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.
Here we go, our 5 favorite anchorages in a Alaska this summer: Continue reading 5 Favorites | Anchorages in Alaska this summer
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.
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.
If there is one consistent truth about cruising on a sailboat, it’s that everyone out here makes it work in different ways financially. There really is no one size fits all approach.
Some save money and go for a set amount of time — 1, 2, 3 years, etc. Some use their retirement to sail off into the sunset. Others save and then save some more before setting out to see how far they can make it before needing to refill the kitty. Yet others employ an on again off again approach. And still others — like us over the past three years — work from the boat as they go.
With all of these varied approaches, there are tough and sometimes stressful decisions to make about when to leave, where to go next or whether to stop for some time in order to get back out. While this is hard to write, we’re going through these financial and life decisions now.
One of my least favorite subjects is money. I loathe thinking about it and the stress it causes. I dislike what it does to people and relationships, how it creates and perpetuates greed, and permeates through nearly everything in society. Everyone is beholden to the almighty dollar, making it, saving it and spending it. That’s life.
But the single biggest thing I hate about it, is owing it — debt. Which is part of our current predicament. This past fall and winter, when Yahtzee needed a new rudder and far more work than we anticipated, we went through our cruising kitty quickly and then accrued debt just as fast in order to get her back in the water. Our reality was that we had nowhere else to go. Yahtzee is our home and we couldn’t let her sit on the hard while we tried to make money to pay for all the work. At the time, that simply wasn’t possible. So debt it was.
Fast forward to now, and we’ve been put firmly between a rock and a hard place because of that debt, and need to pay it off so we can keep cruising on what I make. With no car, childcare or moorage to pay for, we have very few bills in general, but the debt part has to get fixed so we can go farther. Or so we think.
There are a few problems with stopping to work, the largest of which is Jill getting a job. Even though she has a masters degree in social work, credentials and work history, she doesn’t get rewarded by any potential employer for raising two children for the past four years. We’re finding out that having a gap in work history is quite tough to overcome. It’s a truth in our world that, generally, if a mom stops working to raise children, it’s harder to break back in.
Once Jill does secure a job, though, the remaining issues become paying to basically re-enter society. We’d need to pay for full-time moorage again, and would more than likely need to buy a car (hate that thought!) and put the kids in some type of childcare. All three of those are expensive and would immediately take up a large portion of what she would be making.
The difficulty then becomes that the trappings of land and jobs ashore will effectively suck us in, literally forcing us to pay so much to “live” that it might not be feasible to actually reduce our debt quickly. In this day and age, that’s how it goes. And that reality, the one where we’re just spinning our wheels on land, is a hard one to come to terms with. Because, in essence, we know that it’s actually cheaper and more personally fulfilling for us to keep cruising. Far more.
Sharing all of these life decisions and hurdles that we’re facing isn’t meant to come across as complaining. Rather, it’s to share the truths of life and cruising as we know it. I’m sure we’ll go through similarly difficult trials and tribulations again, and other cruisers will too.
Our reality right now is figuring out what to do next. Currently, we have some ideas but nothing set in stone — and we’re comfortable with that. For the time being, we’ll keep cruising, living in the moment and enjoying where we are with the ones we love. That’s how we roll.
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.
There are no two ways about it, we love salmon. Catching it, eating it, we love this tasty gift from the sea.
Fortunately, thanks to generous Alaskan fisherman who took a liking to our boys, plus catching our own, we’ve been up to our ears in fresh salmon lately. So much so that we’ve been trying hard to find different recipes and ways of preparing it than we ever have.
To move away from our tried and true salmon dishes, we turned to our favorite cookbooks we have aboard: San Juan Classics and San Juan Classics II by Dawn Ashbach and Janice Veal. We made the following recipe on a “hot” summer day here in Alaska and it was perfectly enjoyed in the cockpit with a glass of chilled rosé (boxed, of course). How’s that for fancy! Continue reading From the Galley: Salmon Salad with Lemon-Dill Dressing
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.
Sailing fast on a broad reach, volcanic Mt. Edgecume slid by our starboard side while Yahtzee tracked northwest out into the expansive Gulf of Alaska. We were just hours from Sitka and though a destination of Prince William Sound was our original intention, the plan wasn’t set in stone. As always, it depended on weather.
The weather rules, and here in Alaska, it’s everything. Accordingly, we deferred to our tried and true method of letting the conditions decide before making any hard and fast routing decisions. Using our last smidgeon of cell service, I gave one final look at what we’d encounter over the next four to five days. The verdict? Light winds out of the south.
Suddenly, Prince William was out. Kodiak Island was in. And with that, I changed course to the west and set us on the rumbline for a destination some 500-plus miles in the distance.
It has been over two months since we crossed the border from British Columbia into the great state of Alaska. From Ketchikan to Sitka, Glacier Bay to Skagway, Juneau to Ford’s Terror, and everything in between, we’ve been in constant awe of this immense cruising ground.
It’s easy to see why cruisers come here year after year to explore the many nooks and crannies that the wilds of Alaska have to offer. For many newcomers, though, questions abound about logistics, routing, itineraries, provisions and more. While we’re certainly not veterans of the area, and we know that many people have different ways of making the voyage work for them, their boat and crew, here are a few things we suggest bringing when planning a cruise to Southeast Alaska (and one thing not to bring).
A Reliable Engine:
The bottom line is that you’re not getting far in Southeast Alaska without a reliable engine. Of course, we always hope to sail as much as possible, and did so to get here, but the fact of cruising Alaska in the late spring and summer is that there are quite a few days of no wind, light wind or wind directly on the nose.
Apart from the wind, current is king. If you don’t play it right, you’re not getting very far very fast, or you could find yourself in some exceptionally dangerous situations. Yahtzee can be painfully slow under power, and sails much faster, but whether we’re sailing or motoring, we always pay close attention to the current and use it to our advantage whenever possible. Continue reading What to bring when cruising Southeast Alaska
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.