Monday, July 22, 2013

Growlers In The Arm
By Michael

The Thorne Bay market was closed.
Unfortunately, that meant powdered milk
(the girls call it "fake milk") for cereal in
the morning. Fortunately, none of us
had to shed our cork boots or handguns.
I thought at first I was looking at a boat, a big, white cabin cruiser in the distance, anchored at the base of more green mountains. Then it was closer, our first iceberg, and it was otherworldly.
I know, just frozen water, but massive, sculpted blocks of the stuff floating where we sailed, was magical.
As we entered Tracy Arm—a winding, narrow, 30-mile fjord off Holkham Bay—ice was everywhere. The icebergs and bergy bits were easy to spot, but the smaller growlers demanded hours with one of us at the helm, hand steering, and the other on the bow, focusing ahead.

Like our trip up the Princess Louisa Inlet to Chatterbox Falls, the steep, glacier-carved mountains were streaked with waterfalls thousands of feet up. Fifty feet from shore, the water was 300 feet deep; in the middle of the half-mile-wide channel, it is over 1,000 feet. Yet the color of the water, a milky turquoise from meltwater, belied the depth.
I didn't get as close as it appears,
these things can turn-turtle
without notice.
About twenty miles up, we turned left into an intersecting fjord that led to North Sawyer Glacier. Rock wall shot straight up from the water to two-thousand feet, bare and displaying the patterned scars from unimaginable forces. Then, around the corner, a glacier like we’d seen only in pictures, rendered in jagged, bunched spires of cool blues and whites.

A deep boom and CRACK! sounded over the kunk-kunk-kunk of our engine to announce the white cloud of ice we’d already seen. Then, with a splash, a new iceberg pitched and rolled in the cold water at the base of the glacier, finding its equilibrium. We floated in-place for an hour, taking pictures and taking it all in.
The South Sawyer Glacier is larger and known to be more active (meaning it calves more icebergs). This was evident as we approached; the channel was almost completely clogged. Two hours later, moving forward at less than half-a-knot, we were within a quarter mile of the face, but the size of the thing and the landscape that framed it, interrupted the scale of everything, making it seem like we were within a hundred yards.

This is the last-known picture of our
clan before we'd see our first iceberg.
This is good-weather summertime
cruising in Southeast Alaska. The girls
are reading and learning on the bow,
Windy's relaxing in her favorite
hot-pink bean bag.
For all the reading I’ve done about high-latitude cruising, I’m embarrassed to say I always imagined growlers—much of what we picked our way through—and even bergy bits, were not a big deal, something you could simply motor through, pushing them out of the way with the hull as slowly blazed a trail. But seeing 50- to 500-pound growlers in the water ahead, having poked at them with the boat hook and rammed them with the Portland Pudgy, I realized they are a big deal. In our days in Tracy Arm, I came to see anything bigger than a softball as a floating boulder, a landmine to our fiberglass hull.
And for me that highlights one of the main reasons we travel: to see, touch, and hear things for ourselves. So far, it’s been illuminating and more dazzling than anything I imagined.


Between Petersburg and Tracy Arm, we anchored
two nights in Sandborn Canal. We took our dinghy
on a five-mile cruise up a shallow inlet looking for
bears. No joy on the bears, but lots of joy. It was
unbelievably still and quiet--it felt like we could
have been on the moon. 

Here it is, South Sawyer Glacier up Tracy Arm.

The girls love nosing up to waterfalls. It was more
than 100 feet deep here.
Del Viento tied up in pretty Petersburg.


  1. Gorgeous. The thought of dancing around growlers gives me the willies so I am pretty happy that YOU are doing it, reporting on it and posting photos.

  2. Growlers . . . at first I thought you were referring to those big jugs Paul fills with beer down at the pub! Stunning. I am filled with longing and envy I didn't know I had. Safe travels!

  3. Wow, oh wow, oh wow! Loved this, you guys look so happy, and now i bet you're glad you went north! Was it worth a rainy season in Victoria? Now Alaska is on my list.

  4. Fantastic!!!! I know you are very, very careful. Have fun with P& O. I love you all!!!!!
    Gramma Julie
    Yeah for you!!!!!!!


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