We sailed into Sitka Alaska, USA on July 1, 2017 after a passage of 4,689 nautical miles from Pohnpei in Micronesia. And though we remember the trials most vividly, we had some glorious sailing and inspiring moments too. The stellar performance of our little vessel, the amazing display of energy in the enormous expanse of ocean, and the gorgeous and sometimes goofy wildlife made the trip memorable.
Unfortunately, our last days at sea were challenging physically and emotionally and neither of us were a pretty sight when we arrived. Many aspects of the trip - the battle to stay dry and warm when the inside of the boat was the temperature of a very damp refrigerator (41 degrees) and every line we touched was wet with cold seawater, the dearth of fresh water, the few serious breakdowns and the niggling trivial ones like cold seawater dripping on the settee or sloshing on the cabin sole - tried our skills, resilience, patience and sanity, but the closest we came to despair was two days out of Sitka as a stalled low pressure system continued to cast its frontal bands in our path and easterly winds made it impossible to sail to Sitka Sound's Cape Edgecumbe. We questioned our karma more than once during those last days of our journey, when nature sent us tall, choppy, confused seas and head winds gusting to gale force. When we were able to sail, it was as hard on the wind as we could squeeze - a bash into unforgiving cold seas that frequently, as in every few minutes, brought green water aboard. Green water made it difficult to stay dry, and staying dry was the only way we could stay warm, as our only heat was that generated when we used our galley stove or with our bodies.
Our last night at sea was spent hove-to with winds finally abating and moving southerly as morning approached. Seas were slower to subside. Being almost 80 nm from the port of Sitka, we fired up the old diesel early in the morning at our change of watch and then pushed as hard as we could - as hard as we ever have pushed the engine and as hard as we dared - racing daylight through blinding rain and fog, motorsailing with canvas pushing too, feeding each other warm drinks and encouraging words as we hand steered for 17 hours, continuously monitoring radar, AIS and VHF for traffic when we could often not see through the fog. Nearing Cape Edgecumbe, our AIS and a securite message on the VHF helped us to avoid a cruise ship on a reciprocal course, proving once again what a valuable tool this is for pleasure yachts. A hail on the VHF shortly after from old friends Randy and Gayle on SV Otter (from Ecuador 11 years ago!) brought a big smile to our faces and helped to ease the stress of the drive to arrive.
At nearly 9 pm we were finally inside Sitka harbor, lowered our mainsail and dropped the anchor as daylight faded rapidly with the heavy cloud cover. When Philip was happy with our set and we turned off the engine, the feeling of calm was like a big thick cozy blanket gently enveloping us. Forty six days and some hours of constant movement, of constant attentiveness, of constant worry and it seemed impossible to believe, at least for a moment, that we had done it and that it was done. We had brought Carina back across the biggest, coldest, most capricious piece of ocean either of us had ever encountered - the not-so pacific, North Pacific. NOW what do we do? Not tomorrow, now. The titer of adrenaline in our bloodstream was way too high to just fall into bed, so we just wandered around the cabin and deck that both looked like something you'd see in a disaster documentary, wrote critical things into our log and finally toasted our little boat and each other. With no other dry place to sleep, we both squeezed into a single sleeping bag on the port-settee, hugged tightly, and slept like we had not in over six weeks, happy to be safe and anchored in Sitka.
The difference between Pohnpei, our departure point at latitude 07 North, and Sitka at latitude 57 North, could not be any more dramatic than it is. When we left Micronesia, the temperature was a steamy 80-85 degrees F during the day. In Sitka, the temp was about 55 degrees and, when we arrived, raining. No bare feet, palm trees, bamboo, yellow fin tuna, fresh tropical fruit, and no sweating in the tropical sun. Just foulies and boots and layers of polar fleece and gorgeous mountains frosted with snow fields, salmon-berries and fireweed, pods of whales, ambling brown bears, leaping salmon and reclining sea otters.
Early the morning after our arrival, we tied to the transient dock and were immediately greeted by friendly folk - Joel of The Boat Company, bringing mail of warm bedding, repair kits, and charts, Randy and Gayle of Otter, and Chuck the one-and-only and very friendly US Customs and Border Patrol officer who welcomed us with a quick flurry of paperwork and a sincere smile. Bundling up, we closed up Carina and waded off towards town in search of friend John who had flown from Whidbey Island WA in for a brief visit. Half way down the long dock of Sitka, we spotted his smile in the shadow of a big brown foulie and all got hugged hard. A slosh into town and we settled into a luscious lunch and great conversation inside the warm, dry and friendly Sitka Hotel. It was a great homecoming to America! Thank you so much, John!
We have dozens of people to thank for the loving support on our journey - the preparation, the execution, and the arrival - including the ever-diligent amateur radio operators of the PacSeaNet who stood by for our call every single day. And, where the hell would we be without Ken and Audrey? We won't try to name all of you for fear of an oversight, but you know who you are - those who helped us prepare and saw us off, those who watched our progress and who sent weather, parcels, advice or just kind words our way, and those who helped us when we arrived - please know we love you all and sincerely appreciate your help and encouragement.
Our stay in Sitka was glorious, despite our weather acclimation (brrrr) and our long list of must-dos that dominated our daily existence. We did countless loads of laundry as every textile on the boat was wet (including most of the cushions), opened up and sopped up every locker, gave away unimaginable pounds of stores, and simply slept as long and hard as we could during the sunny summer nights. There were critical chores, like repairing the genoa, servicing the HF radio, and recommissioning the diesel cabin heater, but it was all good. We were warm and dry and safe in the company of old and new friends in a lovely, friendly place with an abundance of supplies - John R, Randy & Gayle, Kris and John F of Mew (thank you Kristy & John T of Raynad!), Martina & Larry of Aldo (thank you Nola & Jerry of Moonsong), Joel & Alice (thank you Ken), Patrick & Wyvonne of Andante and fisherman John Erp on F/V Keet. Sitka is a great town with lots going on and we hope to see more of it and the tiny wild nooks around the west coast of Baranof and Chichagof Islands on our next cruise north.
On Wednesday July 19 we reluctantly pushed out of Sitka and began our summer passage down through "Southeast" towards the Puget Sound, anxious to get going on the last chapter of our journey home which will be the subject of our next note.
At 7/26/2017 and 19:36 UTC (GMT) our position was: 57°04.50'N / 134°49.62'W.