|29| Weathering Storms

posted in: Migrations | 0

The North Pacific, Aleutian Islands, Alaska, British Columbia,
Washington, Oregon, & California

June – December 2017
Written by Bruce in the Islas Revillagigedo, Mexico, & California — April through June 2021


A Part of Life

It’s impossible to live without encountering storms: figurative and real. Perhaps gale-force winds and breaking waves. Or maybe waves of sadness, misery, grief. Sometimes we choose the turns that bring us face to face with discomfort — for example, sailing across an inhospitable ocean in a small boat. Sometimes, the storm finds us on whatever path we’ve chosen regardless of how circuitous our route. If we’re lucky, most of our path is joyful. But there will always be times that are not; times you just have to weather.

Thanks to all our friends and family who have helped us weather the storms.


Our Path: Japan to San Francisco

The North Pacific

Few boats make the voyage across the North Pacific… and for good reason. It is not a particularly beautiful ocean — grey is the predominate color of the sea and sky — and it is has a well-deserved reputation for being stormy as low pressure systems sweep down from Siberia. It’s cold and it’s wet.

Sailing an easterly route can, at times, be just fine with the prevailing westerlies blowing from behind and a favorable current giving you an extra push in the right direction.

People often ask us, “what about storms?” We avoid them when possible, and when we cannot avoid them, we weather the storms as best we can.

We didn’t avoid the storms on this passage.

Our first days out of Japan did provide some fine sailing. All we had to do was tend the sails, check the weather, navigate, eat, sleep, enjoy the passing albatross, check the weather again, and try to stay warm. We were sailing through fog — common in this part of the ocean — and were happy that ships usually show up on AIS and were easily avoided. We counted on luck to keep us from hitting fishing boats or any vessel without AIS.

We were well-rested and as happy as two warm-weather souls could be wrapped in several layers of thermals and foul-weather gear.

Hot water bottles became our best friends. We had three: one in the bunk with the off-watch, one for the person on watch (usually slipped down the front of one’s foulies), and one to heat up so there’d be a hot one in the bunk at the watch change.

The First Storm

Our first bout of heavy weather lasted for just a day and a half. it wasn’t too bad with winds above 30 knots for only 8 hours or so. However, the wind had backed to the ESE so it was forward of the beam with an uncomfortable cross sea. We were heavily reefed but still Migration was tearing along with spray and waves finding any opening to get inside. Disturbingly, there was water in the bilge for the first time in years… and we didn’t know where it was coming from.

The Second Storm

Our second — and worst — storm was not related to the weather, but to the heart.

Six days after leaving Japan we received a devastating email from Alene’s mother that Teddy, Alene’s older brother, had been diagnosed with advanced cancer and was sinking fast. Sadness descended on Migration far thicker than the fog that surrounded us. For years we had been within a day’s sail of an airport. But now, in the middle of an inhospitable sea and a thousand miles from the nearest port that had the means to get Alene to her brother’s side — the only place she wanted to be — she felt tormented and trapped.

We changed course for Adak, the nearest Aleutian island with an airport — a further 400 miles westward than our original destination of Attu. We had over 1,100 nautical miles still to sail.

The Third Storm

Eight days out an expected low to the north decided to take an unexpected southerly route. Faced with headwinds again, we changed course to the east (instead of northeast) to ease the slamming in the miserable cross sea. Still, we were taking occasional waves over the boat.

Our log entries reflect the sadness that was our crewmate on this passage:

12 June 2350
Sadness pervades as we rush north under grey skies. Very cold. 41F. I don’t like the cold. Both of us tired & sad. Not focusing well. Several bungled tacks, etc. Need to think & remember.

13 June 0530
Dense Fog. Bitter wind. Bitter life.

13 June 2100
Mizzen down. Triple reefed main. Sliver of jib. Changed course to E to run because we were bashing too much.

14 June 0520
Monitor out of commission. Autopilot having trouble steering. 10+ ft seas from different directions. Running under jib alone. Both of us exhausted. This sucks.

14 June 1900
“Dirty weather” Teddy calls this. Yes, that’s the proper term for it.

The last day of the gale was a long one… and not just figuratively. We crossed the International Date Line and returned to the Western Hemisphere. Our clocks moved back 18 hours making the 16th of June a 42-hour day. After three and a half days the gale moved on and we spotted a hazy sun floating in a hazy sky. But soon the fog returned, thankfully without the wind. We were now north of 50 degrees, but the damp and cold were easier to deal with in the calm conditions.

To make time we motored for 12 hours until a fair wind returned.

The Fourth Storm

The next storm, though also not of weather, was one that needed to be weathered with fortitude. The amount of water in the bilge had increased during the gale. With the settled conditions, we were able to trace the problem to a crack at the joint between the main hull and the port wing deck. We were lucky that the weather stayed settled for the last two days of the passage.

Landfall

As we neared the island of Adak, we saw our first puffins and then were greeted by a pod of orcas. That, and the treeless, waterfall-strewn slopes backed by snow-covered peaks declared we were in a different part of the world.


Adak: Aleutian Ghost Town

During WWII, a large military airfield was built on Adak from which to launch forces against the Japanese who had occupied two of the western Aleutian Islands: Attu and Kiska. (Read The Thousand Mile War by Brian Garfield for a fascinating look at this little known episode of the war.)

After the war, the naval air station grew larger and larger until it was closed down in 1997. The population dropped from over 4,000 to about 300 making most of Adak appear as a ghost town today; the military facilities, the apartments, the bowling alley, the McDonalds — all are shuttered and being slowly torn to shreds by the incredibly harsh winds of the North Pacific.


After our passage we were exhausted and a bit disoriented not knowing where we could tie up. Luckily the crew of s/y Muktuk invited us to raft to them. Ali, Karl, Jan, and Noah made us very welcome, gave us so much help, and were supportive during this difficult time. And they are the coolest cruising family we have ever met.

Our focus was getting Alene to Cincinnati to be with her brother. There are only two flights a week from Adak to Anchorage and we had just missed one; Alene would have to wait for three days. Cruel timing.

While we waited, we saw a little of the island, did a very ugly (but serviceable) temporary repair on the deck-hull joint, and made arrangements for crew to help me keep moving westward; we still had to sail 500 miles to reach the Alaskan mainland, and then another 2,500 miles to San Francisco before winter set in.

We also had a fantastic BBQ with the crews of Muktuk and Abel Tasman, as well as some local government contractors who were on the island to remove unexploded ordnance. Thanks to Muktuk, we had caribou ribs, fresh-picked beach greens, and bull kelp pickles. Alene provided dessert: marshmallows for roasting.


Lesson Learned
Don’t Get Cocky

Alene and I congratulated ourselves on our 15-day 2,336 mile passage across the North Pacific; a passage very few boats attempt. We’d done it!

Upon arriving in Adak, we discovered three other sailboats there. One was a big expedition schooner chartered by some Brazilians making a surfing movie — yes, in the Aleutians! The captain most likely has sailed to Antarctica more times than nearly anyone. The second was a British/NZ family doing charters in the area. The parents and their 2 teenage girls had been around Cape Horn, to Antarctica, and wintered over in Alaska.

And the third boat was an Austrian family with two young boys who probably have more sea miles than most famous sailing vloggers. They’d been to Cape Horn and Antarctica as well. They’d sailed non-stop from New Zealand to Alaska (very good sailors but maybe a little crazy?). They were waiting for the ice to melt so they could do their second Northwest Passage.

This family has no blog or vlog. They don’t promote themselves on the internet or in magazines. They don’t sell t-shirts and beer koozies with their boat name. They just live an awesome life. And were generous with their knowledge and kindness.

All of these sailors knew so much more than we did. And more than most self-proclaimed experts we’ve met as well.

So two lessons learned.
1. Watch the size of your ego — there will always be someone (probably someone humble) out there who has done way more than you.
2. Just because someone has a vlog or a blog or 10,000 followers or charges money to tell you what they know doesn’t mean they know what they’re talking about.


Alene’s plane finally arrived. We said goodbye at the airport not knowing how long she would be gone. Her spirit was broken and she needed to be with her family; she’d received news that morning that her beloved brother had passed away.


I didn’t know Teddy well. He being a tugboat captain on the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, and me sailing the oceans half a world away, our paths crossed infrequently. What I do know is that he was an intense, private man, dedicated to his family. He loved Alene very much, and he was a patient and insightful photographer, and one of the finest poets I’ve ever read. He rarely shared his writing, but what I saw of it always impressed me with his depth, creativity, skill, and intensity. For all his wanderings on the rivers and through the wildlands of America, he was steadfast in his love for his family.

no one ever

who looks upon the sea

looks away again

indifferently

                e3


Aleutian Adventures

My 30-year old cousin Loren (who’d sailed aboard Migration in 2005 in California and 2009 in Tahiti, was between the adventures of single-handing his own boat to Mexico and starting a new job. I asked whether he was interested in sailing through the Aleutians with me. It was perfect timing and he arrived on the next plane.

A week after Migration’s landfall, Loren and I sailed out of Adak’s small boat harbor. Loren was wonderful crew and we had a great time sailing along the Aleutian chain to Dutch Harbor — having crazy adventures at nearly every stop.

First stop was Bechevin Bay at Atka Island where we explored a crashed WWII bomber, complete with bullet holes in the fuselage. It was surprising how well preserved it was.

Sailing through the Aleutians felt very remote. We saw one fishing boat soon after leaving Atka… and then nothing. We rarely saw the sun. The islands we passed were starkly beautiful. We were completely alone.

We sailed on to Hot Springs Cove on Umnak Island.

The shore at Hot Springs Cove steams with the hot water underneath the sand. We hiked inland looking for the actual springs. On the way, we saw a herd of local reindeer. We did finally get a good soak in the springs.

The following morning we headed to Unalaska Island. We decided to sail 20 miles out of our way to see what was going on at Bogoslof Island which had recently had a lot of volcanic activity. Steam was venting from the side but no major eruption… that would come later.

That night we dropped anchor near the old WWII pier in Mutton Cove in Chernofski Harbor. The green hills were covered in wild flowers and puffins swam past the boat.

There was once a huge sheep farm on Chernofski. Now the sheep are managed by one man who lives all alone. The day after our arrival we kayaked over to visit and ended up having an awesomely crazy adventure.


Chernofski Harbor, July 2017

It is important to remember that after breakfast I said to Loren, “Let’s go have an adventure…!”.

It was the first morning we’d woken to mostly blue skies. It was also our first day off from passage-making so it felt like a good day to do some exploring.

There’s a sheep rancher living all alone here. We’d anchored about 1.5 miles away from his place because the northerly winds made the anchorage by the ranch a lee shore. We kayaked over about 11am. He met us as we walked along the beach picking up beautiful jasper stones.

Art Christenson has been living here for over 20 years and working here on and off since the 70s. Sometimes he has help, but lately he’s been alone. He’s a very nice, gentle man — probably in his late 60s. He showed us around his home, offered us tea. While talking, he mentioned he was out of coal for his stove and was going to go get some. A big coal pile from WWII, now partially buried under a mound of tundra, was located close to where Migration was anchored. We talked about ways we could help him get it home. But his skiff’s outboard was out of commission and we’d come over in the 2-person kayak.

We finally decided we would take his two ATVs over, sack up the coal, and leave it on the beach. Then Loren and I would use our kayak and Migration to get the coal back to the ranch. This would work out well because in the early evening a supply plane was scheduled to fly in from Dutch and land on an estuarine sand spit that was about halfway to the coal mound. However, though it was only 1.5 miles by kayak, by land it was 8 miles and would probably take 1.5 hours each way. We didn’t mind since we didn’t have plans and wanted an adventure.

But first Art offered us lunch (homemade sourdough bread and some nice cheese that was recently left by some visiting lemming biologists). We also had to feed the wild horses which he is trying to tame. We did this accompanied by his two sheep dogs, 12 year-old Woolly and 2 year-old Lana — both awesome dogs. Then he had to show us around the old barns and shearing sheds — the ranch is 100 years old and so is most of the equipment. It was all very interesting.

We fueled the ATVs and topped up the oil. One of them had to be started by removing the seat and holding the battery contacts because a battery post was broken.

We finally set off with Woolly sitting behind Art on one ATV, Loren behind me on the other, and Lana running alongside.

I think I may have driven an ATV once in my life. It was fine for a while and I soon got the hang of using the thumb-controlled throttle and shifting without knocking Loren’s chin into my shoulder. I thought I was doing pretty well since Art had given us absolutely no instruction. The first part was over gentle hills and not-too-bumpy tundra, and through a stream that came up to our boots. Not too difficult.

Then we got to the steep bit. And it was steep. Muddy, too. I forgot to mention that the brakes didn’t work on either of the ATVs. That made it exciting but all went well because 1st gear kept the bike in control. At the bottom of the second steep, muddy hill I got a bit stuck on a log but managed to get past it — stalling the bike only twice (which, each time, required taking the seat off to hold the battery contact to start).

Then we were at the sand spit where the plane was to land. Art wasn’t sure the plane would be able to land because there was still a couple of inches of water on half of the spit. We ran up and down the sand checking to make sure it was clear if the pilot did try. Here we saw some cattle roaming around (from the ranch on Umnak). Later we would pass several carcasses of those that didn’t make it; although, given that they are all headed to the supermarket as high-end grass-fed beef, none of them will really make it.

By now it was 4pm. Art seemed very casual about the time so we didn’t worry. We continued on across the river and onto the beach on the far side.

Now the going got tough as we were traveling on the rock beach and not across tundra. Some parts were almost flat shale-like rocks, but some of the beach was sharp jagged rocks and we had to go very slowly. Several times the beach was blocked by boulders or logs and we had to find our way around. Occasionally that meant getting up onto the tundra berm above the beach. Once, going along that muddy berm, we watched Art get off his seat and stand on the uphill side of his ATV to keep it from rolling down the steep, muddy embankment as he drove along. We looked at each other, shrugged, and did the same. Loren was very, very trusting of my driving and never once complained or shouted “Ahhh!” which I would have done.

We passed a big dilapidated WWII wooden building with lots of equipment including an ancient rusted-out tow truck. One of the rooms had a cattle slaughterhouse built by the previous rancher and Art showed us around — he had worked here when it operated. There was so much equipment left from the war, from fishermen, from ranchers — almost all of it rusting. And of course, scores of fishing buoys and miles of line — which we consistently saw along the shores as well.

Chernofski was one of the important smallish harbors in WWII because it is only 11 miles from Umnak where one of the forward airstrips was built for attacking Japanese-occupied Kiska and Attu. There was no harbor near the airfield on Umnak; everything came here first and was then barged across the channel. Thus there is a lot of weather-beaten, decaying infrastructure surrounding this part of the bay.

Loren noticed Woolly and Lana chasing something. They rousted out a red fox only about 30 meters from us and chased after it. A second fox then emerged from hiding and went off in the opposite direction. We had a great view of it on the hillside just above.

We heard the plane arrive — a small Cessna — and saw it checking out the sand spit. The pilot spotted us and flew close and low — waggling his wings. But we didn’t know what he meant and we didn’t have a radio with us. He then flew off to Umnak Island where he had other business.

We were getting close to the coal now, passing by Migration’s anchorage. At the head of the bay we arrived at the mound. It didn’t look like much but part of it was exposed and there were big and small chunks of coal to be loosened with the shovel and then thrown into bags by hand. We filled 10 bags — 20-40 lbs each — and loaded them on the ATVs. We took them down to the beach and left them above the high water line. Loren and I switched places so he could drive on our return. He did a good job even though I probably wasn’t as mellow a passenger as he was.

Shortly after heading back, the plane returned. Again the pilot made some low passes but we didn’t know why. We couldn’t tell if he then landed at the spit or not because it was around a point and not visible.

We actually found a slightly better route back and made good time. Once at the spit we rode around to see if we could find the Cessna’s tire marks so we would know if he’d landed and left the goods, but there was nothing. (Remember that this is how Art receives his supplies… kinda crazy when you think about it.) As we discussed what to do next, Art reached down to check the oil dipstick of his ATV. It was completely dry. He said he had noticed some oil in the water as we crossed the river to the spit. Sure enough, we could see the sheen of oil on the inch of water that was under our tires now.

Casually as anything, Art said, why don’t you guys tow me home and I’ll deal with this there. We suggested HE do the towing while secretly wondering how we were going to get up the steep hills. I climbed on behind Art (Woolly had been running with Lana for most of the second half of the journey) and Loren steered the dead ATV. It was easy on the flats, but then we got to the muddy and steep trail.

An hour later, we were still running lines up and down the hill to old fence posts or rocks or the good ATV, and using the ATV winch or a come-along, to slowly pull the dead ATV up the slippery slope; Loren or I were always standing behind with a shovel waiting to block the wheel so the 4-wheeler wouldn’t roll out of control backwards down the hill. We were getting tired from pushing and climbing through the muddy tundra. It was a steep hill and it wasn’t easy. Through it all, Art was as calm as could be. Just one of those things to deal with. Most of the people I know would be freaking out being far from home in a potentially dangerous situation (the ATV was very heavy and if it rolled back on you….). Loren and I just kept shaking our head saying “Well, we said we wanted an adventure.”

About this time the Cessna returned. The pilot flew slow and low over the flat hill above us. We saw him drop a package and I ran up to retrieve it. He made two more passes dropping two more packages: one which rolled into the mud and the other split when it hit, spilling half of the shipment of dried beans across the hillside. While I gathered the air delivery, Art and Loren continued working the ATV up the hill. I joined them and we were able to finally get past the steepest section.

Back on the rolling tundra we continued toward the ranch. I steered the dead ATV this time. Loren scouted a good path to avoid another steep section and we were able to tow the ATV without further winch-work. However, it was steep enough that Loren and I had to run uphill beside the ATV while holding the handlebar with one hand to steer. That was pretty tiring.

The only excitement left were the steeper downhill sections which we found were easiest to deal with by coasting down without the tow rope, hoping the ATV stayed at a manageable speed (it did). Loren was brave enough to come along as passenger.

We got back to the ranch around 10:30pm. We hadn’t eaten since lunch so Art invited us to stay. We had potatoes and creamed tuna (interesting…). We were hungry so anything was good. Finally, as it was getting dark, Loren and I kayaked back to Migration. It was a beautiful paddle in the long, slow twilight with a few birds singing and an otter checking us out.

The boat was very cold because we’d left the hatches cracked and doors open to air the cabin — never thinking we’d be home so late. We warmed up with tea and then slept well.

The next morning we weighed anchor and motored close to shore. Loren hopped into the kayak and paddled to the beach where he loaded up 5 of the coal sacks. We slowly towed the kayak and coal over to the ranch, Loren then paddled the sacks ashore along with a care package of supplies (flour, canned fruit, etc.) we’d made up for Art.

By 0830 we were underway waving to Art and his dogs as Art waved from the beach.

We definitely had had an adventure.


The following morning after dropping off the coal gathered during our adventure the previous day (see story above), we headed along the stunning coast of Unalaska Island toward Dutch Harbor. As we rounded Cape Kovrizhka, we looked off to the west to see Bogoslof island — 30 miles away — in the midst of a huge eruption.


Dutch Harbor

Nearly everyone is familiar with Dutch Harbor because of The Deadliest Catch. Like all reality shows, it’s probably not very accurate, but Dutch is a unique place.

We arrived after a good sail from Chernofski. Humpback whales greeted us as we entered the beautiful harbor and made our way to the public docks.

Loren and I were stuck in Dutch for a week waiting for a weather window. We celebrated the 4th of July, met some very nice people and a couple of not-so-nice people, bought some (expensive!) fresh veggies, hung out at one of the bars, played table shuffleboard, hiked to the WWII gun emplacements, walked around the fish processing plant, and did boat projects.

We had mobile service and I was able to talk with Alene for the first time in weeks. I convinced her it would help her heal if she were back aboard Migration, so she returned.


4th of July: A town celebration with BBQ, crafts for sale, tug-of-war, and watermelon and pie eating contests (Loren got 2nd place!), fun at the bar, then bonfires on the beach in Unalaska followed by the traditional launching of the flares!


In most of the USA if you saw this van you would think it was an internet / wifi company. But in Dutch harbor, it’s all about repairing fishing nets.


As I mentioned, fresh produce is expensive in Dutch.


View from the back of the bar we frequented where there were lots of interesting people to meet.


Dutch Harbor was bombed by the Japanese during WWII. It was heavily fortified and the bunkers and gun emplacements still exist — without the guns.


We met some really nice people in Dutch. These locals gave us fresh crab. it was yum.


There are eagles everywhere in Dutch Harbor. Even in the dumpsters.


The Mainland – Dutch Harbor to Sand Point

The day after Alene returned, the three of us set out eastwards, leaving the Aleutians behind and heading for the Alaska Peninsula which reaches 400 miles westward forming the southern edge of the Bering Sea.

We stopped in a few beautiful bays and began to experience the intense natural beauty of the Alaskan mainland: the flora, the fauna, and the vistas. The days were long. The weather was beautiful. And we saw our first bear!

Sand Point on Popof island was a nice little fishing community. The wildflowers were in bloom. We were given fresh salmon. We toured the fish processing plant. Through cruising friends, we met locals Yen-ti & Ray who not only were super kind and helpful to us, but were some of the most fascinating people we’ve met.

It had become clear that I had been wrong when I encouraged Alene to return to Migration; it was too soon and she needed to be with her family, not completely removed from them. So, from Sand Point, Alene flew to Ohio and Loren left to start his new job in San Francisco. Our long-time friends Louis and Bev, who live in Alaska, were wonderfully supportive and flexible and agreed to jump aboard at the last minute. Together we would sail the 500 miles to Homer.


The Peninsula and Kodiak with Louis & Bev

Louis and Bev have sailed most of the world on their own boat so are experienced sailors and great crew. Louis is a keen fisherman which led to some excellent meals. We saw whales, orcas, porpoise, puffins, bears, wolves, and so much more. We had a great time together.

A highlight of our journey to Homer was stopping in Olga Bay on Kodiak Island. Louis & Bev’s neighbor in Homer spends the summer fishing salmon there. Nina has created a beautiful artistic home in this remote place. Though we surprised her with our arrival, what did she do? Invited us for a fresh king crab dinner! We kayaked, hiked, fished, ate a lot and had great talks. And drank some excellent home brew cooled by the stream that runs under the house.

At Home in Homer

I was about to write that I spent a week or two in Homer… but reviewing the ship’s log, I found it was only three full days. How did so much happen in so little time? I have no idea.

Well, yes I do. Louis and Bev were awesome hosts.


My best friend Steve flew into Homer the day after we arrived. The two of us would be sailing Migration 750 miles to Juneau in Southeast Alaska.

Another friend flew into Homer as well. I hadn’t seen Scott Bottoms for years. We’d first met in 1984 while sailing in the Azores and we’d had some great adventures together there. Now he lives near Fairbanks and flies a Super Cub. When I called and said I was in Homer, he hopped in his plane and flew down. Not only that, the next day he took Steve, then me, for a flight over the Kenai Peninsula glaciers. Great to catch up after so many years and get an incredible tour of the stunning scenery from the air.


The Kenai, Prince Edward Sound and across the Gulf of Alaska

I became best friends with Steve when we were in junior high. Much of our youth was about sailing: dinghy sailing, big boat racing, landsailing, and even being towed around the bay in a dinghy by a giant kite we’d built. I sailed to Mexico in 1983 with Steve and his wife Shirley (my first time on a trimaran!). Most of my sailing history and experience is tied to Steve. He was a better sailor, and I learned a lot from him. So I was pleased that he had the time to sail with me aboard Migration all the way from Homer to Juneau — over 750 miles.

On August 4th, three days after Steve arrived, we departed Homer for the remote Kenai Peninsula. The weather wasn’t great but we had some beautiful sunsets and sunrises. We also saw a lot of ‘smoke on the water’ — caused by the difference in temperature between the sea and the air.

It only took us 2 days to get to one of the most dramatic and spectacular spots we’d ever seen: Northwest Fjord. It was impossible to figure out how far we were from anything as it was all so grand.

The photo below is of Northwestern Glacier (there are many glaciers coming into the fjord but Northwestern is the most active). In the photo, we are 2 miles away from where the glacier enters the fjord! We watched it calve 3 times, the thunder arriving several seconds after the ice hit the water, and then a long wave rolling under the dinghy several minutes after that. It was exciting but a bit unsettling as we had little experience with exploring active glaciers in a small boat.

It was magic lying in bed that night listening to the groan of the glaciers and the thunder of the icefalls.

We could have spent days exploring the fjord, but we had many miles to sail and weighed anchor the next morning. This would become the story for the rest of 2017: sailing away from stunning anchorages after only one day; we had to keep moving knowing winter was just over the seasonal horizon.

However, we were headed for Prince William Sound, so it wasn’t too much of a hardship.

We harbor hopped for 3 days. The owners of a fish tender in Sawmill Bay were exceptionally kind and topped up our diesel tank without charge. We finally pulled into Nellie’s Rest — an anchorage near the Nellie Juan glacier — and were surprised to find a sailboat already anchored. It was fun to meet up with Sandrine and Jean-Yves on s/y L’Isle d’Elle to share meals, wine and conversation.

The next day we set off in Plover (our dinghy) on an expedition to explore the Nellie Juan Glacier.

We motored Plover over the moraine at high tide, threaded our way through the icebergs, and went ashore at a spot we hoped would be accessible when the tide went out. Then we set off on a long hike to see how close we could get to the glacier. There were no trails; sometimes we walked on the iceberg-strewn beach, sometimes we made our way up streams full of struggling salmon, the banks littered with dead fish. Sometimes we climbed rock faces, and sometimes we just forced our way through the thick bush. It was challenging and fun.

The following day, we left Nellie’s Rest; we had a planned rendezvous with friends.

I’d met Alaskans Jack and Sherri decades ago but we hadn’t seen each other in a very long time. When I told them I would be in Alaska, they hitched up their little trailerable boat, launched it at Whittier, and soon were rafted up to Migration in 7 Fathom Hole.

The next day we went aboard Taiga and headed off to explore the Chenega Glacier. The weather was abysmal, but it was still lots of fun to be traveling with our friends and able to get right up to the glacier — something difficult, and dangerous, to do in Migration.

It was an excellent, though short visit. In the morning Steve and I set off across the Gulf of Alaska.

The Gulf has a reputation for pretty bad weather so we were happy that we’d found a good weather window. We were able to sail some of it, but about half was motoring in calm seas. The views… well, just look.

We were three days crossing the Gulf. Arriving in Southeast Alaska at dawn, we decided to visit Lituya Bay, the site of a megatsunami in 1958 when a huge landslide created a giant wave that scoured the surrounding hills to a height of 1,722 feet (525 meters).


Lituya, with its dying glaciers and sad history (the French explorer Lapérouse lost 21 crew here in 1786), had a somber air about it so we decided to press on. The coast south of the bay was magnificent. Well-known Glacier Bay is only 30 miles away on the other side of the mountains.

Three days later, after visiting Elfin Cove, then Glacier Bay for a night, and traveling another 200 miles (in some very grey weather), we took a berth in Juneau.


Eclipse!

After Alene and I witnessed our first total eclipse of the sun in Indonesia in 2015, we were completely addicted.

Important: If you have not seen one, make sure you do; it is life changing. Partial eclipses do not count! Trust us. There will be a total eclipse in the USA in May, 2022. Make plans now.

The 2017 eclipse was to cut right across Oregon. Steve needed to fly back to California. We made a plan.

We flew from Juneau to Seattle, rented a car and drove to a regional park near Salem. We slept in the car — which was not fun. In the morning, Steve’s son and daughter-in-law, Josh and Angela, met us having driven down from Seattle the day before. They brought donuts! Together we had an incredible time — all by ourselves on the side of the river watching the sun disappear.

After the eclipse, Steve and I drove back to Seattle and said goodbye at the airport as he flew to California and I returned to Juneau. I arrived at Migration late that night after being gone only 36 hours. Worth every moment — even sleeping in the car with the mosquitoes.


To Sitka with Jack & Sherri

I’d first met Jack and Sherri sailing in Mexico in 1999. They are an incredibly adventurous couple and we’d had so much fun reconnecting in Prince William that I asked if they could crew on the next leg of Migration’s journey. They came aboard in Juneau but we didn’t head south right away; first we backtracked to spend time in Glacier Bay.

There’s a reason 500,000 people visit Glacier Bay every year — 95% on cruise ships. We felt so lucky to experience it from Migration.

From Glacier Bay we sailed to Hoonah where I was happy to find s/y Bulle, a French boat that Alene and I had last seen in Japan. The next day we sailed together to Pavlov Harbor where Bulle invited us to side-tie to them for the night since our windlass wasn’t working. Together we had a fantastic bear experience!

On our way to Pavlov, we took photos of Bulle. Jack’s photo became the cover shot of Ocean Navigator magazine.

With the windlass out of service, we were lucky to find docks in beautiful places to spend the night.

We were even more fortunate to come across some humpback whales bubble net feeding!

On September 1st we docked in the marina in Sitka. All that travel in 8 days!


My Love Comes Home

Alene had been away for 7 weeks. While I had been aided by good friends and surrounded by the beauty of Alaska, she had been at her mother’s side through one of the most difficult periods in either of their lives. She now felt it was time to come home.

We set off from Sitka on the 5th of September. How wonderful to be together again. And I was excited to show Alene the beauty of this part of the world.

Our first day underway was beautiful… and warm (no shirt?!). I even caught my first salmon using a fishing pole.

True to the nature of the region, the weather changed quickly; the next day was… a bit grey.

I wanted Alene to see bears and we had no problem finding them, both on our first hike ashore at Hanus Bay and the following day at Baranof Warm Springs.

Baranof Warm Springs has one of the most scenic hot spring soaks in the world; right next to a huge waterfall.

Over the next 2 weeks we moved to a new anchorage every day except for a 4-day stop in Petersburg to install a new windlass. Here’s a look at life traveling through Southeast Alaska.

We stopped briefly at Hydaburg where totems are still carved.

In foggy Hetta Cove we went on a hike through dense foliage and found bears and salmon.


THE BEAUTY AND TRAGEDY OF A WILDLAND

Three months in Alaska. 3,000 miles through her waters.

I’d always heard Alaska was incredibly unique — its history, people, land, waters. And it is. There is so much nature there. It is stunning in a way that gripped me between its giant paws and constantly shook me to look, see. That glacier of blue castles. That bay full of lolling humpbacks. This puffin paddling by the boat. That bear eating mussels on the shore. A pod of magnificent orcas steaming past with dorsals towering. That snowy mountain in the cloudy distance — a mirage of grandeur.

It has attracted so many independent spirits who clearly sought a life far removed from the ridiculous chasing-one’s-tail of the lower 48. People who are proud of the land they chose.

There is the culture of indigenous peoples whose ancestors chose to make a life in a land that is harsh, yet abundant.

Euro-American culture has always labeled Alaska a wilderness. But it has been populated (although sparsely) by people for thousands of years. Want to change how you think of wilderness? Read the following from the excellent book, Shadows on the Koyukuk by Sidney Huntington.

Many Americans think of Alaska as an unpeopled, untouched wilderness. Indian, Eskimo, and Aleut people lived in these “wilderness” lands for centuries before the first whites arrived, and these original people had complex cultures, with ongoing relationships between different groups. These first inhabitants of the region established intelligent relationships with Alaska’s wildlands before the dawn of written history.

A few paragraphs from a 1982 National Park Service publication,
Tracks in the Wildland, A Portrayal of Koyukon-Nunamiut Subsistence, by Richard Nelson, Kathleen Mautner, and Ray Bane, speak of Alaska as home to these peoples:

To most of us, the vast stretches of forest, tundra and mountain lands in Alaska constitute a wilderness in the most absolute sense of the word. In our minds, this land is wilderness because it is undisturbed, pristine, lacking in obvious signs of human activity. To us undisturbed land is unoccupied or unused land. But in fact, most of Alaska is not wilderness, nor has it been for thousands of years.

Much of Alaska’s apparently untrodden forest and tundra land is thoroughly known by people whose entire lives and cultural ancestry is intimately associated with it. Indeed, to the Native inhabitants, these lands are no more an unknown wilderness than are the streets of a city to its residents.

The fact that we identify Alaska’s remote country as wilderness derives from our inability to conceive of occupying and utilizing land without altering or completely eliminating its natural state. But the Indians and Eskimos have been living this way for thousands of years. Certainly, then, theirs has been a successful participation as members of an ecosystem. In a world of environmental degradation this represents an exemplary form of human adaptation, fostering a healthy coexistence of man and ecosystem. Certainly, we have been incapable of utilizing our lands so well.

The country is anything but wilderness; at best it can be called a wildland.



I loved reading the passage above because in only a few moments, how I viewed nature and wilderness changed. Alaska is not an untouched land. But the hands that touched it did not destroy it.

So given that history, how did we end up where we are today? Why has a state of independent-spirited people living in a land of intense beauty threatened by corporate greed and climate change consistently voted for anti-environment presidents since statehood in 1959? Yes, each resident gets a payoff from big oil through the state’s Permanent Fund. How much does it cost to sell out your home to corporate interests? Based on the payouts of the Permanent Fund, about a thousand dollars a year.

As we watch the glaciers melt, the permafrost thaw, the polar bears plod toward extinction, the people of Alaska continue to vote against their best interests. 55% of voters are registered as Independent in Alaska. Does independent mean you can ignore the damage being done to the natural world so you get your thousand dollars? Alaska voted for a president who did not have their best interests in mind again in 2020… even as he put the Tongass National Forest and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge up for sale to the highest bidder.

Many Alaskans will tell me to shut up and mind my own business. Fair enough. Just remember, it is your state that will be one of the first on the list (along with Florida) to be destroyed by environmental change in the coming years.

But you’ll have your thousand bucks.


ADR & BB in BC

We had a fine crossing of the Dixon Entrance and entered Canada at Prince Rupert, B.C.

We spent a couple of days doing laundry and provisioning before heading south. We’d been told that British Columbia may be a disappointment after Southeast Alaska. How wrong that was! Though our first two days through the Grenville Channel were pretty boring (and cold and wet), and the wind non-existent or on the nose (we had 30-knot headwinds and adverse current our second day out), we loved B.C.

As in SE Alaska, we only traveled while it was light. Why? See below.

The weather wasn’t very nice, but it was scenic… and we saw bears right from the boat!

And whales, of course.

After a stop in Hartley Bay, we visited the collapsing ruins of the abandoned cannery at Butedale and met Cory, the very interesting caretaker, and his dog and cat.

The next day was one of our best. The sun was out and we entered the Fiordland Conservancy, a stunning area. It was like sailing through Yosemite. Not only was the scenery gorgeous, but the weather was so nice at our anchorage in Kynoch Inlet that we took our first shower outside in months, ate dinner on deck, and to top it off, watched the Aurora Borealis that night.

However, the next day was so foggy, one of us had to be stationed on the bow as we made our way through the circuitous fjords.

Why you should sail to Southeast Alaska and British Columbia…

For a week and a half we moved to a new anchorage or dock every single day. It was a lot of travel. Even though the days were getting shorter, we still made time for hiking, kayaking, swimming, and cartwheels.

There were a (very) few days here and there where we actually got to sail!

We split my birthday between Port Mcneill, where I posed with the World’s Largest Burl, and Alert Bay where we visited the excellent U’mista Cultural Centre filled with masks and ceremonial objects of the Kwakwaka’wakw people; all of them having been returned many years after being confiscated by the Canadian government in 1921.

Coming through so late in the season, places that would have been packed with boats a month before were completely empty. How lucky we were.

We pulled into Comox on Vancouver Island to visit Malcolm and Jackie, formerly of s/y Aeolus XC, whom I’d met in Mexico in 2000. They were wonderful hosts, taking us up into the surrounding mountains (where it had just snowed!), and feeding us delicious meals.

Three weeks after entering Canada, something very odd loomed up on the horizon. What a strange sight after so many months surrounded by the natural beauty of the northern lands.


Friends & Family – Vancouver to Victoria

Vancouver was our first of many stops in North America where we had lots of friends. I’ve known the Vancouver Morris Men for decades and we had a great time watching them dance at the Apple Festival and hanging out on Migration’s deck. Our friend Mika, from Japan, was working in Canada and traveled hours to visit us. And we made new friends: Wendy and Mark (brother of Neal of s/v Rutea) hosted us for a wonderful lunch. Cruisers are so cool! And so are Morris dancers!

Michael & Gloria of s/v Paikea Mist, who we last saw in Thailand, have an apartment overlooking Migration’s berth in False Creek. As cruisers themselves, they knew all the ways to make our visit fun and easy.

Next came Alene’s mother (also Alene) and younger brother Donnie. Alene was thrilled to finally have some of her family aboard.

We set sail together from Vancouver bound for Salt Spring Island where we were hosted by Ken & Wendy, formerly of s/v Cop Out, who we’d last seen in Singapore. When you cruise the world you end up with friends in lots of ports.

Unfortunately, the weather was rainy & grey the whole time… but we still had fun.

Next stop, Victoria, where we met up with my Morris friend Stevie, as well as Bob and Suzanne from Seattle. And new friends Lynn and Julian invited us for a delicious dinner. We enjoyed fresh seafood at nearly every meal.


The Lower 48 – Back in the USA

We said goodbye to Alene’s mother and brother and headed south… we crossed the Strait of Juan de Fuca, down the middle of which you will find the border between Canada and the United States. Migration was back in the USA. (Yes, Alaska is the USA, but it is so different from the Lower 48 that it really could be its own country.)

First stop, Port Townsend where we met up with boat builder and designer Russell Brown (son of trimaran designer Jim Brown). Russell had agreed to take a look at the wing deck joint problem that had developed in the North Pacific. He gave us some great advice and helped us prepare a repair plan.

On our way to Seattle, we did a quick lunch stop in Kingston to visit Phillip and Leslie of s/v Carina who we had shared many anchorages with all though Mexico and the South Pacific. That night we were in a marina in Seattle.

Everyone said we were too late in the season to sail south. The winter storms and southerly gales would block our path. But experience has shown us that if one is patient, there is always a weather window. Thus, on November 1st, we left the dock and headed out into Puget Sound.

We anchored for the next two nights, working our way west out of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. We expected it to be cold, but we didn’t expect snow and hail!

Under a full moon, we sailed out of the Strait at midnight on the 3rd.

Working our way south was challenging. We hid from gales in La Push for one night and then Westport for 4 days. We were worried about the weather and cautious with the potentially dangerous bar crossings into harbors. All of this was punctuated with cold… there was ice on the decks some mornings.

With a big winter storm forecast, we made a run for Astoria on November 10th. Leaving in the early morning darkness, we crossed the notorious bar of the Columbia River that afternoon and were safely tied to a dock in Astoria when the storm hit the next day.

Remember that line above “But experience had shown us that if one is patient, there is always a weather window.”? It remains true. However, sometimes one has to be very patient. We were stuck in Astoria for 23 days with winds up to 70 knots, hail, rain, and very little sun. Thank goodness for yoga classes.

We finally escaped with an uneventful bar crossing on December 3rd. Our 2-day sail to Humboldt Bay included some near-gale conditions but the wind was from the NNE and Migration handled it well.