Fredrik and Nancy have been traveling in their 17′ Salish Voyager Wild Places since June, and sharing their photojournal with us of their journey through remote areas of Alaska. This is their last dispatch before they holed up for winter in Baranof, AK… they will continue their journey south when longer, warmer days return. Thanks Fredrik and Nancy for brightening our lives with your stories, we are so grateful to have you sharing your travels and experiences with us and our readers!
On September 30th, we rounded the last headland into Baranof Warm Springs Bay. We were tacking hard under sail, after rowing steadily for 15 miles. Winds were picking up from the south. We were running before the storm. It felt like we had been running before the storm most of September.
With over 27 inches of rain, September had been tough. Throughout the month, what seemed like an endless parade of gale warnings, and small craft advisories, stampeded through our lives. We found ourselves unable to travel in the exposed waters of Chatham Strait five days out of seven. However, we were still able to explore the protected waters deep in the fjords, and even do some hiking. At the end of September another gale warning was headed our way. This one was followed by a hurricane force low, which was already lining up in the Gulf of Alaska.
We were using this last travel window, to get to Baranof before the storm. I oscillated like the incoming waves between sweet nostalgia for a whole summer at sea in our Salish Voyager, and the desire to be done with the stress of the last month. Whenever we got a moment of calm seas and a spot of sunshine, I wished we could go on forever. When the waves built around the point, or the winds increased, worries about spending the upcoming storm in a marginal camp on a rocky coast made me ready for it all to be over. Ready, at least, for a roof… for awhile.
As we rounded our last point, a beam of light on the far mountainside lit up the fog drifting through the trees. The beauty of it stunned us into silence. A rainbow arced across the sky in front of us. We are being welcomed home.
For the next seven months we will be the caretakers of Baranof Wilderness Lodge, before continuing our journey in the spring.
Over a hundred days and 650 some miles have slipped beneath our hull, since we left Haines in our then-brand-new Salish Voyager, back in June. Living out of our boat, “Wild Places,” brought us in close contact with a plethora of wildlife; seabirds, seals, sea lions and sea otters were our everyday companions.
One day in Glacier Bay we saw eight brown bears cruising the coastline. Just for fun, we started counting bears for the summer. Bear number 47 was a bit too curious and put a small rip in our tent while we slept. Late in the summer bear number 63 swam just in front of our bow. As the bear climbed onto the rocky shore, rolls of post salmon season fat jiggled as he shook the water from his coat. With salmon season over, the bears have dispersed from the streams, but I am sure we will see bears for months to come.
Our route, into Glacier Bay and down Chatham straight, put us right in the middle of the Humpback whale’s summer feeding grounds. It was impossible to count the number of whales we saw—some so close you could count their baleen plates. After a summer of fattening up in Alaska, most of these whales will be headed for Hawaii soon. I sometimes wish I was going with them. Although, I don’t think we will try that journey in the Salish Voyager.
Catching and gathering our own food was a big part of our summer. From the sweet strawberry covered beaches of Gustavus in July, to the burgeoning of the mushrooms in August, we have reaped the riches offered us. We shared the crazy abundance of salmon streams in late summer with bears, eagles, gulls, sea lions and seals. As September came around, with our last small town grocery store five weeks behind us, subsistence became serious business. With most of the salmon in the streams and spawning, we relied on pelagic rockfish, cod, and halibut. We are still waiting in vain for the shrimp pot to come up brimming.
An unexpected, and enjoyable, aspect of the summer was the interesting people we met. The attractive lines of the Salish Voyager were definitely a conversation starter. “Beautiful boat you have there,” was one of our most frequent comments. Couples in fancy sailing cruisers called our boat “cute” and “adorable.” We heard, “looks seaworthy,” from long line trollers, and a crew member on a Black Cod tender gave us a double thumbs up.
Fredrik and I were called “brave, tough, and adventurous.” If people thought we were crazy, they were kind enough to keep it to themselves. While we neither fit in with the kayakers, or the big boats, the fact that we occasionally tied up to the same dock as the big boys got us into the club. We were invited to homemade pizza on a crab boat, and made friends with worldly sailing couples.
Those first wobbly days getting to know our new boat in Haines feel long ago and far away. “Wild Places” turned out to fit our needs for subsistence living beautifully. Our new Salish Voyager is far easier to fish, and set shrimp and crab pots from, than our kayaks. However, we are still looking for the perfect, small collapsible shrimp pot to accommodate our limited space on board.
The list of new skills we have acquired is substantial. Having two sliding seats, and the ability to work in unison, turned out to be key. We have travelled in 4 foot seas, strong currents and 15+ knot winds. It didn’t take a lot of practice for our transitions between rowing and sailing to go smoothly. We were soon able to change modes of travel often several times a day—as conditions changed. Even though we only had two crew members, we alternated between captain, co-captain, galley slave and the—oh, so important—job of water ballast. We have become proficient at setting up shore anchors, and quick and efficient at using rollers and pulley systems to bring “Wild Places” ashore for big storms.
Four months into our expedition, we are no longer exactly novice sailors, yet “Wild Places” is still a better sailer than we are sailors. She has proved to be a great boat for beginners and is still a craft we can grow into. Hopefully, we will always have the humility to respect what we don’t know. The sea undoubtedly has many lessons yet to teach us.
It’s been a great summer of learning and exploration. No doubt the coming winter will prove to be the same. The first snowfalls of the winter are creeping down the mountains, where the last patches of last years snowfall still remain. Glaciated peaks not far away remind us this is a wet and wild place, where everything happens on the water. We will still be using our boat most days for fishing, gathering and hauling firewood, and exploring our new home. Undoubtably, once the snow comes, we will be loading skis on the boat and heading off on adventures big and small. We will keep you posted.
Many thanks to Gig Harbor Boat Works for helping to make the whole summer possible.
Stay tuned. We are in the process of creating a technical blog—with video—of our rolling systems.