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Fords Terror, mystical and rewarding

We finally did it. We knocked off another bucket list item, entering Fords Terror. It gives you quite a feeling of accomplishment to achieve this boating challenge successfully and the reward is breathtaking.

Our adventure started on a sunny April day in the entrance anchorage in Tracy Arm. We waited until noon to depart so that we would be at the entrance to Fords Terror about an hour before high water slack. Everything we read said that you can see the water in the narrows of Fords Terror settling down, then you can proceed. So, we headed up Endicott Arm, about 20 miles. After traveling about 5-6 miles, we needed to continually change our course to a route around and in between the many ice bergs that were floating in the Arm.

We got to the Fords Terror offshoot about 60 minutes early. We used that time to scope out the area and get familiar with our surroundings. We were able to fly the drone to see what that might tell us, and it did inform us of a third reef we were previously unaware of. We took several trips up to the crow’s nest of Sea Venture with binoculars to look closely at the entrance channel. Initially we watched the whitewater flow into the fjord, and later it slowly decreased until there was no more whitewater. Finally, we took a few minutes to net ourselves some bergie bits. They would be perfect to cool our much-deserved drinks when we got anchored inside, even though it was still plenty cold outside!

Here is our view from the anchorage upon arrival!

When it was close to time to go, the butterflies started, but we felt confident in our plan. But first, a bit of history. Why does it have such an ominous name? Why is it called Fords Terror? It is named for a naval crewman by the name of Ford, who in 1899, inadvertently paddled into the leg of the inlet during what must have been a slack tide. After exploring, he could not exit for all the rushing water, whirlpools and ice bergs blocking his way. So, he spent six ‘terrifying’ hours waiting for the water to settle down, before he could exit. Hence the name, Fords Terror.

So, back to our visit. After a final look from Sea Ventures crows’ nest, when no white water could be seen, we decided to take the plunge and head into the fjord. We headed into the inlet, and found that yes, there was still 1-2 knots of current pushing water into the inlet. It was manageable however, and Jim had no problem making the sharp turn to starboard once we entered. We found ourselves in a new mystical world of iridescent green water, soaring cliffs, narrow waterways, waterfalls bouncing down the granite rocks and falling off cliffs, trees clinging to lichen covered cliff faces and hugging the shoreside at the water level, snow and ice. This late in the day, the sun could just peek into the narrow fjords because the cliffs were so high. When the sun touched it, it was magical.

We proceeded into this inlet for 4 miles. There were waterfalls coming down the cliff faces almost everywhere you looked. Sometimes they would meander down the rocks, other times over a long, smoothed out cliff face, and other times it would be a fall from a cliff 2-3000 feet high above our heads. We cruised into what at times looked like a mysterious river, leading us to its source. So little sunlight got into the fjord while we were there so early in the year because the sun was not high enough in the sky. I imagine in the height of summer; a sunny day could bring brightness to even the darkest crevices in the rock walls. Then the fjord opens to a vista where the sunlight shining on the snow-covered peaks blinds you as you grapple with the enormity of the spaces.

We anchored in the head of Fords Terror West Arm. There is a big bowl, that looks like the remains of a glacier at one time on part of the head of the bay and a huge cliff sporting a partially iced up waterfall on the other side. We anchored in about 100’ of water and experienced good holding. Our friends rafted and we enjoyed 2 full days in Fords Terror exploring.

We spent one day investigating the island and East Arm at both low and high tides. We headed to the island at low water. When we got there, we realized that we could not enter the East Arm. There was whitewater and rocks blocking the entrance. So, we stopped the tender at the island and wandered around to take in the scenery. There is an anchorage behind this island, but only for the faint of heart. You would have to take your vessel, at high water, through the entrance channel and around the island. The island gave us great views of both the East and West Arm. There was a hillock of evergreen trees on the island that looked like a dense thicket dome that had been well groomed and manicured by the most skillful of landscapers. While we were there, we heard a boom and crackling from the hillside across the channel from where we were standing. Then we saw a small avalanche form and more and more snow and ice started cascading down the hillside. We watched for probably a good 5 minutes, (and never picked up a camera), as more and more rock and snow and ice came pouring over the hillside. It continued until the snow and ice created a triangular dam at the base of the water and created and ice sheet of crumbly ice and snow on the water for a good 50 feet in all directions. It was quite a show, and very humbling when thinking of the power of nature.

Later that afternoon, we went to the East Arm at high tide. Now we could enter the passage into the arm and explore the landscape and waterfalls inside. We found that the East Arm does not go back as far, and it shoals quite quickly. We did get to experience another ‘avalanche’ and this time we captured some of it on video. Side note: I would not take the mothership in there at high tide either!

The next day, we took a tender ride to the entrance of Fords Terror. We thought it would be fun to see what it looks like at low tide. What shoals would we find? Is there anything where the charted rock is? We took the tender out of the inlet and really took time to enjoy what we saw. The scenery in this entrance channel is overwhelming, it is so beautiful. The green evergreen trees that start at the waterline and climb the cliff faces, the myriad of waterfalls, the water glistening in the midday sunshine, the craggy granite walls, it all takes on a new inviting look when the sun is shining. (Recall we entered Fords Terror around 4:40 pm and much of the channel was in shadow).

Then we went to the entrance at low tide to see how that looked before our early departure the next morning. We took the tender to the beach at the entrance channel and poked around. When we flew the drone, we were able to see more reefs and rocks, in part because they are visible during low water. We also paid attention to the time, knowing that our exit from Fords Terror would be more time based rather than watching the whitewater in the channel based, because you cannot see the channel on your departure before you are there. There was one thing we did not need to worry about--oncoming boaters, because no one is visiting Fords Terror this time of year. As we departed the entrance channel, we came across a bunch of seals sunbathing on the rocks. They were very curious about us and watched our every move.

We explored the beach at the anchorage. We found that the snow was about 18 inches deep and there were several paths of large, older melted prints in the snow. Not sure if they are deer or elk or bear, but certainly they were created by a larger mammal. Over by the waterfall we noticed footprints with 2 toes, so maybe a deer or moose?

We often heard thundering echoing from the cliffs around us. After a few of these events and our experience at the island in the East Arm, we finally started figuring out what they were. They were snow and ice falls breaking loose and tumbling down the cliff faces. They would crash down the hillside and sometimes they would peter out, and occasionally they would make it all the way to the water and cause little ice fields to float around in the bay.

Fords Terror is a bucket list item that lived up to the high expectations we had for it. It is a sense of accomplishment that we can research and figure out how to take Sea Venture into this fjord safely and competently. (A big thank you to all those who went before us and provided valuable insight along the way). Pictures do not really do it justice. Having said that, here are some of my favorites from this magical place.

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