Saturday, August 7, 2010

Poison and Complex Passageways in Peril Strait

Monday, July 26

Lots of current
Peril Strait is a 39-mile waterway that cuts diagonally between Baranof and Chichagof Islands, a route that essentially all boats use to navigate to Sitka from the inside.

Its name is a bit of a misnomer. For one, the waterway is anything but straight. But rather a series of zigzagging passageways that twist and wind around granite islands, mixed with hidden rocks, riptides, markers, narrows, and very strong currents. For a captain like Roland who loves a challenge … it’s a beaut.

Secondly, despite the “perils” of navigating these waters, the true source of the name results from an incident dating back to 1799 when a party of Aleut hunters camped on the beaches in this stretch of water, ate some of the mussels, and over 100 died from what is now known as paralytic shellfish poisoning.
Channel buoy in Sergious Narrows

The Russians named the waterway Pogibshii, meaning deadly, which has since been translated in English … to Peril Strait. The episode is duly noted with other names along the way, such as Poison Cove, the site where the mussels were collected … and Deadman Reach, where the hunters ate their last meal.

Note lower right.... 12.1 knots
But these locations were inconsequential to us. We had our sites set on Sergius Narrows ... a 450-foot wide channel where the tide is known to rush through at speeds topping 9 ½ knots (Engelenbak runs at 7-8 knots in comparison).

As a rule of thumb, you can tell the strength and direction of the current by the tilt of the channel buoys. Normally you try to time your entrance into narrow passageways to coincide with slack tide, either at the top of high tide or bottom of low tide, when there is the least amount of water movement.

Sukoi Inlet
We timed our passage through Sergius Narrows a little more than an hour before slack, hoping to get a slight push behind us. You can see in the photos we had more than enough PUSH … and what a ride! You could feel the water lift us and in seconds Engelenbak was gliding through the narrows at 12.1 knots. Just moments later, we were back down to 6 knots … but what a rush!

And quite a contrast to the serenity of our anchorage that evening in Sukoi Inlet ...

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About Engelenbak

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Engelenbak is a custom-built 62-foot steel trawler ... designed to cruise anywhere in the world.