Wrangell Narrows to Petersburg

We motored out of Point Baker, back into Sumner Strait, with the plan to re-sail the same route we sailed into Point Baker the day before. This would bring us [back] to the southern entrance of the Wrangell Narrows where we would anchor to wait for the proper tide to pass through – the next morning. The forecast this day showed an nice stiff breeze in the afternoon, great for the down wind sail we hoped to have. While we did get the spinnaker out for an hour and a half, in very light winds, they were no where near the numbers forecasted. It is something that I am only just beginning to accept. The forecasts were unreliable in the Puget Sound, yet it is a down right compulsive liar in Alaska. Even the apps recognize it by giving the wind a forecast of 2 – 20, rarely attempting further accuracy. And still, the wind will end up coming from a completely different direction and almost certainly a different speed (zero or greater than 20) on the day of. Yet, we still continue to claw at any fragment of an hour we can have the sails up and the motor off.

A close up comparison of our tracks with and without a working autopilot

Out in the open Strait, it didn’t take long for us to realize that we were having yet another boat-issue. Our autopilot was no longer working properly. Instead of holding a course, it was working diligently at spinning donuts in the water – not a great maneuver with a spinnaker up. We ended up having to hand steer the course towards the Narrows. How did we do this for two years? It was unbearable! We couldn’t sail a straight line to save our lives. Every time we looked away for a second (it was just a second, I swear) the boat would be facing a completely different direction. Having to hand steer for any distance took all the relaxation out of the sail. We were slithering through the water, not sailing. Neither of us wanted this for a length of time, but had no choice for the next two days. Eventually the motor got us to the mouth of the Narrows where we set anchor and relaxed the evening away with a cocktail and dinner in the cockpit.

All the guide books talked all sorts of hyperbole about the Wrangell Narrows; shallow, narrow, traffic, currents, wandering day markers, killer “Wrangell-hornets” (I made that up), etc – all while saying it is a check-box worthy of checking. It also happens to be the shortest, and most direct, path to Petersburg. Even though I carefully planned the timing and course through, I was prepared for a rough slog for the 20 miles… hand steering of course. But in the end, none of the fears they tried to inflict upon me came to fruition. We saw a dozen boats all said, the day markers were all there and clearly marked, the currents worked perfectly (it’s all in the timing), and next thing we knew we were through the whole ordeal and arriving into Petersburg, Alaska. It was neither scary or long. In fact the only thing I will remember about it is just how unremarkable it was, compared to the hype. Petersburg would be our home for the next few days while we worked and waited for our replacement autopilot part to be mailed in.

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4 Responses

  1. Rob says:

    That last picture is a good sized vessel!

    • Tim says:

      Indeed. “Anne” is 53 meters long. I looked her up online and this boat seriously gets around from Mexico to Alaska since June, now on the way back to Long Beach). It is no chartering princess, it is a true adventure yacht.

  2. Patrick says:

    Sumner is a tough area to forecast. We’ve found more reliable wind predictions in Chatham, Icy Strait and Stephens Passage. I’m surprised you didn’t like hand steering – we do it all the time just because it’s more fun. If you’re not sailing a straight course it could be a sail balance issue?

    • Tim says:

      Agreed, hand steering while sailing is fun, and easy enough to balance. It is the hand steering when motoring 30 miles in a straight line. No fun in it at all, and you can’t look down at your phone/book for a moment or our boat heads off towards the nearest obstruction

      We are still learning the weather around SE Alaska. For the most part it involves ignoring the forecast all together and making wild guesses.

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