeks, now. Until somewhere in the middle of our last dangerous stretch of big water (known as the Dixon Entrance), we crossed over the boundary line of the U.S. border, again, and were finally in Alaska! Our long-time dream turned to reality. But there was no time for celebrations, just then, other than a very heart-felt, “Praise the Lord!”
Because we were on a time schedule relegated by the tide and winds, moving over a sea that could change from beauty to beast within minutes. We also had a gauntlet to run at the end, which we had no idea about. But it was better that way, since the added stress would have probably been too much at that point. Something about the Lord protecting us from more than we could handle at any given time. At any rate, he had us covered (thank you, God).
It was day two of the commercial salmon season. And while we were picking our way along the coast of many islands, moving in and out of fog patches, and praying the “chop” didn't get any higher than two-to-three feet before we could scurry back into another piece of the Inside Passage, again...there suddenly seemed to be fishing boats spread out from one end of the horizon to the other.
Trying to decide the least crowded place to slip past, we finally got close enough to see that those “blank spaces” were not blank—they were nearly two thousand feet of net spread out behind the back of each boat. So, there really were no blank spaces. Only narrow paths signified by bright orange balls (that disappeared into the chop if it was much over a foot) that one could only pass on the right. Should you fail to notice where that was, there were smaller runner boats that would zoom up in front of you, manned by one, or two crew-members hollering for you to turn back, or go around. And should you come close to actually crossing over the net, the air would turn blue as they clarified themselves more distinctly. We didn't run over any nets (thank heavens!) but we were turned away more than once, in no uncertain terms.
Coming into Ketchikan—our first Alaskan city—was only slightly less mortifying. It was situated on a long narrow channel crowded with cruise ships coming and going, sea planes landing and taking off from every direction, a few tugboats hauling huge barges, and more fishing boats. Oh, yes, and the ferry. Our only consolation was that these northwest people could drive and park boats, no matter what size, with about the same ease as we ordinary folk slip into a parking place at our local shopping centers. But it was still nerve-wracking because we didn't know where to go.
The guidebooks said to call ahead and customs would tell you where (there were at least four different docking areas in view, all full-to-bursting with commerce). But we didn't have a phone. Because I, um... dropped it into the harbor back in Canada. We did have a VHF radio turned to the appropriate channel, but the officials on the other end weren't answering theirs.
In the end, we tied up at the first empty place we could fit in, and the customs agent came to us. Everyone was friendly, more than helpful, and incredibly laid-back. It took two days to catch our breath and figure out the next step. Because a phone call to the Wrangell harbor (which had been our goal), placed from the local grocery store, revealed there was no place for us there (for at least two years), and no place to anchor out, either. So, back to the guidebooks, to devise a “plan B.”
Which is how we came to discover a little (very little, only 165 people here) town on a very huge Prince of Wales Island (fourth largest in the U.S.), where they not only had room for us, but it was even affordable. It was only about seventy-five miles away, across the notorious Clarence Strait, where a good day means anything under three feet of chop, less than twenty knots of wind, and visibility at least half a mile (due to the persistent “patchy” fog that lives there). A good day just happened to be coming up for us, the very next morning.
So it was that we scurried into Coffman Cove, two days later, mere minutes ahead of yet another patch of fog and changing currents, to finally tie up at a lovely little marina for some much-needed rest, relaxation, and repairs, after our very long voyage over hundreds of miles. Which I will tell you more about during the next couple of weeks, as we start to explore this island. But considering I just heard there are old gold mines here (one of which is under speculation to be commercially reactivated)...
Good heavens, I'm feeling better, already.
So, let the adventures begin.