Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Arrival in Alaska

We believed from previous visits that Alaska is a state of superlatives. This arrival did nothing to dispel those feelings.

As we approached the coast, the grey skies that had been with us for days cleared to reveal three skyscraping volcanic cones on Unimak Island. A quick check of the charts revealed the most distant to be 50 nautical miles away [90km] as Mary Anne had guessed. The air was so clear that they could have been painted on a nearby backdrop.

As the wind died away and we began motoring, we realized that in any direction we looked, we could see the spouts of whales. They were blowing, breaching and diving with their tail flukes high in the air. Closer to the boat where we could focus on smaller targets, puffins excitedly rushed out of our way waving their comically colored beaks this way and that.

Mindful that there was a very windy forecast for the night, I briefly considered quitting early and anchoring in Dora Harbor on the south shore of Unimak Island. I rejected this idea worried that we might not see bears on an island. We really wanted to see bears ... and how windy can it get in a few hours from this flat calm?

It turned out that it could get VERY windy in a only minutes as we rounded Ikatan Point to cross the bay of the same name. Sailing as close to the wind as possible under much reduced sail, we just managed to fetch the windward side of Deer Island on our way toward Captain Harbor. Even with land being only a few miles to windward, spray was flying everywhere as we bashed through the waves in the 35 knot gale. The motor and propeller are simply not powerful enough to drive us through such wind and waves.

Just as suddenly, the wind died away to a zephyr. That's what the motor is for! Simply adding sail would have been a big risk as the wind was going to return as we crossed Cold Bay - the next open stretch. The motor also allowed us to gain some extra ground to windward before the next big blow.

Cold Bay and the Deer Passage waters off King Cove did not disappoint in the wind department as we sailed another open 15 miles in less than two hours.

Belkofski Bay leading to Captain Harbor was mercifully quieter as it was now very black, the route was very much to windward and we couldn't imagine navigating under sail into a tiny anchorage we could only "see" on our radar. The wind came up briefly over 40 knots just AFTER we took the sails down for the arrival. The motor would barely push us into it at 3 knots even though the the waves had vanished from our proximity to shore.

The dark shore was only visible in our imaginations but stars glittered in the clear sky above and to the north, the Aurora Borealis danced overhead - the first aurora we had seen in many years.

The anchor finally went down at 1am in Captain Harbor near King Cove, Alaska at the end of a very tiring day. We were 13 1/2 days out of Makua Bay, Oahu, Hawaii.

Now it is the morning after and a beautiful blonde colored grizzly is playing in the shallows and running along the beach. Even from our anchor spot we can tell he is huge - Alaska sized!

At 7/29/2014 11:36 (utc) our position was 55°10.12'N 162°04.89'W

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