Monday, June 9, 2014

Safe and Sound in Sitka Sound

We are tied to the dock on the south breakwater in Eliason Harbor, Sitka, Alaska. We made landfall in daylight, which wouldn't have been possible if not for Alaska's long hours of daylight at this time of year:  We didn't get moored until 8:30 p.m.  on June 8.

Our last night at sea was a doozy and gave us a taste of the real Gulf of Alaska---25 to 35 knot winds, with steep, 2-3 m seas. In the morning, the green-brown following seas still occasionally rose above Silhouette's stern. The winds were higher than forecast and since we hadn't set a stays'l, we just furled the jib and ran downwind under a double-reefed main. We were making 5.5-7.0 knots with this single sail, so we decided not to set the stays'l. Due to the raucous motion of the boat, we didn't get much sleep our last night out, making landfall all the sweeter.

From six miles out, a rainbow arched over Sitka as we approached from the open sea. We started seeing patches  of kelp floating on the surface of the ocean and were reminded of how little seaweed there is in the South Pacific. Small flocks of striking black and white pigeon guillemots flew by or floated on the water. Ahead of us, steep spruce-covered mountains rose, speckled with snow patches and braided by fog drifts. As we got nearer, we spied our first sea otter. He was a big fellow---lying on his back out there on his lonesome---and he looked around when I called "hello." Usually, sea otters tend to hang out in groups. Finally, as we approached and rounded the breakwater, we saw our first bald eagles (five or six of them!) lined up on its edge. The breakwater must be a prime fishing spot.

After we got settled, we took a walk and our senses were assaulted by a northwest spring in all its glory. Native plants we haven't seen in three years were once again on the tip of my tongue:  large-leaved avens, salmonberry, yarrow, elderberry, rhododendron...Sitka must have seen some sun recently, because the rhododendrons were popping. Their scarlet and purple colors were so vivid in the gray overcast evening, it almost hurt to look at them.

Back at the boat, Patrick lit the diesel heater. We had a shot of rum to toast our landfall and quickly grew drowsy in the warmth and comfort of the cabin, knowing we had safely made another crossing, this one 2,575 nautical miles. Happily, we turned in for our first uninterrupted night's sleep in twenty-four days.  


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