With the forecasts predicting moderating SE winds, it was time to leave St Paul Island and head out once more into the Bering Sea. So after saying goodbye to all our new friends, we prepared Celeste for departure and cast off the docklines.
Once out of the inner harbor, the continued strong winds caught Celeste and she drifted sideways so that her keel touched the muddy bottom at the edge of the channel, but it was no more than a nudge and we were back on track. Just as at our arrival, the fur seals were playing around the breakwater, the wind was blowing hard, and a layer of fog hung just above our heads.
We sailed on a beam reach for a couple of hours until we were safely clear of the western point of the island, and then fell off to run downwind on our course north to Nome – a gold rush town on the Seward Peninsula, just southeast of the Bering Strait.The first “night” (there was only about two to three hours of semi-darkness) was bumpy, with a SE wind of between 25 and 30 knots and seas between 7 and 10 feet. We ran along under our new jib and triple-reefed main, our wind-vane steering for us, and the clouds and drizzle making visibility bad.
Conditions improved the next day (the 8th) – the wind moderated to 20 knots and the seas subsided to around 8ft – and continued to improve on the 9th, when we spotted a Coast Guard vessel. Almost immediately thereafter we were buzzed by its helicopter! They hailed us on the VHF radio and were very nice, just wondering what a little sailboat like Celeste was doing out in the Bering Sea and where we were headed. “We don’t see too many boats like you,” they said. I noticed after they’d peeled off that we were also within 3 miles of a Navy ship – I hadn’t seen her until then thanks to the moderate fog, her gray color, and the fact that we had our radar off and she had her AIS transponder off.
The wind died that night, and because weather is so volatile in that part of the world, we started up our engine until the wind filled in again. It came from the north (basically where we wanted to go) but we could still make our course so we turned the engine off and shook out our reefs. The skies cleared on the 10th and we had a beautiful sailing day, with gorgeous sunset colors around 1AM.
The northerly wind held throughout the morning of the 11th but died around noon, so we motored the last few hours into Nome. The Seward Peninsula rose out of the sea in bigger mountains than we’d expected. As we puttered into the man-made harbor, we found ourselves stripping off jackets and wool thermal layers: we were about to discover how much hotter mainland Alaska is in summer than the islands!