A Prince of a Sound

The wonders of Prince William Sound overshadow a small leak on the Roger Henry. "The Roger Henry File" for our July 23, 2009 CW Reckonings

July 22, 2009

shrimp catch 368

John and Alvah pull up a fresh pot of shrimp from Prince William Sound. Diana Simon

In a sense, the feeling we left Seward with defines the life of a sailor- that is sad to leave behind friends and the familiar, yet excited to explore new places and possibilities.

However lengthy a passage, I do not get lonely at sea. But there was particularly little chance of that occurring on this cruise because our dear friends John and Marielyn Towers, of Harpswell, Maine, were onboard. The Roger Henry is just short of 36 feet. However clever, no yacht designer can make that paltry space even border on commodious. But John and Marielyn were good sports as they squeezed spoon-style into their narrow berth nightly, and did the contorted boat dance around each other and us daily.

In that limited space the least bit of untidiness turns to disorder. To make that point I asked John, “What have you put away in the last ten minutes.” Without missing a beat he replied, “A couple beers.” Clearly the atmosphere was going to be casual but fun.


We were all focused on the beautiful scenery and endless anchorages of Prince William Sound. This land, its people and animals were absolutely hammered by the famous Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989. But a tincture of time has returned the area to its original beauty and some ecological balance.

Our first anchorage out of Seward was Thumb Cove, which gave us a splendid farewell to the dramatic geography of the Kenai Fjords. A mountain goat looked down on us as we sailed closely beneath Cape Resurrection. Clouds of puffins, guillemots, fulmars, and lesser albatross followed in our wake. Diana thinks naming them “Lesser” Albatross is unkind and might give them a complex.

Local sailors, Dick and Peggy McKibben, told me that although they have traversed the waters between Resurrection and Prince William Sounds regularly for 35 years they have never once been able to do the complete distance under sail. Nor were we. Just short of Cape Puget our winds gave out, our sails flogged, and the serenity was broken with the metallic chug of our engine.


My serenity was shattered when I noticed the supposedly spotless bilge sloshing with black oil. This was especially disturbing as I had just reinstalled our engine, freshly rebuilt and hopefully trouble free for years. John and I diagnosed the problem as a faulty rear end oil seal. With no spare, there was little that could be done about it except to keep the oil level high and the absorbent pads coming until our arrival in Cordova two weeks hence.

I completely forgot that disappointment the first time we set and pulled our new shrimp pot. Over the years I have successfully foraged crab, lobster, octopus, squid, scallops, clam, mussels, and every fish known to man, but I have never caught my own shrimp.

It is like a lottery when, after 600 feet of hand pulling, that cage breaks the surface. We were not so successful that given the investment in the new equipment, I dare to calculate the cost per shrimp. But we did enjoy shrimp scampi, shrimp sushi, shrimp gumbo and curried shrimp laksa.


If you have read any of my prior Alaskan blogs you might recall that I am a bit interested in (Diana would say obsessed with) bears. Glossy black bears dotted the beaches and hillsides in the western areas of the Sound, while the big scruffy browns began appearing further to the east, grazing on fresh grass while they waited for the succulent salmon to appear.

We saw an orca completely clear of the water, and too many eagles to count. As we motored up one long narrow arm of water we passed and actual raft of female sea otters with young pups clinging to their chests. Diana dubbed this area the ‘maternity fjord’.

A day hike to Nelly Juan glacier was a highlight (three bears sighted), as was a bush bash through a moss shrouded spruce forest behind Comfort Cove. That said, it was clear that we are not yet in the halcyon days of summer, because in some anchorages, three feet of snow remained right down to the tide-line, and the rivers where not yet chocked with salmon returning to their natal streams.


It was with a sincere sadness that we said goodbye to John and Marielyn on the docks in the small fishing town of Cordova in western Prince William Sound.

Diana and I do not have a lot (perhaps real jobs would help). So it is difficult to repay our friends and family for their generosity and ever-gracious hospitality. However, the one gift we can give them, if they have the time, inclination, and can squeeze in, is a taste of our life, a touch of the sea, its rhythms, its bounty, its borders, its immutable power and irresistible lure.

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