Just as the NOAA radio forecasts and our OCENS WeatherNet files predicted, August 19 dawned with almost no wind under a light fog. Of course these are not ideal seagoing conditions, especially for a sailboat! But we figured we’d take it: we have a good radar with a chart overlay that we installed in Port Angeles; we’re pretty used to fog from sailing in Maine; and, considering we have a new and reliable engine, no wind was better than the strong contrary winds of the day we’d originally tried to depart.
We saw a few adorable sea otters on our way out, and then caught a glimpse of Gore Point rising into the fog. We sailed at first, tweaking the main and jib for every puff and hoping that the breeze would increase just a little and also blow away the fog.
Unfortunately the opposite happened and the fog thickened and thickened until we could only just see our own bow. We kept sailing while the wind lasted, but eventually the sea became completely glassy and we had to fire up the Yanmar.
We’d set our course to pass south of the Barren Islands, which was the most direct route to the Alaska Peninsula but which—unbeknownst to us—was also the route most affected by tidal rips (strong current created by the tides). According to fishermen we spoke to later, standing waves form in that area whenever any kind of wind blows against the current. So it turned out we were extremely fortunate to be motoring through there in a dead calm. We reached this part of the passage in the middle of my ‘graveyard watch’. (The graveyard watch is traditionally from midnight to 0400, which is the timing we follow in lower latitudes, but on account of the long summer days up in Alaska we pushed it back to 0100—0500 so that we would share the darkness equally.) The world was pitch black, enveloped in fog and night. I could feel Celeste heaving and I had to adjust her course to compensate for the set of the current, but I didn’t know how bad her motion was since I had no visual frame of reference. I thought it strange that I felt queasy in the middle of a dead calm but once I learned that this area is known for its ferocious rips it made a lot more sense.
By dawn the fog had almost cleared, only a line of it remaining on the horizon. And what a horizon! The Alaska Peninsula has got to be one of the most spectacular landfalls we’ve ever made in over 36,000 nautical miles of sailing. Huge mountains climbed out of sea and fog, covered in immense glaciers and dusted pink with alpenglow.
I hadn’t known much about this part of our voyage—in fact a sailor back in Southeast Alaska had told us it wasn’t really worth visiting (what?!?)—so it was just that much more jaw-dropping. It turned out that the whole huge peninsula is a tree-less wilderness of mountains, tundra, and wildlife. It ended up being some of the hardest sailing, too, but was well worth it!
The sailing that day, however, was truly beautiful. We tacked to windward against a perfect 10 knot breeze, watching the shrub-covered hills and glaciated mountains pass by.
Dall’s porpoises rode our bow wave; sea lions barked on their rocks; and the sun shone on a glorious day, washed into fresh colors by the nighttime fog. By mid-afternoon we’d reached the huge bay where we planned to anchor.