After a whirlwind few weeks that involved flying to Tennessee to watch Kirsten race in the Big 12 Championships, some focused effort on work (the real work – not boat work), finishing boat projects, taking a 4 day trip to the San Juan Islands with 2 college kids, a dog and the new electronics, and some hurried provisioning we were finally ready to head to Alaska: at 10:45 the night before we left. Anything we didn’t have, I guess we didn’t need!
As we wanted to maximize our time in Alaska, we chose to take the “Outside Passage” heading out the Strait of Juan de Fuca, banging a big right and heading up the western coast of Vancouver Island. The cruise would take 78.5 hours, running 24 hours a day. To ensure the safety of this trip, we worked with a weather router to pick a window with the best conditions. To make this easier and more fun we took along a few crew members. Our next door liveaboard neighbor and friend Darren (I like to say we live 18 inches apart) said YES immediately on being asked. Somerset, who Kevin met when taking his Captain’s class several years ago, joined us for a second appearance having been crew on the San Francisco to Seattle run about a year ago. And, Matt, another captain friend of Somerset’s rounded out the group. Matt and Somerset delivered a sailing yacht from Seattle to Tahiti and know each other quite well. While Matt and Somerset are primarily sailors, they find the trawler cruising style to be acceptable as well – with a distinct focus on the trash compactor. It’s just fascinating for some reason. 😊
We had previously created a weather window of June 3 – June 12, hoping to be able to leave at some point during this timeframe. After talking multiple times with our weather router, we were surprised and delighted to learn that indeed we could leave on Saturday June 3! And waving goodbye to Lisa, Darren’s bride, we left our slip at Shilshole Marina in Seattle at 4:45 am that morning.
The morning was still and beautiful with barely a ripple on the Sound. Three cruise ships were just arriving back in Seattle as we were leaving, having traversed the same route we were about to follow. We rode the outgoing tide up to the Strait and turned to head out toward the mighty Pacific. The first couple of hours of the Strait were lumpy and chunky, as the Strait often is. As we approached Port Angeles it became just lovely with sunny skies and fairly calm seas. Three more cruise ships passed us heading to Vancouver, BC before we reached the Pacific. Huge glowing islands.
We had a little cheer as we turned out of the Strait, around the SW tip of Vancouver Island and into the Pacific, at about 6 pm. The swells worked their way up from about 3 feet to 6 to 8 foot swells around 8 pm which created the perfect opportunity to turn the cockpit speakers on and enjoy a little water and Diet Coke at the stern, watching the waves roll by. Gorgeous.
The night was quieter and uneventful with a glowing moon overhead keeping the watch standers company. As there were five of us, we had a super easy watch schedule that allowed everyone a lot of sleeping time. Staggered night time watches ensured that no one was alone in the pilothouse during the darkness. Not that we had a lot of darkness as we headed north.
Sunday was fairly smooth, as our weather superstar predicted, with a mix of seas anywhere from 4-6 feet from the west, to 6-10 feet from the south/southeast to 4-6 feet from the southeast with 8-11 second periods. We saw several pods of humpback whales, out enjoying the water right alongside us. But not nearly as many as we saw off the coast of California last summer. Still, such majestic creatures. And I love when we are visitors in their world. Without a crowd of whale watch boats straining to get closer.
At about 9 pm on Sunday, we arrived at Cape Scott at the northern tip of Vancouver Island, an area that was once described to me as “the most awful, challenging water on the planet.” Fantastic. And guess whose watch we arrived on? Mine. We arrived 3 hours early, as we had continued to make excellent time up the coast. What looked to be a tiny passage between islands on the chart was actually about 5 miles wide in reality. From a distance we could see waves crashing on the rocks on the shore. But out where we were, the seas were 4-6 feet from a mix of the west and south/southeast (a little confused) and really not bad at all. We passed smoothly into Queen Charlotte Sound and with our turn, we had a solidly following sea. Perfect sleeping conditions.
Mid-Monday morning the seas became a bit choppy in Queen Charlotte Sound with overcast skies and rain. Our weather router had predicted this as well as the winds that were rising out of the southeast. As such, we decided to take Principe Channel north and miss the weather in Hecate Strait. Principe Channel was beautiful, and uninhabited – no people, boats, or homes. Oh except the Canadian Coast Guard cutter doing what appeared to be exercises with their helicopter. Hopefully it was an exercise.
On Monday evening around 9:30 pm we came out of Principe Channel into north Hecate Strait and Browning Entrance, just south of Dixon Entrance. We knew that our smooth ride in the channel was to end for a bit, with 5-7 foot following seas. Luckily for me, the seas laid down when I came on watch at 3 am. Darren and Kevin were sitting happily in the pilothouse when I came up the stairs, noting how it really wasn’t dark at all – we must be almost there! The next few hours were just stunning, with the “marine twilight” of the far northern skies turning to sunrise over SE Alaska. When we crossed the US/Canadian border we celebrated with coffee and cereal. Wahoo!
The next few hours were uneventful, crossing the waters of Dixon Entrance in seas that could have easily been a flat lake. So much for that dreaded crossing! Or I should say, thank goodness for the smart man helping us with the weather on this trip!
Riding up between the islands into Ketchikan was beautiful, and felt like an accomplishment. As I missed the SFO – SEA run last summer (and only had the nausea-inducing San Diego to San Francisco BASH) this was the longest overnight passage I have done to date – 4 days and 3 nights. As they say in Tennessee, brick by brick – we’ll keep learning and gaining offshore experience. Speaking of nausea, I used this trip to try out the Relief Band – a device that, worn like a watch, sends small electric shocks that disrupt your system basically and tell your brain that you aren’t sick at all. A strange sensation but it worked!
At about 10 am Ketchikan time (an hour earlier than Seattle time) we pulled into Ketchikan and were assigned to a “hot berth” at Bar Harbor Marina, about a mile and a half north of the main town where the cruise ships are. Basically, a hot berth means taking the slip that belongs to a fishing boat while they are out fishing. Ketchikan is a busy fishing and working town, and mooring alongside the working fishing boats was fascinating. Hard, hard work by entire families. And really cool boats.
Like many Alaskan harbors, Ketchikan has a grid, which is a do-it-yourself version of a haul-out. Center your boat on the grid, tie up and wait for the tide to go out. Quickly! Do your work before the tide comes back. I think I’d be a wreck. Really neat to watch though.
After a day of washing the boat, eating halibut and chips and steak and having a few beers, we all had an awesome night of sleep, tied securely to the dock.
On Wednesday morning, Kevin, Darren, Matt and Somerset took the ferry over to the airport and flew the 100+/- minute flight to Seattle while I spent the day wandering Ketchikan. Kevin flew home to pick up Zoe who never has learned to pee on the boat. She thought that the fabulous potty patch that Kevin made for her was a portable yard meant to lie in the sun on. Um no. So, the combination of open ocean seas and a dog that won’t pee on board meant that she got to stay with Uncle Jim + Uncle Bud and fly to Ketchikan. What a princess this dog is. Good thing we love her.
Ketchikan is interesting. It is a mix of hard working people and cruise ship tourism. A few things that struck me: the Alaskan people were incredibly nice, the first people culture is alive and well and truly interesting and the development in Ketchikan, mostly based on piers in the water or stilts and retaining walls in the mountains, looks super challenging.
I greeted Kevin and Zoe back at the boat with yet more groceries. Zoe is a bit confused about how her “house” got here, and where are we really? But she’s getting the hang of it. A Manhattan in the cockpit and we were truly on vacation.
The stats (Kevin insists so here we go):
Shilshole Bay Marina, Seattle, Washington to Bar Harbor Marina, Ketchikan, Alaska
- 78.5 hours
- 645 miles
- 486 gallons of diesel
- 1.33 nmpg
- 6.2 gallons/hour
- 8.2 kn average SOG
- 1 case of diet coke, 2 packs of Red Bull, 5 cases of La Croix water, a couple bags of beef jerky, a giant bowl of snacks and approximately half of the contents of the freezer aisle at Trader Joe’s