Monday, June 15, 2015

Lynn Canal

Juneau weather turned from rain and overcast skies to 80 degree heat over the last two days, time to set sail and enjoy the breeze and great scenery.  We departed Harris Marina at 9:30 in the morning making our way around Douglas Island then northward along Stephens Passage.  We had variable winds ranging from 7 to 20 knots with a benign sea state of 2-4 foot chop.  As we passed the north end of Douglas Island we saw a pod of whales with several tour boats circling the area; the whales put on a brief show then slipped beneath undisturbed.  We continued north past Auke Bay where Stephens Passage becomes Lynn Canal.  
University of Alaska, Fisheries Division Juneau
As we approached Lena Point, we could see the impressive buildings that make up the Fisheries Division of the University of Alaska, Juneau Campus.  The University of Alaska is a land-grant university founded in 1917 in Fairbanks, 40 years before Alaska received Statehood in 1959.  The University has three main campuses:  Fairbanks, Anchorage (the largest), and Southeast Alaska, which includes sites at Juneau, Ketchikan, and Sitka.  The Juneau campus is located in several buildings in downtown Juneau, Auke Bay, and Lena Point along Lynn Canal.  Lynn Canal was named by George Vancouver for his birthplace in England.  Set against a blue sky, we saw snow peaked mountains, jagged granite peaks, snowfields, and hanging glaciers.  
Eagle Glacier seen from Lynn Canal
The first glacier that came into view was Eagle Glacier in the Coast Mountain Range.  Olympic skiers have used Eagle Glacier for cross-country ski training and conditioning.  Eagle River flows from the Glacier through parts of the Tongass National Forest before emptying into Lynn Canal.  Herbert Glacier came into view next even though it is located south of Eagle Glacier.  
Herbert Glacier
Herbert Glacier is included in the Coastal Helicopter tour of glaciers with an actual landing and walkabout.  There is a five-mile trail into Herbert Glacier off the highway from Juneau; the northern terminus of the highway is at Bridget State Park near Bridget Cove.  
Lynn Canal
Numerous large rivers feed into Lynn Canal and because of its long north-south fetch strong winds are a common occurrence.  Only a few places along the Canal provide moderate protection, including Sentinel Island, Benjamin Island, and Bridget Cove.  Approximately three miles northwest of Benjamin Island is the ominous Vanderbilt Reef, a rocky outcropping awash on a 12-foot tide and lying below the surface on higher tides.  
Beacon on one end of long, wide Vanderbilt Reef
Thankfully a navigation beacon marks one end of the Reef but the area still requires careful navigation.  In October of 1918, before there was a beacon marking the Reef, the Canadian Pacific steamer, Princess Sophia, ran aground on Vanderbilt Reef in blinding snow and northwest winds.  She was traveling south and drifted 1.25 miles off course.  The wireless operator sent out a distress signal but in those days, the signals were weak.  Captain Locke of the Sophia waited to see if he could get the vessel off the Reef.  At low tide the Sophia was surrounded on both sides by exposed rock and at high tide the rocks were awash; the swells were such that a lifeboat would have struck the rocks as the waves pounded down.  Rescue vessels dispatched from Juneau arrived the next day and waited for an opportunity to remove the passengers and crew.  By late afternoon, however, the storm had worsened and the rescue vessels were forced to seek shelter.  All that was found of Sophia the following morning was her mast.  It is speculated that Princess Sophia became partially buoyant again but was dragged across the Reef, ripping open the ships bottom.  All 350 souls on board perished; the only survivor was a dog found on shore several days later.  A complete account of the story can be read in the book titled “The Final Voyage of the Princess Sophia” by Betty O’Keefe and Ian Macdonald.  I had read the book some years ago and now made the connection regarding the location of Vanderbilt Reef.  
Approaching Bridget Cove
Got d’ Fever safely passed Vanderbilt Reef but soon after had a close encounter with a whale.  While under way at 8 knots, I looked up from the chart plotter, there was the fluke of a whale directly in front of our bow less than a boat length away!  The whale had just gone under and we held our breath hoping he had gone deep enough; thank goodness he passed safely below us.  About 40 minutes later we reached our anchorage in Bridget Cove, one of the few indentations or coves along Lynn Canal.  
Bridget Cove
This pretty little cove is bordered by grassy meadows and forest, backed by the Coastal Mountains. 
Park Cabin
A cabin maintained by the Parks Department is located on shore.  From Bridget Cove anchorage we could look across Lynn Canal at the snow covered Chilkat Mountain Range to the west, it’s a lovely setting.

Evening View from Bridget Cove (looking west)

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