The ship’s navigational system could be programmed so the captain would know how far it was to his destination and how long it would take at his current speed. He had consulted the tidal charts (very important in these northern waters) and knew the critical window of high slack tide (14:00 to 14:15 hours) to get through the narrow passage and into the beautiful fjord where he wanted to anchor for the night.
Entrance to Ford’s Terror
When we reached the entrance, the captain idled the engines and we sat. Every two or three minutes he would pick up his binoculars and look. Not quite yet. Finally he decided it was safe to proceed. The surface of the water was still, neither moving in or out.
Ford’s Terror is a narrow fjord with very steep, very high vertical walls. It is also very deep and the water very cold. It got its name in 1899 when a naval crewman named Ford saw this beautiful, calm passage at slack tide, and decided to investigate in his dinghy. He rowed around for a little while and when he was leaving, the tide surged and he was caught in the turbulence for a terrifying six hours. Thus the name, and the lesson for boaters wanting to explore this beautiful area.
Traversing the entrance of Ford’s Terror fjord.
Captain Ron proceeded slowly and carefully because the passage is narrow and shallow. First Mate Tommy sat next to the captain with his eyes glued to the depth meter, calling out five feet, six and a half feet… I cured my tension by stepping out on the bridge deck, so I could get a little exercise – shudder finger exercise.
When the tide is flowing either in or out, there can be as much as a 3 foot drop in levels and the water churns in white-water rapids because of the shallow depth. This is especially deadly at low tide. I would love to see it, maybe experience it, but the smarter part of my brain was happy for our calm passage.
What a place to anchor – all adjectives I can think of seem inadequate. Those glaciers did a brilliant job of gouging out this peaceful cove.
Captain Ron had to wait for the next day’s high slack tide for our safe departure, so there was time for skiff rides and kayaking – the water toys were lowered. We went on a skiff ride in the evening and also saw a demonstration of kayaking skills and safety. The kayaks would not be available for us until morning because they enforce the rule that no one can get in a kayak in the evening if they had alcohol with dinner.
I was up early the next morning because: a) I still hadn’t adjusted from Eastern Time to Alaska Time (4 hours); b) I wanted to get some photos in the early morning light – but not dawn’s light at 3:00; and c) Crew member Dillon had promised me the night before that he would take me on my very first kayaking adventure. Dillon – my hero!
My reward for getting up was a beautiful mist hanging over the water.
I later learned that traveling companions had seen a rock slide on the shore close to our ship and this was dust hanging. It reminded me of the constant dangers that are present in Alaska’s wilderness, and the extent of my naivety about surviving in this ‘hood.
My real reward was going in a kayak, relaxed as I explored the differences between canoeing and kayaking – and also taking a few photographs. Dillon did a wonderful job of making me believe I was an important member of our paddling team, as he kept us going straight and steady.
It surprised me that Dillon was the one who suggested we get back because the other crew members needed him to help with the work. I wasn’t ready to leave the calm and peace of floating on these still waters.
As we were (sadly) exiting Ford’s Terror, I was amazed at the beauty I had missed when we had passed that way before.
Previous posts about my small ship cruise in Alaska’s Southeast Passageway are Life Aboard a Small Ship, Dawes Glacier, and Whoa, Close Enough.