04 September 2017 | Port Townsend, Washington State.
Photo: That time when we all five went up to the Marjorie Glacier...
The general weather pattern was beginning to concern us. Many Alaskans thought it the wettest summer they could remember in a long time, in Sitka's Pioneer Beer Bar we'd even watched a heated argument between some environmental conservationist guy and a die-hard Trump supporter that almost ended in a fist fight, each blaming the other for the failings of the Alaskan weather. Regardless of who's fault it was, these continual low pressure systems hurling in westwards from the Pacific were creating southerly gales that rolled in upon us one after the other... and we were planning to head south.
We sat out yet another bad storm system in Sitka along with Morning Star
. We had a couple of days of more incessant rain with high winds, then came the promise of a respite with a few days of nice warm sunshine... so we took the opportunity to make a few miles south by heading to the Goddard hot sulphur springs, dropping anchor in Hot Springs Bay. Marie, Henry and myself then spent a very satisfying afternoon bathing in the outdoor tubs of hot volcanic water that stank gruesomely of foul smelling sulphur... but here we were in the nice warm sunshine of a glorious Alaskan summer day. In the highly sulphured, eye-watering steam up there on the hillside we then saw Morning Star
drift around the headland under full sail, dropping her anchor beside Sänna
in this subliminally scenic anchorage. When we later made our way back to Sänna
Leighton came in over the VHF radio to say they were experiencing bad battery power failures, they would need to return to Sitka... meaning they would miss the long awaited favourable weather window that now approached from the northwest. We ourselves desperately needed to take advantage of the coming northerlies to make our way south to Prince Rupert in British Columbia.
We were sad to leave Morning Star
behind, Linda & Leighton had become such good friends and now we were unsure if we'd ever see them again. Time and time again in distant anchorages and harbours we've made these intense friendships... and not only with those who spend their lives on sailboats, we've also made friends with locals who've helped us out in all sorts of wild and wonderful places when we've been in trouble. When we move on we always say we'll keep in touch - and for a short while we make every effort to do so but there inevitably comes a time when we think of each other less and less. These friendships that are so difficult to put into words then invariably fall by the wayside... even my family tell me that keeping in touch is not one of my strongest attributes - but there's a good a reason why I find it best to let these friendships go.
Of course we all know that any friendship can be hard to come by, even harder to keep without someone at least making the effort. Many of my long standing friends in my hometown back in England have gone by the wayside purely because of the itinerant lifestyle we lead, I've simply dropped off their radar. Some of my closest long-standing friends I lost when I split from my wife some years ago, though I think we all know that friends in these circumstances often choose to take one side or the other. One or two friends came and went simply because they just didn't agree with the way we live, almost a principled jealousy in fact, but my so-called friends I made through my business life over a thirty-five year period are the ones that these days I'm most cynical about... you know, when cultivating my friendships meant building a business relationship that was supposedly for our mutual benefit. I have to say how shaken I was when I didn't own that business anymore, how many of those friends simply disappeared from the face of the earth when I was no longer a money stream for them. Now that was a lesson hard earned.
So when we left Morning Star
behind in Sitka I really was genuinely saddened although I've learned to turn-off the 'let's-stay-in-touch button', simply because it's painful when we then do nothing of the sort. Both Marie and I have long since realised that life on a long-distance sailboat means making good friends then almost straightaway losing them, though these friends we make then never see again are still more meaningful than the exotic places we've sailed into during in our long circumnavigation voyage. In the event we did hook-up with Leighton and Lynda again, down in Port Townsend and then further south in San Francisco but there was still that once-and-for-all final parting of our ways to come, when we eventually left the US to make landfall in Mexico.
It is painful, especially when considering that we men rarely make the tight friendship bonds that women seem to do with each other so easily... and I don't mean that in the biblical sense. My friendship with Leighton in particular had become quite deep but then so has my long friendship with Robert, my special friend who left the Mediterranean with his dear wife Jill onboard Fat Annie
around the same time as ourselves twelve years ago. Also my friendships with those irrepressible reprobates Sergio and Eric in Hawaii, with Neil in Borneo, my Maori friend Dion in New Zealand, Braydon and Scott in Alaska and Tom the worldly-wise canvass man in Anacortes... Then of course there's friends who life dealt a shit hand who cruelly never made it, the ones who I still think about most days. My exceptionally good friend Peter Kienast from Iltis
, Dave from Milliways
, John Beal lost overboard from Cloudy Bay
somewhere north of Darwin, Tom Gisle Bellica and Robert Skaane when Berserk
was lost with all hands in the Southern Ocean, Big Black Glen and also Peter who was on the run, hiding in Croatia...
Leaving Morning Star
behind meant we also said goodbye to Sitka, the quaintly historic town built in the old colonial Russian style... it's hard to find anything of any genuine historic or cultural value in America which is perhaps a reflection on the country's relatively young existence, it's the same way in Canada too - interestingly, my family home back in England is older than both of these countries by some years. Anyway, from the Goddard Hot Springs we laid a course southwards to Craig on the western shoreline of Prince of Wales Island, then we passed through the infamous Tlevak Narrows into the Tlevak Straits just as our weather window began to seriously close down ahead of us. In long periods of incessant rain, grey skies and rising winds we left Cape Chacon to port to cross the Dixon Entrance into Canada's British Columbia. I can't tell you how sad we were to leave our Alaskan friends behind this one final time, you know, we came to Alaska for six months and then stayed for three years. The vast wildness of this incredible land, it's traditionally offbeat people who we came to behold and cherish...
After a rough two-day crossing of the Dixon Entrance we made Prince Rupert in British Columbia some two weeks after leaving Sitka. This time Canadian Customs were more obliging but just like before we had to take shelter in the Prince Rupert Yacht Club, there's just so little moorage available in Prince Rupert for long distance sailboats. It's a friendly enough harbour and the old town is a really nice place to be, it's where we first made landfall from Hawaii three years before. But right now it rained and rained just like a miserable grey autumn day in England, with the southerly gales yet again lining up ahead of us... so we knew we'd be here in Rupert sheltering for a while. But tied up right behind Sänna
was Rob and Kathleen, who it turned out were both doctors sailing their boat Capaz
from Seattle. We talked a lot and got along just fine, Rob and Kathleen were heading the same way southwards as Sänna
, they too were weather bound in Rupert.
To kill time Marie suggested that we take the long thirteen hour train journey through the Rocky Mountains to Prince George, it left once every two days from Prince Rupert. Henry and I readily agreed. This was an incredible way to lose a few days until the stormy weather cleared. When we returned to Rupert five days later the weather had improved considerably though our plan to fast-track sail the outside Pacific coast of Vancouver Island just wasn't gonna happen. Yet another southerly gale was heading up from the south which would make that shorter passage south untenable. Our only other option was the long and sheltered Inside Passage route on the eastern side of Vancouver Island although that meant traversing the series of narrow rapids that, though incredibly scenic, we'd done twice both north and south already. The rapids and the mind-blowing Narrows were hard work. Capaz
planned the same route as did another British sailboat storm bound in Rupert, Hamlin
. We decided to take off together, three sailing vessels making their way south, Capaz
to return home to Seattle, Hamlin
to overwinter in Vancouver and ourselves to Port Townsend to finally get our Volvo Penta engine fixed....
So we made new friends to replace the ones we left behind. This may sound cynical but it is the way it is. When, in Shelter Bay, we left Capaz
behind and they invited us to stay with them at their home on Bainbridge Island, we could moor Sänna
there and whenever we came back from England we could easily stay with them. Marie and I were excited, we'd love to do that but deep down we knew we never would. Leighton had said the same, we could stay at their place in Sonoma and leave Sänna
there in San Francisco... by now we both understood just how genuinely friendly American people are, because most Americans are seriously good people.
In late August we at last arrived in Victoria at the southern tip of Vancouver Island. Victoria was our destination port when we left Hawaii but we never arrived, we were blown over four hundred miles north by a vicious southeasterly gale to end up instead in Prince Rupert. If you ignore the obscenely high marina costs in this part of the world then Victoria is very nice, then Marie and Henry flew out of Victoria to return to the England and I would sail Sänna
down to Port Townsend for our much needed engine work. Marie planned to join me again in two or three weeks or so when the work was done, then we would continue south but the sailing season to safely head down the west coast of mainland America was growing ominously short.
The engine refit didn't go well, we missed our end of September weather window deadline and ended up battling the Pacific storms we'd worked so hard all summer to avoid - we got truly hammered but that's a whole new different story...
Please visit our SV Sänna website for more details of our circumnavigation voyage from the UK. Also at www.facebook.com/SV.Sanna. Like our Facebook page if you'd like to receive more news about our sail adventure. You can contact us here.