July 4, 2005

How quickly ones fortunes can change. Stuck in Helm Bay for a day and a half, after our first forced retreat of the trip, and in a ceaseless deluge with wind to boot. A forecast with nothing in it but wind and more rain. This morning sounded like our best chance for in the foreseeable future to get free of Helm Bay and Behm Canal, so we gave ourselves every controllable advantage. Dinghy securely stowed on deck, and the earliest of possible starts. I rose at 3:30 am, already light out, lightly raining and still a breeze. We go anyway; underway by 4 am. Chop building as we exit Helm Bay and enter lower Behm Canal. Swells increase to a steep, short 3 foot chop with rain and fog. Seas start to become confused as Caamano Point, our turn around place of the day before, looms into view through the rain and fog. Will the larger Clarence Strait be even rougher? Shortly after making my northward turn I have my answer. A curious line is visible across our path in the water ahead. Beyond that line, the water behaves in a most strange fashion: short choppy spikes of water, rather like the topping on mom’s lemon merangue pie, but clearly not rough. We move across the line, and the water smooths, the boat steadies and accelerates. Our day continued to get nothing but better from there.

Sandy slept below while I tended the wheel. The rain quit, and a rather mystical fog persisted. I spotted 2 Alaska ferries, and several pleasure boats. One may have been the Nordic Tug we saw at Bishop Bay, the guy who loaned me the fender. The other may have been Discovery, heading south, couldn’t tell for sure. I also was entertained by 2 or 3 white sided dolphins, who played across the bow for about 2 miles. Sandy arose around 10:30 am and prepared an early lunch. Afterwards, she took the wheel and I went below for a welcome nap. The water had become glassy smooth, quite a contrast with conditions of the past couple days. I got up as we approached Anan Bay, with its renowned bear observatory.

As we glided into the bay, two forest service employees waved to us from their floating cabin. We pulled up and learned that they would be going up to the observatory soon. We tied up to the float for the nearby cabin and assembled the dinghy, then rowed after the two forest service guides. We landed at the trailhead, where they gave us a brief orientation, and then off we marched, up the boardwalk trail toward the observatory. One ahead and one in back, each toting shotguns. We had our pepper spray at the ready.

The observatory is a wooden platform with an enclosed walkway, overlooking the river and falls, which was teeming with salmon, mostly pinks. We learned that, to our good fortune, the run was early this year, and the bears were there to welcome the fish. Also, because it was the 4th of July, the usual crowd of visitors was absent; we were it. We had the whole place to ourselves. One last piece of luck, tomorrow starts the beginning of the required $10 per person fee rule. We could enjoy this place free of charge.

At first there were no bears in sight. Then a small black ambles up a path behind the observatory. We watched a little longer, and another came out and went down to the river, but caught no fish. We went down to the photography blind, which is right close to the river, and had quite a show. One bear after another tried his paw at fishing. Several techniques were employeed. One placed his head under water and looked around, like he was snorkeling. Another tried swiping with his paws. The good fishermen walked purposefully to a good spot, paused, and then lunged with their heads, snapping jaws around flopping salmon. They then retreated uphill to feed. A real highlight occurred when a cub appeared, mom right behind. Mom crawled into some boulders to fish some hidden pools, caught one, and then scrambled up the hill. The little cub didn’t see where she had gone and started bawling pathetically. Mom couldn’t hear, and the little one nearly fell into the rapids before she reappeared. Sandy got it all on her camera, in motion pictures. The final treat was a beautiful brown bear who came down and caught one salmon after another, stripping the bellies out, and then letting them float down to the awaiting eagles. It was one of those magnificant, magical afternoons that happen sometimes.

Total distance for the day: 62 miles, total for the trip: 971 miles

5 mph for first 12 gallons – pretty good since I was running close to 3000 most of the time.

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