Pleasant crossing in light winds. No terrifyimg seas or big gusts, but we did get to enjoy three Pacific white-sided dolphins speeding past the boat right at the start. We’re sleepy after our 4am start, but excited to explore local culture tomorrow!
We’ve been having a bit of trouble with our ham radio email, so we’ve been a bit slow on the updates. Our last post was July 4th. After 9 days of gales, smallcraft advisories, and pouring rain, the weather finally cleared and we made our way to Ketchikan, wet, cold, and ready for the sunshine. We spent the last week hanging out with my mom and brother in Ketchikan, and Rob did a few projects to get our staysail back up and running and to try to fix our leak. We’re in good shape now and we’ve made our way down to Prince Rupert in British Columbia. Though we’re a bit sad to leave Alaska behind, it is exciting to cross the border.
We’ve had a few days of sunshine and a bit more rain, but we’re hoping to head off to Haida Gwaii (formerly the Queen Charlotte Islands) in the next couple of days. Haida Gwaii is the ancestral homeland of the Haida, and the islands are reputed to be stunning. The crossing over Hecate Strait to get there, however, is reputed to be nasty and there is another gale in the forecast for tomorrow. We’ll keep an eye on the weather and, as that gale heads south, we hope to sneak across. This will be a pretty exciting passage for us as it will be our first overnight crossing. If the wind is with us (or at least not against us), we should be able to do it in 15 hours or so. Totems, history, hot springs, and beautiful scenery await us on the other side. From there we’ll head to directly to Vancouver, so you may not hear much from us over the next couple of weeks.
Our highlights from the past couple of weeks: wild strawberry pie (I’ve been dreaming of this for at least three years, and we finally found a spot with enough berries for a pie. It was heavenly), blueberry-salmonberry pie, blueberry-salmonberry cream cheese pie, getting stung by a jellyfish (not so much a highlight as just puzzling–I didn’t think I’d be in the water long enough for a sting up here), sailing with the wind behind us (in 54 days of sailing, we’ve been nose to the wind for about 49–rediscovering sailing with the wind was pretty wonderful), a sunny crossing over Dixon Entrance into Canada.
So says the forecast. We left Sitka in strong winds and big seas, headed back to Goddard Hot springs to wait out even stronger winds in a calm harbor with, well, hot springs. After two days of soaking (it was really rough, I tell you), it looked like we had a break for a day. We headed out for the open into 8 foot choppy seas and 20-25 knot winds with white horses galloping everywhere (that’s the technical term according to the Beaufort Scale–just after you get beyond the “Stiff Breeze, old chap” category, you get to the “Stiff Upper Lip” range, wherein white horses appear. Rescuing the horses is not advised in any of the official sailing manuals). With our sails fully reefed and water pounding over the rails, we thought we were being brave until we found ourselves dodging a tiny skiff as it disappeared behind the waves. The three men on board were relaxing in lawn chairs, fishing merrily as I fought waves at the tiller and Rob ran around deck shortening sails. Even our anemometer, which harbors a strong conviction that the wind rarely exceeds 12 knots, and that gusts don’t deserve full credit, was willing to concede that the wind was reaching at least 22 knots, and the official observations showed it to be higher. But, we were pleased to see that the sailing was fairly comfortable (if you ignored the pelting rain and spray in the face) and the boat quite manageable. I didn’t even die, which was really a pleasant surprise.
Nonetheless, with the wind on the nose and another 4 days of wind from 25 to 30 knots, we were not making much progress south. We decided to give up on the outside option and run with the wind back to the inner channels, in the hopes of making better speed. While we enjoyed the surfing, unfortunately, our staysail did not. The spot where the staysail sheet (rope) attaches to the boom broke off at the weld, so we have some repair work to do (Rob’s rigged up a temporary fix). When we reached our anchorage, we discovered, much to our chagrin, some thoroughly soaked mattresses in one of the main berths. We spent most of the day today hurling buckets of water at the deck to try to find the source of the leaks, and we think we’ve got it figured out. Now if we can just get a couple of sunny days for the repair work…
But, we made good progress through Peril Straits, complete with a near encounter with a Minke whale in an extremely narrow, shallow channel, and another sighting of orcas. We spent today in Saook Bay sitting out the 30-35 knot winds and 13 foot seas. Things are a bit damp in the boat and not likely to dry anytime soon with a forecast for gale force winds everywhere we want to go for at least the next three days. But, we probably deserved this after all the sunshine. On the plus side, there are lots of salmon jumping in this bay–we’re off to try to catch ourselves one!
Kate and Rob’s Big Adventure, a set on Flickr.
I finally pulled together some photos of our trip across the Juneau Icefield and back down the Taku River. We had a great trip, and it inspired Rob to write a few words about the importance of the Taku River. The pictures tell the story of the trip, and Rob tells the story of the river. Enjoy!
We made it to Sitka, dropped off Rob’s brother and sister-in-law, and are watching frantic fishing boat activity in the harbor across from our anchorage while we dodge a deluge of rain. Over the past couple of weeks, we toured Glacier Bay, saw beautiful brown bears, black bears, a black wolf, a couple of moose, more breaching whales (and whales doing cool, whapping, spinning mule kicks with their tails), sea otters, puffins, porpoises, sea lions, kittiwakes, and lots of other birds. We made a trip to visit the Toyatte Glacier, and then had a great time packrafting the Beartrack River (it was perfect- I laughed the whole way down the river). On our way to Pelican for refueling, we had a man overboard, but we got him safely back on the boat before his lips even turned blue (no, Rob was not the man overboard). After that, we peeked around the outer coast to the open Pacific Ocean and had no wind, a lot of nausea-inducing bouncing in waves, and our first sighting of black-footed albatrosses sweeping over the waves and circling the boat. This week, we tried less successfully to float Fish Creek after bushwhacking up to the Fish Bay hot springs, soaked in Goddard Hot Springs (yep, that’s 3 hot spring soaks in less than a month), and last night, Rob caught us his first king salmon as we were cruising back into Sitka Sound from a day of sunny views of Mt. Edgecumbe. Delicious! The past month would probably have been a great month for a paddling trip on the outer coast, as the wind has been “light and variable,” but we had a couple of days of great sailing in there, and the forecast tells us it’s going to kick up quite a bit over the next couple of days. Will post photos when we have a chance.
A mere 11 days after leaving Juneau, we’ve made our way to Glacier Bay, after relaxing in the hot springs at Neka Bay, near Hoonah, yesterday. There’s a real live cedar plank hot tub 9 miles into the woods at Neka Bay, so we ran to the hotsprings (for those of you who know Rob, I’d like to note that I beat him on the run, which I think is my highest lifetime achievement to date, even if we weren’t technically racing, and I’m sure it will never happen again since he’s reading this over my shoulder), soaked, then meandered back to the boat. We highly recommend the hot springs.
It’s been raucous sailing the last couple of days–either 12 knots or 25, depending on whether you believe our anemometer or all of the other nearby observations. But Toyatte is sailing beautifully with more wind and we are enjoying the sunshine (now that we are off the boat wandering around Bartlett Cove for awhile–the boat, on the other hand, is bucking wildly at anchor and we’re hoping it mellows out by bedtime). Today we dodged a sea otter, which was cleverly disguised as a log. Just as we were remarking, “that log is deceptively sea otter-like,” the log woke up, frazzled (but very cute), and jumped underwater. It turns out when the logs have heads and feet, they really are sea otters. Next, a humpback surprised us, at uncomfortably close quarters. While we bounced through the waves, the whale performed graceful breaches and elegant tailspins, playing in the surf. Later, a black bear cruised along the beach, then swam through a tide rip. We think we’ve managed most of the must-see Alaska wildlife experiences already and we’ve barely left home.
Rob’s brother and sister-in-law meet us here tomorrow, so we’re off to dodge icebergs in Glacier Bay.
We’re tied to a float in Couverden, not too far from Glacier Bay, after a great day of sailing. So far, we’ve been spoiled with sunshine and spectacular wildlife viewing.
As we watched the sun set on Tuesday, harbor porpoises jumped entirely out of the water next to our boat, and one feisty porpoise did a flying cartwheel for us (this, for you Juneau folks, was right in Auke Rec, where we anchored after a day of bobbing with no wind). The next day, we took advantage of a fair wind and sailed up to Berners Bay for one last farewell salute to Lion’s Head Mountain. Dall’s porpoises torpedoed in front of the boat, showing us their white sides as they skimmed just below the surface. We toasted Berners Bay–roadless and wild–and our recent victory in the Juneau Access road litigation that we hope will help to keep it that way, before we turned into the wind to head back to Saint James Bay. Curious sea lions followed us and played behind the boat.
Today we sailed from Hand Troller’s Cove, on Shelter Island, in a strong wind and choppy seas. As Rob wrestled to shorten the sails while we rounded Point Retreat on Admiralty Island, we saw a fin, taller than me, rise through the waves as a giant bull orca surfed through the chop toward us. Four other orcas skimmed the waves nearby with Eagle Glacier in the background. The same group of orcas, with intimidating fins standing high above the waves, swam our way again a couple of tacks later, much to our delight. A group of four humpbacks came our way later on, and one slapped its tail with a resounding boom.
Life is good, and unemployment is treating us well.
We had a great weekend sailing to Taku Harbor with the Southeast Alaska Sailing folks, then around Douglas Island to drop our good friends off at Auke Bay. Started with a calm, southeast day–low clouds, a bit of drizzle here and there, serene, but not great for sailing. Nonetheless, we eventually made it to Taku Harbor and woke up to a clearing day on Sunday, with a bit more wind. Since then, we’ve been treated to warm sunshine and lots of wildlife. Lots of whales, curious sea lions swimming under the boat, harbor porpoises, and even a juvenile bald eagle swimming. We saw the eagle from a distance and it was in the middle of Stephens Passage with a long way to shore. It seemed to be struggling, so we tried to rescue it by sailing closer and tossing a couple of our throw cushions into the water near the eagle to give it something to climb onto to dry out its wings and get back up into the air. Unfortunately, the eagle seemed more put off by our approach than glad to see the cusions, so we retrieved the cushions and gave it some distance. It was still able to float and we watched it continue swimming until it became a speck too far in the distance to see, so we are hoping it made it to shore. We capped off the day with a chilly swim, dropped our friends off at Auke Bay, and anchored in Indian Cove, where Rob caught his first king crab (we let her go). Was great to have friends on board, but now we’re really leaving Juneau, just as soon as I get my tail back to the boat. Forecast for stronger winds and sunshine over the next few days, and we’ll be in familiar territory for the next couple of weeks. Farewell Juneau!
Tomorrow morning, Saturday, May 27th, we’re finally casting off the docklines and heading off on our voyage! We’ll be joining SEAS sailing for the first part of a regatta to Taku Harbor on Saturday, then we’ll strike off on our own to start exploing more of the remote places in southeast Alaska before we really start to work our way south. We’ll be in touch, and those photos I promised of our trip down the Taku will show up soon, I promise.
As we outfitted the boat for our big adventure, we were very conscious of simplicity, budget, and efficiency. We tried to reduce our reliance on electronics, in part because we want to limit our energy needs and in part because Rob is really good at breaking things. Especially expensive things that buzz and hum.
So, despite our efforts to minimize, we do have a few things that require some juice: lights (interior lights as well as navigation lights), GPS, radar, VHF radio, and a high frequency radio/email system that connects to our laptop to receive weather information. We do have a small refrigerator, but, to save energy, we probably won’t run it very often. To provide for these energy needs, we will rely primarily on two solar panels. We don’t have a generator and the thought of running the diesel engine just for electricty is less than appealing (not only because of the noise and the wasted fuel, but also because diesel is expensive and our budget is small).
As we sat in rainy Alaska under the clouds, we wanted a back up in case the solar panels do not provide enough power to run the equipment we’ll rely on for navigation and weather information. Somewhere in the middle of a long hike up a steep mountain and a cold beer, Rob and his buddy were enlightened. Rob’s buddy James, who is a stellar electrician, a powerful biker, and more energetic than five ordinary people combined, was lamenting the lack of cardiovascular exercise options on a boat for a long ocean crossing. James also believes that everything in life is better with a bike and an electric motor. Obviously, he thought, we ought to hook up a bike to a propeller so that, in light winds, we could just bike the boat across the ocean. I pointed out that even the superhuman Tour de France bikers don’t have enough power to push our 20 ton boat forward on pedal power alone. Undeterred, and distracted by the glint of cold beer in the sun, Rob and James focused instead on another option: using a bike to charge the boat’s batteries and, voila, we can run the fridge and enjoy frosty beverages in the middle of the ocean. If the fridge isn’t cold enough, Rob just cracks the whip and Kate has to bike faster. What could be better?
Limited by boat space, we looked into folding bikes and found one that had small enough folded dimensions that we can fold it up and stow it above the engine when the bike is not in use. When in port, we can use the bike to run errands. For exercise and electricity, the boys went to work and turned the bike into a pedal-powered-generator. There are two removable floorboards in the middle of the boat that allow for access to our water tanks. James welded together simple mounts to hold the bike–the front mount holds the front fork of the bike still while the back mount allows the back tire to turn. The back tire sits on the hub from an old bike. As you pedal, the hub turns. The hub is connected, with a bike chain, to an alternator from an old Toyota Corolla. The alternator turns the pedal power into electricity and hooks into the boat’s battery bank to charge the boat batteries. When you’re done, the mounts fold back into the floorboards and the folded bike slides onto its fabric shelf above the engine.
The system is simple, though it took some fine tuning and a couple of inspired craftsmen to pull it together. So far, it is effective and will help keep us from burning expensive fossil fuels. That’s good for the environment and for
our pocket book. We’ll post photos of the bike in action when we have a chance to test it out at sea.