Monday, June 30, 2008

Shelikof Strait, Alaska - Video

As soon as I rounded the cape, things turned ugly. The wind built quickly, setting up an ugly, confused sea. Waves from every direction as I left the green cliffs behind, focusing on the distant white mountains.

For two hours I wrestled the boat westward, slamming up curtains of spray. All my carefully stowed containers went flying, dumping books, food and supplies. My zodiac filled with water and worked itself half-loose from the cabin roof, nearly sliding off. Water poured over the windows and gunwhales and l
eft nearly a foot of water in the cockpit before I remembered to flip on the bilge pump.

I tried to ignore the green islands behind me, except to make a mental note when I passed the halfway point. It was now shorter, if not necessarily safer, to keep going than turn and run back.

As the tide started to run, I found myself surfing down breaking waves, the boat pitching hard to the side before slowly climbing up the back of another. The world receded to nothing over the small windshield,
the spray, the waves, the mountains. I counted out loud as the GPS counted the miles down.

Finally, the waves grew smaller, the wind less determined, the sea less angry. I passed behind the shadow of Nuksak Island and hooted with joy at the sight of Hallo Bay. Verdant slopes and steep mountain cliffs circled around in an ampitheater of glacial peaks. I dropped anchor, looked out at the green meadows, spotted my first bear and stood there grinning like an idiot at the midnight sun drifted behind the peaks.

Kodiak Island, Alaska

I fill up with 100 gallons of overpriced island gasoline, check the oil and motor north out of Kodiak’s busy fishing harbor under the warm afternoon sun. Hallo Bay shows up as a point on my GPS chart 63 miles distant. What could possibly go wrong?

It’s a long list, and I try not to dwell on the particulars, instead watching for fin whales in the passage around Spruce Island, and dodging the otters floating on their backs, feeding on shellfish.

Running toward the mouth of Kupreanof Strait, the land slips away. Snow and glacier-covered peaks line half of the distant horizon, fading away as the Alaska Peninsula bends westwards toward the Aleutians. The enormity of this place is starting to sink in.

There’s a stiff westerly blowing in off Shelikof Strait. It’s 35 miles across open water to Hallo Bay, and 40 back to Kodiak and the quiet safety of harbor. A lone whale breathes six, seven times before sliding beneath the surface. I’m waiting for a sign, but there’s only the slap of the ocean against the boat’s hull.