Sailing Alaska: Our Basic Trip Planning

NOTE: see the Trip Planning page–it’ll be the central repository of all things Trip Planning: links to related posts, downloadables, summaries of past trips, and post-trip analyses, etc.

“Reduce your plan to writing. The moment you complete this, you will have definitely given concrete form to the intangible desire.” Napoleon Hill


We are planning on departing Seward, Alaska by early February 2018 to cruise Prince William Sound  Ideally, we’d be across the Gulf of Alaska and slipped up in Juneau by mid April, when Nathan goes back to work.  But we don’t break the cardinal rule:  schedules do not dictate sailing.  We’ve turned around twice already:  once 200 miles into the Gulf, and once choosing to head back to Seward from Cordova rather than towards the GOA.  When you get to know us, you’ll understand turning around is CRAZY TALK, but we followed our own rule.  We made the rule to acknowledge our relative inexperience sailing, and compensate for the deficiency.   Man, I can’t even stick to a diet, but I obey this rule, because Mother Nature will ruin you.  As calories have ruined my waistline, but worse.  You know.  Fatally.

If we don’t like the weather, we’ll wait and I’ll bring Meander across solo or with the help of a friend or two at a more appropriate time.  Say, mid May.

If we do wait, a whole nother scenario starts up, in which we contemplate putting Meander on the hard for some much-needed scrub and rub work.  Put that off to the side.

  I love the feeling of sailing over deep water–the quivering silence just after the motor is shut down and the only remaining sounds are the creaking of rigging as the sails propel us along on the back of the sea.  I love knowing I’m an insignificant speck on moonless nights–standing watch with just the glow of instruments and some running lights to affirm my existence.   I love putting my hand on Meander’s bare hull below the waterline, and feeling the ocean surge beneath her.  I love when the wind howls in the rigging, such a shopworn phrase, but perfectly descriptive.  Aaagghhh!  I love it so much!  As passionately as teenage girls love foolish pop stars, I love the ocean.

But although we are seasoned travelers, and seasoned liveaboards, neither of us consider ourselves skilled sailors.  I think, for shorthanded sailors like us, longer passages are actually horrible for aquiring practical experience.  Why?  Because your partner is sleeping, you are alone on deck, and you agreed not to leave the cockpit without waking the offwatch. Talking to another human being once every three to four hours for the 15 minutes it takes to swap places and exchange pertinent information.  After a few days of beating up wind while shorthanded, your heart isn’t in it.  Any heading you pick, the waves and wind are at 30 degrees from one another and bashing you about.  Wondering if we missed some all-important item or maneuver while preparing for the trip, which we’d only discover in the event of disaster.  All of this while uncomfortable with our level of skill and experience.

Obviously, my infatuation with the sea is more than sufficient to overcome the temporary discomforts described above.  Soon, very soon, the magnitude of the things that make passagemaking less enjoyable for us will be reduced by our own increased skill and experience.  Until then, I thought I’d plan us a few months to day sail from anchorage to anchorage.  We need to REALLY enjoy Prince William Sound.  It is one of the best cruising grounds on Earth, and we may not get much more time in the area!

The Basics

I love trip planning.  I love researching.  I love asking for ideas and sketching out options.  I love leaving plenty of room for doing whatever the f#ck we want, but making sure we’ve got everything we need to do so.  The best way to plan a trip is to set a few ground rules in the beginning, so that when we inevitably change our mind about the details, we still stay on track:

  • Define the Purpose of the trip (most to least important)
    • Practice sailing EVERYWHERE including on and off the hook.
    • Explore Prince William Sound.
    • Eat a lot of seafood.
    • Beta-test Meander before crossing the Gulf of Alaska.
    • Practice creating and editing video
  • Brainstorm activities associated with each purpose above.
    • Sailing Practice: tight quarters tacking and jibing, sailing on and off an anchor, setting a riding sail, reefing in the wind, sail trim, set spinnacker, heaving to, forereaching, swapping sails at sea, coming about and man overboard drills.
    • Explore Prince William Sound: citizen sciencehike, fish, hunt, crab, shrimp, wildcraft, wander around with the dinghy, polar swim, collect shellfish (PSP at your own risk, FYI), cook/preserve, take video and pictures, collect wood to carve, crafting ingredients, fires on the beach, drink sundowners, explore glaciers, use body heat to stay warm 😉 .
    • Eat a lot of seafood: shellfish at own risk (PSP), nori sushi, sashimi sushi, fish tacos, thai fish curry, grilled fish, roasted fish, fried fish, steamed crab with garlic butter, fish cakes, crab cakes, creole shrimp, butter shrimp, soy ginger marinade, watch YouTube Red cooking and fishing shows to learn more ways to eat seafood, read seafood cookbooks and blogs, can shellfish and use it to make Mama’s seafood marinara served over penne. Cook seafood in the embers of a fire on the shore.  
    • Beta-Test Meander:  keep good records in the logbook, sail her hard and often, fire up the motor occasionally, walk the boat each watch or day and inspect all the little bits,  have some small projects to do which will get into every corner of the boat, maintain a running list of stuff to change or repair, change or repair stuff you can change or repair before Whittier/Valdez/Cordova, argue.  
    • Practice Creating and Editing Video: Jab elbows in each other’s sides to remind us to snap a pic or start recording,  Underwater filming, time-lapse, night, and climb the mast/trees.  When we’re tired we’ll play around with video-editing software. Throw up our hands in frustration.  

Now the part that is WAY too long for one post–making lists of the action items to do/buy/arrange/look up before departure, and obtaining navigational and entertainment info for the potential anchorages.


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