Full Moon and Roaring Tides
Text by Liz McKenzie and Photos by Richard Nelson
For a recent Encounters program about Tide, I made a solo trip by skiff to Sergius Narrows, about 30 miles north of Sitka, Alaska. It was one of those great, beautiful adventures. Everything went perfectly, including the weather–two days of rare October sunshine and nice easy water for boating.
Sergius Narrows is a pretty small stretch of water–roughly a hundred yards long and a couple hundred yards across, with a small wooded island and some rocky reefs in the middle–all surrounded by forest and mountains and wildness. This is where the full vastness of the open Pacific meets the complex labyrinth of the Inside Passage. Huge amounts of water pour through with every change of tide. Around the New Moon and Full Moon, the place roars with whitewater; there are huge boils; the surface is all hills and valleys, with big deep whirlpools.
Because Sergius is a major entry point to the Inside Passage, it does see a fair amount of boat traffic, although most stay clear until the current eases around the slack tides. When I first started exploring the place in my 19 foot skiff, it really got my heart pounding; but after a couple days I felt more confident and had a better idea about the places to avoid. Nevertheless, I had to go through the tidal race a fair number of times in order to find the best place for recording the Encounters program. Being alone adds to the anxiety, but it also helps to keep you completely focused on the surroundings.
During my days around Sergius, I stayed in a Forest Service cabin on a protected bay–a gorgeous secluded spot. It’s almost jarring to be surrounded by such peace and stillness just a few minutes away from the fracas at Sergius Narrows.
I had always dreamed of recording a tide program while standing on a rock called Wayanda Ledge, which is smack in the middle of Sergius, with wild water on either side. This idea seemed impossible because of the danger and because any boats coming by would think I was in trouble. As it turned out, no boats were going through with the current going full speed. And there was a remarkably calm spot directly behind the ledge when the tide was at full flood (not later because the rock eventually submerged).
So I could jam the anchor right in among the rocks and climb up on top. The rocks are mostly covered with slippery kelp but there are sharp barnacles for traction…although they’ll cut like razors if you touch them. From up there, I had a spectacular view of thrashing, whirling, roaring water on either side–a perfect place to record the program, while also keeping a close eye on the boat and the rapidly rising tide. I suspect my anxiety will give a little edge to the program. In any case, it was amazing to be perched on that ledge of rock after thinking (and worrying) about it for years.
Spending those days in the midst of Sergius Narrows, surrounded by all that beauty and power, really was a lifetime experience. After I came back home, I had this wonderful euphoric feeling inside that lasted for several days. And whenever I think of it now, something inside me does a little joyful dance. RN