“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.
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→
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.
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.
Sliding sideways with the flood current through a narrow, rock-strewn channel called Devil’s Elbow, I watched the depth sounder read 6 feet under the keel then 4 before Jill came out of the companionway as it reached 1.8. The sun was nearing the tops of the mountains on our bow and I held a hand up above my eyes to shield them from the bright light. Picking out the next navigation aid, I waited and gave the engine a burst in forward to ease through the shallow water and around a small island to a perfectly protected anchorage.
That was the skinniest section of water in the aptly named Rocky Pass, and local fisherman we’d talked to had recommended reaching it at or near high tide. To get there from Port Protection we’d sailed too fast, which is a good problem to have, and chose to anchor short of the elbow to wait for more water to come in. To pass the time, we went ashore to wander around and then made dinner before getting underway again prior to sunset. The days are getting long and with useable daylight from 5 a.m. until after 9 p.m., we had time and flexibility to move the few extra miles if we wanted. Such is life in Southeast Alaska.
The Rhythm of Cruising
What we’re learning about cruising here is that it has a lot in store for those who have time to wander around by boat — more than we ever imagined. We’ve sailed a lot and motored some while playing the 13-plus foot tidal swings and their associated currents to our advantage. We’ve gazed at sweeping mountain views in awe and have relished the sight of whales, moose, seals, sea lions, eagles and every manner of sea bird.
The wind was up and lunch was on the stovetop when I hoisted Yahtzee’s mainsail outside of the tiny cove and community of Meyers Chuck in Southeast Alaska. Whitecaps crested the wave tops and when I looked south and saw a long line of rain enveloping tall, snow-capped mountains in the distance, I knew more wind was coming.
Accordingly, I tucked a single reef in the main and after turning north and easing the sail out, Yahtzee gathered speed and shot forward with a rush. The real wind came shortly after I finished my lunch, and with it came a drizzle that turned into a steady rain. Soon, the seas in Clarence Strait were whipped into a frenzy and Porter and I shared “Whoo-Hoos!” while surging down the waves.
With a favorable current, and breeze that eventually topped out in the high 30s and low 40s, we zoomed north at a brisk pace and even hit 14 knots on one big surf. Our destination hadn’t been determined when we left but by late afternoon a safe harbor was on the mind and we ducked into Coffman Cove on Prince of Wales Island. Except for what we’d read in the cruising guide, we knew virtually nothing of the place and were surprised to find a near empty marina sitting in front of a quaint Alaskan town.
Finding True Alaska
It’s days later now and I’m still smiling about the whole experience. Yes, the sailing has remained awesome since arriving in Alaska, but our time here has become more about the places and people along the way — about slowing down and connecting with the wilderness and communities that are inextricably woven within it.
We weren’t in a rush to reach Alaska, but by the time we got here we’d put in a fair amount of miles and decided it was time to take it easy and soak in a destination we’d dreamed of. When we bought Yahtzee five years ago, sailing to Alaska was a goal. A dream. We didn’t know when it would happen, how long it would take or what the actual route even looked like, we just knew we’d get there. Being that we’re not the type of sailors to sit at the dock and ramble on about fixing our boat and half-baked aspirations for what we’d do with it, we chipped away at the dream and made it happen. And here we are.