2004 August: New Zealand to Sitka, Leg Three: Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii to Sitka, Alaska

Click the thumbnail for the Hawaii to Alaska photos

We seemed blessed by fine weather for the beginnings and endings of our ocean passages. So it was for our final leg to Alaska. We topped up our fuel tanks with 330 liters of diesel at the Ko Olina Marina west of Honnolulu, in the afternoon of August 5.

Under full main and jib, our course was 9 degrees magnetic, in 15 to 22 knots of easterly winds, we beat around the northwest cape of the island of Oahu. By 8 PM the wind had veered and we were able to ease our sails and set a rhumb line course to Sitka.

The seas were a bit bumpy, as they usually are close to land, but there were no underwing slams. The North Star appeared ahead, and the northwest shore lights of Oahu shone astern to starboard. Phosphorescent critters were being washed by the waves up and down our front windows. We sailed under full main and jib, with a beautiful sunrise off our starboard bow.

The wind and seas were more comfortable during the second night. We saw no other ships on the radar. The front windows were leaking with every wave that washed over them. Just a few drops. We managed it with towels under the windows. The hatch over the laundry room leaked a few drops onto the workshop bench top.

On the afternoon of Augugust 7, and we were 2005 nautical miles southwest of Sitka, Alaska. The winds and seas eased a bit to 12 to 14 knots. We could not complain because so far the engines had been silent, and the seas were coming down a bit. The blue skies and fair weather cumulus clouds were beautiful over our deep blue sea.

The jib headfoil had separated again, just above the feeder. The anchor windlass remote control was not working when we tried it for hoisting the reacher halyard.

The weather forecasters were calling for lighter winds for the next few days as we cross the High pressure system. Then we expected to sail into the westerlies, with a few fronts passing through, on our final approach to Sitka.

A booby bird visited us on the second day out. At night we sailed with the North Star above our port bow pulpit.

North of the Hawaiian Islands, we skirted the Musician Seamounts, with names like Prokofiev Seamount, and seamounts named after Gluck, Sibelius, Ravel, Grieg, Khachaturian, Debussy, Mussorgski, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Rosinni, Bellini, Strauss, and more. These are the names of many of our favorite composers. ADAGIO felt right at home in this musical region. To the northeast of us was a region of seamounts called the “Moonless Mountains.”

I had been preserving our fresh produce by cutting, pureeing and freezing the peaches and strawberries, making banana ice cream and banana/chocolate cake, paring and cutting up the cantelopes. Tropical temperatures are hard on delicate produce. Steve had to bring out and activate our back-up PC, as our new PC stopped working. No worries, as we could make it to Sitka with our GPS if necessary. And we had backups for the GPS, as well as paper charts.

On Monday, August 9, we entered the Pacific High pressure system, and lost all but two knots of our wind, with a rising barometer. The sea at sunset reflected the pink sky in an undulating silver surface upon which tiny flying fish glided for great distances. We were motoring, under bare poles. All sails were furled. We had decided to spend some of our diesel fuel in these conditions to make progress to the north, with the best value for our fuel expenditure. In other words, we are motoring at our greatest efficiency, making the most distance for each gallon of fuel.

The prognosis is for light and variable winds for the next two or three days, then we hope to pick up the southwesterlies that flow along the northern side of the Pacific High pressure system. Our progress is still good, averaging 185 nautical miles per day. Our distance is 1790 nautical miles to Sitka.

One after another uneventful days of reading, napping, standing watch, enjoying the beautiful fair weather cumulus clouds and occasional rainbow, was quite a contrast to conditions during legs 1 and 2 of our journey.

We had sighted no other boat since departing Hawaii. We pass the occasional round, red, rubber fishing float. Bill advised us to keep a look out for the Japanese glass fishing floats which are collector’s items. They would be easy to spot on the calm sea each morning.

On the morning of August 10, we were advised by our weather router that we could slow down, conserve fuel, and let the favorable winds come to us. We began motoring on one engine at a time, making 6 knots of boat speed over the ground, in 5 knots of headwind.

Bill landed a beautiful El Dorado fish. Dinner was sashimi and

Poisson cru. Six nice-sized pieces of fish went into the freezer. This was a welcome addition to our diet, and relieved the hum drum-ness of our passage. The Dorado is the fish that our leg 1 and 2 crew member Vanessa had said that she would release if she hooked one. We kept ours, but the colors that it displayed were amazing, ending with its body colored a brilliant yellow.

The forecast was for a few more days of light winds, but a low pressure

system to the north of us was sending large-ish swells our way. Fortunately, they were meeting our bows rather than our beam ends. The ride was smooth, but sometimes I was not sure where the floor was underfoot, as the boat rose and fell in the swells. The surface of the sea in the afternoon was dotted with thousands of By-the-wind-sailors, Vellela vellela I think is the scientific name. These four inch jellyfish sport a blue sail which sticks up out of the water into the wind. Off the coast of California, the sail has evolved so that the prevailing wind will blow these jellies offshore. But when the wind changes direction, there will be millions of them washed up onto the California beaches. I could not tell in which direction they were sailing, but they were definitely all going the same way. Callum says that the vellelas in Australia are a stinging variety.

On August 11 we were still motorsailing with full main and jib in beautiful weather, clear skies, a light breeze, and a brief shower this morning to wash off the salt, then more sun to dry ADAGIO’s decks.

We altered our course a bit to the west, to avoid a stationary low pressure system located to the north east of us, in the southern Gulf of Alaska. This morning we finally had a sailing breeze from the southwest, but it did not last all day. High pressure systems surrounded us, bringing light and variable winds. The forecast was for several days of wins from the northerly direction, which will slow us down, but the seas were still less than 2 meters in height. The air was becoming pleasantly cooler as we proceeded north.

Today we were occupied with various boat projects on deck, taking

advantage of the fine weather. As we hoisted the reacher on its two part halyard, we were plagued by twists in the halyard, so we spent several hours raising and lowering the halyard, twisting the line as it entered the mast, to remove the twists. Dorothy noticed that when we had re-installed the furling line for the mainsail, we had led it through the wrong hole in the bottom of the boom, and it was chafeing on the metal. Luckily we discovered this before the line was damaged. Dorothy took it off and installed it correctly.

The wildlife sightings were a beautiful white tropic bird which flew in circles around the boat, and a large shearwater.

We tacked to windward in light airs, and watched rainshowers on all horizons, but blue sky ahead. From time to time we found ourselves sailing as much as 40 degrees away from destination.

We hoisted the full mainsail and jib before lunch after receiving an email from our weather router recommending that we head in an easterly direction to 39N latitude 148W longitude and hold there until August 16, 00 hours UTC time. This would allow him to determine if a new low pressure system forming in our vicinity was going to move NW or SE. A stationary low to the north of us was deepening also. Our strategy was to stay south and east of the worst wind, then make our way north along the east side of the low as it dissipated. We were sailing again and conserving fuel. Another beautiful day, and we wanted to keep it that way.

On Friday the 13th we had been cruising along under full mainsail and reacher, but our weather router alerted us to a low pressure system forming in our vicinity. We prepared for the strong winds and heavy seas by

taking two reefs in the mainsail and stowing the reacher in the starboard

bow locker. He recommended that we change our aim point to 37N latitude 136W longitude, and travel as fast as we could, at 8 kts or greater.

The weather forecast called for:

“New low 41N 140W 1000 MB. Forecast winds 25 to 35 kt. Seas 8 to 14 ft within 300 nm S semicircle.”

The wind eased, and it was impossible to maintain 8 kts boat speed. The low was forecast to form diirectly north of us, and put us probably within the 300 nm S semicircle of strong winds and high seas. A high pressure system to the east of us was strengthening and could produce a squash zone along our route.

On August 14 we were letting ADAGIO have a little fun surfing once at 18.8 knots with two reefs in the main, in rough seas. Other surfing runs were 16 kts and 17 kts boat speed, in 25 to 32 knots of wind speed.

Because the North Pacific High was located more south than usual, the north Pacific Ocean was spawning low pressure systems like a boiling soup pot. On August 15 we had been sailing off course for several days, dodging lows and fronts. The weather finally calmed and we were able to set our course heading directly for Sitka, about 1100 nautical miles and 6 to 7 days travel if our speed held. We waited until after we had passed through a weak trough and watched the barometer before setting full sail again. We sailed into a favorable current which was pushing us in the direction of our destination. By dinner time we were flying along again at 9 knots boat speed under reacher in 20 knots of southwesterly wind.

We might have to slow down or detour yet again as we headed north, to avoid bad weather. We did not want to beat up the boat and her crew, and most particularly the cook who required non-violent motion in order to prepare the meals. So far we had not had to resort to eating out of cans.

It seemed strange that our latitude was the same as San Francisco, and the

distance from our position to San Francisco was just about the same as our

distance to Sitka. We were 900 nautical miles from San Francisco, 1000 nautical miles from Seattle, and 1125 nautical miles from Sitka, Alaska.

In the wee hours of the morning on August 16 we put two reefs in the mainsail as the winds increased, gusting to 30+ kts in rain squalls. We furled the jib a few hours later. The jib foil had separated again above the feeder. Several days ago, Callum had tied it top and bottom to hold it in place, but to no avail.

By noon we had set the full mainsail and reacherin 17 knots of wind speed. We altered course to sail directly towards Sitka. During the night the winds were light and we motorsailed with one engine and all sails set. You would not believe what beautiful sailing we have been having, traveling 190 to 200 nautical miles per day.

On the morning of August 17 we had following winds of 15 to 19 knots true wind speed and following seas, moving us along at 9 to 10 kts boat speed. The seas were down from the 2.5 meters of the two previous days. At 0700 hours, we were 760 nautical miles and 3 to 4 days south of Sitka. The favorable winds were forecast to continue, punctuated by a low pressure system passing us to the west soon bringing 30 knot winds from astern. We would furl our headsails and take 2 or 3 reefs in the mainsail before the low passed over us. The sky was overcast with light rain. The barometer was slowly rising as we headed NNE, away from the forecast location of the approaching low.

The forecasters were predicting no fog along our route. We had expected to see more shipping, but so far only two ships had been sighted. We kept our radar turned on throughout the night hours, and during the day in poor visibility. We had been sleeping better in the calmer sea conditions, and with the engines turned off, it was even quieter.

We organized and folded our backup paper charts, noting the many islands along the coast of SE Alaska. Sitka has several marinas, but word came back from our inquiries that there was no room for ADAGIO. The marinas were full, and had long waiting lists. We might have to anchor near the New Townsend Marina, but could certainly come alongside the fuel dock for fuel and to board Kim and her family when they arrived. Our wonderful dinghy would be our taxi to and from shore while we re-provisioned for our expedition to Glacier Bay. We were enjoying the last of our mangoes from Hawaii.

When the forecast gale arrived after lunch on August 17, we had furled the large reacher and reefed the mainsail early, down to the second reef. By dinner time the winds were in the 30’s gusting to more than 35 knots. Steve surfed ADAGIO at 17+ knots boat speed. Two hours later we had taken in the third and fourth mainsail reefs. This was the first time we had sailed with four reefs in the mainsail. ADAGIO still raced along covering 215 nautical miles in 24 hours. The seas were very rough, estimated at 8 to 11 ft high. We were getting a lot of practice furling and unfurling our mainsail with the in-boom furling system, and believed we had the geometry and forces very well figured out. No more dramas, knock on wood. Winds and seas had been from astern, and we were making good time. We could not ask for more.

By August 18 the winds were lighter and the seas had gone down. We were cruising along under full main and reacher, but we were unable to make wind that was not there. Stronger southerlies were forecast for the next day as another low approached from the west.

Dorothy’s log entry for 6AM, February 18 read: ” It was a very rough night with winds in the 30’s and very rough seas. This morning the seas are still rough and a bit confused. Wind is down into the mid to high 20’s.Still sailing under 4th reefed main and full jib. The furled reacher stayed furled throughout the night and still looks secure this morning. Not much sleep was had last night due to the motion and sound of the gale. Overcast with occasional rain.”

The forecast was for gale conditions in our area for another 12 hours. Before noon we had hoisted the full main and set the reacher in 17 knots of southeasterly wind.

Our Aussie crew member, Callum, was wanting to have a few days to explore

Sitka before flying to Vancouver on Augugust 22, so he had been working hard to keep the sails trimmed and our boat speed up. Our other crew member, Bill Twidale from Hawaii, had been able to contact his wife Maryann on the HF radio from time to time.

This is a large, empty ocean. We were hoping to encounter no shipping during yesteday’s gale when visibility was very poor. This day we sighted two ships nearby, but had expected to see more.

We heard that Sitka was experiencing a heat wave, but out at sea the

temperature was pleasantly cool, and we turned our electric underblankets on to pre-warm our beds each evening. It sounds decadent, but we would not be without them. Kim had been telephoning marinas in SE Alaska and in the Puget Sound area, looking for a marina where we could leave ADAGIO for the winter. Sitka marinas were full, and we were being advised that a boat left in SE Alaska during the winter months needed a care taker, or someone living aboard. If we could not find berthage that we felt was secure up north, then we would bring ADAGIO south to the Puget Sound area, close to where Kim lives. Perhaps we could even do some winter cruising. After all, ADAGIO is now our only home.

On the morning of August 19 we hoisted full main and reacher. Callum conversed with a pod of Dal’s porpoises playing on ADAGIO’s bows. The weather forecasters reported that there was a stationary High in the vicinity of Sitka.

Early morning on August 20, Dorothy’s log entry read: “180 nm in past 24 hrs. Sun peeking through the clouds of a clearing sky in the east. Clouds and convection to the west. Last night the orange! crescent moon hooked its tail into the horizon and slowly disappeared, criisp and bright, after the sunset allowed the bright red ball of the sun shine red and hot beneath the layer of clouds that have covered our sky all day. Is this a sign of clearing? We have 224 nm to Sitka, 1 day 5 hrs at this speed.”

At dawn on August 21, we were 28 nautical miles south of Sitka, and expected to arrive after lunch. The mountain peaks along the coast appeared out of the clouds, 27 miles away. Mount Edgecumbe is a volcano-shaped peak rising over 3200 feet near the entrance to Sitka Sound. It looks like Mt. Fuji, and we were headed directly for it. The snow-covered mountain peaks of Chichagof and Baranof Islands graced the horizon off our starboard bow. A more beautiful day for arrival in Sitka could not have been designed.

Three black-footed albatross have been circling the boat all morning.

These birds nest and breed in the Hawaiian Islands. They are all black with a white vertical stripe between their beak and their eye. A flock of what looked like small black petrels flew past, in a great hurry to go somewhere important.

As soon as we had sighted land, our crew member bill said quietly,, “Now it is time to look for logs.” Zing! Of course, I had forgotten. Bill spotted the first large log, and we dodged it. Several others were

spotted, so we were vigilant, assigning one person to look out for logs at all times. Sometimes the logs are made easier to locate when birds used them for a rest perch. There were many false alarms when a large piece of boa kelp was floating on the surface.

At 3:45 in the afternoon of August 21, the clearing sky and a forecast for 48 more hours of fine weather made our entrance into Sitka Harbor a piece of cake. The harbor master found us a berth that was 30 feet wide. ADAGIO is 27 feet wide, and I measured it several times while Steve and crew brought the boat around the outside of the marina and to the berth. It fit just a touch looser than a glove, and we were very pleased. Mission accomplished.

Bill and Callum would depart on August 22. Bill was worried about a hurricane that was headed directly for his home in Hilo, Hawaii.

Our daughter Kim and her family were due to arrive the evening of August 25.

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