Sailing fast on a broad reach, volcanic Mt. Edgecume slid by our starboard side while Yahtzee tracked northwest out into the expansive Gulf of Alaska. We were just hours from Sitka and though a destination of Prince William Sound was our original intention, the plan wasn’t set in stone. As always, it depended on weather.
The weather rules, and here in Alaska, it’s everything. Accordingly, we deferred to our tried and true method of letting the conditions decide before making any hard and fast routing decisions. Using our last smidgeon of cell service, I gave one final look at what we’d encounter over the next four to five days. The verdict? Light winds out of the south.
Suddenly, Prince William was out. Kodiak Island was in. And with that, I changed course to the west and set us on the rumbline for a destination some 500-plus miles in the distance.
Besides wanting to go to Kodiak Island, the reasoning for changing course was simple: we could sail more. With a light to moderate southerly, sailing downwind to Prince William Sound would have been slow and potentially uncomfortable. Or we would have had to motor a lot. But sailing straight west would put us on a beam reach, our fastest point of sail, and allow us to motor only when the wind went completely calm. Fortunately, that routing decision paid off and we sailed one long, dreamy port tack across the Gulf.
Shortly after clearing the mountainous Southeast Alaska coastline, we settled onto a beam reach flying our big blue spinnaker. It was about this time when the sun came out in earnest. Don’t get me wrong, we don’t mind the rain, but after several weeks of seemingly unending downpours, drizzle and gray skies, the Gulf of Alaska rewarded us with splendid sunshine, blue skies and puffy, popcorn clouds that were reminiscent of trade wind passages Jill and I had completed years before. And with the sun setting near 11 p.m. and rising close to 4 a.m., plus a full moon, twilights were epically stunning. It was so exceptionally bright one night that we even flew the spinnaker all night because we could see everything so clearly.
As was predicted, though, the southerly wind came and went. Up and down went the spinnaker. In and out rolled the genoa. And on and off went the engine. From Sitka, we had roughly 560 miles to go until Kodiak Island, but the distance never seemed to matter. In the realm of time and space, deciding to go there while already underway wasn’t much of a bother. We plodded along happily, slept, ate, stood watch, played, blew bubbles, read and horsed-around like we would have on any normal day sail from point A to B.
Overall, our asymmetrical spinnaker was everyone’s best friend. Not only did it provide the speed we needed to beam reach smoothly to the west on a forgiving sea, but it was also a source of work and banter as it went up and down with the rise and fall of the wind. In the future, when we’re able to replace Yahtzee’s old and tired sail inventory, I would love to add a Code Zero on a furler to the mix — which would have been the perfect sail for this passage to keep us going when the wind was light.
Along with the sailing, it was an absolute pleasure to be out at sea again with our crew. This was the longest non-stop passage we’d done together and everyone handled it well.
Magnus and Porter found a rhythm offshore that was all their own. Yes, they acted their ages at times, but for the most part they were the kids who had grown up on Yahtzee since they were hours old. Trimming sheets, walking decks with harnesses and tethers, begging to steer, eating everything in sight and reading everywhere possible on the boat, they didn’t seem to skip a beat. And when I think about their overall behavior at sea, I have to say, they are true watermen; practicing knots, calling out wave troughs and crests, telling me which line is which, and more.
Besides ably and confidently standing her night watches, Jill is an absolute wizard offshore and can keep a crew of kids, men or women going no matter what the conditions. To be sure, when all was said and done, we had our moments and meltdowns as any family does, but for the most part, we could have kept going on and on and on…
During the four day crossing, we didn’t come across a single other boat until entering St. Paul Harbor. But the North Pacific Ocean wilderness and its beauty more than made up for any human contact we ever could have had. Along the way we spotted every manner of sea bird, including the ever-present black footed albatross, shearwaters, puffins, gulls and others. Pacific white-sided dolphins played on the bow wake at four in the morning. Minke whales breached around us on a daily basis and a large pod of orcas passed on our starboard side one evening during dinner in the nonchalant way that residents of our familiar San Juan Islands wave by just raising a finger or two off the steering wheel to signal hello. Hello, indeed.
A Kodiak Dream
But just like that, four glorious days of sunshine, sailing and a bit of motoring came to an end. We approached land early on Monday morning and snaked our way in through channel markers in a post dawn rain shower. Approaching the verdant and unfamiliar mountains of Kodiak Island, it was hard to believe we were actually seeing this.
Clearing the safe water and lateral buoys into St. Paul Harbor, I jibed us while motor-sailing and then two-year-old Magnus said in a matter-a-fact sort of way, “Dad, shut off the engine. Let’s sail in.” I could hardly believe my ears, yet it seemed fitting.
Shutting down the engine and sheeting in to clear the buoys and fetch the harbor entrance, I had almost forgotten where we were and how we’d arrived here. Indeed, it almost seemed like a dream.