Joe's 1998 Alaska Cruise, Part 5

Juneau - Sitka
Lots of boat-related commentary.

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Sitka, August 21, 1998

I'm writing this on a dreary rainy evening in Sitka and intend to send this out in the morning, simply because I have a phone connection in the harbormaster's office (for $2.10 - they've discovered another profit center) and it may be some time before I can get plugged in again.

Boring Travelogue (if you're really interested, then grab a map of Alaska to follow where I've been):

After my son Alec left Juneau, I reorganized the boat and skedaddled out of there on Tuesday, and stayed the night at Hoonah where everyone was abuzz because of the fishing boat which rolled over and sank that afternoon in Chatham Strait - everyone on board was fished out ok. Gulp, because at the last minute while sailing down the end of Lynn Canal I had tossed a coin and decided to go West through Icy Strait instead of South through Chatham Strait. Conditions were actually quite mild, and they simply overloaded the boat and made it top-heavy. Sailed west the next day and stopped at Elfin Cove (which is a picturesque boardwalk community on the coast) for a few hours, then sailed out into Cross Sound and down Lisianski Inlet to Pelican (named after the town founder's boat, not the bird which doesn't exist in Alaska). Pelican is a totally boardwalked town - no streets, just boardwalks everywhere - the primary motorized transportation is small four-wheel ATVs. On Thursday it was with some trepidation that I finally ventured outside into the ocean - THE Gulf of Alaska - for the trip south to Sitka - it started out in a miserable rainy foggy morning through Lisianski Strait, with the entry into the ocean through a very narrow rock-strewn pass. I quickly very happily settled down in the long ocean rollers and steady breeze (five knots from the Southwest and not the forecast 15 knots Northwest!) and went far enough from the coast so that I no longer worried about hitting land or logs and could finally settle down and read a book. Since I wanted to get down the coast to Salisbury Sound in one day, I motorsailed most of the way, ending up with a great three-hour spinnaker run when the wind finally did rotate. If any of you have a chart of this coastline, you can see how terribly inhospitable it is, with rocks strewn all over the place. Anyway, I spent last night anchored in Kalinin Bay on Kruzof Island - I've never seen so many jumping fish in one place - splashes all night long all around the boat. This rainy morning motored into Sitka (what wind there was, was always on the nose) and spent the day exploring the town. Nice place.

My plans are to head south, going outside if at all possible; i.e., weather permitting. The alternative is to backtrack and go inside through Chatham Strait. Summer is ending up here and the days are really getting shorter quickly. It's also noticeably cooler (in the 40's at night) than it was even a couple of weeks ago.

Boat Stuff

Spinnaker sheets - I keep them permanently rigged to snatch blocks on each outer hull. They perform quadruple duty:

  1. Spinnaker sheets/guys (I carry no pole)
  2. Preventer - keep the boom from accidentally gybing when running.
    Note: I almost always drop the main when sailing with the (symmetrical) chute
  3. Pull out jib when running wing-and-wing
  4. Something to grab if I start skidding overboard (just kidding...)

My knotmeter is slowing down. I kept wondering why the revs on the motor had to be kept higher and higher in order to keep the boat at its economical cruising speed of 5.2 knots, when I finally realized the knotmeter was the culprit (for a while I wondered about always having favorable currents according to the GPS) :-)

Sign that I've been out a while - the duct tape is peeling off all the places I didn't get to fix before leaving. I bought a fresh roll and will put the tape back on whenever the sun comes out and dries things off a bit. Great stuff.

My SeaCycle (pedal powered catamaran) is still doing wonderfully - it's a great dinghy! I tow it everywhere and it happily bobs around behind the mothership. The trick to going downwind seems to be to keep it on a very short leash - I hope that holds true in very heavy weather downwind. I can always keep it safely on deck, although I don't fancy trying to hoist it on board with any sort of a sea running. Fallback will be to tow some lines to act as a drogue behind the SeaCycle.

Someone asked me to define "gearbuster" that I hit up in the Lynn Canal - specifically, the wind was 31-33 knots, gusting to 40, which was no problem at all - it was the immediate very nasty steep chop (peak-to-valley wave height of maybe six feet, with a very short wave period) that the Telstar really doesn't like.

The Yamaha is purring along very nicely - gave me a scare when it started steaming yesterday - some seaweed had blocked the water intake. I seem to be motoring about 70% of the time lately.

There are lots of charter fishing boats up here - dozens at every marina, with people flying in from all over the country, hopping onto these things, and zooming around - the insensitive clods don't slow down at all. Wakes are another reason I like the ocean sailing - it may be rougher, but at least everything is well tensioned when the boat is driving and there seems to be an absence of the shock impact loading that is prevalent when going through large boat wakes in zero wind..

I've standardized the 12v connectors on the boat and use the polarized two-prong type similar in style to those used for boat trailers. They seem impervious to corrosion - I've never had one become intermittent. Must have a dozen of them in use here on board - let's see: inverters (3), stereo, stereo amplifier, short-wave receiver, GPS (2), Loran, audio tape player, powered miniature speakers, handheld VHF charger, VHF, depth sounder, autopilots (3), portable low-current anchor light, bilge pumps (3), battery monitors (2), boat alarm, CB,... gawd, too many toys (but they all work).

My new Autohelm 800+ has been working great but started making some loud whirring noises - I took it apart and didn't find anything wrong - the drivetrain is simply noisy. I must say that I'm favorably impressed with the improvements in sealing, internal packaging, and metal (not plastic) gears of this new Autohelm over that of the older models. Here's an example where I think the marketeers blew it by not publicizing the technical improvements to the product (or was it the lawyers saying we can't admit that our previous product was less than perfect...?)

Miscellaneous Stuff

While I was sleeping, another crow or eagle munched a fish while perched on the boom above the dodger - what a smelly mess it left on the dodger and sails (that'll teach me not to put the sailcover on every night!)!

Saw lots of whales in Icy Strait, again. There are evidently some regulations that one musn't get close to the whales - someone should inform the whales - ever try shooing one away?

I had left off showers and laundromat on my list of priorities in my last writing - I must be pretty awful because Alec refused to leave me his pair of polypro underwear because he was afraid I'd stink them up - gosh, I dunno what the problem is - I take a shower at least once every couple of weeks, whether I need to or not - I simply wait until my clothes refuse to get on me :-)

All sorts of little black spots are appearing all over the boat - I'm ventilating it whenever I can, and am winning the battle, armed with a trusty bottle of mildew remover. Blueberry bagels are great, because the black dots blend right in ...

The storage for all the junk I have on board used to be Rubbermaid containers, but I've replaced them with lightweight drawers (brand name: Sterilite). These provide immediate accessibility to everything, can be easily offloaded when I get home, and I can still easily put the heavy stuff down onto the cabin sole and footwells when I hit heavy weather.

Don't try to find a dentist in Alaska - they take Mondays and/or Fridays off, don't take walk-ins, and sure don't subscribe to the Silicon Valley work ethic (I received an incredulous look when I offered to come back at the end of the day after all the regular patients had been seen).

For cabin heat I've been successfully using an inverted clay pot on the stove. As a backup, I've got a propane radiant heater which I haven't used yet. If you try it yourself, just remember to provide plenty of fresh-air ventilation when using the stove.

The largest single expense category on this trip is eating out in restaurants. Marinas are relatively inexpensive, with some actually being free!

Finally, for those of you into parawhatever, here's something to ponder: as I sail along singlehandedly, the autopilot is steering the boat and, after I set it on the desired course, all I have to do is occasionally look forward to see what's ahead. On my Telstar it's very easy to do from down below, and so I just glance ahead through the windows every so often as I busy myself with navigation or whatever. Now, every once in a while I get this sudden urge to take a good look at what's ahead, and I jump up into the cockpit and peer over the dodger to see what's happening - well, very very many times it has turned out that I'd be heading straight for a log or some other floating obstruction which necessitated turning the boat! It's eerie...
(happened twice today, one a log and the other a string of fishing net buoys - difficult to see from down below because of the chop). There's some ESP there somewhere, or else my dad's looking out for his kid.

Enough boring you-all. If you'd like to get off this mailing list, just let me know - I won't be offended, because I've been told enough times how long-winded I can get.

Regards from Sitka - next stop maybe Port Alexander.

Joe Siudzinski

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