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Desolation Sound Cruise: Dent Island


early morning, Grace Harbor

We decided to rise early (0630) to get a quick start northward to Dent Island. Although the journey would only be 2.5 hours, we needed to pass through a channel near the end called Yuculta Rapids – and we had been warned that rapids, they were. Several adjacent channels funneled their ingoing and outgoing tides through Yuculta, and currents could reach 11 knots, far faster than any sailboat and many powerboats could resist. Worse, cross eddies and whirlpools could make steering impossible, and cause smaller boats to broach and even sink. Only two times a day were safe in the channel, at slack current when the tide changed from ebb to flood or vice versa; our opportunities were mid-morning or mid-afternoon, and we chose morning so Tom and I might have time to fish.

So we weighed anchor from Grace Harbor, knocked a couple of starfish off the chain, and set off. It was Yet Another Beautiful Day in Desolation Sound, and we anticipated a delightful passage.

First, of course, we had to retrieve our crab trap, which we had set in the front part of the cove, out of sight beyond the narrow entrance channel. As we motored around and brought it into sight, we found that Surfbird had anchored close by, and we exchanged morning pleasantries with Joe Dockery and others as they watched from the bridge while we hauled hand over hand on the trap’s buoy line. It seemed quite heavy this morning. Tom and I remarked back and forth about the possibilities that the difficult lifting might promise; and indeed, as the trap began to appear in the gloom of the water, we could see something red and round. Five more feet revealed two critters: a trapped starfish, and a crab clinging precariously to the outside of the trap’s netting, ready to jump off at any second. However, it seemed to be entwined for dear life and not ready to leave. It was, we felt, too juvenile to keep, so Tom delicately encouraged it from the rear while it tried to snip his fingers.


the crab thieves strike

Only the did we notice why the trap was so heavy. Lying deep in the bottom were three wine bottles, one empty, one full of a dubious liquid beneath a replaced cork, and one with a plastic bag holding a note. It took a bit of digging with a cocktail fork to get the note out: “Theres no crab here!!!”

Glenn was disconsolate at the notion that all the crabs that he envisioned had been caught in the trap had been replaced by 3 empty bottles. We of course had our suspicions as to who the crab thieves were. But we had a channel to get to, and no time to demand our catch be returned.

We exited Desolation Sound and turn northward, set the engines to 1900 RPM and 10 knots, and headed as quickly to Yuculta Rapids as we could. After an hour and a half, the channel began to come into sight, and I steered for its center. We were already a half hour past slack tide and I worried about what we would encounter. But I needn’t have been. Despite the swarms of gulls pouncing on the ocean at baitfish stirred up by the changing current, Yuculta Rapids was no more difficult to transit than a typical Florida inlet. Only at the end, just before we entered a bay across which lay the Dent Island Lodge, did we come across any rip currents, with short steep waves and lines of debris. Here and there an upwelling of water, seemingly oily and flat, began to show the rotation that indicated an emerging whirlpool. Still, it was no problem to cross, and within a few minutes we were tied up at the Dent Island docks.

Glenn and Tom sprinted from the boat to the laundry, sacks and soap in hand, almost before all the lines were tied. Even so they were on a wait list. Having “recycled” my laundry I didn’t have the same issue, so I relaxed and explored while they worked. Eventually we all had a lunch of local grilled salmon on a deck overlooking the marina and watched others of the fleet arrive.

Midafternoon, Tom and I rigged our fly rods and lowered the dinghy to take our chances in a promising small cove around a point from the docks. We had already learned that guided salmon fishing would be spin gear only and more expensive than comparable trips in Florida, so we decided to try it on our own. We needn’t have bothered: while fish were all around us, they weren’t interested in our fly selection, and the heavier sinking tippets we had rigged threw our casting rhythms off.

After an hour of useless casting, we returned to the boat, showered and shaved, and joined the other club members for a jetboat across the bay to the Stuart Island Docks, home of the other club fleets and location of that evening’s green box. Our contribution was a wedge of cheese and a small selection of crackers of which we were a bit embarrassed, until we noticed that another vessel had laid out, very elegantly on a plate, a sliced onion. Fortunately everyone else had much more appetizing offerings.

As the sun set, we jetted back to Dent Island and walked up to the lodge for a buffet dinner. Before we even had selected a table, a lone woman none of us had met other than to nod hello looked up from her otherwise empty table, and said “my husband told me to go ahead and he’d be right here. That was a half hour ago. Would you like to join me?” And so we did, taking all the available seats. She seemed quite pleased that when husband did arrive, he would have to fend for himself.

Of course, when he did arrive with two boat guests, we gathered other chairs and made a party of both crews. He turned out to be a retired Navy admiral and ex-carrier pilot of A6s, the same plane that my brother flew, so we got along famously. Their boat, Mazu, a 39 foot Beneteau, was docked across from us, and we tracked its progress for the rest of the cruise.

After dinner everyone in our group retired but Tom and me. There was still a younger crowd at the bar, including Sara Howard, former commodore of Royal Vancouver, so Tom and I sat and had a nightcap, looking rather out of place like a couple of old codgers at an Irish pub. Eventually we knew it was time for us to leave, too, so off to the boat we went.