Showing posts from January 10, 2016

Rain, Rain, Go Away

June 7-8, 2015

We departed from Scenery Cove in Thomas Bay at 0530 in a steady rain that lasted for 36 hours without interruption, reminding us how fortunate we had been the whole trip so far. This was the first of several intervals on the trip that would expose Ripple's weakest cruising characteristic: it was nigh unto impossible to stay dry in a persistent rain.

The cabin is small, and condensation from our bodies alone is an issue. Anything made of cotton absorbs the moisture. The sleeping bags absorb the moisture. Everything in the cabin feels clammy to the touch.

We stayed another night in Petersburg, as much to plug in and dry out as anything else. We arrived back at the marina before noon and paid the extra $5 for shore power so we could plug the tiny ceramic heater in and run it all day. It helped.

I would happily have reprised our pizza dinner, but it was Sunday and it was closed! The hardware store on the main drag was open, though, and we bought a couple varieties of …

Thomas Bay

June 6, 2015
Cold Pizza for breakfast, and it tasted good! We had a short trip planned for the day to Thomas Bay, the first glacial inlet north of Petersburg. The more famous glaciers are further north towards Juneau... Tracey Arm and others.  At this point we were calculating our available time pretty closely, and felt we couldn't risk going any further north. Hanging glaciers (glaciers that reach the water's edge) are more dramatic, but calve continually and present navigational risks, especially to single-screw vessels, and I was chary about risking damage to Ripple's propeller.  Hanging irony is a risk, too, you know.
Thomas Bay is a lovely place, though, and one particular corner of it is named Scenery Cove, and for good reason. Tight, intimate, and really spectacular, the Douglas guide is diffident about its value as an overnight anchorage. It has swinging room for but one vessel at anchor. We were that vessel on this day.

Anchoring was a bit tricky -- there is a sh…

Chastened, We Hastened....

June 5, 2015

Ripple is a go-boat. Even empty, her accommodations below are tight. Loaded as she was, there isn't much lounging space below decks: a day at anchor is penance, purgatory. Even as we reviewed our mistakes, we re-assessed our plan, and reluctantly pruned them.

We had wanted to transit the Keku strait, one of the least travelled passages of the Inside Passage, and take Frederick Sound all the way across the top of Kupreanof Island, and south through the Wrangell Narrows. Later I would be told that staying in Rocky Passage (the crux move in Keku strait), one could still hear wolves baying at night.  But we revised out plan and elected to go up through the Wrangell narrows to Petersburg, dip our toe into a glacial inlet (Thomas Bay), and turn back south. The total would put us under 400 nMiles, and each day we charted our progress and re-assessed our options.

This particular day was overcast, but the seas were calm as we worked our way north through Kasheverof Passage to…

Humble Pie

June 4, 2015

The education of a skipper is a long process that proceeds in increments of imprudent behavior. String enough of them together, survive, and eventually you achieve some semblance of competence. I should live so long.

This day was one of those days, among the most memorable of the trip, and indeed, of all my days aboard Ripple. I made three important mistakes, born of complacency and inexperience.

Mistake number (1) was to not take the weather forecast seriously enough.  We had listened several times on the day before, and there were reports of gale winds coming in off the Gulf of Alaska. Listening to the weather channels on VHF is tricky business. If you don't know the landmarks in the report (some we did, others not), then it is hard to form a picture of what is happening, and if you don't know the waters, and how they fit together it is harder still. Inexplicably, that morning we didn't listen to the weather report at all, in spite of having heard about imp…

Clarence Strait: the Longest Day

June 3, 2015

I spent hundreds of hours poring over charts and guidebooks and Google Earth over the winter months. I memorized names of islands and passages and plotted routes and distances, trying to fix in my head a model of the route. It is an enjoyable pastime in the cold rain of a Seattle winter, and undoubtedly valuable, but of course inadequate in conveying the character of the experience one is likely to have.

If I were to describe Clarence Strait in a single word, it would be menacing. I spoke to others along the route that felt similarly. Clarence is 110 nMiles from its mouth on the Dixon Entrance to where it opens into Sumner Strait, and its orientation is roughly aligned with the prevailing winds. Thats a lot of fetch (unimpeded distance for wind to build wave height). Armchair chart reconnaissance doesn't convey the visceral experience, and Clarence is nothing if not visceral. Each of my five experiences on the strait were anxious ones.

We began the longest day of th…

A Lay Day in Ketchikan

June 2, 2015

Ketchikan... most of Alaska, for that matter, accommodates transient boaters with a hot-berth system. Fishing boats are out plying their trade a good deal in summer months, and those empty berths are managed by the municipal marinas.  My experience was that they do an excellent job, and the fees are quite reasonable (the fees appear to be set state-wide, about $22 for Ripple's thirty foot mooring length).

When we found our way to our assigned berth the night before, we were not sure whether we would stay one night or two. After three weeks on the water, we had some housekeeping to do.  Showers, laundry, provisioning,  and perhaps even a bit of relaxation.  Fairly quickly it became evident that two nights was minimum therapeutic dose.

But that first night we got the shopping done, washed our laundry and ourselves, and went into town for a meal. It was exhausting. The laundromat was only a quarter mile away, and the Safeway a bit further, but schlepping all that to and…

The Dixon Entrance: North to Alaska!

June 1, 2015

Today we cross into Alaska.  My first time in the state, and Mathias' as well. And we will arrive by slow boat from Seattle. It is three weeks since we left and we've covered about 750 miles, never in the same place for more than a day.

But to get to Ketchikan we have to cross the Dixon Entrance, and of the two open water crossings, Dixon has the nastier reputation.  We leave Fitch Island Cove (in Brundige Inlet) at 0520, and we're greeted at the mouth with gentle, rolling swells, less than a meter. Dixon is a pussycat this morning. The skies are overcast and there is a bit of fog (enough that keeping an eye on the chartplotter is imperative).  The horizon is featureless, and steering a straight course is surprisingly difficult. I can identify with sea stories that have ships sailing in circles. But the going is easy, and after a time the shoreline of Alaska becomes dimly visible.

Wavelet emerged from Brundige some time later, and we called them up on the VHF …

Catching the Scent

May 30 - 31, 2015

We are two days from the Dixon Entrance, one of the two open crossings, the major crux moves of the trip, the threshold of Alaska. A small thing for a veteran, but we are rookies and don't really know what to expect. Today and tomorrow are about staging that crossing, and we read and re-read the guidebooks, mapping Ripple's speed onto potential anchorages. The anchorages between the northern end to the Grenville Channel and Prince Rupert are few, and not as well protected as we are used to. We can stay in Kumealon Inlet at the northern end of Grenville, which is well protected and attractive, but makes for a short day today and much longer the next.  We want to get closer to Dixon. Lewis Island has anchorages protected from the south but open to the north -- not good.

We settle on Kelp Passage, though, looking at the chart I am wondering why.  It looks like the open passage to the north should funnel winds and seas right down into this area and make a mess …

Bishop's Cove to Lowe Inlet (via Hartley Bay)

May 29, 2015

We left Bishop's Cove and turned north up Ursula Channel to get to the top of Gribble Island, and then southwest for a 13 mile sojourn through the breathtaking scenery of Verney Passage.  It is easy to become inured to the beauty that is a constant presence along this route, but this passage is particularly striking, and one wonders how many people have ever explored these remote cirques and imposing rockfaces.  I bet there are a lot of first ascent opportunities yet to be found there.

At the bottom of placid Verney Passage we turned the corner onto Wright Sound, and immediately were caught up in head winds and chop, and though we had only 4 miles of the Sound to cross, it was lumpy, and we were happy enough to get to Hartley Bay.  Wright Sound is at the confluence of several major waterways, two of which lead to the sea fairly directly.  As with any such plenum, the churning of currents and winds can be unpleasant.  Douglas Channel is a large passage that leads nort…

Tiller Pilot Stanchion: 2.0

My preparations for the Inside Passage included installation of a tiller pilot (an excellent investment!).  Installing it proved challenging, though, requiring the crafting of a stanchion to support it at the right elevation and distance from the tiller. One of my crises-of-the-day early in the trip was the delamination of the stanchion that I had taken sculptural pains to craft.  I describe this effort at length in an earlier post, but the pictures below show the approach and what I thought at the time was an elegant response to the functional requirement.

Except that it didn't hold up: it began to delaminate early on.  Bad epoxy mix? Oily wood? Under-engineered? I don't know.  Three long drywall screws driven at angles helped, and I followed up by taping the stanchion like a broken ankle with high tension strapping tape - at least a half dozen opposing diagonal layers. That sufficed for the remainder of the trip.

Having taken the Center for Wooden Boats Bronze Casting Worksh…