Tag Archives: SV Yahtzee

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

Cruising truths: Staying financially afloat and making life decisions

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. 

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

From the Galley: Salmon Salad with Lemon-Dill Dressing

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.

Porter with a fresh gift from our friends on the Beverlee J. Thanks, guys!

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

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.

A dreamy 500-mile passage from Sitka to Kodiak Island

Leaving Mt. Edgecumbe and Southeast Alaska in our wake.

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.

Yahtzee’s track across the Gulf of Alaska.

Continue reading A dreamy 500-mile passage from Sitka to Kodiak Island

What to bring when cruising Southeast Alaska

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.

Yahtzee’s track since arriving in Southeast Alaska.

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

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

Glacier Bay | Taking time to watch the world

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. 

Blue skies and mountain views were a mainstay during our 10 days in Glacier Bay.

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.

A large brown bear that we watched from the safety of our kayak.

Continue reading Glacier Bay | Taking time to watch the world

A whale of a time at White Sulfur Springs

“WHALE! There it is!” Jill shouted while pointing ahead of the bow.

Mere boat lengths in front of us rose the unmistakable fin of a humpback whale and I steered quickly to starboard to get Yahtzee out of its path. Just then, its massive tail gracefully broke the water close off our port side, arched skyward and then disappeared into the sea.

All of us looked at each other with huge eyes and shared a frenzied few minutes of, “Oh my … I can’t believe that just happened!” while replaying the event over and over, and from our different perspectives.

I’ve never been that close to a whale in the wild and to do it while sailing at 7.5 knots with a decent sea running was incredible. We didn’t see this one coming across our bow until the last second and, in retrospect, I wish I’d had the GoPro running to capture the moment. It was one of those sea stories that will forever be etched in my memory.

A humpback surfaces off our port bow near Mirror Harbor.

Early the next morning we were up to catch high tide and humpbacks surrounded us on our approach to Mirror Harbor on the west side of Chichagof Island. With no wind and little swell running, the scene was far less dramatic yet equally as stunning to be a part of and we watched them surface and give a spout before diving in search of breakfast.

Leaving the whales in our wake, we reached the narrow, rocky entrance to this diminutive harbor only to find it completely choked with kelp. Approaching slowly, Jill stood at the bow and I nosed Yahtzee forward before realizing that, to attempt a passage over the forest would be a fool’s errand. It was too late. Continue reading A whale of a time at White Sulfur Springs

A new favorite port | Sitka

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.

The mountains arrived as we did.

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.

The view from our slip was hard to beat.

Continue reading A new favorite port | Sitka