SAILING INTO THE TROPIC OF CANCER

Looking at the log book for last night I see I was having a hard time.  Sails up and down, in and out, tacking, gybing and engine on.  Sometimes reducing sail as going too fast and others just no wind.  I was surprised to find we had covered 109 miles noon to noon, a commendable effort in such trying conditions.  It must be good for you, good exercise in the fresh air.

Since midday it has been easy street.  Sailing with just the jib poled out to port, making a steady five plus knots in sparkling weather directly towards our destination.  Also, an opportunity to catch up on some sleep from the night before.

Waikiki beach, Hawaii. Photo Ngozi Penson
Waikiki beach, Hawaii. Photo Ngozi Penson

Today we crossed the imaginary line into the Tropic of Cancer.  This line marks the furthest point north the sun will get before heading back to the south again.  If you stood on the line at midday of the summer solstice the sun would be directly overhead at noon.  The word tropic is derived from a Greek word meaning to turn (that’s what we learned in navigation).

The Greeks were quite good at maths and figuring out what the planets were doing.  The ancient Brits were also up to speed on all that stuff – just that being illiterate they couldn’t write it down – they had to explain it in big stone circles

Entering the Tropics. Ray Penson jpg
Entering the Tropics. Ray Penson jpg

This time last year Truce and I were in Sitka Alaska.  Sitka was a really nice place, one of the best towns in Alaska.

What a contrast sailing into Hawaii.

I am getting quite excited by it all now and really looking forward to getting ashore in Hilo, only three more days to go.

A small rum and coke will be appropriate for sundowners today, we are in the tropics after all.

Voyage distance 1,816 miles.

RELAXING, ELFIN COVE

This morning I arose at five thirty as usual, had a look around and was not too impressed, raining.  Then listened to the weather forecast, not nice.  My bed still had a bit of warmth in it so I jumped back in for another hour of sleep.

Around ten in the morning I decided to head out and stowed all the breakable things away.  Just before starting the engine I listened to the forecast again, there was an update, more of the same not nice for Icy Strait and Cross Sound.

As it was still raining and generally miserable I decided to stay alongside the dock, it’s a nice dock, and enjoy Elfin Cove.  I am parked next to the seaplane float so lots of interesting coming and going.

Seaplane waiting to pick up Cruise Ship Pilot. Photo Ray Penson
Seaplane waiting to pick up Cruise Ship Pilot. Photo Ray Penson

I like watching the pilots come into the dock, they head for the dock, switch off their engines and then jump out the cockpit onto the float and tie up.  It’s quite skilful, they must stuff it up sometimes.  I will keep watching.
I have walked around the boardwalk at Elfin Cove numerous times now.  There is an old Labrador dog who welcomes me each time I go ashore and walks around with me, he has a stick that needs throwing and retrieving of course.

The guys from the fishing lodge by the dock went out this morning and came back with heaps of fish.  The lodge has staff on hand who spend hours filleting the fish at the dock, in the rain, packaging it up for dispatch by seaplane, to the customers’ homes I suppose.

Elfin inner cove and Village.Photo Ray Penson
Elfin inner cove and Village.Photo Ray Penson

This evening a fishing boat has rafted up alongside me.  Mark the skipper is my new best mate in Elfin, he has promises to load me up with salmon in the morning.  There is a nice little Nordhaven coastal cruiser moored behind me with a retired couple on board from Sidney on Vancouver Island, I saw them in Sitka.  Rosemary (the lady) came across with some fresh apples and a chocolate bar – my first chocolate for 3 months, (I don’t buy sweet stuff) what a treat.

The forecast for tomorrow is for 30 knots in Icy Strait, if it stays like that I will stay like this, at the dock.  No point in going out and getting beaten up, this is supposed to be a pleasure cruise.

Logged 1st July 2016

ENJOYING SITKA

It’s been an overcast, brooding, low cloud type of day in Sitka, no real rain just a few sprinkles, the sun didn’t get a look in.

Sitka Pioneer Home. Photo Ray Penson
Sitka Pioneer Home. Photo Ray Penson

The harbourmaster provided a berth for another night, allowing a free day to do the tourist stuff.  I had a good walk around Sitka a couple of times.  There was a cruise ship in port and the place was quite busy with passengers.  Despite all the additional people around it didn’t feel crowded and the locals remained friendly and accommodating. What a contrast to Ketchikan.  Later in the evening when cruise ship had departed the streets were pretty quiet but there was a good buzz in the pub.  I was surprised to see smoking at the bar, took me back in time a bit.

In the middle of town there is an impressive old building, the Sitka Pioneers Home.  It has a bit of history and is on the National register of Historic places.  It houses elderly people and they have a craft shop where they sell stuff hand made on site.  In front of the building is an impressive totem.  It tells a story that is far too long to remember.  But – the frog and bear at the bottom came out the earth, the guy on top is the head of the past Russian American company sitting on the Russian Bear, the two headed eagle represents the Russian traders, the Indian is a chief who fought the Russians, it’s a story on a stick.

Totem Square, Sitka. Photo Ray Penson
Totem Square, Sitka. Photo Ray Penson

I also spent some time in the restored Russian Orthodox Bishops house.  The Parks Service have put on an historical display and videos etc – a fascinating insight into the goings on of the Russians and the Russian American company at the time.  Certainly those explorers, missionary’s, trappers, prospectors and traders must have been tough and resourceful.

Tomorrow I am on the go again.  I will top up with fresh water in the morning before heading out.  There is no hurry as I won’t be catching the tide through Neva Strait until six in the evening.  I will have to backtrack through Olga and Neva Straits, I don’t like backtracking but don’t really have an option if I am to continue going north.  If the weather is good I will cross Salisbury Sound and head outside of Chichagof Island the following day.

Logged 24th June 2016

HEADING NORTH, AGAIN

This morning we departed Sitka after a good 3 night stay.  The day started overcast, low cloud and wet from overnight rain.  By mid-morning the rain started again and has lasted all day and into the night.  The sun didn’t show up today.

A wet morning in Sitka harbour. Photo Ray Penson
A wet morning in Sitka harbour. Photo Ray Penson

The wind was from the south so we got a bit of sailing but bit was quite a miserable affair in the rain.  The tide pulled us through Neva Strait in the early evening and we anchored in Kalinin Bay on Kruzof Island for the night.

There is a strong wind warning in place for tomorrow.  If it’s still windy in the morning I will stay in the anchorage.  If the weather looks good I will head up the coast a bit further.  Total voyage distance 1,256.1 miles.

Logged 25th June 2016

ARRIVAL SITKA

The sun rose this morning to perfect calm, water like a mirror and the mountains reflecting upside down.  I had a leisurely breakfast in the cockpit in glorious warm sunshine.

It was a nice easy couple of hours trip down from the anchorage to Sitka where the harbourmaster allocated me a berth for two days.  Once tied up I gave the US Boarder protection guys a call and checked in.  Foreign boats have a cruising permit and need to check in at each major port along the way.

Calm sunrise near Sitka. Photo Ray Penson
Calm sunrise near Sitka. Photo Ray Penson

First stop ashore was the chandlers to get a few spares for ongoing repair and maintenance.  When you have a boat it’s a never ending job keeping everything running smoothly.  I am replacing a toilet inlet hose and a non-return valve in the bilge pump system – not very glamorous jobs but its easier to maintain now than fix if it goes wrong.

I also need a new strainer for the engine raw water cooling inlet, the type on board is quite old and I am not hopeful of getting a replacement.  Anyway I took the old strainer up to the chandlers as a sample.  Ah yes he said, I know it exactly, we had one sitting on the shelf over there for eight years – a guy came in last week and bought it!  He didn’t know the manufacturer, part number or model it had been there so long the records had been lost.  Almost lucky.

The thing I must do this port call is get USA compatible gas bottles.  The guy at the chandlery said he had the same problem as me, he got new bottles as there is nowhere to change out valves in Sitka.  I will hunt around tomorrow and find a solution, also do the laundry and get some fresh food.

This evening I had a nice shower and am ready to socialise with people again.  Tomorrow after my chores I will have a look around town and do the tourist thing – plenty of tourists here with the cruise ships.  Laundry is due again and a bit of shopping for fresh food.  So far I am liking Sitka.  Total voyage distance 1,229.7 miles.

Logged 22nd June 2016

BUSY IN SITKA

Today has been full on action all day.  This morning I started some maintenance, replaced the toilet inlet hose, put a new non return valve in the bilge pump discharge, made a new gasket for the engine raw water strainer and did a thousand and one other little jobs outstanding.

Sitka Cathedral showing Russian Influence. Photo Ray Penson
Sitka Cathedral showing Russian Influence. Photo Ray Penson

Then I was off to find a solution to my gas cylinder problem.  I found a place selling gas cylinders but as I suspected no one would change out a valve on an existing cylinder.  Oh well, a complete new cylinder probably costs less than changing a valve anyway.  The shop only sold one size of cylinder, it looked about right so I bought one and took it down to the boat to check.  Lucky – it fitted into the gas locker, so I went back and bough another one.  Later I filled both cylinders at a gas station and now have two full USA compatible cylinders on board.  I also still have the old cylinders with some gas in them so will have to stow the new cylinders on deck until the old ones run out and I can dispose of them ashore.

After the gas cylinder success, I set off on a long walk to see if I could get a raw water strainer.  This was a waste of shoe leather but I did get to see a bit of Sitka.  Downtown I found a store selling kitchen stuff and bought a coffee press to replace my broken one – back on good coffee again thank goodness.  A cruise ship was in town and the place was full of passengers milling around.  Sitka looks really interesting and unfortunately I didn’t get to see too much today as I was so busy.  I was back and forth up and down the dock like a worker ant.

This evening I did the grocery shopping and stocked up, my wife, is coming out in a couple of weeks.  I don’t expect that after leaving Sitka I will be in range of shops until I arrive in Hoonah on the 7th July.

Now I just have some laundry to do and I am ready to explore again.  I would like to see some more of Sitka and spend some time here, I may stay another day and be a proper tourist.  In the morning I will check if there is a berth available for Friday night.

Logged 23rd June 2016

HUMPBACK BREACHING

Thank you Warm Springs Bay, I had a most enjoyable stay and the weather has been fabulous.  But after three nights alongside the dock it’s time to move on.  My friends, Steve, Bob and Noel have departed north and south and I was in the company of fishing boats and their crews last night.

We sailed at eight this morning to ride the tide up Chatham Strait.  The forecast was for southerly winds ten knots.  As it was a light wind forecast I left the dinghy in the water.  When we got out into the strait the wind picked up and the short seas from the quarter made life very uncomfortable.  It was obvious the dinghy had to get on deck or she would be lost.  I ran for shelter into Takatz Bay and in calm water hoisted the dinghy on deck and set off again.  What a relief not to have the pig dragging behind threatening to destroy the self-steering.

Once out in Chatham Strait again the wind increased and the rain arrived.  I knew it would rain, the forecast said ‘Chance of showers’ in Alaska that means it’s going to piss down.  Under the jib with wind from astern we made six knots and this attracted the Dolphins who came to play around the bow.  These were the Pacific White-Sided Dolphin variety, real show offs.  They stayed for about twenty minutes, I say on the bow shouting and whistling at them, which I am sure they appreciated and enjoyed.

A little further on I was surprised to see a Humpback Whale breach about a mile ahead.  A few minutes later it breached again but closer, we were sailing towards the whales who were moving slowly in the same direction as us.  I got a couple of photos, but when the whale breached very close by the camera didn’t take the shot.  Maybe I was too excited and didn’t tap the screen hard enough.  What a shame it would have been an excellent close up shot.

Humpback Breaching Photo Ray Penson
Humpback Breaching Photo Ray Penson

In all my time at sea I have never seen a Whale breach.  Being on a small boat close to the action makes you realise what a huge event this is.  The power required to launch that huge body out of the water is immense, the splash on re-entry is huge and the sound like thunder, crump.  A truly awesome experience and I feel privileged to have witnessed it.  I don’t know why but Dolphins and Whales make me feel so happy.

Tonight I have anchored in Appleton Cove at the top of Baranof Island.  Tomorrow I will plan a transit of Peril Strait and then down towards Sitka.  Total voyage distance 1,173.9 miles.

Logged 20th June 2016

TRAMPING IN THE WOODS

This morning I did the Sunday ritual of checks and cleaning.  I also finally got around to clipping and securing the cables for the AIS that had been outstanding for so long.  One of my opening windows (Port) has been leaking slightly since I last had a go at fixing it, this morning I did a proper job and everything is watertight again.

Baranof Lake. Photo Ray Penson
Baranof Lake. Photo Ray Penson

Having toiled away all morning I packed a backpack and went for a walk in the woods in the afternoon.  It was a sparkling day with crystal clear visibility.  I found a track leading to a high lookout point with spectacular views out across Chatham Strait and back across the Baranof Island to the mountains.  I walked for miles, the sea legs may be aching tomorrow.  I will take a hot tub later.

I am now back at sea level and planning my departure for tomorrow morning.  The forecast is good and the tide in my favour for the first few hours.  My plan now is to work around to Peril Strait and head down to Sitka.  I am in need of some fresh provisions and will run out of gas in a few days, Sitka seems like the best place to replenish.

Logged 19th June 2016