Category Archives: Places

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.

Back in the beautiful British Virgin Islands

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.

Our team, from left: Ken, Lindsay, Jason and me.
A gorgeous sunset from White Bay.
Cheers to a great week!

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.

My old apartment is the one to the right, and looks quite different with no roof.

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.

Fond memories from winter on the Salish Sea

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.

Our first was Blind Baysecond was Manzanita Baythird was Portland IslandHere’s the fourth:

Chuckanut Bay

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.

Born in Bellingham on a windy night, and at home aboard Yahtzee hours later to meet his brother.

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…

Continue reading Fond memories from winter on the Salish Sea

Hear stories, learn about stories and say hi at the Wooden Boat Festival!

Every September, boating enthusiasts from around the Pacific Northwest, North America and the world descend on Point Hudson Marina in Port Townsend, Washington to talk boats, look at boats, learn about boats and everything in between. There are beautiful boats to ride, impressive demonstrations to watch, insightful presentations to enjoy, good food to eat, great beer to drink, lively music to dance to, and much more. I love it.

The entire weekend is easily one of my favorite boating events of the year, and I’m honored to be included in the list of presenters at the 2017 festival.

My session is called “Living the Dream: How to get your boating stories published” and will take place on Saturday, September 9 at 9:30 a.m. on the Adventure Stage.

Durning my hour-long seminar I’ll delve into the background of how I became a maritime writer and editor and will offer tips and guidance for how aspiring writers can get their work published. Topics will include realities of the industry, what magazine editors are looking for, everyday steps in achieving the larger goal of publishing, creating polished content, turning your passion into stories, pitching your ideas and what to expect while going through the submission process. A Q&A session will follow and I’ll be happy to chat with folks after the seminar.

See a full schedule of events and presentations here. Purchase tickets and find out more show info here, and find a 50% off coupon code on the Three Sheets Northwest Facebook page.

Hope to see you there!

Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans

Readers of this blog are well aware that I rarely, if ever, talk about our plans for the future. Instead, we thrive on uncertainty, seize the moment and live within the confines of a cruising world defined by tides, weather and whims of our own devise. All of that, bracketed by a need to work in order to keep us going. In our minds, we’ve always found our nomadic life to be more rewarding when we’re actually out living it than when we’re planning it. Cruising plans and schedules rarely work out as planned and far too many sailors sit at the dock and talk and talk and talk about where they’re sailing, yet never go a mile.

For the crew of Yahtzee, those cruising miles have stopped … for now. By the end of 24 hours we’d paid for a year of moorage in Seward, Alaska, found a quaint winter cabin and, oh yeah, Jill got a job. Wow, that happened fast.

The boys at home on Yahtzee in Seward Harbor.

To be sure, it was a whirlwind romance here in Seward. We fell in love with the town when we stopped in a few weeks ago, Jill quickly applied for a couple jobs and when she got callbacks, then interviews and a job offer, we were making decisions and plans faster than we have in years. Literally, it has been three years since we have paid for permanent moorage. Though that’s a hard pill to swallow, the reasons are sound.

The town of Seward nestled under tall mountains.

Why stop, why here, why now, what about the blog?

Our spring and summer of cruising Alaska has been far more incredible than we ever imagined, and one of the outcomes for us is that we now firmly know this cruising life is for us. We always thought it was, but the farther we went, the farther we wanted to go, and go, and go. And in assessing our future plans we realized that we have to stop now to make money and do some work to the boat before we can take off sailing south to Mexico and beyond. How’s that for sharing plans?!

Of course, the money thing is a big part of this decision, but not our sole reason for stopping. As I said in a recent post, we could keep going with what I make writing and editing from the boat, but we need to pay off debt from last year’s boat work and build up a cruising kitty again to do it right and responsibly.

Career-wise, we also understand that Jill needs to get a job in her field now if she wants to work again — which we’ll need her to do. After months of applying for jobs from Alaska to California, she was finally fortunate to get a couple interviews and a job offer, but potential employers along the way pointed out that her gap in work history was a problem. That said, she’s broken back into the field of social work and we’ll be more careful moving forward to make sure the gap doesn’t get too big. As a friend and fellow cruiser aptly yet half-jokingly quipped, “The machine doesn’t like vagabonds like you because it needs workers to keep it going. And if you’re not one of them, you’re out, and it’s hard to get back in.” That’s reality.

Our winter home.

Another reality is that, even though Yahtzee is set to go wherever we need her to take us, after living on her for five years total and cruising full-time for three of those in a damp environment, she needs some love. And the only way to dote on her properly is to move off for some time — which, among other reasons, makes Alaska perfect. On top of cheap moorage, we rented a beautiful, inexpensive cabin in the woods so we can get the boat emptied, dried out and cleaned. Or as Jill perfectly put it, “Because I love this boat and life so much, I can’t wait to get everything off of it.”

That makes the other part of this equation here in Seward absolutely perfect. We’ll be in our rental cabin from October through the end of April and then living on Yahtzee from May through September. That will allow us to focus on working on the inside of the boat during the winter months, and then we can tackle some outside projects once we move back aboard in the spring. Seward has marine professionals we can turn to for help with some of the jobs, and parts are easy to come by.

One of our favorite anchorages near Seward.

Overarching throughout all of this is that Alaska is freaking amazing. I’ve fallen madly in love, and Jill’s happy to be home for a while. Whether its winter sports or summer, sailing or fishing, mountains or the sea, when we’re not working or working on Yahtzee, there is plenty to do. And when summer does come, there are numerous anchorages nearby to explore, the Kenai Peninsula is a cruiser’s paradise and Prince William Sound is just a hop away. That’s a win win.

Even though we won’t be cruising full-time for a little while, I’m still planning to keep the blog rolling. I have lots of content that has yet to be shared and I’ll be able to write about some of the projects that we’re starting to outline. We’re excited about what the future holds for our crew and boat here in the great state of Alaska. So stay tuned.

Prince William Sound astounds, Alaska beckons

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.

One of many beautiful anchorages in PWS.

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.

Jill takes a moment to soak in the evening sun at one of many beach fires.

Continue reading Prince William Sound astounds, Alaska beckons

Riding blissfully free at 60 degrees north

Sitting on a broad, sun-warmed pebble beach, I gazed out at sweeping mountains with glaciers hanging in their valleys. Yahtzee sat just offshore in a sea so clear I could pick out every rock and piece of seagrass below. The boys splashed and swam in the water, jumping in and out, laughing, and I couldn’t help but revel in the moment. It was perfect in so many ways.

When we thought that Southeast Alaska was about as good as it could get, we were wrong. Over the past two plus weeks, Kodiak Island then the Kenai Peninsula and Prince William Sound have upped the ante. Days like these have made us feel as though we’ve shed our Alaska cruiser’s training wheels and are riding blissfully free now, unencumbered with the wind in our hair. Life is here and now.

Getting here

After landfall in Kodiak City and then spending a week enjoying the fruits of town and a few incredible anchorages, our sights got set farther north towards the Peninsula. With summer at this high latitude (60 degrees north) beginning its unfortunate downward spiral, we decided to keep moving 160 miles to the north to the Seward area and then into Prince William Sound to the east.

Sailing north of Kodiak Island on a grey day.

Continue reading Riding blissfully free at 60 degrees north

A cruiser’s case of the Mondays

Blasting into a sudden 15 to 25 knot northerly towards the Kenai Peninsula, Yahtzee heeled sharply to starboard with the wind. Cutting through a steep chop, white water pushed off the bow and I did my best to steer us through it to windward.

With a steady rain soaking me, I could barely see wave sets through my sodden glasses let alone the tell tales on the genoa. It was somewhere around four in the morning on Monday and I’d just told Jill I’d take her watch, she could stay below to sleep with the boys instead of coming on deck in this mess. She didn’t need to deal with this. I did.

With daylight arriving in earnest, the miles wore on and I tried to keep my mind in the game. We’d already come 120 miles from Afognak Island, north of Kodiak, and there was no turning around, no pulling in somewhere for rest. Not yet, anyway.

Gripping the helm with cold bare hands, rain still pounding hard on deck and running down the inside of my jacket, my mood turned sour. I cursed the wind: it was supposed to be south. I cursed the rain: it was supposed to be clear. I cursed our blownout sails that were struggling to keep us pointing to windward: they were supposed to be moving Yahtzee to weather like I knew they should.

But then I stopped myself. Snapped out of it. “Weather? Who cares. I don’t. Sail the boat, Andy. Embrace it.” I told myself while wiping drops of rain from my face.

We weren’t in any danger and the conditions weren’t that bad. It just wasn’t what I’d expected. Plus, this was sailing. I was doing what I love with the people I love.

In essence, I decided, it was the cruiser’s version of a “case of the Mondays”. And on we went.

Weaving through tall, rocky islands off the Kenai Peninsula a couple hours and cups of coffee later, I turned to the south to look back across the Gulf of Alaska. Much to my surprise, I watched as the trailing edge of the rain moved over us to reveal bursts of sunshine. With the passing of the rain, the wind did an abrupt about-face and switched to the south. Because of course it did.

Reaching now under a morning sun that dried me and the cockpit, all I could do was laugh at the whole situation. The unpredictable weather had humbled me. Proving once again that it makes the rules, I play by them.

End of the line | A journey up Lynn Canal and beyond

Brakes hissed, horn sounded. The train lurched slowly forward away from Skagway towards the mountains. With a clickety-clack, clackety-click, we climbed from sea level up through forests and dark tunnels, around cliffs, over bridges and past craggy, snow-capped peaks before reaching 3,000-foot White Pass.

All the while, we gently rocked back and forth with the rhythm of the tracks and the boys looked out the windows with wide-eyed excitement. Up, up, up. Pointing, laughing and non-stop talking, you’d think they’d been waiting for this moment their entire lives.

The boys watch the scenery go by.
Skagway is far down the valley.

Continue reading End of the line | A journey up Lynn Canal and beyond