A Whale of a Sail
02 June 2022 | Foggy Bay, Alaska to Ketchican, Alaska
George has written a navigational outline of the logistics needed to get to Ketchican without an engine assist. As the sailing master of Julia Max, I must write about the real adventure and all the drama that day. We always think ahead and plan each step along the way. On Memorial Day,
fog settled right down to the water as soon as the sun came up, then lifted and breezes began around 10:00 a.m. Today, visibility was much better by 8:00 a..m. so we got ready to lift the anchor and tied the dinghy to the side of Julia Max. We were out in the channel by 10:00. Only a
gentle breeze, enough to push us along at 2.0 knots. We remembered our Drift Race with Sauvie Island Yacht Club where making 2 knots on the Columbia River before the afternoon winds got our hearts racing. Today we remained patient and hopeful. We put out the jib double reefed. It is
such a big sail, made of heavy fabric suitable for ocean cruising that it simply flops in very light winds. Double reefed it remained full. So we put out the mizzen. For 2.5 hours we waited and waited for the SE 10 knots predicted for Villagegedo Channel. Slowly but surely the sky cleared by
Our mizzen sail has never been a great performer, more for show and balance. It is usually too powerful and tends to push the stern around. But today , much to our surprise the wind was coming from our aft quarter and we could tell it was actually pushing Julia Max ahead pretty well.
George had thought maybe we should take the enclosure down so we could use the main. And that's just what we did. Now we had all our sails flying. We sailed on a broad reach making 2.5-3 knots. But at least we were moving toward our objective. Soon we needed to jibe in order to
avoid an island. Dang, a jibe would simply take us across the channel, not north. So we decided to try wing-on-wing. It worked! All sails remained full as long as we watched carefully so the jib or the main didn't collapse. Time to put the main all the way out. Now the jib sail on the other side
held its wind better. We rolled the sail out full to take full advantage of 6-8 knots of wind.
By now the sun was shining, a few little white caps began to appear, snow-capped mountains rose above the clouds hanging over the water. I found it easy to be patient and simply enjoy hand steering for hours. The calm relatively flat water kept the boat from swaying. The sails were
evenly balanced and Julia Max sailed along so beautifully in the light wind. I can say we have never had such a wonderful day of sailing in all our travels, using every point of sail at some time during the day and making steady progress. The wind began to increase quite slowly so we could
make 4+ knots. Big deal, but this is Alaska, long days, lots of daylight. At 4:00 p.m. we sailed by our planned anchorage for the night. Neither of us thought it looked at all good, a lee shore, so we kept going, our speed still increasing incrementally. Another island passed and the wind began
to die. We were still 10 miles from Ketchican proper,and we began to wonder if we were going to have to use the dinghy again. But hark! suddenly the wind came up from the north. We entered a large bay and changed the sails for a close reach. George saw that the jib was pulled in too
close to the main, so he let it out and voila! we started moving 1.5 knots faster through the water, although still across the channel. As we approached the side of the bay we waited patiently, sailing as close to the wind as we possibly could, 30 degrees off the wind on each tack which is
phenomenal for Julia Max. We made a perfect "helm's a'lee" turn and made it very nicely into the next bay, sailing straight into the slot heading into Ketchican Harbor. Once again, we lost the wind. Hoping to make it past a narrow spot with red and green buoys close by, a huge cruise ship
hailed us and asked us to "hove to" so they could pass. George answered with a "Yes, sir, you are the boss." After all, they are a whole lot bigger than we are! As they passed we got the dinghy prepared to haul Julia Max the rest of the way, about 3 miles.
George and I enjoy communicating with other boaters via HAM radio each morning. Gary from Ketchican, KB7LL was waiting for us, took photos of Julia Max under full sail in that first bay, then caught our lines as we flailed around trying to get to the dock against currents and wind that
blows at the cruise ship docks near the airport. On our third try, George saved the day pushing Julia Max from behind so I could steer. What a day! I felt adrenalin overload as those currents and winds pushed Julia Max ever closer to rocks. But we are at last safely tied to a dock. Phone and
internet service are close to what we are used to in the USA. And thanks to HAM radio, we were able to get some help and moral support throughout our ordeal from Foggy Bay north.