Early Exploring by Small Boat

After moving to Alaska in 1975 to begin my job as a seabird biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), my summer field work included running Zodiac inflatable skiffs with a field partner to get around to various study sites along the coast from our shore camp or chartered live-aboard support boat.  The first of these was along Kodiak Island’s east coast during my first three summers in Alaska (1976, ‘77, ‘78), then again at Kodiak during a study of puffin food habits in 1986, and finally on a beached-bird Exxon Valdez oil spill survey cruise, fall 1989.

Before I began the water taxi business in 1987, and during the “break” in the business 1990-1992, I resumed work as a FWS biologist on Exxon Valdez oil spill studies in Prince William Sound. Those included temporary stints during the month of March in 1991 and 1993 helping with winter seabird boat surveys, and then full time again through1994.

Zodiac and M/V Sound Runner days on Prince William Sound

Before I began Sound Eco Adventures in May 1987, my very first boating excursions on the Sound were with the family’s 14-foot Zodiac inflatable skiff, powered by a 25 hp outboard.  Besides the two oars that were always secured to the skiff, we always had a 2 hp “kicker” (small outboard engine) along as an emergency backup.  Safety and the importance of backup systems when boating in remote areas of coastal Alaska had been drummed into us field biologists by the FWS.  Field work around Kodiak Island my first three summers in Alaska had reinforced this.

I spent a lot of time exploring the Sound with my family and friends in that Zodiac. Most of the time we stayed in US Forest Service recreation cabins, especially the five that were then closest to Whittier, at Pigot Bay, Paulson Bay, Harrison Lagoon, South Culross and Coghill Lake.

Trips to the Coghill cabin were always an extra adventure, because they required traveling three miles up the Coghill River from tidewater.  Negotiating the shallow tide flats off the river’s mouth was the first challenge because of the many logs and snags that litter the bottom there, and the milky glacier water of the river itself that limits visibility. The very first such trip in August 1980 was right after several days of steady rain, and the river was running high, bank to bank. As I discovered on the very next trip, however, the river level was usually quite a bit lower, and the challenge was to avoid hitting the outboard’s prop on the rocky bottom.  I always carried a spare propeller, and more than once had to use the spare when a rock took out the first one.  Another challenge on that trip was having to portage the boat and gear around an Alaska Fish and Game Department salmon-counting weir just downstream from the lake.

Other challenges on the Coghill River that always faced us on the float trip back downstream were sweepers (tree branches and logs jutting into the river from the banks) when water was high, and again avoiding hitting the outboard’s prop on rocks when water in the river was low.  Most of the time we just floated downstream with the current and the outboard tilted up, maneuvering with the oars until we got to tidewater.

1991-1994 as a biologist, and a little personal time

I haven’t spent nearly as much time in the eastern Sound as the western side, but did get to know the area some working for the FWS from 25′ Boston Whalers when I helped with winter marine bird surveys in March of 1991 and 1993, and again summer 1993. And again when I worked as a Wildlife Planner for Chugach National Forest, on an orientation cruise aboard a live-aboard chartered boat in September 1992.

Once Sound Eco Adventures opened for business in May 1987 (as Sound Water Taxi), most of my boating time was in the western and northern parts of the Sound. This broad area included the waters east from Whittier to Glacier Island in the north, and south to the lower reaches of Hinchinbrook Entrance, Montague Strait and Port Bainbridge.  I explored to the heads of most of the bays, fjords and inlets, and circumnavigated all the larger and many smaller islands in this broad area.  I have been in and through Columbia Bay several times, but have never gone all the way to Columbia Glacier due to the usual amounts of impenetrable ice above the moraine reef near Heather Island.

To the south from Whittier, I have explored to the heads of all the mainland western bays and their smaller inlets, and south from there to the lower reaches of Montague Strait as far as McClure Bay on the east side of the Strait, and around Danger Island and Point Elrington on the west side.  In Port Bainbridge south to Cape Puget and Point Elrington I have been to Montague Point at the north end of Montague Island on whale watching trips many times, and a few times in adjacent Hinchinbrook Entrance as far south as Ship Rock, right at the mouth of the Entrance. To the head of Rocky Bay on an early solo exploring trip in the Sound Access, spending two nights anchored at the extreme head.

On the east side of Hinchinbrook Entrance, I have been inside Constantine Harbor just a couple times, and during the March 1991 marine bird survey, I piloted a FWS Boston Whaler along the west side of Hawkins Island from Johnstone Point all the way to Cordova in a snowstorm, and once on the September 1992 Forest Service show-and-tell cruise aboard the M/V Auklet.

Minor edits on October 9, 2022 = v.2.4

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