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North - Part III

I woke up to a nice morning still anchored where I dropped the hook by Whitney Island sometime near 6:30.  Being new to everything still, I wasn’t sure how good of a spot I picked but it seemed to be good enough as I hadn’t drifted at all.  The standard anchoring protocol is to put out seven times as much chain as the depth of the water you are in.  So, if you are in 50’ deep water, you should let out 350’ of chain.  That’s a lot of chain and few people actually follow that rule, it seems like 4:1 is more normal though it gives you less holding power when the wind picks up.  I think I had set out a 5:1 scope (scope is the term used for anchor chain to depth.)  I made breakfast, had some coffee, and got going at 8:00.  I fired up the engine, weighed anchor, and headed north between Whitney and the mainland through Cleveland Passage around Bill Point.  I aimed at Five Fingers Light, just to see what it looked like.  I like lighthouses and figured I’d try and get a closer look.  The light is perched on one of several islands in a little chain three miles west of Bill Point.  The wind was picking up through Stephen’s Passage and once I got close to Five Fingers, I raised the sails; this is when things got interesting.  

Raising sails in a decent wind takes some planning and and careful execution.  Doing it alone with a dysfunctional autopilot takes experience and skill, two things I was in very short supply of.  The first thing you are supposed to do when raising the mainsail is to point into the wind.  Doing this keeps the sail from filling with the wind while raising it.  If it fills, it puts tension on the tracks that the sail slides up the mast on and it makes it very difficult to hoist.  I diligently pointed into the wind, tried to turn on the autopilot to hold the heading I was on, and went up to the mast to start hauling on the halyard.  Every time I got up to the mast, the autopilot would turn off.  When the autopilot kicked off, the bow of the boat would catch the wind and start turning me off the wind then the mainsail would start to fill and pull the boat further off the wind.  I would quickly cleat the halyard, run back down to the helm, steer into the wind, and try it all again while trying to not fall into the deadly cold water.  This happened several times before I was able to get the mainsail up.  Once it was up, I was able to unfurl the headsail and start sailing.  The autopilot was not my friend and it would not become my friend until a few weeks later. 

So here I was sailing along, tacking back and forth up wind on a close haul, trying to actually sail my new-to-me sailboat, figuring things out when the winds picked up some more.  Now, a note on my previous sailing experience…  Kelli and I learned to sail in San Carlos Mexico in the winter where the winds were supposed to be decently heavy but most of the time we were out there, the winds were very light.  We sailed aboard a 36’ ketch where we deployed all four sails in order to make 3.5 knots.  The one day we had decent wind, the seas were quite choppy and the instructor wasn’t too keen on staying out so we didn’t get to play in good winds.  All that means this was really my first experience with winds over 10 knots.  Later I would listen to the marine weather VHF broadcast and learn the winds were gusting 22 kts at Five Fingers Light.  I think they were  a little stronger yet to the east of the islands.  All that in mind, I was not prepared.  I had a lot of stuff out and about in the cabin of the boat, not expecting anything dramatic and then all of a sudden, the gusts started hitting me and the boat started heeling hard.  I didn’t quite dip the rail in the water, but it was close.  When sailing up wind like I was, the main sail is exerting a lot of force on the mast sideways and even though the wind is strong and there’s a sense of a lot of speed, the boat doesn’t go very fast since that energy is being spent at the wrong angles.  All that energy was tipping my boat over instead of moving me forward... and then everything hit the floor inside the cabin.  The books came off the shelf, the tea kettle left the stove, the water bottles went flying, and worst of all, the sourdough jar departed the counter top and broke on the floor.  The boat was a mess, I was starting to feel queasy, and I was tipping hard.  I knew I needed to get things under control and ignore the inside of the cabin for a while so I tried to manage the boat a little better. 

Eventually I doused the headsail and sailed on the mainsail alone.  During this process, the headsail was flagging heavily (flapping in the wind) which made it very difficult to furl.  I later learned that if you turn downwind, the headsail gets blanked from the wind by the mainsail and it is a lot easier to put away.  During the flagging, the already old sacrificial cloth on the leech of the sail tore in a few spots.  This cloth is a UV barrier and can be replaced, it isn’t structural for the sail.  Putting away the headsail helped a lot.  When I trimmed the sail a little better, I was still making 5.5-6 knots sailing upwind but the seas were 6-7 feet.  The boat was under control finally and I started cleaning up some of the mess below.  However, every time I started cleaning, I would get nauseated.  I would work for a minute then go out on deck and get the shock of the cold air to help steady my stomach.  I got enough stuff picked up and got queasy enough that I eventually just stayed in the captain’s chair with the companionway open and looked outside.  I really didn’t want to keep at this so I bore off the wind just a little and made way for Hobart Bay.  The bay was reachable on my current point of sail and I was cooked so I just kept on toward it.  I sailed all the way up to the entrance of the bay before starting up the engine, pointing toward Entrance Island at the inlet of the bay, and dropping the mainsail.  I didn’t flake and store the sail, there was too much wind for me to do that well and I felt terrible, I just motored in with the boat all disorderly.

Entrance Island turned out to be the perfect spot to rest.  There was a float inside a little cove of Entrance Island protected from everything.  The spot was beautiful, the water was clear, and the wind was not-existent.  I tied up to the float, stood on the platform for a few moments, and just relaxed.  I thought about what I did wrong, what I did right, and how much I hated this useless autopilot.  Then I set to work making the boat ship shape again.  I unfurled the headsail and looked it over, deciding that it was fine, the only damage was cosmetic.  I flaked and lashed the mainsail, then I got inside and cleaned.  I got that nasty sourdough starter off the floor and picked up all the glass shards.  The books got stowed behind the settee.  I made places for everything that was out and about so that the next day, nothing would hit the floor.  There are several shelves in this boat but they only have a shallow lip to keep things put and it isn’t sufficient when a greenhorn is sailing in 6-foot seas.  Nothing got put back on the shelves, everything was stowed in cabinets or holds.  The boat looked good again and I was finally able to relax.  I made it to the dock about 14:00 so I still had lots of time left in the day.  The day’s mileage?  I made it a whole 12 miles, and that wasn’t even entirely in the direction I wanted to go.  Sailing distance was probably triple that since I was tacking back and forth.  

I lowered the dingy in the water and rowed around the cove.  It was unreal how calm and peaceful it was in there.  I decided to go for a hike and pulled the dingy ashore.  I aimed at a low spot through the island and walked into the forest.  The place was magical!  Everything was green. Fallen trees were immediately covered in moss, mushrooms grew on everything, water pooled everywhere.  This was such a different environment from the desert of Utah.  I was quite awestruck with the amount of life on my little hike.  It only took a few minutes to cross a valley on the island and on the other side was a gravel beach lookout out across Stephen’s Passage.  I realized I should have brought my camp chair and stayed a while but oh well.  I walked around a little, looked at endless shells washed up ashore, and then headed back across the cut to the cove I was moored in.  A little more rowing in the dingy brought me back to Northern Light where I lit a fire in the diesel heater and made dinner.  What a day.  I would be better prepared for the third day of my trip to Juneau.

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