Ford’s Terror

Ford’s Terror has an almost mythical reputation amongst SE Alaska cruisers. It’s really not that difficult, but the reputation (and the name) keep some people away. Others of us know that it is one of the hidden treasures. The entry is narrow, between two rock cliffs, and currents have been measured at more than 15 knots. On the ebb tide there’s overfalls and standing waves. The name supposedly comes from a young gentleman sailor (Ford) who was sent off to explore the inlet in a rowboat. On coming back out the ebb had developed and he (and his crew?) supposedly spent a terrified 6 hours rowing for their lives until the current abated. Nowadays we just wait for slack water and pass on in. A little of the mystique comes from that waiting for slack water, because the opening is so narrow the tide never fully enters, or exits, the Terror. So slack water isn’t at the same time as high or low tide on the outside. There’s a bit of art in knowing when slack will occur, always after the times in the tide tables; at neaps the difference is less than at springs.

We decided the tides were about right for us to ride the ebb out of Seymour Canal and then the flood up Endicott Arm toward Ford’s Terror. We’d arrive at high tide at 10pm, but here in Alaska during the summer that’s just twilight, so no big deal. Traversing Endicott Arm takes a bit of patience, there are a lot of icebergs to dodge, and whales of which to be aware. But the rain stopped as we approached the entrance, and we made a late afternoon passage south toward the Terror.

Watch out for the whales
Sometimes they watch out for you
And the icebergs
The view

As we got close we saw a tongue of fog licking outward from the cut that marks the entrance to the Terror – the only fog in sight for miles. Nothing to worry about, just a small tendril. But as we made the turn toward the entrance and started to look for our particular landmarks the fog grew thicker and thicker, until visibility was down to a boat-length. Another boat that had come down the Arm turned around and decided the wiser course was to make the two-hour trek through the ice in the gloaming to safe water rather than try to feel their way into the Terror. After a bit of discussion we made the opposite decision. We managed to keep the boat at steerage speed until we identified landmarks we knew from our previous entries. Since the entry is less than a 100 feet wide the visibility was sufficient. Center channel meant you couldn’t see either shore. See the shore on the left? Steer a bit to the right. Five minutes later we were back in the deep, calm waters inside the Terror.

The view heading into Ford’s Terror
Visibility improves
The view behind

Having watched things over a couple of days on the inside we hypothesize that the cold, ice water runoff lens floating on the surface probably generates evening fog late on many afternoons. We probably wouldn’t try a late entry again. But make it in safely we did. Last year we went to the SE side of the fjord, but had to set two anchors because of the limited swinging room. This year we opted for the more open NW end. An hour after we got in the local cruise boat Discoverer showed up with her dozen passengers.

We’re anchored off a big waterfall that sends the sounds of crashing water toward us all day and night. When we woke up Thursday morning there was a mama bear (coastal brown aka grizzly) with two cubs of the year grazing in the meadow behind the boat. She absolutely didn’t care about the dinghy full of passengers, or the four kayakers, or us in our dinghy all less than 30 feet from shore. She and here cubs spent hours rambling down the shore. Unfortunately for the cruise-boat folks tide and schedule don’t wait, they had to be off for the 11 am slack water out of the Terror. But we got to spend the rest of the morning and early afternoon drifting along the shore as the bears grazed on berries and grasses.

Pssst, Mama, let me tell you a secret
Posing for the flag
Animatronics? Are you sure that’s not a stuffed Disney creation?
We need pedicures
This way to the great egress

After lunch we made our way to the other shore, now the only occupants of Terror, except for a sow and two yearling cubs we’d spotted from the boat. At some points we had the east shore family and the west shore family both in sight at the same time. On the east they were eating berries and grasses. The west shore crew were also eating the grasses, but opted for chewing up barnacles rather than berries. When mama found a fallen tree that was below the tide line she was ecstatic to be ripping barnacles off the branches – no nasty rocks to get stuck in her teeth. The cubs weren’t into the barnacles as much, they spent the time gamboling about on the fallen trees while mom ignored us and kept eating. We stayed until the bugs drove us away.

On the catwalk
I’ve got an itch on my nose
Smells like water?
Stripping barnacles

We even managed to shoot some video from the cockpit of Wasco. It’s not going to win any cinematography awards, but it gives you an idea of our view over morning coffee.

What a terrible way to spend the summer.

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