Sea Otters entertain us as we work our way south down Chatham Strait. Several seiners are out working along the steep cliffs of Kuiu Island. The snow capped peaks of Baranof Island are replaced with low lying forested hills of Kuiu. The fetch builds as we continue south towards the open waters of the Pacific.
Our anchorage for the next few days is in an area known as the Bay of Pillars. The sea otters continue to amuse us as they float among the kelp fronds. Once anchored, we take advantage of the unusual sunny weather to do some varnish and waxing chores.
Several days later, we continue south just a few miles down Chatham Strait and round Point Ellis where we enter Tebenkof Bay. This is our anchorage for the next few days. As we cruise past the many islets, the number of sea otters lallygagging in the warm calm waters is the most we have seen anywhere. We see one group of almost 25 rafted together. The sea otter population in SE Alaska was nearly reduced to extinction in the 1800’s by the fur trade. They were reintroduced in the mid 1900’s and the population has been exploding in recent years. These cute little creatures are hated by many of the fishermen. They have been migrating further and further into the inner channels wrecking havoc with the commercial crabbers. We have begun to see them in small numbers even around Petersburg. Many of the fishermen are calling for an open season for hunting sea otters. Sea otters do however provide some benefit as they happily munch on sea urchins which are the prime destructors of kelp forrest. It will be interesting to see how this develops in the next few years.
The weather continues to be amazing with hot sunny days. Climate change is dramatically impacting Alaska. This weather would have been unheard of several years ago. We again take advantage of these clear days to apply some more coats of varnish. Between coats of varnish, we set out in the dinghy for a six mile trip to an anchorage known as “The Eye of the Needle”. The guidebook description sounds intriguing calling it a “ primeval wilderness area”. We pass many more sea otters on the trip. Just after entering the narrow channel, we spot a black bear on shore. He hears the dinghy motor and quickly runs into the forrest. Kuiu has only Black Bears on the island, no browns. The salmon are jumping all around as we work our way up the narrow channel, sometimes only 100 yards wide. At the head of the bay, hundreds of salmon are gathered waiting to push upstream. There is a mom black bear and two cubs out feeding on the salmon. We manage to catch three pink salmon or what they call “humpies” here in Alaska. However, these are not consider prime eating by salmon aficionados especially now that their bodies are changing for spawning.
With all of our varnish and waxing projects completed, it is now time to start our northern leg of the trip up Chatham Strait while circumnavigating Admiralty Island.