The delivery of the Alaskan Rover June 2010. A Sea story. By Captain Jesse Osborn.
On the 6th of June 2010 I stepped aboard the deck of a beautiful steel schooner Aptly named the Alaskan Rover. 57 feet overall, gaff rigged and laden in traditional flavor from stem to stern. Her new owner, a retired farmer from Montana, had rolled the dice, chased his dream and purchased this black steel beauty in a surge of madness or genius. He still hadn’t decided. Either way, adventure was eminent as we were to cross the Gulf of Alaska, right out of the gate.
I had assembled a small crew to accompany the owner and myself, including my 12-year-old son Isaac. He was a veteran of gulf crossing, having steered his fair portion across last year aboard Empiricus (Our 50 foot yawl) Also an extremely talented attractive and skilled traveler named Lisa. She was an Austrian born globetrotter with solid sailing skills and an adventurous spirit.
We loaded gear onboard and I went about, scanning the rigging. Wiring here, tightening there, and splicing the new anchor rode to the chain. By nightfall I was fairly satisfied with the progress, knowing I had much to learn about the operating systems onboard. From amidships forward was an unfinished interior, where camp pads were laid. My hammock was strung from the mainmast to the fore-main inside. This turned out to be a nice idea. That’s about it….. Isaac gave it a try while underway. It was much like a double-dutch jump rope being slammed off the ceiling with a human being inside.
With morning came much activity. I had a short window in which to accomplish this delivery and it was time to go. The lines were kicked off and we slid into the fuel dock. She was a beast. Heavy and slow to respond. Perfect…. She’s not built for the harbor. She’s built for blue water and I couldn’t wait to taste it.
A low pressure system had just passed through, leaving heavily built seas in the gulf. The favorable winds had not yet arrived, leaving a sloppy sea and light air. Nerve racking for a gaff rig. I set the mains anyway and hauled up the tanbark Genoa. Even in this uneasy sea she was beautiful… However, I had a 4-knot rule for making way, if we were to make a timely passage. 1 knot was not cutting it, but practicing with this new rig had been beneficial nonetheless.
Much to my dismay, we returned to the iron wind for steerage and slipped by Barwell Island making a beeline for Cross sound about 500 NM away. In 18 hours we had made good ground well past Middleton Island, leaving its shores on our Portside. Last sight of land for a while. I decided to calculate our rate of burn and began to add fuel to the portside tank. She had a 100-gallon capacity and I had loaded 40 gallons on deck. My best calculations were (worst case scenario) one gallon per hour based on engine size and our fairly subdued RPM of 1800…… Ever been wrong before? It happened to me. All 40 gallons went in the tank, failing to fill it. I assumed it was near empty and recalculated my resources. Oh boy… We had to sail at least 200 miles in order to enter gross sound with safe fuel reserves. I throttled her back and veered a bit toward Yakutat in case the forecasted winds failed to arrive. We could refuel there, but days would be added to the passage, as Yakutat was now well out of our way.
I took my first nap and informed all aboard the plan. My eyes burned and I fell hard into my makeshift bunk. Isaac was at the helm and the drone of the Westerbeke hummed me into a deep sleep. About 2 hours later I was awakened to Lisa’s bright smiling face. She was shaking me saying in her exotic Austrian accent. Jesse Jesse. The winds have come! We sail now?!
I sprang to the deck, hoisting sails with dry half opened eyes and a huge smile on my face. Everything was up including the flying jib, which fascinated me to no end. The Rover lurched forward under a broad reach, making the engine, once again the auxiliary it was designed to be. I shut her down and we isolated the battery banks. The wind, the hum in the rigging, and her cold steel bow, crushing that deep blue Pacific Ocean, all sang in harmony. I could feel her rudder, pulsing at the helm, telling me when to paddle her stern off the crest of the building seas. A 360 panoramic of the world left no reference of land in any direction. My chest swelled with fresh sweet air, undefiled by….. Anything. The shearwaters and Albatross lifted and fell around us, showing off their wings, while we showed them ours. It’s fascinating that we were all being carried and driven by the same silent, invisible force…
After soaking up the magic, I plotted our new heading, straight for Cross sound and the fascinating little village of Elfin Cove. I looked over my shoulder and whispered to the wind… Blow…. Yea..! Blow steady…. Gimme 200 miles and were home free…….
The next 30 hours were pure magic. Steady 15 knots of wind drove us loping through 5 foot rollers. The crew fell into their own and we all shared the duties aboard. As a Captain and father, I believe that you should never ask anything of the crew that you will not ask of yourself. Everyone has strengths to offer. Lisa is a fantastic cook and courageous helmsman. Isaac is a budding navigator. Ben… Ben is inspiration that tomorrow is unwritten and dreams were not dreams, but premonitions for those with drive and courage.. The skill he gathered along the way….
Isaac climbed the ratlines and inspected the rigging. We decided the phrase for the day was “I was born for this moment baby!” which we repeated at random through out the night.
So there we all were. Stretched out on the aft deck eating goat cheese and fresh grapes. No land in sight. Living the dream better than it can be dreamed. We made our mileage goal for motoring and the crew celebrated our accomplishment. But nonetheless, we all got a little wet and the chill of the night bit briskly when rolling out of the bunk.
I suggested we fire up the engine to recharge the batteries. Ben was especially excited and I had him begin the starting sequence (Turn the key) Ha Ha. A slow slogging chug blurted out but no dice…. We halted the process to evaluate the problem. Now let it be known that I pride myself on my Mc Gyver skills…. I tried everything. Even vacuuming the intake with my hand to gain cranking speed and inserting a small burst of propane from the barbecue into the intake. That was the last ditch effort and it was apparent we were without the iron wind for the duration of the passage.
Returning to the deck was different. I knew the crew would be on edge. The entrance to Elfin Cove is riddled with shoal water and rocks. It is also quite protected from the wind. (Like most favored ports) In addition to that, Cross sound is a virtual washing machine of currants, bore tides and fog. North Inian Passage, just north of Elfin Cove boasts 11 Knot currents, exchanging 4 times a day.
Yakutat on the other hand is riddled with reefs that extent well offshore. Ice burgs float off the huge glacier at the head of the bay and there are no acceptable anchorages outside the harbor itself. The entrance to which is complex and deceiving.
As I anticipated, the crew was awaiting the news which didn’t take much announcing. And in this pivotal moment I shared the only thing that seemed appropriate…… “I was born for this moment baby.”
We all smiled and set about mulling the options over. The obvious choice was Yakutat and we all got busy. Isaac and I plotted the new course and checked the weather. No dice. Just fuzz. But the wind was blowing and that’s’ all we needed. The electronics were used sparingly only to update the DR plot on good old paper. I took over the watch and felt a smile rise in my cheeks. So this is the feeling Bligh and Cook felt, along with a thousand other explorers who tamed this land under sail. I wanted their wisdom. Their skill…. My mind locked into a full tilt search for every piece of traditional theory I had ever absorbed. Kedging, anchor tactics, standing offshore and awaiting that perfect moment… All things we take for granted with an engine. And although these waters are well charted and marked, I felt like id fallen back in time. Back to a time when your very best is all you have to offer……
I stood the next watch and a strict heading was plotted for Yakutat. The wind favored us with a port tack broad reach and we loped along nicely. A few squalls rolled by that night. Usually an unpleasant experience. But it was different now… When the wind is all you have, you appreciate it in all forms.
I spent allot of time at the helm over the next day and a half…. Sailing through the night was a bit rowdy and the crew was sleeping hard. The heavy cloud cover was set over the mainland, but I knew shore was less than 2 miles off. I also knew that when we made or approach, I would need to be on my A game. Truly the security of being close to shore, is overshadowed by its hazards. It was just wind and waves. Now its wind, waves, rocks, currents, icebergs, channels and traffic schemes.
I was beat. My face burned and I felt a thousand mile stare coming from my glazed over eyes. I yelled down below for relief but no one answered. It was to rowdy at the helm to just go below and roust the crew…. I had punched my fun tickets already on this watch and said to myself..”OK that’s it. Heaving to”…
Well, heaving a gaff schooner to in 20 knots of wind and foamy seas makes a racket… Just as I was finishing up, Ben came clambering on deck, ready for a watch. He had heard the noise and felt the boats motion change… Hmmmmm. Ben may be a sailor indeed I thought….
Awakened a little by the company, I jibed out of Hove To, and back onto our heading. One more check on our position and I headed for the bunk. I needed 2 hours, which was exactly what I got. During that 2 hours, the seas subsided and the wind eased substantially. We were slogging along near the entrance to Yakutat bay at 3-4 knots…. We still had a fair distance to sail… If this trend continued we would be becalmed in shallow w rocky waters…. Hmmmmmm. I managed an internal “I was born for this moment baby” just to remind myself and set a course to stay in the most open water possible. That way if becalmed, we could stand off and wait for wind…. Plan for the worst, hope for the best. Simple.
But there was another problem… If the high pressure system we’d been riding was dissipating, a low may be moving in. Good, because it would mean wind. Bad because it wold be in the wrong direction for our final approach for Yakutat harbor…. Oh yea… Just then the head plugged up. The tank had filled up, failed to discharge and was overflowing into the bilge. Yummy….
So there we all were. Topside with the fresh air. Front row tickets to our own little show…. I remember thinking… “This story, regardless of its outcome, will be magazine article worthy….” But what kind of article would it be? Such a fine line between success and disaster. Which is of course what makes it all so captivating…. I cleared my head of that nonsense and got back to what matters… The safe completion of this passage.
The fact is, that no matter how slow, if you have wind, you have steerage. We had steerage, and steer we did, for the first shoal water buoy, deep in Yakutat bay…. And on this broken cloudy afternoon, gently sliding through the glistening sea, with a course ship bearing down on our intended course…… I realized something… A gift if you will, in face of adversity. “Anyone who does not want to drown can ride out a storm. But when a breath of wind, however slight, is the only thing keeping you off the rocks…. You are thankful. Like a spoonful of water in the desert, thankful.. You take nothing for granted and without a doubt. You are at your best.”
The sun burned through fog and thick cloud cover, exposing the mouth of Yakutat bay and the sun warmed the decks. We were all in good spirits, singing songs a the helm. Such sea faring shanties as Sponge-bobs turtleneck sweater song and some romantic Sinatra, accompanied ballads of Jonny Horton, Guns and Roses and everything in between. We belted the Choruses and struggled through some verses. Even Ben got into it and schooled us with some flatlander tunes. Lisa sang beautiful lullabies in German which silenced all but the sea…
Well, we were too deep in the bay to head back out and our wind laid on steady at about 7 knots. Isaac scanned the horizon for the red mark which we reached just after that pesky cruise ship made his exit out the bay and off our course….Fwew!. When we rounded the mark, we could have exchanged paint with a flick of the helm. The otherwise beautiful maneuver was encumbered only by the scrambling for cameras since a sea lion had taken up residence on the buoy. He was close enough to touch.
We beam reached up to the harbor entrance, trimming for speed speed speed. I feared the land shadowing, once inside the harbor would take our wind, leaving us adrift. As we entered the final approach, we fell back off to a downwind run, stomping for the commercial harbor. Isaac went forward with the lead line as the depth sounder was out of commission and began taking soundings. We were still making three knots and held all the canvas we could.
Ok. This is it. I was shooting for the fuel dock…. No one camps out on the fuel dock right? Wrong… No one but the United States Coast Guard “Cutter Nashang”. No fuel truck. No crew on deck. Just a big white boat with a big red stripe and a big hole in my plan. I scanned with the binoculars and saw that the old cannery piling dock was open. To the north of the dock were two dolphins. Ugly creosote dolphins, showing decades of hard service. Broken and battered but strong and unoccupied. So the choices were like this… 1 Drop anchor in the channel. 2 Come about and aim for the piling dock and possibly drift into the cutter just downwind 30 feet. Or 3 aim for the ugly dolphins and possibly drift into the piling dock, just downwind of them. Either way I planned to head to wind on a close reach, luff everything and drift her in.
The crew was poised on the foredeck. They would have to find something to tie to immediately or we would lose our chance. We also had little room to come about, as the fuel dock sits near the end of usable water depth. We were still making 3 knots running dead down wind, land in front of us and running out of water quick. It’s a calculation of moments not minutes. There would be no second try. Turn to late and run aground. Turn to soon and come in to hot. Eeny Meenie Miny Moe…. Forget it. Ill split the difference and make the turn. This is it! And so I made the turn. Our keel never scraped, but we still had about a full knot of speed as the cloud of luffing tanbark danced gently above the deck, obscuring all but a sliver of my view. We slipped past the cutter and the piling dock. Too fast for the crew to safely try and tie to the piling dock and stop this beast… On to the Dolphins just upwind. Those ugly Dolphins….The helm was hard over and we cleared the first one well, but she was slowing now and the helm wasn’t responding fast enough at this speed. The wind was on our nose, just to starboard, forcing us a little to port and into the Dolphins. The overhang of the last dolphin stood obstinately in front of me… Bering constant… Range decreasing… The test of eminent collision.
At this moment, I became useless at the helm. There was no more helm to be had and the foredeck was crawling with crew and their blurtings of what lie a few feet ahead. Isaac held a line and was standing at the bowsprit. My stomach turned… Creosote pilings.. Big steel boat…. My sons arms and hands!.. Isaac is a good sailor and a smart kid. I set the bar high and he jumps it. But there was to much risk before my eyes and I sprang from the cockpit. I don’t remember stepping. Just floating in a blur and snatching my son by his lifejacket, replacing his body with mine… At that exact moment, the forward left station of the bow pulpit, snagged on the dolphin platform. My heart sank as the handrail caved in before me like a slow motion crash testing cage, spitting splinters of oily black rotten wood about, before it sprung free (we had just caught it by inches) and our motion was stopped. Like a wounded beast, the Rover heaved away from the piling. I could almost hear her groan with discontentment.
The dolphin began to slip away as the breeze pressed us back. There was nothing to tie to. Nothing! Just a deck of wood beams bolted tight together. As we began to fall astern toward the piling dock and the Coast Guard Cutter, I saw it. Yes,! A one-inch thick lag bolt. Exposed by the years of hard use and bent about 45 degrees over facing me. The head of the bolt, angled as it was, just may hold a line if I keep the angle low…. I made a big loop and slung it over my head, coming down over the bolt. I held each end of the loop with my hands and pressed down hard. The line, slid up the shank as we drifted backward, then stalled at the head of the bolt. My eyes were like pies! Suweet! I bore down harder and locked my knees under the handrail of the bow pulpit as my body came under tension. Then more tension. Then more tension. I held my head up to watch the bolt head, as my ideal angle was giving way to stretching and straightening. “Hold! Hold! Hold!” I groaned as my head was forced down and hands began to slide…… Just hold…….
I got my wish and hold she did! The Rover came to a dead stop leaving me stretched over the water from the waist up, knees tucked under the rail. We stalled there literally by a thread… So I let her settle a little and took a deep breath. Then started climbing the lines. With both halves of the loop, pressed together in my grasp. Hand over hand we creaped back toward the dolphin. I took a full turn around the bolt while the crew made off to the first dolphin. Yea baby! Arms raised in celebration we cheered for a moment then got about striking sails and de-dramatizing the scene.
A sense of pride was about the deck, but it was quiet in regards to words. We still had much to do. Nevertheless, we were tied to a pier in Yakutat. Not aground. Not adrift and all hands were in good health. Success…… I was happy for all those things and felt relieved immediately. Yet I couldn’t help but look forward at the bent handrail. I sighed. I offered to pay Ben for the repair and tried my best to bend it back by hand. Ben wouldn’t have it and reminded me that it was not important. I appreciated that a great deal. I still tried to straighten it though.. Fat chance of that! I was no match for that crumpled chrome eyesore. I guess I’d just have to stare at it for the rest of the trip…. Ugh… Id rather remove it. But it was still strong and functional and served as a daily reminder to me…. It locked my mind into an analyses of the maneuver. I dissected it over and over in my mind and developed a store of alternative solutions to that scenario. But there are no alternatives to making a decision which must be made.
Sometimes life is like that. Your moment of glory is accompanied by a poke in the eye. Like the bride twisting her ankle during her walk down the isle. Or the chefs beautiful meal that gets a glass of water dumped in it table-side…. Maybe its Gods way of keeping us humble. But the fact of the matter is…. When you sprint past third base and slide for home, you scrape your elbows and bleed. The sweetness of the score is bitterred by pain as you make your way off the field. But back at the dugout, the high fives make the burn of gravel in your skin seem more like a right of passage than a punishment and it becomes obvious. So simple and obvious… If the game wasn’t worth the lumps and bruises, we wouldn’t play it would we……
As the surreal experience of our rowdy ride across the gulf, dissolved into realism., we pattered around the deck. Using an elaborate system of slip lines, pike poles and ingenuity, we let the wind take us aft, from the gnarly dolphin to the face of the piling dock. Just as we made her fast, a red faced wild eyed, stocky old man, hung his head over the bull-rail, commanding our attention. “You can’t park here!” “This is my dock!” His face grimaced with displeasure at our presence. He wore one of those angry grins that accompany one who is battling rage. “Sir I would be glad to move off your dock, as soon as I can get this engine started.” I offered up, with as much pleasant volume as I could muster…. It took a minute for him to understand the situation. Apparently he was the only one in that particular harbor who had not seen the “Show” After a short discussion, his disposition changed completely. From adversary to ally, in a moments time…. I explained how our batteries were discharged and we planned on purchasing a starting battery in the morning. He quickly disappeared out of sight, returning with two comrades and a battery shortly thereafter.
The battery was lowered down to the deck and temporarily rigged to the starting system. Crank Crank Crank Crank…… Nothing. OK… What gives…? A diesel engine needs three things to go. Heat, Air and fuel. Just like fire.. Oh yea. Because it is fire… Back to work genius…… So it has to be fuel I thought…. As I pondered and scratched my head, A second battery was offered up and lowered on deck.
Isaac joined me in the engine and battery compartment and found a black wire, laying loose in the bilge, near the battery box. “Maybe this is it dad!” “Lets try it.” I said with confidence, fully prepared to assure him it was “Worth a try” as I was not convinced it would solve the problem….
Crank Crank, clatter clatter vroom! “You gotta be kidding me.” “Way to go Isaac!” Apparently he was born for that moment… baby! So many thanks to the nice angry man were given as well as a promise to return his batteries in the morning and we were quickly off the dock. We perched for the night on a short commercial pier just ahead of the cutter. It was more of a steel breakwater than a dock, but sufficed for the night. The captain of the Coast Guard cutter met me at the top of the pier. Apparently we gained some street cred with our dire straights maneuver and the Captain was very helpful. He brought a printout of the weather forecast over and discussed the conditions south of us. He also vowed to be clear of the fuel dock in the morning. Which he was.
Yakutat was great. And i’m glad cause we were stuck for a few days with a monster gale blowing out in the gulf. I finally cleared the through hull for the head discharge, by rappelling over the side from the rigging, hovering over the water, and jamming a wrench through the fitting from the outside. Yummy. But the rappelling part was cool, so it made up for the unpleasant job. A 20 dollar handshake with the night watchmen, got us into some cannery showers and laundry, so all our needs were met. The following day we caught a ride in the back of an old Mazda pickup and bed surfed safari style to the hardware store. We ticked off a long list of items needed to include not one, but two, backup batteries. Ben was learning quickly.
Our friends Desay and Christa had left Seward at the same time as us. We planned on traveling together but as we motored into the sunset the first night, they decided to sail straight for Yakutat. We saw them in the inner harbor and shared our stories of the crossing. We discussed entertainment options while weathered in. The decision was unanimous… “Surfing!” So the search began for the “Surf Shop” Which is a guys house in some obscure subdivision.
After much searching we found the “Icy Waves” surf shop. Lisa, Isaac, Desay and I test fitted some suits. The owner described the stormy conditions as “Not recommended for beginners” He resisted renting us surf boards and recommended body boards instead. We settled on two surf boards and two body boards after convincing him that “Our scary is not the average scary” were up for it. So the next morning we took the borrowed Toyota van that oddly resembled the Scooby Doo Mystery Machine. Boards hanging out the windows we headed for the surf! The long winding road ended in soft sand so we parked early and hauled our boards to the shore. A half dozen locals were sitting atop their boards waiting for the next crushing wave. We watched briefly as the icy water swelled behind them, building into a steep wall as they rose on their boards and cut with ease through the foam around them. As the waves broke on shore, a dirty gravel slurry boiled onto the beach. This is Alaska surfing baby!
Now I had one big kahuna moment the last, and only other time I went surfing. It ended in blood and coral. That deal I got on the all day rental, lasted about 45 minutes. That Hawaiian surf shack, probably rented that board “All day” a dozen times a day, to rookies like me. The scenario played out in my head as I plunged into the chilly water. My wet suit filled and began to warm. So I made my way to the big water. I was relieved by the thought that there is only one way to go from rock bottom. That’s UP! So I can only do better… Unless I redefine rock bottom….. Whatever. I’m going for it.
So after much paddling and attempting to stand up, being drug by the board, by my ankle into the filthy surf for a half hour…. I passed off the board to Lisa, who made a good effort as well. We didn’t care. We were howling at the moon! Isaac was mixing it up with the otter body board. I walked around the beach and the locals were really tearing it up. Desay stood up a few times and was getting it figured out pretty well. That 7 mil wet suit was a bit constrictive and… well….. I guess…… I felt like I just wasn’t getting my moneys worth…. And the funny thing about stress is, it is relative to prior experience. So when it was my turn for the board I did what had to be done. I peeled that wet suit off and left it on the beach. There were kids around so I kept the Jockeys and booties for damage control…. There was only one way to do this. Sprint hard, dive on the board and don’t stop moving. Surf dive or crash. Just keep moving. I figured I had an hour tops before it got dangerous. So In I went. Blazing hand over hand for the local flotilla, I came to a stop among them. Fighting back full body shiver and aching cold legs dangling below “On ice” it seemed. Truth be told. I loved it….. Just saying….. Then one bearded local spouts off. “What are you from Norway!?” I took that as some sort of compliment and responded that I just “wanted my moneys worth”. He cracked a hearty grin and gave a nod to the up coming swell. I wanted a piece of that wave so bad I could taste it I forgot about cold and I took off paddling as it rose beneath me. I was much more agile without the suit and the board began to plane. I stepped forward and I was up…. I’m up! Lacking the skill to turn, I surfed straight down the face of my deep green wave and buried the nose of the board in the building slurry of saltwater and gravel. End over end I tumbled! I may have been cheering underwater I was so excited. Much hooting and hollering accompanied the moment and the recovery of my Jockeys from around my ankles became an immediate priority. I wasn’t after a surfing career. I was after a moment in time. I got that moment and loved it. I was as red as a Lobster when I came back in a dozen runs later. having stood up a few more times after I was feeling accomplished. But the tell tale signs of poor manual dexterity and slurred speech had begun and it was time to go. A hard sprint back to the van got my blood up, but I was definitely done for the day. Isaac took the board and I watched for a while. Visions of my Yawl Empiricus, anchored in Hawaii, just outside the surf, were floating in my head the rest of the trip.
Due to a “Space Camp” commitment, Isaacs’s crew position was exchanged in Yakutat for Maureen, Ben’s wife and a recently retired Montana schoolteacher. We should all take a lesson from her on how to get outside our comfort zone and live life. When we met Maureen at the airport, her disposition was of fascination, travel exhaustion and relief to have arrived finally in this obscure meeting place. Bordered by wilderness on one side and the Gulf of Alaska on the other, Yakutat in no way resembles school bells, hall passes and homework. And after a full career of teaching others, the roles were reversed the moment she landed. So much to learn. So many teachers. The crew, the sea, the wind, the Rover…… School is back in. Isaac caught an impossible flight out of Yakutat after some sweet talking with the AK Air agent. Ill say this. AK air isn’t perfect. But they are a fantastic airline in comparison to any other I’ve ever flown.
We hustled Maureen’s things to the car and sat down to eat at the local airport pub for a good meal. Lisa took to the beat up old piano that sat in the bar near our table. She of course played Mozart like it was a classical concert. Heads turned. Jaws dropped. Everyone in the building was entranced.
At the table we all discussed ” What cant this woman do?”. It proved to be a short conversation….. As I enjoyed the beautiful sounds resonating from that ugly piano, I gazed around me. I just had to laugh! A twelve year old boy, a Doctor from Austria, a farmer, a school teacher and yours truly. Gathered with one common passion, fueled by wind and waves. What had brought us together? Not chance…. Not circumstance…… Magnetism……..Yes thats it…. Just as water seeks its own level, sailing ensnares the enthusiastic and empowers them to act on dreams. Yes sir… What we have here, is a table full of adventure Junkies who shamelessly enable each others addictions for what lies beyond the horizon. This addiction however cant be packaged and sold. It cant be smoked, drank, shot up or taxed…. It doesn’t tear you down. It builds you up. It doe-sent take your life from you. It opens up your world. It’s a trade off of effort for freedom. Perspiration for perspective…… Ingenuity for enjoyment……. A clean addiction and its ancient cycle A cycle that’s been standing and building since wind blew over water and man realized it.
After dinner and later that evening, I watched my son Isaac check through security and board the plane, beginning his travels home. He had pulled his weight and steered the Rover many hours, carrying all of us through the sea while we slept. He held his cool when it mattered most and still managed to be a goofy kid like he is supposed to be. I had no doubt that if travel delays or troubles came his way, he would navigate them with ease. It was a proud moment as a father and I was reminded that like adults, kids are most fulfilled when they are relied on as an asset, not tolerated as cargo. I held the bar high for him on that trip and he cleared the bar well. Good job son… I’m proud of you.
When the weather cleared in Yakutat, we were ready. Tanks full, groceries on board and chomping at the bit. Molly 2 left that same morning and before long we had rounded the buoy and were headed straight for cross sound under power. The West wind began to build again, so the sails were set. I must say I was a bit apprehensive to kill the engine again…. However, I was confident with the repairs and satisfied that a spare battery was onboard so I shut her down. The seas were a bit sloppy from the low pressure that had passed, but the wind in our sails was strong enough to counteract the effect of the seas on our hull. So we sailed nicely, pacing Molly 2 well into the night. We got some great shots of them. It was quite fun sailing offshore, in close proximity to another vessel, but all in all less relaxing, as right of way was an ongoing concern.
The seas began to subside and I was beat tired. Lisa took the helm as I tossed my body onto the plywood bunk in a heap. I slept hatred for a couple hours and was awakened by the engine. Apparently the winds had dropped off and we were crawling along to slowly for Lisa’s taste. She put the hammer down and was crushing along under power. I just smiled in my bunk and went back to sleep. I knew by now that if I was needed, they would come and get me.
Lisa left Molly 2 in her wake literally and burned fuel through the calm night. By the following evening we were approaching Cross Sound. I was well rested and eagerly anticipated showing all on board the magic of Elfin Cove. I hacked at the Mandolin with little skill and much enthusiasm while on approach and the music continued to flow from the crew. There is no shyness among crew at this point. We had been there and done it together. An off key sea shanty was always welcome. And I had one of those German Lullabies down pretty well.
It was dead calm, mid tide change; Foggy shrouded Islands breeched by swords of sunlight. Beauty blended with treachery. Typical Cross Sound and personal confirmation that Yakutat was the right choice for an approach under sail. As we weaved through the rocks and Islands, the hum of local charter boats culled be heard in the distance. Ferry traffic on the radio and the commercial fishing fleet plagued the radio. I kicked down the volume and we pressed on for the tiny harbor entrance. I chose the wider of the two, which is about 75 feet as opposed to 25, both bordered by nothing but granite outcroppings.
When you enter Elfin Cove, you step away in time. I’m not sure if it’s forward or backward. Could it be both? There are no wheeled vehicles. Only boats, boardwalks and a float plane dock. Elfin Cove itself is built on a small granite Peninsula that shelters a shallow inner harbor and lagoon. The local travel the small lagoon on small wooden barges powered by outboard motors. The core year round community is comprised of five or six dedicated locals who keep the place operational. Yet all needs seem to be met. There is a tiny grocery store, laundry mat and showers, restaurant and bar and a tiny post office. All wrapped into a 3 minute walled along the boardwalk, which deposits you right back where you started at the outer harbor.
After fueling up, and scouting the inner harbor, it was high tide and the perfect time to run for the inner harbor. The Rovers deep steel keel cleared the bottom just barely and our departure would have to coincide with the next high tide as well as our passage through the dreaded North Inian Pass.
Lisa and I explored the area and got some nice photos. Leaving the owners to enjoy the boat alone for a while. Then it was laundry and the quest to obtain shower tokens. Always a fun challenge, the shower token hunt is like Easter egg hunting. Only a few people have them and not all of them have them all the time. They rate like dealers for the shower crack we must have. Ha! So after the dealers we burned all the hot water possible. I looked like a lobster when I got out of the shower.
The following morning we mailed some post cards and shot the exit from the inner harbor. I had to spin the Rover on a dime to get her turned around in there. One of the locals was trying to bark instructions, talking about shallow spots etc. You know, that kind of obnoxious advice given at high volume. More likely to attract attention to the speaker, than truly assist the recipient. Poor fella. Maybe he was jealous he was not going. We cruised out without a hitch. Much to his disgust I imagine.
We hit the tide perfect. An hour before slack high tide sent us screeching through North Inian Pass in smooth water with a six knot tail current. We rode the tide well past Glacier Bay….. I wanted to take a left in the worst way. I’ve never explored Glacier Bay. Not yet that is.
So we made our way on glassy water to Couverdon Island, where Ben and Maureen did some docking practice. As we approached Couverdon, a large pod of whales appeared around us. One breeched so close that the spray from his blow hole actually showered the cockpit, leaving a salty, fishy film on our faces. What a strange, exciting, yet mildly invasive experience that was. I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. But it was a new one on me. So I’d say it was good!
Once I got Ben to take control of the helm and focus on the rocks not the whales, we slipped past the shoal water and into Couverdon for lunch and practice. Then it was navigation basics for Maureen as I tried to prepare them best I could for the rest of the Journey through the inside passage.
At just around midnight, 10 days since our departure, we arrived at the transient dock in Auke Bay. I caught the lines for Ben as he steered her in. His final approach with help on board. He handled her fine and I shook his hand with congratulations. I expressed my concern for the final leg of their travels, but also wished them luck since they had decided to go it alone from here on.
The next day we were awakened early to the US Coast Guard shooting flares and the like, just outside the boa. It sounded like a bunch of duck hunters out there. Ben and i met face to face as he peered from the aft cabin and I peered from forward. Well then. I’m up! We set about getting a rental car and ticking off a list of repairs provisions and to do’s. I suggested a small generator, which Ben Happily agreed to purchase. That put me at ease a little more knowing they would not be stuck on Anchor in Canada with no way to start and no communications.
Lisa and I took the car, dropped Ben and Maureen off at the Rover and posed for a shot or two, before wishing them farewell.
Lisa was scheduled to continue her travels through Canada with her friends and I had to get back to teaching classes, but we had a little wiggle room, so we planned one last adventure and drove 15 miles out of town to the sea cliffs. We spent that day climbing and rappelling off the cliffs, feet dangling over the surf, crushing into the boulders below. Whales breeched just a hundred feet away as the sun beat down on my neck. We gathered limpets at low tide and made a soup back at camp near the top off the cliff. I showed Lisa some Alaska survival tricks, including a reflective heat shelter, which we slept in, with relative comfort.
And As I lay there, wide awake, knowing that this adventure was coming to an end; I played it all back in my head. The whales still breeching in the background, echoed my enjoyment of freedom, exploration and appreciation for this life I was given. I was thankful for all my life. The tougher times I have had help me appreciate the beauty, of what others call a chore. This trip was no chore. It was a celebration of all the things that matter in life. Fear, Laughter, Love, challenge, accomplishment, enjoyment and companionship. It was also a reminder that no matter how ready you think you are. You aren’t. Were all subject to the seas indifference to our existence.
So I will leave you with this. Even as you sit and read this. All the places I mentioned, all the things I saw on that one trip, plus a billion more…. Are out there. Right now at this moment. They are there. Breaking surf, blood red sunsets and beautiful waterfalls. Its all there. Surround yourself by people you care about and explore it together. The clock is ticking, you haven’t a moment to lose…..
Captain Jesse Osborn