Well here it is, the end of November and we’re finally writing the last chapter of the Alaska adventure. We got back from Alaska in July and found ourselves flung back in the hustle and bustle of our day to day lives. And we’d say to each other, “Hey let’s write that last story…” and then we’d take the boat out.
When we last left off we were enjoying the beauty, albeit rainy beauty, of Takatz Bay. What a gorgeous spot. Wish we were there now!
This last chapter of the 2017 Alaska cruise had some ups and downs, some sad moments and some times of great joy in new accomplishments. Here’s the story!
Takatz Bay to Roche Harbor (with a few stops) 829 nm
Our plan was to leave Takatz Bay in the morning and cruise over to Portage Bay on Kupreanof Island to meet Eric Bescoby of Sprezzatura, a N40. Kevin and Eric had been chatting for a few months comparing notes on Alaska and we planned to spend a few days cruising together. We left Takatz Bay under low grey skies and headed around Point Gardner at the southern tip of Admiralty Island. We saw a N47 cruise north past us, waving out of their pilothouse doors as they glided silently by. Shortly after passing the point the VHF radio came suddenly to life. “Mayday, mayday, mayday” said a panicked young man’s voice. He was obviously very close to us as he sounded as if he was sitting on the settee next to me. We listened with rapt attention to the conversation on Channel 16 with the Coast Guard. The story goes that the young man had left Kake, on Kupreanof Island with his father that morning. Father and son, members of the tight-knit Tlingit community in Kake, a town of about 750 people, were going fishing on Dad’s 30+/- foot commercial fishing boat at Point McCartney, about 13 nm from the docks in Kake. The 20-something son went to sleep in the bunks, telling Dad to wake him up when they arrived at the fishing spot. Son woke up when the boat ran aground on the beach in Herring Bay on Admiralty Island, about 21 nm away from the fishing spot. Dad was nowhere to be found sadly. The son was confused and incredibly upset and alone on a boat sitting on the beach, talking with the Coast Guard. The boat had been on autopilot and as such ran a straight course onto the beach, just a few hundred feet from rocky ledges that would have spelled trouble for the sleeping young man. It seems that his Dad had a heart condition and while it is unknown what happened, perhaps this was a factor in his falling overboard. We listened to the coordinates for his location and saw that we were the closest vessel. And, as it is our responsibility as boaters to help each other, we had a 2-second conversation and turned the boat toward Herring Bay and away from our day’s destination. Kevin talked with the Coast Guard as well as the Search and Rescue team from Kake, comprised primarily of family and friends of the missing man and his son. I can’t imagine their anguish in this search. The Alaskan people are incredibly strong. We arrived at Herring Bay to find that the rocky bottom wasn’t anchor friendly. At the same time, the rain was coming down in buckets and the wind was whipping itself up, consistently over 20 knots with gusts in the 30s. We decided that we’d put the dinghy down and that Kevin would go to shore, and I’d stay with the boat (and Zoe of course). We lowered the dinghy and Kevin headed into shore, talking with the young man on the VHF, still on channel 16 as he was in shock and couldn’t switch channels, even on the Coast Guard’s request. I have never been more proud of my husband. He told the young man how sorry he was about his missing Dad and talked calmly while he approached the shore. The young man came out of the boat and stood on the beach, shoulders hunched, horrified and terribly sad. Kevin got the dinghy up on the shore and got out and gave the young man a big hug, which was reciprocated. The two got in the dinghy and started out toward Red Rover. At this point, Kake Search & Rescue arrived, but due to the draft of their boat couldn’t get any closer to shore than just beyond Red Rover. Kevin delivered the young man to the Search & Rescue boat where he was immediately enveloped in a huge hug by 5 people on the boat, one of whom appeared to be his mother. He began sobbing in their arms. So very hard to watch. Soaked to the skin, we got the dinghy back up on the boat and told each other we’d talk about this once we were safely underway and out of this bay. We had a good cry, ate some tomato soup and spent the next couple of hours talking with the Coast Guard and listening to the search. The Coast Guard launched their search helicopter from Juneau, a good hour’s flight away. The pilot was so impressive, communicating kindly and respectfully with the Kake Search & Rescue team. At least 30 other boats poured out of Kake and the area fishing lodges, searching for the missing man. Sadly, the man’s body was found a few hours after the search began. We learned more about him in the paper in the following days.
We continued onto Portage Bay where Eric was listening to the Coast Guard side of the exchange and kept hearing Red Rover mentioned. He couldn’t hear us and was very concerned about our safety as we were significantly behind schedule in our arrival. The sat phone rang and Eric was calling. We assured him that we were fine, but that we had quite a story for evening cocktails. We pulled into Portage Bay and anchored, took Zoe to shore and had Eric over for margaritas and tacos. We felt fortunate to be warm, dry, alive and on an adventure. The difficult day reminded us of the power of the ocean and Mother Nature, not to be taken lightly.
The next day we decided to make a quick hop back to Petersburg where we would do two things: 1) try to sign paperwork to close on our beach house that was completing construction back in Washington in our absence and 2) enjoy some of the Independence Day festivities that are a huge, huge deal in small Alaskan towns. We did both after a goose chase. If you ever need to find a notary in a small town in Alaska, try the local newspaper editor. Yep. She patiently helped us sign well over 100 pages of homeowner responsibility. After signing, Kevin hiked out to the post office to ensure that the paperwork would make the Alaska Airlines flight back to Seattle, and then a truck out to Grays Harbor County, Washington. Eric and I watched the local fishermen battle through some fun contests in the middle of the street – awesome! Eric made Kevin, Zoe and I an amazing dinner on Sprezzatura and we all enjoyed each other’s company for the evening.
Our pre-departure deposit was not enough… needed a bit extra to close!
On the 4th of July we headed south down Wrangell Narrows, now aware of its not-so-challenging nature, and worked our way toward Exchange Cove on Prince of Wales Island. The thought was that we’d be in a remote, beautiful anchorage far away from the fireworks that Zoe hates. Hmmm. We pulled into the pretty bay to find a group of pick-up trucks and tents setting up on the beach, having driven logging roads to access the bay. Argh. Fireworks were of course on their agenda. No matter. We dinghy cruised, swam Zoe, had a barbecue and some adult beverages and toasted our good fortune and the holiday.
On the 5th of July we awoke to an incoming fog. Thick, thick fog. We decided to head out and take it slow. In about an hour and a half the fog gave way to gorgeous SUNSHINE! Sunshine! An uncommon sight. We cruised south, seeing humpback whales, seals, porpoises and happy fishermen along the way. Thorne Bay on Prince of Wales Island was our destination, a former large-scale logging town. Thorne Bay is an interesting spot, accessed through a series of narrow channels between small islands. Floating homes that include sprawling outbuildings and stately fishing lodges line the large bay. We talked to the Harbormaster prior to entering the bay and she assured me that we would have room and that we should tie up “close to the large blue boat.” When I asked where I’d find this boat she said, “If you can’t find it you have bigger problems.” Well… ok. It turns out that the marina was very small and the big blue boat was an American Tug that had been anchored next to us in Blue Mouse Cove in Glacier Bay National Park.
After a wander around town and another great dinner, eaten in the sun on the flybridge, our fleet of two Nordhavns headed back to Ketchikan the next day. Kevin and I were gearing up to head home to Seattle, and needed to gather up some groceries as well as top off our fuel tanks. While we could have made it home without fueling, we wanted the weight and the certainty that full fuel tanks provide. On July 7th we left Ketchikan for Foggy Bay, just to the north of Dixon Entrance. Foggy Bay is the destination of choice for cruisers waiting to cross the notoriously rough passage (which was like a lake on our way up to Alaska!). We pulled into Foggy Bay to find another Nordhavn, Island Greeter, a N62 that used to be on our old dock in Anacortes. Funny! We did a little exploring, ate a feast of King crab legs and prepped for the next day’s journey. Large rolling swells greeted us, and Island Greeter who was just ahead of us as we left the bay, and stayed with us for several hours. The water flattened out as we entered Canada, and the sun came out. Lovely!
From Prince Rupert, we headed south to Cameron Cove just off of Camaano Sound. We had talked with our weather router and conditions were excellent for a southern passage on the outside of Vancouver Island, if we got going and stayed ahead of a front. We decided that we’d do this southern passage by ourselves, our first multi-night run all alone, without additional crew to take turns on watch. We’d stop briefly for Zoe to have rest stops if we couldn’t get her to use the potty patch (which she hadn’t used yet). We’d get some good rest and head out of Cameron Cove at 4 am. Seemed like a good plan. Until the windlass failed. Kevin spent hours trying to rebuild the windlass that evening and at about midnight we thought we had success!
(Kevin writing now)
The next series of photos are after we anchored and found that we had an issue… When Alison was deploying the anchor, the windlass shut down and a major fuse failed. I initially found two issues, the bolts holding the gearbox together had backed out creating a 3/8″ gap and the fuse issue. I suspected that after tightening the bolts up and replacing the fuse, we would be fine – thinking the loose bolts allowed some sort of binding to happen in the gearbox. I had to pull the windlass apart top and bottom to get at the bolts. After a few hours, these tasks were done. I did a quick test shortly after midnight to see if we were operational – it worked, or seemed to….
Dawn calm before we knew the windlass wasn’t going to help out.
In the morning we took Zoe to shore, loaded the dinghy and I stepped up to the windlass controls to bring up the anchor. Whine, whine…. die. FANTASTIC. So, after trying to bring up 400 feet of chain (did I mention we were anchored in 80 feet of water??) we managed to get to 320 feet back on the boat and the anchor swinging above the bottom of the bay. Heavy. The aluminum bar, which had been deforming was now bending. And then it was BENT. DONE. No longer useable. We sat and looked at what we could do. We tried rigging up a system with the dinghy davit but the angle was all wrong and was dangerous. Ultimately, we decided we had to cut the 175 lb. stainless steel CQR style anchor free. Kevin tied the anchor off with a line, and then cut the chain with a grinder, saying “I was wondering what I might use this tool for on the boat.” We then looked at each other sadly and said goodbye to the anchor as Kevin cut the line and a very expensive anchor became bling on the bottom of the ocean. At that very moment a pod of humpback whales surfaced just off of the port bow, cavorting in the water just beside us. It was like they were saying “thanks for the pretty jewelry!” We were too upset to take any photos, but if we had they would have been amazing. The whales were so active and RIGHT next to us. Zoe barked at them and ran up and down the boat. They were not phased by this small black dog!
(Kevin here – I changed the fuse again, just to be sure before we did the manual retrieval. Back in Seattle we learned that the electric motor failed. It would run for a moment but an extended run would kill the fuse. I suspect the gearbox binding up did something to the motor. The windlass was serviced and a new electric motor was installed and the system works flawlessly again. We also put 500′ of 1/2″ chain and a new Rocna anchor on board)
We unearthed our back-up Danforth anchor and prepped it should we need it in an emergency, but without a windlass, it was now time to cruise home without any stops. We told Zoe she was going to learn to use that potty patch!!
Exhausted, I went to sleep for a bit and missed Kevin’s few hours of incredible wildlife including pods of Orca whales, humpbacks, porpoises and more. When I awoke my first watch was on! We had some lumps crossing Queen Charlotte Sound but the sun was shining and the boat handled beautifully, as always. On my later watch, after midnight (somehow I seem to get the late night shifts?!?) we approached Cape Scott, known to be turbulent. The tides were changing and the water at Cape Scott was confused, and interestingly, very busy with multiple large scale commercial fishing boats. We switched captains and Kevin navigated us around the point, then handing the helm back to me. I love the early mornings during my watches – seeing the sun rise, hearing the quiet swishing noise of the water as the hull moves through the ocean, and seeing wildlife awake for the day. Such as special time.
We cruised down the west side of Vancouver Island, taking turns at watch and enjoying truly calm water with swells to five feet, but on 12-18 seconds in a stern quarter sea that then became a following sea. Awesome. We moved around small fishing boats, commercial fishing boats and saw a sailboat or two, but otherwise it was us, the ocean and the sea critters.
Zoe, on her first overnight open ocean passage ended up being a champ! She did wait 35 hours to use that potty patch though. We had a big party when she finally used it – for a long, long time. GOOD DOG!
We arrived back at the western entrance of the Strait of Juan de Fuca in the early morning hours, with me at the helm once again. I have never been quite so happy to see the Strait! And in our cruise that day we also saw another fun sight – the new Nordhavn 59 Coastal Cruiser with the Nordhavn principals aboard, moving the boat down to Dana Point. We had a little radio chat with them, which was fun, and pointed our bow north vs. south to Seattle. Why go home so soon? Roche Harbor, here we come! The good folks at Roche Harbor understood that we didn’t have an anchor to hang out in the bay and helped us into a slip, 55 hours after we left Cameron Cove. YES! A new accomplishment for us, the first of many multi-night trips to come by ourselves. We were proud. And exhausted. And Zoe was really excited to see grass. Really, really excited. We took a walk, made some cocktails (best drinks ever), talked to Tom and Linda of N57 Meridian who were also at Roche, and went to bed with giant smiles on our faces. What a trip. What a journey. What an adventure. What a crazy fun life we have started for ourselves buying this boat and changing our lives.