Petersburg lies at the northern entrance to the Wrangell Narrows, a channel that winds its way between the islands of Mitkof and Kupreonof and out into Sumner Strait. We timed our exit from the harbour berth at slack water and entered the narrows as the current started to run south on the ebb. The 21 miles were covered pretty quickly with a 3-4 knot current pushing us along at 8-10 knots most of the way.
After spending a quiet night in a crab-pot filled bay called Deception Point Cove, we headed across Sumner Strait in beautiful conditions and started to bay hop our way further south.
The weather had improved considerably after the few rainy days in Petersburg, and once we reached Prince of Wales Island we slowed the pace a little and explored some of the bays. We even managed to get the sails out and sailed through the Kashevarof Passage into Clarence Strait where we saw lots of fishing boats. Then we saw something else fishing, a group of humpbacks were bubble-net fishing among the local fisherman.
My Mum had told us about humpbacks fin slapping and so hoped we would see this on our journey. Well today was the day, three humpbacks situated in different positions in the Strait were fin-slapping repeatedly. What an awesome spectacle, apparently they do this to communicate to other whales in the area.
Tolstoi Cove is a great little protected cove just south of Thorne Bay and it beckoned us in and made us stay a couple of nights.
The fishing rod as always comes out at anchor and we caught a couple of small flounders – we thought they were halibut but apparently they weren’t! – with some squid as bait. Jez called home and as he was chatting the rod went off again, only this time the line was running away. Ending his call quickly we both ran out to see what we had and started to reel it in. Then something awful happened. A harbour seal popped his head up and looked across at us with a confused expression, much the same as our look back at him. Our hearts sank, the hook was through his bottom lip. We have been watching and marvelling at these beautiful creatures for weeks, never thinking that one would mistake our bait as a mid-morning snack. Our immediate reaction was to get him in close to the boat and assess the lip piercing, it seemed so wrong reeling him in but necessary. Once alongside he did a few small dives trying to free himself and then popped his head up and looked at us each in turn, it seemed as though he was thinking the same thing as us, how the hell were we going to deal with this one! We decided the only sensible option would be to try and cut the hook as far down the shank as possible, hoping the rest would fall out. This meant Jez getting up-close-and-personal with our sharp toothed slippery little friend. I grabbed the extra sharp snips and Jez dropped the dinghy into the water and went around to him as I held the rod. Holding his head above the water Jez bravely got to the hook and cut it off as close as he could without catching his lip. With an almighty splash our catch was gone, back into the deep water of the bay leaving us amazed and bewildered at what had just happened.
Thorne Bay was our next stop, our cruising guide suggests strong currents in areas of the narrow entrance but we entered with no problem at all, and anchored just off the small town in the enormous bay. We were given a friendly welcome from Ron the Harbourmaster and some advice on where to hike and what shops the small town has to offer. Although the bay is busy with float planes landing and taking off several times a day, we found this a great little stop over with an excellent grocery store, hardware store and fishing tackle shop. The ‘heathy heart’ hill trail (or ‘heart-attack hill’ as the locals call it) allowed us to stretch our legs and get the tickers pumping for two hours and pick some juicy huckleberries on the way, they are like a cranberry but not so tart. No bear sightings but plenty of ‘fresh evidence’. They only have black bear on Prince of Wales Island and there are supposed to plenty of them as they are not competing with the browns.
Gary who owns the tackle shop kindly gave us lots of tips on how and where to catch a halibut, so we spent an afternoon off Tolstoi Point outside the bay trolling for halibut. We hadn’t had any luck when a local boat came over and offered us some of their catch, it was a gentleman named Dave we had met in Thorne Bay when we stopped to admire the rather smart fire engine truck outside the volunteer fire service station. With our donated chunky fillet of halibut we decided to give it five more minutes then pack up and head in. Three minutes later we had a bite and successfully landed our own 10 pounder. Gary had also kindly offered to show Jez how to fillet a halibut, so he took it in to his dock for a lesson.
It was difficult to tear ourselves away from Thorne Bay, the people here made it a wonderful and memorable stop for us. The halibut was delicious pan-fried with chips and salad, courtesey of Dave and family!
Kasaan Bay is the next major inlet heading down the east coast of Prince of Wales Island and after a quiet night in Kina Cove we took Joy over to the small Kasaan settlement on the northern shore of the bay and docked on the free public dock. Here there is a short trail through beautiful forest to a totem park and recently restored Whale House. This house was built around 1880 and housed Chief Son-I-Hat and his family who had relocated here from their original settlement at Old Kasaan further south on Scowl Arm. The original settlement of around 500 Haida people was reduced to around 80 with the small-pox epidemic in 1862. Chief Son-I-Hat moved to the new location to be close to a Christian mission in the area, and built the house (nick-named the ‘Whale House’ because of the pole carvings inside) to house his family. In 1892 a copper mine camp, post office and sawmill were built here, followed by a salmon cannery which operated from 1902 to 1953. The house was lived in until 1915, then restored in 1938 and again in 2016. After a great lunch in the Totem Trail Cafe and some beach combing we walked back towards the public dock and were invited in for a beer and a chat with a lovely couple Pam and Bill from Nevada who live here during the summer. Pam had seen an orca in the bay heading towards Joy shortly after we had stopped to talk to them on our way to the trail a few hours earlier. They very generously shared some coho salmon with us, and suggested we try cooking it on a plank on the BBQ.
After a quiet night on the dock we headed off to another very special anchorage in Kasaan Bay at the head of the Karta River. The holding is said to be ‘fair’ as it’s a little rocky but we managed to get a bite and as the weather forecast was settled for a day or two we stayed. Our intention was to find the trail that follows the river through the Karta River Wilderness area which is home to bears and wolves, we found the cabin at the head of the river and beached the dinghy. Armed with ‘bear spray’ (this is not something bears use to make them smell good, it’s a large can of mace spray for us humans to use to deter bears in the unfortunate event of an attack) and a knocking stick we noisily made our way along the start of the trail. Unfortunately part of the trail had disappeared in a land slide and meant a very dodgy clamber over some enormous tree stumps hanging over the river bank, once we had negotiated these obstacles the narrow overgrown trail disappeared deep into the forest and it wasn’t long before my nerves sadly got the better of me. Fuelled by the enormous amounts of bear poop and knowing that this trail couldn’t be used very often, not by humans anyway, I begged we turn around and go back.
Instead we decided that maybe a fishing expedition in the dinghy might be safer and armed with rods and beer we anchored the dinghy mid river and sat enjoying the peace in the relative safety of our inflatable. Just the noise of bald eagles calling, the occasional wing beat overhead, the hum of dragonflies across the surface and the big splashes as salmon leap out all around. Heaven, especially with beer in hand and sun streaming through the canopy of trees lining the river. It was getting around 5pm and nothing, not even a nibble on the dead defrosted herring ‘swimming’ in the stream on the end of my line. The salmon were more interested in, well, frolicking and occasionally jumping clean out of the water. So time to give up and go back to Joy and BBQ the salmon that Pam and Bill had so kindly given us and enjoy the rest of the sun. I hoisted the anchor, we started the engine and headed back out, I stood up to get a good view of all the salmon in the river when I glanced back. Something that my Mum taught me, always look back – you can get some great photos from views behind you – so I do. A black bear stood on the bank staring back at me just a few metres from the river. ‘Stop, Bear’ I spurted as I wobbled in the dinghy trying to locate my camera. I took a couple of shots as Jez turned the dinghy around and we re-anchored. It was low-tide and several dead trees were blocking the navigable path so we watched and waited. Another appeared from behind a small island in the centre of the river, dripping with water he opened his mouth as if yawning, I got a good look at those salmon-munching teeth! We saw three in all and two of them were pretty big. We backed off when they disappeared and headed back out to the entrance of the river rather pleased with our sighting, and as we rounded the last bend I caught sight of a black ball of fluff on the river bank in front of us. It was a mother and two tiny cubs, what an amazing sight!
Our salmon cooked on a soaked plank on the BBQ was delicious, it was a beautifully warm evening and we were still in T-shirts and bare feet at 11pm. With a break in the recent heatwave forecast we decided to head back to Kina Cove the following day and the security of some good sticky mud holding, but not before another trip up the river this time at high tide. It was midday and we gently idled further up than before, now that water covered the dead trees. It is so beautiful and peaceful here that we just wanted to enjoy it one more time, when Jez suddenly whispered ‘bear’ and further up river a huge black bear walked along a dead tree laying along the bank. Wow. Jez switched off the engine and I was just getting my camera out when another bear came out from behind the small islet just a few metres in front of us, gliding through the water toward the bank. I nervously shot a few photos as Jez paddled against the stream to keep us in position, he sniffed the air (the bear not Jez) and had a good look at us then carried on to the bank. Phew, I didn’t have the bear spray on me! He climbed the bank then peered over at us one last time before disappearing silently into the vast forest. This is most definitely prime bear country and it can be ‘bear o’clock’ any time of day, but one thing I have learned from these recent bear encounters, they are not comfortable with our presence and are more likely to avoid us than seek us out.