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Winter Cruising in Alaska--Interesting?, Exhilarating?, Crazy or Fun?

It is snowing today. A lot. It has been snowing since around 4 am and in the past 6 hours, we have seen more snow pile up on the boat than we experienced all winter in Wrangell. The winds are about 8-10 knots and are hitting the starboard forward side of the boat. So, we have drifty snow buildup on the starboard side decks (which are covered, but that does nothing in the blowing snow) up to 6-8 inches, with no snow on the port side decks. The wing door on the starboard side is getting pummeled.

Currently we have mini drifts of snow on the carpet inside the door where the snow is driving in between the gaps. I broke down and taped up the wind gaps with blue tape. It does not look nice, but it is highly effective at keeping the cold wind out of the cockpit. I will remove it again after this weather blows over. It is 32 degrees outside, up from the 22 degrees we experienced yesterday. Sea Ventures bow is covered, and the step the windlass sits upon is buried in the snow. It is beautiful coming down, but we are thinking that we will need to start shoveling and brushing the snow off before too much longer.

We are in Juneau. We cruised to Juneau over the last four days and arrived yesterday, just in time. We had an interesting cruise. Jim would say uneventful, except for the last 20 miles, but I would say it was eventful all along.

We left Wrangell early Thursday morning, after some snow had fallen overnight. The decks were slushy, but it was no problem heading out the fairway and into the waters outside the breakwater in front of Wrangell. It had been quite calm the prior days and we really did not think about the wind. The forecast was doable, and we had a manageable weather window, so we decided to depart. Once outside of the breakwater, the waters were lumpy, and we quickly locked down the items we missed before leaving.

Jim had to go upstairs on the swaying decks to put the paravane poles out. Once that was done, we were able to put the paravane fish into the water and the boat settled out and the rolling dissipated. We had a much more comfortable ride, which Blake and Barkley both appreciated.

The weather started getting better and better as we headed west and passed Vank and Station Island. By 10am the sun started peeking out and we headed into the southern entrance to the Wrangell Narrows. We pulled the fish in and had the current with us for the entire narrows cruise, averaging 8 knots, all the way.

When we passed Petersburg, we exited and headed west. It was a bit lumpy at first, so we put the fish back in the water. The fish did their job and really gave us a gentler ride. The waters smoothed out for a while. Since it was only around 2pm, when we needed to make a course decision regarding going to Portage Bay or continuing, we decided to push on about two more hours to Whitney Island East. The wisdom of that decision is debatable, because as we worked our way west, the waters got rougher. We had over 30 miles of open seas from the west creating swells that we were driving right into. We started hobby horsing up and down, but it was very doable, just a bit uncomfortable. Fortunately, it was not the hard pounding we experienced prior to the bulbous bow, just lots of up and down. It was quite doable, but the cats were not pleased.

I took Blake and Barkley to the salon, where there was less movement and tried to get them settled down. We had about 90 minutes to endure, and I wanted them to get through it without too much trauma. I got them settled on the settee—Barkley on his throne of blankets and Blake in his window-sill corner. I still cannot figure that one out, but that is where he feels safest. I have to say, I feel blessed that neither

cat has gotten seasick. Thank goodness! I

comforted them as much as I could, and they seemed to settle down.

Once we rounded Cape Fanshaw we turned 180 degrees and the swells were on our stern. That was a much better ride. We arrived at our anchorage at about 5pm, and the kitten crew was incredibly happy with the engines shutting down. We left the fish in the water overnight.

The next day was forecasted to be calmer winds than the day before. At 7am the next morning we left the Whitney Island anchorage in calm waters. As we got out to the Five Fingers area we started getting swells. We were glad to have the fish in the water. As we approached the first eastern inlet, Port Houghton, we started getting east winds at 10 knots with westerly swell. It started getting uncomfortable. Good thing the fish were in the water. I sat in the salon with the cats, in their new ‘happy places’ and edited a bit. It got better as we headed north, and after about an hour it calmed to quite comfortable conditions.

At 10:30 just after I took watch, some Dalls Porpoises came to visit for about 10-15 minutes. There were about 8 of them--such fun, but at 34 degrees, it was too cold to be on the bow with them for very long. I did see one swim in front of the bulb for a few seconds. That was interesting to watch. They are so graceful, and with what looks like a little twitch of their tails they move through the water so quickly.

Michelle called outside of Tracy Arm, and with one bar of service we were able to have a conversation. That was remarkable, in the middle of Stephens Passage. No icebergs were noted. Jim made an early lunch after my oatmeal debacle this am. (I let it boil over and make quite a mess…) A bit later during Jim’s watch we had porpoises return for about 30 minutes.

Our ETA to Taku Harbor was 3pm! Looking good! We arrived in Taku Harbor in a snowstorm. Knowing the forecast for the following day was dismal, we planned to spend an extra day at the public dock. No problem, we have plenty to do to keep ourselves busy. We got Sea Venture securely tied to the dock with plenty of fenders to protect her, anticipating 40+ knot winds the next day.

An hour or so later, when the snow stopped, we took the cats out on the dock for a ‘walk’. They made it almost to the head of the dock, and because it was low tide, Barkley decided to jump off onto the shoreline. Fortunately, he did not go far, and I scooped him up again. I think they

enjoyed all the new things to see and smell.

The next day was quite windy, so we stayed put in Taku Harbor. We were securely tied to the dock. The winds were not too bad in Taku Harbor, but they were wild outside in Stephens Passage. In the binoculars the water looked like white foam, and enough swells came into the bay that Sea Venture was a little bucking bronco at the dock for a few hours. We got an opportunity to take a walk during the day. It was fun to revisit this area and check out the ‘artwork’ at the old pilings that visitors have created over time.

The boat was relatively calm overnight. The forecast was ok to move on to Juneau Sunday, but the winds on Monday looked terrible. We decided to cast off the lines and travel the final 3 hours to Juneau. As we got into Stephens passage, the water was a little rough, and it progressively got worse as we rounded Taku Mountain and Grand Island. Our speed was slowed a couple of knots from the headwinds and the head seas were quite lumpy. The bulbous bow really did its job. These are seas we would have retreated in prior to getting the bulb done. Instead of the heavy pounding we used to experience, this was a much gentler ride. We still moved up and down quite a bit, but the pounding of years past was no longer there.

I was proud of the cats. With a little help, they found their ‘happy places,’ and hunkered down. I checked on them periodically, but they seemed to be doing fine.

The new and strange thing for us was the freezing spray. As we approached Arden Point, the winds from Taku Inlet made their presence known. Locals call this area the ‘washing machine’ and now we know why. According to the chart, “The conformation of Taku Inlet is such that N winter gales sweep down the inlet and across Stephens Passage with great force.” While we did not experience gale force winds, we did have 25 knots of wind with freezing spray. This was enough to keep us alert and watching for ice buildup on the starboard side of the boat.

Ice on cable and paravane pole Ice on window Entire wing door covered in ice

When we finally entered Gastineau Channel to cruise up to Juneau, the winds and freezing spray were behind us. The last hour of our cruise was calm and uneventful. The cats ventured from their safety spots and they wandered around like they like to do while cruising. We arrived in Juneau with the sun shining and 22 degrees outside. Who would have guessed the crazy water conditions only 10 miles south of here?

Ice on the port rub rail upon our arrival in Juneau.

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