It’s June and I’m cold. A heavy rain pelts my black Musto jacket and I pull the brim of the hood down slightly to let water drip off. I watch the drops fall on the toes of my boots, roll off and disappear onto the cockpit floor. Looking up, I scan the water in front of Yahtzee and see nothing but grey. Well, there are white caps whipped up by a brisk wind, but other than that it’s all shades of grey — water, clouds, rocks, mountains.
Clenching my hands together into a loose ball, I bring them to my mouth and blow a steady breath inside for warmth. It does little. I was warm yesterday. Hot, even. And I know it will come again. Maybe in 10 minutes when this squall passes.
Sure enough, the precipitation turns from a downpour to a steady rain to a surly drip. Then it stops. A patch of blue sky breaks over Stephens Passage and within minutes I’m closing my eyes, lifting my face to the sun. Smiling.
Rain, sun, wind, no wind. Rain, sun, wind, no wind. This is the end of spring in Southeast Alaska and I love it. There’s no place I’d rather be.
That night the rain pounds hard on deck and I lay awake, listening. When the alarm goes off at 5 a.m. I’m thinking about the tide instead. It’s low and we need to move 25 miles up Endicott Arm with the flood to catch it high and slack at the entrance to Ford’s Terror. I’ve built in extra time and go through my daily engine checks leisurely. Water is on the stove for coffee when I climb on deck to hoist the anchor. I find patches of blue sky breaking over white mountain tops and am happy yet not surprised.
Nearing the entrance to the long fjord we pass a massive iceberg that we stopped to admire the day before. Leaving it on our starboard side, I think about Jill and the boys paddling around it just twelve hours earlier and how much it has changed and how far it has drifted since then. A metaphor for life. It’s much smaller and in a completely different place. The brilliant blue emanating from its craggy shape is still breathtaking and its color is something that truly can’t be duplicated.
Moving along, I sip hot coffee from my Tervis Tumbler and watch more bergs pass while heading eastward up the long arm between mountains. The sky alternates between sun, rain and clouds. The wind comes and goes. Typical. I try to catch a bergy bit with our fishing net but it’s too big and bounces off. More coffee, breakfast and I jog in place and stretch to warm my blood and bones.
Soon everyone is on deck and we make the turn into Ford’s Terror towards the narrow entrance that will grant us passage into what is suppose to be one of the most stunning places in Southeast Alaska. Approaching the slot between rocks, Jill and I take turns looking through the binoculars at the water ahead and see that it’s still a torrent. We’ve arrived early and the current is absolutely ripping. Better early than late.
Biding our time, I shut the engine down and we roll out the genoa. Tacking gracefully back and forth across the inlet, Jill, her mom, Donna, and I share stories and laughter. The boys play quietly down below before a spat ensues and then they’re both in their gear again and on deck. It’s go time.
The entrance to Ford’s Terror can be just that, terror. But when timed right, and with some passed along knowledge, it isn’t intimidating and is somewhat reminiscent of navigating a river. Watch the currents and you’re good.
Waterfalls spill down into the sea around us as I turn Yahtzee into the passage, which is mere boat lengths wide. Jill sits perched on the bow looking for any surprises ahead and below. Walls of rock tower above the mast and with a bit of way on I play the last of the flood to my advantage, sliding towards and then past a dark granite face. The depth gauge drops, rises, drops again and finally gets to a point that is comfortably deep. We’re in.
Motoring swiftly into Ford’s Terror now, the scenery comes alive. More waterfalls tumble from snowfields high above. An eagle takes flight from a tree and swoops effortlessly towards the glacial-tinged water. And seals poke their heads up to see who’s coming. It’s us, and only us.
Being poorly charted, coupled with a current that can hit a terrifying 12 knots, boats only navigate the entrance at slack water and we’re the lone cruising vessel here. We’ve got the place to ourselves and the solitude is palpable yet relaxing.
Awe-struck, we round a corner and choose a spot to anchor in the west arm. On approach, the sun bursts through twisting clouds and illuminates a verdant valley high above. Sheer cliffs shoot thousands of feet up on nearly all sides while our mouths are either agape or spilling adjectives that don’t seem to quite capture the moment. Pictures don’t even come close to doing it justice either.
With the anchor set in 100-feet, Yahtzee swings with the outflow of rivers and waterfalls and the sun seems to be taking up residence with us in this incredible place. Porter and I quickly jump in the kayak and head for the white water emerging from the woods. We paddle up the small river until the current overwhelms us and and then hop out on the bank. Porter scampers over rocks and through sand while I ease the boat along by hand. Soon we’re back in it shooting down the rapids with exhilarated laughs and hoots and hollers. It was so much fun I pull it back up river and we do it again.
Having arrived in the late morning, our crew chooses an assorted set of adventures for the afternoon to discover our magnificent surroundings. Exploring by kayak and paddleboard and later on foot, we poke around the small cove then return to the boat for happy hour and to put dinner on the grill, all the while taking in the immense scenery enveloping us.
Magnus wakes the boat early the next morning and soon we’re all out of our bunks. Being the day before solstice the sun has already been up for hours, though it never really got dark anyway. A light rain gives way when the sun appears from behind a peak to the east. A large swath of blue sky opens and Yahtzee is bathed in an amazing morning glow. Trees, grass and flowers ashore soak it up like we do and the feeling is one of abundance and life.
I head out in the kayak by myself to shoot some pictures. Sitting in the middle of the cove I set my camera down and look around. Sunshine bounces off high rock faces, clouds swirl and my mind does the same. Focused on the moment yet far away, I come to realize once again how small we are in this rugged wilderness, how incredible it is to be here and where we’re going next, not just today, but every day.
The tide rises all morning and I check the time more frequently as high slack nears. Our crew lazily enjoys the time and before long the boats are back on deck, the engine is on, the anchor chain is grinding up through the windlass and I point the bow towards the narrow exit.
Winding our way back out, I can’t help but think that Ford’s Terror is certainly one of the most beautiful places we’ve been on Yahtzee — or anywhere, ever. It’s a small slice of heaven on earth, on par with Glacier Bay and a cut above Princess Louisa Inlet. It’s truly an amazing paradise.