By all measures, the Gulf of Alaska is a large, imposing body of water. Even in the summer, weather windows to get across are short and can be few and far between. Because of this, many mariners choose to take a longer northerly route to make stops along the way, or they go on a schedule with marginal weather and suffer most of the way across. Having sailed the 560-mile east-to-west passage from Sitka to Kodiak Island in 2017, we knew what we were getting into and that when the opportunity to cross presented itself, we had to take it without hesitation. In our experience, patience pays off.
After a rip-roaring sunny sail from Tonsina Bay on the Kenai Peninsula down to Kodiak, we resupplied and then headed out to a couple beautiful nearby anchorages to meet up with good friends and wait for the weather to turn. We rendezvoused with SV Arctic Monkey at Long Island and spent several days exploring the island’s verdant forests and the interesting remains of a U.S. Army outpost during World World II. Over that time, as we’d hoped, the weather began to shape up. Lows with adverse easterly winds moved through and high pressure was behind it. That was our window.
Both boats scurried back to Kodiak to prep for the crossing and when Tuesday morning dawned bright and sunny, it was go time. Arctic Monkey and Yahtzee slipped dock lines together at 10:45 am and pointed east on the rhumbline with a planned landfall four days later at Goddard Hot Springs near Sitka. Light winds were expected for several portions of the 500-plus mile jaunt across the Gulf and it certainly started out that way. We chugged along under power through the day and into the night with a gap of about 5 to 10 miles between us.
Our crew seamlessly switched into offshore mode and the routines of sailing round-the-clock began to take shape. Porter and Jill took the first night watch together and I came on deck just in time to experience a stunningly beautiful sunset at 11 pm. With no land on the horizon, the ocean lit up and then slowly faded through shades of orange, red and finally cool blues. Certainly, one of the highlights of the passage was the amount of daylight we had. Day three was the summer solstice and most nights never really got truly dark, rather, a dusky combination of sun and moonlight lingered gracefully on the horizon.
A southerly breeze trickled in overnight and by mid-morning on Wednesday we were sailing fast under our big blue spinnaker. All the while, Porter and Magnus did schoolwork and played in the cockpit. We listened to music, read books and told jokes with Yahtzee shooting eastward at a pleasant 6 to 9 knots. A highlight of the passage was how comfortable the boys were back out on the ocean under sail in a variety of sea conditions. Not much phases them, and whether sailing or doing dishes, they love to lend a hand.
After 12 hours of gorgeous spinnaker sailing, the wind went light. Down came the sail, on went the engine and we plodded eastward through the night with hopes it would return the next day. Much to our dismay, only light zephyrs appeared and Thursday wore on with Jill and I turning our attention toward the fuel gage. We really needed one more full day of sailing so we wouldn’t get low on fuel or have to bob on the sea like a cork waiting for breeze. Sure enough, Friday morning brought party cloudy skies and at 5 am we were under full sail again with the thought that more wind was on the way. Boy was it.
By mid afternoon Yahtzee was at a full gallop close hauled and I could tell the first rain squalls of the passage were in our future. On cue, heavy showers came around dinnertime and the new southeast wind whipped up a sloppy sea state that was annoyingly uncomfortable, but still allowed for Porter’s dinner pick of BLTs to be our fare. Undeterred, landfall was half-a-day away and the thought of soaking in hot springs kept me awake on a long first watch of the night.
After sunset, the wind made a large and abrupt shift from the southeast to southwest and we eased sheets for a long broad reach towards Sitka Sound. When morning light filtered through the dark clouds, Arctic Monkey was running in stride with us to the north and a faint bit of volcanic Mount Edgecumbe became visible. On our final approach, the skies alternated between sun, clouds and rain, and we dropped the sails just miles from the hot springs, motored in and set the anchor at 10:40 am—just five minutes shy of four days after leaving St. Paul Harbor, Kodiak Island.
The last log entry of the passage gives the overall stats: 564 miles, 95hrs 55min, 5.9 knot average speed. But the big smiley face written beside it tells the story. We were back in Southeast Alaska again and happy to be here. Time for a soak.
MORE PICTURES: LONG ISLAND—KODIAK—GODDARD HOT SPRINGS
One Reply to “Retracing our steps across the Gulf of Alaska”
Another fun and exciting learning experience for everyone!