I woke early on Sunday morning. It was 4:33 a.m. when I rolled over to illuminate the clock next to our bunk. After a few deep breaths, I was up. Jill had preceded me and water was coming to a boil over a blue flame on the stovetop while I did engine checks, switched on instruments and lights, and headed on deck to weigh anchor.
Underway and working southwest out towards the dusky North Pacific, a heavy blanket of fog enveloped Yahtzee. I could hear distant waves crashing on a rocky shore. Birds chirped and cawed through the morning dew and the bow cast aside a sloppy leftover chop from the previous day’s breeze.
I gave the AIS a once over and then scanned a formless steel gray horizon for the lights of commercial fishing vessels that I knew were out ahead before my eyes settled astern. Prince William Sound was back there somewhere and I nodded and smiled in a silent farewell after three splendid weeks, “It’s not goodbye, but, until next time.”
Ahead of us was the Kenai Peninsula and Seward. Other than that, I had no idea where else we were going. And in the moment, it didn’t really matter.
Around the Sound
When we left Victoria and started working our way up the west coast of Vancouver Island way back in March, our only real plan was to make it to Southeast Alaska and then take life from there. But I don’t think we ever expected that we’d make it to Prince William Sound, Kodiak Island or the Kenai Peninsula — it just wasn’t on our radar at the time.
From east to west Prince William Sound (PWS) is roughly 85 miles wide, from north to south, roughly 85 miles long. Though it’s not as big as Southeast Alaska, it does seem quite large. Alaska itself is a humongous state, and all its cruising grounds have to be some of the best in the world. It’s no wonder that sailors settle here after circumnavigating the globe and cruisers from Washington, Oregon and British Columbia return here — Southeast Alaska in particular — year after year. It’s truly that incredible, and I still find it impossible to fathom how sailors leave the Pacific Northwest without spending time in this amazing place.
After spending over two months cruising Southeast Alaska, once empty anchorages began filling with cruisers coming from the south and our itchy, wandering feet needed scratching. We looked west and north for more and Prince William Sound became a goal we wanted to achieve, and a cruising ground we suddenly longed to visit.
We arrived in PWS with no cruising guide and little in the way of information from friends and fellow cruisers who’d been here before, so we simply set out to explore it with the charts we had. While cruising guides are certainly helpful for their abundance of useful information, we found more adventure in poking around under sail and power on our own volition, uncovering anchorages, roaming beaches and wandering small towns.
Entering the sound from the southwest, we ended up completing a clockwise rotation that had us picking up my dad in Whittier, hopping towards Valdez and then dropping him off in Cordova before looping back south towards Seward. PWS is ringed with tall mountains blanketed with snow and valleys filled with glaciers that snake down to the water — in many ways, it’s a larger version of Glacier Bay. The Chugach Range rings the northern edge of the sound, shooting sharply skyward from the sea and its craggy peaks are a sight to behold. The southern edge of the sound is made up of green, mountainous barrier islands that have a unique and picturesque feel all their own.
Popping in and out of small coves, sailing up ice-choked Columbia Bay to see its tidewater glacier, anchoring in a different stunning place each night, life rolled along fluidly for the five us. My dad sails with us for a week every year, and each time he’s aboard it’s a new adventure. This one was no exception. He got a true taste of Alaska cruising at its finest and joined us in sailing, beach fires and plenty of laughter. It was an experience that we won’t forget.
In the end, our time in Prince William Sound seemed like the culmination to an outright astonishing spring and summer of cruising aboard Yahtzee. PWS provided the wild feel that we loved so much about Southeast Alaska in the spring, and after our time here, we’re sure glad we went the extra miles to explore what some had told us was “real” Alaska cruising. It’s that and more.
Near Cordova and watching the sun rise in beautiful orange, red and pink hues, I couldn’t help but realize that Alaska has fully seeped into my blood like no place I’ve ever visited or lived. And can now fully understand Jill’s affinity for her home state. Its vast wilderness is stunning. Its residents are my people. Its mountains jaw-dropping. Its seas awe-inspiring. And its sheer size makes me feel alive and in the moment like nowhere else but upon the open ocean. Maybe we’ll stay awhile…