With repairs complete, we departed Dutch Harbor/Unalaska on June 26 for the big, beautiful Alaska Peninsula. The first challenge was to sail between the Aleutians out from the Bering Sea and back into the Pacific. The passes between the islands are notoriously rough, with tidal currents running strong. On our way into the Bering in 2014 we had used Akutan Pass and had encountered a 3-knot favorable current at the supposed slack tide. We’d had bumpy conditions (contrary wind – wind against current) but nothing bad, and the 3-knot boost made it fast. This time things went even better! We chose the smaller Unalga Pass and had glassy calm seas despite a 2-knot current with us. There was thick fog, but otherwise it was very pleasant.
After a few hours sailing in the Pacific, the fog started to lift and we could see mountainous Aleutians.
The SW wind had built to about 15 knots since leaving Dutch Harbor and increased to 20 overnight, but then moderated back to 15 the next morning. Unimak Island and its immense snowy (and smoking) volcanoes – Shishaldin reaches 9,000 feet – were stunningly clear in the bluebird skies.
That afternoon (June 27) we reached Deer Passage, the stretch of water at the tip of the Alaska Peninsula that winds through the tundra-covered Shumagin Islands.
After another night and day of perfect sailing in flat seas (the passage totaled about 60 hours and covered 330 nautical miles) we reached a little bay where we dropped anchor to wait out the two days of easterly (contrary) winds that were forecast. The bay was deserted save for wildlife – foxes, otters, seals, and a big colony of nesting kittiwakes and gulls. We spent two days there while easterly winds blew, making time to explore ashore as well as work (computer work – not work on the boat so much).
We weighed anchor on July 1 for our next passage east and had glorious sailing for the first day as we came out of the Shumagin Islands into the open Pacific again. We’ve been amazed (we still haven’t gotten over it!) at how warm and pleasant the sailing has been this year in this part of Alaska, as compared to the conditions we encountered last year in the Arctic. It’s all in one’s perspective, of course, since we found the Alaska Peninsula and Aleutian Islands quite cold and windy when we first came through them in 2014! Of course, part of that had to do with the fact that coming west (in 2014) we sailed in low pressure systems in order to have favorable (east) winds, whereas this time (going east) we can sail in fair weather (west winds). But a lot of it does have to do with perspective: We’ve met two other sailboats this year who found Dutch Harbor really cold when we weren’t even bothering to run our heater….
The remainder of our passage up the Alaska Peninsula delivered strange conditions – 30 knots of wind for a few hours dying down to a dead calm before coming back up to 30 knots, repeat, repeat. It made for rather unpleasant waves, but at least the sun was shining! We reached Katmai National Park on July 3, having sailed for around 60 hours and covered about 300 miles.
Exploring the Katmai area was wonderful. We revisited a bay we’d been to in 2014 where we’d seen a lot of bears, as well as sailing to other coves. We again encountered many brown bears, always happily from a safe distance! We marveled at waterfalls, and we met the two wilderness park rangers, stationed in a tiny primitive cabin in one of the bays. It’s the first year the Park Service has put paid employees there and they seemed thrilled to have visitors! (They don’t get many two-legged ones, though plenty of four-legged ones!)