Susan C. Anthony

Rocking and Rolling on Prince William Sound

GPS breadcrumb trail after the stormJuly 17 - 23, 2004

With one thing after another (after another after another), two weeks passed after our planned date of departure for a sailing trip in Prince William Sound. We had to pack and unpack the coolers three times because of continuing crises and delays. We finally got out of the driveway and breathed a sigh of relief July 14.

Less than 20 miles down the road, the truck bogged down and wouldn't pull the boat. We borrowed a truck from a friend to launch, then came back to Anchorage and traded in our pickup for a new one, a lot less classy, but on warranty! We never did find out what was wrong with the other one. By the time we got to the dealer, it was running fine. Years later we saw it in a parking lot and talked to the new owner. It had given him no trouble.

We stepped the mast, rigged the boat, and finally cast off July 16. A few miles from port the outboard quit. Water in the gas! We limped back and drained all the gas, cleaned the tank, ran into town for parts, and did what had to be done. It wasn't until July 17 that we finally started on the real trip.

We quickly shed all the stress and entered a fresh, new world. The weather was perfect, but a storm was en route. We decided to wait it out in Bear Cove on the west side of Knight Island. Our cruising guide said it was a very secure anchorage.

What the guide didn't mention was the violent williwaws. Wind blows unimpeded across the ocean from the southeast until it reaches an island, where it must go up and over mountain peaks. It gains speed because of Bernoulli's principle, the same force that causes an airplane wing to lift. Daniel Bernoulli, a Swiss mathematician who lived in the 1700s, discovered that the higher the speed of a flowing gas or fluid (air), the lower the pressure. Wind picks up speed as it ascends a mountain. At the top, its speed suddenly decreases and the pressure then increases, slamming the air downslope onto whatever is below, in this case, us.

We had put out two heavy anchors with plenty of scope and tied everything down securely. At midnight, we were awakened by a violent blast that sent everything flying. By 2:00 a.m. it was impossible to sleep. For the next 16 hours, there was nothing we could do but hold on. The boat heeled over 25° at times. Once Dennis looked outside and saw a 30' waterspout headed our way. We knew if our anchors dragged, we'd be on the rocks in no time. Our eyes were glued to the depth sounder and the GPS. Those wonderful instruments assured us that all was well far below in the inky water. The anchors held. It was indeed a secure anchorage.

The GPS makes a bread crumb trail of where the boat goes. By the time the wind abated, everything within the circle was practically black, like a ball of yarn tightly wound. (photo above)

The sun never shown brighter than it did after that storm passed! The water calmed quickly and we continued on our way south to Drier Bay. We began relying more and more on the GPS. It showed us right where we were in relation to charted rocks and islands.

What we didn't anticipate were uncharted rocks. We were perfectly in the clear according to the GPS and the water was hundreds of feet deep when the bottom started coming up rapidly. I yelled at Dennis to take the boat off autopilot and change course. He thought I was joking until BOOM, we hit hard. Dennis crashed into the bulkhead, the barbecue smashed through the companionway, and I expected the boat to sink immediately. It didn't. We floated off the rock on the rising tide, got into the canoe and took as good a look as we could at the keel. It was scratched but not misshapen. Very little water leaked in that night and since it was a weekend, we decided to stay out a few more days before heading back to Whittier to haul it out and inspect the damage.

The rock we ran into.For any of you boaters with a GPS, the exact coordinates of this rock are 60°19.829 N, 147°46.698 W. We'd have passed right over it had the tide been a few inches higher.

It was a great couple of days. Nearly 100 Dall porpoise joined us, racing and frolicking around the boat. We motored down narrow Bainbridge Passage and the tide changed halfway through, forming powerful whirlpools. I was hiking down a stream near an old mining camp when something black and furry strolled out of the bushes only 20 feet or so ahead of me. A bear! I screamed! Dennis, down on the beach, yelled and shot into the air. The poor bear took off in terror and probably didn't stop for miles.

Only once during the trip was the wind right for sailing. Our bad luck—just as we hoisted the sails, an orca surfaced right in front of us. If we'd been using the motor, we could have stayed with it for awhile and taken pictures. It was a great sail, though, a perfect final day out. I almost cried when we had to return home.

I made my very first iMovie from slides taken that summer.  Many of the glacier photos were taken during a flight in our Cessna 172 July 5 from Anchorage to Glennallen to McCarthy, down the Copper River and back across Prince William Sound. The music is royalty-free from SquarePeach.  

For our last one-day trip, we took six kids, including our grandson. The weather was perfect the evening before, and the older kids had taken time off work and were very excited about the trip. In the middle of the night, the wind began to howl, keeping us awake with the banging of halyards against masts. We almost called the trip off, but others in town assured us that this was a localized phenomenon. Once we got out a ways, it would be calm.

We didn't get far before violent gusts tipped over and filled the canoe we were towing. We pulled into the Shotgun Cove and anchored, not wanting to take a boatload of kids further into the maelstrom. The stream was full of spawning salmon and the kids had a great time playing with them. We took a hike and enjoyed a wonderful, memorable day, recounted in the video below.  We learned later that outside Passage Canal, the Sound was completely calm all day, as the locals had promised.

Here's a video of the kids.  The music is Timothy Seaman's piece "Falcons among Crags", from Shenandoah: Here on this Ridge. Used by permission. To find more of Timothy Seaman's music, go to

Go on to read Prince William Sound 2005
Source:, ©Susan C. Anthony