Let’s float there on a log... / by Caroline Van Hemert

What’s a person to do when there’s an appealing sandy beach on a distant island but no way to get there? Apparently, find a log, some flat rocks, and get to work. At least that’s what my four-year-old informed me yesterday when he discovered that a small ocean passage separated us from the beach he intended to visit. I tried to explain that we hadn’t gone to that beach because it was very windy and we needed to watch Chaika to make sure the anchor didn’t drag. Huxley didn’t seem impressed by my comments and began devising a solution that the grown-ups, in our short-sightedness, had obviously failed to consider.

Here’s what I was thinking, mommy: We can float over on a log.

OK, but how will we paddle?

Here are some flat rocks. These will work for paddles.

How will we get the log into the water?

You push, I’ll pry with this stick.

It’s a long ways to the water.

Maybe we could get it into the pond right there and float it to the ocean.

It’s very heavy.

Well, I’ll need you to push harder. Dawson, can you help us too?

For anyone who knows Pat, the resemblance might be striking. I need a cabin. The trees over there will work fine. I’ll just stack them up, put a roof on, and climb inside. I’m not cut from the same cloth as those two, but I’ve been suckered into chasing a few of their “good ideas.” Huxley and I didn’t make it over to the sandy beach on a log, but it was certainly not for lack of trying.

After traveling through narrow Rocky Pass on the east side of Kuiu Island we’re waiting out a gale in Big John Bay, a classic Alaskan scene with black bears browsing the intertidal, salmon jumping near the boat, and mist hanging low against the spruce trees. I know it’s poor form to complain about the heat in southeast Alaska, but after two weeks straight of 80 degree days, horseflies, and no or only rough upwind sailing, I was ready for a change, at least briefly. Now we have it. Yesterday the clouds came as something of a relief, though the rain is another matter, and I’m sure we’ll soon be wishing for the hot sun again. In the meantime, we’ll dig out our rain gear and wait for the mildew to make its usual appearance. My biggest regret so far is not making better use of the sun shower when we had the chance. Bathing seems to fall increasingly low on our list of town priorities when we stop to resupply.

Several days ago, we took a brief respite from the heat by exploring a cave on the west side of Prince of Wales Island. The El Capitan limestone cave is reportedly the deepest in North America. With several miles of tunnels and caverns, and a depth of 600 feet, it’s massive, though we only saw its opening passage. Huxley loved his first experience spelunking and would have continued much farther if given the chance. Dawson simply thought it was cold. The 345 wooden steps that lead to the cave’s entrance were another matter in his opinion. His well-reasoned, almost-two-year-old strategy for descending was to throw himself off of the edge of each one, never mind the fact that he hasn’t entirely mastered jumping yet. Fortunately blueberries provided enough distraction after the first couple of flights to save our backs from trying to prevent a serious tumble.

While at the small US Forest Service dock near El Capitan, we had another near-miss, this time with a bowl full of pumpkin bread. I was in Chaika getting dinner started, Pat was on a run, and the boys were fishing from the dock. Suddenly, I heard a huge bout of screaming. From a distance, it must have sounded like a true emergency, but since both boys were yelling, and I hadn’t heard that long, scary silence that comes with a real injury, I figured everyone was likely OK. Still, the screams still had me clambering quickly up on deck. There, floating behind Chaika, was Dawson’s blue bowl, bobbing away in the wind. The boys were beside themselves, perhaps equally upset about the loss of the bowl and the now water-logged dessert. I wrestled Marshmallow off the dock and into the water, rowed to retrieve the bowl, and became their hero for the day when I returned with the soggy pumpkin bread. At least we’ve instilled the lesson that losing things overboard is to be avoided, though they are apparently still learning to scale their response to the seriousness of the situation.

We had to abandon our plans to take the outer route to Sitka due to the recent weather. A 30 knot headwind and thirteen foot seas along an exposed coastline didn’t sound like a good mix, even for our stout boat. The high pressure system bringing strong NW winds has finally weakened but a low chased hotly behind, quickly building to a south gale with 45 knot winds. More mellow weather is in the forecast but tonight it’s blowing hard as we swing back and forth on anchor. We will likely work our way up Chatham Strait and skip the outer coast unless conditions stabilize soon.

 

 View from the west coast of Prince of Wales Island. 

View from the west coast of Prince of Wales Island. 

 Breach! 

Breach! 

 Quiet anchorage.

Quiet anchorage.

 Shrimp in the sunshine.

Shrimp in the sunshine.

 Whale watching.

Whale watching.

 Spelunking in El Capitan cave.

Spelunking in El Capitan cave.

 Dawson’s special. Jumping down each of 345 steps.

Dawson’s special. Jumping down each of 345 steps.

 Popular pastime. Boat within a boat.

Popular pastime. Boat within a boat.

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Finally sailing again!

 Yellowlegs at home in the mud.

Yellowlegs at home in the mud.

 Happy at sail.

Happy at sail.

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Scouting for channel markers.

 There must be a moose around here somewhere!

There must be a moose around here somewhere!

 Waterfall ascent.

Waterfall ascent.

 Leaving Hole-in-the-Wall anchorage. (It’s narrower than it looks!)

Leaving Hole-in-the-Wall anchorage. (It’s narrower than it looks!)

 Big trees, good climbing.

Big trees, good climbing.

 Low tide exploring.

Low tide exploring.

 Brother love. (Followed by an aggressive wrestling match.)

Brother love. (Followed by an aggressive wrestling match.)

 “OK, now here’s our log.” 

“OK, now here’s our log.” 

  “Here are the paddles.”

 “Here are the paddles.”

 “Now, mommy, help us push!” 

“Now, mommy, help us push!” 

 Turnstones on the move.

Turnstones on the move.

 Who needs pants, anyway? 

Who needs pants, anyway? 

 Contemplating the rain.

Contemplating the rain.

 Playing with sticks.

Playing with sticks.