Ketchikan to Madan Bay

Fog on the Tongass Narrows (Photo Credit: Kel Rohlf)

Words and Photos by Les and Kel Rohlf (as indicated)

Les’ Notes

Friday, June 25, 2021

Ketchikan to Santa Anna Inlet

Mileage today: 65

Cumulative mileage: 864

We left Ketchikan at 5:00am in fog and a light mist. We cooked breakfast while slowly making our way north out of Tongass Narrows toward the entry to Clarence Strait. The weather indicated waves “2 feet or less” in Clarence Strait, and my backup plan was to duck into Knudson Harbor or one of the other anchorages just inside the Behm Canal if things looked too dicey.

The water was just choppy as we passed Guard Island, so we ran fast across the Behm Canal entrance and part way up the west side of Cleveland Peninsula toward Meyers Chuck. It was a bit of a busy ride – winds and swells out of the southwest resulted in following waves on the port beam. We slowed approaching Meyers Chuck, and the water calmed dramatically as we neared the turn to Ernest Sound.

While running at 8mph in Clarence Strait, a pod of Dalls Porpoises (I think) appeared and surfed our bow wave. That’s really not a good description – they appeared alongside or at our bow and zipped by as if to taunt us for going so slow.  It was quite a show, lasting for 3 or 4 minutes before they disappeared.

My preliminary anchorage plan was Vixen Cove, a small nook on the southeast side of Union Point. It’s a good example of misleading information in the charts – my charting software shows the wider opening around the south side of the rock which guards the entrance. In fact (as shown in the Douglass guide), the better passage is around the north side of the rock. As we lined up for the entrance, I lost my nerve. It was near low tide (-4’ this morning), and I wasn’t convinced there was suitable depth in the very narrow channel. Had we been closer to high tide with 10 or more additional feet of depth, it would not have seemed as perilous.

It was still early in the day, so we continued our leisurely cruise up Ernest Sound and pulled into Santa Anna Inlet about 1:30pm, shortly before high tide. We went the mile to the head of the inlet and anchored in 60’ of water. Around the edges, the bottom rapidly shallowed to less than 20 feet, which would not have provided much buffer for tonight’s low tide.  As we set the anchor the first time, the back of the boat was over that shallow area, so we pulled it and dropped the anchor closer to the center of the inlet. We had a very picturesque site at the head of the bay just opposite a waterfall that provided a soothing rush of sound.

Another larger cruiser (aren’t they all?) pulled in after us to share the inlet. Then at 7:30 pm, the 110-foot motor vessel Dulcinea (Newport Beach, CA) pulled into the inlet and motored past both of the anchored boats to put out crab/shrimp pots at the very head of the inlet. They then motored back between the two of us and anchored. He did so deftly, but it seemed like an awfully large boat to fit into the small area I left between our anchor and the drying flat at the head of the bay.

The Dulcinea (Photo Credit: Les Rohlf)

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Santa Anna Inlet to Madan Bay

Distance today: 39 miles

Cumulative distance: 903 miles

We didn’t have a long distance planned for today, and I wanted to arrive at Anan Bay after low tide, so we ate a leisurely breakfast and left the anchorage at 6:30am.  Since the holding is reportedly poor at Anan Bay, I wanted to anchor early in the rising tide, so that both the incoming tide and northwest winds would hold the boat in the same relative spot while we were away.  A changing tide or winds might turn the boat and cause the anchor to release or drag.

Dulcinea caught up with us as we pulled into Anan Bay, but she just made a slow circuit and departed up the Blake Channel toward Wrangell. Today’s exercise involved launching our new dinghy and motor from the boat for the first time. Embarking went fine until we needed to secure it at the beach landing. We left it barely floating and stuck the cheesy grapple-style dinghy anchor in the mud on its 25’ line and tied another 25’ line around a rock to secure it. In the 5 minutes we debated whether this would be sufficient and where the path to the observation area started, the rising tide had covered both lines. Plan B: I removed the Torqeedo motor and carried it to a point above the high-water mark, after which we carried the dinghy up to a point just short of the high-water mark. This proved sufficient for the one hour we were away.

There are two trail routes to the Anan Creek observation area: one involves a half-mile trail that starts at the Forest Service cabin and winds around the ridge; the other is a spot on the creek that meets the first path near the observation area. A work boat was parked there – I suspect there may not be enough depth in the creek to get to that spot from the bay during low tides, and the current may require a pretty powerful dinghy to make it upstream against the creek’s current. We hiked the first path and arrived at the observation area above the creek to see a crew working alongside the creek with a backhoe.  We did see a mink scamper along the creek, but no bears.

When we returned to our dinghy we were met by Bruce, who with his family were spending a couple nights in the Forest Service cabin. He seemed to think the Pink Salmon that returned to this creek to spawn would not start returning until later in July.

We managed to get the dinghy re-loaded to the cabin top without damage to it or ourselves. Next investment – a lifting Davit to facilitate the process. We left Anan Bay and turned north up the Blake channel. We got a nice boost with the tide. Our planned anchorage for today was Berg Bay, which is a stunning setting with a snow-capped mountain rising directly above it and another high ridge to the east. The greeting committee for Berg Bay were horseflies, who surrounded the boat and made every effort to gain entry to the cabin. Since I planned to grill this evening, I didn’t want their help, so we made a circuit of the bay and moved on toward Madan Bay.  We anchored near the head of Madan Bay. It was still breezy, as there was only a tree line to shield us from the northwest wind, rather than higher terrain. The wind calmed later and we had a quiet, restful night.

Kel’s Musings

What’s in God’s pocket? That’s a question that I keep asking myself, as we travel along. The question originated when I noticed a place on our map labeled, “God’s Pocket.” I’ve always been fascinated by the child who collects objects in their pocket. As we experience this trip, it feels like we are getting a glimpse into God’s pocket. As we pass through marvel after marvel, I like to imagine that Les and I, too are collecting things in our “pockets,” like intangibles, indescribables and inlets. We left Ketchikan through a bank of low clouds.

Les is the investigator and scout. I am the lookout and collector. He likes to have an idea of where we’re going, using maps, guidebooks and reports from others who have traversed these waters before us. I want mysteries, surprises and even the unexpected challenge can be invigorating for me. We approach things differently, but we both enjoy the adventure together and separately. Once again we awoke early to benefit from the calmer weather in the morning. The fog lifted as the day opened up, and we chugged to Santa Anna Inlet. Upon entering the mile long inlet a rock wall poked it’s face out at us to welcome us with its pensive smile. We started to anchor at the mouth of the inlet near the rocky walls, but then something in me asked Les to cruise to the end, just to see what was down there.

As we approached the back of the inlet, we noticed remnants of a dock, and a rusty something or another, which made us wonder who might have tried to live back here at one time. Nearby, we spotted a babbling brook flowing into the water. Upon further investigation, we realized it was a decent size waterfall.

Rusty Remnants (Photo Credit: Kel Rohlf)
Waterfall at Santa Anna Inlet (Photo Credit: Kel Rohlf)

We checked the depth of the water by making a wide circle where we intended to drop the anchor. With tides shifting twenty feet, we needed to make sure if we anchored at high tide to account for the drop in depth when low tide occurred. (If you’re in 40 feet of water at high tide, and it’s supposed to drop twenty, you want to make sure you really are in 40 feet of water rather than 10 feet. Math is important in these situations.) After making our anchorage calculations and dropping the anchor securely, I decided to lay down in the berth and listen to the waterfall. I slept for quite a bit, because it was late afternoon when I climbed out of bed. Les made us omelets for dinner, because we had picked up a dozen eggs while in Ketchikan.

We went to bed before the sunset, realizing we would not witness the full moon, unless we stayed up until 10:30pm or so. It’s hard to stay up late, even with a long nap during the day. So we went to bed knowing we could sleep in a little, since we were only going about 20 miles the next day.

The next day, we set out for a side trip to Anan Bay, and then planned to anchor at Berg Bay. (Berg Bay is spectacular, and both the view there and the time spent at Anan Bay, were definitely something you could find in God’s pocket.) At Anan Bay, we hoped to spy bears eating salmon. We were pleased because the observatory was open, even though the official season opens July 5th. We arrived as the tide was coming in, because Les knew that we’d have a couple hours to look around and still get back into our dinghy while the waters rose. It was the first time using the dinghy on this trip, so we were carefully unloading it from the boat, and then methodically handing off the electric motor, so as not to drop it in the bottom of the sea. (We used a system of hooking the motor to a line attached to the boat as I handed the motor to Les, then he attached it to a line in the dinghy. That way if it slipped into the water, we could still retrieve it. Les thinks of these things, and for that I am very grateful.) We successfully managed the motor, and stowed an anchor, water bottles and my camera bag before I stepped down into the dinghy from the side of the boat. All was well, and we motored over to shore. While motoring the 100 yards or so to shore, we were trying to figure out where to land the dinghy, and where we might secure it while we went for a ½ mile hike to look for bears. We decided on a sandy beach, and thought we might tie off to a tree. We used the weighted anchor, but didn’t feel it was adequate, so we tied a second line to a rock. Rocks don’t float. But as we walked back to get our gear for the hike, we were alarmed by how quickly the tide was rising. We realized quickly that we needed higher ground with a place to get back into the dinghy, because soon the only way to get back in would be from the hiking path and steep rocks. We scanned the situation. (No rangers were around to help because it’s off-season.) I suggested we get back in the dinghy, and troll over to the beach where there was a rental cabin. He agreed, but he’d have to take the motor off to carry it to higher ground, and then both of us portage the dinghy to be tied off near the motor.

I checked out the cabin, no one was there. Next, I quickly used the outhouse near the cabin, because when nature calls, you’re very thankful for the gift of a facility, especially when past sojourners have left fresh toilet paper in said establishment. No bears were lurking around either, which was a relief. Les and I got the dinghy and motor where we felt comfortable leaving them. Once we found the trailhead, Les told me we had an hour to hike in and back before getting too concerned about the tide.

Ok, then! Here we go! Off to see bears! As we were walking on the lovely boardwalk trail maintained by the Forest Service, Les instructed me to talk loudly, in order to alert bears that we were in the vicinity. I talked incessantly, and Les whistled, when I took a pause for breath. We made it to the observatory in under 20 minutes. But alas, no salmon, thus no bears. An eagle was scolding some forest workers, who were working on a barge in the lagoon. And we did see a mink scurry along the bank. We turned around, and I stopped occasionally to snap a photo, and continued my monologue/dialogue with whistling Les.

View from the observation deck at Anan Creek (Photo Credit: Kel Rohlf)
Hiking at Anan Bay (Photo Credit: Kel Rohlf)
The Intuition anchored at Anan Bay while we hiked (Photo Credit: Kel Rohlf)

When we got back to the bay, a boat carrying people and a canoe was arriving. A family had hired the outfitter to bring them and their gear to the cabin for a couple night stay. Cool! We chatted for a bit, then Les and I hauled the dinghy and motor about 50 feet down to the water, where the tide had risen while we were gone. Les rigged the motor back on, and we were puttering back to our boat with four minutes to spare on the hour that Les had allotted us. Even though we didn’t see bears, we felt our hour was well spent. Les spent the next half hour or so reloading the dinghy on top of the boat. We left right around lunch time, and so I made us some sandwiches while we headed to Berg Bay. We pulled up to a view of the mountains we hadn’t experienced yet, so close and green and gorgeous, but a horse fly was nipping at our necks. We paused to enjoy the view, and decided it would be more pleasant to anchor elsewhere, so we could grill and relax in peace.

Berg Bay (Photo Credit: Kel Rohlf)

We ended up going an extra 20 miles and found a quiet cove in Madan Bay. We dropped anchor, Les grilled chicken and I peeled and cut up carrots to sauté them in brown sugar, salt and pepper, lime juice, oil and a splash of whiskey. The northwest wind had picked up, and twirled the boat around, just like a fine restaurant that boasts a rotating view. We enjoyed our chicken, carrots and canned biscuits (which I’m perfecting how to bake over a low heat in a covered frying pan.) Dinner al fresco! We went to bed before the sunset once again, and hoped to sleep in past 6:00am. We were looking forward to a leisurely cruise to Wrangell with hot showers at the laundromat the next day.

These are the things I go over and over,
    emptying out the pockets of my life.
I was always at the head of the worshiping crowd,
    right out in front,
Leading them all,
    eager to arrive and worship,
Shouting praises, singing thanksgiving—
    celebrating, all of us, God’s feast!
(Psalm 42:4 The Message)

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