Joe's 1998 Alaska Cruise, Part 9

Port Hardy - Home
Trip Statistics and High-Low Best/Worst Points of the Trip

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Los Altos Hills, California, 29 September, 1998

In this, the last installment of my Alaska trip, you'll have to suffer through the ending travelogue and then my reflections on the trip, primarily aimed at the sailing community.

Boring Ending Travelogue

Back in Port Hardy, at the northern tip of Vancouver Island, I was about to leave in pouring rain and head west and down the outside when I got to talking with some fishermen and they allowed as I was simply too late in the season to do that, and proceeded to tell me a series of hair-raising tales of the problems of dodging weather fronts, fighting wicked currents with their horrible waves, the high frequency of fogs, and all the fun of trying to maneuver down a very inhospitable coast. Not wishing to make the Darwin list this year, I heeded their advice and decided to head back inside, but using a different route than coming up. To accomplish this, I went through a series of rapids - all the guidebooks had these terrible tales about the rapids with their 10+knot currents and their whirlpools (Dent Rapids and Yuculta Rapids), so I battened down the boat, tied everything off as though I was going to hit an ocean storm, and girded myself for the worst - only to have a lovely placid motorsail through all these places (with scary names such as Devil's Hole) - guess I must have timed my passage correctly. At the other end, in Desolation Sound, I was greeted with a 20degF increase in temperature and cultural shock - dozens of charter boats scurrying all over the place, anchorages full of boats, and a beehive of activity. To make a long story a little less long, I sailed down Malaspina Strait to my friends' house in Secret Cove, then down to Steveston on the Fraser River, then the San Juan Islands via Point Roberts (customs check-in), and finally across the Straits of Juan de Fuca (where I managed to get bashed around for the final time in the wind vs. strong tidal currents) over to Sequim on the tip of the Olympic Peninsula. There, I loaded the boat onto its trusty trailer (truck and trailer none the worse for wear after three months) and headed on down 101 and then I-5 down to California, thus ending a memorable adventure with only one flat tire on the trailer before getting home. The little four-cylinder Isuzu Trooper came through like a champ again.

Really Random Reflections (uh, poor choice of words: I finally looked into a mirror, and three months of no haircuts and boat living makes me look pretty revolting; however, I had shaved, occasionally):

Statistics

The sailing part of the trip was from June 16 through September 18 (94 days). According to the corrected knotmeter odometer, I travelled 3016.2 nautical miles (5586 km) through the water. The longest single trip (two days and a night from Craig, Alaska, to Prince Rupert) wasn't even 150 miles, but was sailed mostly in light airs. There were a few one-day sails of close to 80 miles, and in reviewing the logbook it's evident that I kept moving for most of the trip. I had the (brand new) motor running a total of 466.5 hours and it consumed 185.7 gallons (844.2 litres) of gasoline, yielding 0.4 gallons/hour (1.8 litres/hr).

Since this was almost an exclusively inside/coastal singlehanded passage with stops every night, available hours of daylight was a significant factor during the cruise. It was light from 4:00am to 11:00pm when I started the trip whereas towards the end I was barely having 12 hours of daylight. I would suggest a May rather than June departure for anyone contemplating such a trip.

Most Dangerous Part of the Trip:

Driving up and down Interstate 5 with the truck and boat trailer, especially in the San Francisco Bay Area where the drivers in their yuppiemobiles are crazy (I fit in well) and roads are atrocious and the bouncing and stressing of truck, trailer, and boat was the worst anywhere.

Most Dangerous Part of Sailing:

Avoiding huge logs, especially in British Columbia in Johnstone Strait.

Nicest Anchorage:

They were all nice. Kwakume Inlet and Codville Lagoon off Fitzhugh Sound, placid Windy Bay near Fiordland, Klewnuggit Inlet off the Grenville Channel and the inner basin behind Monckton Point off Monckton Inlet off Principe Channel were memorable.

Worst Anchorage and Sleep:

Other than sitting out the storm in Captain Cove (the cove itself is lovely, the weather wasn't), the one in south Blue Mouse Cove inside Glacier Bay was notable because the boat managed to sit sideways to the tidal current which caused it to rock enough that the slop in the ama connecting arm (ama aka?) pins resulted in a loud clunk right next to my head, most of the night, until I figured out that connecting the spinnaker halyards to the outer hulls and heavily tensioning them took out the slop so I could now sleep... speaking of sleeping, almost every night throughout the trip I had a wonderful relaxing sleep, and it wasn't until a couple of days before the end of the trip that the old anxieties crept back in as I started thinking about everything that would need to be done upon my return home.

Cutest Place Visited

Elfin Cove, Alaska - a tiny totally boardwalked community very appropriately named.

Strangest Place Visited

Namu - the town was totally deserted - the generator was running, everything seemed open and the lights were on, but it was a ghost town.

Most Welcoming Place

When I sailed into Prince Rupert, I was hailed on VHF 16 and after switching to a working channel, was very nicely greeted and invited to stay at the Prince Rupert Rowing and Yacht Club. The Visitors' Bureau in Haines, Alaska, was indeed extraordinarily accommodating. Throughout my trip, people would go well out of their way to help me, even though in most cases there was nothing in it for them.

Least Welcoming Place

Klemtu. The fuel dock was "closed" for lunch and the store personnel were the least friendly in my experience in the entire trip.

Best Sail

Coming back across Queen Charlotte Sound with huge (20'+) ocean swells and a lovely breeze. A close second would be the two-day spinnaker run up the Lynn Canal.

Worst Sail

Trying to get to Brown Passage off Hecate Strait

Scariest Experience

While traveling at 55mph with the boat/trailer and having trucks in front, to my left, and behind me, having an unconscious person pull onto the Interstate right in front of me doing maybe 25mph.

Scariest Sailing Experience

When approaching Millbrook Cove off Smith Sound from the north, losing the wind and having a questionable motor while taking a shortcut between reefs and rocks in near darkness while currents were trying to get the boat to kiss those protrusions.

Comment on the Course Sailed

I went up the Inside Passage to Alaska and came down partially sailing the Outside Passage. I now somewhat regret not having gone down the outside of Vancouver Island, but circumnavigating that island will be a nice future trip. In my opinion, except for Queen Charlotte Sound and the Dixon Entrance, the Inside Passage can be easily sailed by anything that's even semi-enclosed and has a good motor, and even those two passages can be easily done if one simply waits for good weather.

Pets

I love singlehanding my boat, but for a trip of this length I would really have enjoyed some female company (that could cook) to share the experience with and keep one warm at night... oh, excuse me, gotta be PC (that's Politically Correct, for my European friends), we were talking about pets ... watching people row their dinghys ashore in miserable rainy conditions with their pooches on board makes me think that cats might be a better deal. Met a couple with a Buccaneer trimaran where the entire forepeak was the cat's domain. There seemed to be a pet of some sort aboard most boats.

Buddy-Boating

Throughout the trip I would meet people going the same way and we would sort of tag along with each other for a few days before splitting up. Nice to have some companionship on the trip. I had planned to spend a good part of the trip buddy-boating with a couple from Napa on a Gemini 105; however, they had serious motor problems and I left them in Nanaimo where there were waiting for a brand new motor to be shipped out from the diesel factory. By then, they had changed their plans and were simply going to potter about British Columbia.

Safety

While underway, I never left the cockpit without clipping in, and simply never had even a near-mishap. For going outside, I think a 406 EPIRB would have been good insurance. As it is, the rest of the safety gear sure takes up a lot of space and weight. Having spent some time thinking about it, I eventually mounted a small emergency pack (including a hand-held VHF) onto the bikeboat in case I had to bail out for some reason (like fire). I forgot to mention previously that I had a rope/wood boarding ladder lashed to the transom of each outer hull which I could grab and hopefully retrieve myself should I be dragged behind the boat on the safety harness - my son had repeatably demonstrated the feasibility of this in Lake Tahoe a couple of years ago. The biggest danger, that of whapping into a big log, I had hopefully minimized with the three forward watertight compartments in the main hull. I did indeed encounter some larger logs with the outer hulls, but they simply rode up and slid over the logs.

Cooking

The two-burner propane camping stove worked great. A stovetop oven would have been nice. I used a a cast aluminum griddle over the burners for french toast. The small one-gallon (ten pound) propane tank lasted about six weeks, with lots of places available to refill it.

Food and Ice

Being the world's leading non-authority on this subject the only way I ended up not starving to death was that every morning I had a huge bowl of oatmeal (out of rolled oats - none of this instant stuff except when in a rush) with bananas which kept me going for most of the day. Fresh produce and food were available almost everywhere on the trip. Ice for the cooler was sometimes very expensive, block ice was often unavailable, with the best deal being to get your own by chipping off a chunk of iceberg. The big rip-off with ice is that most places keep it just below freezing, perhaps 30degF (-1degC), rather than at around 0degF (-18decC), which would make it last significantly longer. I was too embarrassed to approach commercial fishing ice houses (because of the small quantity I needed).

Health

I lost over 15 pounds (7kg) on this trip, and the only real problem I had was dental and was well-taken care of in Craig, Alaska, by a California expatriot. Never a cold nor even a sniffle, but a fair number of cuts and bruises.

Navigation

I've already described it previously - GPS and electronic charts sure take away some of the excitement from cruising.

Sailing

As I think I've said before, I was one of the few sailboats actually sailing in Alaska. I tried to do it whenever possible, and kept at least the main up even when motoring (it provided a nice dampening in waves); unfortunately, the winds are such that one ends up motoring a good percentage of the time.

Sail Complement

Onboard I had a fully-battened mainsail with two sets of reef points (jiffy reefing), a genoa (0-12knots), a working jib (6-25 knots), a heavy-weather jib (22-40 knots), a storm jib, and two spinnakers. I only put a second reef into the mainsail once, only used the heavy-weather jib once, and never touched the storm jib. Used both chutes a lot, but gave up on the genoa because of the variability of the wind whereby it became simply too much trouble. A roller-furling light-airs headsail would have been great. A heavy-weather staysail coupled with a storm trysail would have been a luxury, but all those sails are simply too much weight and bulk already.

MotorSailing

Coming back, I was trying to keep ahead of the weather fronts, so I ended up running the motor much of the time to complement the sailpower. It's a good compromise, with either the sail or motor being dominant (depending on windstrength and sailing angle), and thus I was able to maintain an average speed of at least 5 knots.

Dodger

Don't leave home without one. The forward window on mine unzips to give flow-through ventilation (did that only once, in British Columbia).

Autopilots

Don't leave home without at least two (I ended up with three). The new Autohelm 800+ served me well, and the other two are good working spares.

Yamaha Four-Stroke

High praises for that 9.9hp outboard. My mounting bracket is not too rigid, so the motor vibration was noticeable. The things that went wrong with it were vibration related (screws holding the throttle handle and oil/breather assembly vibrated loose in the first 100 hours) and, towards the end of the trip, the external water pump flow indicator (a bypass arrangement - non-critical, as it turns out) became clogged a few times. The motor always started - the trick to starting it in cold/wet weather is, before starting, to put it in gear and blip the throttle (the carb has an accelerator pump, so this just shoots some gas into the intake), then put it in neutral and close the throttle and hit the starter - infallible! The Yamaha's thrust in both forward and reverse is awesome. At the relatively low cruising speeds I mostly traveled at, the alternator put out significantly less than the maximum 10 amps (or is it 13 as shown in some literature?), which was a problem until I got rid of the electric refrigerator. By the way, virtually all the powerboats I saw up in the more remote areas had backup outboard motors (very often, a Yamaha four-stroke).

Centerboard and Rudder

The centerboard got knocked up a few times on small logs, as did the rudder. Heavy concentrations of seaweed were also a problem. My rudder sits in a housing similar to that of a forward-angled daggerboard, which means it traps debris (but does pop upwards upon hitting something solid); on my list of things to do is to build a flip-up rudder assembly.

E-Mail

The simplest approach to e-mail that I found was to open up a HotMail account (Internet) and link it to the existing POP3 account. What I did was program it to merely download my incoming e-mail from my regular service, while still leaving the messages on my service. What I then did was go to a public library which exists in virtually every community and accessed my HotMail account on their Internet-dedicated computer. This way, you don't have to reprogram the computer to access your account (most of the libraries won't let you change anything anyway). There were a number of cafes which offered Internet access as well. The second approach, with my own computer and modem, was to ask the harbormaster if I could plug into their fax phone line - usually no problem, but I didn't want to abuse the privilege. In Haines, Alaska, the tourist information office has a phone outlet they're happy to let you use. My service (Telis - MCI) had a toll-free number in the United States (which surprisingly included Alaska), but not in British Columbia so I ended up dialing into my San Jose number and paying the toll fees (I simply couldn't dial into the toll-free number using the toll-free phone access number).

People

Everywhere I went the people were exceedingly friendly. I immediately noticed the contrast when coming home: up in Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, and Alaska, everyone you pass on the street smiles and says hello; here, it's unfortunately not the case - pity. When cruising, somehow one has the time to stop and chat with everyone - a very noticeable contrast immediately evident when meeting people on charterboats. There were a fair number people out there cruising, mostly retirees in comfortable displacement powerboats. This summer was rough on fishermen in both Canada and Alaska. In Canada, the government all but shut down the West Coast commercial fishing, whereas in Alaska the fishing was the poorest in recent years for the commercial fishermen; nevertheless, everywhere one went, there was a tremendous amount of sportfishing with happy charterers displaying their huge (to me) catches on the docks every evening.

Clothing

Even though I'm a minimalist when it comes to clothes, I had taken too much. I ended up wearing my lightweight polypro most of the time, with layers over that depending on temperature and weather. What I really would have liked is a pair of lightweight waterproof pants to slip over the polypro for outside tasks such as raising the anchor or going out in a light rain which did not warrant the full foul weather gear outfit. I did have a lightweight rainjacket which served well for quick on/off as long as I didn't try wearing it in horizontal rain. A good old-fashioned sou'wester really does keep the rain from going down one's neck. Inside the cabin after a day's sail, it was always pleasant to take everything off and slip into some warm fleece. For the rougher/colder days outside, I would have liked to have had expedition-weight polypro to wear under the Mustang suit. Various liners for rubber boots are sold all over Alaska - the insulation is really needed because the rubber boots are very cold - simply wearing two layers of woolen socks doesn't do it.

Anchors

My Bruce worked great everywhere except in weeds, where my weird old Wishbone anchor seemed to hold well. Never did pull the Fortress out of its box (although it was always ready to go with its chunk of chain). Never used the parachute anchor either.

Boat and Tender

The Telstar did marvelously, with many people expressing jealousy over the fact that it is trailerable. Despite my concerns, I haven't found any fresh cracks in it anywhere, and the occassional clunking at the hull attachment points did not result in any measurable bolthole elongations at all. For my singlehanded cruise, the boat's primary attribute, in my opinion, is its all-round visibility from down below (a windshield wiper and defroster for the forward windows would have been nice). When loaded for cruising and towing the bikeboat, it rarely sailed over 8 knots, and usually I was happy to see the knotmeter reading half apparent windspeed. My optimum (economical) cruising speed under power with just a slightly cracked throttle seemed to be 5.2 knots, with over 7 knots possible at full throttle (definitely non-linear since it behaves like a displacement boat). For a tender, my bikeboat (the SeaCycle pedal-powered catamaran) worked out excellently. Towing it continuously was not a problem, although I did lose about a knot of boatspeed doing that. The growth which accumulated on its bottom produced an enormous drag - thus I cleaned it up a few times. The Micron CSC ablative antifouling on the big boat worked reasonably, with just a little grass on the bottom at the end of the trip.

Costs

If you exclude restaurants and marina fees and gasoline for the truck to tow the boat to Washington (even at 14mpg), the cost of cruising can be extremely low on a sailboat with low-powered motor. Food prices were very slightly higher than at home (although I could buy California avocados in Port Hardy for less than half than I've ever seen them in California!), and restaurant prices in Alaska were 30% higher whereas in Canada were 30% lower than at home. Sailboat hardware was non-existent in Alaska, but regular stainless hardware was for some reason much cheaper there.

Scenery and Wildlife

Cruising in that part of the world, one soon gets a jaded view of everything, what with continuous beautiful mountains, forests, sunrises, sunsets, whales, eagles, etc., and only upon coming back into suburbia does that beauty begin to be truly appreciated.

Summary

Why did I come back?

Joe Siudzinski


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