Our next obstacle is a place called Dry Strait. It has intrigued me ever since I first read about it while researching our route. Its avoidable- most boats do not traverse it, they go through the Wrangell Narrows instead. But Dry Strait! Twenty miles that twice daily change from water to land. The Stikine River Delta continuously dumps sediment here creating very shallow waters and tidal flats. At low tides, much of the straight has no water and at very low tides it dries completely. The tidal change here is about twenty vertical feet. So at low tide the water is twenty feet shallower than at high tide. If boats traverse it, they do so at high tide.
But I wanted to see this incredible place at its worst so Jeremy and I planned a route that would take us through the most shallow part at low tide. We knew we might run aground, knew we might have to walk our boats, knew we might have to just wait for the tide to come back. (It’s also notoriously buggy, a fact I may have not told Jeremy when we made this plan… oops.) We packed our bug nets and a lunch in our deck bags and set out.
The first few hours are uneventful- a nice calm crossing as we approach the strait. Then we start to see a brown line on the horizon. Within minutes it changed from the horizon to just a few hundred feet away. The tide is receding and the flats are becoming visible. They seem to chase us as we round the southern corner of Mitkof Island and head into the heart of it. As we paddle, all around us the waters recede and the tidal flats grow closer.
It was incredible how fast the world around us was changing. What was miles of water just an hour before has reduced to a 30 foot channel between sand bars. The water is murky with sediment, we cannot see our paddle blades even a few inches under water so there is no way to see where the best path might be. We start to touch bottom with each stroke. Then our rudders hit bottom. We raise them and paddle on. Jeremy’s boat hits ground, then mine. We laugh, look around and marvel at the world.
We step out onto hard sand and pull our boats until we find deeper water. Eventually the tide changes and the water starts to become deeper, taking back the sand. As we paddle and watch the world around us morph from miles of sandy flats back into miles of water, I sit content, happy to have seen this place. Because what’s more interesting than an ocean? An ocean that dries up twice every day.