Saturday, July 16, 2011

Shaken and Stirred

Even in the planning stages of this trip, I kept being drawn to the more remote areas of the coast.  With guide books and electronic charts it's hard to get that feeling of true exploration, but there are still areas that are uncharted, and/or not covered in the guide books.  We've made our way into several saltwater lagoons that have difficult or impassable entrances at certain stages of the tide, and used short-cuts that may not have been entirely prudent, but these have all gone relatively well with nothing more than some frayed nerves.  This all came to an end on our way into Juneau.  Nicole had a flight to catch for her brothers wedding, but we were a couple days early, so I suggested we stop at a small anchorage called Oliver Inlet.  The guide book talks about a dangerous entrance, and the charts just show a relatively blank area with only a couple feet of water at low tide, but that's no different from several of the places we have visited this year, so we were not overly worried.  We planned our entry for high tide, giving us plenty of depth and negating the current that was reported to be strong in the entrance.  The reality of our passage was very different.  Once inside the entrance channel, it was obvious that the current was pushing us rather quickly into the bay, and the depths were considerably less than they should have been with an 11 foot tide.  Not knowing any better, I kept to a mid-channel path, usually the safest strategy.  As the depths continued to decrease, I shifted the boat into neutral, the current was already pushing us faster than I wanted, but I hadn't reacted fast enough.  As I shifted into neutral, the depth sounder went quickly to zero, and the boat was swept quickly and violently onto a rock reef.  The boat hit hard, lifted several feet into the air as it was swept up on to the rocks, then wobbled a bit before sliding back off.  The current was strong enough that it swept us back on to the rocks several more times before I was able to back off enough to maneuver free.  As I tried to steer the same course back out the channel to avoid further damage, Nicole went below and started pulling floor boards to check for water coming in.  Our hull is made of steel and is exceptionally strong, but we had hit hard enough that I was concerned we may have punctured the plating or opened a seam.  Luckily there was no water coming in, but with both of us stunned I thought it best to head for the docks in Juneau.  We obviously didn't know enough to get into the Inlet safely, and if there was an issue with the hull it was best to be near facilities where we could get the boat out of the water quickly for repairs.  Once at the dock, we used our underwater video camera to assess the damage, which consisted of a grapefruit sized dent on the forward edge of the keel, and some gouges down one side where we had slid against the rocks, bad enough but thankfully nothing that would require us to haul the boat out of the water.  Later, after talking to some of the locals on the dock, we found that the rivers around Juneau were at flood stage, explaining the fact that the flood tides were continuing long past the regular times.  We were also told that the entrance to Oliver Inlet is full of rocks, and that the published depths only pertain to a very intricate channel that can be seen at low tide, but isn't charted or marked in any way.  It was bound to happen sooner or later, and I feel like we were very lucky in how things turned out, but I hope we don't do that again anytime soon.

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