Pulled into Auke Bay at 0900 on Monday. Julie hopped off at the fuel dock and headed to Fred Meyer for provisions while we took on 140 gallons and gassed up the dinghy. Moved to a float while we waited for the grocery delivery, and got underway again at 1125. A surgical strike!
Overcast with flat calm in southern Lynn Canal, but it started kicking up with a repeat of the previous day's wind chop out of Chatham Strait. By the time we rounded Point Couverden into Icy Strait, we were taking 4-footers on our port quarter so I sent Otto out for a schnitzel break and drove the rest of the way to Excursion Inlet.
The seas laid down as we gained some lee from the headland, and we motored past the busy trolling fleet fishing, anchoring for the night on a ledge at the head of deep Sawmill Bay, the W arm of Excursion Inlet.
On Tuesday we got an early start, and at 0915 entered the permit-restricted line between points Carolus and Gustavus which marks the entrance to Glacier Bay National Park. Only 25 pleasure boats per day are permitted in the entire park during summer months, and all operators are required to check in at the NPS visitor's center upon arriving to attend a brief orientation about wildlife distance rules, mandatory mid-channel courses, areas of the park that are closed to motorized vessels, etc.
We tied up a little after 1000 and a few minutes later, we were joined by the 164-foot "Legacy", a Cayman Islands-flagged mega-yacht. We asked one of the uniformed deck crew whose boat it was, and he politely replied "No one's". Apparently the super-rich really do value their privacy!
I’ve procrastinated posting my report on the final Gulf crossing portion of our trip in part because I hadn’t gotten around to downloading the last batch of photos from my camera. When I did, and realized that most of the pictures I’d taken during that 2-day period consisted of screen-shots of the chart plotter and featureless views of endless gray water, I almost decided to make this a photo-free installment.
But the closing chapter to this story deserves a picture, so I’m including a few.
On Friday, June 29 we got underway from Bartlett Cove in Glacier Bay at 0650. An hour and a half later we passed the N end of Lemesurier Island, and hit the midway point of Inian Pass right at the 0940 slack. I hadn’t specifically timed it, but we were fortunate to make the pass when we did, for currents during the middle of the exchange that day were something like 5 knots! After all my careful planning for the various British Columbia narrows that we'd transited, I had completely neglected to plan for this, the final tide-dependent passage on our route.
At 1045 we rounded Cape Spencer, entering the Gulf of Alaska and beginning the Big Crossing which our entire voyage had been leading up to. Conditions were good, with just a low, 2-foot swell under overcast skies. For grins I checked the straight-line distance to Cape Hinchinbrook (333 miles) and to Honolulu (2,396 miles). Limited by fuel, I chose the chillier destination and pointed Room Seven toward PWS.
I'll condense our own 3-day tour of Glacier Bay into just a few sentences. We saw a few whales, but none of the spectacular feeding or breeching you see on postcard photos. Nice scenery. Cool glaciers. Floating icebergs. Sea otters, birds, porpoises, sea lions, etc. In other words, all the same nature on exhibit in Prince William Sound, but spread much further apart and with lots of rules. We were all glad to have seen what all the fuss is about, but our short stay here has actually made us even more appreciative of the scenery, wildlife, and natural beauty in our own Southcentral backyard!
While probably not a question she heard every day, the ranger explained that the helicopter could indeed take off from the yacht, but would not be permitted to land unless the mother ship first exited park waters. The helicopter was apparently billeted at the Gustavus Airport, where it (and its no doubt very bored pilot) probably spent the entire three days that Legacy cruised Glacier Bay. Ah, the lifestyles of the truly rich!
The Legacy's captain, an Australian, and her tender operator, a young South African, were the only other attendees at our 1100 orientation, and they were both quite pleasant. The uniformed park ranger lady covered all the rules for no-wake zones around sea lions haul-outs, not approaching whales, which anchorages have no-noise rules after 10 p.m., and so forth. When she asked whether their were questions, I inquired whether the freshwater at the dock was potable (it is) and whether she'd share any favorite shrimping spots (she wouldn't). Then, Captain Aussie piped up and asked, "Are we allowed to land our helicopter on deck while Legacy is in park waters?
As I write this, it is late evening on Thursday the 28th and we're anchored in Bartlett Cove with a dozen other boats, most of which seem to be on their way in or, like us, out of the park tomorrow. We have about 30 miles between us and Cape Spencer, which will mark our voyage into the Gulf of Alaska and the final leg of our trip home
I have pieced together forecasts from three different zones: Cape Fairweather to Icy Cape; Icy Cape to Cape Suckling; and Cape Suckling to Gore Point. The consensus for the next couple of days is that conditions in the Gulf will be less-good for us our first day out, improving to more-good the second. We're looking at W 15-knot winds and 4-foot seas, moving to S 15 and 6, switching to W 10 and 4, and finally variable 10 and 4 on our final approach to Cape Hinchinbrook. NOAA forecasters promise us variable 10 and 2 inside PWS for the final leg into Whittier. Heck, if it's that nice we might spend an extra day in the sound just to end the trip on a high note!
With luck I'll find cell coverage out of Gustavus or Elfin Cove on the way out in the morning so I can post this. Not long after, Room Seven will be a bobbing cork in the vastness of the North Pacific Ocean. I am reminded of a favorite line by Jack London, from his nonfiction book "Cruise of the Snark" about long-distance ocean crossings in a small wooden motor/sailboat. Describing the lonely feeling of keeping a solitary vigil at the wheel on long transits, alternating watches with his tiny crew, London wrote, "It is quite a responsibility to be all alone on the surface of a little world in time of stress, doing the thinking for its sleeping inhabitants."
After more than a thousand nautical miles and nearly three weeks at sea with Room Seven and her complement, I feel ready for the responsibility.
We left Otto in charge as long as possible, but about 24 hours in he was over-correcting like crazy as the waves did amazing things to our heading and we sent Otto sulking off to his quarters in the lazarette. Visions of our epic Stephens Passage crossing from earlier in the trip played in our minds, and once again Kent and I took turns man-handling the wheel in a mostly successful effort to keep our bow headed in approximately the right direction.
As we pitched and rolled, the few things we hadn’t managed to batten down became airborne and found a new home on the floor. An effort to snatch a few Z’s down below resulted in Kent catching full air as the v-berth bunk lifted and plummeted 8 feet in a throw, so he wedged a cushion and a pillow on the floor under the dinette, where he and I alternated an hour at a stretch in an effort to catch even a few minutes of shut-eye.
We’d brought the boat's survival suits up from the v-berth earlier, and one by one we all took turns practicing emergency donning procedures. All my survival suits are Craigslist surplus, and although they’re too old to be “official” I carefully inspected them before the trip, checking and servicing the zippers. Here’s Kent in the largest of the four suits, which is helpfully identified in Magic Marker on the back with the catchy name of its long-ago fishing boat owner, “Salmon Stalker”.
After discussing the options with Kent, we decided on 6-hour watches for the crossing. Kent and his wife, Monica, would take the 1500-2100 shift, then I, with my wife Julie, would take the 2100-0300 watch. Kent would do 0300-0900, I’d take 0900-1500… repeat as necessary. We hoped to leave Otto in charge the entire way, which would mean our collective jobs would be limited to watching the radar for conflicting traffic, with both halves of the two teams helping keep one another awake. As it turns out, the ocean did that job for us.
The straight-line route from Cape Spencer to Cape Hinchinbrook crosses through the S tip of Kayak Island, 263 miles away. Since we wanted to stay well offshore of the shoal grounds off Katalla, we set our first course from a point about 5 miles off the southern end of the island. Kent drove until 2100, then I came on for the dog watch.
It was a calculated risk to take an untried, new-to-me, 34-year-old boat on such a long and potentially dangerous voyage without spending time aboard her first in less trying waters. As it turned out, even if I’d run her for a week in WA, the major mechanical problems we experienced (rudder linkage, raw-water intake, and anchor locker leak) would not have surfaced before the Inside Passage portion of the trip. I learned the ins and outs of the boat in a hurry, and gained as much confidence (and dare I say, skill) handling her on this intense 3-week trip as I would have in an entire season—or more—cruising Prince William Sound waters alone.
Before I ever left home, I spent dozens of hours reading every resource I could find on cruising the Inside Passage. I educated myself about route options, fuel stops, customs requirements, tides, currents, open-water crossings, and every other detail that I thought might remotely come in handy. I made sure I had the reference books that would make our trip safer and more comfortable. (At some point I’ll post a list here of all the books and other guides we carried, with the strengths and weaknesses of each).
Before leaving WA, I made an investment in a complete set of tools and engine spares, knowing that any breakdown would almost certainly occur far from civilization—and they all did. There were some things I wished we had on board (but didn't) and I've since added them to the spares stash for future use.
The new Garmin electronics worked almost flawlessly, and it is a four-way tie for which component was the most important: Chart plotter, radar, auto-pilot, or fuel flow meters. If I had to give up just one of them… well, I wouldn’t make the trip. They were all indispensable for keeping us on course, out of danger, and underway.
The crew was great, and even after spending nearly every waking & sleeping moment of the last 22 days together, we parted friends. Each person contributed to the success of the trip in different ways, and even when conditions were bad or tempers short, we relied on one another to get the job done and lighten the load.
I can’t think of any more words of wisdom, and although I’m proud to have made the trip, I don’t pretend to be an old salt because I’ve been out of sight of land, or ridden a few graybeards. If my account here has been entertaining to some folks, I’m pleased. If anything I’ve written helps out somebody who is doing what I did—searching every post online that contains the keywords “small boat cruising Alaska inside passage navigating passage-making motor-yacht route planning Gulf of Alaska” (did you catch all that, Google?)—then I’m happy to have paid it forward.
“Room Seven”, 43-foot Universal Trawler
At 1840 on Sunday, July 1, 2012, Room Seven tied up to her slip at Cliffside Marina in Whittier, Alaska for the first time, marking the end of our 22-day, 1500-mile maiden voyage from LaConner, Washington.
My next log entry says simply, “0630 Sunday, July 1. Passing Cape Hinchinbrook; entering PWS at last!” Our crossing took almost exactly 44 hours, and brought us home on exactly the day we’d planned, with no travel days lost due to weather or mechanical problems.