Monday, September 29, 2008

Porpoise Paddling

Kachemak Kayaking

The southern shore of Kachemak Bay is lined with numerous fiords and lagoons which are subject to huge changes in water level as the tide ebbs and flows. This surge of moving water can create tidal rips and eddies around points and in narrows which can threaten small boats but also can create some very exciting conditions for kayakers.

One of the largest tidal variations in the Bay is dramatically apparent at Halibut Cove Lagoon. The narrow channel shown here during a negative low tide will flood over the entire gravel bar on the left to a depth of as much as 30 feet in just 6 hours. The sea water moves slowly at first but gradually builds to an 8 knot current as water barges its way into the lagoon. The fast moving water interacts with the steep cliff on the right creating several large eddies behind the jutting points. As the channel widens boats can avoid the hazards by staying away from the edge but for kayakers those same hazardous eddies can provide some excitement.

During a trip into the lagoon to "ride the tide" last year we also found that bay porpoises seem to use the tidal surge by swimming into the current and feeding on the various fish which are washed into the lagoon. Our group leader, Tom Pogson, owner of Alaska Kayak School, was filming us having some fun in an eddy when two of those porpoises swam by....

Charlie Franz, the former director of the hospital in Homer does the first "peel out" from the eddy into the main current, then myself and finally Ryan, a kayak guide from Seward, actually rolls with the porpoise. If you didn't know where this video was taken you might think that it is shot on a fast flowing river, not an ocean lagoon. In many ways the Lagoon Narrows acts just like a river- except it reverses direction every six hours and changes its depth as much as 30 feet.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Past life revisited...

We've just returned from a 6 week visit to Healy- our former home of 33 years. It has been two years now since we moved to Homer and this was the first time that we had both gone back up to our homestead. Healy is a coal mining town on the northern boundary of Denali National Park. We have a log home there and eight rental cabins which we need to occassionally visit for routine maintenance. Our Kantishna River Homestead Cabin

The highlight of our trip was a two week stay at our remote cabin on the Kantishna River. We used to "freeze up" on the Kantishna with our 24 sleddogs. It is 100 mile river boat trip on the Tanana and Kantishna Rivers and we've had some very interesting trips into the cabin. We've made the trip more than a hundred times and only sank the boat twice so I guess we're doing okay.

On this trip we took our last sleddog, Nike, and got to the cabin with only a few minor groundings on sandbars. It had been more than two years so we were surprised to find the cabin and sheds all in good shape. We had left 500 pounds of smelly dog food in a shed so we feard that we might find a mess left by bears.

When we had more sleddogs this remote camp was our early training grounds. We could fish for salmon with a fishwheel and nets and would usually dry or freeze over a thousand fish for dog food. The 10 mile long slough that we lived on would freeze up solid in October so we could start training the dogs earlier than at our other house in Healy. By mid-November we would have several hundred miles of training runs on all the dogs so we could mush in to Nenana- a four hour trip of about 35 miles.

Our goal for this latest trip was to check on the cabin, do any necessary maintenance and spend time traveling the river looking for a moose. Most every day we motored slowly up or down the river keeping our eyes peeled for a bull. And for two weeks all we saw was a dead moose that some other hunters had gotten and lots of other boats. Guess the high price of gas hasn't discouraged moose hunters. We had some wonderful cookouts along the river and one camping trip but didn't spot a moose until we had really given up on hunting.

On the way back in to Nenana and the hiway Linda spotted a young bull standing quietly near the river bank up a side channel. She took over the boat controls and steered toward the bank while I climbed up on the cabin roof and sited in on the unsuspecting moose. Three hours later we had the bull butchered and loaded in the boat and were again headed home. Our dog Nike barked with excitement the whole time that we butchered and loaded the moose- he must have thought that he had somehow contributed to the successful hunt.

On several days we had a beautiful view of Mt. Mckinley which is about 60 miles south of our cabin.

In what now seems like a past life we would take our sled dogs out to the base of Mt. Mckinley and transport supplies for mountain climbers up to the lower slopes. Our last sleddogs are now with a young couple in Healy who love to take spring trips like we used to do. So perhaps our dogs will visit Mt. Mckinley again...but we are now devoted to more oceanic adventures on Kachemak Bay.