Race to Alaska: Seymour Narrows

View the next morning.

We pedal until midnight to an anchorage in Duncan Bay, then wake again at two A.M., trying to hit the Narrows around three: catch a slowing northward current and the slack, anchor just beyond.

It’s full dark at two, and three. We have both pedal stations rigged, but we’ve been able to make a steady five knots tacking across the headwind. It’s not as fast as we need to be.

We raise the jib sail, which is tricky to route through our side-mounted pedal stations. I’m on the foredeck, sipping Stash chai out of my thermos. I’m watching for logs (there are many) and helping the jib thread between the bike gears and the lifelines when we tack.

Three-forty, the wind is still good, the current still gently with us, the light starting to come up. But we’d like to be in the Narrows by now, and we’re still 20 minutes out. Slack tide is at 4:15, and half an hour to either side is a current we can’t handle. The worst that could happen would be to begin to cross, get most of the way through on the slack water, then be shot backwards as the current builds against us.

It’s around 4 when we make the Narrows entrance. We’re still tacking in the headwind, avoiding the west side because we’ve read it has the worst whirlpools. The Narrows is short, beautiful: conifers above the cliffs, pink just beginning to tinge the sky.

The wind is so good that we’re talking about passing the quick anchorage of Plumper Bay at the northeast edge of the Narrows, heading on to Deepwater Bay.

You can see the water change. Slack tide is a moment, not a span of minutes. The current goes one way, and then the other, just as breath goes in and out of the lungs without really pausing between. Strange ripples appear, horizontal boils. And we’re not quite out of the Narrows yet.

Actually, we’ve tacked toward the center, hoping for better wind. The collective confidence suddenly drops. We had better get back to the east side and Plumper Bay, quickly.

We tack back and the boat heels, dragging the starboard pedal station hard in the rushing water. Something on it makes a popping sound. We head up into the wind, helping it pull back up out of the water, but it has likely taken damage.

We’re most of the way to the point of the bay and safety when the wind begins to drop. We’ve flattened out, so the port side pedal station can be lowered into the water; I make a quick transition and start pedaling. The jib is still full and in the way on the starboard side, so Rick and Ert add power by paddling in sync off the port bow. There’s drifting wood junk, but we manage to miss anything big.

Success is gradual. We make the little bay in tens of minutes. I peel off layers while pedaling: raincoat, fleece, underarmor layer. Liam swaps in for Ert up on the bow.

At last, we reach a safe anchorage, 42 feet of depth, drifting logs everywhere but moving slow. We drop anchor and settle in to sleep: wake time is 9am to catch the northgoing tidal current through Johnstone Strait.

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An adventurer, woodland creature, and engineer. Currently working on data ownership models, environmental accountability, and intentional community.

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Kelsey Breseman

Kelsey Breseman

An adventurer, woodland creature, and engineer. Currently working on data ownership models, environmental accountability, and intentional community.

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