One of the things I long
ago learned about myself is that I love discovery.
Cruising in SE AK makes discovery possible in
all sorts of amazing ways. Making it through challenging
passages and seeing sights that light up
the soul are very high on my discovery list.
We had never explored Fords Terror before, but
decided that this was finally the year
to do it. I didn't take very many pictures during
this exploration, which is odd for me. I was too
captured by the raw beauty of a place that I think
rivals - no, exceeds - Misty Fiords National
The name of this place (as described in the
Douglass cruising guide) harkens back to
the 1889 experience of someone who got caught
in the inner basin and had to wait for six hours
before the 2-3 foot waterfall at the entrance
became smooth water on a high tide, allowing him
to exit safely.
This email contains a fair amount of navigation
information in addition to photos, so my apologies
to the landlubbers on the cruising email
list. Just skip those parts if you're not interested.
Here is the outer basin to Fords Terror, as
we approached our anchorage.
Seeing the two boats at
anchor, below, gives you some perspective
for the size of the walls of this place. Royal
Sounder is on the left; a clearly savvy local
boat is on the right. We bet he had the best spot
in the anchorage.
One of the deterrents to
exploring Fords Terror is the chart. It is a really small
scale and just doesn't have enough detail
to make most people comfortable about coming here. But
we were armed with several great local-knowledge
tips garnered a week before our exploration;
those made us even more willing to try the passage.
From the experience we now have, it's
my opinion that most cruisers can
the outer basin hugging the east wall, anchor
in the outer basin (taking the time to get
a good set),
then take a dinghy trip into the incredibly
beautiful inner basin. With this new (to
us) information, we will probably take Royal
Sounder up into the inner basin on our next
trip. (But ONLY on high water slack.) I think
Fords Terror is not to be missed by cruisers.
Using the Douglass SE AK cruising guide, we knew
that there were shoal waters in the outer basin between
our anchorage and the entrance to the long passage
to the inner basin. (Those shoals don't show
up on the chart; the Douglass guide gives best-estimate
outlines of the shoals.) Just where those shoals
really were was one of our big questions.
Here's a look at a (proprietary) vector view
of the chart.
Click Chart to Enlarge
This is the outer basin,
as seen from our anchorage.
One of the helpful local-knowledge
tips we received was to go to the base of
this waterfall in the outer basin [located
at 57 deg 37.845' N - 133 deg 10.010' W] to
begin our passage across the outer basin to the
entrance to Fords Terror.
Then we were to proceed
on a course of approximately 290 degrees
magnetic. The tip (originally from a local fisherman)
said doing that would leave the shoals to either
side of us and point us right into the narrow
entrance to the inner basin. Here's a closer-view screenshot
of the chart.
Click Chart to Enlarge
We anchored in the outer
basin where you see the anchor symbol and "Dave,"
above. We originally headed toward the Douglass
anchor sweet spot but found only very deep water
along the way, so Dave decided to double
back and anchor at a shallow spot he found (approximately
25' at zero tide - 57 deg 38.109' N - 133 deg
10.016' W). It was not an easy set; the anchor
bounced along the rocks. After a very determined
effort, Dave had a good set.
We did wonder where the neighboring iceberg was
going to shift during the tide changes.
The answer was that it shifted within
the outer basin, but did not pose a threat
to us. We're guessing that the shoal actually
stopped it from getting closer to our anchor location.
We had been advised to enter the passage
to the inner basin approximately 40 minutes
after high water at the Holkham Bay-Woodspit Tide
Station. (That is just outside Tracy Arm.) The
heading from the waterfall to the narrows
entrance and the tide timing based on Woodspit are
the two tips I wish I had known about
before the 2nd Ed of the Douglass SE AK book was
published, because they would have been a nice
addition. I think cruisers would be much more
likely to try this spot with these additional
pieces of local knowledge.
Enough with the navigation challenges details.
The morning for our exploration dawned fairly
foggy so we decided to make the trip to the
inner basin by skiff rather than take the Royal
Sounder in. Even though it began to clear up as
we were preparing to leave, we stayed with the
skiff plan. Starting from the base of the waterfall,
we pointed 290 degrees magnetic towards the
entrance to Fords Terror. (You can see the entrance just
right of center in the photo below.)
The least depth we found crossing the outer basin
from the waterfall on the 290 course was 18 feet; we passed
safely between the two shoal areas.
We were at the smooth-looking entrance about 55
minutes after high water at Woodspit and
encountered about a 2 knot ebb. So going
through the entrance at the suggested time
(40 minutes after) would probably have been just
right for this (neap tide) high water
This is the entrance
with a ghostly river of fog. What a gloriously
beautiful place. We had a least depth of 26
feet right at the entrance (at approximately 15
minutes past high water).
We saw many waterfalls
in Fords Terror that made the word spectacular
seem an understatement. This was one of my favorites,
tumbling down a deep chasm in the rock wall. My
other favorite eluded my photography abilities.
I just sat and stared at it for a very long time.
For the talkative bunch that we are, we were all
pretty quiet as we moved through Fords Terror.
It was truly like being in a great cathedral.
The pictures can only hint.
This is the massive wall at the top of the long
leg of the T.
As we looked towards
the arm at the right, this is what we saw. There
is a shoal area at the narrow part, so that would
not be the direction to go if we wanted to anchor
the big boat in one of the arms of this inner
This is the basin when
you turn left at the top of the T.
We scoped out two spots
at the head of this left arm, with depths we would
consider for anchoring Royal Sounder on a
1) 57° 41.910' N - 133° 11.027'
W - depth = 60 feet three hours after high water
at Woodspit tide station.
2) 57° 41.918' N - 133° 11.034' W - depth
= 40 feet three hours after high water
at Woodspit tide station.
Bottom characteristics untested, but probably
The very still water gave me more kaleidoscope
picture opportunities. I can't resist those because
they are so magical.
And here is a last look
at the inner basin at Fords Terror. Not to be
M/V Royal Sounder