Sunday, August 28, 2011

Chatham Chop

The weather outside is frightful.  After enjoying a wonderful July, with lots of sunshine and little wind, August is trying to even things out.  We left Juneau with good intentions to head back south and see some of the sights in southern Alaska before seriously looking for a place to settle in for the winter.  After rounding the northern end of Admiralty Island we headed down Chatham Strait with a leisurely but interesting itinerary in mind.  Two weeks later we had made forward progress about equal to three good days of travel and knew we had to reassess our plans.  The weather has been one low pressure system after another marching across the area, and each of them brings with it southerly winds and rain.  Southerly winds, especially strong southerly winds, are not the forecast you want to hear when your plans include several weeks of travel south, and rain is expected here but never really welcomed.  Chatham Strait is a fairly big body of water running roughly north-south, and its southern end is open to the Gulf Of Alaska, so it manages to funnel winds in off the ocean, and when these winds oppose the tidal currents you get what is locally referred to as the Chatham Chop.  Chatham Chop is composed of steep waves spaced closely together, four to five foot waves (or larger depending on the wind speed) about ten feet apart. Trying to move against these conditions is truly an exercise in frustration.  Luckily there are also several hot springs in this area, so there are some good places to hide out and wait for the weather to change.  So far the forecasts don't hold much hope for the weather changing for the better, so we choose the least bad days and try to make small trips to the next protected bay, a strategy that keeps us from being out in the really nasty stuff but also slows our progress to a dismal pace.  At this point, we're tempted to turn back around and head north again, not only because that gets us better aligned with the weather but also because that brings us back past the hot springs again.  In the mean time the heater is keeping us warm in the absence of sunshine, and we have plenty of books to read when we are not busy enjoying the scenery, so life is not all bad.  If we could just find a convenient ice cream shop....

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