Lynn Canal

Lynn Canal is the deepest fjord in North America.  It runs 90 miles from Juneau to Skagway and is from 3 to 12 miles wide.  George Vancouver named it after his birthplace, King’s Lynn in England.  It’s an extension of Chatham Strait, formed by a fault line running from the Gulf of Alaska to Skagway.  Lynn Canal is the northern end of the Inside Passage that starts in Puget Sound.

It is guarded by three lights.  The two most picturesque are Shelter Light and Eldred Rock.  The fog was down to the deck as we passed Shelter Island.  It was a strange morning.  We could hardly see in front of us but the sun behind the ship made the Mat’s bell shine.  We sailed from the fog into a sunny day with the bright light reflecting off of the blue of the glaciers.  The Eldred Rock Light watching us as we sailed passed.  It’s a beautiful trip from Juneau to Skagway, where we were going to ride the last steam train of the season up over the White Pass into Canada.

I sat in the Mat’s solarium, in a t shirt, watching our slow progress up the canal.  I’ve spent many nights under the solarium’s glass sleeping on one of the deck chairs.  But today I was wide awake, distracted from my book by Lynn Cannal.

The next afternoon, after our steam excursion, was all change.  A storm that called for 8 foot seas was running up the canal.  Waves broke on the bulkhead that protected the rock breakwater that protected Skagway’s small boat harbor.  One of the cruise ships could not dock at her normal place and had to tie up to the more sheltered White Pass Railway dock.

There was no sun and an old song “The Last Voyage of the Princess Sofia” became my earworm.  Not quite 100 years ago (October 1918) 343 people lost their lives when the Sofia, a Canadian Pacific coastal steamer, grounded on Vanderbilt Reef three miles north of Sentinel Light.  Boats from Juneau came up to evacuate passengers but because the boat was fast the reef and the Sophia’s sister the Princess Alice  was on the way the captain waved off the offered help.  At nightfall the rescue ships left, a storm roared up Chatham Strait to Lynn Canal and tore the ship off the reef, ripping her steel hull.  Everyone was lost save one oil soaked Irish Setter.  The ship settled into the canal, but shallow enough to have her masts still breaking water.  Authorities cut them down so as not to scare tourists.  As we sailed south into the weather Columbia apparently hit something because she started making noises and could only travel at 12 knots rather than its normal 15 or 16.  A diver later confirmed a bent prop.

(To learn more about our trip home, click here for Chatham and Peril Straits. To learn more about the Alaska Marine Highway click here.)

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