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North - Part IV

Day three I awoke early, made breakfast and coffee, and took a look at the manual for the autopilot.  There was a magnetometer calibration procedure I wanted to try.  The magnetometer is the electronic compass the autopilot steers by.  I looked through all the settings in the autopilot, fiddled with a few of them, and decided I wanted to try the calibration.  The instructions were pretty simple; enter calibration mode, make slow circles clockwise, no faster than one circle every two minutes, and stop once the calibration is complete which should be a minimum of two circles.  I fired up the engine, made sure everything was stowed, and pulled away from the float.  I entered calibration mode and started my slow circles.  Two circles down and it said to keep going.  Three, four, five, six… still nothing changed.  I canceled the procedure, got a little further out with more space, and tried again.  I did nine circles without success.  I figured it was a lost cause, something else was wrong.  So off I went aiming northwest for day three toward Juneau. 

I left the float at 7:30, winds were light and the seas were 2-3 feet all day.  Nothing eventful happened.  I never raised sails as the winds never got strong enough from the right direction for it, it was mainly from the north at 5-10 kts.  I took a close look at Midway Islands as I went by, spotted a waterfall on the mainland and checked it out, then pulled into Taku Harbor at 14:40.  I made 47 miles the whole day.  It was a good day of recovery for me.  Nothing fell off the shelves and the views were great.
Taku Harbor was a real treat.  There is a public dock for access ashore as well as a public float around a corner that I chose to tied up to.  The float was a bit ratty with parts of it slightly under water but I didn’t mind, I just wanted my boat to stay put.  I wanted to explore a bit so I dropped the dingy, lowered the engine, and went around looking at things.  There is at least one private residence in Taku Harbor but nothing looked occupied in late March.  I made my way over the the public dock and went ashore.  The dock leads to a dirt path through the forest.  It was another shock for this desert rat.  The sun was shining through the foliage, things were still and quiet, the temperature was perfect; I couldn’t believe places like this existed.  All this peaceful quiet, water, and green put me in a weird dreamy state.  I wasn't sure for a moment if it was all real or if this was an elaborate dream.  Maybe part of it was going from onboard Northern Light with the diesel engine humming along all day to standing in a quite forest with almost no noise and nothing moving, I'm not sure.  It could have easily been a dream though. 
There is a forest service cabin in Taku Harbor that you can rent and stay in.  The cabin was very simple, just a room with spaces for bunks, a counter top with cabinets, and an oil heater.  As I looked around inside it I realized my boat is more comfortable and I had no reason to consider using the cabin.  Why would I leave my boat a quarter mile away that has a toilet, stove, heater, bed, and light for a cabin with almost none of that and pay $65/night to do so?  I then realized I was very fortunate to have access to these places with the comfort and costs a sailboat affords.  A sailboat really is an RV of the water except fuel is almost free!

After checking out the cabin I turned around and walked the other way.  There were a few buildings scattered around that used to be part of a fish cannery and cold storage plant as well a smattering of private residences.  The cannery and cold storage was built in 1901 and dismantled in 1951 leaving only the pilings and some other bits which made for a really picturesque landscape at low tide.  There was also a concrete base built for the old generator (dynamo) that still had the machinery on top of it.  I meandered around taking pictures of things wishing Kelli was there to share the experience.  There was also a large set of buildings now used as the caretaker’s quarters.  I didn’t approach them as I didn’t know if anyone was around and it seemed like an invasion of privacy though it was likely just fine.  On my way back I found a few more old buildings stashed back in the woods.  There was a shed with fish nets still hanging from the rafters, another building used for packaging with old scales and barrels sitting around.  There was a small fishing boat overgrown with trees, brush, and moss nearly obscuring it.  I opened one small shed and found a copy of “Scarlet”, the sequel to “Gone With the Wind” sitting there.  After moseying back to the dingy I fired it up, made a big circle around the rest of the harbor, found a large floating log near Northern Light, then went back aboard the boat.  I raised the engine and dingy and settled in for the night.  

Entrance Island to Taku Harbor

The next morning I made way at 7:10 in calm seas and calm winds.  There was a light frost on the deck but I was plenty warm inside the boat.  I had been sleeping in my sleeping bag since I didn’t have proper bedding and staying warm wasn’t a problem.  The diesel heater was working pretty well though the hull isn’t insulated in many places and I was building condensation in places.  This day I was aiming for port in Juneau.  There were two options for where I would moor.  Downtown Juneau has cheaper prices and maybe more spots available but they are 7 miles from the airport and I didn’t have transportation figured out yet so it didn't seem like a good idea.  Statter Harbor in Auke Bay is only 3.5 miles from the airport but is about $150/month more expensive.  My plan for now was to find a bicycle and ride to work everyday so Statter Harbor seemed like a better idea.  Since Statter Harbor was my destination, it meant I had 15 more miles to sail than if I went downtown.  I ended up running the engine almost all day.  As I came up to the entrance to Gastineau Channel, the winds picked up to 10 kts and I raised sails.  I wasn’t sure this would last long since where I raised sails was at the intersection of Stephens Passage, Gastineau Channel, and Taku Inlet.  This convergence was likely to channel winds and that it did.  I made a whole 4 knots for a short time before the winds died and I got to douse sails and flake/lash the mainsail again.  I continued motoring around Douglas Island, spotted a few helicopters landing on a beach, then made the right turn into Auke Bay.

A note about the inside passage.  I view the place as a mountain range that got filled with ocean water.  The channels are very deep with steep sides.  It is as though the cliff sides just continue on their same slope to an underwater valley floor.  There are also submerged mountains scattered around where the water depth is 500+ feet then all of a sudden, there is a rock submerged 5’ under the water in the middle of a channel.  If you aren’t watching closely you are in danger of finding one of these underwater mountain peaks and ruining your day/week/month/year.  The way in to Auke Bay has many of these types of rocks hidden underwater and paying attention to your location and theirs is very important.  I was very diligent to avoid everything that looked shallow on my map though looking back, I could have gotten away with a lot less turning.  

Motoring in I was greeted with Alaska’s finest birds, bald eagles.  I counted ten of them all fishing close together off my starboard beam.  What a greeting from Alaska.  Around here, eagles are almost like sparrows, they are literally everywhere.  I readied the boat for docking by getting the fenders out and getting the dock lines ready.  I hadn’t pulled in to a busy harbor yet so I was a bit nervous.  I slowed down to a crawl once I got inside the breakwater and took my time looking around for a spot.  Transient moorage around here isn’t in slips, it’s along the sides of floats.  It’s like parallel parking for a boat.  You look for something that appears long enough for your boat and you creep up to it and try to hook it in without hitting anything.  I got lucky and found a spot that was clearly large enough for Northern Light near water and power.  I came in slow and at an angle, steered hard to starboard once I was close, shifted into reverse, and docked (almost) like a pro.  I hopped off, wrapped the stern dock line around the float to stop the boat, grabbed the front and pulled it snug, then went about positioning things so the boat was against the dock and the gangway/gate was pulled close to the dock.  I got it tied, shut off the engine, and breathed a sigh of relief.  I was docked, I didn’t hit anything, and I could finally rest; it was 13:15.  

Taku Harbor to Auke Bay

I walked up to the harbormaster’s office, signed some papers, gave them all my money, and started looking for a bike.  What a journey!  Four days in the inside passage of Alaska aboard a new-to-me boat, sailing alone, seeing majestic mountains, cliffs, and shores.   I learned a lot and knew I had a lot to learn still.  I was back in cell service so I could look up how-to’s on sailing and figure out some things I had questions about (like furling the headsail in strong winds.)  For the past three weeks I had been dealing with, what seemed to be a stress induced, eye twitch.  It was really annoying but I was hopeful with most of the stress of this giant life change over, it would go away.  I had Friday afternoon, Saturday, and Sunday to finish some online classes for renewing my Inspection Authorization.  Things were going well and the new job was starting in only three days.  Unfortunately it would still be over two months before I would get to see Kelli again.

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