From sociable friends made at the grocery store to folks walking the dock and new neighbors at the marina, we’ve fielded quite a few questions about our lives under sail and our journey through Alaska while getting settled here in Seward. And one query that Jill and I fielded separately yet agreed upon instantly went something like this: “What was your favorite?”
Meaning, what was your top moment from your spring and summer sailing north?
It’s a good question. Given that we left Puget Sound in late February, cruised the San Juan Islands and then sailed up the west coast of Vancouver Island to Haida Gwaii and Southeast Alaska before hopping across the Gulf of Alaska to Kodiak, the Kenai Peninsula and then Prince William Sound, you’d think the answer would warrant a long pause. It didn’t.
Our unanimous and unequivocal answer was given without hesitation — it was our 500-mile passage across the Gulf of Alaska.
Of course, with that answer came a slew of other questions about weather conditions, timing, life aboard, watch-keeping and the big one, “how did they boys do?”
Now that winter is knocking firmly on our door, and boat projects are mounting, it’s fun to take a look back at our summer to recount our favorite moment and answer the questions that came our way. Here are a few:
Why did you love it so much?
While we realize that the gorgeous sailing weather was part of why our Gulf of Alaska crossing was so memorable, that’s not solely why it was our favorite. If that was the case it would have been easy to pick Glacier Bay or the Kenai Peninsula and Prince William Sound. The reason we both chose this particular moment is because it was our most indelible as a family — we absolutely loved sailing overnight for multiple days and nights in a row, together. It was awesome, and at the end of that big hop we truly felt like we could have kept going and going.
There are people who hate passagemaking, those who tolerate it and those who love it. Jill and I can firmly be put in the latter category. And after our passage across the Gulf we were ready to do more and go farther. When we thought about sailing south to California from Alaska, part of the reason we wanted to go was because we’re excited about doing it non-stop from Seward to San Francisco. We were thrilled at the notion of sailing offshore for what would have been 10 to 14 days. Actually, we still are.
Wasn’t it hard? How did you make it work?
To be completely honest, spending four days and nights at sea wasn’t all that much “work” because we were so used to life underway as a family already. In our years sailing together, we’ve become quite adept at watch keeping, managing the boat, keeping everyone fed and entertaining the boys. While sailing north throughout the spring, we established routines that made passagemaking fit fairly easily into our lives. We were well prepared in weather, safety, routing, boathandling, emergency procedures, cooking and provisioning, childcare and more, which typically makes everything work seamlessly. As a couple, there are jobs that we take care of individually and others that we share, and the teamwork aspect of completing a voyage is definitely one of our strengths.
The biggest change is probably in when we sleep, and how much we sleep. Yes, sleep on passage can be hard to come by at times, but we know it’s part of the game and it doesn’t really bother us. Jill and I have employed a two hour on, two hour off watch schedule for a number or years and it always works well for us.
One particularly tough part of this passage was that Magnus was right in the middle of potty training. This caused a couple tense moments, but it would have been difficult if we lived on land or in a marina, too. In the end, none of it would go as smoothly if the boys weren’t so comfortable, which is typically one of the first questions we get from the vast majority of people…
How did the boys do?
The fact that Porter and Magnus moved aboard Yahtzee when they were only hours old is a huge help, but just living on a boat does nothing for them if it’s not moving. Having spent so many miles underway in a variety of conditions over the past three years has made them extremely comfortable on deck and down below in calms to gales. They’ve sailed and raced through the night before and fully know what to expect because their routines are largely unchanged — they eat, sleep, go to the bathroom and play just like they would while hopping from one anchorage to another.
By not living in the friendly confines of a marina for the vast majority of their lives, they’ve become sailors at a very quick rate. So much so that they, Porter especially, gets excited at the proposition of sailing overnight. And our sail across the Gulf of Alaska was no different. They were just as excited about leaving Sitka as Jill and I were, and shared in the exhilaration of landfall with us over 500 miles later. That right there is what truly made it our most memorable moment of the summer.