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North - Part II

My flight from Seattle to Petersburg on Alaska Airlines is referred to as the "Milk Run."  It makes multiple stops along the way at small airports and several places you just stay on the airplane rather than getting off.  We stopped in Ketchikan and Wrangell before stopping in Petersburg where I got off.  Danny, the guy selling me the boat named "Northern Light" came to the airport to pick me up.  I had two large action packers and two carry-ons; I was traveling heavy today.  We went straight to the boat where we started going over systems and talking about what he had done to get it ready.

All the plastic was off Northern Light and she was looking better than the first time I saw her.  The sun was shining and she was drying up quite nicely.  Danny had replaced the engine battery, replaced the bilge pump switch, replaced the transmission heat exchanger, removed the impeller and started the engine, and scheduled the launch date for Monday at 1:30pm, today was Saturday.  He showed me around the boat, how to do certain tasks, where certain tools were that I would need, and overall, just poured out the knowledge he had from sailing and living on this boat for ten years. The engine oil still needed changed so we pumped out the oil, changed the filter, and added new oil.  We ran the engine again to make sure there were no oil leaks, then I went about installing the new impeller.  You can't run the engine with the impeller in there and no water flowing so that was the last engine work we did.  I spent some time fiddling on the boat without Danny the following day doing things like mounting the dingy to the davits. Eventually he showed up and we finalized things before launch on Monday.

We met at the boat around noon when the boatyard guys came over to put it on the trailer.  Launch Day!  I had already purchased provisions for the boat and had loaded everything on.  I puchased just the bare minimum because Petersburg groceries and tools are VERY expensive. So, they drove this big hydraulic lifter trailer/driving thing under the boat, moved up supporting arms, and removed the jacks that had been supporting it for the past year.  They lifted the boat, made a very slow trip to the shore, then waited for the tide to rise.  The inside passage of Alaska has very large tides.  High tide to low tide is often over 15 feet with some places reaching 21 feet at times.  I impatiently waited for the time to arrive and finally they fired up the mover and lowered the boat into the water.  Once the engine raw water inlet was covered we fired up the engine to make sure the impeller was impelling except... it wasn't. 

We were making a mad rush to figure out what was wrong but weren't getting anywere.  We checked the inlet, checked the outlet, checked the filter, removed hoses to see if there was a clog, removed the impeller again to make sure I installed it right, but still nothing was working.  The boatyard crew gave us a final warning, get off the trailer or get hauled out.  Danny threw it in reverse, went out a couple hundred feet out, dropped the anchor, and shut off the engine.  This wasn't going well.  Without raw water getting pulled through the impeller, then engine would overheat.  It would be like your car's radiator fan not turning or having cardboard over your radiator.  The engine would be okay for a short time but soon it would overheat.  After nearly an hour of frustration, I spotted a big shiny washer down in the bilge under the engine.  I got a long metal rod, picked it up, and started laughing.  It was a wear surface for inside the impeller.  When Danny took the impeller out and ran the engine, this large washer vibrated out of the impeller housing and fell in the bilge.  Without it installed, there was a gap between the impeller and the housing so it wasn't pumping water, it was just sitting there circulating water inside itself.  I showed Danny, he was super embarrased but he wasn't aware it even existed.  I slapped it in, sealed up the impeller, and cranked the engine.  Almost immediately there was water flowing out the back!  Yes! 

With the engine finally running safely we motored out into the Wrangell Narrows to check out how the boat handles.  We soon raised the sails and turned off the engine.  We sailed close to the wind and Northern Light once again became a sailboat.  I'm sure Danny was having an emotional time as this was the last sail he would have on her before I took her north.  I tacked a few times, practicing the maeuver as a single-handed crew with Danny giving me tips.  The fun was short lived though; we had to head north to the fuel dock and slosh a couple hundred dollars worth of diesel into her holding tank for the week's journey.  I got my first practice docking at the fuel dock.  It went okay, I didn't hit anything.  Danny was stressed which made me anxious and annoyed but really, it went fine.  I pumped over $200 of diesel into the tank and we left the dock bound for North Harbor where I would spend my first ever night aboard a sailboat on the water.  I guess this was a big moment of truth, would I actually like this big commitment I just made?  When we got to the slip, we added fresh water to the tank that had been drained and checked the water system for function and leaks except... it wasn't working.  The pump was spewing water out the pressure switch.  Danny ran off to the hardware store and bought a pump to replace it with.  We got that on and there was another leak, a hose had come off a pipe.  I fixed that, and two more showed up.  After reinstalling 5 or 6 hoses that had come off (likely due to freezing and getting pressed off by the ice) the fresh water was working.  I now had enough systems working to get me underway.  Danny and I toasted the day with some pretty decent whiskey, his friend Brex dropped of some homemade bananna nut bread for the trip, and he was off to make friends with his dog that he neglected all afternoon. 

That evening I went over the boat, taking care of some chores, figuring some things out, and checking out a little outboard engine I had purchased for the dingy.  Danny included a nice dingy with the sale of Northern light but an engine wasn't included.  I puchased a 6hp outboard engine he had leaning up against his garage with the knowledge it may not run.  It looked really good but there was no guarantee.  I lowered the dingy, lowered and installed the engine, added gasoline, and started pulling.  After about eight pulls, the engine coughed.  A few more pulls in and the engine idled like it was never ignored at all.  With backup ores on the dingy, I unhooked from my davits and ripped out into the narrows.  The engine ran well!  Not wanting to temp fate in a 2-3 knot current and without any lights, I came back to Northern Light, hoisted the engine then dingy, and went below.  I don't remember what I did for dinner, but I slept well and woke up at 5:15 the next morning for a 6:00 departure.

The morning to make way arrived and after a little coffee, I pulled out of the slip and got underway.  The current in the Narrows was benign and the seas were calm.  I met a boat pulling a barge on my way out, it was coming in.  I was surprised to see how fast those things move and how big everything is.  The chains between the tug and the barge are massive.  I stayed out of his way and after a couple hours, I was already nearing Farragut Bay, my first stop.  The autopilot was nearly useless on this leg, a warning for the rest of the trip to come. 

Now some explanation on my plan.  I made way on Tuesday, March 26th.  Work started Monday, April 1st, no joke!  But there was another hitch, I needed to do a fair bit of online class time for one of my mechanic certifications before the 1st arrived.  I wanted at least Sunday to get it done but preferably Saturday and Sunday.  That meant I had four days to get to Juneau which at just over 120 miles, that's about 30 miles a day.  The boat motors or sails in good winds about 6 knots.  That's only 5 hours a day if things go as planned.  So with that easy schedule, I felt pretty good about things and I could take some time to see some places along the way.  One of those places along the way was Farragut Bay where some former neighbors and distant friends live.  They had property near us in Utah and I had always wanted to visit their off-grid, super remote, organic Alaska farm.  It was only 20 miles from Petersburg to Farragut Bay and it was right on the way so there wasn't a good reason for me to pass by without saying hi.  Alright, back to the voyage.

In a couple hours I was nearing the inlet to Farragut Bay.  I had only docked this boat twice, kind-of anchored once, lowered the dingy once, and now I was in for nearly all of it at once.  When I was threading a little gap between an island and the mainland I got a call from Bo on the radio,  I told him where I was and he said he would meet me out at a little buoy in the kayak.  I circled around a point, spotted a float out in the bay, docked the boat without any upsets (thankfully), and shut everything down.  I lowered the dingy, lowered and mounted the engine, then started ripping across the bay to where I thought the buoy was.  The float I tied up on was at least a mile from where I was supposed to meet Bo so I was very happy to have the motor on this dingy.  It made good time and soon I spotted him in the kayak heading out from the mud flats they lived above.  He directed me to the buoy, I tied up, hopped in the kayak, and we paddled up the creek the goes by their property.  I didn't have muck boots so he hopped out once it got to shallow to float both of us and pulled me for a while until it got too shallow for even me to be in the boat.  After another half-mile of walking along the flats, we got to the trail leading to their house.  Along the way we veered off and said hi to one of their neighbors.  It was great to see how people live out there.  There's no road, no wheeled vehicles, no infrastructure, just a few people with their personal skillsets and a lot of ingenuity.  Another bit of walking and we arrived at the farm.  Marja had lunch ready so after some hugs and comments about the trip, we went in the cabin and sat down for an excellent lunch finished off with chocolate.  I decided later in our visits that the only reason they have to run the farm and make money is to support their (really Marja's) chocolate addiction.  After lunch I got a tour of the farm and we went for a hike up the local river.  We talked about floods, log dams changing the course of the river, life back in Utah, and just caught up. I didn’t have long to stay so soon after, Marja and I walked back to the mud flats to get me back to my boat.  Wow, what a change!  The mile of flats Bo and I came across were gone!  Since I came in at low tide and was leaving near high tide (about 15 feet that day) we didn’t have far to walk; they had a skiff tied up right next to where we parked the kayak.  We just walked aboard the boat, pulled up the little anchor, and fired up the engine.  Marja dropped me off at my dingy, we said our final goodbyes, and I ripped back across Farragut Bay to my boat.  Norther Light was still there (thankfully) and I quickly raised the engine and dingy, untied the boat, and motored out.  

I set my destination that night for a shallow little notch between Whitney Island and the mainland.  It was only 19 miles and I made it there without mishap.  I wasn’t the only boat anchoring around but no one was close at all.  I dropped the anchor, made some dinner, and nervously watched the GPS for a while, hoping I wasn’t going to drift into the nearby shore.  Eventually I was satisfied and got to bed.  First day of the voyage done.  I had a full maritime experience; sailed solo, docked solo, rode in the dingy aross a bay, paddled in a two-person kayak, hiked, rode in a skiff, and anchored out in the middle of nowhere.  The day went very well and it didn’t take long for me to fall asleep.  The next day would kick my butt though.

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