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Alaska Log #9

Ganges, Saltspring Island, B.C.
September 1, 1999

(Click on each photo to see it full size)

Rainy fashion statement (65K)No, we didn't sink. Still cruising, even though it's been a month since we sent you our last log. A lot has happened. Guests from New Zealand (Lise and Bjarne), a gale, heavy rain for 10 days straight, 800+ miles travelled and lots of adventures. Since this is our 100th night out on the water, it seemed like a fitting time to write.

Signe kayaking at Blunden Harbour (56K)One big adventure was the transit of El Capitan Passage in Alaska. It's like the Panama Canal of Alaska - 3 miles long, 25 feet wide, and about 10 feet deep. Since we need 6 1/2 feet to keep afloat, this was cutting it a bit fine. Parts of the Passage are a dredged channel, and all we could think was, "I hope they didn't get their dredging budget cut this year!" We did the trip at low tide, which was a little scary since we could see all the hazards, but at least we knew the rising tide would save us from any severe oversights. There were big piles of rock along the way that had been blasted out of the canal. The passage was too narrow for turning around and no passing room. We kept calling ahead on the radio to make sure no one else was coming towards us. Two pleasure boats would never have fit side by side, let alone a tug and barge, which use this passage frequently. One section was called Dry Pass, not a comforting name! But we survived. Two hours of nerves, but we took lots of pictures, which can't begin to show the intriguing situation.

One of the most "interesting" nights we've spent, our kiwi friends called The Battle of Bruce and Gale. We were in an allegedly protected anchorage called Newcombe Harbour. When we set our prawn pots at the entrance to the harbor, the floats disappeared; 600 feet of line, float, pot, bait and all. One minute they were there, and the next minute they were gone. Since we knew the depth was OK, this was inexplicable. Turned out to be a strong flood tide current. As the evening wore on, Jan and our NZ friend, Bjarne, braved the rising wind and rescued the pots at slack tide.

Jan & Signe kayaking at Blunden Harbour (56K)By that time the Coast Guard had put out a gale warning, but we figured we were in a very secure spot. The wind kept rising, bringing pelting rain with it during the night. Jan kept letting out more anchor chain, but Bruce (you remember how fond we are of him; he's our close friend the 176 lb. anchor) was holding tight. All was well, if noisy. In the middle of the night, in the pitch black, storms always seem a lot worse. Jan has an instrument over his berth that shows the wind, depth, etc. We watched the gusts hit 40 and then we heard a bang and lots of clanks. Jan and Bjarne hopped into their foul weather gear and went out on deck to survey the damage. The anchor chain had twisted a four-inch stainless steel chain hook and the chain had run out a few more feet. Deck lights on, flashlights playing on the rocks to either side of us, they rigged an even bigger hook (one the first mate could hardly lift in the morning). And then all four of us finally got some sleep.

Jan navigating in the pilothouse (51K)Along about Gale's arrival, we decided to make use of all the rain that was falling on us. Raven is designed so that all the rain water drains in channels along the sides of the boat, called scuppers. After the rain washes the boat down well, you can make a little dam at the stern of the boat, open up the water tanks and collect away. We added about 250 gallons of nice, pure rainwater to our tanks in about 8 hours. It made us feel like we were at least doing something constructive about the weather. We began to run out of drying room for all our foul weather gear, though, since all four of us had two sets going, plus boots, hats, gloves etc. We were not a good advertisement for cruising in the Pacific Northwest.

We met Gale again a week or two later as we motored down Johnstone Strait, which has a reputation for being the wind tunnel of the Northwest. The predictions were for 15 to 20 knot winds, not a big deal for Raven. We were also going downwind, which helped considerably. The wind gradually picked up all day until we had 30-35 knots steady and gusts to 40, and were surfing down 6 foot waves. We were fine, but it was all unexpected. Later in the day the Coast Guard issued a "Special Weather Conditions" report, finally telling everyone how it really was in Johnstone.

The Prawn Hunter (70K)Prawnzzz (61K)Over the summer we have improved our skills as hunter-gatherers. Despite our bad luck with prawns in Newcombe, we have been bringing up pots full of 100 or so spot prawns and smaller shrimp. They are so sweet when cooked fresh! The crabbing had not been as good until we hit Blunden Harbour where we brought up one pot with 42 Dungeness crabs in it! Admittedly, only 4 were keepers, but still, that wasn't bad for the end of the season. The 42 in the crab pot were having a real melee, and it took Jan and Bjarne about an hour to sort them all out. We've also improved our fishing technique, called mooching. Now, mooching has two meanings. In the fishing world it means to put your lure down to a certain depth and move it up and down slowly. In Twardowski Terminology, mooching is accepting all the fish that friends want to give away. We've met lots of very experienced fishermen (or fishers as they're known in PC) and they always seem to have more fish than they can use. We even passed one fish between boats in a net, so we really did "catch" it.

We're headed for home now and expect to be in Tacoma about the 10th, which will be just about four months after we left. The summer has sped by, and we discovered we love cruising together. If the weather were better, we'd keep on going, but we are definitely in a fall weather pattern now, so we'll come back and sit by the fire until it goes away.

Warm regards . . . Signe and Jan

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