Log: POW Circumnavigation

Prince of Wales is the largest of the bunch – the third largest in the USA in area, plus a thousand miles of coastline, which are magic to look at even on a map. The true surprise was finding not only wonderful wilderness but also an variety of intriguing small “cities” and Native villages.


Prince of Wales – land of watery wonders and deep culture.

A sign pasted on the inside of our pantry door at home proclaims says “Dream POW-ABC.” It’s the fruit of a collision between my January resolutions and a list of the largest islands in the USA. Did you know that four of the largest are in Southeast Alaska? Prince of Wales, Admiralty, Baranof and Chicago. We’d already done a major part of the shoreline of each one, so why not go back and systematically circumnavigate all of them?

Prince of Wales is the largest of the bunch – the third largest in the USA in area, plus a thousand miles of coastline, which are magic to look at even on a map. With hundreds of small protected coves in which to drop anchor, there would be no need to hurry. All spring we looked forward to our DIY luxury cruise. The true surprise was finding not only wonderful wilderness but also an variety of intriguing small “cities” and villages. Since available books on the area are so out of date we wrote our own Cruisers’ Guide to Prince of Wales Island to document port facilities and other amenities.

Sat 11 June – Kina Cove, Kasaan Bay 55º20’N 131º31’W

Once we flee Ketchikan, we head up Chatham Channel to Kasaan Bay. Kina Cove is the perfect place for a much needed weekend of rest. It’s not the most beautiful spot as there has been recent clear cutting. But no one is there, holding ground is good and we have five bars of AT&T and tether to strong wifi!  I even manage to post the first part of our log.

Mon 13 June – Kasaan 55º32’N 132.23.9’W

This greenhouse with hydroponic and traditional produce can help feed all 65 residents of The Organized Village of Kasaan.
With both hydroponic and traditional produce this beautiful greenhouse helps feed all 65 residents of The Organized Village of Kasaan.

In their decade-old cruising guide the Douglasses say don’t even think about spending the night tied up at Kasaan’s rickety docks. As we glide by, even at a distance, my binocs pick up some rather splendid infrastructure for a village of 65 people. It’s right there on the vast uninhabited shores of Kasaan Bay. As we approach we see the float plane dock, lots of empty slips for boats of all sizes and a hefty float capable of handling a large barge.

Totems stand in old growth forest around the historic 1882 Whalehouse, to be rededicated on September 3, 2016.
The poles in the Kasaan totem park stand in spectacular old growth forest.

We walk up the ramp, along the shore, past the fire hall and a handful of houses. Up the hill are the offices the Organized Village of Kasaan, the health clinic, library and a small modern school that features a climbing wall and a new green house where the villages vegetables are growing in traditional containers and hydroponic tanks. The library seems like the appropriate place to request permission to visit the totem park and get directions to the path. The lure of Kasaan is one of the finest collections of Haida totem poles on coast. “Of course” say the folks in the library, “and place don’t miss visiting the carving shed as well.”

Kassan ege
The turquoise eyeshadow and black mascara are typical of Haida design.

The path through old growth is beautifully maintained and no problem for Jack on his scooter. Just before the totem park, however, the steps onto an otherwise fine log bridge block his progress. I cross and go onto the narrow paths around the poles and take lots of photos. The longhouse, however, is surrounded by orange plastic tape that marks it off limits.

Back down the trail we visit the Carving Shed where Stormy Hamar is carving the top motifs of an enormous yellow cedar log. The drawing he shows us speaks to the sophistication of Haida art (confirmed in the collection of the BC Museum in Victoria.). It represents the fruits of hours of interviews he, in collaboration with master carvers, has carried out with elders. Stormy, who seems barely in his mid thirties, insists he is not a master carver.

The detail of these poles is so rich it makes you wish you were a bird and could get closer.

Again and again on this trip we meet young, dynamic, smart, focussed Native artists, naturalists and political types for whom deference to elders is the norm. I wish I lived in a society like this.

The orange tape, Stormy explains, is because this Whalehouse, one of the oldest Haida structures on the coast, is being restored. Artisans and carvers from neighboring Tlingit tribes are helping these northernmost – and hence minority Haida – with the work. In fact, everyone is preparing for once in a lifetime ceremony to rededicate the Whalehouse on September 3, 2016. Their kin from Haida Gawaii and the coastal mainland BC from whom they are cut off by the international border will be among the guests of honor.

Stormy Hamar and Jack with the enormous yellow cedar being transformed into Kaman's newest pole.
Stormy Hamar and Jack with the enormous yellow cedar being transformed into Kasaan’s newest pole.

On the walls of the carving shed are hung red cedar strips for basket weaving, small ceremonial paddles made by kids and a splendid small Haida canoe with a delicate design burned into its gunwales. I comment that it is very sad that in recent years there’s been no native canoe at the Port Townsend Wooden Bast Festival.

On the wall of the Carving Shed is an exquisite small canoe by Stormy's son Eric Hamar, who is currently studying wooden boat building in Port Townsend.
On the wall of the Carving Shed is an exquisite small canoe by Stormy’s son Eric Hamar, who is currently studying wooden boat building in Port Townsend.

Stormy smiles proudly and says the canoe is his son’s work. In fact, his son is a student at the Port Townsend School for Wooden Boats. Jack and I perk up in recognition: this spring the Port Townsend Leader profiled a young Haida carver. I have the profile of Eric Hamar on my desk and Kasaan Carving Shed has a computer print out tacked to the wall. Our communities are linked.

Tues 14 June – Thorne Bay 55º40.9’N 132º31.4’W

S/V Aurora near Toccata, built by resident crew Greg and Cheryl and launched in Port Townsend.
S/V Aurora near Toccata, built over 28 years by resident crew Greg and Cheryl and launched in Port Townsend.

A tiny break in the thickly treed shoreline marks the long winding entrance to Thorne Bay. Unable to find the fuel dock we call it a day and tie up at the mostly empty new docks, Greg jumps off the 50 foot sailboat docked nearby to welcome us and help with our lines. He and Cheryl are Thorne Bay liveaboards on Toccata, which says Greg, “We’ve been building for the past 28 years.”

Toccata looks pretty shipshape to us and when we’re invited for drinks the next day, we get the whole story. Yes, Greg and Cheryl launched their dream 28 years ago, not to sail blue waters, but to live in mindful comfort in the coastal wilderness. We look through the photos of the long construction process, every stage of which they managed hands on. The splash day in Port Townsend is celebrated with a part for all the people from the boatyard who helped out with this a small floating house for two people. Exquisite woodwork. Wonderful head with colorfully tiled shower. Hasse sails and rigging by Lisa and Dan.

Gary the guy to know in Thorne Bay. Brings fuel right to the boat.
Gary’s the guy to know in Thorne Bay. Brings fuel right to the boat.

We hear that the fuel dock is best visited on a high tide so we head deeper into the bay the next morning. As we prepare to tie up a float plane arrives with the mail and we’re asked to wait. First plane leave and a second flies in to drop another dribble of cartons from Amazon.com and first class mail on the dock. Then we pull up only to find there’s not a single cleat so we use the short lines the float planes uses. Then we discover the electricity is out and the pump won’t run. Gary, the owner, says, “Never mind, it’s pretty shallow here for you anyway, I’ll just bring your diesel over to the dock later.”

After Gary’s visit to us we stop by his store that sells fishing and hunting gear and licenses. We talk about bears, learn that there are no grizzlies, only black bears on the Island. Last year nine bears were taken, some by locals who hunt them mid season for their meat and some by trophy hunters who take them later in the season, when their meat tastes fishy but their coats are thick.

Thur 16 June – Coffman Cove  56º00.6’N 133º37’W

Coffman Cove's large fleet of small boats serves Alaskan families catching salmon to get them through the winter.
Coffman Cove’s large fleet of small boats serves Alaskan families catching salmon to get them through the winter.

Unlike Thorne Bay, Coffman Cove doesn’t hide. It’s houses string along shore and it’s easy to find the docks.  The Doglass guide is again way out of date on the the condition of the facilities. Docks and floats are new, with steel ramps that let folks drive right up to their boats on the floats. There’s lots of space.
The fishing fleet is small, it seems to be mostly personal use and subsistence fishing. Small fleet. Community seems to serve local folks, although I meet an RVer, an Oregonian from Salem, who comes to fish and consume everything he catches on the spot.

We really need a fisherman on board. Just a little bit too much to manage ourselves what with navigation, sailing, VHF underway and cooking, eating, planning, chart organization, exploring, talking to folks on the docks, journaling, reading, and fixing things when we’re not.

Minus tide reveals   
Two rocks. I snap a photo 
To remember them 

Unless you get mixed up with those rocks that mark the start of the lagoon beyond the docks, Coffman Cove is easy to enter and exit.  The islands just to the north are rich with sea life.  Humpbacks dive and blow.  Steller Sea Lions swim around our boat to join a huge group of their kin on a rocky shoal.

Again today!
Three hundred sixty degrees
No other humans!

Sat 18 June – Point Baker 56º21’N 133º37’W

Long enchanted by fisherman-author Joe Upton’s accounts of life at Point Baker in Alaska Blues, I want to go. Jack thinks we were there in 2014 but he’s confused it with Port Protection, which is several miles south. Both tiny off grid communities are at the very tip of Prince of Whales above the 56th parallel.

All of Point Baker's government and commercial float.
All of Point Baker’s government and commercial float.

Point Baker will be our northernmost stop. Founded in the 1930s, it has about 35 residents on boat and in houses clustered around a tiny bay. At one end of a long float are the public buildings – post office, community center with library, and fire hall. At the other, the businesses – fuel dock, grocery, bar, laundry and showers – apparently all operated by one family. Up on the hill there’s a communication tower that doesn’t include cell service and a shiny new cluster of lights like you might see around a fancy tennis court. I discover it’s a new tank farm adequate to meet the fuel needs of the gill net and troll fleets. Less than two miles away, in a slightly larger bay is Port Protection, population 63, which offers a similar mix of services.

I go chat with a pair of fisherman, shuttles in hand, who roll their gillnet off the drum to check and repair it. There’s a good rhythm to the work of this father and son as they prepare for this week’s Sunday noon to Thursday noon salmon opening. The knife clenched in his teeth does not deter the father from conversation. They’re out of Wrangell.

A cruise ship, too big for anywhere on POW, is glimpsed through the narrow entrance to Point Baker.
A cruise ship, too big for anywhere on POW, is glimpsed through the narrow entrance to Point Baker.

The net is 24 feet wide and 3/8 of a mile long. It’s a five and one quarter inch net – that’s the distance between knots on opposite side of each individual “net square” when pulled away from each other. There’re aren’t a lot of tears in the net itself because the float tine at the top and the leaded line at the bottom are bound to the net with the lighter thread on the shuttles. Consider it sacrificial: if something big like a shark gets caught in the net, the thread breaks not the net and the shark leaves. They are fishing sockeye and hopefully kings. Last year their best haul netted $3200. Yes, cloudy days are better; when it’s sunny the fish go deeper.

A pretty girl arrives, fresh laundry in hand. She’s the son’s partner, the third fisherman on a pair of 32 foot boats fishing together.

So, I ask, what are rec boats supposed to do when we see a working gill netter? The tiny red buoy that marks the end of the net looks just like what crabbers deploy over their traps. New rule of thumb: Head toward the boat itself. These guys watch for boats, using radar in the fog. You can call them or they will call you.

Point Baker’s float plane dock is extra large because it doubles as a helipad, the communities emergency evacuation point. Unattended boats don’t tie upthere but on a calm sunny day in fishing season this large float makes the perfect net loft.

Monday 20 June – Devilfish Bay 56º05’N 133º22.5’W

This is most varied passage of the trip is from Devilfish Bay.  A garland of splashing Dall’s porpoises crosses our bow as we make a pre-dawn departure from Point Baker.  Heading west we round Port Protection at the tip of  Prince of Wales. Sumner Strait is full of whales.  The rock outcroppings of nearby peaks rise  above the clouds.  Isolated sea otters enjoying the ocean swells give way to larger groups as we  enter Shakan Bay.  Near the mouth of Dry Passage, I spot what looks like a tidewater glacier but cannot be.  It turns out to be the marble mine, newly reactivated if mining mostly marble dust.   I’m at the helm as we wiggle through Dry Passage.   Jack has his iPad open to Navionics and  all we have to do is get the countless red and green aides to navigation in the correct order. We’re just coming off a low tide.  Next is El Capitan, narrow with peaks all around.

When the waters open up again we see an UnCruise boat at anchor.  The Wilderness Discoverer takes only 76 passengers and it would seem a kayak, SUP, skiff or inflatable for each one.  Then again, they are too big to get into where we have come from.

A fleet of tiny boats allow passengers to explore some of the narrow passages we've just exited.
A large fleet of tiny boats allows passengers of this mother ship  entry to the narrow passages S/V Aurora has just exited. 

Tuesday 21 June Kaluk Cove 55º44’N 133º17.5’W

Such a choice of beautiful coves off Sea Otter Sound!
The choice of beautiful coves off Sea Otter Sound is difficult. We’re alone in Kuluk Cove as we are everywhere else.

Day starts with windlass problem. But I’ve got a strong back that I take good care of and the ergonomics of the manual raising are okay. Later it dawns on us that I am the culprit. Jack had suggested that the new inverter should be mounted on the wall of locker in the aft stateroom. The mounting brackets allow air to pass around it. To find a suitable place for it I pick it up only to see a flicker. One the red plastic screw on the back is loose and the copper ring collides with the one on the black screws, causing the short. The new inverter is dead.

We have our pick of pretty coves off Sea Otter Sound and choose Kaluk, which is perfect.

Wednesday 22 June – Klawock 55º33.4’N 133º05.9′ W

From the Tlingit village of Kwalock, a diversity of poles look out over the water.
The hill above the barber in the Tlingit village of Kwalock has a fascinating variety of poles.

To raise the anchor without the windlass we run a line from a winch in the cockpit and snapshackle it to a link of the chain.   Soon the chain is up on deck and even easier than usually to flake in the chain locker.  We embark on another day of whales and sea otters.

Have you ever seen anything like this pair of common murres, the eggs with their future progeny floating to the ground?
Below this pair of common murres, eggs with their future progeny float to the ground.

Perhaps the excitement of it all has left us tired. When we enter the protected bay at Klawock on a lowish tide, we’re not sure how to get to the public docks. So we tie up in an empty space at the Tribal docks next to the cannery.

I call on the good ladies inside who are cooking lunch for their members and organizing the food bank. They say, no, the boat in the place where you are will be back later today. But there should certainly be space at the public harbour.

Is this a Tlingit Guy Fawkes?
Is this a Tlingit Guy Fawkes?

There is indeed. After not getting the Harbour Master on VHF we tie up at an empty space. Nice view of Klawock’s deservedly famous totem park. A fisherman says call Rose and gives me her cell phone. Find this strong little wisp of a woman near on the street. She’s ben Harbour Master for 17 years. Part time no benefits. Her house is across the street. I pay moorage in cash – 11.45 for boats of any size – and thank her for the well designed and maintained restrooms and showers on the ground floor of her office perch with view of ships coming and going.

This large Tlingit village – population 850 – seems like a good place to moor a boat to winter over.  While hardly in the thick of things, Kwalock has a real airport and a harbor that charges an annual moorage rather of only $11 a foot!  Look up from your boat and there is Kwalock’s renowned totem park.

Thursday 23 June – Craig 55º28.6’N 133º08.6’W

We’re in AT&T land so Jack is on the phone with Michele in Craig, a town that captivated us on our last visit. She has a place for us. Jack writes down where it is- behind a blue hulled trawler. After stopping for fuel at Craig’s fuel dock – a first class docking adventure facilitated by young strong life-vest-clad attendants – we slip past the fish packing packing plant and into North Harbor. Narrowness, rocks, traffic, current, you name it. Man, I can’t find that trawler. There’s a blue hull but it’s a troll rig! We go on almost dead ending into shoe and there’s a space. It’s behind a recreational boat resembling a fishing trawler and style recognized as such.

Jack tight turns into the dock for his usual flawless landing for a starboard tie. But something is off. I get down on the stern rail to fend off the trawler, whose crew appears to help. Easy landing, but this is the first sign transmission is awry.

Trawler crew – sixty something Jack and Jills from Washington State are nice. They’re in Alaska for the summer. Going to Kasaan for the September 3 Whale House rededication. A daughter has become Alaskan. They’ve been coming for years. Man says, “It’s addictive.”

When I go to pay moorage, Michelle and I laugh about the “troller” and “trawler” confusion – the two fishing boat styles sound almost the same. From the emergency preparation handouts on her desk, I discover she’s a community activist. Completely attuned to infrastructure vulnerabilities and the need for politically powered community resilience.

Craig docks are wonderful, even better if you’re tied near the ramp to the street and can follow all the comings and goings of the whole community. The last time we were here it was the Fourth of July, Three years olds casting baited hooks in the fish derby; older kids in the log rolling competition. Tradition. Alaska style chaos.

Just across from us is Mixie, crewed by aging commercial fishermen Charlie and Lee. She’s from Craig. They troll in the summer and retire in the winter. And like Greg and Cheryl in Thorne Bay, they built their boat themselves and sailed up from Port Townsend! I learn it’s a Hoquiam hull, distinctively curved, and that there are four similar boat at Craig, including one built by their son.

Mixie has a distinctive Hoquiam hull as does the boat next to it. It was built by Lee and Charlie, Alaska commercial fishermen who spend their off season in Port Townsend.
Mixie has a distinctive Hoquiam hull as does the boat next to it. It was built by Lee and Charlie, Alaska commercial fishermen who spend their off season in Port Townsend.

At Napa store we ask Mike who might be able to answer some of our questions about our inverter. He says find Dave. Retired Master electrician who lives on a sailboat near yours. We find him and sure, he’ll take a look. Climbs around following wires, talking to himself. “What is that I wonder? All right. It’s right there. Okay. Al righty.” There must be a breaker

Like most single handed liveaboards, Dave’s a talker. He worked all over Alaska, turned to alcohol, as many do, lost his family, heard God, embraced an orthodox Catholicism. I find him better informed about Church history and politics than anyone I’ve talked to in a long time. Today his technical smarts make Dave a local legend. Slowly he’s getting back close to his kids.

Qualms. Cramped thoughts.   
Weary. Spooked. Unready.
For Tlevak Narrows. 

I recuse myself. 
Jack calculates, navigates.
Dead on. We glide through.

Monday 27 June Hydaburg 55º10.1’N 133º41.7’W

The largest Haida village in the United States, Hydaburg is home to one of three large totem parks on Prince of Wales.

Hydaburg is the largest Haida settlement in the United States. We’re the only visiting boat at the spacious and largely empty so everyone knows who we are.   A few people greet us.  Lisa, Chair of the Native Corporation, does so in Haida.  She lets us struggle with a few words before filling us in in English.  Hydaburg’s  big, two-day Fourth of July celebration is coming up and then at the end of July there is culture camp, a week of workshops in traditional skills, arts, and music as well as language classes.

Someone has been collecting red cedar bark, perhaps for the hat and basket weaving workshops during the annual cultural celebration in July.

The houses are modest ranch-style while the school, the health clinic and city hall are stately and well-designed, which seems appropriate for a people of a round shared culture.  The foundation for new longhouse is being built and carvers in the shed are working on the poles. There’s a tiny Alaska Commercial Company store and emergency medical services and a small fleet of three village busses to take people around the island via a road that is slowly being paved.

Hydaburg is the largest Haida settlement in the United States but residents are separated from their Canadian cousins by customs requirement that make the journey between the communities onerous.  Like us, they must enter Canada at Prince Rupert rather than going directly to Haida Gawaii.  And returning from there, they must pass US Customs at Ketchikan.  This is surprising given the special status of Native Communities in both countries.

The weather for crossing back south looks good for the end of the week.  So we leave, curious to come back.

Water’s lavender   
Blues, silvers, sun mirrored mix
Of dawn’s clouds and sky. 

Wed 29 June – Nichols Bay 54º43’N 132º08’W

Nichols Bay is at the very south tip of Prince of Wales, reached though many hours of wilderness. Forgotten by all save a few commercial fishermen, it lies a couple of miles from the Canadian border. We snug into a little nook off the first bay and turn in early as we have long day ahead.

Thurs 30 June – Prince Rupert 

In the predawn darkness of Nichols Bay, some seaweed “floating” off our stern turns into rocky bumps as the tide ebbs out. We bump into the uncharted drying peaks as we exit but gradually find our way out into the light of early morning.

We sail from the cape
And a flat line of horizon 
Closes around us.

Silky silver sea
Your billowing swells push us.
Where we need to go.

Humpbacks spout, cross bow  
Just as sun burns hole through clouds 
Giving whales haloes.  

Bull kelp grows longer
By a foot each shorter day.
To guide us over shoals.

The Gnarled Islands   
Misted monochrome west 
Deep color stretches east.  

Green Island, the northernmost of Canada's manned lighthouses, welcomes us back south.
Green Island, the northernmost of Canada’s manned lighthouses, welcomes us back south.

After passing customs in Prince Rupert we discover the Prince Rupert Rowing and Yacht Club has a space, albeit it a port tie. Jack attempts a bow out-stern in but the transmission is suddenly funny and the current strong. So we give up on that. As I scramble to move fenders and lines to the port side, the usual helpful and competent contingent appears on the docks and helps us in. We sleep soundly leaving boat issues for the morning.

Log: The Salish Sea to Campbell River

While we got a late start for our summer cruise, it’s been fueled by the extra weeks of anticipation that accumulated throughout May as we watched the Boat Haven shipyard empty of the working boats and head north along with the early cruisers. What kept us in PT was the start of the first human-powered Race to Alaska. While people have been human powering to Alaska for centuries, there’d never been a race. It appears that the notion was born in Hop Diggity saturated minds of mariner-adventurers gathered at the 2013 Wooden Boat Festival and given shape when Jake Beattie threw down the gauntlet a year later to have it picked up by sixty intrepid teams of paddlers, rowers and sailors who showed up with an array of watercraft the likes of which Port Townsend had never seen.

Meanwhile, the extra weeks at the end of the school year let me pick up some of the unfamiliar skills of landlubbers. I was able complete a Master Composters course with Washington State University and a bio char workshop that attracted passionate experts from four counties. Neither course would’ve happened without the efforts of my kick-ass activist friend Nina. We also squeezed in a hop over to Seattle to throw a party for Cait Rippey the day she got her MD degree. She and Jay cycled out to Shilshole on the Burke-Gilman Trail with 3-year old Finn and a whole string of well wishers. We also welcomed Qamar Schuyler from Australia and to meet partner Frank and 7-month Max. Floating Bistro Aurora served 23 guests. We have perhaps 175 square feet of the most efficient living space anywhere – and it moves. Now it’s moving North.

Friday, June 5 – Port Townsend to Victoria

The Race to Alaska stage #1 finish line was in front of the BC Parliament, where we tied up with all the competitors.
The Race to Alaska stage #1 finish line was in front of the BC Parliament, where we tied up with all the strange wonderful fleet of the competitors.

Jack the Skipper’s log notes that we threw off the lines from our Port Townsend slip at 6:15 am and got through a blob of fog near Point Wilson. Then a single tack takes us all the way to Victoria at 4 or 5 knots. Along for the ride are fellow mariners and Portland-transplants, Jon and Matt, who bless breakfast with mimosas and proceed to finish off two bottles of bubbly before we need to declare our liquor to Canadian Customs. Approaching the city, we pass a SCAMP, a not quite 12-foot-long wooden boat built and piloted by Simeon and a friend. We tie up at in the Inner Harbour in time to cheer the Race to Alaska’s Team Noddy’s Noggins across the finish line. Hats off the oldest crew and the smallest boat. They are among the teams doing only the first leg of the race: the passage from Port Townsend takes them 35 hours and 30 minutes.

Moored right in front of the historic Empress Hotel and British Columbia’s majestic Parliament, we are in the thick of the action: buskers along the shore, waterbug-like taxis, survival-suited whale watchers on fast commercial boats, and the majestic Coho, its splendid multi toned steam whistle announcing another arrival of people and cars from Port Angeles. All of the Race to Alaska craft are rafted along adjacent slips, so we finally have the chance to see them all, meet the crews, lend tools to those making repairs and last-minute modifications.

Erica Dodd introduced us to her great-nephew Peter Reed, Captain of the historic ketch Thane.
Erica Dodd introduced us to her great-nephew Peter Reed, Captain of the historic ketch Thane.

We tell our Victoria friends to come down to have a look. Erica and Alan, Mona and Nelson, and Amanda with 3 year old Ryder all gather on Saturday. Erica not only turns up with Lebanese hors d’oeuvres and dessert but introduces us all to her great-nephew Captain Peter Reed, who is taking a group out on a sunset cruise on historic ship Thane.

The next morning I bike up to the top of the hill above the Harbour to Christ Church Cathedral to hear the bells. Alan and Erica are among the ten bell ringers who mount the 72 steps to the tour a couple of times every Sunday to put on a 30 minute performance. I was to have seen it but I am late and the church folks seem less than keen on showing me the way up, which greatly annoys Erica, who has taken pains to set it all up. But now we have an excuse to sail back during the winter, plus a Nexus pass that allows us to reenter the US without the inconvenience of passing customs at Friday Harbor. I need to keep up with this friend and mentor who has set me straight on many things. She and Alan are now in their late 80s, sharp minded academics who surprised us this spring with a short visit to PT enroute from a conference in Seattle.

Always nice to encounter a Portland Loo, the Portland export that British Columbia has embraced.
Always nice to encounter a Portland Loo, the Portland export that British Columbia has embraced.

Later Sunday morning Jack and I cros the Blue Bridge and take the long winding waterfront trail to Westbay, where we find the beautiful new Esquimault Loo, a Portland export, on the way to Stephanie’s beautiful 25 foot sailboat moored among elegant float homes. Stephanie is Jon’s Québeçoise girlfriend, a long distance cyclist and cross country hitchhiker who became a live aboard after on a short sail on Aurora this spring. We take Steph’s new home out and drop anchor to watch the noon start of the full state Race to Alaska until a harbor official in an inflatable reminds us we we’re in a no anchor zone. We retreat to land where we take photos of the craft and watch a mother deer and a pair of Canadas play on shore with new babies.

Monday, June 8 – Victoria to Montague Harbour  48º537’N 123º24’W

“Rough, choppy waters on an otherwise fair, low wind day”, notes Jack in his log, “‘Cape Victoria’ is evil sister of Cape Scott.” Yes, indeed, we have a new name for the essentially unnamed southernmost tip of North America’s largest island, which pushes the international boundary deep into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Could it ever be as bad as Cape Scott at the north end?  Probably not, but we round it with deep admiration for that little SCAMP that sailed in on Friday and the human-powered Alaska-bound boats who left on Sunday.

Tie up at mooring buoy #13 in mid June and your boat will be the last in the bay to enjoy the setting sun.

We motor up the coast to Montague Harbour on Galiano Island where we grab a Marine Park mooring buoy. When a nice lady motors up to take our fees, we say two nights please and give her $24 in greenbacks, having been too busy to get Canadian cash. We start the vacation part of our cruise thankful for the much needed Wi-Fi blackout and no need to do anything more than take naps, read, and enjoy being the last boat on which the sun sets over the isthmus that separates Montague’s big bay from Tricomali Channel.

Wednesday, June 10 – Montague Harbour to Thetis Island

Early morning departure takes us up Tricomali Channel where we forego Porlier Pass to revisit Thetis Island with its charming little marina with pub, tiny store and post office. This, however, ends our Internet break. When we log on to the Race to Alaska tracker, we’re astonished to see that the lead boats have made astonishing headway toward the northwest,against NW winds, while several promising contenders, including PT’s Team Turnpoint Design with their purpose-built craft, have dropped out in the face myriad difficulties. Jake’s daily updates plus the growing coverage by the media and impassioned onlookers mean there’s a lot to read. While scanning my Twitter feed for #r2ak hashtags that evening I happen on a tweet from KPLU’s Gabriel Spitzer requesting an interview (on toilets, should you need to ask). Since we don’t have to throw off the lines until 10 am to catch slack at Dodd Narrows, I’m able to take the Skyped call and address concerns about social equity, basic dignity, and human rights. Spitzer seems okay with the ambient noise of the marina waking up, perhaps he’s good good techs and the Gulf Islands are on the far edge of the listening range of his Seattle based NPR station.

Thursday, June 11 – Thetis Island to Nanaimo – 49º10’N 123º55’W

Lovely sail through the islands with Jack piloting in the cockpit and me sitting on the spinnaker box watching out for logs. The closer we get to Dodd Narrows, the more there are: the telephone pole type logs not old growth spring tide drift. We arrive on the end of a northward flood and just as we’re about to go through, the captain of a southbound tug informs “all concerned traffic” on 16 that he’s barging through with a log boom.

We wait as log booms struggle through Dodd Narrows.
We wait as log booms struggle through Dodd Narrows.

The narrows are only about 75 feet across. Maybe running against the tide gives better control and by the looks of the logs bouncing against the rocks to say nothing of the loose ones we’ve encountered he needs it. As soon as the first boom struggles through, a second follows. Perhaps they’ll be reconfigured as one for the southbound journey but we don’t stick around to find out.

I take lookout on the bow and we slip through into Norththumberland Bay, its west shore lined with rough milling operations and sawdust mountains, its east with tiny tugs preparing more booms for shipment.”You don’t want to know this,” says Jack,”but coming out we were in six and half feet of water.” That’s six inches under our keel. Just enough.

Framed on the Nanaimo waterfront.
Framed on the Nanaimo waterfront.

The wild west of the area soon succumbs to the easy urbanity of Nanaimo. We tie up in the city port on the new Cameron Island dock, for which a commercial pier acts as breakwater. It’s continuation of the public port which shelters rec boats, the fishing fleet, passenger ferries, and small tugs. Everything is integrated into the city’s contemporary waterfront, its pleasant walkways with distinctive white steel barriers a-bustle with buskers, bicycles, baby carriages, and bare arms and legs, bewitchingly tattooed. We visit the farmers’ market and a craft fair, where a young couple from The Netherlands takes our photo and we take theirs.

On Sunday we head several blocks up the hill to the Old City Quarter, which we’ve never visited. We see the century old homes and churches along leafy streets and Nainamo makes more sense. Like Port Townsend, it must have kept its genteel uptown separate from the riffraff of the traditional downtown waterfront, now razed, sanitized, transformed. We spend the afternoon at Nanaimo’s annual International Street Festival. Three stages and a couple of dozen booths show off the city’s crazy quilt mix of First Nations and ethnic groups from every continent. A Sri Lankan woman proffering garden starts of rare Asian vegetables offers me a taste of her homemade date lime chutney. After tasting it with our Oregon farm raised pork chops, I regret leaving with only one, generous $6 jar.

The strong winds out on the Strait coupled with whitecaps right in the Port keep us in Nainamo an extra day. Number of the Race to Alaska teams are also holed up along the shores. But the excitiment continues as Team Elsie Piddock – three guys in a 25 foot trimaran – crosses the finish line in Ketchikan to win the Race to Alaska in a mere 5 days and 55 minutes! CHECK and cite some articles. One of the crew is Graeme Esary, son-in-law of our Point Hudson neighbors Tom and Marie, spouse of writer Janna Cawrse Esarey whose book is memorably titled The Motion of the Ocean: 1 Small Boat, 2 Average Lovers, and a Woman’s Search for the Meaning of Wife.

Sunday, June 14 – Nanaimo to Lesqueti Island 40º295’N 124º137’W

When the wind finally calms down, we head out and put up the sails. We’re flying along nicely but after about an hour with the rail in the water we decide to practice heaving to and reef the main. After all this vacation is about remembering to do things the easy way and bringing the boat to a comfortable stop in the middle of a raging ocean is magic. Once the sail is reefed, we go just as fast – hull speed – but our VMG – velocity made good – is bad. We end up near the mainland but far south of where we want to be. So we turn on the motor and head up toward Taxeda Island and drop the hook in Lesqueti Island’s Boho Bay. Down day. Time to read, write log and process the photos that ever since digital we now shoot will nilly.

About 5 pm I go up to the deck to to find that we are now five boats – all sailing vessels – in this little bay that could accommodate many in a storm. Three of us are two-nighters, the other two arrived today, one from Blaine, Washington and one flying the Maple Leaf with a not so young crew, who emerg from their hammpck-like catboat’s sail where they were lounging, dived in, swam around their modest boat and then climbed into a small sailing dinghy and a kayak to explore. About six we were visited by Elizabeth and Matt, a fit and nicely tattooed pair from an intriguing (two night) schooner who dinghy up offering on beautifully filleted slabs of freshly caught ling cod, a decided delicacy anywhere on the coast. At first I thought they either lacked freezing capacity or wanted to sell. Neither, they just like to fish. Turns out this catch is a 30 inch, 15 pounder who never took their hook but grabbed a smaller rock fish who had. Bounty upon bounty.

The day has been long and hot, intensified by the approaching solstice, something we’ve mostly experienced at higher latitudes. Abnormal? Or the new normal? The CBC is talking about British Columbia stepping in for California’s Central Valley, assuming enough water can be secured. We’ve had supper, the sun has dropped behind the bank, Jack has turned in, and the guitar and voice from the Sea Gypsy from Blaine is permeating the silence. Very nice. But still, we need some cold rainy days. In 2012 we had a solid month of them along this coast.

Tuesday, June 16 Boho Bay on Lesqueti to Campbell River 50º019’N 125º145’W

From Skipper’s Log: ‘Sabine Channel choppy (as always) Georgia Strait glassy, calm, no sailing. Had to slow down to avoid full spring flood at Mudge Point. Saw Orcas. Got great back eddies up Discovery Channel. Saw R2AK Team Sea Runners arriving 1800 Campbell River.’

Jack logs the big points by the time my sun burned body has cleared the decks of books, binoculars, cameras, and much cast off clothing. The orcas are four females who jump, snort and blow right off our port side before disappearing with a synchronized dive. We decide to dine at the Riptide Pub on condition they had Internet. Bingo. Good draft IPA, spectacular seafood linguini, and the fastest Internet we’ve experienced anywhere in years. As we leave, Team Puffin walks in – beaming and elated – to join fellow two person, small boat R2AK Teams Coastal Express and Sea Runners.

Log: The Embrace of the Wilds, the Sweetness of Towns

An uncharted island of ancient ice in Stephens Passage.

We’ve been moving between bergs and burgs. You never leave the wilderness here in Southeast Alaska, even when you finally see other boats or get cell service,  If anything, you grasp the of the wild when you tie up somewhere and talk to folks who have carved  out a life within it.

In the rest of the Pacific Northwest, we talk about resilience.  Here that’s a fundamental given; the skills you need are for subsistence.

Another of my misconceptions fell and broke just this morning.  I’d been under the impression that the subsistence lifestyle was that of Alaskan Natives, the folks here from American pre-history, many of whom self describe as Indians. But it’s far broader.  Any rural Alaskan has access to fish stocks and game populations “customarily and traditionally” used for subsistence.  Take pukka Petersburg, founded in 1896 by a handful of Norwegian pioneers led by Peter Buschmann, who emigrated to Port Townsend and headed north. Norwegian flags still fly here.  Employment is mostly commercial fishing and federal, state and local government jobs.  But with only 3000 people and no road connections to any other place, Petersburg is one of the subsistence communities we’ve visited: people proud of their ability to live off the land and sea. (More on legal aspects of Alaskan subsistence here and  here.)

Sunday, June 15. Appelton Cove, Rodman Bay, Peril Strait. 57º28’N 135º15.7’W  We leave Kake at 5:15 am in anticipation of Frederick Sound and Chatham Strait. Isn’t this supposed to be all about strong winds? Not for us. Strong seas for sure, especially where the two large bodies of water meet at Point Gardner, the south tip of Admiralty Island. We rock and roll, taking it wide, too far off shore to see the sea lion rookery on the island just south of the point. We give Baranof Warm Springs – and the promise of a warm soak – a miss and continue up the Strait.  In time, the sun burns off the mist on the Baranof peaks, improving the scenery but dampening chances of a breeze and making us feel sleepy.

An eventful day ends with a 10:16 pm sunset on Peril Strait.
Sunset after 10 pm ends eventful day on Peril Strait.

But then comes the narrow Peril Strait that separates Baranof and Chicagof Islands and a swimming mammal show that doesn’t quit. First we pass a pod of orcas on port, right where they were when we went by two years ago! We give them some distance only to see a group of spouting humpbacks on starboard! There are six of them and they are bubble feeding as they move into the strait. We make sandwiches and enjoy an hour-and-a-half lunch together, humans and humpbacks all moving along at a lazy 3.7 knots. With remarkable regularity, every 4 to 6 minutes, they perform a 60 or 90 second show. There’s spray, a ruckus of glistening grey backs, splashing and churning as they sound, their marvelous flukes in the air.

In the course of our transit of Peril Strait a pair of frolicking sea otters swim past, harbor seals play the shallows, a solitary sea lion powers through the current looking a bit like a bear and three large mother deer who, at the narrowest part of the strait, walk into the water to cross. And then the sudden sound, a snort, a nasal rush of air. Midships starboard. I rush forward to see the first one announce its presence. Suddenly there are five synchronized swimmers diving into our bow waves. A celebration of explosive joy. In a minute or so, they are off. What are they? Pacific wide-sided dolphins with short attention spans? Or the larger, more powerful Dall’s porpoises, also at home in these waters? A cameo performance but I can’t identify the actor. (Note to self: To learn to discriminate among waterborne choreographies, try YouTube. Oh, and get some video from our lunch with the whales up soon.)

Crew says farewell to Sitka and photographer Gus.
Crew says farewell to Sitka and photographer Gus.

Monday, June 16. Sitka.  57º03’N 135.21’W There’s too much to say about Sitka.  Above what I’ve said before here and here and here. This is largely thanks to Cruz’s old friend Gus and our new friend Sara and stepping into the world of normal/exotic Alaskans.

So I won’t say anything except that after a Sitkan had asked where we were from, I commented that their town was “the second best on the Inside Passage”, only to be corrected. “But we’re on the Outside.” Yes, remote, far away, outlying, off any track, beaten or otherwise. Peripheral, almost extraterrestrial in sense that Sitkans are half oceanic.

Sunday, June 22 Appleton Cove, Rodman Bay, Peril Strait. 57º28’N 135º15.7’W  One amazing sail across Hoonah Sound. Gusts to 25 knots and the rail practically in the water. Rough, invigorating. But then we lose sight of a sailboat we’d seen dangerously over powered. We search with the binocs. Then in the distance along the far shore, we spot the little boat (maybe 25 feet?), bare poles now. An hour later, Canadian flag flapping, it passes us! Is this some magical back eddy? Is that outboard supplementing a diesel engine? What about hull speed?

The next morning, we raise anchor before 5am and see the sail covers on the little vessel, its dinghy drawn abeam covering half the length of the hull, its astute crew sleeping off their adventure. We look for the but do not see them again.

Tenekee Springs, population 98.
Tenekee Springs, population 98.

Monday, June 23 Tenakee Springs. 57º46.69’N 135º12.22′ Travel took us east out Peril Strait to Chatham. then north, then west 9 miles to Tenekee Springs, population 98. The tiny city is stretched out along the shore on either side of the mid-town: the dock, the float plane landing, the store, the bakery, a cafe, and the bath. There’s no natural harbor here, just nice wide floats behind a couple of floating breakwaters. You write your boat’s name on a used envelop crossing out the previous name, leave some money and write yourself a receipt. It’s a rather expensive for Alaska $0.60 a foot. We forego electricity, which costs another $20 because Tenakee has to make all their own, currently by diesel generator although they are going to supplement with micro hydro. Other infrastructure: a combined city hall and library, a fire station and a school, which closed last year when a family decided to home school but which will open in September as there are again enough kids. The bakery serves breakfast 9 to 2. The Blue Moon café serves food “when Rosie feels like cooking”, according to an old Southeast guidebook and “on several hours notice,” according to Rosie, a fixture here for 58 years.

At the library, I join another reader, settling in with an intriguing mid-century biography of La Pérouse and a collection of essays on Alaska by Alaskans, designed to counter dubiously informed views such as mine. “Two readers of real books!” exclaims the librarian, most of whose other interactions are chat about the latest films on DVD. I’m actually there to learn about this strange, endearing town, so she gives me a fat three ring binder with several years copies of The Store Door. Issued by the Tenakee Historical Society, it includes obituaries, historic photos, excerpts from old newspapers and current projects, the most ambitious of which is the recent renovation of the bathhouse.

Tenakee Springs' only public toilet.
Tenakee Springs’ only public toilet.

Tenekee sprouted up in the 1870s or 80s, balm for discouraged Gold Rushers. Seems today it provides respite for Juneau folks weary of cruise ships, part-timers though with admirable kitchen gardens. The ferry calls twice a week, going to and coming from Juneau. Passengers only; Tenekee is carless.

Some of the year rounders, like the librarian, live “off grid”, that is a mile or so by skiff beyond either end of the path. Everyone is high on the place. It seems to have just the right diversity of age and Native blood and, like Meyers Chuck, a balance of tiny and not so tiny houses. Gentrification-immune, it has the usual amount of surplus stuff, charmingly overgrown with salmonberry bushes and cow parsnip.  An outhouse on a dock above the beach behind the fire station is its only public toilet.

After supper, I hear snorting and take my book up to the deck. A humpback is swimming in the opening between the breakwaters.  No wonder, herring are jumping out of the water all around the boat.  I wait to see if the beast will come into the harbor but with bounty everywhere, there is no need. I watch him  blow through the former-nose-evolved-to-the-top-of-the-head until the light dies and I turn in, closing the hatch to block out the snorts.

Wednesday, June 25 Funter Bay, Admiralty Island. 58º14.6’N 134º52.9’W A rare perfect wind took us up and across Chatham Strait on a broad reach. Lines taken by Bea, half of the crew of Salty, a tiny, well-used, outboard from Juneau that was drying out after a wake wave had drenched sleeping bags and everything else in the boat the night before. She’s Asian, Brian a blue-eyed blond, celebrating 20 years together. When I awoke from an I was sad to see this welcoming, upbeat couple had pulled out, presumably to drop the hook in some romantic anchorage known only to them.

Funter Bay has a nice 150′ government float, though a bit too shallow on the shore side to get out on the next morning’s spring low. So we switched sides and took Salty’s place behind two larger boats. A Juneau banker – and climate change denier – remarked nostalgically that back when the state floats were built, they’d accommodate far more boats. 21′ footer s like Salty being more the rule.

June 28, 2014
Auke Bay has splendid views of the Juneau ice field.

Thursday, June 26. Juneau 58º18’N 134º25.7′ An early morning departure takes us up Chatham into Lynn Canal. The Fairweather, the catamaran ferry that links Juneau to Sitka, As we turn into Auke Bay, as we turn into Auke Bay. For once we run into it in ample waters, although we’re so taken with the hanging glaciers we hardly notice. Since the day is still early, we decide to go around Douglas Island and up Gastineau to Juneau rather than tie up with the big boats at Auke Bay. It’s a quick decision we will later reevaluate.

The route along Douglas is long and Gastineau seems endless. The weather’s been hot and the seas calm so there’s no excuse for impatience. It’s just that 11 hour days are tiring. In fact, it’s almost worse without the adrenalin of facing continual challenges or simple driving rain that calls for hourly soup, ginger tea or hot chocolate. You find yourself complaining, like a spoiled child.

We’re barely by the cruise ships, when Jack hails the harbor master and Cruz and I get the fenders and lines ready. Remembering the strong currents we encountered entering the Harris docks four years ago, I note it’s slack and ought to be okay. We pass smoothly under the bridge that links Juneau to Douglas, but what’s that scraping sound? Yikes. It’s a high slack and this is Alaska! We tie up and assess the damage. Gratitude that it’s minor mixes with alarm at my/our, well, mindfulnesslessness and I start to cry like a child.

Thanks, Cruz, for going up there to fix that.
Thanks, Cruz, for going up there to fix that.

Within minutes, Cruz has rigged the bosun’s chair and we hoist him up the mast using our two spare halyards. (The tallest mast north of the bridge, we now note.) He bends the wind vane so it rotates again but has to remove the 10 inch cylinder that contains the white anchor light and the tricolor for sailing nights off shore. The plastic attachment ring has snapped, sacrificially. A sailor from Bellingham comes from across the docks to send up the tools we lack. We let Cruz down, he spends the rest of the afternoon fashioning a fix with epoxy, and – after a night on the town – goes up the next day to put the light in place.

By then I’m off hiking. I arrive at Mendenhall Glacier on the first bus, determined to get a good leg stretch. A girl in a National Forest Service uniform gives me a photocopied trail map and I’m off. The 3.5 mile circle route is lovely I pass only four people: a young Tlingit couple and an Alaskan grandmother pointing out her grandchild how far the glacier has receded. I’ve add another two or three miles by branching off on the Nugget Creek Trail, where I find myself crawling across fallen trees. When the trail meets a lake above the waterfall and I’m even farther away from vistas above the tree line so I retrace my steps, figuring the NSF greeter must be a summer intern.

Selfie with falls and glacier

Later, a mature ranger says, “Nah, nobody much does the Nugget Creek Trail. Brown bear up there.” As for the the loop trail, it’s designed to be short enough for cruise ship visitors. I mention I didn’t see a single one “They just get overwhelmed.” Yeah, I get that. And down near the lake, I see a lot of strollers and hear a lot of Japanese and Hindi. But a couple or three miles of wheelchair able trails that make a 13-mile blue glacier accessible to everyone? You can’t knock that.

The Mendenhall is special and everyone should visit. And it’s especially special to the residents of Juneau, despite a their abundance of outdoor options. How good to see bathing-suited families lying on the beach, kids building glacial silt castles, toddlers splashing around in water liberated after thousand of years in the ice field. I want to return to Juneau in the winter and join these folks in their little sliver of daylight to drive along a city street to the lake to walk or skate among the blue bergs to look the glacier right in its towering face.

Saturday, June 28. Snug Cove on bay behind Gambier Island off Admiralty Island. 57º25’N 133º58’W.

The scenery along Stephens Passage south of Juneau is overwhelming.  This is the Alaska of the State Ferry  and the big cruise ships if the weather is perfect, with just a few clouds for effect.  As I sit on the spinnaker box, leaning on the mast, wandering, wondering musings take over.  This  is no time to write.

We puzzle about a couple of large islands in the middle of the passage that are not on the chart.  They turn out to be ice bergs, better known as “bergie bits” since they’ve calved from glaciers.   They are not at all bitty but big.  The one in the photo has about fifty Glaucous Gulls on it and they are big birds – over two feet from head to tail.

Southeast Alaska's symphony of blues.
Southeast Alaska’s symphony of blues along Stephens Passage.

Our attention turns to navigation as we approach Snug Cove, a little nook on a bay in Admiralty Island behind Gambier Island and a string of reefs.  It’s a  wonderful place with good mud holding the anchor. Real wilderness. A day from Juneau and a day from Petersburg, with nothing but wildlife in between. Would like to spend a week here sometime.

Early morning departure from Snug Cove on Admiralty Island.
Early morning departure from Snug Cove on Admiralty Island.

Sunday, June 29 Petersburg. 56º48.8W 132º57.6’W. Yet another 11 hour day motoring on flat seas, though broken by encounters with humpbacks.  By now, the Captain knows he can push the crew so rather than drop the hook and laze around Portage Bay, we press on through Frederick Sound until dropping south into Wrangell Narrows.  We call the harbor master as we wind thought the northernmost aids to navigation, including red 63, a sea lion bunk bed buoy.

It’s barely and hour after high slack so Peterburg’s legendary currents should be relaxed.  (The last time we were here the stream has slammed the Alaska State ferry into its own dock, disabling it; other errant ice bergs have ripped through pylons)

Sea lions bunk bed  buoy.
Sea lions bunk bed buoy.

At that moment it begins to pour. Straight down hard.  We head into our slip and find the opposite half empty.  A blessing as the current pushes us to the wrong side.  No problem, Aurora’s worn teak rub rails are in the right place for the new docks.   We back out and try again, succeeding with the help of extra hands which suddenly appear on the finger to catch our bowline.   When I go to register, and express my surprise at the current, the harbor master explains that all the rain rushing into Hammer Creek suddenly flows into the harbor.  A large power cruiser with bow thrusters doesn’t even try to come in, but spend the night outside on the end float.

Nonetheless, the new docks at Petersburg are generously designed with lots of space.  Broad tenders share space with slender wooden schooners.  Lighting, fire hose connections, electrical outlets are state of the art.  At night the place looks more like my idea of Saint Tropez than the rough and tumble fishing port that it is.

Doesn't Petersburg look posh with its new docks?
Doesn’t Petersburg look posh with its new docks?

 Tuesday, July 1.  Wrangell   56º27.8′N 132.22.9′W   We had a civilized morning today waiting for slack before navigating the 70 or so aids to navigation that guide us through the Wrangell Narrows.   It’s low tide, in fact a negative tide.  The crab pots are sitting on the mud next to their buoys.

At last we emerge into the open waters of Sumner Strait and the peaks of that tower over the Stikine River Valley come into view.  The Stikine ice field, which is shared with Canada, has the southern most tidewater glaciers and is even larger than the Juneau ice field (which is the size of Rhode Island.)

The Wrangell docks finally have some rec boats in addition to transient fishing boats of all kinds.  This week there are openings for seiners, gill netters and crabbers and the ubiquitous trollers seem to fish all the time.  There’s no room for us near town so we tie up across the way.

Wrangell has the best laundromat in Southeast, it’s open until 9 pm and I’ve got three weeks worth of dirty clothes and linens.  I get on my bike and ride past houses festooned with bunting and  bows for the Fourth of July.  I mentioned, didn’t I, that Wrangell claims to have the best celebration.  Wish we didn’t have to move on, but we’ve miles to go.


Log: The Home Stretch

Sunday, July 22 49º58.81’N 124º45.78’W Lund

We had no idea what to expect of Lund. Would it be a run down, end-of-the-road industrial site with some aging working boats? Oy a silly, expensive, prettified place focussed on its historic hotel, a bit ilke Roach Harbor? It was neither.  We’ll go back again.

Lund is small with several picturesque coves facing the sea. It’s about 20 miles from Powell River, close enough to be administratively a part of that community. But the harbor is community-owned and operated. Two floating fingers serve recreational boats and one commercial boats, although we were given space at the commercial dock. An ingenious, segmented, offset breakwater has hundreds of feet of tie up space with easy access to a dinghy dock. Moorage was a welcome $0.65 a foot. Surrounding businesses include the Boardwalk restaurant, Nancy’s Bakery and the 1905 Lund Hotel. The hotel, which is owned and operated by the Slimmom First Nation, had everything we needed: first real grocery since shearwater, laundry, and a friendly pub with internet.

Monday and Tuesday, July 23 and 24 49º37.85’N 123º07.53’W Pender Harbour

We sailed down Malespina Strait on reliable winds for wing and wing. I’ve figured out how to pole out the jib by myself. I figured out how to use the the anchor snubber to keep from losing it over board and to keep it from catapulting me overboard when I remove it under pressure of the sail.

We were delighted to see they Fisherman’s Marina could take us. Unfortunately, this meant a poor season thus far for Dave and Jennifer. The level of simple service remains high. We were greeted and made fast by the utterly polite and accommodating front line liveaboards, John and Liz. It was nice to finally be able to attend to email and enjoy a beer and supper at the Garden Bay pub, despite the shock of so many boats and people around.

Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, July 25-27 49º17.47’N 123º07.53’W Coal Harbour

We’d phoned Coal Harbour for reservations, which proved unnecessary. Hordes of people out in the hot sun on the waterfront and in the parks, however. We visited the Aquarium and got our questions about marine mammals answered. Despite the awkward choice of days, we got to spend time with the Habibs, who hope to go sailing with us out of Port Townsend over Canadian Thanksgiving. On the last evening, Poonam took me to dinner, talked about her interesting job, and provided helpful orientation to what I need to do for PHLUSH on return to Portland.

Saturday, July 28 48º145.04’N 123º11.04’W Bedwell Harbour

We had a terrific sail across the Strait go Gerogia to Porlier Pass but arrived too early for slack. So then we did a counter productive tack south against wind and current and ended up having to motor down to Active Pass to hit it at slack. It lived up to its name, with many ferries going and coming, the largest shooing us to one side right in the middle. Jack had me at the helm and said, “Just stay on course and do NOT look behind you,” It was great to do our first transit of Active Pass on such a nice day.

In Bedwell, we seemed to lose our anchoring karma. After moving away from a boat to which we seemed too close we landed a bit too close to another but stayed on deck in hopes of telling them how great our ground tackle is. But as soon as we went down for supper, they moved! If only people would communicate. In the morning, about eight links of our thick chain chain jammed but this provided a chance to practice what seems to be a foolproof unjamming technique: I use the staysail sheet and winch to put counter tension on it.

Sunday, July 29 48º145.04’N 123º11.04’W  Friday Harbor

Just as well the anchor routine took time; some of the fog out in Boundary Channel could dissipate. No problems. We had the usual Canadian flag lowering ceremony. With cell phone data service I was able to check US Customs and Waggoners sites for updates on regulations. It seemed that a beef ban was in effect, although the Customs guy in Alaska had asked only about fruits and veggies. So we tossed our a Vancouver Safeway steak overboard, only to discover at Customs that the ban had been lifted and our dinner was feeding the orcas! Next year we’ll do research and hope that USDA coordinates with customs so the current regs – somewhat complicated in the case of Canada – are clear.

Customs people were very cordial but the Friday Harbor Customs float is weird. Large cleats are too distant to be of use and there are only a few openings under the metal toe rail. The wind and current were against me but I managed to secure the midships line to a chain holding the dock’s rubber fenders and the stern to a cleat. The official had appeared by that time but said he wasn’t allowed to help people tie up. So I just threw the bow line on the dock and raced onto the float to retrieve it. The other weird thing was that there was no American flag. Not very welcoming.

By the time the sun broke clear there were boats everywhere, mostly sailboats. A typical summer Sunday in the San Juans. We took one look at the busy fuel dock and gave up. As the places on the outer transit dock disappeared, we anchored after carefully agreeing on the best place.

July 30    Return to home port, Port Townsend.

A spectacularly beautiful and happy journey ends.  And isn’t this the prettiest town on the Inside Passage?

Prettiest town on the Inside Passage?

Dictated by promises, plans and the tide turn to a long ebb that would take us across Juan de Fuca, our departure was just before dawn. As the sky blazed orange, the purple of the Cascades culminated in Mt. Baker far to the north. We passed the Maritime Center where later in the day and evening, dozens of people from very young to very old would come to learn and share traditional skills.

As we headed around Point Wilson the sun broke, glistening on the windows of the Victorian homes with their widow’s walks and the white squat buildings of the Point Hudson. In the background the massif of the Olympics towered blue and pink.

We had to admit that while we would see extraordinary places on our voyage, it was unlikely there would be a town lovelier than our home Port Townsend.

Open Ocean Adventure – Sitka, Alaska to Port Townsend, Washington

After Hoonah and Sitka, worsening problems with Aurora’s 29-year-old transmission made it unwise for us to return to the lower 48 through the Inside Passage.   Without a reliable engine how could we anchor at night and cross the numerous rapids along that route? But since Aurora is a tried-and-tested offshore vessel, we figured it was time for us to try blue-water sailing.   And maybe the sooner, the better, since we might not like it at all.

Captain Peter Frost and Kelsey Boesch

So we engaged a young licensed captain from Port Townsend named Peter Frost.  After walking us through the preparations, he met us in Alaska on July 6th along with his partner, Kelsey Boesch.   Here is the account of our voyage on the Outside, a hundred miles off the Alaska and British Columbia coasts.

In struggling find the words to describe this extraordinary voyage, I feel a bit like a space traveler who knows she’s done something few others have had the opportunity to do.   But it should be clear that we loved the trip.   In fact, it promises to alter the course, reorder our priorities and reshape our dreams.

Day 1   Wednesday, July 7, 2010    Seasick!

Coordinates at noon:  56º45’N 135º46’W
We cast off from Sitka at 7 am and motor straight out through a couple of remaining “piles of rocks” until we we’re in the open ocean. A curious sea otter, his breakfast on his stomach, watches us go by.  Looking up, we notice instrument failure number one.   The wind vane at the top of the mast has lost its tail and is bobbing around uselessly.  The damage is recent, certainly done by a large bald eagle, undeterred by the bird proofing mechanism. Seagulls abound in other fishing harbors, but in Sitka there are none to be seen.  Eagles rule the roost, hovering over vessels as they unload, darting after what they can get or just standing watch on masts.
The fog is thick so I volunteer for bow watch, and a shot at real concentration because the queasiness I’d feared is taking hold.  When I start vomiting it’s the best place to be so I just stay up tethered in front and tough it out.
Finally my stomach settles a bit and I head back along the jackline to the cockpit.   On my way, I stoop down to move the jib sheet car back along its track.  With that simple gesture my right thumb joint gets stuck in flexed position.  I can straighten it manually but it doesn’t stay.  As I climb into the cockpit puzzling over this, the other four fingers of my left hand spasm out and become useless.  Within a minute my left calf lumps up with a painful cramp and immediately after that a whole complex of muscles in my right thigh contract violently.  Imagine my confused terror as four limbs fail at once!
Peter calmly reassures me that this is a common symptom of sea sickness.  My body is making a bunch of micro adjustments as it gets used to the motion of the waves and swell.  And he’s dead right.  Within a couple of minutes the  paralyzing cramps and spams subside.  I continue my watch, feeling a strange kind of gratitude that my body knows what it’s doing.  Soon enough my nausea has waned and the physical self confidence I had been so carefully nurturing with daily yoga has returned.
Offshore seascape

The familiar fauna soon yield to albatross, ponderous in size, dark in color, and nearly horizontal in flight.  (According to Wikipedia,”Albatross have high glide ratios, around 22:1 to 23:1, meaning that for every metre they drop, they can travel forward 22 metres.”)  I am tempted to see them as creepy but suppose it’s just a figment of fragment of Coleridge haunting  my imagination.  But then Peter dispels any doubts by recounting an incident during a voyage back from Hawaii, when an albatross flew into the mylar sail of a racing vessel and ripped it in half with its beak!

When we are well off shore – about 40 miles out – we adjust our course toward the south. Aurora’s engine works fine since we have no reason to idle nor reverse and the transmission is regularly nurtured with small doses of fluid.  So we continue to motor through weak and uncertain weather.  Peter has carefully thought out our route so that we’ll be in a position to catch the northwesterlies when they begin.  At noon he pencils in our coordinates on the chart and consults his GPS to verify our course and strategy.   Soon we discover instrument failure number two: the cigarette lighter-style DC power outlet in the companionway does not work.  So we must use AA batteries, of which we have barely enough.  Throughout the trip, Peter will combines his years of experience in navigation with judicious use of his GPS.   Since a compass fix is needed in the open ocean, he determines the course and we stay on it using the compass on the binnacle.
We’re still far north and the days are long.  Toward the end of our 2000 to midnight watch, Jack and I can no longer read the compass.  But we have no idea how to turn on the red night light in the compass, and neither does Peter.  In fact, since we’ve never navigated at night, we had neglected to include the compass when verifying the instrument lights according to the checklist Peter had sent about a week earlier.  With calm aplomb the captain moves us beyond equipment failure number three by duct taping the little red flashlight Jack bought to the permitter of the dome on the binnacle.

Day 2 Thursday, July 8     Routine

Coordinates at noon:  54º46’N 134º55’W
Segmenting this account into days is misleading since we never stop. Every day includes night and the period of darkness lengthens as we cross parallels going southward.
We’re setting into our watch schedule, which combines two daytime watches of six hours each with three evening-night-early ones of only four hours.   Today’s looks like this:
0800-1400   Peter & Kelsey
1400-2000 Jack & Carol
2000-0000 Peter & Kelsey
0000-0400 Jack & Carol
0400-0800 Peter & Kelsey
This rotation is a flip of yesterday’s. In the last 24-hour period Jack and I had 14 hours on duty at the helm; in this one we have only 10 but it includes the midnight to 4 am watch.   The new team comes up from below on ten to fifteen minutes before the previous watch ends to be briefed and get the feel for the point of sail, the height and intervals of the waves, and the (steady or gusty) quality of the winds.
When Jack and I go above for our 4 am watch, Peter and Kelsey brief us on the graveyard shift saying they’d enjoyed the Northern Lights.

Off watch sleeping through a long port tack

Nice as it would be to see everything, it’s more important for us to go below, cook some hot food, and get some sleep.  We are very small beings in the middle of vast seas and our bodies seem to know what they need.  Sleep comes easily;  the best we can be is ready for the next watch as well as anything for which extra hands are required.

Peter has been doing 24-hour watches since he was a child and now as a licensed captain sleeping in snatches while being alert to ship and crew seems to be instinctive.  No only does he come up the companionway to check on us, he uses whatever issue Jack and I are musing about as an opportunity for hands on instruction.
Unlike Steve Plantz, Peter was not one of those kids raised at sea.  Thanks to a fortuitous set of circumstances, however, every summer he was able to step out of an otherwise normal American childhood.  Starting at the age of nine he spent summers crewing on a sailing vessel which plied the Great Lakes 24 hours a day.   Peter credits the Canadian youth program that seems almost a throwback to British naval training in 18th century with providing a solid foundation.  He returned to the brigantine every summer until he was fourteen, when they were shipwrecked.  As only of three of a crew of 33 neither injured nor a victim of seasickness, Peter recounts the details of this unwelcome opportunity to perform under stress.  Jack and I listen in grateful amazement that this seafarer, not yet thirty years old, has nearly twenty years offshore experience.
We are under sail about 100 miles out.  Our southeast course takes us past Prince of Wales Island in the morning and past Dixon Entrance in the afternoon.

Day 3   Friday, July 9     Weather

Coordinates at noon: 53º18’N 134º21′

At reports of worsening weather, we make a detour, motoring several hours to get out its path.  Now southerly winds mix with rain and push us on.  Opposite the Queen Charlotte Strait, the weather turns nasty. Peter and Kelsey take over at the helm and Jack and I go below.

Deck with troublesome swim ladder

Although we’ve cleared the deck of most everything, the preventer – a line  that restrains the boom to prevent an accidental jibe – gets caught on  on the aluminum swim ladder, bending it and forcing Peter to go forward to unhook it.   Now that we’re rid of the old hard shell skiff  that covered the place where the ladder is bolted to the deck we’ll have to do something about it.  At the same time, the absence of skiff has vastly improved visibility.  In fact, now we can sit on port or starboard and maintain our course by lining up numbers on the compass with stationary guides positioned 45º degrees to either side of the desired heading.

Sitting at the helm and using the compass works less well in coastal cruising.  Along a coast you have one eye on the chart, the other usually on the point of land to which you’re headed.  Water depths constantly change thanks to irregular bottoms and the high tides of the North Pacific.  The shape of the land affects the velocity and direction of the winds and accounts for crazy currents and roiling rips.  And you need to pay attention to other boats, and hope they are paying attention to you.  After thinking about it a bit, Jack and I realize that offshore sailing under the tutorage of a skilled instructor and navigator can work for fledgelings learning to sail.
At the same time we’re thankful the skills in coastal navigation we’ve acquired and the different sort of concentration sailing in more sheltered water takes.  We rarely do more than ten or twelve hours at a stretch between anchorages but long days are exhausting and often leave the First Mate pleading for extra hands on deck.  But unless they’ve got specific assignments and really want to be there, having friends on board can be distracting.  So we ponder ways to manage more challenging voyages and the practicality and prudence of well-thought out watches.
Watches also make a small boat feel much bigger. Except for a pre-departure dinner, we have not shared a meal with Peter and Kelsey.  We’re hot berthing, sleeping in the same places close to the mast.  That leaves accessible space for personal effects fore and aft.  Finding things in a hurry is important.  My undocumented stashing of foodstuffs in fridge, lockers and bilge has had us rifling a bit but [almost] never for important things like headlamps, gloves, wrenches, extra line, binoculars, duct tape and the like.

Day 4    Saturday, July 10      Musings

Coordinates at noon: 51º48’N 131º58’W
Brilliant hues of sunrise
The view constantly changing

Jack and I pull daybreak and afternoon watches.  The gleam of morning sneaks over the horizon covering the enormous swells with a skim of crinkled, pink foil.  Minutes later the sea is billows golden chiffon.   The hues are so vivid that we are tempted to wake up Peter and Kelsey but we regale them with stories and photos when they come on watch.  After all we missed the aurora borealis; in 24/7 passage making you just can’t experience everything happening around you, although this comes pretty close.

Our six-hour afternoon watch follows a long satisfying nap and a good meal.  Winds are from the northwest, seas are high, sun is full.  In sweater sleeves – it’s warm –  Jack and I alternate 30 minutes at the helm.  We’re headed southeast – 135º magnetic – with ten knot winds moving Aurora along at five and a half knots.  The lightness of the winds make it all the more difficult to keep the compass needle between 130ºM and 140ºM.

Captain Peter emerges briefly from the companion way to demonstrate the micro movements the helmsman must master.  I keep my hands steady on the wheel, note the approximate orb and make it part of my rhythm. There no need to twirl the wheel or make big adjustments, if one stays attentive.  And without headlands, mountains or stars to head for, all my focus is on the compass in front of me.

The sky is cloudless and the line of the horizon distinct.  From where we are sitting in the cockpit, the horizon is a mere three and a half miles away.  This is our own tiny patch of the Pacific.  No wonder we’ve seen no other boats since that troller in the fog less than an hour out of Sitka.
Getting the hang of the helm

The nearness of the horizon inspires reverence and respect.  Our planet is small: it drops off quickly.  When we gaze out on successive ranges of mountains, as you might do heading inland from the Oregon Coast, or looking  northwest from Islamabad or Boulder, the world seems much bigger than it really is.  The seas don’t lie.  If we stand up on the spinnaker box on the deck against the mast, we might see a seven or eight miles radius to the horizon, from the top of the mast perhaps 25.  A very compact area.  Almost cozy.  Nothing like I’d imagined.   No wonder the ancient mariners knew the earth was a sphere, something it took centuries for their land-lubbing cousins to grasp.

I get better at keeping the yellow needle of the compass on target.  I watch intensely as the black disk, all 360 degrees calibrated in white, bibs and spins in its ocean of oil under the glass dome of the compass.  The compass is about 7 inches across, the radius to its horizon three-and-a-half inches, which echos the three-and-a-half miles of ours.  Our great dome of the sky is now evenly light grey, like milky glass, the slate purple grey of the sea gently rocking and bobbing Aurora exactly in its center.  I imagine a miniature sailing ship in a glass bottle, although this time it is a tiny Aurora floating at the center of the compass enclosed in the hemispherical glass dome atop the binnacle.

Day 5    Sunday, July 11    Encounters!

Coordinates at noon: 49º55’N 130º00’W
At about 50º10’N 130º30’W, when I am at the helm facing heavy seas, something smacks low against the keel.  “Look at that sunfish!” Peter exclaims  I manage to stay focussed and not turn around but Jack says it looks something like a huge barn door.  “A barn door that must really hurt.” [ Wikipedia on sunfish: “unique fish whose bodies come to an end just behind the dorsal and anal fins, giving them a “half-a-fish” appearance….the largest of the ray-finned bony fishes, recorded at up to 3.3 metres in length and 2 tonnes in weight.]
When the wind kicks up, we reef the main.

The winds are stiffening now, but I am getting the hang of the helm.  The helm is usually Jack’s task so this is great experience for me.  To keep the ship on our heading of 135º magnetic, I need to keep that compass needle somewhere between 1-3-0 and 1-4-0 on the dial.  Despite the good wind, the seas are rolling us a bit.  My attention needs to be sharp and complete but  my shoulders and hands relaxed as I turn the wheel.  Toward the end of my watch, I enter yogic space between ease and effort and feel my practice is finally bringing results.

Then suddenly, the boom whirls across the cockpit in an accidental jibe.  Worse, the force pulls the preventer, a block and line designed to prevent the wind from getting on the wrong side of the sail, right out of the boom.  I am devastated.
Peter rushes up to deck and gets Aurora back on the proper heading.   With a spare line about sixty feet in length we rig a makeshift preventer, tying one end to the boom and the other to a cleat in the bow, dipping and rising between great following waves.  When Peter finishes, he asks me gently if I’m “ready to get back on the horse.”  It’s noon, so I take the helm briefly while he goes below to check our position and progress of the past 24 hours and pencil them on the chart.  When he emerges from the companionway, he says with a broad smile, “You’ll be interested to know that we’ve just crossed an area of magnetic disturbance.”  Ah, ha!   It was the compass that got mixed up!
Jack takes helm as swells rise behind him

For four days we’ve had our bit of ocean to ourselves, but on the evening watch Jack and I spot a southbound ship on the horizon and then another and another.  Their massiveness is half hidden by the horizon and the huge swells make them disappear all together.  At a distance of a couple of miles they are as benign as the three ships of the Christmas Carol sailing toward [landlocked] Bethlehem.   But we know we are near an open ocean shipping lane and we intersperse visual checks of the horizon every five minutes with checks of the radar, which is bouncing with all the noise the waves are throwing up.

At midnight Kesley and Peter take over at the helm and shortly afterwards (49º30’N 128º20’W) Kelsey calls me back on deck.  There’s a ship bearing at 2 o’clock and the disposition of its lights suggests it’s headed toward us and they are not responding to radio calls.  Peter has turned into the wind in an attempt to speed past it, moving from his 090 heading to 060.  Kelsey and I each take one of the high powered emergency lamps we’re carrying.  I flood the sails with strong light while she flashes her light at the ship.
But the distance is closing and soon we see red and green: when both the port and starboard navigation lights are visible it indicates a collision course. I take the VHF and just keep hailing “the northbound freighter off the west coast of Vancouver Island”.   No response, nothing, silence.   Then miraculously, a weighty, Slavic accented voice responds.  It’s a miracle.  The Zim Djibouti asks our heading.  “Okay,” says the captain, “I’m changing my heading.”  Slowly the red light disappears and the white masthead lights creep apart to tell us we have their starboard safely abreast of ours.  To come that close in such a huge ocean!   The guy on the Zim Djibouti is clearly surprised but as relieved as we are.   He is very nice.  Explains that he couldn’t see us on his radar.  Advises us to get a new reflector but our radar reflector is a good one and designed for offshore. It’s interesting how nearly everyone seems to have suggestions on stuff you can buy for your boat, even the captain of a passing freighter.  [Later I check the Internet and learn that M/V Zim Djibouti is “one of the largest container ships operating in the world” and travels at 25.8 knots. And btw our radar detector is top of the line. Swells just too big. ]
As the night lengthens, my gratitude for the escape from danger multiplies and Nature co-conspires to regale us with a sublimely glorious encounter.  Aurora’s wake is now a broad phosphorescent path behind the stern and the waves breaking around the cockpit are full of light.   It’s the phenomenon of bio-luminesence, tiny marine organisms that emit light when surrounding waters are disturbed.  It’s the sprinkles of sparkles seen when paddling at night, or in the splashes of a bucket drawn from the sea, or whirling around in the bowl of the head when it is flushed.  But tonight we have a full-blown show.  All around us – even at some distance – are light-capped waves.  Billions and billions of creatures are performing for us!   And then suddenly there are ribbons of light streaming alongside the boat, forward and aft, port and starboard. Dolphins! They dart to and fro, playing in our bow waves, enjoying their strength.  In the tubes of light in which they swim we see their large white spots.  Like firework-spouting tug boats escorting a great ocean liner into port, a pod of Pacific-white sided dolphins are our escort through this patch of wilderness night.
Beyond the continental shelf along Vancouver Island, the ocean floor slopes down to minue 10,000 feet or more to what is known as the Abbysmal Plain.  But from these depths rise seamounts, knolls and ridges, giant underwater mountains.  A few rise to just 1500 to 2000 feet below sea level, bringing rich habitat and dolphin feeding grounds just beneath our keel.  This time the short intense blackness of our night has coincided with a wondrous display.

Day 6     Monday, July 12    Speed

Coordinates at noon: 48º52’N 126º30′
Peter keeps us on course in heavy seas

The adrenaline is flowing, keeping Peter’s judgement sharp and energy  unflagging. He’s been at the helm most of the day and is totally in his element.  He and Kelsey have double tethered and opted to stay on deck through our watch.  Jack and I hand up Clif bars and exchange words from the companionway.

It’s too rough for Jack to go up to the cockpit; we both struggle to move around safely below as it is.  Whereas we’ve been been using one salon berth and the floor below it – port or starboard as appropriate – now we are both bedded down on the sole. Were the boat to get tossed Jack would too and land on top of me.  We feel the speed through the length of our spines as Aurora creaks and groans.
Peter has been sailing the Gulf of Alaska for years. In fact, this his second trip this summer, the first taking him from Seward to Juneau following a coastal cruise down the Inside Passage.  Back when he started college in Olympia, he bought an old 27-foot Oday to have a place to live.  Soon enough he had it fixed up and seems to sailed up the coast at every possible opportunity.  So when the Environment Canada announces 25 to 35 knot winds he knows that not only is that fine, it’s also probably an exaggeration.  Indeed, Jack and I have rarely experienced winds as strong as official Canadian predictions.
Kelsey in a trough between huge swells

But today the winds are forty knots and gusting well above that. We thought that the Brooks Peninsula, which sticks out from the top of the northwest coast of Vancouver Island, might break up the swells a bit, but it is not to be.  Kelsey has put the drop boards in the companionway hatch but occasionally will take the top one off and shout down “Fourteen and a half knots!”   Anybody who knows anything about hull speed knows a forty foot boat can’t move this fast.  But under these extraordinary conditions of high winds, broadly spaced swells and following seas, Aurora is surfing, riding half out the water, surfing.

A blend of intense concentration, physical strength, quiet confidence and sheer joy can be seen on Peter’s face every time we look up the companionway.  He’s been at the helm fourteen hours straight and is going strong.  There is nothing quite as efficient as forty feet of Valiant with Carol Hasse sails and free air.
The distant shore of Vancouver Island finally begins to recede as we round the southern tip.  Once we have been soundly shaken by the confused winds and currents of the approach to the West Entrance of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, we got up on deck in the waning sun. This is our first time here but years of marine weather reports have established its reputation for being pretty terrible most of the time.
Dusk brings weariness. Justifiable for Peter and Kelsey, it becomes contagious.  The shore of Washington state is in the distance: in a way we have arrived.  As we cross the great shipping lanes of the Strait, we need to inform radio vessel traffic service  that we’ve entered the strait.  We hail “Seattle traffic” on channel 5A but get no response; maybe our VHF defaults to channel 5.  We then try  VTS for south of Seattle on channel 14, but they fail to respond.  We’re down to our last set of fresh AA batteries for the GPS unit, though we can recycle the old ones and ones stolen from ordinary radios and flashlights.  Remaining on the lookout in all directions, we cross the lane for the local westbound traffic, then the one for ships bound for the  Pacific, then the mile-wide separation lane, and the eastbound, for vessels headed to Vancouver and Seattle, finally landing in the lane for local eastbound boats.  Jack is consulting the Navionics charts on his iPhone, but the information he’s getting doesn’t gel with what Peter’s has.  As black night closes tightly in, a ship passes in a place it clearly  shouldn’t be.  The currents are troubled and although I’ll confess it to no one, I suddenly feel my first discouragement all trip.
Peter reviews our options.  We are opposite the reservation of the Makah Nation at the tip of the Olympic Peninsula, where the lights of Neah Bay twinkle seductively.  The promise of sleep brings the alertness we need to guide our ship and anchor in its tiny harbor.

Day  7      Monday, July 13    Stars

Coordinates at noon:  48º21’N 124º36′W
The sun streaming through the plexiglas of the aft cabin hatch finally wakes me from long uninterrupted sleep.  The others are up.  Kelsey and Peter smile broadly, as if on a drug-induced high, but thoroughly revived after going without sleep for more than twenty-four hours.   Peter pencils the noon coordinates on the paper chart and discovers that we have covered 150 miles a day for three days in row.  This is unheard of.  Who gets back from Alaska that fast?  Peter recounts how at one moment clocked a speed of 17.5 knots, the fastest he’s ever gone in any sailboat.   It happened when a gust of 60 or 70 knots shoved a cresting swell from behind causing Aurora to soar and surf.  On either side, walls of water shot past, enclosing the cockpit.
Setting sun on Juan de Fuca floods cockpit

At last able to cook and safely cut up our remaining fresh fruit, we sit down to a huge breakfast.  Some of us check voicemail and messages, others are just not ready.  After a singular grasse matinee we lift anchor, tie up at the village dock,  top off with fresh water and head to shore for AA batteries.  Neah Bay is by no means affluent, but the waterfront seems forward looking with finishing touches being put on a new casino.  Interestingly, Neah Bay is a dry town, like British Columbia’s Hartley Bay.  Unlike the latter, however, there are stores.   The big hardware store sports a bulletin board with up to date notices.  Out front a girl at a card table is signing up people for an event.  When pay for our batteries, we admire Makah baskets, drums and shell jewelry newly crafted by Neah Bay residents.

It’s already early afternoon when we head back out into the Strait.   It’s blowing with gentle steadiness from the West.  Soon our broad reach turns into wing and wing and eventually we pole out the jib on starboard.  It’s a beautiful day, but there are hardly any other boats.  We stay a mile or two off the Washington shore, passing Clallam Bay, Crescent Bay and Freshwater Bay, relishing the growing heights of the snowy Olympic peaks.  Warm sun floods the cockpit.  We thaw out a huge hunk of the king that Mike gave us back early June and feast on salmon, vegetables and rice and the dregs of plastic bag of Franzia merlot we find hiding behind the water bottles.
The mainsail on one side and the genoa on the other signal our forward progress as the fiery orb sinks behind a luminous horizon.
Then the stars appear, more and more and more of them.   They come right down to the blackness of the land, to the jagged line where the Olympics fall to the sea.  The firmament is a star-speckled blanket with a great cream stripe of Milky Way in the middle.  We are still wing and wing with Peter at the helm.   Unwilling to miss any part of it, he recommends three hour watches.  I get to stay on deck while Jack and Kelsey go below.
Running wing and wing under the stars

The glow of lights that is Port Angeles passes on starboard and on port those of Victoria in the distance, on the more familiar shore.  A westbound ship briefly breaks through the darkness and the silence and is gone.  There is nobody else around. The Milky Way arches above us, framing the sails perfectly parallel to our beam.   Engulfed in the theatrical resplendence of it all.

Suddenly Peter asks me to go below and bring up the high powered lamps.  He has eyes in the back of his head and has seen or heard something I missed.  Indeed, when I return I notice the green and red lights of a ship headed toward our port side aft.   I throw a bright beam on our sails while he aims the second straight on the approaching vessel.  Soon enough they hail us on the radio.  It’s the Coast Guard and it’s their practice to board recreational boats, which after some discussion on their end, they decide they will do “as soon as we can get a boarding party together.”  They ask if we have any arms; we reply no.
For the next two hours the peaceful silence of our run under sail is broken first by the Coast Guard cutter out of Port Angeles, which follows us throughout, and eventually by a noisy inflatable that draws up alongside.  Weird as it is to have armed men enter your home in the middle of the night, we are ready.   Back in Sitka, Jack has checked all the safety equipment according the checklist provided by Pacific NW Expeditions and Aurora’s documents are all in a plastic envelop in the nav station.  Since my name’s on them as co-owner, I can handle it; Jack opts to stay holed up in our diminutive “aft cabin”.
Neither boarding a boat under sail nor being boarded is easy, much less in the black of night. But Peter’s cool at the helm and we figure we’re providing an excellent training opportunity to young Coast Guard recruits.  The first man to stumble on says he needs to check to see if it’s safe for others in the boarding party.  He goes down the companionway and checks all the bilges before giving the all clear.  The inflatable pulls alongside again and dumps out two more guys.  They are polite as they go through the checklist:   Everybody’s got life jackets.  Fire extinguishers recently checked and tagged. Emergency flares up to date.  VHF works. “No Oil Dumping” decal posted (fortunately they have no authority to cite us for a dirty bilge). Navigation rulebook on the shelf.  Correct illumination of navigation lights (this catches them up since few ever board boats under sail at night.) Documentation in order.  The team leader sits in the cockpit, working on a little backlit PDA.  I wonder why I need to sign on the screen before he prints out the little receipt but when I do everything checks out.  He assures me that the receipt should protect us from routine boardings for three years.   But, gee, two hours time with twenty men burning fuel idly in a 72-foot cutter and an 18-foot tender.  Doesn’t the Coast Guard have more important things to do?  Couldn’t we do this at dock? Just like we take our cars to garages for DEQ emissions checks?
We are still running gently wing and wing when Kelsey comes on watch to enjoy the quiet stars before the dawn dims them.

Day 8    Tuesday,  July 14  Home

Coordinates: 48º6′N 122º46′W
Triple-masted schooner rounds Point Wilson

I have just fallen into my deepest dreamiest sleep, when Kelsey wakes me.    Deep fog has closed in, the currents are rushing together confused, and we’re nearing the point where the traffic lanes from Vancouver, Seattle, Bellingham and the Far East converge.  It’s time to unhook the whisker pole that holds out the genoa and take down the sails.  The fog shoves the horizon in near the boat.  With the engine now, we won’t hear the behemoths that ply these waters so attention to both radar and our circle of horizon is all important.  Even though we can see nothing, this is familiar territory.    Juan de Fuca filled with fog and the crazy currents you endure rounding Point Wilson are the price you pay to get to Port Townsend.  And today we are facing the height of the ebb with Puget Sound and Rosario Strait rushing into one another as they empty into the Pacific.  Getting home seems to take forever.

But there is a silver lining in our slow, at times non existent progress against the current.  Shortly after we have heard the last blow of Point Wilson’s fog horn, the sun breaks and its lovely red and white lighthouse comes into view.  As we round the headland, we see the first of more than a hundred Native canoes.  The annual canoe journey of the coastal tribes has come to Port Townsend this year!   In two months in Alaska we saw Tlingit canoes every day: the ceremonial canoes of Hoonah are kept in front of the school, under a wooden canopy guarded by great totems, while Sitka’s great painted canoe is displayed on the waterfront park next to the library.  But this is the first time we see one underway.
Paddlers head to campsite on Port Townsend beach
Native canoe with Mt.Baker in the background

The canoes are long and short, with anywhere from six to twenty paddlers.  Some are dressed in full regalia, others are bare chested.  Some paddle confidently, others are flagging.  There are vessels with high, elegantly carved bows.  Others are covered with the distinctive stylized designs in the traditional red, turquoise, black and white.  Many sport large flags.  We watch the first canoes beach just west of the Marine Science Center and their tired crews disembark.  As we round Point Hudson we see the long line of canoes emerging from Puget Sound.   We later learn that this year’s Celebration will take the paddlers, and their accomplices in power boats laden with supplies, all the way to Neah Bay as it is the Makah Nation that is hosting the crowning event.  Having just come from there, we have an idea of what they will be up against, and applaud their determination.

As wonderful as is Sitka, there is no town more beautiful and welcoming to mariners than Port Townsend.  Still, when we tie up at the dock, I feel that familiar pang of regret.  This voyage is over.