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Before I start, some things need to be explained. My buddy, Dan, and I, you see, we are very smart in the ways of The North. Years of experience with the ice. Why, I saw my first iceberg back in 1965, when I was a green deckhand buying fish on the old Sidney. I started writing books about Alaska in 1975 and I even hired a artist to make this drawing about how dangerous it is to get too close to an iceberg.

For this is the problem: as you can see from the drawing most – like 7/8 of an iceberg is underwater – melting much faster than the part in the air. This means that they can capsize without warning.

Jacques, our pilot 1So back in 2010 Jacques, my favorite floatplane pilot, flew me down to Harbor Island 90 miles south of Juneau. I was mighty glad to see Dan’s boat.  I hadn’t spoken to him for a week; he was bringing his fishing boat up from Petersburg and out of cell phone range. If he wasn’t at the rendevous, I didn’t have plan B. But Jacques slid in for smooth landing and and Dan and I were off for a photo session in the dramatic fjord called Fords Terror, a few hours south.

So at the entrance to Ford’s Terror and was this totally spectacular iceberg, maybe 200 feet long Dan shootswith a graceful arch perhaps 40 feet high, the biggest one I had ever seen: stunning. We assumed, from its position near the entrance to the narrow inner basin that it was grounded: sitting on the bottom, and therefore stable.

Jumping in the small outboard powered inflatible skiff with our cameras, we circled that gorgeous iceberg in awe, stopped the engine and drifted, close to the arch, but not underneath.

FT arch Mt. V 2It was a Zen-like experience: we could feel the ice’s cold breath on our faces, hear the slow hiss of bubbles rising from from its submerged mass beneath us.

The  blue translucent arch just towered over us, seemingly lit from within. The sea was still, in the distance was the whisper of a waterfall tumbling down the canyon wall: it was magic. Then there was this rumble that we felt through the water more than heard. Dan turned to me with a smile, “The iceberg is talking to us.”

Just then the iceberg broke in half at the top of the arch, almost directly over our heads. Our RH FT Bergcameras both hanging from our necks, stunned into inaction, we gaped as the nearer half toppled toward us, as if in slow motion, smacking into the water a few feet behind our outboard motor. Only when the other half toppled away from us, and the previously underwater part started to emerge from the water, pushing our inflatable back, rolling water into the boat, did we have the presence of mind to start the motor and dart away, lest an emerging ice projection catch our skiff and flip it.

“OK,” we reassured ourselves afterwards, “what was the worst that could have happened? We’d be in the water, our cameras would be ruined, but we could have flipped the skiff back over, and paddled back (a half mile) to the Sue Anne and warmed up…”

Or not…

So.. take it from a couple of really experienced guys: don’t get close to icebergs if you are in small craft!