Waterfall Coast: Waiting for an Opening

Waterfall coast

Waterfall Coast

Special to Cruising NW, By Elsie Hulsizer 

As we approached the east coast of Baranof Island in 2008, we saw a tall white slash of a waterfall on a green forested slope from a long way off across Chatham Strait. Just one of the many waterfalls that earn this stretch of land the nickname “Waterfall Coast,” it is among the very few not hidden inside the many bays and coves. Near to shore we saw a bustle of activity. Two mega-yachts hovered at the base of the waterfall. Salmon seiners traveled to and fro, skiffs buzzed back and forth, and fish buyers were anchored in semi-protected coves, their fenders down, ready for customers. An air  of expectancy hung in the air as fishermen and buyers awaited a fisheries opening.

Seiner off Baranof

Salmon Seiner off the Waterfall Coast

We too were waiting for an opening—in our case, of dock space for Osprey, our Annapolis 44 sloop, at Warm Springs Bay. We were looking forward to relaxing in the hot springs and hiking to the nearby lake. But two days earlier, at Tenakee Springs, we had heard rumors the dock at Warm Springs Bay was so crowded with salmon seiners that there wasn’t room for even a dinghy. The minute the opening of the fishery was announced, the fishboats would be on their way and there would be space at the dock.

Osprey anchored in Ell Cove

Osprey anchored in Ell Cove


Meanwhile, we headed first to Cosmos Bay near the north end of Baranof Island and dropped anchor there. It was a pleasant spot, with forested shores and eagles feeding in the shallows, but it wasn’t spectacular. After a quick lunch, we moved to Ell Cove, a small L-shaped bay a few miles south. There we found steep hillsides cut by a series of small waterfalls and formations of brown- and white-striped rocks on the shore. Steve said he needed to change Osprey’s oil, a signal for me to make myself scarce. I grabbed my camera and launched the  kayak. On our way into the cove, I had noticed a pretty little stream with a flock of eagles perched in nearby trees. I hoped the eagles would still be there.

Outside Ell Cove

A bald eagle and it’s dinner

I paddled out the entrance and around a small point. On the beach, several eagles fought over a fish, their high-pitched cries carrying across the water. As I paddled quietly offshore, one by one they flew away until only a lone eagle remained. Firmly gripping the fish in its talons, the eagle was more intent on his fish than on watching me. I raised my telephoto lens and started taking pictures as the wind pushed the kayak toward shore, closer and closer to the eagle. Through the lens I saw sharp talons and a beak busy tearing up the fish. An image of talons ripping at my inflatable kayak came to me. I back-paddled quickly, leaving the eagle to eat his salmon in peace.We stayed in Ell Cove for two days, joined on the second day by the sailboat Kansei of Everett, Washington. We had met the owners, Sara and Charley, in Tenakee Springs a few days earlier and were glad to have their company. Steve caught three rockfish and a greenling, and the four of us feasted on Cajun style blackened fish.

The next morning Kansei left several hours before we did. We were motoring south down the coast when we heard Sara’s voice calling Osprey over the radio. When I answered her, she told me they were tied up in Warm Springs. “The fishermen have left,” said Sara. “There’s room at the dock.”



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Elsie Hulsizer is the author of Glaciers, Bears and Totems: Sailing in Search of the Real Southeast Alaska (Harbour Publishing, 2010) and Voyages to Windward: Sailing Adventures on Vancouver Island’s West Coast (Harbour Publishing, 2005). This story was adapted from Glaciers, Bears and Totems.


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