Gone Floatabout

Sailing, Photography, Wilderness

Escape from Whittier: August 11, 2014


Rain was still pouring in Whittier when we returned through the tunnel from sunny Turnagain Arm where we’d seen the belugas.  Wind was still whipping through the marina, pushing Celeste against her fenders.  The storm showed no signs of abating: if we were ever going to leave Whittier, we would just have to grin, raise sail, and bear it.

So early the next morning, August 11, we decided to leave despite the unabated gale.  The strong wind made maneuvering in the marina difficult, to say the least, although not quite as impossible as our first move in the marina at the height of the storm.  At first things went well: Seth put Celeste in reverse while I walked her out of the slip.  We had hoped that the wind would swing her the way we wanted her to go, but instead it pushed our bow almost into the piling!  Seth couldn’t back up any further because there was only about 40 feet (the length of our boat. . .) between the floats.  So I hung onto the piling and pushed us off at the same time, hoping that the leverage would swing our stern.  It did!  With inches to spare. . . .

Prince William Sound3bThe next trick was to bring Celeste into the fuel dock, but fortunately there was more room around it than first appeared.  Then we could finally motor out from the breakwater and set off against the 35-40 knots pummeling Passage Canal.  It was too much wind to use our big genoa, but we needed more sail up forward than just our staysail in order to make fast progress to windward.  We’d have to change out our jenny for our high-cut Yankee jib.  Easier said than done.  With the autopilot and the Yanmar keeping us stationary against the wind and waves, we unrolled the big flapping genoa and wrestled it down out of the roller furler and on deck.  We made a so-so job of flaking it on the wet and pitching sidedeck and lashed it down on the coach roof since it was too wet to take below.  Then Seth fed the smaller—but equally treacherous, heavy, luffing—Yankee into the furler track while I hauled on the halyard.  Finally I could winch in the leeward sheet and we were off.  Seth raised the triple-reefed main and I steered as we tacked all the way down Passage Canal.  We were so set on putting distance between ourselves and Whittier that we aided our windward progress with the engine, something we almost never do.

Once past the entrance to College Fjord, we eased the sheets onto a beam reach and turned off the engine.  Despite the relative shelter behind Perry and then Knight Islands, the wind still blew about Force 8 and Celeste screamed along at 7-8 knots.  Tired out from the ordeal of leaving Whittier, neither of us had the energy to tend to the galley, so out came our AlpineAire meals for the second time on the voyage.

Rough weather chow!

Rough weather chow!

AlpineAire makes dehydrated, all-natural, instant meals, which were originally designed for hikers and mountaineers, but we put them to the rather unusual use of rough weather chow at sea.  On our circumnavigation we ate US military rations when conditions got so bad that we wanted to avoid the galley, but they were pretty tasteless and the meat was generally tough and mysterious.  Looking for something better and healthier for this voyage, we hit upon AlpineAire and were thrilled when—as part of the Katadyn group–they agreed to be one of our collaborators.  Fortunately we had only needed to turn to these meals once so far: at the end of our Gulf of Alaska crossing when 40 knot winds struck us at the entrance to Prince William Sound.  Then we’d been in need of hearty, hot sustenance so had pulled out a package of Mountain Chili.  This time, feeling more drained than anything, I went for the sweet and spicy Hawaiian Teriyaki Chicken.

Very gradually over the course of the day and night, the wind eased.  At the end of my night watch at 0500, Celeste was actually wallowing in a calm for the first time in many days.  I waited to start the engine until it was time for Seth’s watch, and by mid-morning we reached the wide but well-sheltered harbor of Chenega.  Its small finger pier was filled to bursting with purse seiners and gill netters, and many more fishing boats were anchored around the bay.  We joined the anchored ranks, made Celeste shipshape, and listened to the National Weather Service forecast over VHF.

Dock full of fishing boats hiding from the gale

Dock full of fishing boats hiding from the gale

Another, worse, gale was supposed to hit us the next day, August 13, and then we’d have a 24-hour window of better weather.  So Seth and I made the tough decision to forego most of the beautiful anchorages in Kenai Fjords National Park and make another overnight passage to the end of the Kenai Peninsula, where we’d be poised to jump across to either Kodiak Island or the Alaska Peninsula.

Sure enough, wind and rain were lashing Chenega the next morning but we still managed to galvanize ourselves into launching the dinghy and walking around the small Native village in our full foul weather gear.  It felt a little lonely in the downpour and mud, but must be a lovely spot perched on the big bay when the sun comes out.  It felt good to stretch our legs for a few hours before heading back to Celeste to get her completely ready for our departure the next morning.  We would be leaving Prince William Sound, where we’d had such a good time seeing glaciers, waterfalls, wildlife, and deserted anchorages.  The only regret we had was that we’d been unable to nose up to the many glaciers in College Fjord.  We’ll just have to go back!

5 thoughts on “Escape from Whittier: August 11, 2014

  1. Departures in heavy weather… hmm, was that desperation to leave Whittier?
    We just realised this was an August post. Where are you now?

    • Desperation, maybe… No, my posts about Whittier are a little tongue-in-cheek—we didn’t dislike it so much that we’d do something stupid to get out of there! The mountains make crazy micro-climates so 30-40 knots were predicted indefinitely in Whittier: we could either spend the rest of our summer there or just suck it up and go. Once we got to Chenega the forecasts were a bit better since we were out of the wind tunnel.

      Yes, our posts lag real life by a lot: we didn’t have internet for most of our time in Alaska so waited to update the blog when we left the boat. Now we’re back home on land and at work with a constant WiFi connection 🙂