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Roberta,Ken And The Pups Cruise The World On A Relatively Small Boat

GSSR#19 - Gulf of Alaska

Total Distance: 5,276 nm
Run so far: 1,741 nm
Nautical Miles to go:
3,535 nm
Tomorrow's goal: 150 nm!

Greetings all!

The three GSSR boats are now two thirds of the way across the Gulf of Alaska. To see exactly where we are, at any time, you can always go to my website (www.kensblog.com) click on the menu item for "PRESS" and click on 'View Location' for my boat, Sans Souci.

Those who have been tracking our location may have noticed that we decided to go straight across the middle, rather than follow the shore around the outside as originally planned. This was a HUGE decision. The Gulf of Alaska is an enormous body of water, nearly three miles deep, over 500 miles across, and prone to rough sea conditions. Our rationale for going around the outside was based on a desire to have a place to hide, should the weather conditions be rough.

However, as we were already underway, I received an email from our weather forecaster in Kodiak saying that he had never seen better conditions for cutting straight across the middle. This triggered a debate amongst the boats, with unanimous agreement that we wanted a second opinion before  making a decision.

This triggered an email to Weather Bob, at Ocmarnav.com, saying:

"Greetings Bob. We are now underway, departing Hoonah at noon, running 8.5 knots. We should be into the Gulf of Alaska within about 3 hours from now (around 4pm Alaska time). Our current plan is to follow the shore around, running about 25 miles offshore, but we’re thinking this could be a weather window good enough to justify going straight across. None of us have ever run the Gulf of Alaska, and have no idea how predictable the weather reports are. We would hate to get caught in the middle and have things turn ugly. Then again, there don’t seem to be many hiding spots if we go around the outside. Any wisdom for us? Thank you, Ken Williams."

Bob's response:

"Hi Ken and the GSSR crew: thanks for the email. Well, to be honest, I don't know if you could have planned for a better opportunity to cross the Gulf of Alaska. [...] If you are comfortable with it, going offshore is the way to go..."

This email from Weather Bob was the deciding factor. None of us would have predicted, when we left port, that we would be going across the middle.

Both the Kodiak forecaster and Weather Bob warned us that the first eight hours would likely be the worst we'd see. Our trip began with 15 knot headwinds, and 8-10 foot head seas.  I can't speak for the other boats, but personally, it was a difficult transition. We had been cruising for six weeks on seas where 6 inch chop was a big day, and suddenly we were in uncomfortable seas.

For those of you who aren't boaters, I'm trying to think how to describe the feeling. The sea conditions are easier than we were expecting, and we couldn't be happier. However, they are not what I would call comfortable seas. I've been in much higher seas that weren't a problem at all. These seas are uncomfortable for a couple reasons: 1) We are going against the waves. The waves are coming at us from the front. 2) The waves are close together; 6 to 9 seconds apart. Instead of large gentle rolling waves, we are seeing an endless stream of short choppy waves. No sooner do we rise and fall with one wave, than we rise and fall with the next.

The best way I can describe the feeling is to imagine yourself in a bird cage, dangling from a giant bungee cord. Above you is a puppetmaster, who randomly grabs the cord and jerks upwards every few seconds. Sometimes you jump a couple feet in the air, sometimes 10 or more feet. Every few seconds your body goes from near-weightless to something greater than your weight. Anything not strapped down is at risk of hitting the ground, including yourself. Simple tasks like standing up, walking down the stairs, taking a shower, even going to the bathroom, become difficult.

It isn't the kind of motion that makes you worry about safety, but it is the kind of motion that can cause seasickness. Some are affected more than others. Historically, I've only had a couple of bouts of seasickness, and didn't expect problems. In the past I've used scopolamine patches with great success, but with the relatively calm forecast I didn't put on a patch, and should have. I have spent the last two days seasick, and unable to do much of anything. Last night I finally decided to put on half a patch, and today am feeling relatively ok.

The one I feel the sorriest for is our dog, Shelby. The pilot house floor is slickly polished teak. She tends to slide from one end of the floor to the other. Her tail has been between her legs for the past two days, and she doesn't understand what is happening. Her whole world is moving at all times, and she can't get comfortable. At least we know what is happening. For her it is just a confusing situation that is not much fun.

Overall, the GSSR group has been nicknamed 'The Wrongway Gang' for a reason. The seas are always less comfortable when you are going into them, instead of with them. We will be fighting headseas for thousands of miles. That said, this really isn't that bad. It's uncomfortable, but if we had it like this all the way to Japan, we'd be thrilled. This is not bad.

This is a three-day around the clock passage. On Sans Souci, we've been running six hour shifts. Roberta and I run the bridge from 10pm to 4am, and from 10am to 4pm. Jeff Sanson and Kirt Ahlquist have the other two shifts. I like two person watches, with one person driving and the other person as "go-fer" (go fer this, go fer that). This strategy has worked well. The other person can nap when not on duty, but must always be available to run errands, or watch the helm for a biologic break. The other boats seem to be running three hour, single person, shifts. There's more than one way to skin this cat, so there really is no right answer.

And on a slightly different topic...

About 100 miles into the Gulf of Alaska we encountered the only other boats we have seen. We saw two fishing boats, who crossed our paths. We are running a strict V formation, with Sans Souci in the lead, Grey Pearl a mile back on my starboard side, and Seabird a mile back on the port side. Anyone seeing us on their AIS or Radar must think we are a very strange looking fleet. The first of the fishing boats just shot through the center of us, far closer than we would like (within a third of a mile to each of us). The second boat took the time to call on the radio and ask how he should work his way through us.

Grey Pearl took the call, and agreed with the fishing vessel that they would pass behind our fleet. I was listening on the radio, and happy to hear it, as the fishing boat was rapidly approaching us. Immediately after the discussion, the fishing vessel turned onto a direct collision path with Sans Souci. I went, "Huh!???" and was immediately on the radio. "Fishing Vessel Christina. I am confused, you just said you would pass behind us, and now you are pointed straight at me. What is your intention?" He was actually a very nice guy, and confused by our fleet. To clarify who was who, we had to blink our lights, so that he could figure out which boat we were. He then said: "All of you should just relax, and maintain course and speed. Let me handle it. When we're fishing we are used to running much closer to each other than you guys are. I'll work around you. Don't worry about it." And, he did, zigzagging through our fleet.

Minutes after passing us, he was back on the radio. "My son is curious and talked me into asking, But, can I ask you guys a question? What are you, and where are you going?" I took the call and explained that we were pleasure boats going to Japan. This caught him off guard, and we didn't hear back for a few more minutes. Finally, "Are you sail boats?" I responded: "No - trawlers." This led to a long string of questions about what we were doing and how we were going to do it. I think that if I had told him we were an invading army from Lithuania, it would have made far more sense than the truth. By the end of the chat, I had given him my blog address, and I'm sure he'll be looking us up. They don't see a lot of tourists in the middle of the Gulf of Alaska.

And, on a completely different topic...

Because I've been sidetracked with getting ready for our big passage, and being seasick, I haven't really spoken about our departure, last week from Dundas Bay, and our arrival in Hoonah.

As some of you may recall, Sans Souci and Seabird spent three days at anchor in a small bay called Dundas Bay, adjacent to Glacier Bay National Park. In a prior blog I spoke about the tight entrance to Dundas, and that I used it as an opportunity to test my sonar.

This picture was taken at 11pm at night, at anchor.

On our last day at Dundas, as Roberta and I were sitting in the hot tub, just thinking about how great life is, we were surprised by a Coast Guard vessel entering the bay.The coast guard vessel anchored about a 1/4 mile up the channel from us, and then stayed there all day. We didn't see any activity, and had no idea why it was there.

Our departure from Dundas was not nearly as easy as our entry. I had mentioned to Steven Argosy, on Seabird, the night before, that I felt confident enough with the run to make it at full speed. Instead, we departed in fog, weaving our way amongst the rocks. Following Coast Guard guidelines I used my fog horm once a minute, to alert other boats that we were coming. I proceeded cautiously and called Steven to say, "Remember what I told you about running full-speed out of here. Forget I ever said that." His reply, "I already had."

As we exited the channel, we observed the coast guard vessel once more, hovering just outside the channel. On the radio, we heard the rest of the story.

A boat had hit the rocks, near where we had been anchored, and in the same channel we had just explored by tender the prior day! For the full story on the grounding, see this blog:


Dundas remains as one of my favorite anchorages in the world, but the clear message if you ever go there is: BE CAREFUL! And, don't trust charts. The rock they hit is recorded on the chart, but 138 feet from its real location.

Hoonah has a fuel dock, and I needed to take on fuel for our big passage. Because of the large tidal swings (over 20'), the fuel dock can be well above your boat. To obtain fuel, I tied up to a float, and the fuel hose was passed down from above. Sans Souci is 44' tall, and I was looking up at the fuel dock from the upper deck on Sans Souci. To pay I had to put my credit card into a bucket lowered by the fuel station attendant.

Finally, all three boats were united at the dock in Hoonah.

Several other Nordhavn boats, and friends, met us for a big send-off party.

Hoonah is a small town of about 800 persons. According to one shop keeper, about 60% are Tlingit indians. I'm never sure what I can say without running afoul of political correctness standards, but one cool thing about the town was the lack of segregation that we had witnessed elsewhere. Everyone seemed to be living together quite happily, and the community had a great feeling. It's a bit off the tourist track, but I predict good things for Hoonah. They've recently added an area of the town targeting the cruise ship trade, and now have one ship a week coming in.

One interesting thing in Hoonah is the focus on ancestors. I assume that this comes from the Tlingit culture, but do not know. Many of the homes along the main road had a tombstone in the front yard, prominently displayed.

The marina was exceptionally clean and well managed. Paul, the Harbormaster, does an outstanding job, and was extremely helpful. One thing I had never seen before was the boat lift pictured above. Rather than lifting the boat, you simply park it on the large wooden grid, and then wait for the tide to take the water down. While we were there, a new boat was on the grid each day. It was perfect for bottom painting, prop repair, swapping zincs, etc. I have heard that these sorts of tidal lifts are illegal in the United States, but it seemed like a great idea to me.

While in Hoonah, we walked about a mile to dinner at a lodge. On arrival the waitress greeted us at the door, and asked if we had walked. When we said yes, she said we were lucky not to have been attacked by a grizzly, and that we should be careful. Apparently a couple grizzlys were running around town. A nine year old girl had been attacked not too long ago. While we were shopping at the store, we received a call from a friend saying that there were  couple of Grizzlys walking on the seawall just in front of our boat. We never saw them, or felt in any danger. But, they were around.

I'll close for the day with these photos of our departure. The first photo shows Capt. Jeff Sanson, of Pacific Yacht Management, helping strap things down on Sans Souci's bow, and the second shows Seabird and Grey Pearl falling into formation for our passage.

What these photos don't show is what was happening in my mind, and I assume in the mind of the others. Entering the Gulf of Alaska was a major milestone. Mentally I was thinking of it as the "point of no return." Everything about the GSSR until that point has been done before. We've been on well documented waters, where hundreds of other cruisers go each year. Once we crossed into the Gulf, we entered into a different world. It's kind of like falling off the end of the earth. There's a whole planet out there we will be discovering, and we're now on the way. It's something that was decided long ago, but it's still a big moment.

More from Kodiak soon!

Thank you,
Ken Williams
N6805, Sans Souci

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