I have been without internet the past few days! I have many different ways of getting internet, and none have been working. My satellite internet connection is being blocked by the large mountains on all sides. When, briefly, I was able to call a Captain-friend, who has cruised Alaska many times, he said that this is not unusual, and that he had even lost all GPS positioning information on some trips.
I have tried repeatedly to find the internet, with both my Mini Vsat, and my Fleet Broadband 250, without success. Satellite Television also stopped working.
It’s a strange feeling, not having any ability to communicate. The same satellite connection that gives us internet provides our satellite phone service. As I type this, I am 100% out of touch. If we were in trouble, I’d have no way of calling, or emailing, anyone. I do have a couple of other satellite-based devices which could probably be used to send out a distress message, but as far as ordinary phone and email communications, I am stuck, at least for today. It’s a really strange feeling. We crossed the Atlantic in 2004, and never had a day without communications. The same was true last year, as we ran from Seattle to Costa Rica.
To add to the twilight-zone feeling, we haven’t seen another boat in two days, which deepens the feeling of isolation. I was warned about fishing nets that would be blocking our route, and cruise ships I’d be dodging in narrow channels. Neither has been an issue. I’d be quite happy to see any target appear on the AIS, or radar, just as a reminder that civilization still exists.
It’s a reminder that we are still “pre-season.” I get the impression that the cruising season doesn’t really get going until mid-May or even June. Overall, this is a good thing. It feels like we have the place to ourselves. Marinas are happy to see us. Finding space is easy, and we don’t have to dodge cruiseships and fishing nets.
But.. I’m getting ahead of myself. I should continue this story where I left off, at Pruth Bay.
One of the many logs we passed, most of which never appear on radar. A reminder why this area shouldn’t be run at night.
I do most navigating with Nobeltec, but also plot my position on paper charts. Here’s a look at just a few of the 85 pounds of charts I bought for the trip.
Our run, from Pruth Bay to Shearwater, was easy. We caught the currents correctly, and surfed our way there without incident.
We stopped for a couple of days at Shearwater; a small resort, grocery store, hotel, restaurant, marine store, haul-out facility, fuel dock and more.
Shearwater is across from Bella Bella, a town which is primarily native-american. We were encouraged to visit Bella Bella, and had good intentions, but never made it there.
On our last day in Shearwater, the weather started turning bad. The outlook was for 30-40 knot winds. Most of our run after Shearwater would be in protected waters (the Inside Passage) with the exception of a two-hour run across Milbanke Sound. I spoke with a couple of friends, all of whom said, “Don’t worry about it. You should be fine in a boat your size.” I then spoke to a ‘local boater’ who helped me lay out a course through Reeds Passage which would allow me to bypass Milbanke Sound. It was a bit longer course, and would have me zigzagging between reefs, but would keep me in protected waters.
After plotting my course, and entering it into Nobletec, a Canadian Coast Guard boat pulled up at the dock. I couldn’t resist asking them about Reeds Passage. They spent some time staring at the stern of Sans Souci, and then said: “If you go through at high slack, you can probably make it. We make it through, but just barely. It’s pretty tight. Are you sure you really want to try it?” I said I was trying to avoid going through Milbanke Sound, and they said that Milbanke Sound really wouldn’t be that bad, and that with my boat, they’d strongly recommend I just tough it out for a couple hours.
This left me thinking “What if I’d just taken the advice of the first guy?” He said he had been through Reeds Passage with a ninety footer, and said I wouldn’t have to worry about Tides or Current. Argh! I suspect the Coast Guard guys were being conservative, and I’d have been fine. Or, at least I hope I would have, but Milbanke Sound was sounding better.
Our run across Milbanke Sound was not very exciting. The wind stayed under 25 knots. I included some video showing the run, which makes the waves look even less exciting than they were (no worries – there will be exciting footage of water over the bow sooner or later. I’m just avoiding it as long as I can).
Our first anchorage was at Khutze Inlet. We were told that it was a five mile deep narrow bay, with a beautiful waterfall at the back. There was supposed to be a 65′ deep ledge, next to the waterfall, that would allow anchoring.
This whole topic of anchoring deserves a bit more discussion, especially for those who read my blog that are not boaters…
Sans Souci carries 400′ of thick chain (called anchor rode), and a Rocna Anchor (a anchor which is famed for its ability to reset itself should it ever drag). Generally speaking, the ideal anchoring situation is to be:
1) As well protected as possible. – In looking for an anchorage, it is usually important to know where the wind is. Most anchorages are not completely protected on all sides. Usually one or more sides are open to the wind. Some books indicate how exposed the anchorage is, for instance saying things like, “This is a good anchorage, except in a south wind.”
2) As shallow as possible. The deeper the water, the greater the requirement for ‘swing room.’
3) As much ‘swing room’ as needed. The ‘rule of thumb’ is that you should put out five to seven times your depth in anchor rode. In other words, if you drop anchor in 40′ of water, you’d like to have out 200 to 280 feet of anchor rode. If you are expecting strong winds, you lean towards the higher end of the range. There are times when less anchor rode is put out, such as when doing what I call a ‘day hook’. If not much wind is expected, and I am stopping somewhere for lunch and a swim, I might put out as little as two to one of anchor rode; meaning perhaps 80′ of anchor rode, if at 40′ of depth. The assumption here is that if the wind comes up, I’ll either drop more chain, or find another anchorage. The phrase ‘swing room’ describes the circle formed by your boat as it rotates around the anchor as the wind changes directions through the night.
‘Dragging the anchor’ is when the wind overcomes your anchor, and the boat does not stay put. Roberta and I spent one night in 60 knot winds, with gusts to 75, where perhaps a dozen boats around us broke anchor and wound up on the beach. We had faith in our anchor, and other than having the engines running, ready to make a move if needed, we just waited it out. We weren’t too worried about our boat dragging, but we had great fear of another boat dragging anchor and smashing into us.
One more term: ‘Anchor Watch.’ Unless we have 100% perfect anchoring conditions, which never seems to occur, we need to stand anchor watch. On just three occasions, this has meant staying up all night, sitting at the helm, ready to take action should the anchor drag. 99% of the time, anchor watch just means setting the clock every one or two hours through the night, and waking to check the boat’s position, and what the wind is doing.
We used to do this the hard way. I would use the radar to measure proximity to other boats and the shore, and Roberta and I would have long discussions over whether the boat had moved or not. These days, we have a simple method. We simply turn on tracking on Nobleltec, and put a circle, which represents our swing circle, onto a mark which shows where we dropped the anchor. As long as we are in the circle, we haven’t dragged anchor. We also did something very handy on Sans Souci, we broadcast Nobletec, and the wind gauge, onto the television in the master stateroom. At any time during the night, I can pop on the TV, and in one glance know everything I need to know. Anchor watch is no longer a problem.
OK … back to my original story…
Swing circles aren’t always circles. This is a concept I’m not completely comfortable with, and probably will never be, but it is one that other boaters take advantage of regularly, and which can be an important concept here in the near-Alaska area. Imagine you are anchored in front of a stream. As long as the stream has adequate flow, the boat is not going to change directions. You do not need to provide for a swing circle. Unless the wind goes crazy, you know exactly where your boat is going to sit.
Another example is the one that we needed to rely on at Khutze Inlet. Khutze is a long narrow bay (several miles deep), with high vertical walls. There is good protection from the wind, on all sides. You only need to think about tides. While at anchor, you do not need a swing circle, you need a swing-oblong. Your boat is always going to swing with the tide; either going into the bay, or out of the bay. It will never swing towards shore.
When we arrived at the waterfall, our first disappointment was that the waterfall was completely frozen!!! Ouch! There was no time to go elsewhere, so we needed to find a place to anchor. We found the promised ‘ledge’ to anchor at, and studied it with Sans Souci’s sonar. It poked out no more than 20′ from the wall!!! Double-ouch!! Most of the bay was 100’s of feet deep. I couldn’t anchor that deep. And, as I said in the prior couple of paragraphs, I am not comfortable with not having a swing circle, regardless of what other boaters do.
I alwys think in terms of ‘bail outs.’ If something isn’t right, I need to know what my ‘bail out’ is, or my backup position. When doing my trip planning, I had identified a second place in the bay that could be used to anchor, but there wouldn’t be much swing room, and it would be deeper than I liked. This was a 65 foot deep section back near the entrance to the bay. The shallower water was caused by a mud slide, and to avoid swinging into the shallow water near the mud slide, I’d need to reduce my swing circle (less rode). So… we spent the night with 200 feet of rode out, in 65 feet of water. We were just fine. There was no wind, and we never came close to dragging. I don’t think the rode was ever anything but straight up and down. It just bugged me, and was the first of what I’m sure will be many anchoring situations where I need to ‘compromise.’
We had hoped to see grizzly bears in Khutze inlet, but they never appeared. Instead, we saw some seals that were white, and very pretty. I wanted to take a photo, but it was raining, and I didn’t want to hurt the camera.
As we were running north, we passed a ghost town, in the middle of NOWHERE, called Butedale. [Note: Sorry .. I forgot to take photos of it. To see it, watch the video below.] I’m not sure why it was abandoned, or who lived there, but if I had it to do over again, I’d go ashore. We should have stopped, but it was raining, and no one was in the mood.
The next night, we anchored at a deep inlet called East Inlet. Once again, I had to drop the anchor deep (84 feet), and compromise swing room, but it was a wonderful anchorage. Very pretty.
We’re now in Prince Rupert, Canada, near the US border, and about to set out for a day of exploring. This is our last stop before Alaska. Tomorrow will be a long day, but we should arrive in Ketchikan tomorrow!
You should see a video of our run to Prince Rupert below. If not, click this link:
On a completely different topic…
I’ve heard a rumor that Sans Souci I, our original Nordhavn 62, which we sold in France, is now back on the market, on the east coast of the US. There are some pictures of it that can be seen by clicking this link:
As you can see, Sans Souci has been repainted, and redecorated, to match the personality of its current owner. It was a great boat, and has an amazing history: It was ordered by Prince Rainier of Monaco, bought by Roberta and I, then we added a stern bustle and hardtop that was custom designed and built by Jimmy Buffett, and now the boat is owned by the Icelandic singer Bjork, and artist Mathew Barney. We took it across the Atlantic as part of the Nordhavn Rally, and Mathew Barney brought it back to the US. We have many fond memories of Sans Souci I (now named Dimma), and hope it finds a good home.
And, a brief update on the other two GSSR boats….
We are getting very close to each other. Seabird and Grey Pearl are only a couple of days behind us. We will be meeting up by Monday or Tuesday in Ketchikan.
And, lastly, I received a copy of an email sent to Dan Streech, at Nordhavn, from the owner of a Nordhavn 55, regarding piracy. I think you’ll find it interesting.
Thank you, Ken Williams
Nordhavn 68, Sans Souci
PS Several of you have written to ask where the pictures of the animals are. I will start working on this. So far, we haven’t seen bears, but we have seen seals, porpoises, eagles and even a couple whales. A funny footnote to this: when a eagle landed just outside the window at dinner last night, we were all excited. However, the Canadians at the next table said, “You’ll see a lot of those. They are as common as rats around here.”