Punchbowl, AK – This year versus Last

It’s difficult not to compare that second time one does something with the first.

Jennifer and I find ourselves doing that often these last couple of days.

We compare our calendar and where we were last year against where we are this year. The comparison is a false one: so much was different.

We feel like we’ve sat at anchor for days this year doing nothing, while last year at this time we‘d sat at anchor waiting for parts, and then sat a t a dock waiting for parts. Jennifer and I spent weeks apart last year as Jennifer flew to Owen’s graduation and I flew to say good bye to my dying friend JoAnn.

Yesterday, we were in Punchbowl, two day’s sail from Ketchikan, though we took three days, stopping in a small cove we knew a few hours south of Ketchikan that contained a mooring buoy. And then staying at a further cove, with a Park Service cabin and buoy.

Circumnavigating Revilla, as the Island is colloquially known, is difficult because of the lack of anchorage. Jennifer has us plotted to use mooring buoys, but there is generally just one per cove or inlet.

Our plan has been to leave early and arrive at the next shortly after most people will have just left for the next stop.

Anchoring in Punchbowl Cove was difficult. After a few hours we started to drag into shallow water. Yep, the mooring buoy was occupied when we arrived.

To choose a place to drop anchor Jennifer scribes a circle around the perimeter of the area following a contour line. Then drops the anchor so that our swing does not take us outside the scribed perimeter.

For the first time in Caro Babbo, and the first time since 2009. Jennifer ventured too close to shallow water and we slowly, gently ran aground in soft sand and shells.

The depth sounder said five feet. Unladen, we draw four-foot nine. The inches discrepancy sounded pretty accurate to me, then I remembered we are fully loaded (600 lbs of water, 100 lb of fuel, 440 pounds of people – 16 pounds of cat – and several hundred pounds of supplies, spares, anchors and equipment, plus a 148 lb dinghy on the deck), we are floating three or more inches below our unladed water line.

We turned the wheel hard to starboard, gently fed fuel and moved into deeper water.

Two hours after anchoring, about noon, the small runabout that had been on the buoy loaded up its passengers and kayaks and started away. We had already made the decision to move to the buoy, as one of security. We wrestled with pride and decided to make the safer decision. As we waited for the runabout to move off, the depth sounder signaled we were in water shallower, much shallower that the perimeter. The anchor took fifty feet to reset after the tide change – if it had reset at all. Our decision to move was borne out before the fact.

Punchbowl cove is out of communications with the world… No radio, no internet, no phone. But it is a few minutes by plane or an hour or two by fast catamaran tour boat from the cruise liners docked in Ketchikan. Punch bowl and the attached Rudyerd Bay rival Teeterboro Airport for a few hours each morning with literally dozens of over flights and landings during the few hours the cruise liners are docked in Ketchikan.

Coming into Punch Bowl, we could see through 8X binoculars a smudge, which migh have been the buoy. As we motored towards it, three large, twelve passenger turboprop floatplanes circled and landed a good distance from us, giving us a sense of scale. Coming from anywhere else, the scale of Alaska landscape is something we never quite come to terms with. At five knots, it was more that half an hour to the buoy.

The floatplanes circled, landed (watered?), cut their engines and then allowed their passengers to climb down on the floats.

The punch bowl is surrounded with nearly vertical, rock walls, black, scoured and striped with waterfalls. Tuesday, the weather report had been for showers, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday for rain. I asked Jennifer Thursday evening if we had ever seen 36 hours of unbroken rain… Not rain that tapers to drizzle and then starts again. This was 36 hours for pure homogeneous rain.

Thursday morning, we dared fate left our mooring ball by seven and traveled the 22-mile round trip Rudyerd Bay at the end of the fiord and back. We have arrived there at ten am Wednesday and seen the three float planes land, and a few float planes fly below cliff height through the fiord.

Again, we were reminded of the scale, by watching a floatplane arc around a mountain, land in the bay with us, and then taxi to a stop so the passengers can climb down on the float. They photograph the 31’ sailboat with the bright yellow dinghy on the deck.

We motored back to the mooring ball and found it empty still. No one came into punch to anchor overnight before we left the next morning.

Author: johnjuliano

One-third owner of Caro Babbo, co-captain and in command whenever Caro Babbo is under sail.

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