When Nicole and I were still in the planning stages of this trip, we talked a little bit about where we would go, but not a lot. We were really leaving it up to how well Madeline did aboard before we got locked into too many ideas. One of the places we did mention was the west coast of Prince of Wales Island, or POW to the locals. We had never been to the town of Craig, and the trip there involved a route called El Capitan Passage that sounded interesting. Maybe interesting isn't the right word, more like exciting, possibly not in a good way, but not yet exactly terrifying. The passage is choked with rocks and small islands, with a section in the middle that shows Alaskan determination by dredging a long narrow channel through a drying flat to connect either end. The entrance to the upper end is somewhat exposed to the Gulf of Alaska, as is a section of the lower end before you get to the town of Craig, so weather conditions can play a part as well.
We have been through Wrangell Narrows several times, through Rocky Pass, taken short cuts not talked about in the guides, and poked our noses into quite a few anchorages that many boaters wouldn't risk. That was all before putting the boat on the rocks in 2011.
Seems both Nicole and I are a bit gun-shy now, and the description and charts of El Capitan Passage was not sitting well with me.
After leaving Point Baker and Port Protection we had an uneventful trip around the corner of POW, a bit of wind and swell but nothing too bad, and then we were tucked into the narrow channels and out of the weather. Our planned stop at Marble Creek Cove turned out to be a good example of me not reading the guide books we came around the corner and into sight of the anchorage, the huge marble mine was all we could see. Heavy machinery, a huge looming pier with barge tied alongside, buildings and roads and lots of stuff that didn't add much to our wilderness experience. Luckily just past the mine and around the next corner is Calder Bay, out of sight and out of mind. The low clouds that had been with us all day continued and all we could see was the bottom hundred feet of the hills around us. The next day started out foggy, and we decided to just stay put. The fog lifted but the low clouds remained, and we unsuccessfully tried our hand at crabbing. The past few days of travel included many sightings of sea otters, which tend to eat all the crab in an area, so we were not very surprised to get skunked. The next day dawned foggy as well, but the fog lifted and the sun started burning through the clouds, so by the time we had the anchor up and were on our way we finally got a view of the high peaks and beautiful surroundings.
The route itself turned out to be no big deal. The channels were narrow and shallow, but they were well marked with no hidden dangers and we made it through without an issue. Within El Capitan Passage there is a hidden gem, El Capitan Cave. Discovered in the mid 1990's, this cave system is possibly the deepest cave in the U.S. at around 600 ft. More than 2 miles of tunnels have been mapped already and exploration is on-going. Unfotunately they don't allow children in the cave so we had to pass by without stopping. Maybe next time.