From the Galley: Salmon Salad with Lemon-Dill Dressing

Porter and I with a nice coho.

There are no two ways about it, we love salmon. Catching it, eating it, we love this tasty gift from the sea.

Fortunately, thanks to generous Alaskan fisherman who took a liking to our boys, plus catching our own, we’ve been up to our ears in fresh salmon lately. So much so that we’ve been trying hard to find different recipes and ways of preparing it than we ever have.

Porter with a fresh gift from our friends on the Beverlee J. Thanks, guys!

To move away from our tried and true salmon dishes, we turned to our favorite cookbooks we have aboard: San Juan Classics and San Juan Classics II by Dawn Ashbach and Janice Veal. We made the following recipe on a “hot” summer day here in Alaska and it was perfectly enjoyed in the cockpit with a glass of chilled rosé (boxed, of course). How’s that for fancy! Continue reading From the Galley: Salmon Salad with Lemon-Dill Dressing

A cruiser’s case of the Mondays

Blasting into a sudden 15 to 25 knot northerly towards the Kenai Peninsula, Yahtzee heeled sharply to starboard with the wind. Cutting through a steep chop, white water pushed off the bow and I did my best to steer us through it to windward.

With a steady rain soaking me, I could barely see wave sets through my sodden glasses let alone the tell tales on the genoa. It was somewhere around four in the morning on Monday and I’d just told Jill I’d take her watch, she could stay below to sleep with the boys instead of coming on deck in this mess. She didn’t need to deal with this. I did.

With daylight arriving in earnest, the miles wore on and I tried to keep my mind in the game. We’d already come 120 miles from Afognak Island, north of Kodiak, and there was no turning around, no pulling in somewhere for rest. Not yet, anyway.

Gripping the helm with cold bare hands, rain still pounding hard on deck and running down the inside of my jacket, my mood turned sour. I cursed the wind: it was supposed to be south. I cursed the rain: it was supposed to be clear. I cursed our blownout sails that were struggling to keep us pointing to windward: they were supposed to be moving Yahtzee to weather like I knew they should.

But then I stopped myself. Snapped out of it. “Weather? Who cares. I don’t. Sail the boat, Andy. Embrace it.” I told myself while wiping drops of rain from my face.

We weren’t in any danger and the conditions weren’t that bad. It just wasn’t what I’d expected. Plus, this was sailing. I was doing what I love with the people I love.

In essence, I decided, it was the cruiser’s version of a “case of the Mondays”. And on we went.

Weaving through tall, rocky islands off the Kenai Peninsula a couple hours and cups of coffee later, I turned to the south to look back across the Gulf of Alaska. Much to my surprise, I watched as the trailing edge of the rain moved over us to reveal bursts of sunshine. With the passing of the rain, the wind did an abrupt about-face and switched to the south. Because of course it did.

Reaching now under a morning sun that dried me and the cockpit, all I could do was laugh at the whole situation. The unpredictable weather had humbled me. Proving once again that it makes the rules, I play by them.

A dreamy 500-mile passage from Sitka to Kodiak Island

Leaving Mt. Edgecumbe and Southeast Alaska in our wake.

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.

Yahtzee’s track across the Gulf of Alaska.

Continue reading A dreamy 500-mile passage from Sitka to Kodiak Island

What to bring when cruising Southeast Alaska

It has been over two months since we crossed the border from British Columbia into the great state of Alaska. From Ketchikan to Sitka, Glacier Bay to Skagway, Juneau to Ford’s Terror, and everything in between, we’ve been in constant awe of this immense cruising ground.

Yahtzee’s track since arriving in Southeast Alaska.

It’s easy to see why cruisers come here year after year to explore the many nooks and crannies that the wilds of Alaska have to offer. For many newcomers, though, questions abound about logistics, routing, itineraries, provisions and more. While we’re certainly not veterans of the area, and we know that many people have different ways of making the voyage work for them, their boat and crew, here are a few things we suggest bringing when planning a cruise to Southeast Alaska (and one thing not to bring).

A Reliable Engine:

The bottom line is that you’re not getting far in Southeast Alaska without a reliable engine. Of course, we always hope to sail as much as possible, and did so to get here, but the fact of cruising Alaska in the late spring and summer is that there are quite a few days of no wind, light wind or wind directly on the nose.

Apart from the wind, current is king. If you don’t play it right, you’re not getting very far very fast, or you could find yourself in some exceptionally dangerous situations. Yahtzee can be painfully slow under power, and sails much faster, but whether we’re sailing or motoring, we always pay close attention to the current and use it to our advantage whenever possible. Continue reading What to bring when cruising Southeast Alaska

Paradise found at the amazing Ford’s Terror

It’s June and I’m cold. A heavy rain pelts my black Musto jacket and I pull the brim of the hood down slightly to let water drip off. I watch the drops fall on the toes of my boots, roll off and disappear onto the cockpit floor. Looking up, I scan the water in front of Yahtzee and see nothing but grey. Well, there are white caps whipped up by a brisk wind, but other than that it’s all shades of grey — water, clouds, rocks, mountains.

Clenching my hands together into a loose ball, I bring them to my mouth and blow a steady breath inside for warmth. It does little. I was warm yesterday. Hot, even. And I know it will come again. Maybe in 10 minutes when this squall passes.

Sure enough, the precipitation turns from a downpour to a steady rain to a surly drip. Then it stops. A patch of blue sky breaks over Stephens Passage and within minutes I’m closing my eyes, lifting my face to the sun. Smiling.

Rain, sun, wind, no wind. Rain, sun, wind, no wind. This is the end of spring in Southeast Alaska and I love it. There’s no place I’d rather be.

That night the rain pounds hard on deck and I lay awake, listening. When the alarm goes off at 5 a.m. I’m thinking about the tide instead. It’s low and we need to move 25 miles up Endicott Arm with the flood to catch it high and slack at the entrance to Ford’s Terror. I’ve built in extra time and go through my daily engine checks leisurely. Water is on the stove for coffee when I climb on deck to hoist the anchor. I find patches of blue sky breaking over white mountain tops and am happy yet not surprised.

Nearing the entrance to the long fjord we pass a massive iceberg that we stopped to admire the day before. Leaving it on our starboard side, I think about Jill and the boys paddling around it just twelve hours earlier and how much it has changed and how far it has drifted since then. A metaphor for life. It’s much smaller and in a completely different place. The brilliant blue emanating from its craggy shape is still breathtaking and its color is something that truly can’t be duplicated.

Continue reading Paradise found at the amazing Ford’s Terror

End of the line | A journey up Lynn Canal and beyond

Brakes hissed, horn sounded. The train lurched slowly forward away from Skagway towards the mountains. With a clickety-clack, clackety-click, we climbed from sea level up through forests and dark tunnels, around cliffs, over bridges and past craggy, snow-capped peaks before reaching 3,000-foot White Pass.

All the while, we gently rocked back and forth with the rhythm of the tracks and the boys looked out the windows with wide-eyed excitement. Up, up, up. Pointing, laughing and non-stop talking, you’d think they’d been waiting for this moment their entire lives.

The boys watch the scenery go by.
Skagway is far down the valley.

Continue reading End of the line | A journey up Lynn Canal and beyond

Cruising realities: Mastering the shoreside transition dance

Stepping from the marina parking lot onto the sidewalk, cars rushed by in a flash and I felt my heart beat a bit faster. Rain pounded on the hard pavement, the stench of exhaust hung in the air and I winced at the noise. It had been over three weeks since we’d stopped in a place with so much traffic and it put me on edge.

Later, I was nearly run over stepping into a crosswalk when a driver ran a red light while texting. I was instantly shell shocked, as was the man next to me. I turned to him and said with wide eyes and a lump in my throat, “Wow, life can change in an instant. Live it every day.”

“I can’t believe that just happened,” he replied with an apprehensive chuckle.

In the moment, I felt safer offshore on Yahtzee in a gale than I did in this madness — I wanted to retreat to the sea.

The unease of life ashore didn’t come from traffic alone, though. Moving from the tranquil, subdued sounds of the mountains and ocean to bustling cities and towns is always an all around feast for the senses. These fast-moving places are a whirlwind of activity where advertising is seemingly everywhere, begging us to “Buy NOW!” And when unnerving glimpses of the “real world” are caught, they can be of things we don’t often think about in the course of our normal cruising lives — contradictory news outlets, horrifying acts of terrorism, an embarrassing government in disarray, trashy celebrity gossip and the drone of sports coverage. To be bombarded with all of this creates an anxiety that we’ve felt before and know well.

Cars can be overwhelming,…
…we prefer this type of city traffic.

Continue reading Cruising realities: Mastering the shoreside transition dance

Glacier Bay | Taking time to watch the world

While Yahtzee leaned gently with the wind, I stood on the edge of the cockpit and took a long, awe-inspired look at my surroundings — mountains, trees, islands, animals, water. A wide smile spread across my face.

The breeze played with my hood as I spun 360-degrees, basking in the grandeur and pristine world that lives within the borders of this hallowed place. It had been a week since we entered Glacier National Park and Preserve and with each passing moment, I’d come to realize that I was experiencing the world around me in a deeper, more ethereal way than I ever have. We all were. 

Blue skies and mountain views were a mainstay during our 10 days in Glacier Bay.

The park itself is immensely hard to describe in words or pictures, let alone the experience we had, and I can’t accurately provide a day-to-day rundown of our time there. It just wouldn’t do it justice. The concept of time was immaterial and our week unfolded from one anchorage to the next during a magical spell of warm weather, sunny skies, light breezes and just enough gentle rain to make wildflowers pop in bloom.

We spotted humpback whales everyday, multiple times a day, and many times while in the comfort of an anchorage. Bears roamed shorelines. Wolves watched us from a distance. Birds sang. Eagles soared. Oystercatchers squawked. Arctic loons cooed. Mountain goats munched on grassy cliffs. Porpoises dove. Sea lions hunted. Seals sneezed. Sea otters played.

A large brown bear that we watched from the safety of our kayak.

Continue reading Glacier Bay | Taking time to watch the world

A whale of a time at White Sulfur Springs

“WHALE! There it is!” Jill shouted while pointing ahead of the bow.

Mere boat lengths in front of us rose the unmistakable fin of a humpback whale and I steered quickly to starboard to get Yahtzee out of its path. Just then, its massive tail gracefully broke the water close off our port side, arched skyward and then disappeared into the sea.

All of us looked at each other with huge eyes and shared a frenzied few minutes of, “Oh my … I can’t believe that just happened!” while replaying the event over and over, and from our different perspectives.

I’ve never been that close to a whale in the wild and to do it while sailing at 7.5 knots with a decent sea running was incredible. We didn’t see this one coming across our bow until the last second and, in retrospect, I wish I’d had the GoPro running to capture the moment. It was one of those sea stories that will forever be etched in my memory.

A humpback surfaces off our port bow near Mirror Harbor.

Early the next morning we were up to catch high tide and humpbacks surrounded us on our approach to Mirror Harbor on the west side of Chichagof Island. With no wind and little swell running, the scene was far less dramatic yet equally as stunning to be a part of and we watched them surface and give a spout before diving in search of breakfast.

Leaving the whales in our wake, we reached the narrow, rocky entrance to this diminutive harbor only to find it completely choked with kelp. Approaching slowly, Jill stood at the bow and I nosed Yahtzee forward before realizing that, to attempt a passage over the forest would be a fool’s errand. It was too late. Continue reading A whale of a time at White Sulfur Springs

A new favorite port | Sitka

Sitka, Alaska is a flat out cool spot. Pulling into the harbor’s western anchorage through the breakwater, we could instantly tell the place was special. On our approach from the north after spending a quiet night in a nearby cove, Jill and I remarked to each other about how beautiful the town appeared to be from the water. With sun gleaming off of craggy, snowcapped mountains that seemed to shoot straight up from the city’s subdued skyline, and tall, green conifers growing thick underneath it all, there was just something about the scene that instantly captured the senses.

The mountains arrived as we did.

After rounding the top of Baranof Island en route from Warm Springs Bay and stopping at a handful of anchorages along the way, it had been over three weeks since we left Ketchikan and Yahtzee and her crew were in need of a good stock up and cleaning. If there ever was a place to enjoy some time ashore, get things done and eat a few good meals, our five days in Sitka was it.

The view from our slip was hard to beat.

Continue reading A new favorite port | Sitka