Log #59g Glaciers of Tracy Arm

July 20, 2015 in Log Series 50-59, Logs by Series, Series 59, The Logs

Prince Rupert, B.C.
July 20, 2015
Hi Folks,
We are back in Prince Rupert and have cancelled our planned sail to Haida Gwaii. There is no Canada Customs reporting station on Haida Gwaii. If we could have gone straight down to it from Craig,Alaska,  it would have been only a day’s sail of 55 miles. However we had to come over to Prince Rupert as the closest reporting station a distance of 150 miles, and to go from here over to Haida Gwaii would be another 125 mile passage. Instead we will go down the outside passage, then down the west coast of Vancouver Island. I have pasted the amended chartlet below.
This log has some beautiful pictures of glaciers, icebergs and bergy bits as I describe a couple of days we spent in the fjord of Tracy Arm. I have also pasted a chrtlet of this location below.
All the best,
Log #59g Chartlet of Tracy Arm[1][1] Where are they now[3][1]

Log #59g Glaciers of Tracy Arm
Prince Rupert, B.C.
July 19, 2015
On our way up to Juneau we went up Stephens Passage, anchoring one night in Port Houghton in the Sandborn Canal, beautiful mountainous country; but had the highlight of the trip so far when we reached Holkham Bay. En route we passed the Sundum Glacier in Holkam Bay angrily creeping down the mountainous valley on our starboard side. This glacier has receded to about 1000 feet above sea level, and no longer reaches the sea, but has an immense ice field above the mountain valleys.
 Sundum Glacier off Stephens Passage
As we turned into Holkam Bay we opted to go to the anchorage in Tracy Arm Cove (57 48.373N, 133 37.984W) just inside Holkam Bay on our port. Holkam Bay divides into two long arms, each fjord ending at glaciers edging down from the mountainous glacial fields above.  We could have spent several days exploring up both Tracy and Endicott Arms, but elected to do Tracy Arm only.
Tracy Arm Cove is a wide cove in which there were 12 boats for each of the two nights we were there. I felt like a kid, enthused at seeing my first icebergs floating past Tracy Arm Cove, and was eager to get in the dinghy to see them close up. Past the point I saw a large berg silently, majestically, gliding by, the two linked sections glowing white in contrast to the shoals in the foreground and the cedar trees lining the far shore.
First iceberg
I wanted to get out in Wave Dancer to see it close up before it drifted too far away.
 Our first iceberg drifting away   
This berg had calved off either the North Sawyer or South Sawyer tidal glacier and drifted 20 miles down to the entrance at Holkam Bay.
A tidal glacier is one which comes right down to the water’s edge, and can calve off large bergs as they extend into the water. Other, non-tidal, glaciers have retreated up the mountain valleys, and have glacial streams melting off them, plunging into the sea as from Sundum Glacier. The icebergs from these fjord glaciers are not as big as the gigantic apartment or large building sized ones coming down past Newfoundland from the Greenland ice fields. These are more small house-sized bergs. The smaller bergs the size of small cars or coffins are called growlers and the even smaller chunks are called bergy bits. All are dangerous if collided with.
The bergs and growlers can readily be seen and avoided. However the bergy bits are small and often transparent, low in the water so they might be missed by sight. Even these smaller bits of ice are very solid, like rocks, and if they hit the propeller, they can break off a blade, causing great damage to the propulsion system. As we got closer to the glaciers, there were dozens if not hundreds of bergy bits that we had to carefully navigate through in order to get to the head of the fjord and close to the glacier. Thus we had to keep a sharp lookout next day as we motored up Tracy Arm closer to the glacier shedding its bergs and bergy bits into the water.
We went out with Wave Dancer to see these few bergs which floated the 20 miles down from either the North or South Sawyer Glaciers.  Fascinating! We dinghied around a couple of them, entranced by their cold imperious beauty. The deep blues of the ice are created deep inside the glacier, the pressure of hundreds of feet of ice compressing out the air, making the ice so dense that the blue light dominates. The bergs melt in fantastic shapes, arches, points, and layers; smooth and jagged; sapphire blue, frigid white, diamond sparkles, translucent or opaque; placidly melting or dripping into oblivion as they drift down to the open sea. Seeing them is like looking at clouds, and imagining what they resemble; animals, birds, faces, etc. It was a high experience to get so close to these beauties of Nature.
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The bergy bits we encountered as we motored up Tracy Arm to the South Sawyer Glacier were equally intriguing, but far more bothersome as they were often difficult to see to avoid. Some were transparent and low in the water, making them hard to see. Even though small, they were rock hard and could damage our prop.
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Transparent bergy bit
Dangerous bergy bits  
As we proceeded up Tracy Arm next day, we were entranced by the snow-capped mountains on both sides, with rivulets and small waterfalls cascading down from the frozen valleys.

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Further up Tracey Arm we saw the inlet to the North Sawyer Glacier was clogged with bergs and bergy bits to the extent we did not want to risk slowly going through them. We continued on to the South Sawyer Glacier, passing a down bound cruise ship that created a large wake that buried our bow, with me on it taking pictures, frantically trying to protect my camera from the splashes.

  Cruise ship in Tracy Arm
This picture was taken just before the wake hit.
As we got closer to the glacier there were many more bergy bits to avoid. The going was very slow and tension wracked, trying to avoid them. It was dense packed as we got up to it, still 100 feet from the glacier, as the water was packed solid with bergs and bergy bits. The ice was so thick that seals were lounging on the floes.
 Seal on an ice floe
As we slowly inched our way to the end of the Arm, the monstrous glacier came into view crushing down the valley from the ice field above. However we couldn’t get too close as the fjord was a solid mass of bergy bits extending out 100 metres from the 100 foot high precipice of the glacier in its inexorable crush over the tidal water.
South Sawyer Glacier from Arm 
  South Sawyer Glacier
Going back down we had such a good breeze that we even flew our genoa for much of the way, after we cleared the many bergy bits. We returned to the anchorage in Tracy Arm Cove to see a quaint Canadian converted tug boat at anchor. It is a good anchorage with the mountains in the background, and a reported grizzly bear on the shoreline.
We left the second day as we did not want to take the time to go up the longer Endicott Arm.
 Canadian boat in Tracy Arm Cove
Veleda at anchor in Tracy Arm Cove