We have been the very fortunate benefactors, on this trip, for receiving our very few days of nice weather in some of its most scenic locales. Today dramatically underscored that trend. After several rainy days we had a fair weather forecast and, while it wasn’t a blue sky-hot sun type of day, the rains did leave us, and the clouds thinned enough to give us occasional glimpses of blue sky and sunshine. It was more than enough to highlight the many stunning beauties of Tracy Arm.
We weighed anchor around 8:30 am, shortly after Burnt Sand left the anchorage, and also shortly after a very large cruise ship entered the arm. We listened as the cruise ship talked to Burnt Sand on the radio, coordinating their passing of her. They both disappeared around the big bend corner, 5 miles to the north, as we made our turn up the arm. Clouds created dramatic and whimsical forms across the slopes, giving tantalizing glimpses of the ice bound summits. As we made the big bend turn, the clouds lifted even more, but while the sky was improving, conditions on the water were deteriorating. We began encountering an ever increasing frequency of ice bergs of all shapes and sizes. In the early stages of our passage they were easily avoided without having to slow the boat. This gave us good opportunities to enjoy the unfolding scenery, with soaring rock faces, huge domes, bowls and valleys on a gigantic scale, and everywhere waterfalls – water cascading down from the heights – gushing torrents as well as delicate, thin traces.
The arm extends back into the mountains about 22 miles, and makes a sharp bend every couple of miles once you’re past the big bend. On our way in we had a down valley breeze and a flood tide. These conditions combined to do strange and difficult things with the bergs at every one of the points in the arm. Swirling wind and current would concentrate the bergs at the points, making progress up the arm toward the glacial source very difficult. Often we would slow to idle speed, with frequent shifts into neutral, with speed down to 1 knot in a neutral glide, with just enough way for steerage, with center board and both rudders down. We passed Burnt Sand as she headed out, and I called her on the radio. Jim said he’d made it to within 6 miles of the glacier before turning back. He scraped some ice, but thought a boat like ours could go further.
Each point drew us further on, with relatively good water after clearing the points. As we neared the last bend, we were confronted with a continuous line of ice, probably caused by a current line. We could see clear water beyond this line and decided to nose our way through. I picked a spot where the bergie bits were smallest and pushed the bow into them while in neutral, with very little way. They gently slid aside and we crossed through them. A little further, the bergs were flowing at right angles to our direction of travel. I had to anticipate an opening upstream from our course line and push into it.
As we neared the final turn, we spotted Rain Shadow rounding a bend behind us and working her way into the ice maze. As we proceeded, we were amply rewarded with a stunning view of the South Sawyer Glacier, 5 miles to the south. It is so massive that it only looked a mile or so distant. We were able to see the face of the glacier where it meets the see. Our immediate goal was the North Sawyer Glacier, which was teasingly tucked around the bend of a rocky canyon, with a dense collection of bergie bits standing guard. We weaved our way into the maze, picking a path toward the glacier. We felt a gentle but compelling swell from some unseen icefall into the water. Slowly, North Sawyer began to reveal itself. We finally stopped near the edge of the ice berg field, with a full view of the glacier’s face. I climbed into the dinghy to get pictures of Chinook from the water. Sandy shut the motor off, and the sounds of waterfalls dominated. Periodically, sharp booms, like cannon fire, rocked the canyon, reminding us that this glacier was very active. I rowed closer in the dinghy to gain a better view and while doing so spotted a mountain goat who had come down to water’s edge. He quickly scrambled up the slopes to safer ground. I rowed back to the boat, and as I drew near, Sandy said “Oh look”. I turned to see a huge section of ice crash into the water. I quickly tied the dinghy up and climbed aboard, prepared to fend off bergs jostling about in the coming swell.
Our friends on Rainshadow had stopped a hundred yards short of our final position, and as a big cruise ship punched her way past us both toward the glacier, I maneuvered back to Rainshadow. We rafted up and swapped stories of the day. I fixed up bloody marys and we toasted the North Sawyer Glacier. It was a wonderful impromptu party, floating freely among the bergs. When time came to depart, they offered to lead the way, and we fell in behind. Amazingly, the passage out was quite easy, no doubt due to a down canyon breeze for most of the day, plus an ebb tide while we made our exit. Sandy fixed chili on the way out, since it was about 6 pm when we finally headed out. We ate on the run, and it was a most welcome meal. I spotted a black bear on the hillside above us, and we once again enjoyed the marvelous shaps of the bergs and the spectacular waterfalls as we worked our way down the arm. We set anchor again in Tracy Arm Cove around 9:30 pm. It had taken us 6 hours to get up, and 4 hours to return. A most memorable day.
Distance for the day: 45 nm; total for the trip: 1197 nm
Water temperature near the head of Tracy Inlet: 35.4 degrees