Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Day 49 (8/06) Finish Line!!!

Familiar peaks in Katchemak Bay

Approaching Hones lagoon

Gotago welcoming Darwind home

Tied up to the Seldovia docks, the voyage is officially over.
Today, the final day of the voyage, I woke up after a restless night anchored up at Qikutulig Bay, (I know, probably the hardest place name on the map)which was one of my first memories of ever anchoring out on the first major voyage of my life on Northern Passage in 2012. Also, with Seldovia only a day's sail away if all went well, his was where I realized for the first time the significance of what I had accomplished over the summer. Anyway, the night was a bit rough, with the only groundswell we had experienced at anchor so far, and some gusty winds up to around 15 or 20 knots during the night, but Darwind swung to her anchor with no problem, and by morning, the chart plotter, which I had left on overnight as a precaution showed a perfectly smooth arc, with no signs of dragging. Impressive considering we were anchored in over 7 fathoms with only our short chain and light rode. Anyway, that morning as we motored out past the distinctive grassy islets at the head of Qikutulig Bay, I felt profoundly content and excited that this day would bring us home, up the familiar channel and through the breakwater to the worn, wooden docks of Seldovia Alaska, from which I had sailed to and from so many times, though never had I tied up to the worn wooden floats at the end of a voyage quite like this one. By 8:00am, slightly ahead of schedule, we raised the double reefed main and soon swung around to the West, with the wind blowing 25 knots dead astern. We had a fast ride all the way into the entrance to Chugach strait, where the wind began to abate ever so slightly, until I had the number 2 jib up as well, and in the lee of the Chigach Islands, it was smooth sailing for anoth half hour. Then, up ahead and crossing the entire strait was what at first looked like a hoal or reef, with lump, crashing waves and white water in a jumbled mess, but I knew that there was nothing like that anywhere near here, and that it was only a massive tide rip, which we had been planning to miss, but the fast sailing and a slightly eager start in the morning had us arriving an hour before slack instead of at slack. As we approached the line and I searched for a stretch relatively clear of logs and debris on the suddenly crazed wavetops, It looked as if we were standing on a line between storm and calm, with over a mile of the craziest seas I had ever encountered menacing of my leeward bow.
At last I found a clear spot, and bracing up against the cockpit seats, I gripped the dodger with one hand and plunged Darwind's bows into that raging mess. It seemed like I was battling the tiller for hours and hours, as the still significant 20 knots of wind crashed into an opposing 3.5 knot current, with our little cork boat caught in the middle of the crossfire. for the longest time, we made almost no progress, often under 1 knot of speed made good, while I struggled to win every foot from the treacherous current, amidst steep,  crashing seas that were constantly spilling water over the coamings and lazarete, swirling away down the drains, only to be replaced by another bucketful as the bows plunged and rolled another weirdly lumped wavecrest passed under the keel. However, after around an hour, the waves started to die down, as the current abated, and we started to move forward again, but unfortunately along with the opposing current, our favorable wind died out to be replaced by a thick fog and rain over a glassy sea. It appeared that Alaska wasn't letting us go home without one last demonstration of her ever so bewildering weather. As it was now smooth sailing under power for a few hours, I switched places with mom, and ducked below to catch around an hour of sleep and rest after the ordeal of the tide rip.
The rest of Chatham passage passed uneventfully, with only on other tide rip to deal with, though this one was much more benign as there was no wind to really pick up any nasty chop like the first, and we just plowed through under power, rolling like a drunken pig. However, just past Chatham Harbor, as we began to swing north around Arthur point at the tip of the Kenai Peninsula, we sailed out of the fog bank into a clear, sunny sky, with some light, teasing zephyrs and over three knots of current to help us along. It was lazy sailing as we stripped off wet foul weather gear and hung wet bedding and clothes out on the rigging to dry.
And as we continued the huge U-turn around the Kenai peninsula, the geography, harsh and dramatic on the south side of the peninsula, softened and resolved itself into the intensely familiar setting of Katchemak Bay. Near Fourth of July Creek, once the farthest extent of my voyages as skipper of the  Lynx and the Capri, we passed a line of over two dozen fishing boats, both commercial and sport, and soon after that we picked up fresh breeze blowing from the southeast, so the main and number to went up, the engine was silenced, and we hardened up on a hard reach towards Seldovia Bay and the finish line.
As we approached the channel, Gotago, or as she is now called, Uka, my dad's old 36 foot Columbia that over 20 years before, he had sailed with my mom exactly the same voyage as I had just completed, and the first sailboat I had ever been on and where I spent a large part of my childhood summers cruising around south central Alaska. It was fitting to be thus escorted to the finish line and to top it off, Camile, our good friend and captain of the the fast ferry, which was just leaving the harbor hailed us over the VHF and loudspeaker to welcome us home.
Finally, I hailed the harbormaster, and after a tricky and somewhat humiliating docking, right across from the Linwood Bar and Grill deck (of course), jumped onto the familiar planks and wrapped Darwind's docklines around the worn timbers. We did it.

day 48 (8/05)

Today, mom and I woke up after a very good night's sleep in the inner basin of Chance Cove, a blessing after the turmoil of the day before, and by 7:30am we were underway. The ebbing tide, which had fought us on the way in, sucked us right out and shot us through the narrows of McArthur pass into the open waters of the Southern Kenai Peninsula, where contrary to the weather reports on the radio and texted to the inReach by dad, it was flat calm, with no more than a glassy swell from the south, all shrouded in heavy fog. Not wanting to waste this luck, I decided to head southwest, straight for Gore Point, and out into the open water instead of tucking in behind Nuka island and taking the Nuka passage west then south. This route cut off at least five nautical miles, and turned out to be a wise decision, because when the wind did come, it blew 20 knots right down the mouth of the rocky Nuka passage, which we would have had a rough time beating out of if we had tried to take the more sheltered passage.
As it was, we ended up flying dead before a 20 knot breeze and some reasonably sized seas, though thankfully much more regular than yesterdays. We flew past the ominous Gore, point, a serpentine claw of jagged rock jutting out to tear at the waves, making over 5 knots of boatspeed under a full main and the ever-present #2 jib. As it was only 12:30 as we rounded the point, and our destination of Sunday Harbor was tucked just a mile behind it, I decided to press on the the next good anchorage, Qikutulig(Q) Bay, 15 nautical miles farther west. We were of the entrance in two hours, where I dropped the #2 and jibed around to reach passed the menacing sentinel reefs into the calm waters of the bay, Darwind shooting through the gap like a well-aimed arrow. Q bay is for the most part open, aside from the sheltering reefs, and there was quite a lot of wind until we were well up into the very head, where I anchored among a small archipelago of rocky islets, each with one or two scraggly spruce overhanging the water.
This bay was an amazing place, not only as an anchorage, of which it was superb specimen, and the setting was jawdropping, but the most surreal thing was that this was the first real anchorage of my trip on Northern Passage, and it seemed fitting that it was to be the last before the completion of this voyage. I remembered exploring the islets and caves in the dinghy back when I was twelve, and looking around now I realized how far I had come to drop anchor in this bay, with a name I still can't pronounce, once again, this time having earned every mile as skipper of my own boat.

day 47 (8/04)

Coming soon, sorry for the delay

Day 46 (7/28)

Coming soon, sorry for the delay

Day 43, 44, and 45 (/724-7/26) Gulf Crossing Part II


            At 5:00pm, July 23, at Yakutat harbor, I slung my and dad’s bags into Darwind’s cockpit, lying ready and waiting out a northwest system this past week while I was away, resting and playing in Anchorage and Seldovia with my cousin Matt, who flew out from Connecticut to come hang out and sail in the far north. This week was also the first time all summer that I had spent with Lynx, the 12-foot catboat my dad and I built over the past few years, and my first boat. In fact, so far this summer I felt (and still feel to a degree) extremely guilty about poor old Lynx, who after all, I had built with my own two hands, from the first plank, and who I had offhandedly mothballed after only one summer of sailing. Suffice to say, much of my guilt was eased by being able to finally sail on Kenai Lake with her, something that I have wanted to do since we first drove past the beautiful teal waters on the way to Seldovia.
            After a few fun days in Seldovia hanging out with Matt, including a 7-hour hike up Gradation Peak, overlooking Seldovia and Katchemak bay, during which I realized just how little exercise I got sitting around on a small sailboat all summer, the weather and dad’s work came together in a nearly-perfect window for us to get the rest of the way across the gulf, so at 5:00am dad and I had our bags packed with newly cleaned clothes and the addition of an asymmetrical spinnaker, we boarded our plane to Yakutat, with one stopover in Juneau and an arrival time of 11:00am. Thus started a very trying day. On arrival at Juneau, having crossed the gulf in a little over 45 minutes, we found that the plane couldn’t get to Yakutat because of bad conditions and some work on the runway, so we ended up crossing the gulf again, back to Cordova, then on to anchorage, where we had to turn right around and rush to get on the plane back to Cordova, which in the end, brought us to Yakutat, where the conditions had finally lifted just enough to land.
            So now, back on the boat after my first sojourn away from her all summer, dad and I got busy preparing for the departure, stowing food, filling gas, buying ice, scrubbing the bottom where we could reach it with the boathook, and before we knew it, it was 10:30pm and we had just finished tightening the bolts on the engine mount, so we decided it would probably be best to abandon our plans for leaving that night, and decided to stay and get some real sleep (airplane naps don’t really count).

            We were up bright and early the next morning at 4:00, and were motoring out of the glassy bay, leaving all the fishing boats tied up to the docks astern, weaving around some islands, past a large ship anchored in the bay taking on fish, and finally out past Ocean Cape where Darwind started to roll into a glassy, 8-10 foot groundswell from the south. The calm winds, the last we were to experience until resurrection bay, 300 nautical miles to the west, lasted for only a few hours, and by midday, we had the full main and #2 jib flying, and at around 3:00 in the afternoon, the engine was pulled up out of the water, where it was to remain for the next few hundred miles. Also, around noon, we were visited by a small pod of Dhal porpoise, who seemed to have even more fun playing and surfing in the sizable swell than they did in the calmer water we had previously encountered them in. Once the porpoise moved on, I started to feel the effects of a long day of traveling followed by only a very short rest, so I woke up dad and headed below. By dinner, when we really started to move, I relieved dad, who had been on watch for about 7 hours, and we decided to abandon the more rigid watch schedule of the first part of the gulf crossing for a much more flexible system in which we just relieved the other person when they got too tired or cold to go on much longer, then try to stick it out as long as you can before calling for a relief. It ended up with dad taking some long late-morning/day watches while I slept, then I would come on for most of the night, usually one really long evening watch and one shorter stint in the very early morning. Anyway, as I came up on deck in full foul weather gear around 6:00pm, with the boat doing her best under main and #2 before 15-20 knots of wind from the SE, picking up in the intermittent rain squalls that came down from windward every half hour or so, I felt great, fully rested and totally on top, and to make it even more idyllic, the porpoise came back to give me some company for a bit just as I came on watch.
            Around 9:30, I hailed a large fishing boat overtaking us from astern on the VHF radio, and after making sure that he saw us and was altering course to pass to our south, I watched the big lumbering trawler bound for cold, stormy Dutch Harbor slowly plow past us, plunging and crashing through the swell that we were gliding and bobbing over like, as my dad later described it, “a graceful cork”. It was just getting dark as she passed us, and as she was on almost exactly the same course, for many hours I was able to check Ray’s course by her bright white sternlight, which remained in sight for another four hours. This was our only encounter with another vessel until the far side of the gulf.
            As the first night of this crossing drew in and the horizon, already only a few miles away due to the fog, slowly shrank in around us until there was nothing but the boat, the wind, and the waves, the entire universe seemed to shrink and all that mattered was the bot and the next wave. The only thing visible outside of the boat on this cloudy, moonless night was the occasional white gleam and muted roar of a big wave breaking close by. I have always loved night sailing through the pitch blackness, and every time I experience it, the feeling never fails to amaze and impress me. Also,, this was the first time I had experienced it such a little boat, as on the first part of the gulf crossing we had clear skies and this far north it never really gets dark enough that you cant see the horizon. This time too, as the night came on, so did the wind, until by 10:30 or 11:00 Darwind was surfing along at over 6 knots, dipping the end of her boom into the water with almost every other wave, and causing Ray the autopilot to heave and strain at the tiller in a barely successful attempt at keeping the boat on course. I called up dad, and together we turned the boat into the wind, took in two reefs in the main, then swung the plunging bow back around before the wind to continue on course, still flying along at hull speed, but no longer overpowered, and with longer intervals between the boom going underwater. As it looked like we were doing fine, and I was far too happy to go below, dad went down below again, but soon the wind rose even more until I was forced to lower the #2 jib, for which I had to go up to the foredeck and pull down the sail. By this time the wind was up around 30 knots, the seas were getting pretty mixed up with the newly created six-foot waves from the wind cutting at an angle across the big 10-foot ground swell, while in all this the boat was doing great, rocketing off wave crests, surfing down the faces and throwing wide sheets of spray in every trough. As you can imagine, getting a sail down and secured on deck is quite an adventure in these conditions. First, from the safety of the cockpit, I got ready by moving the tether attached to my life jacket from the D-ring in the cockpit to the windward jackline(lines running for and aft the length of the boat and are used to clip onto in rough weather), then cleared the jib halyard and both sheets. Now came the fun part as I first slacked off on the leeward jib sheet until the sail started to flap, making a sound like a gunshot every time, then I pulled in on the windward sheet a bit to get the sail inboard a bit, and finally, I reached up under the dodger, found the cam cleat for the halyard and released the jib. Now, as the sail lost what little wind it had, it started to flog wildly, the occasional gunshot noise of before becoming the rapid-fire drumming of a machine gun, and I went up on deck. The Darwind is only 28 feet long, and from the cockpit to the foredeck is less than half a dozen steps, but in all that wind, waves and flapping sail, I was forced to crawl along the side deck between the cabin and the lifelines, until I was kneeling on the foredeck, with one foot braced up against the leeward toerail, at times dunked underwater up to my knee, and wrestling with the wet canvass, which was trying its utmost to tear itself free from my grip. I did eventually get the jib down on deck and lashed to the lifelines with some spare line, and once the boat was relieved of the sail and the flailing had finally been quieted, I exulted in the feeling of triumph and freedom out there on the wet foredeck, with my boat under my feet steering herself through all that was thrown at her by the malevolent ocean, leaping on towards her far goal across this rain swept gulf, and I lingered for a bit, just standing there gripping the shrouds, with the wind blowing my soaked hair around my face as I wiped the rain and salt spray from my eyes, and I just stood there and took it all in. And it is that moment, whenever anyone asks me what the best part of the trip was, or even the greatest moment in my life, that was it, standing on the deck of my own boat in a moderate gale, and just living.
            The wind started to mellow out by 4:00am, and as I could barely keep my eyes open, as soon as the clouds showed a slight hint of silvery grey lining, I called down the companionway to wake dad, after which I collapsed on my berth and got a solid 4 hours of sleep before making some late breakfast/lunch and pottering around the cabin a bit. That day, Darwind sailed on between a wet, grey sea and a wet, grey sky under a double reefed main and #2 jib. Dad and I continued to keep a loose watch, and the wind played around with our tossing little boat, sometimes keeping us rolling and yawing from dead astern, other times pinning the boat over on a hard, fast beam reach, but at least it never strayed forward of the beam and remained between 20 and 25 knots. The seas also started to get better by later that day, due to the big 10-foot groundswell from the south starting to die away under the influence of the southeast windwaves, which were building into regular swells themselves.
            That evening, soon after we passed Middleton Rock out of sight and only a few miles off the port beam, we changed course for the first time in over 36 hours, squaring away right before the wind to come onto a slightly more northerly heading to make up for too much southing we had made over the past days in order to make the ride a bit more comfortable. This second night passed much more benignly than the first, with Darwind rolling drunkenly directly before wind and waves under a double reefed main and the trusty #2 jib.
            I also had a much quitter night, confining myself to a reasonable watch of only 5 hours, but I was up before dawn, just as we changed course back to due west in order to stay well clear of the rock-strewn southern point of Montague island. I took this short morning watch, during which dad and I put the third reef back into the main, but left up the #2, then I ducked back down for a few hours. During this time, dad reported the only boarding seas we encountered on this crossing, but he also said that the boat took them easily and though they were all three pooping waves, almost no water entered the cockpit.
            Around midmorning I took over the watch, and within an hour I could see a darkening patch in the fog up ahead and to starboard, which soon resoled itself into the definite features of rugged Montague Island, before the brief glimpse of land was obliterated by the next rainsquall. This was the first land we had sighted since leaving Yakutat, even though for the entire voyage we were never more than 50 or 60 nautical miles from land, and with the 15,000 foot peaks of the St Elias and Alaska range mountains, in clear weather we wouldn’t have been even close to being over the horizon. In fact, I almost resented this intrusion into the featureless ocean, as a great lump of dirty rock trespassing into Darwind and I’s little universe, proof that the voyage was almost over and that the long-forgotten land actually still existed. As we approached the crags of land, the wind started to pick up, as did the seas, and one of the first things I did when I came on watch was to go up on deck to douse the jib, though halfway through this exercise, Darwind suddenly took one of the huge, building seas right on her beam, and then the mainsail gave a shudder that sounded like the a machinegun going off, and I realized that Ray, the autopilot must have fallen off the tiller while trying to deal with enormous amounts of weatherhelm created by the surfing conditions we were experiencing. I yanked down the last bit of sodden jib, then scrambled back to the cockpit where I shoved the outmatched autopilot into a corner of the cockpit and took the tiller, bringing Darwind back on course and surfing down the faces of some truly huge waves, just barely under control under only the triple reefed main.
            I hand-steered Darwind for the next 2 hours, reveling in every moment of wild surfing, until we were around the Island, and the waves died down in its lee, though the wind, hovering right around 30 knots, was still howling down out of Price William sound, directly across our course. This was too good an opportunity to pass up: all that wind but practically none of the usual waves that make a boat so hard to control. As soon as I was sure Ray could handle it, I plugged it back in and went back up onto the foredeck to clear the #2 again, unfortunately, the wind proved to be a bit too strong for the extra sail, but as I didn’t want to sacrifice half a knot of speed towards our destination, (by now I had a serious case of channel fever, despite my earlier reluctance) so I went below to dig out the storm staysail, which I spent 15 minutes rigging before I could get it up and drawing. Unfortunately, in the unthinkingness of channel fever, I forgot to tie stopper knots in the sheets, and as soon as the sail was up, the heavy flogging of even this small, immensely heavy sail tore the sheet from my hand and soon had it hopelessly twined around the shrouds, lifelines, and itself, so that I had to go up on deck and try to sort that mess out, which though it didn’t take very long, was extremely unpleasant and painful, with the sail still flapping with enough force to leave a bruise, and the sheets I was trying to untangle were even worse. Eventually, with the help of quite a lot of four-letter words, both sheets were led back to the cockpit with a figure-eight in the end of each, and the addition of the tiny sail soon had Darwind sailing faster than she ever had before, leaping across the choppy water like a racehorse, sheeting spray all along the decks, and rarely taking her port rail out of the water for more than a few seconds at a time.
            I was having so much fun, and was so infected with channel fever, that I stayed on, coaxing every last fraction of a knot out of the boat, for 10 hours, before the cold and wet finally got to me, and I went below, giving dad instructions to wake me when we were approaching the entrance to resurrection bay. Almost as soon as I had peeled off my foul weather gear, the wind, which had blown steadily at around 30 knots for the past 10 hours, suddenly dropped, until we were just bobbing along and dad was actually forced to start the engine, after shaking out all of the reef points and raising the #2 yet again. However, as soon as he had gotten the motor going and the boat underway, the wind came back at 20 knots for just long enough to kill the engine and get it back up on deck. After that I went to sleep, but dad told me that the same thing happened four more times, but that he had had enough wind to sail beautifully around the point into resurrection bay before the wind died and he put the motor back on, completely forgetting to wake me until we were less than ½ a mile from our friend’s dock in Humpy Cove, and he only called down for me at the last moment to ask where the fenders and docklines were! Anyway, we got all the fenders and lines rigged, pulled up to the tiny float at a friend’s vacant cabin, and promptly collapsed.
            That whole evening, from 5:25pm when we tied up, until we went to sleep, we did nothing but cook the most delicious meal of beef tenderloin and baked potatoes and relax. After what they had been through over the past three days, we figured the sails and rigging could wait 12 hours at a quiet anchorage. Shortly after dinner, and once we had both settled down into our luxuriously still bunks in the perfectly silent and deserted cove, we were confused to hear footsteps on deck, which I at first though must be dad, until he called back to ask me what I was doing up on deck. At that I jumped up and soon discovered the trespassers to be a family of river otters come to check out the new extension to their dock (it now became apparent why the weathered wood had been so slippery). I ducked back down, and grabbed the good camera to take some pictures, and despite their reputation of extremely shy animals, the otters seemed more curious than scared, and one even seemed to be challenging me. After watching them for a few minutes they seemed to get bored and all 7 of them jumped back into the water and swam off to another float across the cove. All in all, we had a pretty good ending to an almost perfect crossing.
Porpoise on the first day


At the helm in 30+ knots and having fun!

Sailing through 30 knot winds on the last day

Tied up to Jean's dock in Humpy Cove after a long passage

Tieing up at the Kirkpatrick's the next day. The crossing is officially over

Day 40, 41, and 42 (7/06-7/08) Gulf Crossing Part I



After 4 days of living alone in Hoonah, one of sailing alone to Elfin Cove, where I met and had dinner with the people aboard a motoryacht, at 11:00am, as I was lugging 9 gallons of gas along the boardwalks of the tiny community from the gas station to the marina, there was the roar of a small plane, and a few minutes later a blue-and yellow seaplane tied up to the end of the dock, where a bag of mail, two dry bags of clothes, and dad greeted me (the bag of mail was for the community post office of Elfin Cove, not me). Almost as soon as dad stepped aboard, it seemed we ere off the dock, with only a short pause to stow his bags, buy some last-minute provisions at the general store, and grab a bite to eat.
            The day was bright and sunny, but also calm, as we motored out past the protection of the inside passage for the last time, and Darwind began to feel a regular ocean swell start to roll in from the south. As we exited Icy strait, we were hailed first by the motoryacht I had dined aboard last night, then by another sailboat, I believe from Australia, headed south after a windless gulf crossing. Also, as we entered the open ocean, I impatiently waited until we had for the first time a clear horizon to the south, where I could practice using a sextant on a moving boat for the fist time in my life. To do this, I first familiarized myself with bringing the sun down to the horizon by swinging the index arm and aligning the mirrors. This proved more difficult than one would expect, even motoring along over a gentle groundswell on a perfectly cam day. Eventually, I found the perfect spot, standing with one foot planted on the cockpit seat and the other braced up around one of the supports for the stern arch that carries Darwind’s primary solar panel and wind generator, and around 2:30pm, I took a series of sights, carefully noting the time down to the second. I then waited and relaxed in the sun, trying to blot out the sickening drone of the engine and watching for kelp and logs as dad took an off-watch.
            For this passage, I had set up at watch schedule of 2 6-hour watches during the day and 3 4-hour watches at night. That way, by keeping to a watch-on/watch-off system, neither one of us would have the same watch twice in a day, and every other day one of us would get only 1 night watch instead of 2.
            Anyway, around 6:00pm, I took another set of sights, and picking the best from both sets, I sat down at the nav station to crunch the numbers. After two exhausting hours of searching through cryptic instructions, panning back and forth through the massive reduction tables and nautical almanacs stored on my computer, picking dad’s brain for anything he remembered from the merchant marine academy, and finally looking it up in an ancient textbook, I had everything added, subtracted, the proper errors and declinations factored in, azimuths calculated, all to the sweet accompaniment of the engine and inverter, and I was finally ready for the fun part: plotting. First I took out a clean plotting sheet (basically a giant compass rose with some blank latitude lines), where I first plotted the evening sight, ending up with a line of position (LOP), crossing the paper at about an 45 degree angle. I could be anywhere along that line, which continues on or thousands of miles making a circle of the earth, but that’s where the first early afternoon sight comes in. after plotting it’s LOP, which was nearly horizontal (A noon LOP is your latitude), and then it was the simple matter of advancing that LOP the number of miles we had traveled between the sights, in this case around 8 nautical miles due west (our course), and the point where the two LOP’s cross is our position at the time of the second sight. It turned out that in the end, after comparing my result to our GPS position at the time of the second sight (which I took note of for precisely this purpose, I was only 10nm off! Pretty damn good for my first running sight ever!
            After having fun with the sextant and recovering from the queasiness induced doing math below decks in sizeable swells, something I had noted when attempting to do math(or any) homework on passage, dad cooked up a good pasta dinner, and then I ducked below while he relieved me for the first night watch. There had been absolutely no wind all day, and there still wasn’t anything at 10:00 when I came on for the middle watch until 2:00am, and the sun was just setting behind the icy peaks ahead and to the north. That night, though the motor was still churning away, I looked forward to my first night passage on my boat, as I have always loves sailing through the pitch-black night, but I was to be disappointed because just as I finally thought the orange tinge had gone from the north-western sky, the north-east started to brighten into a pre-dawn grey. All this light is all well and good for spotting logs, but I was sorely disappointed at being cheated of my night sailing.
            The next morning, all during my first long day-watch, we were toyed with by teasing winds from the south, north and occasionally west, causing a ray of hope as the slack mainsail, raised to dampen the rolling, filled ad we started to move perceptibly faster and faster… until the wind died away to nothing again as soon as we started to even think about the mere possibility of maybe throttling down the engine a bit.
            By noon, when dad relieved me, we had a bit of some northwest wind, but like all the other zephyrs of the morning, we assumed it would soon die away into a flat calm. This was not to be. By that evening, when I came on for the first night watch, we were beating right into the teeth of 25-30 knots of wind from the NW, which soon kicked up a nasty 6-foot chop, which Darwind slammed and shuddered into, loosing all but the faintest memory of forward motion, on top of which, the double forestays, never quite as tight as a single one would be, bowed before the wind, created a nasty belly in the jib which reduced our already limited pointing ability to nearly 60 degrees off the wind! Dad and I tried to do everything we knew how to ease her; we headed offshore on one long tack, searching for less seas in the deeper water, but the wind just got stronger and the waves higher farther out, so we tacked, before trying to change the triple-reefed main and #2 jib for a double-reefed main and storm staysail, but that actually slowed Darwind down to almost a compete stop so back up went trusty #2, slightly overpowering, but better than wallowing in the troughs making half a knot in the wrong direction. That night though, as we steered the boat on by hand to try eke the most out of every favorable gust or wave, however, I felt great, sailing into the sunset, ith beautiful, rugged mountains reaching high to starboard, the open ocean rolling under the keel from port, and the wind and high-flung spray whistling back into my face. It was then that I discovered something truly amazing about the personality of Darwind, and that is that on the wind, with properly trimmed and balanced sails, she will steer herself better than any autopilot ever made. I discovered this just about the middle of my watch, around 8:00, when having very badly to take a piss, I said hell with it and just let go of the tiller for 30 seconds while I did my thing. When I got back in the cockpit, I was surprised to find the boat still exactly on course, which can be expected for a bit, but usually the boat eventually drifts either onto or off the wind, according to her design or sail trim, but this Darwind simply refused to do. I didn’t touch the tiller for over 10 minutes, but I watched, transfixed as it lazily swung back and forth with the roll and the boat took absolutely no notice, her long, straight keel and apparently perfectly balanced sails kept her never more than 10 or 15 degrees off course, about what you would expect from a high-end electronic autopilot. The only reason I eventually did grab the tiller again in the end was because the tiller was starting to bang around on the cockpit seats quite a bit, and a stronger puff of wind needed to be taken advantage of, and despite her brilliant qualities, Darwind still couldn’t quite know how to bear off in a lull and up in a gust to get every last fraction of a knot towards our revised goal of Yakutat, only 30 nautical miles away as the crow flies.
            The wind continued all of that night, but for the first part, I was having so much fun sailing Darwind to her utmost, that I even took an extra 2 hours on my first night watch, which looking back, might have been a contributing factor to my mood the next morning. The next morning the conditions were almost exactly the same as the previous evening: we were barely any closer to Yakutat, the wind was still howling in our face, and we were barely moving. The only difference was that today it was raining and overcast, and if anything the seas were bigger. Yippie. In fact, I was so annoyed that in the last 18 hours we had made only about half of he 30 miles to Yakutat, that for almost my entire morning watch, I gave in, put down the engine, seas or no seas, dropped the jib, and pounded straight into it. Actually, t probably wasn’t as bad as all that, or the engine would have been next to useless, cavitating and submerging with every wave, but the rain and greyness made it seem that way.
            Also, as we slowly pounded our way towards Ocean Cape and the shelter of Yakutat bay, the famous surf crashing on the beaches became louder and louder, but by the time dad came on watch to relieve me, I was to wet, tired and miserable to care, and I didn’t even get up as we passed over the bar, or even until we were nearly at the dock and needed to rig fenders and docklines.
            At Yakutat, tied up to the old wooded docks at the small boat harbor, a mile’s walk from the nearest store, we were greeted by friendly fishermen and eventually the “harbormaster” who both assured us that the spot we were in was fine and we could probably leave the bot there, until one of the fishermen remembered that a big charter boat always comes in to that spot, and that we should better move, so we moves around to the outside transient dock, across from the pilot boat that had taken us out for a ride the first time we had visited Yakutat on Northern Passage, and the only other sailboat in the harbor, which looked like it hadn’t moved in decades. The next day, after a blessed 12 hours of sleep, dad and I got up and after following instructions to the glass door bar, where we ate the worst food imaginable, and got online with the slowest internet I have ever used, to look at the weather forecasts to see if this northwest wind would last, and unfortunately, it looked like it would be sticking around for at least a week, so we decided to take this chance and return to Anchorage. This would be my first time back and the first time I had spent off the boat all summer, but my cousin Matthew was flying up from Connecticut in a few days, (we had hoped to meet him on the boat in Seward or Wittier) and it would be good to have a week off, maybe even spend some time on the Lynx and head down to Seldovia. So we spent the next day putting everything to bed on the boat, during the mad scramble of which, I ran two or three miles to three stores in an attempt to find a lock for the companionway, and had my first experience hitchhiking on my way back, then we were in the one cab in Yakutat, which charges $20 no matter if you’re going across the street or to the other end of town and back, and finally we were on the 11:00 plane to Anchorage.
Taking a sight


Tools of the trade

Sunset on Darwind's first night at sea

Day 39 (7/05)

Coming soon, sorry for the delay