Crossing Queen Charlotte
Crossing Queen Charlotte Sound would be the hardest part of the entire passage and include just as many miles as the previous six days combined. It was sort of an ocean adventure while not being fully out there in the ocean like our first attempt. After taking a beating last month, I needed to tackle an ocean-like body of water over multiple days at sea. I needed to know that we can handle more than just sailing around in a Sound, otherwise why own a sailboat at all? I admit I was not certain on our lifestyle anymore and I needed this to correct that.
We were positioned in Bull Harbour, on a small island off the northern tip of Vancouver Island. There we would have a better angle on Friday’s wind, allowing us to get straight to the sailing as opposed to motoring half the day first. The weather on Friday was very pleasant and we got to sail for the majority of the day (albeit, upwind – as usual). Come nightfall, the wind would stop blowing and we would motor through the night until 4 AM where the wind would return but from behind us. We both got only fragments of sleep this night, the sound and vibrations of the motor preventing any real rest.
During the planning stages of this leg Saturday was suppose to be a great day of downwind sailing which would propel us far north, but the forecast changed during our first day on the water. It was now going to be something much more angry. We would spend Friday night running from the impending blow, but with no where really to go, nor enough time to get there, we could not avoid it entirely.
Saturday was downwind but the most unpleasant of the transit, with large swells and confused seas on top of them. It certainly wasn’t conducive to getting sleep on our off-shifts, so we quickly abandoned a regimented shift schedule in favor of of being on and off watch when our bodies told us to be. I think we’ll stick with that in the future for shorter overnight passages where there isn’t time to adapt and fall into a schedule. – Kerri
The weather on Saturday morning would try to kick our collective ass but fail in the end. From 4 AM to Noon we would be sailing in 25+ knot winds with only a partial jib-sail out. It wasn’t the wind that was the big deal – honestly I was seeking some heavier wind sailing anyway – but t’was the 2-3 meter rolling seas hitting just off our quarter. These swells cause Meriwether to roll viciously side to side causing anything unsecured (people included) to be thrown about. I had to hand-steer the boat through most of this time as the autopilot just made things worse. Kerri was most uncomfortable being thrown back and forth down below while trying to get some sleep. There were whispers of mutiny among the crew, but after a few moments of venting we just powered through it all. By noon both the waters and the crew had calmed.
After that first day, it was mostly smooth sailing, even when beating against the wind, often at 6+ knots, until winds would die and the motor would come on. We slowed down our passage at times to make sure we arrived in Ketchikan after the sun rose. We saw a few humpback whales, and at night with the motor on, our exhaust would agitate the bioluminescent jellyfish, leaving an endless line of glowing blobs in our wake. Our friend, John, made another fly-by in the float plane he pilots, and caught us from the air again (right in the middle of changing sails, if you’re wondering about the weird configuration). Other than that, the three day sail was largely uneventful. – Kerri
The days to follow would be fairly mundane as Kerri says. A lot of motoring with some unexpected sailing sprinkled in there. When the seas are not trying to throw us out of the water, Meriwether sails quite well in a gentle breeze on the nose when all three sails are up. Daily life was becoming easier to get through and I found particular joy in watching our own progress on our sat-phone progress map. We could sleep at will during this time as – thanks to fatigue – the motor no longer prevented sleep, and the swells were mild. I still stayed awake and in the cockpit more than Kerri as I was not very tired even after two days sailing on only two or three hours of sleep. It wasn’t because Kerri couldn’t manage – not at all – but because I wouldn’t go to sleep anyway with everything going on. On the other hand, Kerri could sleep. I was simply investing sleep-time down the road for when I could actually get to sleep. She would be ready to take on the extra workload at that time thanks to her added sleep now. I spent the time listening to audio books while keeping an eye on the world slowly drifting past us at 4 – 6 knots. In the end, this plan paid off on our final day when I did need to sleep more and she was wide awake and ready to take over.
Out at sea for a few days now, possibly with a slight touch of deliria, I was finding that the very fabric of what makes me who I am was changing. So much so that I actually broke down in tears and cried for a few minutes. Now, I’m no manly-man who never cries (in fact I have cried frequently ever since my son was born) but what made this different was the uncontrollable need to weep for no reason at all -and so I did. Seriously, picture that for a moment; me alone in the cockpit, bawling, snot and salt dripping from my face as I sob for no good reason. Yeah, that happened and yet the seas paid it no attention, allowing my blubbering without judgement. And even worse was the two days in which the thought of eating any form of meat was repulsive, and I love meat. I don’t want to be a vegetarian! You can imagine how overwhelmed with joy I would be to have a hankering for a burger as we pulled into Ketchikan.
We checked into Ketchikan’s busy, noisy marina, cleared customs and immediately set off to the showers. In nearly ten years of dirtbagging it, I’ve never smelled the smells that emanated from me after wearing the same clothes under foulies for three days straight. We then set off for a “proper” meal at the nearest restaurant, which looked good on paper, but couldn’t have been more reminiscent of an airport restaurant in reality, with the worst but most earnest and hard working waiter I’ve ever encountered. Then in bed by five, and oh did it feel good. – Kerri
All in all this portion of the passage would take 75 straight-through hours to complete. We would navigate 348 nautical miles, non-stop, up Queen Charlotte Sound to our final destination: Ketchikan, Alaska. Slightly more than half the mileage of the total trip in only one third of the days in route. This broke our record for the longest time at sea (75 hours / 348 miles) – previously set during our first attempt to Alaska (33 hours / 140 miles), and before that it was only 10 hours and 37 miles.
The entire trip – from Roche Harbor in the San Juan Islands to Victoria, up through the Gulf Islands, through Johnstone Straight and Queen Charlotte Straight up the east side of Vancouver Island, then across Queen Charlotte Sound and Hecate Straight – would consist of 677 nautical miles, 135 hours of travel time, and 9 and a half days of travel. Since we left Port Townsend at the beginning of April we have already sailed 1188 miles. To put that into perspective, in all of 2020 we sailed 800 miles (only 700 in 2019).