Monday, 28 September 2020

 As planned, we finished up our 2020 cruising season with a passage from Cordova, Alaska to Victoria BC where we are staying the winter. 

This last passage was a bit of a letdown compared to the glorious summer we'd just spent in Alaska. We'd decided to skip the inner passages of SE Alaska as we'd seen most of it before and didn't think it could compare favourably with what we'd just experienced anyway. Also, Canada was calling and we were starting to get anxious about potentially nasty September weather in the Gulf of Alaska. As it was, the weather was reasonable for our crossing, but, no wind! So, again, it was a slow motor against a north-setting current. We hugged the shoreline, so, we'd at least have something to look at. We anchored in Icy Bay for two nights and a day of pouring rain, then on to Yakutat. We anchored there for two nights, surrounded by fantastic mountain scenery, but, didn't go ashore, or, visit the very active glacier there. We knew we'd probably not be welcome due to Covid concerns and didn't want to cause any resentment in the native population. Maybe we'll go back someday. 

We then quickly pushed south towards Dixon Entrance. Dixon is one of those mythic sailing places where a fearsome reputation for horrific weather is usually justified. It takes a full day to enter and we were amazed at our good fortune to cross in brilliant sunshine, calm seas and with no wind. That combination probably doesn't occur very often. The international border runs down the middle and we were heading directly for Prince Rupert, Canada. The sunny day gave way to a pitch-black night. There were a lot of both cargo and fishing boats as we squeezed through the narrow entry. Most local boats, including commercial fishing boats and even some tugs, don't have AIS which makes things a lot more complicated than it has to be, especially with fishing vessels that are constantly changing direction. It's so inexpensive to fit AIS these days, there's really no excuse not to have it. Dawn arrived and we were exhausted as we'd both been up all night dealing with the tight traffic situations. It was quite a relief to enter Prince Rupert harbour.

Arrival in Prince Rupert was not very welcoming. We'd hoped to finish up our 14-day quarantine upon arrival, there were only two days left as we hadn't been off the boat in twelve days. Unfortunately, it wasn't to be. We were informed that our sea time just didn't count, as it had in Alaska and our quarantine must start on our day of arrival into Canada. It was a big disappointment as we'd planned to refuel, reprovision, get caught up with internet activities and get some exercise in Prince Rupert. The marinas had been told not to let any boat in that had any kind of a quarantine restriction on it, even if nobody got off the boat. We sat on the Customs dock trying to decide what we should do. After ten minutes, Port Security showed up to tell us we couldn't stay at the dock. Of course we hadn't planned to stay there, but, maybe longer than ten minutes would have been good. We said ok, we'll cross over and anchor in the bay with the fish farm and we left. We then got called on VHF and told to call Port Security. We weren't allowed to go into that bay, they suggested another instead. It wasn't ideal, but, sufficed for the night. We couldn't wait to leave Prince Rupert the next day. The new quarantine length wasn't really going to be a problem as we'd only be visiting remote anchorages as we worked our way slowly south through the labyrinth of the Inside Passage anyway, but, it did mean not getting off the boat for a full twenty-six days now, not good for the body.

We stayed in some very nice anchorages on the way down, Blunden Harbour and Port Neville were a couple of favourites. We timed the trip down so that we'd arrive at Port McNeill right at the end of the 14 day quarantine and that's what we did. It was a relief to get off the boat for a while and to get some fresh provisions again. While crossing Queen Charlotte Strait to get there we encountered the first of what turned out to be continuing fog. Upon leaving Port McNeill, smoke from the forest fires in Washington state was added to the fog. The only difference in the sky between fog and smoke was the colour of the sun, orange when smoke and white when fog! 

We didn't see much of the scenery, the glimpses we did see looked lovely. 

Not having sailed in this area before it was quite a challenge planning a viable route from the many, many variations that could be traversed. There was no getting away from having to pass through tidal gates, however. Each route had one or more and it required careful study and calculation to deal with them. Some were worse than others and it was clear that no matter how well you plan, there can still be unknown variables that come into play such as the amount of runoff from recent rain, wind over tide etc. Many of the passes are referred to in the sailing guides as 'reversing salt water rivers', so, maybe that will give you some idea of how they work. As newbies, we avoided the trickier ones and the ones with very strong potential flows, but, it still wasn't a walk in the park. Thankfully, our tidal calculations seemed to mostly be correct. Early on, we got caught by the tide only once. Running a tide rip with rapids, whirlpools, eddies, standing waves and haystacks wasn't something we'd expected to have to do in a 14 meter sailboat. It was only a short distance, we managed it, but, won't be trying for a repeat performance anytime soon!

Once through the gates, it became a little more relaxed after the smoke left and visibility improved. We took our time continuing south as our winter berth didn't start until October 1. We spent a couple of nights at Ganges, Saltspring Island which was very nice. We hauled out on a short lift at Canoe Cove to clean the bottom and replace anodes in preparation for our long, winter stay. A couple more nights at anchor and we arrived at Wharf St. Marina in downtown Victoria a few days ago. 

The weather is promising a coming week of sunshine and warm temperatures, perfect for getting Gjoa and ourselves ready to hunker down here for the 'winter'. The coldest month here has an average temperature of +7C, so, it won't be much of a hardship and we'll be looking forward to spring blooms in February. The Covid situation is much better here than in other areas of the country with only about 230 cases island-wide, but, it does we mean we probably won't be travelling very far. We have a few winter projects in mind to occupy ourselves.

Victoria, so far, has been wonderful. We're not in the prime spot we'd hoped for, directly in front of the Empress and Parliament buildings, but, we're nearby and can enjoy all the urban activities on offer. New, no-traffic, bike lanes have been installed in the central area since we were last here and a myriad of more rural no-traffic walking and biking trails surround us. 

The marina facilities are reasonably-priced and very nice, much better than some of the dumps we've been in recently. Old Town Victoria is full of the heritage buildings we love, there's a small, but, interesting China Town and many international restaurants. Even in these virus times, downtown seems to be booming with new construction, outside patios at full capacity, immaculate flowerbeds and many pedestrians. We're looking forward to being here. 

As we don't plan on much, if any, travel during the coming months, we'll probably take a hiatus from blog posting unless there's something interesting to report. Otherwise, check back in the spring when we hope to have plans made for a summer cruise in '21. Thanks for sharing the journey with us so far and stay safe during these difficult times!

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Thursday, 13 August 2020

After a really nice spell of sunny, warm and dry weather we left Seward heading east for Prince William Sound. It wasn't far, but, we were in a hurry to get there to beat a coming SE gale. We made it in time, but, the rain started and it became really cold and wet. Even though it was still early August, we were hoping this wasn't a sign of things to come over the next couple of weeks we'd be cruising in the area. 

The pouring rain didn't deter these two sea otters from giving us a warm welcome.

We felt right at home when we entered the Sound through Port Bainbridge. The first night we anchored in Hogg Bay, Bainbridge Island. Next morning we passed by Bainbridge Glacier...

and then through a very scenic Bainbridge Pass! (what we could see of it in the misty, foggy conditions).

The weather soon turned for the better and the scenery became stunning.

The anchorages were easier and more secure than most in the Kenai Fjords. There were so many good ones it was hard to choose. One of our favourites was Nellie Juan Anchorage, right next to the Nellie Juan Glacier. It was a tiny, perfect cove, suitable for one boat. We tucked ourselves into it on a sunny afternoon. There was a rushing stream at the back of the anchorage, smooth rock walls and glorious views.

The next day dawned into another beauty and we took the opportunity to visit the glacial moraine and stretch our legs. We found a rushing salmon stream, full of struggling fish (and no bears, luckily, as we were on foot).

They were all heading upstream to this waterfall.

Nearby, the glacier was releasing lots of ice into another rushing river coming off the glacier face, the current was too strong to get up the river so we enjoyed a stroll among the beached 'bergy bits' (which is actually the scientific term for these smaller bits of ice) instead.

G, ever the pun master, came up with a new term, 'birdie bits', for bergy bits with birds on top!

We enjoyed many more great anchorages, but, we saved the best for last. We headed north to College Fjord, at 61N, the furthest north we'd be on this cruise. This is a major tourist destination with many tour boats, flightseeing trips etc. that access the fjord from Whittier. This year, we had the entire fjord to ourselves, only seeing one other boat, a tour boat that 'flew' past us at an unbelievable 32 knots, don't know what kind of engine was in there, but, wow!

We headed up to the end of the fjord, the ice was increasing in the approaches, but, we managed to dodge it easily. The air got noticeably colder as we got closer to the head of the fjord where there were two arms with a substantial glacier at the head of each. Harvard is one of the few advancing glaciers left, Yale is a retreating glacier, but, still has a solid face calving directly into the water. There was less ice in the Yale Arm so we headed up that way and anchored right at the head, directly across from the Yale Glacier. We were in a shallow area behind an island, so, most of the ice stayed away from us and we enjoyed the aquamarine, glacial-silted water with just seals and tiny seabirds for company. This was the view from the stern of the boat at around 10 p.m. Through the night we heard a number of thunderous booms from calving ice.

In the morning, we were sorry to leave this idyllic spot, but, we were starting to feel some time pressure as it was now nearing the middle of August. We want to be across the Gulf of Alaska by the beginning of September before the weather changes for the worse. So, we quickly moved on to the far eastern side of the Sound and the town of Cordova, which is only accessible by boat, or, airplane. It was greener on this side and we spent our last night at anchor in green and gorgeous St. Matthews Bay.

We'll only be in town for a few days to reprovision and get ready for our passage across the Gulf of Alaska, heading directly for Dixon Entrance and Canada! We should only be at sea for about a week.

Alaska has been a really wonderful cruising ground. What a summer we've had here, we enjoyed it very much. We only travelled about 700 miles, between Kodiak and Cordova, in three months. It was a motor cruise as there was no wind for sailing. Every night we anchored in a beautiful place and usually had it all to ourselves. 

We feel very lucky to have been able to cruise at all this summer with so many sailors stuck in ports around the world, either with their boats, or, without. To have been in such an isolated place was an added bonus for us, self-isolation and physical distancing weren't difficult to achieve at all, just a regular part of daily life. Now, as we head further south for the winter season, that may change, but, living on a boat is still a good place to be during these trying times.

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Tuesday, 21 July 2020

As mentioned in the previous post, one of the things we loved about the Kenai Fjords was the abundant wildlife we found there. Even though it was late June, there was still lots of young about, including this oystercatcher chick.

We almost missed seeing these young seal pups, they blended in so well with the rocks they were sprawled on.

We saw mature seals on the ice near the Northwestern glacier.

Seeing puffins is always a delight. Here there were tufted puffins, new to us.

In the water there were many of these incredibly beautiful jellyfish to be seen.

The bears in this area were now black bears, no longer the extra-large Kodiak brown bears we saw west of Cook Inlet.

We saw this bear swimming across a large bay.

There was evidence of bears everywhere...

Sea otters have to be the most endearing creatures. They look so relaxed just laying there on their backs. We learned that when they wrap themselves in a piece of kelp like this, it's to anchor themselves to the bottom, so they don't float away while they are eating/sleeping.

We really wanted to see an otter 'raft' where large numbers of otters somehow attach themselves to each other and float, with their young on their stomachs, in a large group. We did see a raft with maybe 25 otters, in Otter Cove, but, didn't want to get too close and disturb them, so, no pictures.

And finally, another eagle shot. This was taken in Kodiak, but,  I couldn't resist publishing it here, that glare is just chilling.

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Monday, 20 July 2020

We spent three weeks in Kodiak, recovering from our less than ideal passage from Hawaii to Alaska and getting ready for the next leg of our adventure, cruising the Northern Gulf of Alaska along the Kenai Peninsula. We knew we wanted to revisit Shelikof Strait, which we'd last visited in 2015 after arriving in Alaska from our North West Passage transit and also see Prince William Sound. What we weren't sure about was whether we wanted to visit the Kenai Fjords. After talking to other cruisers and reviewing a cruising guide to the area (Exploring Alaska's Kenai Fjords, David Wm. Miller) we decided to go. Are we glad we did! The Kenai Fjords and its national park, has to be one of, if not the best, cruising ground we've ever visited. It had all the elements we look for and love, spectacular scenery of mountains, glaciers and waterfalls, uncrowded (mostly empty) anchorages within easy reach of each other, abundant wildlife, mostly benign weather and not too many tour boats.

But, I'm getting ahead of myself, first, the boat needed some work. We had to fix the autopilot which was a fairly simple job once we had located the right parts for the drive coupling. G worked very hard to relocate the hydraulic pump so that it is now more accessible for the next time it needs rebuilding.

Also, after relearning what being wet and cold in the cockpit (hand-steering 800 miles without an autopilot on our last passage) feels like, after the last few years in the tropics, we also took the opportunity to turn on the heat ready for the wet and cool Pacific northwest climate we're anticipating this fall and winter. We refurbished the marine diesel heater that was already on the boat, but, had been disconnected. It now works really well, almost too well. We've been really enjoying it on the few dismal, rainy days we've had. We also installed a hydronic heater, a Dickinson Radex2 that cycles the Yanmar engine's coolant through pipes into the cabin where fans distribute the heat. What a treat to come down from the cockpit to a warm, dry and cozy boat, at least when motoring which we expect to do a lot of here.

We set off from Kodiak, through Whale Passage and had a rough crossing of Shelikof. We were aiming for Hallo Bay on the mainland side where we'd hoped to find Kodiak bears. This time of year the bears are eating vegetation and clams and this was supposed to be where we'd see them. Later in the year, when they're feasting on salmon, they move to other areas. We spent two nights there, adjacent to the Hallo Glacier which was so immense it looked surreal. The anchorage was open and fine during the day, but, at night the wind piped up and we found ourselves on anchor watch with 35 knot winds. We thought it was just a fluke and decided to stay a second night so that we'd have an opportunity to go to shore in the dinghy. It turned out to be too rough for the dinghy and we had a second night of 35 knot winds at anchor, which must be regular, katabatic winds at this location. We left the next day and cruised as close to the shoreline as we could get and we did see bears, there were a few huge specimens hanging around on the beach, too far away to get good photos, but, still exciting to see them.

We crossed back over Shelikof and passed by the sometimes problematic entrance to Cook Inlet (Anchorage) without incident, it was mostly calm and relatively windless. We started into the fjords area. The landscape started off green and tranquil.

Then, snow-capped mountains appeared...

...followed by the raw elements of ice, snow and rock. We particularly liked the Northwestern Glacier area. It truly was, as the cruising guide said, "...a spell-binding glacial enclave...filled with valley glaciers, towering cirques, hanging valleys and three tidewater glaciers.".

From the Northwestern Glacier, we moved to the Aaliak Glacial Basin, in the next fjord. It didn't have quite the appeal of the Northwestern, but, had its own charms. We anchored for a couple of nights in Abra Cove, right under a 1,000 foot vertical granite wall. For scale, look very closely at this photo, you can just make out Gjoa at the bottom of the cliff, towards the right.

There were numerous waterfalls cascading down the wall into a small, deep lagoon at its base. We took the dinghy for a little tour along the lagoon.

In front of us, we had an incredible view of the Aaliak Glacier face. Although we were probably 2-3 miles away from the face, we could hear loud, thundering booms in the night, huge ice chunks calving off. The sunset, at 11 p.m., over the glacier was amazing.

We spent a couple of quiet weeks in the fjords and thoroughly enjoyed them. The weather was mostly superb: dry, sunny and warm, but, not too warm. There wasn't much wind, but, it didn't matter, the distances between anchorages were short and we just enjoyed puttering along under motor, enjoying the view.

It was sometimes tricky to get the anchor to set as most anchorages were very deep. Often the anchor would be clinging to a narrow ledge along the shoreline. The conditions were very benign and we always chose a very sheltered anchorage, so, had no issues thankfully. Mostly we had the anchorages all to ourselves, but, we did have to share a few times. There were 3-4 other boats following the same general route that we leapfrogged with. This Swiss boat also made the passage from Hawaii to Alaska a few weeks after us and much more quickly than we did!

Next, we headed towards the town of Seward. On the way there, the seascape was very different, dotted with many islands, rock spires and arches, just as entrancing as the glaciers.

In the next post, I will show you some examples of the wonderful wildlife we encountered during our cruise through this amazing area.
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Sunday, 14 June 2020

Arrival: Monday, June 9
Kodiak, Alaska
57 47.2N / 152 24.6W

Sailed: 3035 miles (from Honolulu) VMG: 2300

As mentioned in our week 2 post, we knew we were in for a seriously long passage due to the many lengthy calms we were experiencing. In the end, we were at sea 33 days, but, here we are now, in Kodiak Alaska! The nights are very short this far north and the eagles are abundant. These pictures were taken at 9 p.m. The weather is cool, but, sunny and we are enjoying the change from a too-hot (for us) Hawaii.

The winds cooperated in week 4 and we started off making good progress. The next day an autopilot failure soon  put an end to that. All of a sudden, the pump started making some strangled noises and then all went quiet. Before we left, we had purchased a new autopilot motor from England as a spare and had extra brushes custom-made for the old motor. Along with our other spares and the two fully redundant electronic course computers, fluxgate compasses and rudder reference units, we felt we were well-equipped to deal with a failure. We did some diagnostics, replaced a few parts and came to the conclusion that it must be the pump's solenoid valve, a single point of failure that we didn't have a spare for. The motor seemed to be running fine, it just didn't engage the rudder, so, we decided that replacing the motor with its spare was probably wasted effort. At this point, we just wanted to get on with it, so, decided to hand-steer the last 800 miles into Kodiak. This wasn't a trivial effort, but, we knew we'd get there eventually. When we bought this boat, it was, surprisingly, lacking a proper steering compass, so, were very glad that we had installed one.

We did one hour on, one hour off shifts staring at this compass card, trying to keep to our course. It was very cold in the cockpit at night. After some experimentation, we found that actually, if you balance the sails and rudder properly this boat will self-steer very well. Not all the time, mind you, but, at least you can take your hands off the wheel momentarily. We did have a couple of really long runs of self-steering. On one occasion, motor-sailing, it went overnight without us having to touch the wheel once. Such intense concentration is very tiring and we did stop a couple of times to take a rest and warm up. Our course was a little wobbly, the autopilot can steer much more accurately than we can, but, our forward progress was good.

After we got to Kodiak and pulled the pump apart, it was very obvious that the drive coupling was the problem, not the solenoid. It was just worn out. The 'lovejoy' had no teeth left, the motor was running, but, it wasn't engaging the pump. If we'd just taken a few hours to swap out the motor while at sea we wouldn't have had this hand-steering ordeal. But, looking on the bright side, we now know how to balance and sail this boat much more efficiently.

Another event occurred that slowed us down even further. Our Yankee (type of headsail) furler line snapped. We were able to quickly pull the sail down and lash it to the deck, adroitly avoiding dumping it into the water, but, this meant that we couldn't easily use one of the three sails we usually fly for optimum speed. It began to feel like we'd never get there! It was a moot point anyway as the wind soon went very light and we motored the last 130 miles into Kodiak. There was a low approaching and we didn't want to spend even one more night at sea.

Kodiak is a very busy fishing port, a working town. It does the fourth largest catch in the country, mostly salmon, which is now in season. We are in St. Paul Boat Harbor, one of two marinas which hold about 700 fishing boats. We are the only visiting sailboat. Boats are coming and going at all times of the day and night to the many canneries here in town. It's a bustling place. We'll be here for a couple of weeks at least, waiting for some boat parts to arrive. After that we'll either be on a mini-Alaskan cruise (hopefully), or, headed straight for Dixon Entrance and Canada. It all depends on whether we can extend our US visas and/or the Canada/US border opens again on June 21.

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