Last week was a challenging one for the Japan trip.
The group met twice. On Tuesday evening, we had a group conference call, to speak with a captain who has run our route along the Aleutians several times. We wanted to hear from someone who had been there before, who could tell us what we are in for.
The meeting began with our guest describing his background. He runs 135 foot tug boats back and forth between the northwest and Asia. He has taken both a southern route, via Hawaii, as well as the northern route along the Aleutians, in both directions. I then described the trip we were planning for next year. Our guest then spent the next hour trying to talk the group out of the trip. A few excerpts from his presentation:
– We would be heading directly into 25 knot headwinds and 6 foot seas, for thousands of miles
– The Aleutians do not offer good hiding places. They are low barren islands.
– The distance to Japan via the route we are planning is 5,000 miles. If we instead go the southerly route to Hawaii, we will have nice calm seas, and go 7,000 miles. For him, the tradeoff is an easy decision. He’d much rather have the smooth trip.
– Storms in the Aleutians are frequent and violent. I pushed him a few times on this topic. He said that July and August are the best months, but that there are no good months.
– There is nothing to see in the Aleutians and no place to go
– And.. he repeated several times: “If I never go back to the Aleutians, it will be too soon.”
Our group pointed out that the “bad part” of the run is only 2,500 miles, and that the difficult part of the run will be over in three weeks. Also, we like the idea of going where few have ever gone, and the chance to take the boats into Siberia is a “once in a lifetime” experience. We didn’t convince him, and he didn’t convince us. I was nervous at the end of the call that our group might shrink, but everyone hung in.
Then, on Thursday, we had a face to face meeting with an agent who is working on getting us into Siberia. We had met with this same agent a couple of weeks ago, and had a great meeting. For this meeting he was going to have a detailed budget for each of our boats. Somehow, between our first meeting, and this most recent meeting, the numbers jumped materially. We have heard reports of boats arriving in Siberia and being surprised by huge fees for services they never requested. This sudden increase in fees caught the group by surprise, and shook our faith in the credibility of the agent. He seems like a really good guy, and I suspect the fees he is suggesting are fair. Kamchatka Siberia is a heavily militarized zone, and to my knowledge no group such as ourselves has ever arrived there. Providing us security, fuel, moorage and more is not easy, and the fees reflect the effort involved. I’m not sure what we’ll do. We badly want to stop in Siberia, both for refueling, and to sight-see. It’s a major component of why the routing we’ve chosen will be fun. I do think we’ll work this out, but it certainly wasn’t a fun meeting.
So .. I guess the good news is that after these two meetings this past week, it will be tough not to have better news soon!
I’ll use this debate as the subject of some upcoming blog entry.
Safety is certainly something I’m concerned about, but overall, I’m not that worried. There’s a big difference between January and July in the Bering Sea. I’ve spoken to a lot of captains who have crossed in July and August. We’ll need to be careful, and pick our weather windows, but barring particularly bad luck, we’re not going to see any weather which represents danger. Fog, adverse currents, and pounding into head-seas will all be issues. Also: I’m very concerned about uncharted rocks close to shore. We will need to get tight to the islands to hide from wind from time to time. I spoke with one captain who mentioned going aground, even though he had two local naturalists on board, and a captain who had local knowledge. It’s a volcanic area, with constant shifting of the bottom, and dramatically high tides. We’ll need my sonar whenever close to land. Overall, I do believe it will be three tough weeks, but over quickly, and followed by some great warm water cruising and adventure. – Ken W
PS I don’t think ego is an issue for any of the boats. All four boats have proven their seaworthiness. All of the boats understand what we are in for, and no one wants to be uncomfortable. We’ll only be moving when the weather router gives us a window that not only is safe, but likely to provide the greatest level of comfort possible.
PSPS As to the flopper stoppers – I did have new flopper stoppers made. They are currently sitting in my storage unit, and I need to go pull them out, and take a look. They arrived in a huge wooden crate. I’m just being lazy about unpacking them…
I don’t see what Ken’s ego has to do with anything. He seems to be cautious and cognizant of his own limitations. He can clearly articulate his motivations (who wouldn’t want to be a pioneer of sorts into Siberia?) and understands the risks. If he needed crew I’d go along–and I’m a conservative sailor (not in the political sense of the word).
Ken, I hope you enjoy the trip and can’t wait for the updates. Maybe you can post video updates of Roberta hauling crab pots?
p.s. Are you still having new flopper stoppers made?
Capt. Ken. DON’T DO THAT WAY!!. You ego is going to get you killed and this trip is starting to sound like an ego trip. “We did it and ain’t we good!!” If you haven’t taken green water over, yep over!!, the bridge of a 380 footer you just haven’t been scared. 40 knot average wind speed from the “south” for days on end with up to 90 knots for hours on end. Waves–you mentioned you watch “Dangerous Catch”,didn’t you catch the crew mentioning 40-60 footers? I spent way too many months on a great gray “boat” owned by the US Taxpayers in that part of the world to say nothing of flying speedy pointed nosed gray flying machines for the US Taxpayer also in that part of the world…….Captain—it ain’t worth the ego rush. Go south.
I disagree with many of these comments. With proper planning and seamanship this trip should be a lot of fun! Of course, this is coming from someone who is planning on taking a 22 footer from Seattle to Alaska, around Vancouver Island, and to the Queen Charlottes in the next few years…
I know some small powerboats have circumnavigated. I think they were RIBs but I can’t remember specifics. I wonder if they went this route? Surely a 24 foot planing boat couldn’t hold enough fuel for a transit to Hawaii. One more thing to look into.
Best of luck with the trip,
I think it is a dangerous and crazy idea. I’d listen to the professionals, who know what they are doing. You didn’t want to make the “rough” trip beating north from Costa Rica (and I don’t blame you) so how can you even start to consider this trip. Load it on dockwise and enjoy your time in Japan. I often say, think about what the worse thing that could happen, then make your decision. Loss of boat, death. You best reconsider. It sounds like a really cool trip and like a really dangerous trip!!
JC: There’s a true side to what you said… On our run along the coast of Nicaragua, I had been worried about pirates, but when we were there we were thrashed by the wind and seas, and we didn’t see one other boat. I remember thinking that it was great not having to think about pirates. They had more sense than we did! – Ken W
Sounds like most of the really rough weather is beating down the hatches right now without moving an inch. Maybe you should rent a submarine:) Call Paul Allen, maybe his is available. On the bright side I imagine the risk of piracy is very low along this route.
Shhh!!!! (We just got the girls calmed down!).
Actually, to be honest .. Roberta had to calm me down after the meeting. I suggested calling another meeting to discuss if we should consider doing the 7,000 mile run through Hawaii, and Roberta was the one who said “let’s keep it as it is.”
It will be hell, but it’s only three weeks of hell. Actually .. there’s a joke I should be able to use here about “when hell freezes over,” but nothing seems funny about this trip.
I do not reccomend this trip!! I have been there going from East To West on a US Destroyer……Bad weather, wind, current, Nothing there!!