Sailing Across the Pacific Ocean
to Alaska On Cloud Nine
By Barbara J. Manning
|Barb and Gordon Manning in front of the Holgate Glacier. Photo by Gaynelle Templin.|
How do sailors acquire a passion to cross oceans in storms, huge swells and pounding seas? My husband said it got into his blood as a teenager during his first ocean passage. "It's a humbling experience to be challenged by the sea whether it's light winds or a gale," said Gordon. "You learn to go with the flow."
As a gunk-holing cruising sailor, I prefer anchoring at night or to know of a cove nearby to wait out rough weather. A whale or a bear swimming near the boat rather than big seas could easily humble me. After Gordon fulfilled his dream to sail the Pacific Ocean from Majuro, Micronesia (Marshall Islands) to Dutch Harbor, Unalaska Island, a 27-day journey, I joined him and sailed the Aleutian Islands and Prince William Sound for a month. Thanks to an invitation from Roger Swanson and Gaynelle Templin, we achieved our individual sailing dreams on Cloud Nine, a 57' Bowman ketch.
In light tropical breezes, sun filled days and humid nights, Gordon began his adventure June 5, 2000 in Majuro, just north of the equator. For a week he assisted with varnishing, boat maintenance and provisioning before dropping the mooring for Bikini Island, 440 miles northwest.
According to Gordon's journal, gale force winds swept Cloud Nine and six sailors over large swells at 10 knots in scissored seas, with only the mizzen and staysail set. However, the results were 195 miles in 24 hours.
At Bikini Island, they anchored near a scuba-dive boat, Bravo, named after the 1954 hydrogen-bomb test that devastated the island. Roger dove to sunken World War II ships in over 170 feet of clear water. Gaynelle and the crew, Tom Bloom, Peter Braaten, DiDi Garcia and Gordon explored the island filled with culture and history. For information about the Republic of the Marshall Islands visit the Internet at www.rmiembassyus.org.
|Cloud Nine looking at Harvard Glacier.|
After four days at Bikini Island, they set sail for Wake Island, 491 miles north. Close hauled with double reefed main at 7 knots in pounding seas, they adapted to standing watches two at a time with four hours on and eight off.
When the sea calmed, DiDi put out a line to try his luck at catching dinner. Everyone was surprised when he caught a forty-pound tuna, providing steaks and fillets for many meals.
Averaging 160 miles per day, Cloud Nine arrived at Wake Island, a U.S. military base. After topping off the water and fuel tanks, they headed across the Pacific Ocean on June 27th to meet me.
During a gale, Gordon woke in his forward bunk to thumping, bumping and scraping sounds. Roger and he rushed topside in the dark, stormy night. Waves had smashed across the bow, broke a stanchion and pushed the furled sail attached to lifelines overboard. The enormous power of the waves had snapped portions of the steel pulpit, bending it alongside the bow. The severed metal had scraped the hull as waves battered Cloud Nine.
|Sea Lions on Chiswells Island.|
They hauled in the sail and broken lifelines while hove-to. Most of the pulpit parts were salvaged. After jury-rigging port lifelines, they continued sailing and crossed the Tropic of Cancer.
Heeling and beating in heavy weather, they found meal making, eating and sleeping to be a real challenge. However, in fair winds they flew the mizzen staysail and the spinnaker. Most of the time Cloud Nine was trimmed perfectly in about 14 knots of wind on a close-reach sailing 7 knots with fingertip control on the helm. Humpback whales swam a half-mile away, blowing and breaching in calm seas. Many porpoises swam under and near the boat. These were the wonders of meeting nature 1,000 miles northeast of Wake Island in the middle of the ocean.
|Sea Otters hear Cloud Nine. Photo by Gaynelle Templin.|
Cloud Nine crossed the International Date Line after twelve days on the Pacific. Cold northerly winds brought 50-degree temperatures. Fog set in and fishing vessels and cargo ships showed up on radar as they approached their landfall. On July 15th, they docked at Dutch Harbor after a 19-day passage, 2,450 nautical miles from Wake Island.
Meanwhile a group of cannery workers were stranded at the Anchorage airport for five days due to storms and fog, before finally getting out on my flight to Dutch Harbor on July 16th. I hadn't communicated with Gordon in nineteen days and was so happy to see him. However, imagine my concern to see Cloud Nine's jury-rigged lifelines and missing pulpit. I may never understand Gordon's passion to sail across oceans. Peter and Tom departed when I arrived as replacement crew for the next leg of the journey.
The bald eagles on Unalaska were as plentiful as the crows in our Minneapolis neighborhood. Hundreds of eagles were sighted everywhere. One flew to the spreader of Cloud Nine and watched DiDi work from the boson chair at the top of the mizzenmast. Another had made her nest in a nearby crane. Few trees grew on the island. The snow-capped volcanic mountains were carpeted with plush green moss.
Most of the remote islanders make their living from the sea. Many are of Aleut native heritage and their museum provided a unique cultural experience. The Russian influence was evident in the architecture of a church. We visited an archeological dig, talked with locals and enjoyed the biggest and best king crab legs.
|Black Bear in the bay at Holgate Glacier. Photo by Gaynelle Templin.|
New Zealand sailors invited us for a caribou dinner aboard Evohe, their motor-sailor bound for the Northwest Passage. Australian sailors circumnavigating the world joined us, also. We shared sea stories and watched Roger's Greenland to the Arctic video.
After provisioning, our team of five headed for Kodiak Island at slack tide through Akutan Pass, noted for its 7-knot tidal current. It was during a gale on our 600-mile, five-day passage that I had doubts about ocean sailing. After a day of pitching and rolling, I found reverence for the sea, not passion. Then the ocean calmed for a couple of glorious days and nights. I must have read too many books like The Perfect Storm, because I thought ocean sailing was all about pounding seas but it's far more than that.
The days were long as the sun disappeared at midnight for a few hours. We saw the notorious green flash when the sun met the curvature of the earth at just the right split second. Many humpback whales blew spouts of sea mist close to Cloud Nine. Their flukes slapped the waves as they leaped, breached and lunged their massive bodies into the sea. The clear night sky lit up with red, yellow and blue swirling colors and bright stars. I began to feel the lure of overnight passages, sailing in nature's rhythms.
Fishing boats were plentiful as we neared Kodiak Island. The National Wildlife Refuge covers 75 percent of the 100-mile island. Sea otters, seals and sea lions barked as we entered Chiniak Bay and docked at St. Herman Harbor. Local sailors greeted us with smoked fish and salmonberry jam.
Over 3,000 Kodiak brown bears live on the island and we were determined to see one during our five-day stay. Hiring a bush pilot was a guarantee as we flew over glaciers and big-horned Dahl sheep in the mountains. When the floatplane landed in Fraser Lake, the shoreline was red with salmon spawning. We hiked to a river with a waterfall. Five huge Kodiak brown bears were catching and eating salmon near a fish ladder. We observed their powerful moves, frisky fighting and playfulness for two hours. Our guide said the adult bears were twelve feet tall, weighing over 1,500 pounds. One bear was curious about us and climbed over the fish ladder to within 50 yards of me. Quietly in awe of the bear's shimmering copper-colored coat, I felt my heart leap into my throat. After a few humbling, breathtaking moments, I watched the bear amble back to the river.
|Barb & DiDi at Harvard Glacier. Photo by Gordon Manning.|
We sailed to Afognak Bay, 30 miles north of Kodiak, anchored and explored with the dinghy while sea otters swam on their backs near us. Some had a shellfish in one paw and used a rock in the other to open their catch. After eating, they rolled over in the water to wash their fur. Young sea otters sat on their mother's belly while they were fed.
Bear tracks crossed our path as we hiked in the old-growth forest of Afognak Island. We explored Izhut Bay, a haven for many species of birds, then a 13 hour sail to the Kenai Peninsula by way of the Barren Islands, witness to some of the most extreme tide changes in the world. Waters from Cook Inlet, Shelikof Straight and the Gulf of Alaska, each with 25-foot tidal ranges, created tide rips swirling and breaking haphazardly from every direction.
We reached the Barren Islands, the third most treacherous body of water in the world-right behind the Bering Sea and Cape Horn. Immense waves rocked me across the deck and only my tethered harness kept me from going overboard. I gripped the wheel and swayed to the motion of the sea like being on the world's largest roller coaster. Twenty minutes on the helm at a time was enough for me. Unlike Gordon's previous experiences in crossing the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, I was a novice to extreme sailing. After casting off my uneasiness, I truly enjoyed surfing down the waves at 10 knots and felt a spark of passion for ocean sailing.
|Cloud Nine looking at Harvard Glacier.|
We reached calmer seas near the Kenai Peninsula and dropped the hook in Tonsina Bay for the night. The next day, we motored to the western bay of Nuka Island to anchor and wait out storm warnings. Williwaws that can reach 100 mph, blasted down the snow-capped mountains, rolling me against the leeboard of my bunk and challenged Cloud Nine's ground tackle throughout the night. We waited two days for better weather.
Weighing anchor, we motored at slack tide through the narrows of McArthur Pass to the Chiswell Islands. Only by boat could we witness hundreds of stellar sea lions singing raucous songs, diving and climbing on the rocky islands. Puffins with their yellow and red beaks and star like eyes perched on the water, darting swiftly as we approached. The arctic species seemed more like tropical birds during our sunny days of sailing.
Approaching Holgate Glacier, a black bear swam across the bay within two yards of Cloud Nine. Who needs to hire a pilot guide when we were close enough to hear the bear's breath? It reinforced the magic of cruising and the serendipity of meeting nature head on.
In bright, clear skies the splendid 800-foot cliff of turquoise and white sparkling ice rumbled and cracked, calving icebergs into the sea. Holgate Glacier was an inspiring sight only available to us by boat. For more info about the area, go to www.arctic.net and www.aleutians.org.
When we reached Seward in Resurrection Bay, Gordon sailed with members of the local yacht club hosting a match race of J-35's. The next day, we drove along Turn Again Arm to Mount Alyeska and watched paragliders. At the Portage Museum, we saw ice worms living in glacier ice. Hiking in the wetlands of Potter's Marsh, we looked for moose, flowers and herbs before returning to Seward.
On the way to Valdez, we experienced magical anchorages near College Fjord. We sailed to glaciers named after Ivy League schools such as Wellesley, Vassar, Bryn Mawr, Smith, Yale and Harvard Glacier. They were all distinctive and Harvard Glacier rumbled with deep tones as ancient ice broke off from huge crevasses. The slush ice created grinding sounds against the hull as we came within yards of the glacier. Seals floated on icebergs.
In Mueller Cove, two black bears walked the rocky shore. To see them from our anchorage made me realize how fortunate we were to be sailors. Cruising from bay to bay provided sights and sounds that could only be appreciated from the water. The next day, we sailed to Columbia Glacier and then anchored in Sawmill Bay with sea otters, eagles and jumping fish.
A twelve-pointed starfish hugged the chain as we weighed anchor. Approaching Bligh Reef, I thought about the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill that devastated wildlife, sea and land for miles. Since then, many new navigational devices were in place to help prevent another catastrophe. Two tugboats guided a tanker loaded with two million gallons of oil as we entered the harbor of Valdez on August 13th. The sight reminded me of life ashore and the end of an exciting journey aboard Cloud Nine.
Gordon had logged 4,722 nautical miles. My mere 1,124 miles sailing aboard Cloud Nine filled me with courage, confidence and an understanding of my mate's passion for the sea. A few more off shore passages and I'll be ready to cross an ocean someday.
"Barb and Gordon Manning work in Education and plan their summers to sail with friends or charter. Barb is a freelance writer and Gordon offers presentations of their sailing adventures.
For info call 612-729-4801 or email email@example.com."