Days 35 – 37 | Flotilla to Alaska | Tracy Arm Cove, Endicott Arm, Ford’s Terror

The weather during this flotilla hasn’t all been great, but when it has counted the most (in the most beautiful spots), the weather weather has cooperated unusually well. Few experiences during a summer cruise in Alaska rival visiting a tidewater glacier, and being able to do it on a sunny day is a huge bonus. Somehow, we lucked into wonderful weather for our trip up Endicott Arm and into Ford’s Terror. The early morning greeted us with cloud-free, still blue skies, perfect for exploring Dawes Glacier.

The trip up Endicott Arm is incredibly beautiful. It’s difficult to know where to look because there’s so much to see on all sides. Waterfalls, hanging glaciers, jagged mountain peaks, and ever changing icebergs. These majestic views never get old. 

It was warm enough for a little while to go up on the flybridge on Airship, but not for long.

Dawes Glacier served as an excellent air conditioner today. We’ve been hearing about the heatwave happening currently in Seattle and Portland. It’s warmer up here, too, with temperatures in the 70 most places. But in Endicott Arm, even in full sun, we didn’t see air temperatures above the mid 50s. Water temps hovered in the low 40s.

Ice was minimal for awhile, requiring careful attention to dodge but no reduction in speed. But as we got closer, the ice thickened to the point where further progress was slow and occasionally loud. We were close enough to see the glacier—about five miles away—but not close enough to fully experience any calving. Still, an awesome experience.

Laura and Kevin on Airship
John and LuAnne on Bonito
Ralph and Jeanette on Rubicon
Julie and David on Dog Star
Sam and Anna on Akeeva

Kevin took a drone up for some aerial shots before we left, and every time we find it shocking how much thinner the ice looks from the air than it does when your boat is right in the middle of it.

After enjoying the glacier for awhile, we turned around and slowly motored back towards Ford’s Terror.

Even at reduced speed, we arrived too early, so we took turns taking photos of boats in front of the nearby waterfall and dinghying through the rapids to give participants a better feeling for the route and the hazards.

Akeeva at the waterfall outside of Ford’s Terror
Bonito at the waterfall outside of Ford’s Terror
Rubicon at the waterfall outside of Ford’s Terror
Dinghying through the rapids in and out of Ford’s Terror

About 35 minutes after high water at Wood Spit, we slipped through the narrows with just a few knots of current and into Ford’s Terror.

After being away for a year longer than usual, Ford’s Terror looked more magnificent than ever. So many waterfalls, such high peaks, snowfields down to high tide. We rounded the corner to the west anchorage and found it empty of boats. Score!

By the time we were all anchored it was 6:30 p.m. Rather than the usual happy hour aboard one of the boats, we launched our dinghies and had dinghy happy hour, floating among the snowfields and waterfalls and enjoying the 70 degree evening (it finally warmed up once we turned off Endicott Arm).

Floating happy hour in the dinghies
Exploring Ford’s Terror by dinghy
Sam, dinghying in Ford’s Terror

This giant crevasse in the fjord walls with a waterfall in it is always a huge reward (and really hard to capture in photographs!)

The next day we awoke with little to do. We had the group over to the raft for brunch, then explored more by dinghy and kayaks. We checked out the entrance at low water, and confirmed that we prefer high water! We also noted that low water slack occurs substantially later than high water slack–something like 2:00-2:30 after low water at Wood Spit.

Laura’s brother Jason gets out in the kayak

A few notable things happened in Ford’s Terror that were, thankfully, unrelated to our group. The first was three large boats (~60 footers) anchored in the east arm. Two of them made it across the bar without any trouble, but the last one did not; at least one of their props made contact with a rock. Large and irregular boulders, no visibility through the water, and no accurate charts make transiting to the east anchorage mostly a game of luck. We don’t recommend it.

The second thing was a medical emergency. A crew member fell through an open hatch, resulting in a significant shin laceration. They were able to control the bleeding, make a hasty exit (several hours later at the next high slack) from Ford’s Terror, and then make a late-night run to the ER in Juneau. This was a good reminder of how quickly things can change and the importance of taking extra care when traveling in remote areas where medical care isn’t super readily available.

Coming out of the east arm of Ford’s Terror during a pretty hefty ebb through the rapids (in the dinghy)
This is why this transit should not be attempted during anything other than high slack, and even then, the east arm entrance is peppered with large boulders (uncharted) that are tricky to avoid at any water level

The heatwave finally caught up with us. With the sun beating down, air temperatures reached the 70s (!!), and a few of us even switched on the air conditioning to keep the interior comfortable. One downside to the nice weather: bugs, lots of bugs. Horseflies, black flies, no-see-ums. Bug spray helps, and they’re not a problem when going fast in the dinghy, but they make lounging in the sun a little less attractive than it otherwise would be.

We spotted several bears during our stay in Ford’s Terror, and we were able to float along the shore observing as they did their bear thing (which right now is eating grass and turning over rocks looking for stuff to eat besides grass). We watched this sow and cub as they made their way along the rocky shore and into the meadow at the head of the bay, near our boats.

The mama turned this rock over with no problem, looking for snacks underneath.

The cub couldn’t even budge it (but look at those paws!!)

This bear was blowing bubbles! Unfortunately the only camera we had at the time was an iPhone:

Some aerials of the anchorage and surrounding landscape:

We were having such a nice time in Ford’s Terror that we decided to stay an extra night. Originally, we’d planned to leave at about 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday evening, spend the night at Tracy Arm Cove, and continue on to Juneau the following day to conclude the flotilla. But leaving Ford’s Terror that late meant we’d be arriving at Tracy Arm Cove at bedtime. Instead, we could leave first thing Wednesday morning and spend an extra night in Ford’s Terror.

Julie and David invited the group for dinner on Dog Star for our last night in Ford’s Terror…homemade pizzas (they were delicious!)

This pizza was made with prawns caught right here in Ford’s Terror
View from dinner on Dog Star
Akeeva and Airship rafted in Ford’s Terror

The only downside to staying an extra night was that we’d have a longish, 65nm cruise to Juneau instead of two shorter days, but that was a small price to pay for another night in this incredible paradise.

49.5nm today
1331.9nm total