Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Sail Alaska (in winter)

We had grand plans to continue sailing throughout the winter here in Alaska.  The weather is somewhat daunting, but with numerous great all-weather anchorages it is a reasonable possibility.  The first difficulty to this plan came when we ran out of money and decided we needed to work for a while to build back our bank account.  It seems a shame that people expect you to be certain places and do certain things in order for them to give you money, but we have found no other alternative.  Instead, we are at least hoping to be able to get out on occasion for short sailing trips around Sitka.  The two factors making even this a difficult prospect are the hours of daylight this time of year and the weather.  With only about 8 hours of daylight on a clear day, it limits our options of where we can get to, and back, in a weekend on a slow moving boat.  Thankfully there are options, and we hope to be able to explore at least some of them over the winter.  The other factor, the weather, is harder to get around.  Finding a two day (or longer) forecast that is benign enough to get us back to the dock without issue is hard enough, but having that forecast coincide with the weekend is even harder.  Add to that the possibility of the harbor looking like the included picture and you add ice breaking to the issues you have to overcome for a weekend sail.  We had good intentions of getting out over the Thanksgiving weekend, possibly anchoring up at the nearby hot springs for a couple good soaks and some relaxation.  A forecast for 55 mph winds and another 6 inches of snow the night before Thanksgiving made us reassess plans and stick to the marina instead.  We will continue to watch the forecasts and hopefully get away on occasion this winter, but we are also enjoying small town life and are meeting some interesting people as well.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Roughing it

Contrary to my Minnesota-ness, I will take a short break from my postings on our current weather snowpocalypse for a quick holiday update.  (For any MN people reading this, we have received several more feet of snow since my last post.)
We spend quite a bit of time explaining to people that living and traveling on a sailboat is not one small step away from homelessness as many seem to believe.  Thanksgiving is a good example of our fairly normal life in a less than normal setting.  My new employer was kind enough to give out turkeys to all the employees for Thanksgiving this year, so we started our meal planning around our free turkey.  The only real issue was that most of the turkeys they bought were in the 15-16 pound range, and there is no way we can fit something that big in our oven.  I dug through the pile of 50 frozen birds until I found the smallest one they had, about 12.5 pounds, and crossed my fingers we could cram it in the oven to cook it.  I considered using one of the band saws in the shop to cut it in half, but a blade covered in aluminum shavings didn't seem like the best tool for the job, so I kept my hopes up until I got back to the boat and confirmed that the turkey would, just barely, fit in our oven.  With the addition of stuffing, mashed potatoes and corn we had the makings for a good old traditional dinner.  The pumpkin I never got around to carving for Halloween was sacrificed for pumpkin pie, which baked while we ate once the turkey had vacated the oven.
The final food item of the meal gave Nicole the hardest time, not because it was difficult to prepare, but because it was difficult for her to understand why this would be a holiday tradition in MN.  I felt the meal would not be complete unless we included Jello with fruit in it, so after looking through our selection of canned fruit it was decided that orange Jello with mandarin oranges would be a good choice.  A nice bottle of dry riesling from our ample wine selection rounded out the meal.
The holiday meal aftermath is another area where we break from the crowd.  Leftovers are always a good thing, but with a freezer the size of a half gallon carton of milk and a refrigerator already packed with food, we have to find some way to store half a bird carcass and all the various containers of food from the meal.  I can, at this point, laugh in the face of all our sailing friends that made the ridiculous decision to sail south to tropical climates, since all we have to do is set our food outside and it is back to a frozen state within minutes.  Try that with your white-sand beaches and drinks with little umbrellas.
Happy Thanksgiving from Greg, Nicole, and boat-cat Hope, and don't worry, I'm sure the weather will remain crappy enough for me to post about it again sometime soon.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Chick Magnet

For the most part, when we are traveling, most of our stops are at small communities that are reasonably easy to explore by foot.  Almost every town we visited had groceries, laundry, restaurant(s), and a marine parts store within easy walking distance of the docks.  The one exception to this is Juneau, which is a fairly large town by area standards, but also boasts a very good bus system providing access to all it's various amenities.  Sitka also fits the bill as a "boater friendly" town, with groceries, laundry, restaurants and a marine store all within a few blocks of the marina.  However, this becomes complicated when you add an employment factor to your needs, as I have, and suddenly there is somewhere you need to be at a certain time.  Although Sitka is a fairly compact community, with only about 14 miles of road, commuting to work can be troublesome.  My place of employment is only a few miles from the marina, and I thought I might be able to just walk back and forth to work, but this time of year the hours of daylight are exceeded by my hours of employment, meaning I travel to and from work in the dark each day.  The weather is also an issue, with heavy rain, high winds, and snow, all at the same time recently, making walking a depressing option.  Lastly, this is still wilderness, with the possibility (although thankfully not a probability) of encountering a nice big brown bear along the way.  My solution so far has been to borrow a vehicle from a friend here in town (thanks Bob), but an early 70's Ford Courier in this condition can hardly be called reliable transportation.  At least I carry with me the option to row to work if the truck dies somewhere close to the water.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Make it Stop

Since my post last weekend, our stormy winds have abated, but as I mentioned at the end of that post, by Sunday morning it had started to snow.  It kept snowing throughout the day on Sunday, and continued on Monday...... and Tuesday, and Wednesday, and Thursday.  The temperature stayed in the 30's so the snow would build, then melt, and continued in that predictable cycle until Thursday when the temp dropped into the teens.  Friday arrived with clear skies and cold temperatures, never getting out of the mid-twenties, but with blue skies and beautiful snow-covered vistas in all directions.  Going to bed Friday night we had a couple inches of snow on the ground (or dock, as the case may be) and temperatures still in the twenties.  We awoke this morning to about 6 inches of new snow, and near white-out conditions.  The forecast calls for continuing snow on and off throughout the next week, although the temperatures are suppose to get back up in the thirties in the next few days.  That could be good or bad news for the seagulls standing on the ice alongside our boat, depending on how much they enjoy the harbor being frozen in.  I'm told by many people in town that this is unusually early for this kind of weather, but I was also told the weather here would be similar to Seattle, so I guess only time will tell for sure.
The upper picture shows our view from the "back deck", as of earlier this morning.  It's been snowing for a few more hours since then, with no break on the horizon, so I'm guessing it should be fun getting around town today.  That brings us to the lower picture, which shows our grocery store earlier this week.  It was still warm enough at that point that we were losing most of our accumulations each day.  Something to point out about that picture, there probably aren't too many grocery stores with a better view.  With the ocean right outside the front door of the store, it's a beautiful setting, but also close enough that I got a bit worried I was going to put the truck in the water a few days ago when the parking lot was iced over.  With true frontier mentality, there is no need for guard rails here, or just about anywhere else in town for that matter.
I wanted to include a picture of the mountains surrounding town, with the stunning snow covered pines, but right now I can't even see shore from our marina slip.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


The title for this post is a tribute to Clive Cussler.  Nicole and I have been working our way through a collection of his books, given to us by a friend, (thanks Dave) and think it is hilarious that he thought it necessary to use exclamation marks in his book titles.  Anyway, we had a bit of weather blow in over the weekend and it was our first taste of Alaska in the winter.  Nothing extreme, I guess we still have that to look forward to, but it caused some excitement here at the marina.

Wind Speed (WSPD): 35.0 kts
Wind Gust (GST): 42.7 kts
Wave Height (WVHT): 31.8 ft

The conditions listed above were off  Cape Edgecumbe, just west of us.  At our slip in the marina we saw 43 gusting 56 knots, that's 50 mph with gusts of 65mph.  The waves in the marina are smaller but still significant enough to do damage.  It's humbling to think of the waves off the cape, 38.4 feet at their maximum height, as being considerably higher than most houses.
At least two boats sunk at the dock in our harbor from extreme wind and waves in the channel, and one more broke lose from the dock and washed ashore. Lots of other boats saw significant damage. We were safe and sound but got bounced around pretty good.  I happened to be working on another boat in the harbor when the worst of it hit on Saturday, and I have to give Nicole mucho credit for making sure our boat was secure and then checking on our neighbors to help out where needed.  There were lots of snapped dock lines and crushed fenders, and one sailboat across the dock from us surged up on to the dock hard enough to smash it's bobstay and break off the end of the bowsprit.
The weather continued into Saturday night with heavy winds mixed with rain and hail.  By Sunday morning it looked like things might be calming down, the wind eased and the sky cleared, but it was just a temporary lull.  By Sunday afternoon the high winds were back, this time mixed with heavy snow, and by Sunday night Sitka looked like a winter wonderland.
Welcome to fall in Alaska.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Special Delivery

Getting a package in the mail is almost always an enjoyable event.  Traveling by sailboat makes it pretty hard for the postal service to track us down, so we have our mail held in Seattle and forwarded every month or so.  When our mail does catch up to us, it is usually just a pile of bills, most or all of which were paid electronically long before we received the bills themselves.  As a special treat, our friend Dave sent us some gear we hope will prove useful this winter (expect a follow-up blog post about this soon), and in the box he also included some fun extras, including a Dilbert comic book that once again reassures me I will never go back to cubicle work.  The only thing missing in the box was a treat of some kind for our cat, Hope.  Thankfully she is a resourceful feline, and found a way to make the package a treat for her as well.