Sunday, May 31, 2015

Gulf of Alaska

We departed Yakutat in Monti Bay on May 29th at 7:45am in fog with 4-5 foot swell.  As we continued further through the entrance of Yakutat Bay, the swell grew to between 7 and 8 feet with shorter periods.  Yakutat Bay is bordered by shallows which extend some distance out to sea; basically it’s like crossing over a bar.  To safely exit the area, we made a zigzag coarse between the shoals making our way out to sea.  We were over the bar by 10am and the swell improved, lessening to between 4 and 6 feet with 10-14 second intervals.  A couple hours later we were along the coast where Malespina Glacier faces the Ocean and where 18,008 foot Mount St. Elias touches the heavens.  We still had fog and still had not detected any other boats in the area; we only had the playful antics of Porpoise to keep us company.  It took three hours to pass the breadth of Malespina Glacier whereupon we were intercepted by another pod of Porpoises.  By 4:30pm we were off the entrance to Icy Bay and Guyott Glacier with wind gusts varying between 8 and 17 knots.  Once past Icy Bay the sea state lessened to 5 foot swells and more Porpoise came to play alongside Got d’ Fever.  The sun finally showed its face at 6pm in a painted sky of blue; winds were 10-15 knots with 4-5 foot swells as forecasted. 
By the Light of the Moon
Conditions looked good to continue, but we kept in mind that we had only come one-third of the way to reaching the entrance of Prince William Sound and would have further to go before arriving at our planned anchorage on Hinchinbrook Island.  Unexpectedly, by 9pm we encountered wind chop combined with 7-8 foot swell on the nose, the seas were becoming stacked with shorter periods.  We tried different speeds and angles of attack but to no avail.  If conditions continued to deteriorate, we would be in a very uncomfortable situation with many more hours to go.  We sent a text message with our Delorme device to our good friend Bob and asked him to check on the internet for a weather report from Buoy No. 46802, located further west from us.  His returned text message confirmed that conditions would not be getting better. We recited the line from the Apollo 13 movie, “gentlemen, what are your intentions?”  Yes, it was time to abort the mission and head back home to Yakutat.  
Sunset over the Gulf of Alaska
We turned around and headed east with following seas, it’s always more comfortable with swell astern rather than steep swell on the nose. 
The further east we went the better the seas became, flattening considerably as time progressed.  It turned out to be a beautiful evening cruise with calm seas and a glorious sunset.  The light of the moon and remaining light from the sun gave us many hours of good visibility. 
The Porpoise had come back to see us home, and after only two or three hours of darkness, we arrived in Yakutat at 8:55 in the morning.  Leonard checked on sea conditions for the Gulf of Alaska and discovered seas were forecasted to be 7 feet increasing to 14 feet for the western portion.  Our decision had been a wise one.  The Gulf of Alaska is a huge body of water where conditions can vary and change quickly.  It takes over 50 hours cruising at 7-8 knots to cross the Gulf from Elfin Cove before reaching Prince William Sound, a serious undertaking.  Crossing the Gulf of Alaska should never be taken lightly.

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