Saturday, September 06, 2014

Underway Gulf of Alaska

September 6, 2014

0900 ADT (1700 UTC)
Underway position: 57 39 N 148 53 W
Course 095T
Speed 6.3

Underway Gulf of Alaska

This morning we're 19 hours into our Gulf of Alaska crossing. So far, very little wind and 2.2 meter or 7 foot southerly swells. The seas state is definitely out of sync with the wind strength, without sufficient wind pressure on the sails they back as the mast swings toward the wind with each passing swell. As a result we're motor sailing to building apparent wind to help mitigate slamming of the sails and also to maintain a minimum of 6 knots to ensure we arrive in somewhere before the next big blow catches up with us.

Catching up on our stay in Kodiak

Our stay in Kodiak was productive and fun. Our arrival coincided with that of a cruise ship, so the town was awash with visitors providing a unique opportunity to view the Russian Orthodox Church that would other wise be shuttered. The church bells are believed to be the first cast on the west coast of North America sometime around 1790 providing proof of a rich history. Our first mission was a bit of shopping at a very well stocked Alaska Marine supply, then lunch and then some serious exercise with a hike to the ridge above town to enjoy the stellar blue sky weather and sweeping views.

On our return trip we stopped at the Kodiak Brewery for a beer and met a 30 something French couple who are driving around the world in a Toyota Land cruiser. Katia and Ivan had some great stories about their travels in Iran and all the countries ending with 'stan'. As fellow travelers and adventures always yearning to get off the beaten path, we could really relate. The following day Katia and Ivan joined us for a day sail with the goal of spotting some bears, but no luck on that nor catching any salmon. Next they'll travel through Canada, the lower 48, central America and to the furthest southern extent of South America. Ivan is already thinking about his next adventure and I'd be willing to bet it's sailing around the world!

We also met up with another real cruising boat, the first since we left Majuro 70 days ago! The last time we'd seen the crew of s/v MukTuk we were at a beach BBQ in the Marquesas Islands. Talk about sailing heroes, Ali and Karl and their two young boys Jan and Noah are the real deal. Europe to Antarctica round trip 9 times including 3 times on racy multi-hulls, an around the Americas trip through the Northwest passage, sailing up the Amazon and 3 trips to Alaska to name a few exploits. Wow! They're spending winter in Alaska specifically so they can literally ski off the boat and I'm very envious. Unfortunately they don't have a web page or blog. Kathy finds it truly amazing that Ali had to provision the boat for 9 months for 4 people during their northwest passage trip! You sure wouldn't want to mess that one up or you could go very hungry.

Lots of Black Albatross flying around the boat this morning and I'm taking that as good luck omen, knock on wood.

Speaking of luck, knocking on wood, we broke our normal rule of never making landfall at night and here's the story that led up to pulling into Kodiak at 4AM.

We'd spent the night in a nearly landlocked cove behind Bluff point in Shearwater Bay (anchor position near: 57 19.34N 152 54.15 W) and the previous night I'd set my crab trap near the head of the bay and was anxious to see what we'd caught. I either like to sleep in or get going early and this was a get going early morning. Kathy usually gets up first and starts the coffee and frankly she gets a little grumbley when I interrupt here early morning quiet time. She was still in her pajamas and definitely grumbling when I asked here to venture on the cold dew covered deck to snag the crab trap float with the boat hook. The pot was full of Starfish... again, apparently the sea otters are eating alot of crab. Our mission for the day was to spot some bears so we headed into Kiliuda Bay scanning the shorelines all the 12 miles to the head of the NW arm of Kiliuda. With blue skies and calm winds it was absolutely a superb day with incredible views of towering jagged peaks, but not a single bear was to be seen. After dodging what seemed like 100 crab trap floats we edged up to the river delta in the NW branch of Kiliuda bay, the water shoals quickly from 75 feet to 3 feet almost instantly and just at the edge I'd walked up to the bow to join Kathy for a quick second when we saw an absolutely HUGE shark skirting the edge of the shoal. The girth of the Shark was massive and I believe it was in excess of 10 feet long and possibly a salmon shark?

We dropped the anchor in the deep and had some difficulty getting it set as firmly as we'd like, with calm conditions and only a short stay planned we compromised a bit after our second attempt and then launched the dinghy for a quick foray up the river to look for bears. The tide was pretty low, so we didn't make it too far before pulling the dinghy onto a sandbar for a quick walk up the river. I was hoping for a river chock full of Silver Salmon, but only a few dead ones along the shores and a few stragglers in the river. No one was biting, so despite not seeing any Grizzly tracks we decided not to risk an encounter and made our way back to the boat. Hauling the anchor turned into a project as it was fouled on old crab trap full of mud, the anchor winch was straining to the extreme in the deep water trying to dead lift the anchor 200' of chain and the 100 pound steel trap full of hundreds of pounds of thick mud. Hoisting it wasn't going to work, so we motored toward the shoal slowly dragging the mess up the underwater slope, then would stop and retrieve a bit of slack in the chain. It took some time, but finally we had the pot and anchor in about 6' of water and vast majority of the chain back on board. We hauled with the winch until we could pass a trip line through the roll bar on our Rocna anchor and finally slip the offending crab pot into the deep. At this point it was already past noon, but we hatched an ambitious plan to run until nearly dark in hopes of splitting the otherwise awkward distance remaining to Kodiak town.

I'm not sure exactly what happened, but I did a hasty route plan and it was calling for 7 hours to our desired anchorage for the evening. I then took a nap and when I woke up an hour later our computer was showing that we still had 9 hours to go. We could have turned around at this point and headed back to Shearwater, but instead we selected a much less desirable anchorage in Pasagshak Bay which was open to some southerly swell. Dropping the anchor near sunset we had a quick dinner and started watching an episode of Deadliest Catch. About this time the wind picked up and started gusting out of the west which turned LightSpeed's beam directly into the southerly swell. After a really long day on the water it was now looking like a rough nights sleep was in our future.

Hoisting anchor and going overnight to Kodiak seemed better than a rough nights sleep, so we got underway with Dave taking the first shift until 1AM then Kathy took over. Usually the off watch person dives for the comfort of the port side queen bed which is piled high with fluffy blankets, but I was so exhausted I just crashed on the settee in the pilot house. Around 2AM I was rudely awakened and almost rolled off the settee onto the floor as LightSpeed made what we believe to be a glancing blow off a Humpback whale. Jolted awake by the impact, I snapped away with a bolt of adrenaline as LightSpeed was lifted and jostled by the whale. Kathy headed out on deck and listened for whales and within only seconds she reported the blow of several whales further confirming our suspicion of a whale strike. All in all it was mostly gentle with no cracking or snapping or crunching that would indicate we damaged our rudders or saildrives. There was no way I was going back to sleep for the two remaining hours into Kodiak, so breaking every personal rule about entering foreign ports in the dark we slowly made our way into Saint Paul Harbor. I justified the exception to my rule on the basis that the nav aids would be exceptional in the vicinity of the biggest US Coast Guard base in the USA. However, the lack of sleep made the entry more challenging than I'd like and many of the navigation buoys flashing lights blended into the glow of the lights ashore and the nearby airport.

As we approached the breakwater the Harbor master hailed us on the VHF radio by name as he saw us on his AIS. We were quickly assigned a berth and happily racked out for a few hours, however the rush of the nights events made it hard to relax into a deep sleep. With bright sunshine we couldn't sleep in and thus began what ended up being a highly productive day despite running on fumes. First stop was the Fuel dock, then the water dock to fill the tank and wash off the boat, then a new slip in the downtown marina and then shopping and our hike up the ridge.

Update: Wind has built a bit out of the WNW and we now are sailing on a double reef main and full jib.

That's it for now.

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