Category Archives: Alaska Life

Road to Re-power: The journey begins with wax and paint

Have you ever re-powered a sailboat? No? Well, me either. There is a first time for everything, though, and I’m enthusiastically diving into this massive project with sleeves rolled and an open mind.

Yahtzee ambles her way down Port Ave in Seward to be put on the hard.

As luck would have it, we pulled Yahtzee on Friday and happened into a perfect stretch of weather to complete other projects first. Under bright beautiful sunshine and warm days (fall in Alaska?), I rented a section of rolling scaffolding and gave the hull a cleaning and waxing. One coat of 3M Restorer Wax, power buffed, and then two coats of hand applied Fleetwax brought her 34-year-old gel coat back to a gorgeous shine. Waxing and buffing is never a fun project, but it’s always satisfying when it’s done.

Shine baby shine!

Next, paint. It has been two years and many miles since we’ve had Yahtzee out of the water and I have to say I am once again impressed with Sea Hawk’s BioCop bottom paint. Just a thin layer of growth was present and almost no barnacles had hitched a ride in that time. Pressure washing the hull revealed few if any blemishes and I was happy to see that only one coat of paint would be necessary. That turned the whole job into a one day affair that included taping, scraping, sanding, cleaning and then painting. Honestly, I didn’t expect it to go quite so smoothly but, alas, it did.

The keel showed clean paint and almost zero growth once pressure washed.
Waxed and painted, looking oh so good.

While waxing and painting was underway, I also turned to the larger project at hand: the re-power. Putting a new engine in a boat is a multi-layered undertaking that unlocks the need to tackle many other projects at the same time. And the first big task is that of getting the old engine and sail drive out. I found time to do the first steps in the process and drained all the transmission and engine oil from each unit. To physically get the engine out of the boat we need to disassemble various parts of it so I took the alternator off, removed the air filter system and dismantled some of the raw water cooling system. With rain in the forecast, I can now turn my focus from the outside solely to the inside and hope to get Old Blue out soon.

We’ve had a good run, Old Blue.
Removing oily engine parts is just the beginning.

Of course, none of this is nearly as fun as actually being out cruising, but there is always a means to an end. With a departure goal of Memorial Day set, we’re in go mode with this project and many others. Plus, we have the looming Alaska winter to contend with, which will cut our work window much shorter. Fun times are ahead, stay tuned!

A truly awe-inspiring Race to Alaska for Team Wild Card

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.

The crew of Wild Card (L to R): Andy, Mike, Mark and Robbie.

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.

Wild Card’s track to Alaska.

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!

Home is where the boat is

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.”

Good morning, Magnus.

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. 

New drawers make previously unused space functional.

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.

A new hanging organizer for tools was a nice touch.

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.

Porter drives the dinghy to a friend’s boat in the marina.

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. 

Who needs a transmission when you’ve got sails

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…

Porter steers Yahtzee into Thumb Cove.
Jill takes a leisurely spin on Hornpipe.
Beach treasures always find their way aboard.
As always, Porter heads out when the anchor is down.
Be free!
Magnus and Porter chase Jill back to Yahtzee.
Our buddy Devon spins around the cove on Hornpipe.

Finding our sea legs on an epic weekend cruise

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.

Porter was one happy sailor.

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.

The breathtaking approach into Thumb Cove.

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.

Porter the Adventurer heads for the beach.

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.

The boats rest at anchor while the crews gather on the beach.

Magnus and Amelia run the beach.

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.

Porter and Amelia play in the rigs.

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.

Yahtzee and crew spring into the new season

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.

Porter pulls the genoa to the car on his sled.

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.

Magnus watches Jill prepare the genoa to go up.
Porter hangs out on the rig and enjoys the view.

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.

This rats nest of old hoses can certainly be executed better.

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.

The boys back in their element paddling around the marina.

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.

Cruising friends rejuvenate the sailing soul

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.”

The boys play on the beach at Tonsina Point.

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.

Ryan looks out over Cook Inlet.

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.

The crews of Yahtzee and Velella back together again.

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.

The new heater installed and ready to be unwrapped.

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.

I could look at charts for hours…

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.

More than surfing, it’s an adventure

Gliding over a thin layer of frost carpeting D-Dock in Seward Harbor, I had a little extra pep in my step walking towards Yahtzee. My excitement wasn’t due to another day of work on the boat, rather, it was at the thought of heading south into Resurrection Bay towards the ocean swell for some surfing. Yes, surfing.

Sure, the air temperature was hovering around 40 degrees and the water temperature wasn’t much higher than that, but hey, that’s what wetsuits are for! Just a few slips down from Yahtzee I met up with our dock neighbor, Captain Scott Liska, who runs Alaska Surf Adventures aboard the motor vessel Drekkar. He was pulling out bins of thick neoprene wetsuits, gloves and booties for surfers who arrived and needed the gear.

Hopping aboard with an armload of rubber, I waited with a cup of coffee and some new friends as other surfers straggled down the dock and onto the boat. With about a dozen surf riders of various experience levels ready for a mid-day surf-sesh, we were soon underway out of the marina towards what sounded like a promising break.

The morning sun shines on Seward Harbor.

Continue reading More than surfing, it’s an adventure

Welcome to The Great Land

Sitting on a rocky outcropping next to Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park, I looked intently across the glacial plain towards a ridge of white peaks. Snowflakes swirled in the air and a broad smile beamed across my face. Next to me the boys were bursting balls of energy at the moment — we all knew we’d just witnessed something unique.

Minutes prior while hiking towards the glacier, we’d come across a large mountain goat in that very spot. We observed each other intently for what seemed like a lifetime before it made a slow and deliberate retreat down a shear cliff. Stunned at the close encounter, I wasn’t actually sure who was more surprised by the experience, us or the furry white goat.

The boys and I have made a ritual out of these Monday hikes, and each has become rewarding in its own way. The outings started with short walks to the river behind our cabin then extended farther afield and to other days of the week. There are so many places to get out and stretch our legs around here. So much to see and learn about each time we depart a trailhead into the woods. Continue reading Welcome to The Great Land