Gone Floatabout

Sailing, Photography, Wilderness

New friends, a decision, and a compliment

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Brown Bear-2Leaving behind the delta full of all the fishing bears, Seth and I rowed over to the two rafted tourist boats.  Someone was on the deck of the closest one, so we hailed him and said that Eric (the guide on the beach) had said they might have a good weather forecast and could we look at it?  Of course, came the answer, and would we like some lunch and a cup of coffee?  They were just finishing.

We both meant to refuse the lunch offer and only accept a cup of coffee, but somehow the kind and insistent cook settled us into the dinette and had bowls of homemade split pea soup in front of us almost before we’d introduced ourselves!  We learned that Eric and his gang of photographers were actually connected to the other boat, and the whole complement of guests on this boat were aboard and gathered around the table with us.  They weren’t so much photographers as wildlife enthusiasts who’d come to observe the bears, eagles, otters, and incredible scenery that the Peninsula has to offer.  All in all, we had a great time chatting away about Alaska, sailing, plastic in the oceans, brown bears, black bears, BC’s white ‘spirit bears’, even skiing.

Can't beat the beauty of the Alaska Peninsula

Can’t beat the beauty of the Alaska Peninsula

The boat we were on was the 73ft m/v Waters, converted to passenger use from her original function as a tugboat.  She was quite classic looking, and we learned she’d actually been built in the 1940s in plank-on-frame wood construction.  The boat rafted next to her, the home-base for Eric and his photographers, was the Kittiwake, a 100ft Bering Sea crab fishing vessel—in fact, the Time Bandit of ‘Deadliest Catch’ fame—now converted to passenger use with cabins, curtains, and padded seat covers.

OCENS forecast

OCENS forecast

After lunch, one of the crew, a guy about our age called John, took us up to the bridge to look at the weather forecast.  We couldn’t get a VHF forecast inside the bay because of the mountains, and our GRIB files show a larger area which by its very nature doesn’t focus on local anomalies and micro-climates like the ferocious Shelikof Strait.  Waters had received their forecast by calling the meteorological office on their satellite phone and John gave us the number so we could do the same if we needed to.  The forecast was for moderately strong SE winds the next day, about 25 knots, then coming westerly again with equal strength.  We knew from our previous forays out into the Strait that this probably meant more like 30-35.  This also confirmed our OCENS GRIB files, which were showing averages of over 20 knots.  (That’s kind of a lot for a GRIB forecast to show.)

Talking to John was informative, though.  “It’ll be going with you if you leave tomorrow,” he said, “so that’s good.  Probably the best you’re going to get, this time of year.  It’s calmer earlier in the season.  This is pretty normal for August.”  So it wasn’t ever going to get better.  That answered that question.  We would just have to grin and bear it if we wanted to keep on heading west.

With our departure on the morrow tacitly decided, we got onto other topics with John.  That night Waters and Kittiwake planned to go east a few miles to another bay while the wind was still with them (that matters for power boats, too, especially when the seas kick up).  Their passengers were getting picked up from there by the float plane and then they had three more batches before they could cross back over to Homer and end the season.  “Gets pretty rough by then,” John remarked.  “Be good to wrap it up.”

We told John about the wolf prints we’d seen in our previous anchorage and he got all excited, telling us about wolves he’d seen there and in this bay.  We asked where we might have a chance to spot some further down the Peninsula and he started up their chartplotter to point out a few locations.  Unfortunately most of them would require dead calm weather for us to anchor (exposed beaches) so it seemed unlikely we’d get the chance.  Too bad!

Eventually we said our goodbyes, issuing a general invitation to drinks on Celeste that evening and telling John to extend it to the Kittiwake crew and photographers when they came back from the beach.

Baking breadBack on Celeste I discovered that we had no bread, so I baked some, the first I’d done in her oven.  We didn’t have an oven on Heretic (the boat we had when we circumnavigated) so I was used to baking bread in our big old frying pan (obviously harder to do than in a real oven!).  Recipe and story here in Blue Water Sailing magazine.  The same recipe worked great in Celeste’s oven, though didn’t rise quite as much as it does in tropics (no surprise there!) and the shape was a little funny because all I had was a roasting pan.  I’d like to get real bread pans for next time. Also next time I’d probably quadruple the recipe or bake other things like muffins or cookies simultaneously because it uses so much propane!! Much more than the stove-top bread did!

While I was baking the bread, we got a call on the VHF from John on Waters saying unfortunately they couldn’t join us for drinks because they were going to depart earlier than originally planned.  Too bad since we’d so enjoyed chatting with all of them.  But some of the people on Kittiwake might be coming by, he said.

A few minutes later we got a call on the VHF from another John, this one the captain of Kittiwake.  He wanted come over and see Celeste.  Soon he was climbing aboard, and as he settled into the cockpit with a beer, he (unknowingly) delivered probably the best compliment we’ve ever received.  “I could tell your boat was different the moment I saw you come in.  Don’t see many sailboats around here, but the ones I have seen are all covered in junk, stuff piled up on the stern, big arches with things dangling off.  Never seemed that safe to me.  One big wave’d dislodge the whole lot.  Too much windage, too.”

Clean stern area

Clean stern area on Celeste

Seth and I go to a lot of effort to keep Celeste‘s decks as clean and empty of “junk” as possible, which took particular thought and planning for this voyage because we’re carrying a lot more stuff than we do for warmer latitudes (lots of extra fuel—both for the heater and the engine—extra propane, lots of warm clothes, more food since we use up so many calories, survival suits, etc., etc.).  We don’t like cluttered decks: they look bad; we wouldn’t want to get caught up on stuff while working on deck at night; we’ve heard two first-hand stories of people losing their dinghies off stern davits; and we really don’t like lots of windage, especially in places prone to gales (like Alaska).  So hearing this from such an experienced and seasoned Alaskan mariner was, like I said, probably one of the best compliments we’ve ever received!

We've had the clean stern/decks philosophy since the beginning, even on the smaller Heretic that we sailed around the world. Here Ellen's sailing her in New Zealand in 2007.

We’ve had the clean stern/decks philosophy since the beginning, even on the smaller Heretic that we sailed around the world. Here Ellen’s sailing her in New Zealand in 2007.



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  1. Pingback: All kinds of weather on the Alaska Peninsula | Gone Floatabout