Bright sun and dead calm in Double Cove at sunrise. I pulled the crab trap, only 3 undersized dungeness attracted to my fresh salmon bait. We left the cove around 7:30 am, wanting to reach Piehle Passage and the open ocean reach while the nice weather held. It was only a 6 mile run to the entrance to Piehle Passage. I had been intruiged by this route since first reading about it in Douglass. It is a kinky route through a tangle of rocks, kelp beds, and islets, which enables a boater to extend the protected inside run by about 6 miles, before the mandatory exit to open ocean at Kahz Head. Coast Pilot doesn’t recommend it, and suggests local knowledge. I figured Douglas was my local knowledge. Their guide says it’s a fun route, taken with care in fair weather, best on a lower tide so the rocks and kelp can be easily seen. We had all conditions, including tide, in our favor. I had also plugged in all the turns as GPS waypoints. The passage itself was a delight. Bright sun and calm seas, scenery captivating, with scores of rocky islets, some tree covered, some just bare and jagged at the low tide. We had plenty of elbow room and navigated slowly, mostly to enjoy and prolong the experience.
We exited into the Gulf of Alaska, which was barely wind rippled. Long easy swells of less than 3 feet were hardly noticable. We cruised southward along the 12 to 15 fathom curve, about a mile offshore, toward Salisbury Sound. As we worked our way south, clouds began to build over the mountains of Chicagoff Island and offshore, mostly to the northwest. As we entered the mouth of Salisbury Sound I glanced out to sea and was amazed to sight a waterspout suspended from the lower edge of the cloud layer, about 4 miles distant. It was frail looking, a narrow dark gray thread with a lazy “S” profile. At it’s base a violent whirling spray was clearly visible, and even more dramatic through binoculars. We heard another boat remark about it on the radio. We took pictures through telephoto lens, and watched it for about 15 minutes before it faded and disappeared. We had seen a waterspout once before, off the coast of Florida where they are quite common. Such a sighting in these waters is rather rare.
We followed Salisbury Sound south, toward Whitestone Narrows. In the narrows we had to pull way over to the side while the high speed Alaska State Ferry Fairweather roared up the channel. Boat traffic progressively increased as we drew near Sitka. We stopped at the fuel dock first, and then headed for Thomsen Harbor and a slip. Out in front of the harbor is a long straight dock, where the charter boats tie up and clean their fish. In the water adjacent to the cleaning stations we could see huge swirls, and the forms of some very large creatures. After watching a bit, we discouvered we were watching a pair of very huge sea lions, cleaning up on the discarded carcasses of salmon and halibut. These are the biggest sea lions I’ve ever seen.
We were assigned a comfortable slip, with power available, along the outer edge of the marina. A real mix of fishing boats, local recreational boats, and transient cruisers. We walked into town in search of dinner, and ended up in a Chinese place (no more halibut or salmon this night), which had very good food. Very tired afterward, so retired to the boat, feeling glad to have made Sitka.
Distance for the day: 45 nm; total for the trip: 1652 nm