The wind was up and lunch was on the stovetop when I hoisted Yahtzee’s mainsail outside of the tiny cove and community of Meyers Chuck in Southeast Alaska. Whitecaps crested the wave tops and when I looked south and saw a long line of rain enveloping tall, snow-capped mountains in the distance, I knew more wind was coming.
Accordingly, I tucked a single reef in the main and after turning north and easing the sail out, Yahtzee gathered speed and shot forward with a rush. The real wind came shortly after I finished my lunch, and with it came a drizzle that turned into a steady rain. Soon, the seas in Clarence Strait were whipped into a frenzy and Porter and I shared “Whoo-Hoos!” while surging down the waves.
With a favorable current, and breeze that eventually topped out in the high 30s and low 40s, we zoomed north at a brisk pace and even hit 14 knots on one big surf. Our destination hadn’t been determined when we left but by late afternoon a safe harbor was on the mind and we ducked into Coffman Cove on Prince of Wales Island. Except for what we’d read in the cruising guide, we knew virtually nothing of the place and were surprised to find a near empty marina sitting in front of a quaint Alaskan town.
Finding True Alaska
It’s days later now and I’m still smiling about the whole experience. Yes, the sailing has remained awesome since arriving in Alaska, but our time here has become more about the places and people along the way — about slowing down and connecting with the wilderness and communities that are inextricably woven within it.
We weren’t in a rush to reach Alaska, but by the time we got here we’d put in a fair amount of miles and decided it was time to take it easy and soak in a destination we’d dreamed of. When we bought Yahtzee five years ago, sailing to Alaska was a goal. A dream. We didn’t know when it would happen, how long it would take or what the actual route even looked like, we just knew we’d get there. Being that we’re not the type of sailors to sit at the dock and ramble on about fixing our boat and half-baked aspirations for what we’d do with it, we chipped away at the dream and made it happen. And here we are.
For boaters, reaching Alaska from Washington via the Inside Passage can be daunting. It’s far. And at times, it’s not easy. While cruisers make the trek north every year, sometimes over and over again for many years, many leave the Pacific Northwest and turn left to head south without ever seeing Alaska, which is an absolute shame.
For the crew of Yahtzee, though, the voyage has been more than just a trip north. We did it in an unconventional way and are making the experience all our own. There aren’t many other northbound boaters around, the recreational fishing crowd has yet to arrive and cruise ship season is in its infancy, so we’re basking in what it means to be here early — enjoying spring southerly winds, open wilderness and meeting hearty locals who are getting their first taste of visitors after a long winter.
For Jill, Alaska is her home state, which means that being here amongst its mountains, trees, water and residents is a homecoming. Born and raised in “The Last Frontier” by adventurous parents that drove across the United States and Canada in a converted school bus in the mid 1970s, built a house with their bare hands and then raised two children is about as Alaskan as you can get. Throw in the fact that their family staked claims on a gold mine in the Alaska Range north of Denali National Park, which her brother still has, and we’re talking full on Alaska pride. And if one thing is certain, it’s that Alaska is a VERY prideful state.
For good reason. Few people live in this humongous state and even fewer are born and raised here. It is a place that is truly like no other and the residents who call it home are equally unique. From the moment we tied to the dock in Ketchikan to clear customs we’ve been welcomed with open arms by nearly everyone we’ve come in contact with. This reception was most evident at our stop in Coffman Cove. It was pouring buckets and blowing a hooley when we happened into the harbor and from the moment we stepped foot across the road from the marina we were treated like family.
Literally, a sweet couple and their endearing neighbor encouraged us to come in, dry off and share laughter and tales of how we’d arrived here. It didn’t matter that we were wearing sodden foul weather gear, the four of us were invited in for fresh chocolate chip cookies and tall glasses of milk. It was like a dream.
After exchanging stories and hugs with our new friends Dick, Deb and Dawn — the later of which cruised around the world on a sailboat in the 80s — we moved on for a walk down “main street.” Clearly the new people in this town of 120 residents, our family was embraced by everyone we met and the boys were like little magnets of energy.
Over the next two days, passing motorists stopped to introduce themselves and ask if we needed anything. We were welcome to help ourselves to lettuce from the school’s greenhouse, and bikes were loaned to Porter and Magnus by the school’s teacher. I shared more laughs and stories over beers while paying for our moorage at the town’s only bar. And when Jill and the boys savored story time at the library, I got a bunch of work done on the town’s coveted WiFi hotspot.
But it was our friends Dick, Deb and Dawn who made the stop a real treat. Kindred spirits who’d lived lives of adventure as sailors, fisherman and outdoors people, they are the real Alaska. Their generosity in sharing all the amenities of their homes, tips on the area and more than anything, warm smiles and genuine attitudes, was immensely rewarding and appreciated.