Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Southeast Alaska Place Names

Every time I have sailed in Southeast Alaska, hereafter just called SE in this post, I have been intrigued and often amused by the names of places I stumble on along the way. The places I am referring to are not the famous and familiar names like Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, or Mendenhall, but rather the little places that define the thousands of miles of waterways that make up SE. The names of the nooks and crannies, the points, coves, bays and small harbors are what I find most interesting.

Many of the names on the charts are purely descriptive in nature. They describe the place in a manner that makes it easy to separate it from the many other spots in the vicinity that all too often, tend to look the same when on the water. Names like Flat Point, Sharp Point, Short Point, Cone Point, and Red Bluff Bay all use readily identifiable characteristics to assist the mariner in knowing where he is. Other names may not help identify the place from a distance, but rather, tell one about it nonetheless. Names like Ten Fathom Anchorage, Eight Fathom Bight, Three Entrance Bay, False Bay and False Cove, Rough Passage, Smooth Passage, and No Thoroughfare Bay let us know what to expect. There are no less than six Mud Bays and one Mud Hole on the charts of SE.

In some cases, mariners who have sailed these waters before us have given names to places that help us make the right choice. False Point Pybus, False Point Retreat, and False Channel Bay come to mind.

Some names are steeped in history. Murder Cove, Traitors Cove, Poison Cove, Suicide Cove, and Point Retreat all echo events of the past.

The names of flora and fauna get their fair share of use in SE.

The trees of SE are here. Cedars, of which there are many in SE and whose scent wafts across the waters on every calm day, have coves, bights, and passes named in their honor. Alders, larch, firs and maples, at least the Maple Leaf, appear in one form or another on SE charts.

Bears are well represented with coves, bays and harbors of their own. Smaller mammals of SE are here:  Badger Bay, Mink Bay, and Fox Island. Porcupines have rocks, creeks, bays, hills and islands named after them.

Domesticated animals make the cut with Dog Creek and Bay, Cat Creek and Bay and Donkey Bay. Ape Point was a surprise as was Elephants Nose.

Birds fare well with Falcon Arm, Gull Cove, Hawk Inlet, Woodpecker Cove, Mallard Bay and a variety of places with Eagle in the name.

Fish are big of course. Every variety of salmon is well represented, as well as a few of the lesser species. Even the Bullhead, an ugly, at least to my eye, prehistoric looking fish that inhabits the rocky shoreline has a cove named after it. Bullhead Cove, by the way, located at the south end of the east arm of Behm Canal, is a nice anchorage in other than SW winds.

The men and women who pursue the fish aren’t forgotten. Troller Anchorage, Trollers Cove, Fisherman Chuck, there are two Fisherman Coves, and a Fisherman’s Harbor appear on the charts.

Insects are big. Mosquito Cove, Gnat Cove, Sandfly Bay, Moth Point, and Wasp Cove are here. From personal experience, I can tell you that several of those names should serve as a warning.

Body parts show up. Short Finger Bay, Sore Finger Cove, Kidney Cove, Elbow Passage and Wart Point are my favorites.

However, the names that stir my imagination the most are ones that imply ownership or possession. Names like Thom’s Place, Charlie’s Cove, Dick’s Arm, Bob’s Bay (Dall Isl.), Bob’s Place (St. Phillip Isl.), Ford’s Terror, Henry’s Arm and Rod’s Cove all make my mind race. Whether historically correct or not, I always envision tough old pioneers who homesteaded those places and through hard work, perseverance, and perhaps a bit of luck, achieved sufficient success and longevity that the places came to be named after them. It just doesn’t get any better than that.

What got me thinking about SE place names recently were three points that I came upon while cruising in the upper reach of the east arm of Behm Canal, an area I had not explored in the past. Brow, Nose, and Chin Points caught my eye, and I thought surely must have a story as I spotted them on the chart. Once I zoomed the chart out a little bit, things became clear and I was pleased to see that despite the serious nature of cartographers’ work, they apparently have a good sense of humor.

Brow, Nose, and Chin Points, Revillagigedo Island.
(US Chart 17422, Hecate Strait to Etolin Island)

By the way, while not every little bump and hollow has a name, there are three places whose official name is “No Name.” They include two No Name Bays and a No Name Island.

The next time you are exploring SE Alaska, whether from an arm chair or in person, see what names you discover that stir your imagination.

Sail on.


1 comment:

  1. Patrck,

    Really enjoyed your very clever post. Keep up the writing! Am loving it!.

    My Name Is Lisa