When I booked my cruise to Tracy Arm – Fords Terror Wilderness on the South Alaska seaboard, I had no idea how graceful it would be. I stumbled over a tracery of inland waterways and narrow channels with abundant wildlife. Everything seemed so perfect that I had to pinch myself and wonder ‘is this really me’.
We sailed into Frederick Sound and travelled northeast before turning north into the narrower Stephens Passage, heading ever deeper into a wonderland. We were well into summer and saw packs of wolves, solitary bears and the deer and mountain goats that complete the food chain.
Making Good Progress
At the entrance to the passage we passed steep rugged cliffs, but also lower-lying areas where treed slopes merged with the water’s edge. This was not what I expected. I thought Alaska was a vast frozen space. Not true, although no doubt it all goes white when winter snow falls.
There was much excitement when we saw a baby seal and mother, although the arctic terns and pigeon guillemots continued flying overhead to nesting sites atop cliffs and in rocky cavities unperturbed. Beneath our keel the water was crystal clear, icy cold but rich in nutrients and dramatic deep water corals. As we passed, we saw the occasional porpoise, seal, sea lion and humpback whale come in to breed.
Real Ice at Last
About halfway up the 30 mile (48 kilometre) waterway we began to spot hand-sized chunks of ice drifting towards the distant ocean, although of course they would melt before they got there. The pieces became progressively larger as we headed for the twin glaciers. Some were so big the captain steered carefully around them.
At the end of a passage taken slowly but with consummate skill, my ship came to a gentle stop within a few hundred yards of the glaciers. After the anchor chains had rattled down, the mighty engines fell silent. We had arrived. We had stopped at the top of Tracy Arm fjord at the foot of Sawyer Glacier. What blissful silence. What awesome peace. For a half hour nobody spoke.
Tracy Arm Fjord is Sheer Heaven
Tracy Arm takes its name from a U.S. Secretary of State called Benjamin Franklin Tracy. The second half of the name recalls the adrenalin-rush experienced by a sailor named Ford in 1889.
For a dare, he rowed a small boat into the entrance of Tracy Arm fjord as the tide was turning to the flow. As it rose, a huge volume of water squeezed through the narrow entrance causing ‘violent waves and massive colliding icebergs’. Ford spent 6 hours being terrified. I think I’ll stick to cruising … much more my style.