It’s no secret that I’m absolutely infatuated with Alaska. The place is truly amazing. But I’m also not going to mince words in that I’m finding it increasingly difficult to be the sailor and writer who can contentedly sit by and write about sailing while not actually being on the water. I know some folks can pull off the tired shtick of writing about their boats and telling years-old sea stories while rarely, if ever, leaving the dock. To me, all that bluster is for the birds.
I want to be sailing and writing about it!
I guess I’m having a hard time with it because the dock- and desk-bound sailor isn’t really my style. Never has been, never will be. And after the past three years and thousands of miles spent as a sailing nomad in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, I’m finding it’s not so natural for me.
With winter rapidly approaching here at 60 degrees north, I’m reminiscing more and more about past winters spent on the water. This will be the first in a long time that I won’t be out cruising or sailing on a regular basis, and coming to that realization is painful. Especially because wandering under sail has been such an integral part of my, and our family’s, life. Up until this point, it’s literally all we know together.
Faithful readers are well aware that we’ve spent the last three winters continuously cruising the Pacific Northwest and loved almost every minute of it. Sure, the days were short, cold and sometimes windy, but we found fun, adventure and some magic in discovering the bountiful Salish Sea cruising grounds in the offseason. The Gulf and San Juan islands, in particular, were true gems when the crowds of summer sailed for home and the parks, anchorages and coastal communities were left for the few willing to explore them in the din of winter.
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→
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.
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. Continue reading Reflections on a favorite part of summer cruising→
Freshly cleaned lines dangle from the railing in our little cabin nestled amongst woods and mountains. Sails are neatly folded and stowed under our beds. The windlass motor has been removed, cleaned, sanded and re-painted. A pesky leak has been fixed. And more projects are underway on a long yet doable list.
Along with the boat stuff, firewood has been split and stacked. Our freezer is stocked with salmon. The cold morning air has become increasingly more crisp, causing us to pull on warmer clothes. Fresh blankets of snow have covered the many surrounding peaks and any day now we’ll get some of the white stuff down here, too.
We’re ready for winter and to keep working on Yahtzee.
With glorious sunshine and warm-ish weather, we moved off of Yahtzee and got her ready for the seasons ahead. It was bittersweet, to be sure. It’s the only home the boys have ever known and Jill and I haven’t lived in a house together in a long time. The adjustment period into a temporary land life has been understandably up and down, but mostly up.
When I recently wrote about some helpful upgrades that we’ve made to Yahtzee, I included a new preventer setup that I think needs some clarification. Well, I finally had the time to set it up at the dock and take some photos that will help explain it a bit better.
In my mind — and experience sailing downwind — a well devised and rigged preventer is an essential piece of gear aboard. And if it’s done right, it should be easy to set up, release and switch sides after an intentional jibe.
What any good preventer should do is catch the boom in the unfortunate event of an accidental jibe. That being the case, I like to lead the preventer line as far forward as possible. But, and this is the big caveat, every boat’s setup will be different. There is no one size fits all. After safe ease of use, what you want to achieve is a fair lead so the the preventer isn’t chafing.
Here’s Yahtzee’s preventer explained:
When installing a permanent preventer that can be quickly deployed on either side of the boat, the first thing I wanted to achieve was making it so that it could be stowed easily out of the way on the boom. To make this happen on Yahtzee, I measured and cut a length of Dyneema, attached the aft end to the bail at the end of the boom and then ran it about 3/4 of the way forward towards a cleat. At the forward end of the Dyneema I spliced in a stainless ring. This ring can then be attached to a short piece of bungee from the cleat to hold it taut, or to the second portion of the preventer line when it’s fully rigged.
When it’s time to rig the full preventer for use, I can simply unhook the coil or Dyneema line and ease the boom out to where I want it while broad reaching or running. The secondary line then runs forward to a low friction ring on a snap shackle that I can move from the bow to the toe rail depending on how and where I want the line to lead.
The great thing about this setup is that when it comes time to jibe, Jill or I can un-attach the two lines without having to lean out over the side of the boat. The Dyneema can get quickly stowed on the boom with the bungee and then we can move the other section of the preventer to the new side. Once the jibe has been completed, the ring-end of the Dyneema section gets taken off the boom and re-attach it to the secondary line. When it’s all set, we can tighten the whole thing up and sail on without worry. Simple, quick and efficient.
If you have any questions, please feel free to email me (email@example.com) or ask in the comments below.
While driving south down two-lane Seward Highway towards Yahtzee, the sun broke through dense clouds in front of me, shooting a beam of bright light onto a blue glacier hanging high in a valley. I couldn’t help but crack a wry, happy smile.
The reason for the grin wasn’t just about the scene, though, it was about my next thought, which was, “Boy am I glad we’re here instead of California.”
Aside from family and a handful of good friends, not many people know how close we came to sailing straight from Alaska to California in early to mid August. If you’d talked with us candidly in May, June or July, California was the plan. We were set to go.
Yahtzee was ready. Our crew was ready. Then it all changed over a two or three week period in Prince William Sound. Plans have a way of doing that, which should teach us to make them less often. In that time, we wore the pros and cons of Alaska versus California and eventually Mexico. One morning we’d wake up and say, “California it is!” And then the next day it would be Alaska. We were literally teeter-tottering back and forth like never before. Eventually, the more we thought about it, the more the scales decisively tipped towards Alaska — and we’re glad they did.
Yes, a small part of the decision was financial. But in reality, we didn’t want to leave. We’d only been in Alaska for one summer, and though we’d seen and done more than most, we weren’t finished with its stunning, incomparable wilderness, secluded anchorages, towering mountains, friendly locals and pristine yet humbling waters. Not by a long shot.
Also, the more we thought about California the less it appealed to us when compared to living in the small town of Seward and cruising Alaska. Too many people. Too many boats. Too expensive. Too little real wilderness.
That’s not to say we won’t ever sail there. It’s just that we weren’t ready to leave here yet — which surely came as a surprise to some, and even to us. When I was back in the Puget Sound area for the Wooden Boat Festival in early September, I talked to a lot of folks about our summer, our plans and cruising in Alaska. Friends and other sailors were overwhelmingly supportive and excited about our latest endeavor. But I also got a few comments and questions about why we didn’t follow the very well worn path south down the coast. In essence, what we were doing was unusual compared to most cruisers from the Pacific Northwest who literally cannot wait to make the “big left turn”. To them, our decision was utterly baffling.
“Why?” they asked. “The sun, sand and better weather are all south!”
In the grand scheme of things, our decision to stay north wasn’t that much of a surprise. What we shouldn’t have done was tried to plan so far ahead. We know that never works — for us at least.
By looking too far ahead to the future, we risk living outside the moment instead of in it. Fortunately, we caught ourselves, which comes with the experience of doing this time and again. In our years of cruising, we’ve learned that we shouldn’t get caught up in wishing away time to be somewhere else and over-planning an adventure. Because very few real adventures are planned to every detail years or months in advance. What’s the fun in that?
The reality is that every cruiser has a varied set of goals and plans, and a different way of making them work. No one set of plans is right or wrong or good or bad, they’re just different. That’s part of what makes living and cruising on a sailboat so amazing. And it doesn’t matter where in the world you are. For new or less experienced cruisers, my one piece of advice from this would be: Don’t overdo the planning. Just get out and start sailing and let the plans come later.
Cruising to us has never been a planned endeavor of, “We’re leaving for 1 year or 2 years or 5 and going along this exact route.” It’s a lifelong thing. And it’s a big old world out there. We figure, why put time and place limits on it? Instead, let’s take the time to enjoy life and the places we’re in now, and see what happens next.
Sure, staying in Alaska wasn’t “the plan” a few moths ago. But hey, who needs those plans anyway? Not us.
A steady rain pitter-patters on the deck above the nav station while I type. Magnus naps in the V-berth and Porter is taking some time to himself after we finished working on reading, writing and making a map of Seward. Jill, well, she’s off at work earning that cheddar to keep everything afloat and to improve our sailing home.
After visiting friends and family in various locales throughout the lower 48, we arrived back in Seward on Monday night. When we dropped down the companionway for the first time in many weeks, we were struck by a couple things. The first for me was that it was great to be home — great to be back in Alaska and on the boat again. I love this place and this boat. And the other feeling was that we couldn’t wait to get going with our life here.
Sure, the air down below was cold and clammy upon our return and a musty odor was pervasive. But the bilge and most of the boat was was dry, and we all couldn’t wait to climb into our bunks after weeks of sometimes restless slumber in foreign beds. We always sleep best at home on the boat.
Jill was off to work the following morning under a brilliant sunshine that illuminated the mountains encircling Seward. For the boys and me, the start to daddy preschool was to move Yahtzee to her assigned slip for the winter, and they stepped right back into boat work and life like the old habit that it is. Watching them on deck brought a smile to my face.
Tucked into her new spot, we plugged into shore power and got the battery charger going. I flung all the hatches and ports open, and with a perfectly crisp breeze the boat was soon aired out. Yahtzee seemed like she was breathing a sigh of relief, happy to have us home too.
Throughout the rest of the week, we fell into our new routine. While Jill was off at work, I took the boys to play time, story time, playgrounds and walks on the beach and waterfront. But I also want them to keep learning by getting their hands dirty and feet wet exploring the incredible natural world around them. So, one day’s lesson was to catch, fillet and freeze salmon for the winter, and the teaching included parts of the fish and how to safely use a filet knife. Also, they got to spray the hose a lot.
The next step for our crew is to start unloading the boat into our winter cabin in the woods. We’ve never felt like we have a lot of things aboard Yahtzee until now. But while taking stock of what we have and need to move off, I’m amazed at what a 40-foot boat can accumulate throughout five years of living aboard and cruising.
Overall, we’re excited for our new chapter and to start in on boat projects — stripping Yahtzee from the inside out, cleaning and working on her. After all the years and thousands of miles she’s safely carried us, she surely deserves the love that we’ve got to give. And we’ve got a lot.
In a quest to make life aboard a little easier, safer, more efficient and comfortable, sailors and boat owners are always looking to make upgrades to their vessels. We’re no different.
And even though Yahtzee was well kitted out for blue water cruising when we bought her five years ago, she always needs work and upgrades, and we’re happy to do them. From the moment she became ours, we’ve constantly worked to improve our home and adventure mobile in big and small ways.
Here are five upgrades that we’ve made in the past year that have made life aboard easier, safer or just a bit more comfortable. (Beware, some of this is very heavy in sailor jargon.)
Reef Snap Shackle – This first one derived from a tip I got from my friend Carol Hasse from Port Townsend Sails and it has made reefing the mainsail quicker and a bit safer.
It’s no secret that we like to sail downwind in heavy weather and we’ve done our fair share of it over the years — especially while cruising during the winter in the Pacific Northwest. With Yahtzee’s sails reefed to an appropriate size, she does well in a blow and can be easily handled by Jill and me. But one thing that long frustrated us was how the new tack gets attached to the reefing (rams) horn at the gooseneck when we’re reefing the mainsail. Enter Carol’s tip.
I don’t have good images of our setup, but what I did was attach a stainless steel snap shackle to a Dyneema strop at the gooseneck. When it’s time to reef the main, instead of putting the dog bone that runs through the sail at the new tack around the reefing horn — which can slip off if the sail is flogging or looses tension — we simply snap the shackle to it and we’re done. We can then tension the halyard and reef lines from the safety of the cockpit. With this setup, we no longer have to stand and tend the tack at the mast while reefing, and we know the new tack will be secured firmly while finishing the reef. One clip and it’s set!
Ram Mount iPad holders —Though we have charts and a chartplotter at Yahtzee’s nav station down below, we bought an iPad and Navionics (plus a LifeProof case) for easy navigation and piloting in the cockpit. The problem was, fumbling with an iPad in the cockpit is not fun. Add rain, a heeling boat and strong wind, and it can get downright tricky to navigate safely.
Looking for a way to mount the iPad for easier use, we found Ram Mounts (a Seattle company!) to be the perfect solution. The spider-looking mounts are simple to attach to stainless rails, and we put one at the helm and another under the dodger. We can now use the iPad while steering or keep it protected and out of the elements. Continue reading Upgrades that make our boat go→
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.
This is the seventh in our ongoing series called “5 Favorites” in which we’ll explore a range of topics including marina showers, cruise-in breweries, parks of the Gulf Islands, the joys of winter cruising, fun things to do, meals to make aboard and much more. The aim is not to make a list of “bests” or to rank things, but rather to provide an entertaining and insightful look at what we’ve enjoyed while cruising the Pacific Northwest and Alaska.
Out of all the “5 Favorites” articles I’ve assembled, this one was by far the hardest to put together. How could I choose just five of the many spectacular places we’ve dropped our hook since arriving in Alaska in April? It was an especially arduous task given that we cruised Southeast Alaska, Kodiak Island, the Kenai Peninsula and Prince William Sound, and favorite anchorages seemed to come nearly every time we set the Rocna.
Alas, the five that I decided on aren’t necessarily the most popular, because it would have been far too easy to write again about Reid Inlet in Glacier Bay, the west arm of Ford’s Terror and others. Instead, they are five anchorages that were obscure, not listed in a cruising guide, found due to necessity or simply held fond memories based on what we did there.
When I first sat down to write this post, I thought I’d share a little about why we chose our 1984 Grand Soleil 39, why we named her Yahtzee and what some of our favorite things have been about her over the past five years. But the more I wrote about favorite pieces of gear and things we’d like to change, the more it didn’t really seem to fit. They were just objects. And it sounded too much like a boat review. (Plus, you can read all that here.)
All boats have sails, rigging and innumerable pieces of equipment, and most vessel owners love their boats — we’re no different. But, to us, owning Yahtzee for the past five years has never been solely about the boat itself or the things on it. It has been about what we’ve done with her and the stories and memories that have unfolded in that time.
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.