RoRC Report from Alaska

RoRC Report from Alaska

Sue and Andy Warman, s/v SPRUCE, report on their journey to British Columbia via Japan and Alaska

By Sue & Andy Warman - 23/10/2018

Dutch Harbor July 4th began with a firework show the night before. Multiple discharges of expired parachute pyrotechnics suggest this is the wrong location, if in genuine distress. Local village fete style stalls and exhibitions were preceded on the day itself by the opening event, a typically US hot-dog eating challenge, although grisly not quite as ghastly as a British pork pie eating contest.

The coast as we traveled eastwards offers a multitude of geological marvels. Igneous features twisted sedimentary and metamorphosed landscapes, remote but as awe inspiring as many of the national parks. Volcano Bay brought our first of many Brown Bear (Grizzly) sightings. The salmon were not running in any great numbers and the animals looked hungry. Once in bear country, we eschewed hiking until the bear appeared satiated. Interestingly, a common tale the whole way to Canada was the failure of significant salmon returning. Bristol Bay, north of the peninsula, alone had a “great” year.

In Sand Point, a seine and crab fishing community, folks spoke of the “Blob”, a warm area of ocean, upsetting salmon returns. This certainly fitted with the recent La Nina event with raised sea surface temperatures in the Western Pacific; perhaps the cause of monster-strength typhoons affecting Japan and SE Asia this summer. During our ocean-passages this year, we have been conscious of the heightened risk. Even lowest risk month, February, bred a typhoon.

Magnificent places to visit have included Geographic Bay, Kodiak, the Kenai Peninsula and Prince Wiiliam Sound (PWS). Spectacular scenery, ice fields atop jagged mountains, glaciers that reach the sea, all is a major wow experience. Seals and otters hauled out on sparkling ice flows, calving bergs, alarming creaking and groaning noises and the cold breath of air descending from blue ice combine fully to stimulate the senses. Dense, super-cold glacier ice adds a chill to sundowners in keeping with the setting.

A rich history unfolds as Alaska is traversed. Some tales project romanticism, others are tragic, many illustrate the tough battle for survival of early prospectors and trappers, as they intruded into an extraordinary world inhabited by sturdy stoical indigenous peoples’. A human populated ecology that existed in balance for eight-millennia thrown out of kilter. Russians came in the 1700s. Over the next century the British and French, other European settlers arrived in their wake, most looking to get rich quickly from natural resources or service industries. Natives virtually forced into servitude to hunt the pelts demanded by latest Parisian fashion; a history that has similar threads in so many lands visited by European explorers and colonists during the last 500-years. Notably the Alaskan Sea Otter was almost extinct within 40-years of European arrival.

A two-day journey took us across the sometimes-turbulent broad Gulf of Alaska, past beautiful snow-capped peaks inland, towards the Inside Passage. This is an altogether less harsh environment than regions to the north and west. Boardwalk communities, sheltered from the open ocean, once reliant on fish for subsistence, now embrace tourism. Fishing lodges house recreational fisher folk, who fly in aboard float planes. Specialist processors package people’s catches. Parcels of halibut, cod and most especially salmon follow vacationers home, to make memories of that brief holiday in the wilderness last a little longer. Larger towns and cities are now reliant on tourism and oil dollars, the cruise ship industry brings thousands during the summer. However, away from those urban hubs, are many rewarding, fascinating cruising grounds to be found in Alaska.

For those who venture away from the usual tropical routes...

Alternatives to our route to Alaska (via Japan): other friends have come via Hawaii and then to Dutch Harbor or Kodiak. Routes to Hawaii have included a southern route from NZ and north via French Polynesia. Alternatively, turn north from French Polynesia as a diversion from the usual South Pacific route westwards. One sailboat we know sailed northeast to Dutch Harbor from the Marshalls, but that was hard on the wind for many ocean miles. Similarly, we know one who sailed from Penryn Island in the Northern Cooks to Hawaii, also largely a windward passage. We know of 11-vessels that crossed from Japan this year plus one via Hawaii: Konami(US), Kiwi Cyote(NZ), Sagata(NZ), Dione(Aus), Mystic Moon(US), Nomad (US), Brother Wind(UK ), Tara (Fr), Wings&Strings (US), FreedomV, Moondancer. Some are overwintering in the northern Gulf of Alaska. We have met only five of them.

s/y Spruce – Prince Rupert, British Columbia, Canada

Photo: Searching for cocktail ice.


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