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 ( 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, 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

20 Responses

  1. PassageMaker is my favorite magazine as well, as I’m sure its many of your site’s followers too, since we’re all here for the same reason. We all like trawlers…..and for me, Nordy’s in particular. Actually, when I first saw the cover on the PassageMaker website, I thought I was looking at the Circumnavigator III issue! 🙂

    I wouldn’t be surprised if its the same article from Circumnavigator and that Nordhavn gave them the info. Would have been nice if they told you first!

    – John S.

  2. Ken,

    Unfortunately, the article that was written about you, Roberta and Sans Souci in Sea Magazine was not so great. The author chopped it up pretty bad. It would have turned out much better had you written it. I am looking forward to seeing the article in Passagemaker.

  3. John S:

    Hey! That’s pretty cool about Passagemaker. I had no idea. If I spoke with them I don’t remember it. Maybe Nordhavn put the article together. It’s unlikely to be about the GSSR, although, maybe…

    I’ve always wanted to approach Passagemaker about doing articles for them from time to time. It’s my favorite magazine, and I’d like to do anything for them that I can.

    -Ken W

  4. Ken….btw, Tom would be a wealth of local knowledge for ya there at Kodiak, he is a very long time resident, helicopter pilot and a member of local government, buy him breakfast and visit with him….he used to hang out at a couple of the waterfront coffee shops in the mornings

  5. Ken…

    The WWII gun emplacements are very similar to the ones at Fort Casey and Fort Warden in Pugut Sound.
    They are just east of town overlooking the water, its really where the defense of the Aleutian Chain ended….you haven’t been reading that book I suggested and I know you have it on the boat… 🙂 “The 1000 Mile War”

    Fort Abercrombie State Park, Kodiak Island Alaka (

    In addition: (

  6. Oops! I meant to say, gracing the cover of the July/August issue of PassageMaker…. but I guess my original comment is also correct in that she’s also inside the pages of the magazine in the article that goes with the cover photo!

    – John S.

  7. Hey Ken,

    Like everyone else here, I’m really enjoying your blog entries, especially the pics. Can’t wait for the engine room video!

    And congratulations! I see Sans Souci is gracing the July/August issue of PassageMaker! I’m looking forward to reading that issue!

    Stay safe!

    – John S.

  8. Dave:

    Where’s the WWII gun sights? Our goal tomorrow is to drive to the other end of the island. Someone said there was a fun hippy town at the end of the road.

    So far, we’re enjoying Kodiak!

    -Ken W

  9. Ken….. there isn’t really a huge road system on Kodiak.

    Check out the ole WWII gun sites and drive the road out west past the CG base and to the end of the road…beautiful long ole beach out there

    Have fun… !

  10. Dave: I’ll look up the helicopter service you recommended. We have four days here in Kodiak, so I’m looking forward to doing a bunch of exploring. I just rented a car for sightseeing. So far, I think we are really going to like Kodiak. Lots to do, good boat services, and a nice marina.

    Thank you,
    Ken Williams

  11. Ron:

    Your dogs, and Shelby, think alike!

    We do have a carpet at the back of the pilot house, which Shelby discovered. She spent much of her time in pilot house laying on the carpet.

    Yesterday, she discovered a new trick. When we couldn’t find her yesterday we discovered her lying in the hallway on the lower floor, in front of the engine room. It’s the lowest point on the boat, and very stable. I think she got tired of sliding across the floors.

    We are now safely at the dock in Kodiak, after a LONG but easy night. Now that my seasickness is over, I’m feeling great and everything feels much brighter. The weather in Kodiak is perfect, and we’re looking forward to doing some exploring over the next few days.

    -Ken W

  12. Hi Shelby,
    If you are anything like my Golden Retrievers, you would like a rug under you. You also insist on being with your masters. I know that the Siegel’s Labs enjoy being up on the pilothouse bunk so that they can see what’s going on. In head seas, my boys usually go to sleep on the carpet. In wild following seas, I have been able to get them downstairs where the boat’s center of gravity is. Then they go sleepy sleep.

    It’s hard to get them down there because they want to stay with me, but I have no place for them to sit high up spo that they can see. If worst comes to worse, take a tranquilizer prescribed by your vet or you can take Benadryl (see below) which will make you drowsy.

    “It’s a very safe med. My vet and others I’ve asked about this specifically say you should administer up to 1mg/lb every 8 hours (or 3 times a day — tid). So if you have a 20 lb. dog, it’s 20 mg of diphenhydramine. This is higher than the equivalent dose for humans, but nevertheless seems to be the accepted dose for dogs.

    Benadryl Elixir. In America, Canada, and most countries that enact DUI laws, elixirs like Benadryl stopped using alcohol as part of the suspension many years ago. While I doubt you could find a bottle with alcohol in it today, it’s still a good idea to always look at the label.

    The only active ingredient should be diphenhydramine. As many medications that are sold OTC contain other meds, this really is a critical point. This means that Benadryl Decongestant, Benadryl for Colds, etc. are all unacceptable.”

    Anyway, George says to watch out for Eagles and Ospreys and stay close to Mommy and Pop because the bears would rather eat them.

    Safe voyage,
    Ron & George Rogers
    Willard 40

  13. Great blog post Ken…

    In Kodiak, find Tom at Maritime Helicopters, have him fly ya around to see the goats above town and the elk herds at Afognak…he’s a great guy

    I sure he’ll find ya some large grizzlies to photograph close-up also…

  14. Hi Ken!

    Well done on surviving so far what reads like an endless seasickness nightmare (two days can feels like forever, can’t it?) and still be able to post your blog!

    My main problem when at sea and feeling slightly queasy, never mind needing to be totally horizontal, is that I can NOT use computers, read, cook or eat for the matter. It is not for no reason that I have lost 5 kilos crossing the Atlantic though. I know… It sounds unbearable but our body and mind can learn very fast on how to live with it and for a surprisingly long period of time.

    “It’s something that was decided long ago, but it’s still a big moment.”

    After you said that, I would like to ask you a REAL SPECIAL favour. When you arrive in Kodiak, which will be a H-U-G-E achievement already and a “major milestone” as you rightly put it, can you take a picture of yourself BUT SMILING at this time?
    For a happy chap you do not smile very often! (In your pictures, that is). ?

    Be safe and well.

    Sonaia Hermida

  15. Dave: We’ve seen everything from reasonably calm seas, to 8 foot seas this trip. Winds have ranged from dead calm, to 20+ knots sustained. So far, we haven’t seen any really high seas, and haven’t seen anything that I would call comfortable. There is a swell coming in from the south, which is mixing with the west wind to create multiple wave patterns.

    As I said though, this isn’t bad. If I could lock in these seas for the next 3,000 miles, I’d do it happily!

    -Ken W

  16. Hal:

    We were anchored at the end of the northeast leg. We thought about the northwest leg, but it looked too rocky on the chart. When we explored by tender there were a lot of deadheads, and trees poking up. I remember thinking we made the right decision (avoiding the other leg). That said, all of the rocks in the channel I ran seemed to match the chart. I was using the Sonar and moving slow, just to hone my Sonar skills.

    The wind here has kicked up. 20 knots sustained. It was supposed to be a boring night, but I guess the weather gods thought we were having too much fun.

    -Ken W

  17. Great job picking the departure date, given the weather window you have!

    The Lady Anne incident was top news on the Passage Making Under Power chat group a few days ago. The PUP report said “Glacier Bay” so I didn’t pay too much attention. But Que Linda did that Dundas Bay passage in 2007 all the way to the far northwest end of the bay and I remember looking at the chart for that segment and saying to my self: “Be Careful Here”

    Best to you and Roberta, and give my regards to Jeff.


  18. According to the NDBC, the seas off of Kodiak should be running much less than what you had at first. Three to four feet at 9 seconds is what I am seeing. Still short coupled but not too bad. At your current location, I am guessing you are about 70 miles out of Kodiak and you’ll probably make port shortly after midnight. What a great start to your trip of a lifetime!

  19. Ken: Thanks so much for the update. Like so many others who are following your voyage, I’ll probably never be able to duplicate it myself, but it’s wonderful to be able to travel with you vicariously.

    Your post really brought your passage across the Gulf of Alaska to life. I’ve followed your progress carefully, measuring the distance between your SPOT coordinates using a GPS calculator ( ( . It showed that your 5:22 PM SPOT was about 138.5 nm out of Kodiak, and you seem to have been averaging about 8.5 knots SOG most of the way. What was missing, of course, was a description of sea conditions and your reaction to them, as well as an understanding of why you chose to take the most direct route to Kodiak.

    We’re about to leave for two weeks of cruising through the San Juans and Canadian Gulf Islands, north of Seattle. Even though our cruise won’t be nearly as adventurous as yours, we’ll have many moments like the one you described in your GSSR#17 post, when you spoke about the essence of what boating is all about — friends, the barbecue, an incredible anchorage, music, steaks, and wine. No one ever said it better than that.

    Travel safely.

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