Aye, There’s the Rub, and Running the Ditch

In the afternoon we toured Wrangell, drove by Chief Shakes house and made stops at the museum and Petroglyph Beach. 

The Museum’s new sign.

The petroglyphs along the beach are a mystery.  No one knows why they are there, who put them there or how old they are.  Some of them have designs that relate to native people in the region, some are the same types of concentric circles that are found on petroglyphs all over the world. 

The state and local Native community decided to leave them on the beach, washed by the twice daily tides, because that’s where the carvers put them and that is where they probably should stay.

There’s a platform looking over the beach where reproductions of some of the petroglyphs stand ready for people to create rubbings.  It takes some butcher paper, some local greens and finally some Aqua Net to set the rubbings.  

Christmas Tree Alley, Wrangell Narrows.

We left Wrangell and headed back north through Wrangell Narrows.  The narrows are often called “Christmas tree alley” because of all the red and green channel markers.  Others call it “pinball alley” because of the number of course corrections, seemingly bouncing a vessel from side to side.  There are more than 60 lights and buoys guiding mariners through the narrows.  Locals call it “running the ditch.”  The WrangellNarrows.com website says:

“Wrangell Narrows:   a convoluted stretch of hazards to navigation strewn about a 22-mile waterway connecting the southeast side of Frederick Sound to Sumner Strait in the middle of Southeast Alaska.  The intricacies in this body of water are countless.  The recorded incidents on this waterway have occurred at a rate nearly 1 every 1/4 mile.  Experience is by far the greatest risk reducer and no amount of man-made improvement can replace the experienced mariner.  For 22-miles, Wrangell Narrows brings the Pilot to trial as he balances the radius of turning circles against the counter-forces of nature.  A casual approach to conning a tonnage vessel through Wrangell Narrows is not even a consideration. 

Wrangell Narrows on my iPhone app.

Our evening passage through the Narrows was navigated by Adrienne Wilber, a young woman who grew up on her father’s fishing boat and is the experienced mariner we needed.  She took us up the narrows as far as Scow Bay, where we anchored to complete our passage into Petersburg in the morning.

At one point Wrangell Narrows played an important role in the development of Alaska Public Broadcasting.  We had arranged for members of the NPR and CPB boards to come to Alaska.  They started the meeting in Sitka, got on the ferry, visited the station in Petersburg and were to continue to sail through the Narrows to visit stations in Wrangell and Ketchikan.  Just out of Petersburg a fog rolled in and the state ferry dropped anchor.  We were fog bound for a day.  The busy board members were beside themselves, there was no phone, (this was before cell phones were common) and they couldn’t send messages out.  They could listen to the radio, however, and the messages that went out to people who were fog bound and I think they understood, better than ever before, why public radio was so essential to Southeast Alaska.  We got some of the consideration we were looking for in funding.

From Wrangell to Petersburg.

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