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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It’s June and I’m cold. A heavy rain pelts my black Musto jacket and I pull the brim of the hood down slightly to let water drip off. I watch the drops fall on the toes of my boots, roll off and disappear onto the cockpit floor. Looking up, I scan the water in front of Yahtzee and see nothing but grey. Well, there are white caps whipped up by a brisk wind, but other than that it’s all shades of grey — water, clouds, rocks, mountains.
Clenching my hands together into a loose ball, I bring them to my mouth and blow a steady breath inside for warmth. It does little. I was warm yesterday. Hot, even. And I know it will come again. Maybe in 10 minutes when this squall passes.
Sure enough, the precipitation turns from a downpour to a steady rain to a surly drip. Then it stops. A patch of blue sky breaks over Stephens Passage and within minutes I’m closing my eyes, lifting my face to the sun. Smiling.
Rain, sun, wind, no wind. Rain, sun, wind, no wind. This is the end of spring in Southeast Alaska and I love it. There’s no place I’d rather be.
That night the rain pounds hard on deck and I lay awake, listening. When the alarm goes off at 5 a.m. I’m thinking about the tide instead. It’s low and we need to move 25 miles up Endicott Arm with the flood to catch it high and slack at the entrance to Ford’s Terror. I’ve built in extra time and go through my daily engine checks leisurely. Water is on the stove for coffee when I climb on deck to hoist the anchor. I find patches of blue sky breaking over white mountain tops and am happy yet not surprised.
Nearing the entrance to the long fjord we pass a massive iceberg that we stopped to admire the day before. Leaving it on our starboard side, I think about Jill and the boys paddling around it just twelve hours earlier and how much it has changed and how far it has drifted since then. A metaphor for life. It’s much smaller and in a completely different place. The brilliant blue emanating from its craggy shape is still breathtaking and its color is something that truly can’t be duplicated.
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.
Stepping from the marina parking lot onto the sidewalk, cars rushed by in a flash and I felt my heart beat a bit faster. Rain pounded on the hard pavement, the stench of exhaust hung in the air and I winced at the noise. It had been over three weeks since we’d stopped in a place with so much traffic and it put me on edge.
Later, I was nearly run over stepping into a crosswalk when a driver ran a red light while texting. I was instantly shell shocked, as was the man next to me. I turned to him and said with wide eyes and a lump in my throat, “Wow, life can change in an instant. Live it every day.”
“I can’t believe that just happened,” he replied with an apprehensive chuckle.
In the moment, I felt safer offshore on Yahtzee in a gale than I did in this madness — I wanted to retreat to the sea.
The unease of life ashore didn’t come from traffic alone, though. Moving from the tranquil, subdued sounds of the mountains and ocean to bustling cities and towns is always an all around feast for the senses. These fast-moving places are a whirlwind of activity where advertising is seemingly everywhere, begging us to “Buy NOW!” And when unnerving glimpses of the “real world” are caught, they can be of things we don’t often think about in the course of our normal cruising lives — contradictory news outlets, horrifying acts of terrorism, an embarrassing government in disarray, trashy celebrity gossip and the drone of sports coverage. To be bombarded with all of this creates an anxiety that we’ve felt before and know well.
While Yahtzee leaned gently with the wind, I stood on the edge of the cockpit and took a long, awe-inspired look at my surroundings — mountains, trees, islands, animals, water. A wide smile spread across my face.
The breeze played with my hood as I spun 360-degrees, basking in the grandeur and pristine world that lives within the borders of this hallowed place. It had been a week since we entered Glacier National Park and Preserve and with each passing moment, I’d come to realize that I was experiencing the world around me in a deeper, more ethereal way than I ever have. We all were.
The park itself is immensely hard to describe in words or pictures, let alone the experience we had, and I can’t accurately provide a day-to-day rundown of our time there. It just wouldn’t do it justice. The concept of time was immaterial and our week unfolded from one anchorage to the next during a magical spell of warm weather, sunny skies, light breezes and just enough gentle rain to make wildflowers pop in bloom.
We spotted humpback whales everyday, multiple times a day, and many times while in the comfort of an anchorage. Bears roamed shorelines. Wolves watched us from a distance. Birds sang. Eagles soared. Oystercatchers squawked. Arctic loons cooed. Mountain goats munched on grassy cliffs. Porpoises dove. Sea lions hunted. Seals sneezed. Sea otters played.