Prince William Sound

by Ray R. Collins

Prince William Sound is located on the gulf of Alaska. The main seaports around the sound are Cordova in the east, Valdez in the north and Whittier in the west. The sound itself is bordered on the SE by Hinchenbrook and Montague islands, on the SW by a series of islands with fjords between them. To the W and NW and there are many long fjords, most of which have glaciers at their head. Extending from the North end of sound is Valdez arm and Valdez Narrows, which leads into Port Valdez--a body of water about 3 miles wide and 15 miles long surrounded by snow-laden mountains. The NE part of Prince William Sound has long (15 miles), wide (4 miles) bays that extend from the sound like fingers.

There are a number of islands in the sound, principally in the west. One of my favorites is Knight Island, which has many interesting coves, bays and harbors. Closer to Valdez (and hence accessible on a weekend outing) is Landlocked Bay, one of the nicest in the sound. Overlooked by Copper Mountain, it is a L shaped bay with a salmon stream at the end. Due to it's configuration it is well protected from most winds, with the steep mountain all around (most of which have waterfalls--there is one spot in the bay you can hear 7 waterfalls at once!) There are many glaciers that end in or near Prince William Sound. Several dump ice directly in the sound--which can be quite a hazard to boats (indeed an ice berg is the leading factor in the Exon Valdez going aground and spilling 10 million gallons of crude oil in the sound in March 1989). Columbia Glacier is the largest (and best known) of the tidal glaciers. Though it has retreated around a mile in the last 10 years it is still the major source of ice for the sound (and a popular place for the cruise ships to visit!).

As one might expect the combination of snow, ice, mountains and sea make for some spectacular scenery. Unfortunately the average day means rain; on the average it rains 5 of 7 days on the sound. But on the rare sunny day it is truely spectacular. The sound covers an area of over 6,000 square miles, so there is lots to explore. Fishing is another attraction of the sound; salmon and halbut being the most popular fish.

Valdez is the primary port on Prince William Sound. The trans-Alaska pipeline ends there, so it is a major terminus for oil. Valdez is also the principal tourist site for the sound (indeed that is where I keep my 42' trimaran sailboat). The other major industry for Valdez is fishing; much of the traffic at the harbor is related to fishing.

Located on the eastern edge of the sound, Cordova is principally a fishing town. Since the only access is by air or sea, tourism is somewhat limited. (There was a road, but the earthquake in 1964 destroyed the a major portion of it--and it hasn't been rebuilt.)

Whittier, on the western end of the sound, is accessible by rail, sea or air. It is a small town established during World War 2 by the military to provide alternative year-round sea access to Alaska. It is a small place which, being a short trip from Anchorage via car & train, is a popular tourist spot.

I have been visiting Prince William Sound for many years, but my first major expeditions around the sound started in the late '80s when I aquired my first boat. It had limited range and was not the most comefortable place in rough weather so I primarily wandered the N & NE parts of the sound. When I aquired the Acrux, a 42' trimaran sailboat I started wandering the further reaches of the sound, and on down the Alaska coast. I have visited all the major portions of the sound--but have not yet really explored most of the bays, coves and islands. I do love all that I have seen, however, and wish I had more time to spend exploring.