Outbound and nearing the end of the Seward breakwater, we needed to get the mainsail up quick. With a 15-knot southerly breeze on the nose and a building chop, Yahtzee limped along at under two knots, yearning to get out of the channel and into open water.
When the main was up, we fell off onto starboard tack away from shore and our nerves abated. The engine went off in quick order and the jib got unfurled with a snap. Yahtzee’s boatspeed was soon up and we tucked in the first tack of many while beating down the western shoreline of Resurrection Bay. Such has been life aboard Yahtzee these days. Without the ability to fully power the boat with our engine we’ve been sailing everywhere, waiting for breeze and taking what we get — as a sailboat should, really. But we know we can’t do that forever.
Which leads me to this: our transmission troubles have led us to the decision to re-power Yahtzee. A big, expensive task, to be sure, but one that is necessary for a whole lot of reasons.
When we took a thorough dive into our ailing tranny back in the spring, my usual optimism quickly faded. It was ultimately decided that in order to properly diagnose and fix the transmission and sail drive, we’d have to pull the boat out of the water and then take the entire unit apart from the engine and out of the boat. From there a mechanic could rebuild it … maybe. As one would imagine, that option would not be cheap. And in all actuality, could very likely be the same price as a new sail drive.
From there I steered the conversation towards our engine. Old Blue is 34-years-old and has been a problem several times since we’ve owned the boat. Its efficiency has been waning in recent years too and when talk of a rebuild entered the overall picture, my thoughts turned in a different direction. Time to re-power.
Putting a new engine in the boat has been something I’ve been thinking about and researching for a couple years. The bottom line is that we want to own and cruise Yahtzee for years to come, so re-powering would become inevitable anyway as miles passed our keel and the engine hours stacked up.
Essentially, we’re choosing to stop throwing money at engine and transmission problems every year or two. Also, we’re paying for peace-of-mind instead of constantly worrying about what’s going to fail next on the engine and how much it’s going to cost. Which is something that has been in the back of my mind while cruising in such remote places the past few years.
As I write this, a new Beta 50 with sail drive is being assemble for Yahtzee in North Carolina. It will soon find its way west to Seattle before getting on a ship to Alaska. My plan is to get the old engine out and the engine compartment refurbished early this fall. And then we’ll get going on putting our new power plant in when we move into another cabin for the winter here in Seward. It’s a huge undertaking, but one that will make our boat better in the long run. And that’s really what it’s all about.
I just finished competing in the Race to Alaska, which is a 750-mile, unsupported, engine-less race from Port Townsend, Washington to Ketchikan, Alaska. Here’s the final installation of my race recaps (read it all here).
The Race to Alaska is over for Team Wild Card and many others, and I have to say, the experience was truly incredible. Actually, it’s hard to even put it into words.
I’m sitting at the nav desk on Yahtzee in Seward, Alaska replaying so much of it over in my mind. The holes of no wind. The breeze when it did come. The heat. The downright wicked currents. The pedaling. The sailing. The friends. Going from 14th to 1st place in a 24 hour period and then holding first for a day-and-half. Pooping in a bucket. Finishing in Ketchikan after absolutely sending it in 20+ knots of breeze with our big asymmetrical spinnaker flying. Now that was some exhilarating, adrenaline pumping fun right there!
Never in my wildest dreams did I think our team would take a 1978 Santa Cruz 27 purchased from Craigslist and then go out and compete at the top of the R2AK fleet. I owe a lot to my teammates, each of them incredible sailors in their own right. Each with a set of skills that really came together throughout the race. And we had a ton of fun doing it every single day.
Now that the exhilaration of finishing is wearing off, I’m also going back to my decision making as the tactician of Wild Card. Every hour of every day, I was thinking about how to make that boat go fast. I knew there was no way a SC27 that had been sailed a total of once with this crew before the race, could go toe-to-toe with a Melges 32 or even an Olson 30, let alone many of the trimarans. Accordingly, I had to throw Hail Mary’s all over the course with the knowledge that some would land and others wouldn’t. I tried my hardest to keep us out front and, needless to say, I didn’t sleep much throughout those seven days at sea.
It’s easy for me to sit here now and second guess some of the calls I made and how they were subsequently handled. But that happens to any tactician on any given race. It has happened to me before and it will happen again. When all the conclusions are drawn in my mind, I honestly can’t believe we got to lead so many other fast boats with fine sailors aboard to Alaska for even part of the time. I’m very happy with third place. I’m happy to just have been apart of everything that is the Race to Alaska.
At its core, the idea that so many racers in all manner of craft can cover the distance from Port Townsend, Washington to Ketchikan, Alaska without engines is pretty wild. I’ve cruised it and raced it now, and will never think of it the same again. But what the Race to Alaska is — more than anything — is an absolute raucous adventure. Sure it’s sailboat racing, but it’s more than that. What makes it so unique is that it taps into the wild, raw and adventurous spirit of everyone who enters, everyone who follows along on the tracker and even those who become just casual fans. And that, right there, is priceless.
Along with my crew mates Mark Aberle, Mike Descheemaeker and Robert Robinson, we have a whole lot of other people to thank for making Wild Card’s R2AK adventure possible. First off, to our families and significant others, thank you! To our friends that encouraged us, followed along and cheered us on, cheers! To the fans we gained along the way and rooted us on via the tracker and on our Facebook page, thank you! To one hell of a sailmaker, friend and SC27 guru, Alex Simanis and everyone at Ballard Sails, you guys had us flying — thank you! And to all the competitors, volunteers and employees who make something like the Race to Alaska possible, a truly unending amount of thank yous!
I awoke to the sound of small feet pitter-pattering their way toward my bunk. Jill had left an hour earlier for work and I knew who was coming. Soon, Magnus crawled up to port of me and I threw the warm blankets over him as he said, “Good morning, Dad.”
In that moment, I truly felt home — back to the life we love.
The slog of moving our stuff from the rental cabin in the woods back down to the marina is finally over. Actually, it was over a few weeks ago. But we’ve been taking our timing getting settled, making new routines and reaquiaintimg ourselves with the space in Yahtzee’s cabin.
While moving all the clothes, toys, tools, books, dishes and food aboard, we’ve found ourselves increasingly happy with the work we completed to the boat’s interior over the winter. The goal of moving off to make Yahtzee better was certainly achieved, and then some.
The two new drawers I crafted in the aft head way back in the late fall have swallowed toiletries and opened up storage in other parts of the boat. And a new system of storage for the boys’ clothes in the the V-berth has opened up space there, too. It’s amazing how taking everything off the boat has allowed us to come back with an eye toward utilizing our space more effectively. And we even devised some creative new storage solutions on the fly during the move-in process — which is always a plus on a 40-foot boat that houses four sailors.
All the nitty gritty of moving aside, my favorite part of returning to Yahtzee has been watching the boys’ overwhelming excitement at being home again. Whether it’s climbing around on deck, taking off for a paddle in the kayak or helping me with projects, they truly haven’t skipped a beat. After all, this is the place they’ve each know since they were hours old. When I asked Porter what his favorite part about being back on the boat was, he turned quiet then said with a glowing smile, “I don’t know, everything, I just love being home.”
That summed it up perfectly. After a winter ashore, we’re all loving being home.
For us, living on Yahtzee and the dream of cruising far-and-wide has never had a time stamp on it. The one year, two year, five year, etc, plan isn’t something we’ve ever thought about. And now, after six years of owning Yahtzee, we know more than ever that this latest chapter in our family adventure is a worthwhile one. This is our life, our dream, and we’ll continue to strive for and live it to the fullest with our feet set in the present and our eyes turned toward the horizon. But we also know that no matter where we are, home is where the boat is.
An inevitable purchase finally happened for the crew of Yahtzee. After owning our beloved home for over six years and doing a substantial amount of cruising, we finally got two things we’ve never had before: a rigid-hulled inflatable dinghy (RIB) and an outboard engine.
Some may wonder how it took so long, and the truth is that it was a combination of being content with what we’ve made work and price. Our first dinghy came with Yahtzee. It was an awkwardly rowing inflatable with a soft floor and no real transom to mount an engine. We always knew that it wouldn’t be suitable for more than two adults so when we got our family kayak (two adult seats, one child’s seat), we found the inflatable a better home.
The kayak then became our sole landing craft and has worked exceptionally well over many years, miles and adventures. Surprising well, actually. As our family grew, though, it too could only take us so far. Next came the 8-foot sailing and rowing dinghy to help carry our four-person crew. It has also proven to be sufficient, and is super fun to sail. Then came our standup paddleboard, which was a great addition to the fleet as well.
The thing about all these tenders is that, in the Pacific Northwest, we’ve rarely had to travel very far from where Yahtzee was anchored to shore — which is a luxury compared to many cruising grounds around the world. Sure, have there been times when we could have zipped 10 to 20 miles in a fast dinghy to a glacier, beach or even a grocery store? The honest answer is yes. But we couldn’t, until now.
With the boys getting physically larger and our cruising plans evolving to Alaska and beyond (yes, south!), we finally gave in to what we’ve always known: our family will greatly benefit from a boat that can safely hold us all and travel farther and faster. Happily, we’re already enjoying the fruits of our decision.
What we did and did not want:
The learning process about powerboats and dinghies started when my grandmother first taught me to drive one (I think I was about 10). Years of experience cruising on the east coast and in Florida, the Bahamas and Caribbean then refined my thoughts on what I wanted in a proper tender — and since that time Jill and I have used many different types and have researched many others. After all, a dinghy is a cruiser’s “car”, which means buying one isn’t a task that should be taken lightly. It’s also a task that is different for every boater, as you have to know what your specific constraints and needs are.
Our list of requirements for a new tender were:
Had to be a RIB (Rigid-hulled Inflatable Boat); aluminum preferred, no inflatable hulls or wooden floors
Had to have Hypalon tubes over PVC (Hypalon is more durable and weather resistant)
Had to fit at least four adults with a modest amount of gear
Had to be less than 10 feet to fit on Yahtzee’s foredeck
Had to have an engine to get the boat on plane
What we got: The path to the dinghy we actually bought came with remarkable ease and timing. Had it not, we’d still be looking. When I found out that my friend and fellow editor at Three Sheets, Marty, was getting ready to buy a dinghy at an auction last fall in Seattle, I texted to let him know we were interested. Knowing that Marty’s list of requirements paralleled ours, I hoped we could both come away with something at a fair price.
Sure enough, Marty scored. He came home with two brand new dinghies still in their original packaging, and Jill and I bought one. As luck would have it, the new dinghy literally ticked every box on our list of requirements. It’s a 9-foot, aluminum-hulled AquaPro that holds our family and more.
Then, when I was down in Seattle in January for the boat show, I arranged for it to be put on a ship in Tacoma and sent to Anchorage. Easy as that. Later that weekend out of sheer curiosity while at the show, I walked around looking at dinghies that had the same specs as ours. To my pleasant surprise, I learned that we paid half the amount of a similar “boat show priced” dinghy.
After our new boat’s journey to Alaska, we finally dropped her in the water and, thus far, we’re very happy with the boat and engine.
Engine-wise, we tend to agree with our good buddy Sam Landsman of Slowboat.com, who lives by the mantra, “Slow boat, fast dinghy.” Meaning a relatively slow moving liveaboard cruiser like a sailboat or trawler is enhanced with a fast dinghy as a car. In our minds, and experience, if you’re going to buy a RIB, it has to be pushed by an engine that can really make it get-up-and-go.It has to plane.
For us, that meant electric outboards were out, so too were the tiny 2.5 hp outboards that barely get the boat moving, let alone up on plane. A 6 hp engine would probably get the boat going with one or two people aboard, but with four, plus gear and provisions, the obvious choice was to go with a 9.9 hp or more.
At first I looked at new engines, but then realized that we lived in a place where used 9.9 hp outboards are actually readily available. Many local fisherman use them as “kickers” on their boats, and when I went searching through Craiglist and on the Facebook Marketplace, I quickly found exactly what I was looking for: an early 90s two-stoke Johnson 9.9. These engines are timeless, relatively light, easy to work on and, as a mechanic friend put it, “those engines are bulletproof.”
After a Facebook live video of the engine running, I met the owner and took it off his hands for a screaming deal. Once again, easy as that. And I’m happy to report that the engine purrs like a kitten, runs smooth as a top and turns our new dinghy into an absolute speed demon. Also, it’s the same type of engine I learned on with Grandmom all those years ago — a perfect ending.
Sitting to leeward of Yahtzee’s helm, I could see the dark gust coming from way across the bay. Counting down until it hit, I turned up slightly, let the boat heel hard, and then watched the starboard rail bury deep into blue water. Frothing whitecaps whipped by, yet from the high side our two deck monkeys held their faces to the strong wind and laughed in unison. “We love this!” they shouted. Clearly, the moment was no bother to them.
I was in it, though, trying to get us safely into the harbor after a great weekend but with little help from a finicky transmission. After tacking back-and-forth as comfortably close to Seward Harbor’s breakwater as possible, we struck the sails, started the engine and limped our way into the marina with the troublesome tranny.
Since heading out on our cruising weekends this month, Yahtzee’s transmission has been acting a bit cheeky. Sometimes it runs fine. Other times, well, it doesn’t. What happens is that when we power up in forward past about 1,000 RPMs, the normal amount of thrust that should occur never follows. That’s an issue. In low revs and reverse, though, everything is fine. Ho hum, boat problems happen. And in our minds, if there’s wind, we’re sailing!
But we’re not naive. Boat problems don’t just fix themselves. Accordingly, I’ve taken the wayward transmission apart to inspect the gears inside and from what I can see, and from the confirmation of a competent mechanic, nothing seems to be amiss. So, needless to say, we’re still sorting through various options on that.
In the mean time, this past weekend was another one of those magical moments on the water that only makes us want to stay out cruising forever … and ever. Though this one was a bit more drippy than the last, our crew did what we usually do and made the best of each special moment. We sailed to Thumb Cove and back, hiked beaches, played with friends, messed about in boats, ate well, and laughed long into the night. It truly doesn’t get much better.
Besides the transmission part, pictures probably do it the most justice…
Hand over hand, I pulled the mainsail up like a mad sailor who could hardly wait to shut the engine off. I couldn’t. Outside the breakwater in Resurrection Bay, a 15 to 20 knot northerly whipped through the rigging and when the sail was set, Jill twirled the helm to starboard. The main filled quickly and off we shot like a rocket down the bay towards snowy peaks and sparkling wave tops.
With the engine off, all was right in the Yahtzee world again. Our crew was all smiles pulling lines, grinding winches, steering and walking on deck. Porter and Magnus both gushed about loving being out and the sentiment was mutual between us all. It was great to be getting our sea legs back.
The destination for the weekend, which coincided with my birthday, was a spectacular bay called Thumb Cove; about 8 miles south of Seward. Hot on our heals was a full crew of friends aboard Blown Away, a Beneteau First 42, and when we peeled into the confines of the cove together the scene changed. Gone was the wind and waves, and glacial-lined mountain peaks towered above a flat pane of water.
When the anchor was set in a small nook up against the beach, Blown Away rafted to our starboard side and the fun and festivities commenced. Porter was eager to get on the standup paddleboard again and quickly made his way to the beach while everyone else shed layers and simply soaked in the scenery. Without a doubt, this little pocket of Alaska is one of the most amazing places on the planet.
The plan for the afternoon and evening was a simple one: Play on the beach, explore the woods and water, laugh a lot and make some delicious food around a fire. I’m happy to say we accomplished that and then some. We were in our element, loving every minute of it.
More than anything, it was fun to watch the boys living a life they know so well. And being able to share it with friends their age made it all the more special. For the adults, it was a perfect way for three couples to get away for a weekend and leave the stressors of life ashore behind. No cell service, no news, no errands, just hanging with great people.
Sunday morning seemed to come too soon and though we all needed to get back at some point, nobody was quick to move. The crews headed to the beach again for some exploring and then the kids swung around in the rigging like monkeys while we basked in the sun. Shortly after noon, I could see a southerly kicking up on the bay and about an hour later when we set sail it provided the perfect boost back north towards the marina — perma-smiles still plastered on our faces.
I don’t throw the term epic around lightly, but this weekend was it. Downwind sailing both ways, unbelievable scenery, awesome friends, warm weather and lots of outdoor time made it so. It was truly one of those energizing sailing adventures that we’ll ride high on for days to come. Which is how it should be.
With Yahtzee’s companionway hatch slid fully open, sun poured down below, filling the cabin with light and warmth. I stood there in it for just a moment, soaking up the beautiful rays of spring and dreaming of the future.
This past weekend was warm and sunny, and we were primed to get to work putting Yahtzee back together. On Friday afternoon the boys and I pulled sails from our cabin, loaded them in the car and made for the boat. The day was windless, warm and long, which made it perfect for getting our old rags put back in their rightful place.
While the boys played on deck, Jill and I hoisted and furled the genoa, set up the stack pack and bent on the main sail. Our junior rigger, Porter, was then sent aloft to reeve the lazy jacks through their blocks on the mast. He was also looking forward to swinging around for a while.
When the sails were complete, we turned our attention to a number of other tasks over the following few days. I won’t go into detail on everything, but we got a lot accomplished. The last major project before moving back aboard is to rework our freshwater plumbing and I made huge strides in that department.
Next, Jill and I installed the reconditioned windlass motor and then did some general cleaning around the boat. I re-bedded the stack for the new heater and finished the last few tasks needed to get it up and running. While working on deck, I also took the time to install new dorade vents, which is a small project we’ve wanted to complete since we bought the boat six years ago.
Of course, a spring weekend wouldn’t truly be complete without some actual time on the water. We dropped the kayak in and while I plugged away at projects, Jill and the boys paddled around the marina and took a trip to the beach. By all accounts, the weekend of work was a huge success. Yahtzee is looking like herself again and signs of the new season are cropping up all over our little corner of rural Alaska.
Spring, or “break-up” as we call it in the Great Land, is showing its head in more ways than long days, slightly warmer temps and melting snow. Our stack of split firewood is dwindling and we have one piece of salmon left in the freezer along with two moose roasts. That right there is a sure sign that life is shifting. Pretty soon we’ll be moving back aboard Yahtzee full-time, fishing again and spending weekends exploring coves, anchorages and bays we got a small taste of last summer and fall. And that is something we are all excited to do.
Perched on the leeward rail of a Moorings 485, I watched the tell tales on the jib stream aft and a rocky point slip by our port side. Soon, hoots and hollers went up from my three person crew while sailing close hauled through the finish line with a boat just to windward and a great shot at winning the week’s first race and challenge. Sure enough, when the results were calculated hours later, our team had squeaked out the victory. It was a lead they wouldn’t relinquish throughout the week.
I had the good fortune of spending the past week in the British Virgin Islands as a sailing coach for the Emory University Goizueta Buisness School MBA leadership training program. I’ve done these weeklong courses with them before and this year the timing was right for me to come back again as an instructor.
The aim of Emory’s leadership training curriculum is to take students into an entirely unfamiliar environment and then give them a new challenge, race or task to complete as a team each day. While hopping from one idyllic anchorage to another, onboard coaches are there to teach them how to sail, navigate, live aboard a sailboat and to be better leaders. And though we’re not allowed to help them win the challenges, it’s hard not to get swept up in the action of them duking it out under beautiful sunny skies and warm Caribbean breezes.
The dynamics and details of it all can be quite complicated, but this year was a blast. We had four boats competing against one another and each challenge was designed to have them racing and strategically navigating to gain an advantage over their competitors. Every day was different and it was exciting to see how the teams handled adversity as they thought through and executed each challenge — some better than others.
These training weeks aren’t just about the competition between the teams, though. It’s also a chance to connect with some great people and I’m happy to say I did that once again. Our team’s success was based upon their ability to learn quickly, communicate effectively and work together as a group. I was proud to guide them all and now consider them each to be a friend. To me, besides the learning, that’s what the week is all about.
Unfortunately, It wasn’t all fun and games this time. On the ferry ride from St. Thomas to Tortola, the signs of damage from Hurricane Irma were readily apparent. Boats were strewn on beaches, tarps acted as makeshift roofs and windows were blown in, yet to be replaced.
None of that was comparable to what Road Town, Tortola looks like — literally, like bombs went off.
After my sailing time was over, my friend Kevin and I found our old friend Boots, who is a cab driver and owns an apartment I used to stay in while working as a captain and instructor in the islands. He took us on a tour of town to show us his house and the apartment, the downtown area, high school and some of the waterfront. When we pulled up to the apartment, my old abode was almost unrecognizable. The roof was gone and the inside was mostly empty. Apparently, when the roof was blown off by the over 200-mile per hour winds, everything inside was literally sucked out. Gone.
Fortunately, Boots is in the process of fixing the place up and putting on a roof that is more structurally sound. As we made our way down towards the heart of town we witnessed more of the carnage and, though he said it was the most traumatic thing he’d ever experienced, Boots remained his upbeat self. It was great to see him again.
Winding our way through Road Town, nearly every way we looked buildings were in some state of destruction. The high school was mostly demolished and rows of desks sat neatly arranged on a slab of concrete with no walls around them or a roof overhead. The students go to classes half-time now, as they don’t have a space big enough for all of them to learn.
In the moment I thought about how boats and sailing don’t really matter, it’s the people and their lives that matter most. But in reality, boats and sailing actually play a big role in this community. Tourism is the lifeblood of the Caribbean and it’s the dollars spent by visitors that will help. One of the best things we can all do is to come back. I surely will.
The road ahead for the BVI, and many other Caribbean islands, is going to be a long one. But people are working hard and I’m confident their island spirit will carry them through.
It’s the second-to-last day of February and I find myself sitting behind the computer thinking, “Wow, what an awesome month it has been.”
Winter in rural Alaska continues to inspire and captivate at every turn, and living here through the offseason has been far more rewarding than we could have imagined. But even though we’ve enjoyed all sorts of outdoor wonders this month, our crews’ current enthusiasm is rooted on Yahtzee. I guess that’s what finishing some big projects and hanging with sailing friends will do to the winter psyche. Also, it doesn’t hurt that the amount of daylight here is growing in leaps and bounds.
After triumphantly finishing the headliner earlier in the month, we made our way north to meet friends for some skiing and snowboarding in Girdwood. Ryan and Autumn from SV Velella came up from Seattle for the long weekend and it was truly one of those friend moments you instantly want to repeat again and again.
Skiing and snowboarding at Alyeska was incredible, and showing them around Seward was a ton of fun. But it was mostly refreshing to be around great cruising friends again — it probably didn’t matter where we were. To talk about boats and destinations, dreams and projects, and even to share a few sea stories over laughter, long campfires and hot toddys was perfect. It was hard to say goodbye.
With them headed home, we were back to our normal routines of playing and trying to make headway on boat projects. Like clockwork, our new heater arrived in the mail from Fisheries and that job vaulted to the top of the list. Fortunately, because our old heater was similar, is was mostly a plug-and-play job with just a few small kinks to get worked out.
While I was getting that sorted, our friends from Anchorage came down to spend the weekend and work on their Beneteau 42 Blown Away. They have kids of a similar age so we decided to stay at the marina for the night to have dinner and hang with them. Good times.
They’re relatively new cruisers, which made the fun of the night pulling out charts of the area to talk about routing and anchorages. A two week cruise to Prince William Sound is on their summer schedule, so we got to reminisce about our time there last year.
More than anything, though, it was energizing to be back in the marina aboard boats with friends again. There’s something about the connection that rejuvenates the sailing soul and makes us even more excited to press forward towards our dreams.
After fitting the final piece of Yahtzee’s new headliner on Saturday morning, I stood back and looked at the finished product with a discerning eye. Something was amiss. One of the pine slats didn’t look right and, while it worked in theory, I couldn’t live with it.
So, I went about crafting a new piece to complete the large Tetris game that I have slowly installed on Yahtzee’s ceiling over the past two-and-a-half months. During that time there have been numerous starts and stops, a postponement for materials, and a two week foray to the lower 48.
When the final piece was cut, painted and fit on Sunday, though, I was a happy craftsman. I’m glad to have this enormous undertaking completed and am incredibly satisfied with the results. But a funny thing happened when I started cleaning up the cabin underneath it all — I moved forward to what’s next rather quickly.
I guess it’s no surprise for me. I’ve never been one to dwell on past projects; when one is complete, I’m already moving towards what’s next. And though we’ve accomplished a lot since moving on to terra firma in late September, there is more to do before we sling our stuff back aboard in early May.
Of course, one project leads to another and our next is paint. Jill and I ended up liking the Pettit Satin EZ Cabin Coat so much on the headliner that we ordered another quart and are going to paint all the yellowed fiberglass around the various cabins to give it a fresh face. It’s easy to work with, provides a finish that is mildew-free and has already brightened up Yahtzee’s 34 year-old interior — so we might as well keep going.
With the paint will come our new Dickinson Alaska heater, which is a much appreciated Christmas gift and will make the perfect replacement for our failing Sigmar. After that we’re looking forward to tackling some projects that have been in the works but, as happens, have taken a backseat while I’ve been playing Tetris on the ceiling. Onward we go.
Looking out the window on the plane home to Alaska, Porter catches my eye while thumbing through the contents in the seat pocket in front of him. I don’t say a word, yet I’m curious as to what he finds interesting. Within seconds he pulls the safety card out onto his lap, holds it up and says, “I’ve gotta read this, Dad. You know how much I love safety.” Shaking my head in laughter, I can only agree. What a sailor.
A bit later he turns to me again and, still on the safety thing, starts up a conversation about PFDs. He tells me that he wears his all the time on the dock and on the boat, and that I wear mine in the dark or in bad weather. True enough.
Then, when our chat extends into harnesses, tethers and night sailing, I slowly realize he’s recalling a discussion he listened to my dad and I have the day before in Seattle. I tell ya, the boy doesn’t let anything get by, and he knows safety is always a priority on our boat and others. Lately, it has been about others.
Being in Seattle last weekend for the boat show was a whirlwind of presentations, work meetings and catching up with many dear friends. (Sorry to those I missed!) But it was also a chance for me to work on issues related to two big sailing events I’m participating in this summer: the 750-mile Race to Alaska (R2AK), and the 333-mile freshwater classic, Chicago to Mackinac Race.
Each race presents a unique set of challenges with navigation, weather, crew and the boat, yet the principles of seamanship and safety remain the same — keep the water out of the boat, keep the people in the boat, and don’t hit anything.
Skippering the Mac with my dad alongside, and Jill and my siblings also aboard, means that I’ve got a crew of seven to account for and a boat to equip with adequate gear, knowledge and experience. With my dad in town for the show, we sat down and went through a number of items that we need to get done, made lists and even got to cross some things off those lists. Safety was given top priority and we made some key decisions at Fisheries Supply. The first of which was easy — buy the Standard Horizon HX870as a supplement to our onboard radios.
This article was originally posted on Three Sheets Northwest, but I want to share it here too because the tips brought up some great family memories of our time cruising the Salish Sea…
Winter hidey-holes of the Salish Sea | Chuckanut Bay
In our years spent cruising Puget Sound and the San Juan and Gulf islands throughout the short, cooler days of winter, we always had a lot of anchorages or docks in mind to escape and hide in the event of a big blow. That being the case, I’ll share a few of those for boaters who are out taking advantage of the amazing winter cruising in the Pacific Northwest.
In the late fall and early spring of 2014, we cruised the San Juan Islands and Anacortes/Bellingham area in anticipation of the arrival of a new crewmember. With Jill quite pregnant at this point, and with our midwife located in Bellingham, we needed to stop in town for appointments every two weeks until Magnus joined our family on December 27th. During that time there was A LOT of wind out of the north and south, with one storm bringing southerlies in the upper 60s.
Always safe and undeterred, our routine was to head out in the islands for about a week to 10 days and then sail back for Bellingham. In doing so we found a number of great anchorages to hideout near Bellingham Bay, and Chuckanut Bay was perfect because it has spots that are protected from the north and south.
Mariners from Bellingham are well aware of these beautiful anchorages that sit below Chuckanut Mountain, but I’m not sure that many other folks are. After all, the nearby San Juan Islands seem to collect most cruisers that are on a schedule, which leaves other off-the-beaten-path locales a bit more open. No matter what time of year it is, Chuckanut Bay is a lovely spot to stop for a night or two and you’ve got several options when deciding where to drop the hook.
South Chuckanut Bay
If you’re looking to take cover from a big southerly, the southwest corner of the bay is absolutely perfect. Here, pint-sized Pleasant Bay is flanked by a nearly shear shoreline with private homes nestled amongst the trees. Depths are moderate and we anchored here numerous times in about 30 feet. Prevailing winds are typically out of the southwest and we sat through a blow of about 35 to 40 knots one night without noticing it much. One thing to note is that all shoreline is private. But even though you can’t stretch your legs ashore, we had fun paddling around the perimeter of the coves. To go ashore, head north…
I recently received an email with a host of questions about outfitting a boat for offshore sailing and my opinions on a wide variety of related topics. While I’m mostly reluctant to give hard-and-fast “this is what you should do or have” type answers, the last question on the list piqued my interest because it didn’t ask whether something was needed or not (which isn’t at all for me to decide). It simply asked what my practical knowledge was.
The question: “What is your experience with AIS systems?”
The reason the query drew my attention is because it immediately brought to mind several poignant experiences I’ve had with AIS (Automatic Identification System) aboard. While I’m certainly not the tech guru or authority on AIS systems, I do have a large number of sea stories to share about using the system and what I’ve found to be the benefits associated with it. Off the top of my head popped multiple experiences I’ve had using AIS just in the past year or two alone. Here is one from a delivery Jill and I did.
Collision Course in the North Atlantic
It’s the middle of the night in the stormy North Atlantic Ocean. Scanning the horizon, all I see is black — probably the darkest night I’ve experienced at sea. Wind howls from the northeast at 30 to 33 knots, gusting to 40. Rain is pouring down in sheets. Wave heights — at their smallest — are in the low teens. Some of the waves seem monstrous, others are breaking on our stern and we’re sailing the well-suited Garcia Exploration 45 at a “conservative” 9 to 11 knots with surfs up to 15. Woohoo!
When Jill relieves me from watch, I show her a commercial fishing trawler on AIS running at a similar speed a little over 2 miles off our port side. Though we can barely make it out on the horizon, we know it’s there. In the moment, we seem to be parallel to one another and staying clear, but are actually angling towards a collision course. I express to Jill that my hope is for the vessel to alter course just enough to pass behind us, and we talk about our options before I hit my bunk for some much needed sleep.
There were a couple problems that we identified during our brief chat. First and foremost was that the seas were so large and rain so heavy that, even though the trawler was relatively close, it was nearly impossible to keep a visual on. Its running lights were virtually useless, making AIS and radar key assets.
The second problem was that we were sailing on a deep broad reach with a triple reefed mainsail on a preventer. In order to avoid a collision, if one became imminent, we’d have to jibe. Rounding up in these seas is not an option. And the issue with jibing is that the maneuver will take a long time to execute and, in the conditions given, would have been hazardous to the boat and us. Plus, we would then need to jibe back onto our original course once we cleared the trawler. Basically, we are pinned down and virtually blind — save for the AIS and radar.
With the AIS, we know the vessel’s name, course and speed, among other things, and are constantly monitoring its movements relative to ours. Plus, it has the same information about us. In a sort of a dazed half state of sleep from my bunk, I eventually hear Jill call the trawler by name on the radio, briefly explain our situation and arrange for it to pass behind us. Easy as that. I fell asleep.
After the situation was resolved, and many times since, I was extremely glad to have had the benefit of AIS. Yes, without it there is a chance we still would have seen the fishing boat. But in my estimation, there is also a good chance that we wouldn’t have. And the fact that we could both “see” each other and knew, at the very least, boatspeed, course and range, meant that we could monitor the situation accurately and then make a call to avoid colliding or having to do a difficult course change hundreds of miles offshore in a fall gale.
AIS for the win!
This same scenario actually occurred numerous other times on that delivery in similar conditions.
I’m happy to announce that I will once again be presenting seminars at the Seattle Boat Show, which runs from January 26 to February 3. If you’re planning to be at this year’s show, come on by for a listen or to say hi!
Here are the topics I’ll be presenting:
An Unconventional Route to SE Alaska and Beyond
Friday, February 2nd, 6:00 p.m. Stage #2 North Hall
When we set out for Southeast Alaska in 2017, it was with a unique route in mind — and with an open-ended schedule to explore as we saw fit. What transpired was a 700-mile sail up the west coast of Vancouver Island in early spring, followed by two months in SE Alaska before jumping 500-miles across the Gulf of Alaska to explore Kodiak Island, the Kenai Peninsula and Prince William Sound. In this informative and entertaining seminar, I’ll take you along on the voyage and offer tips on how to do Alaska a bit different than straight up the Inside Passage and back.
Living the Dream: How to Get Your Boating and Cruising Stories Published
Saturday, February 3rd, 2:15 p.m. Stage #5 Club Level
I’ll delve into how I became a maritime writer and editor and will offer tips and guidance for aspiring writers. Topics will include realities of the industry, what magazine editors are looking for, everyday steps to achieving the larger goal of publishing, creating polished content, turning your passion into stories, pitching ideas and what to expect when submitting your work.
With a fresh blanket of snow covering our cozy cabin in the woods, Jill and I sat inside crunching numbers. Plotting a course to set sail.
She rattled off expenses, I typed them into a calculator and then read her back the totals. On we went through our financials from the past three months living in Seward. It felt like a good thing to be doing on the last day of the year. Sure, it wasn’t nearly the wildest New Year’s Eve we’ve ever had, but it was by far the most focused.
After an amazing 2017, we’re determined to do everything we can in 2018 to get our family back out cruising … whenever that may be.
The overarching goal of the exercise was to obtain an idea of where we’re at and to set ourselves onto a smooth course for the new year. We need to know what it will realistically take to get us going again, and doing a thorough assessment of our finances is the only way to put our feet on solid ground.
The good news? We’re on the right track. The not so good? We’ve got a long way to go.
Stopping cruising and moving back ashore obviously wasn’t what we’d hoped to do in 2017. Not at all. (See part 1). But we knew we had to if we wanted to keep going, which we definitely do. The thing is, moving ashore to “save” money isn’t — as we knew — all that easy. That’s not how the world works.
Even though we’re a dual income family, and Jill’s position is granting her valuable work experience, we now have bills that we haven’t had in many years including moorage, a car and all its associated fees, rent and utilities, and other incidentals that come from living on land for part of the year. What we figured out on New Year’s Eve, though, is that after all of our monthly expenses are covered, we don’t actually have very much extra left over. It wasn’t a comforting realization.
Our current situation is that the goal in stopping is to work on Yahtzee and to pay off a sizable amount of debt in the process. And while we’re doing both, we now know that we need to focus more on the debt in 2018 and less on the boat and other expenditures. In the interest of being straight up here, the debt we accrued while fixing Yahtzee’s skeg and rudder late in 2016 is like a massive anchor that continues to not only weigh us down but is in jeopardy of dragging us farther under water if we don’t cast it free. That’s what we’re going to do.
We’re comforted in the fact that Yahtzee was ready to cross oceans when we pulled into Seward in August — heck, we were even planning to sail to California that very month! She just needed a few tweaks and if we could lavish some gifts on her such as new sails in the process, great. Well, once we’re done with the projects that we’ve started, this round of gift giving is over. Otherwise, we’ll find ourselves tied to the dock for years spending money on the boat and putting a little bit here and there towards our debt. That won’t cut it.
We’re not the type of sailors to comfortably sit at the dock and ramble on about someday getting out there while constantly working to sail away on a boat that never will be perfect. Never have been, never will be. Our family has been out there before and we all want it back in the worst way. So we’ll work to make it happen.
And while we love Seward and Alaska immensely, it isn’t time to settle somewhere yet and it may never be. That is reality for us. Wandering this big old world under sail is what we’re after — and life’s too short not to do what we love with the people we love.