GSSR#12 – Ketchi-me-if-you-Kan

Total Distance: 5,276 nm
Run so far: 729 nm
Nautical Miles to go: 4,547 nm
Tomorrow’s goal: 0 nm – we’re enjoying Ketchikan!

Greetings all!

This is a very quick update, just to let everyone know that Sans Souci has arrived safely at the docks in Ketchikan, Alaska.

Today is a very special day, because in just a few hours, Sans Souci will be joined by the other two boats on the Great Siberian Sushi Run (GSSR), Seabird and Grey Pearl.

Our three boats left Seattle several days apart. Seabird and Grey Pearl met each other a few days ago, in Campbell River, and will be arriving from Prince Rupert. They have been paddling as fast as they can, in hopes of catching Sans Souci, and soon they shall.

Prince Rupert was our last port in Canada before crossing back into the United States. It was a great little town, with a good selection of restaurants. We had excellent dinners at the Cow Bay Café and the Waterfront Restaurant at the Crest Hotel.

My biggest project, while in Prince Rupert was trying to sort out satellite television. Roberta and I are both news junkies. Sans Souci has a KVH M9 satellite TV system. Prior to the trip we did some research and decided that our best odds of having TV reception throughout Alaska, and across the Aleutians, would be to swap from DirecTV to Dish Network. This strategy only partially worked. Dish Network’s programming is distributed to multiple satellites, and it didn’t occur to us to check if the news programming is on all satellites. It isn’t. We can still get Dish Network, but not the channels we most want. I don’t want to turn this into a boring paragraph for 99% of you, so I won’t go into details (although anyone interested can always post a question on my blog), but the bottom line is that I wasted money buying and installing Canadian Starchoice receivers, which I couldn’t make work with my KVH system, and now have Canadian ExpressVu receivers in transit to the boat. The bottom line on all this is likely to be that we will not be watching the news. Oh well. In boating, you know things are going exceptionally well when your biggest project is worrying about TV reception.

Because this is my first trip to this area, I tend to ‘over-plan’ our cruising. For our trip from Prince Rupert to Ketchikan, I studied the charts, read the books and plotted a course into Nobeltec, then I wandered the docks looking for someone to give me ‘local knowledge.’ This led me to knocking on the door of a 90’ Westport yacht called ‘Alaskan Story.’ I was guessing from the boat name they might know something about Alaska. Her Captain, Geoff Wilson, invited me in to see the boat, and discuss the route to Ketchikan. Geoff runs charters to Alaska each summer ( and turned out to be an excellent, and knowledgeable, contact. 

Geoff asked if I would be taking ‘Venn Passage.’ I had seen it on the chart, but immediately discarded it. My boat has a 7’ draft, and Venn Passage has sections that show as low as 6’ on the chart. Geoff encouraged me to reconsider, saying that he had been through it many times, and I’d save an hour and a half on the run. I mentioned my encounter a few days before with a ‘local’ in Shearwater who encouraged me to take Reed Passage, which I now feel would have been a very-possible disaster. Geoff asked if I wanted to follow him through, and I said “Sure!.”

Checking the tides, we would be going through at low-slack. Meaning, the tide would be at a low, and the current would not be flowing. The lack of current is a good thing, although the low tide could certainly be a problem.

My chart for Venn Passage indicated that the depth was computed at ‘Lowest Normal Tide’. Not all ‘low tides’ are equal. Looking at the tide charts, our low tide would be a +3.5, meaning that at the low point, we would actually have 3.5’ more water beneath us than indicated on the chart. In other words, the 6’ shallow spots, would actually be 9.5’ deep, and safe for passage. 

Geoff was an excellent tour guide, and proceeded cautiously through the passage. Most of the run was done between 3 and 5 knots, and whereas it was tense, it was a fun experience, and provided some good sight-seeing for our guests. I thought about dropping the sonar, but it adds nearly two foot to my depth, and that would have been cutting it much too close.

Once through the passage, Geoff talked me into another detour, to see a gorgeous lighthouse. He was right, and it was well worth seeing.

The balance of our trip to Ketchikan was unremarkable, other than to comment on the incredibly calm seas and sunshine.

Customs in Ketchikan can’t have been easier. We tied up at the dock (,) phoned customs, and an agent arrived at the boat in about 20 minutes. After a quick five minutes of answering questions, we were cleared back into the US.

I put together a very short video with a brief look at Prince Rupert, a few scenes from Venn Passage and our run north. If you do not see it below, try clicking this link:

And…on a completely different topic:

When we were running south to Costa Rica, we frequently ran into a Nordhavn 46, Jenny, which is now cruising in the Bahamas. Jenny is anchored at Major Cay, where Roberta and I anchored just three summers ago, and did some swimming. Here’s an excerpt that caught my attention, from Jenny’s blog this week:

“… This morning was some disturbing news on the VHF. Yesterday I heard a frantic Mayday call that you could almost not understand the guy was so frantic. There was some vague reference to a shark bite second hand. Well this morning we heard the scoop. A guy was snorkling off one of the islands and a bull shark took his forearm. Nasty. The locals went hunting today….”

David Schramm, Jenny

And, here’s something for the techies amongst you…

During the off-season, Sans Souci installed Tides dripless shaft seals. This is the first time I’ve ever owned a boat with a 100% dry bilge. It feels a bit strange, and I’ve been monitoring the shaft temperatures (via Simon) almost continuously. They’ve been running from 60 to 67 degrees. And, lastly… I mentioned anchoring techniques in my last blog entry, and thought I’d pass along this email, which I thought offers some very good advice.

“… Dear Ken,

II enjoy your blogs I have spent the past 18 summers in SE Alaska on my Willard 30 and have made the inside passage from Seattle about six times. Contrary to all the hype written in the cruising guides, this is the most benign cruising imaginable. Your discussion of anchoring in these waters is leaving you open to lose your ground tackle as I did twice when I followed the standard 5:1 rule of thumb.. As you noted the anchorage water is typically about 50-60 ft deep. If you used 5:1, since there is little or no wind in the anchorage your swinging space during the tide change will make your chain drag along almost two football fields. Many of these anchorages have had human activity such as mining and lodging over the past 100 years. Do you think they took their heavy equipment home when they left? No way. It rests on the bottom. Cables, tractors and all sorts of things. You do not want your chain getting stuck on these things. When I anchor in 50-60- feet in those calm anchjorages I put out no more than 3:1. First I set the anchor with a longer rode so I know it is secure, Then I take the chain back in so that I minimize my swing circle If some strong wind comes up in the night it is very easy to let out more chain. However, that is a very rare event. Further, normally an anchor watch is not needed in such calm protected anchorages.

Richard Packard

PS. You are not isolated when your internet doesn’t work due to mountains. The coastguard has put VHF repeaters on the higest mountains and you are usually in contact. If you can’t start the motor in a fjord due to surrounding cliffs, just dinghy out in the open and call the coasties or a local fisherman.

PPS. Butedale was abandoned when the fish stocks declined. It presently has a permanent watchman living there. Butedale was chosen for a cannery site because the the lake behind it provides electrcial power. The two pelton wheels there are still working (~2megawatts worth) but all the control circuitry has been removed .The last time I visited there I saw that the watchmn had connected a simple car alternator to the huge pelton wheels and was using it to charge a single car battery to run his lights. Good luck ….”

If you haven’t been going to the website, to read the comments at the bottom of blog entries, and posting your own thoughts, you are missing the best part of the blog. Visit There are some very smart boaters who read my blog, and the discussion can be quite educational. GSSR#11 has a discussion on anchoring, which is well worth reading.

I’ve spoken to the other boats about trying to shoot some video interviews here in Ketchikan, and they have agreed. My next report will have trip details, and interviews, with the crews of Seabird and Grey Pearl, who chose very different routes to Alaska. I’m really looking forward to our reunion!

Thank you, Ken Williams Ken Williams
Nordhavn 68, Sans Souci

12 Responses

  1. Hey Ken!

    Alaska!!! That’s great! Looking forward to meet you and your wife and DOG (Kali) when you pass by Azores São Miguel Portugal.

    Take care!


  2. Ken-

    What a great blog! I was looking to see who was writing about Nordhavn’s in the blogosphere and found your site. You’ve got some great articles that I know my father would have loved to read. Sorry, my father was Don Thompson who passed away last year in Savannah, GA. We (his family) are now trying to find a new home for his Nordhavn 46 named ‘Sea Once’. We’ve built a site ( ( ) and I started a blog (http://blog.nordhavn46forsa ( ) where I have started talking a bit about the boat. We even have a Twitter account ( (!)

    You’ve got a great site with a very nice of photos, stories and even YouTube videos! Good stuff. Not sure if my ‘Twitter for the Nordhavn / yachting / boating crowd’ post has any new information for you but you can find it here: ( My day job is developing technology systems for the World Food Programme’s logistics unit here in Rome, Italy and we get to work with a wide variety of social media tools. If you have any questions about tools like Twitter or related I’d be happy to help answer them.

    I’ll be sure to follow your travels as they bring back fond memories of my father.

    Best regards,

    Jon Thompson

    p.s. – If you could let your readers know that ‘Sea Once’ is looking for a new home we’d really appreciate it!

  3. It looks like Seabird & Grey Pearl may catch you tonight in Petersburg if they do not plan on stopping at Wrangell.

  4. I just looked at the chart for Wrangell Narrows. Wow…….. I hope you get a high tide and NO ferrys to push you out of the channel. It’s probably easier than the charts look but you never can tell. It should be a beautiful passage however.

  5. Dave:

    Yes – we spent the night in Wrangell, and leave in a couple hours for Petersberg.

    I’m plotting my course through Wrangell Narrows now. I hope it is easier than it appears on the chart!

    We do plan to spend at least a couple days in Petersberg.

    Thank you,
    Ken Williams

  6. Looks like Sans Souci is tired up in Wrangell tonight…

    Ken….I hope you take time to visit Petersburg, one of the most interesting waterfront communities in SE Alaska IMO…we’re over there a couple times a month in the summers for shopping

  7. Todd: I did stop by Ketchicandies, but they were closed. Apparently, when the cruise ships aren’t here, it becomes a ghost town. We’ll try again tomorrow…

    -Ken W

  8. Kent and Tedgo:

    I have read through the Dashew’s writings about Sonar, and combined with the Furuno training, and reading the manuals, I feel I am finally starting to get the hang of it.

    In Venn Passage, it really wouldn’t have made sense (or, I don’t think it would have). I was following someone, so I didn’t really have the flexibility to stop and study before moving forward.

    The Sonar is best when looking for a rock in your path. On something like Venn Passage where the depths were at times ranging from 3 feet to 9 feet, and I wanted to find the 9 feet piece, Sonar probably wouldn’t have helped for two reasons:

    1) I don’t know that it would have had the resolution to work in such shallow water

    2) The extra two feet for the Sonar hanging down would have been too risky. I’d hate to snap off the Sonar

    My thought is that the Sonar is best for entering a strange bay, where there is no particular hurry, and I have the time to search for the ideal anchoring location (and avoid rocks).

    -Ken W

  9. If you go back in the Dashew’s logs from around the Feb of 2007 time frame you can see a lot of their work on learning to use their sonar.

  10. Hi ken – Love your adventures – If you have not stopped in at Ketchicandies yet – Stop in and say hi to the owner Steve Thomas – he was the best man in my wedding and he has been up there for years – tell him I sent you and you might get some free candy! – he is a good source of local info

    Good luck on your journey – I will look forward to keeping up with you – Todd

  11. Hi Ken,

    Really enjoying the video posts to your blog. What I find truly amazing is that, while underway, you hear absolutely no engine noise whatsoever. Amazing!

    Looking forward to the interview video, as well as the tour of San Souci, especially the engine room!

    Stay safe…

    – John S.

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Credits     |     Video produced by: Rock Steady Media     |     Teletype photo: Arnold Reinhold     |     PDP-11 photo: Trammell Hudson