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.
There’s been a lot of progress going on aboard Yahtzee these days. While Jill’s been working during the week, I’ve been getting as much done with the boys as possible and then when the weekends come, I’m on it. The thing is, I’ve found that even though a number jobs have been started, there aren’t many that have been finished. And the ones that have been completed would probably be noticeable to only Jill or me. Ahh, such is the life of boat projects.
Upon last report, I’d ripped out some plumbing to the sink in the aft head and built a new drawer, re-finished the windlass motor and basically gotten the boat ready for an Alaskan winter. Since that time there has been a flurry of things happening, decisions being made and lots of indecision about which way to go on a few projects.
Though a lot may not be “finished” yet, here’s what’s in the works:
A primary consideration when thinking about moving off the boat for the winter was that we could tackle some work we otherwise wouldn’t with four souls aboard. Sanding and varnishing was very near the top of that list.
While Yahtzee has some nicely finished brightwork down below, there were some places that had become a little lackluster over the years. Chief among them were the areas around the companionway and the main bulkhead behind our cabin heater. Due to a lack of heat displacing material, heat from the diesel fireplace dried out the wood and made the finish look a bit off. Also, there were a few dings that needed fixing.
Woodwork isn’t necessarily difficult, but neither is it interesting or fun to write about. It’s just time consuming and relatively messy. I’ve spent days sanding, cleaning up the dust, varnishing and then sanding some more. And then I put in some new aluminum flashing to protect the wood.
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→
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.
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.
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.
Sitka, Alaska is a flat out cool spot. Pulling into the harbor’s western anchorage through the breakwater, we could instantly tell the place was special. On our approach from the north after spending a quiet night in a nearby cove, Jill and I remarked to each other about how beautiful the town appeared to be from the water. With sun gleaming off of craggy, snowcapped mountains that seemed to shoot straight up from the city’s subdued skyline, and tall, green conifers growing thick underneath it all, there was just something about the scene that instantly captured the senses.
After rounding the top of Baranof Island en route from Warm Springs Bay and stopping at a handful of anchorages along the way, it had been over three weeks since we left Ketchikan and Yahtzee and her crew were in need of a good stock up and cleaning. If there ever was a place to enjoy some time ashore, get things done and eat a few good meals, our five days in Sitka was it.
Sliding sideways with the flood current through a narrow, rock-strewn channel called Devil’s Elbow, I watched the depth sounder read 6 feet under the keel then 4 before Jill came out of the companionway as it reached 1.8. The sun was nearing the tops of the mountains on our bow and I held a hand up above my eyes to shield them from the bright light. Picking out the next navigation aid, I waited and gave the engine a burst in forward to ease through the shallow water and around a small island to a perfectly protected anchorage.
That was the skinniest section of water in the aptly named Rocky Pass, and local fisherman we’d talked to had recommended reaching it at or near high tide. To get there from Port Protection we’d sailed too fast, which is a good problem to have, and chose to anchor short of the elbow to wait for more water to come in. To pass the time, we went ashore to wander around and then made dinner before getting underway again prior to sunset. The days are getting long and with useable daylight from 5 a.m. until after 9 p.m., we had time and flexibility to move the few extra miles if we wanted. Such is life in Southeast Alaska.
The Rhythm of Cruising
What we’re learning about cruising here is that it has a lot in store for those who have time to wander around by boat — more than we ever imagined. We’ve sailed a lot and motored some while playing the 13-plus foot tidal swings and their associated currents to our advantage. We’ve gazed at sweeping mountain views in awe and have relished the sight of whales, moose, seals, sea lions, eagles and every manner of sea bird.
This is the sixth in our ongoing series called “5 Favorites” in which we’ll explore a range of topics including memorable anchorages, 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 since every boater has their favorites, we invite you to share yours in the comments below.
Fuel, water, provisions, a trip to the chandlery, showers and laundry, and the proposition of a hot meal cooked by someone else are some of the many things that boaters look for when stopping during a cruise. Most experienced Pacific Northwest mariners have their favorite marinas and ports of call along the way, and whether they’re utilitarian, charming or both, one of the great things that makes cruising the Salish Sea so special is the immense amount of quality stops we can make. Just like all my 5 Favorites articles, my top five cruising towns were difficult to narrow down. But here goes…
In a way, San Juan Island’s Friday Harbor has turned into a home base for us while cruising the San Juans over the past three winters. For cruisers who are paying a quicker visit, though, there is U.S. Customs & Immigration, ferry and floatplane service to drop and pickup guests, ample room to anchor, a welcoming marina operated by the port, two grocery stores for provisions, boating services, a fuel dock, a small chandlery, a hardware store and more. Friday Harbor also houses several great restaurants and bars on or near Spring Street, a welcoming library, numerous specialty shops and is home to The Whale Museum, which promotes “stewardship of whales and the Salish Sea ecosystem through education & research.”
Beyond all of that, we’ve found the town to be particularly welcoming to our family and have met residents during the offseason that befriended us like we are one of their own. For the boys, the Family Resource Center, library story times, A Place to Play and the pool at San Juan Island Fitness are all great entertainment, especially during the wetter and darker days of winter. And joining in the town’s Halloween festivities and Turkey Trot for Thanksgiving have been highlights of our time there.
After a quick jaunt through the dense, electric-green forest on Portland Island, we came to a grassy clearing that sloped quickly down to the sea. I laid my backpack on a rock, grabbed a water bottle, two beers and snacks from inside and passed them around, officially kicking off our family’s impromptu celebration in honor of being back in British Columbia’s beautiful Gulf Islands.
The boys were soon off exploring and I stood next to Jill for a moment taking in the sunshine and gorgeous views of Salt Spring Island across Satellite Channel. It was great to be back in that spot and Porter echoed the feeling when he found me to say, “Dad, I’m so happy to be back here.” The sentiment absolutely melted my heart — he was right. Continue reading At home among friends in British Columbia→
Due to the unconventional lifestyle that we lead while cruising aboard Yahtzee, we tend to field a lot of questions from sailors and non-sailors, friends, family members, strangers and folks who follow Three Sheets Northwest and Rollin’ With Yahtzee. You can find many of these basic questions on our FAQ page, but we’ve recently had quite a few new ones so I’ll answer some of those below and will then post them to the page later.
If you’ve got any questions of your own, please feel free to leave them in the comments section and I’ll get them answered and posted.
Do you have a TV?
No, we don’t have a television. The reason is that we don’t really like TV and therefore have no need to sit in front of one. It isn’t that we’re anti-TV necessarily, it’s just not something that we want or find useful on a sailboat. I get plenty of “screen time” working on the computer and really the only thing I could think that I’d even like to watch on TV would be football. And for Jill, since housesitting this winter and getting hooked on the show “This Is Us”, she’s now hopeful to find a way to finish the season. Continue reading TVs? Enclosures? Rain? and other recent FAQs→