Thursday, 30 January 2020

More Ice - Yale Glacier and Watersports

Yale Glacier in the distance with Fluenta anchored in Tuition Cove.

We loved the Nellie Juan Glacier so much that we felt that we could stay there for weeks, but when we woke to grey, leaden skies one morning, we decided that it was a better day for transiting than glacier watching, and motored the 40 nm to College Fjord in late August.

Liz guiding us through College Fjord.  Harvard Glacier is seen in the distance.  You can see a big piece of ice off to the left.

Most of the trip was through clear water, but when we got to within the last few miles of Yale and Harvard we put our years of coral-spotting into practice, and navigated carefully around and between pieces of floating ice.  I went on the bow for a quick minute when we encountered some ice, and I came back to the cockpit an hour later when we were anchored!  I was thankful that I had bundled up beforehand, and that we had grabbed our headsets.  Just before sunset, we anchored in a little nook called Tuition Cove, within sight of Yale Glacier.

All afternoon we motored near what we assumed were spectacular mountain views, but we couldn't see them for the heavy, grey skies.  We worried that the weather had changed and we had arrived at Prince William Sound only to experience the end of the summer sunshine we had been enjoying while we were in Seldovia and Homer.  The bright sunshine that greeted us the next morning proved our fears unfounded, and we had brilliant blue skies for the rest of the week.

Yale Glacier in the background

There are hardly words for the beauty we found when we anchored at Tuition Cove.  We anchored at 7pm in this sheltered refuge, with a handful of pieces of ice around us reminding us that there were glaciers nearby.  We woke to a view of numerous glaciers hanging from the mountains that encircled us.  The morning sun lit the face of Yale Glacier, and all the mountains were reflected in the still water (in fact, Victoria took a photo of the scene, and when she showed it to me, I couldn't tell which way was up!). 

There were some 14 glaciers visible from the anchorage (Victoria photo)
Our chart showed that the face of the glacier would be a little over 2nm from the anchorage, but the dinghy ride was more like 4 or 5 nm due to the distance that the glacier had receded since the charts were drawn.  The dinghy ride, as usual, felt like a high-stakes endeavour, with our path blockaded in most directions with densely-packed pieces of ice:  a journey that would normally be accomplished in 15 min took nearly an hour. 

Picnic with the ice.

As we approached the glacier, we could see it snaking smoothly down to the water from a great height, but by the time we arrived, all we could see was the jagged vertical face.  Some people sit in their dinghies for hours waiting for a piece of ice to fall, but we were fortunate that the show started almost right away.  Numerous times, the impact of the ice set up an undulating swell that picked up our dinghy and noticeably moved us.  At one point, we saw a piece break off from under the water and come rocketing up past the surface before toppling sideways back into the sea.  As usual, we made a game of guessing which precarious piece would be the next to fall.  Given that we were still some distance away from the face, it was sometimes hard to see the falling ice, as it had often stopped moving by the time we heard it (queue the homeschool physics lesson on sound and light here...).  Sometimes the loudest noises were made by the smallest pieces - little rocks would bounce off the cliff and sound like massive bergie bits falling.

Boom ! Considering the face of the glacier is about 200' high this is a lot of ice falling.

Given that the round trip in the dinghy was two hours, and we spent much of the day at the glacier, you may be wondering what we did when nature called :)  Not having facilities in the dinghy, and not having a beach to land on, we were a bit stumped, but eventually the call got stronger than my hesitation, so we nosed the dinghy gingerly towards a rocky cliff where a few rocks at the bottom created a bit of a platform, and scrambled carefully, in shifts, over the bow to the rocks, where we each found an appropriate spot for our contribution, all while keeping a cautious watch above for falling rocks.  Once we were all back in the dinghy at the end of the evolution we felt 'relief' in more ways than one!

The relief trip.
As much as we enjoyed the show of falling ice, it was hard not to feel concerned about the causes of our warm sunny weather and beautiful blue skies.  The relentless march of ancient ice into modern ocean was sobering, and we reminded our children to enjoy it because no one knows how much ice will be left when they are adults.

Harvard and Yale Glaciers from 1899.  Yale Glacier is on the right and Fluenta is about 2nm further from the face of the glacier in the photo and the present face is about 5nm further.

Even when we got back to Fluenta in the evenings, the show continued.  We could sit in our cockpit and hear the thunder of ice falling at the glacier. One time, I even happened to see it as it fell - and it took about 11 seconds for the sound to reach me.  It really was a bit like watching a safe thunder and lightning show!

Ogopogo !

Tuition Cove was a lovely anchorage for family movie nights - we didn't have many boat jobs to do, there was no internet to distract anyone, and it was getting cold enough that everyone appreciated the chance to heap together on the aft bunk with our TV propped up in the corner of the room.  One of the movies that we watched was "Shackleton" and it was profound to experience the story of a team who spent so much time in the ice, while we could hear pieces from the glacier bumping against our hull.  We actually tipped the engine of the dinghy when we hoisted it to the toe rail in order that it wouldn't be bumped by the ice moving around us.

Victoria pushing the ice away.

We woke on our third morning at Tuition cove with a thought of moving on to another anchorage, but the weather had a different plan.  The tide had filled the cove with ice to the point that we didn't think it would be advisable to move, and the forecast was for 30 kts in the channel in front of Harvard Glacier.  It didn't take much convincing for us to decide to stay put for the day, and we had a lovely bonus day at anchor.

Ice around Fluenta

Ice around Fluenta

By the afternoon, the sun had come out and the ice had mostly cleared, so it was time for Arctic Watersports Day.  The first event was swimming stations: Max was the only one who signed up.  The rest of us were happy to goad (I mean encourage) him from the sidelines, but no one else volunteered to cannonball from the life lines.  With the big pieces of ice floating by, the next activity was obviously "ice standing" so Victoria, Johnathan, and Max each took their turn to pose on top of a piece of floating ice (I offered to take pictures).  Finally, as the afternoon was drawing to a close, Max got his wish of paddleboarding to the ice.  With a water temperature in the single digits, I have to admit that I was relieved when he came back, but he seemed pretty at ease on his board :)

Nice day for a paddleboard trip

Kids on ice.

Kids on ice.

Time for a swim.  Benjamin "helping"

A bit chilly.

Icy watersports were not my thing, but I did seize the chance to lay my yoga mat down for the first time since Ailuk (late March!)  The little rocky outcropping beside us offered the least chance of sharing my space with bears, so I got dropped off in the dinghy, and managed to find the one mat-sized space to practice.  It was a different feeling to be standing on hard rock after years of rooting into sand.  With mountains on either side of me, a view of Yale Glacier before me, and water all around me, I felt profoundly grateful that we had managed to journey to this place.  It was glorious to be in such an extraordinary new setting, while following the familiar instructions in my usual podcast.  A sunset yoga practice seemed like a fitting conclusion to an extraordinary week.

Alaskan Yoga Studio

Love to all,

A chart covering most of our travels in Prince William Sound last summer (Nellie Juan from the last post is further to the south).  Yale Fjord is shown by the blue arrow.  The red lines are our GPS tracks.

A larger scale chart showing our anchorage in Tuition Cove (marked with the blue arrow) and Yale Glacier to our east.  Note is has receded about 2 nm from this chart.

Gratuitous sea otter photo.

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