The hours seemed to fly by as we talked with John (the captain of Kittiwake—see last post) and we only realized the time when it got dark and a light rain started to fall. John had to get going. He wanted to get Kittiwake to her next anchorage before the SE winds and waves came: he didn’t want to waste fuel by bucking into headwinds and headseas if he didn’t have to. The southeasterly would come early in the morning and would be favorable for us, so after dinner we made everything shipshape on Celeste and then lingered in the cockpit, watching the bears once more. We’d seen all sorts of behavior by the bears during our time in the little bay: cubs playing, mothers corralling cubs, bears fishing, the bear that bluff-charged us, young bears play-fighting and flirting. But that night we saw one more and it seemed so sweet: a mother-daughter clamming expedition! A mother and her yearling cub – who was almost as big as she was – were on the beach nearest Celeste digging in the mud, swiping up clams in their claws, and eating them. We watched them until it got too dark to see (it was already too dark for photos) and then finally went to bed.
The next morning (August 27, 2014) we weighed anchor in the rain and puttered out of the harbor’s narrow entrance. As it had been the last two times, Shelikof Strait was no picnic with the wind blowing about 35 knots. Back on the Kenai Peninsula we had done a careful repair job on some small tears in our mainsail (see picture right), and we were very happy now—as we drove forward under jib and triple-reefed main—that we had. Because this time we knew things weren’t likely to get better. Our GRIB files showed that this southeasterly would soon be replaced by an equally strong northwesterly (against us). Listening to the VHF forecast, we learned that John’s (of Waters) forecast’s 25-knot average wind speed had been upgraded to 35 knots increasing to 40 in the afternoon. That seemed about accurate.
The National Weather Service divides Alaska into weather zones and two of them, Shelikof Strait and Sitkinak to Castle Cape, had widely different predictions. The northwesterly would already be blowing at about 30 knots in the latter zone while SE winds were still blowing in the Strait. Very strange. We knew this area’s mountains created odd micro-climates but this seemed really bizarre.
Sure enough, though, as we passed into the next zone, the sky cleared and the wind clocked onto the nose.
It started at around 30-35 but it wasn’t long before it had brewed up to 45 and even 50 where it came screaming out of long bays. We doused our triple-reefed main and flew along under only our hardy Yankee jib.
This kind of sailing puts a lot of strain on every part of a boat, especially her hull and rigging. Coming out of Whittier in strong contrary winds (though not this strong), the jib’s track (where the sheet that controls it is attached and led aft) had started to pull out of the deck. We’d re-bedded it and replaced the backing washers with even bigger ones as soon as we’d gotten a dry day (on the Kenai Peninsula) and now were very glad we’d had the chance to do that. It was holding well even under these very strong gusts.
Celeste did very well throughout it all, gamely plunging forward and not letting the steep chop slow her. We roared along at about 10 knots through the water and even hit 11 a few times, not bad for a boat with a 28ft waterline.
By the time we reached Castle Cape in the evening, the wind was moderating significantly. We wanted to pull into a cove just past the cape for the night and carry on to Sand Point in the Shumagin Islands the next day. But, upon sticking our noses in, we found that it was plagued by the most fierce williwaws either of us had ever seen. Huge cliffs rose on all sides (not marked on the chart) and from their heights roared the most ferocious gusts, whipping across the water with terrifying force.
So we turned back to sea. A few hours into my night watch, as if to demonstrate just how fickle this area is, the wind died entirely. So we motored along on the placid water, watching the stars, the sea, and the silhouetted mountains.
A few hours before dawn I was treated to the most lovely show of the aurora, shimmering green above the hills. Then came dawn, with equally lovely hues of pink and purple bathing the sea and sky.