Thin sheets of ice cracked and popped on either side of Yahtzee’s bow while nosing out of the marina towards open water. The sound was cringeworthy but worth it to be free again: Free from the ice and harbor. Free from the shackles of the boatyard. Free from months of planning and work installing a new engine.
When clear of the breakwater, I throttled up with a wry smile that spread across my face watching our speed climb. Accordingly, the boys were equally as excited and a bundled up Magnus turned from looking at the mountains to me and quipped, “It’s so great to be out again, Dad!” Indeed it is, Mag.
Those who have followed this blog over the years know that winter cruising in the Pacific Northwest was something that we cherished. Empty anchorages, crackling beach fires, windy passages and even the cooler weather always made for incredible family adventures. It worked for us. We loved it, and I like to think that our three winters around the Salish Sea prepared us well for cruising in Alaska.
Winters here at 60 degrees north are, as you might imagine, a bit different — but not too much. Seward is located in a temperate rainforest, too, which means the harbor doesn’t fully freeze over and average highs, at their lowest, typically hover around freezing. Overall, we are about 10 to 15 degrees cooler up here in general than Puget Sound, the San Juan Islands and British Columbia. Last winter Yahtzee was too much of a construction zone to be cruised, but this year we’ve left her cruise-ready and vowed to get off the dock whenever the opportunity presents itself. Last weekend was one of those perfect moments.
Friday morning started a bit shaky with an intense earthquake, but when the tsunami warning was lifted the boys and I were in full go mode getting us ready to shove off when Jill finished work. Frost crunched under our boots walking down the dock and the afternoon sun soon fell behind the mountains to the west, but there was not a breath of wind to be had on the bay — perfect to test the new diesel. This was the first real sea trial and we motored 8 miles south towards Thumb Cove like we literally never have before. Yahtzee felt like a completely different boat and even gained about 1.5 knots of cruising speed.
When settled into our favorite nook in the cove, we quickly made for the beach to kick off our weekend and play in the last vestiges of daylight. What ensued over the next couple days was one of those splendid short cruising trips that made us want to keep going and going. Soon enough, we had to tell ourselves. Instead, we were keen to simply enjoy the moments we were in.
A soggy Saturday didn’t allow for a fire on the beach so we took our load of dry wood into one of the cozy public use cabins and turned it into a warm base camp for the day. Hiking in the moss-covered woods, cooking on the wood stove, dancing in front of the fire and combing the beach, we made the absolute best of our time in this magical place. It’s easy to do that at Thumb Cove.
Alaska once again showed us her many moods and the cove was in full-on breathtaking awe because of it. Williwaws occasionally surged down the mountainsides and buffeted Yahtzee, who tugged smartly at her anchor. Rain squalls gave way to pockets of blue sky and bits of sunshine. And when the showers and wind did fully stop, the sea transformed into a tranquil pane of glass.
That night, after the rain tapered and the clouds cleared, Jill and I sat in the cockpit with a hot toddy staring skyward in wonder. The faint outlines of tall mountain peaks and ridges cut through bright constellations, making us seem like a mere droplet of water in the ocean. Here we were again, out in the familiar wilderness that we love, looking up from the deck of our home and sailboat, feeling so rich with experience. And there was no place we’d have rather been. Yes, this was winter cruising at its finest.