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.
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.
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 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.
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
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.
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.
This pretty little
cove is bordered by grassy meadows and forest, backed by the Coastal Mountains.
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.
|University of Alaska, Fisheries Division Juneau|
|Eagle Glacier seen from Lynn Canal|
|Beacon on one end of long, wide Vanderbilt Reef|
|Approaching Bridget Cove|
|Evening View from Bridget Cove (looking west)|