Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Extreme Caution

Approaching Whale Passage
July 7th was spent exploring the rocky shoreline along Clarence Strait between Exchange Cove and Coffman Cove, including the very narrow, rock strewn Whale Passage.  The Passage circles around behind Thorne Island leading into a large bay, ideal for sheltered anchorage but accessed via a very treacherous north entrance or south entrance.  

Whale Passage
The depths in Whale Passage vary considerably from 20 feet down to 6 feet passing around flats and rocks both charted and uncharted.  Although the channel is indicated with red and green navigation markers, there are inaccuracies on the electronic charts.  We discovered one green marker anchored to a rock that didn’t show on the charts and two other green markers were 200 feet from where they were depicted to be.  

Whale Passage
Sport fishermen with smaller boats and local knowledge zip in and out of the Passage but can also run into trouble.  This Passage with its many hazards must be navigated with extreme caution.  We entered the north passage way and reduced our speed to a slow crawl – low tide had just ended and a flood had just begun which sent us slowly forward without having to use too much throttle.  The shallowest part, nick-named “the pinnacle,” briefly showed a depth of 3 feet under our keel.  Leonard used the bow thruster so as not to swing the stern - staying in mid-channel, we safely passed over the “pinnacle” when we saw a sport fishing boat speeding through from the opposite direction; he didn’t bother to slow down and the waves rocked Got d’ Fever.  Fortunately we didn’t hit bottom but I soon heard a thud; the sport fishing boat had apparently hit bottom.  I looked back and saw that he had stopped but couldn’t dwell on his predicament, I was on “bow watch” until we were safely through the Passage.  The water depth quickly increased and we soon entered the bay, the site of a fishing lodge, boat ramp, and docks.  Ok, we came, we saw, and now we had to get back out again.  We looked at the south entrance on the charts which looked equally treacherous as the north entrance and plus some – there are no channel navigation aids through the south entrance plus unmarked and poorly charted rocks.  We decided to leave the way we came, retracing over our previous track.  After a successful Whale Passage expedition, we can now say “we’ve been there, done that.”  
Coffman Cove Sport Fishing Community
We continued southeast along Clarence Strait and ducked between the rock islets into the fishing village of Coffman Cove and tied-up at the marina; it too was active with sport fishing boats bringing in their catch to be cleaned and filleted.  
Sport Fishermen and Fisherwomen Cleaning their Catch
The village has a general store, pub, church, post office, and school.  Similar to Yakutat, there is no real town center but rather a collection of homes and commercial buildings spread throughout the area connected by narrow paved roads through the trees.  Not shown on the charts is a new ferry terminal that has been constructed at Coffman Cove with stops scheduled to begin this summer.  Coffman Cove was originally founded as a base for loggers and served that role until the closure of Ketchikan Pulp Co. in 1997.  The community’s focus is now recreational fishing.  The first week in July is the Silver Salmon Tournament, the 5th annual this year, which no doubt adds to the busy fishing scene at Coffman Cove.

Sport Fishing Boats at Coffman Cove Marina

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