Gulf Crossing Story

Calm Gulf Waters

Photos from Sitka to Prince William Sound

Today felt like slowly crossing the finish line of a long and beautiful race. As we motor along on flat glossy seas and the familiar mountains that scream out – you are home “Sundog”, I feel indescribable joy. Years of memories in our C-Dory flood my mind and I can close my eyes and remember so many joyful experiences exploring these waters that I love so much.There  is also a huge release of tension and worry now that we have the gulf crossing behind the stern. I am only a few days from home and family and look forward to the time of sharing the joy of a safe crossing with good men.

As we pressed across into Hitchenbrook entrance after a 30 plus hour run from Icy Bay I chatted with a tug boat pulling a huge barge and across the radio came the familiar voice of Charles McMourough from the “Margeret Ann.” Amazingly, Charles and a friend of his were right where we were planning on pulling over at to try and fix our port motor that had stopped working at 2:30 in the morning; 60 plus miles out in the gulf. But that story comes later. Ahhh the great feeling to not only be home but to have friends to raft up to and help with our mechanical issue plus to share some fellowship and lunch. As I write this we are following them to one of our favorite bays for our last evening at anchor on this 2 plus month adventure before we slide into our slip in Whittier and breath a sigh of contentment – but wait – let me not jump to the end without sharing more about the crossing from where I posted last in Sitka.

Here goes, I hope you enjoy reading about it as much as we enjoyed living it.  You have the advantage of no sea sickness and no 4 dollar per gallon diesel to pay.

North From Sitka



Day 1 – Sitka to Double Cove
Sunday, June 19th

Cathy and the crew were off on the plane and I was antsy to follow them so as soon as the taxi drove away we were fired up and on our way. It was a nice 3 hour drive north to Salisbury and the open gulf. We were all excited as we talked about the trip and I worked to familiarize everyone with the systems so that we could share the work. In hind sight, it was a bit of a rough day for my crew ~ they did not have the benefit of 2 months getting sea legs and building a comfort level for what the boat was capable off. Once out in the Sound, the sea grew to a taller but far apart 5 feet and we worked north on the outside of Chicagof making for some pretty good side to side movement.  It did not take long before the crew was looking pretty green and I was feeling it as well. We pushed hard up until dark and it was exciting working around the jagged coast line into the dark with sea swells smashing onto the rocks adding to the intensity. We rode the sea swell into Double Cove behind a small island and the contrast of flat calm was very much appreciated by my crew.


Alaskan Harvest



Day 2 – Double Cove to Elfin Cove
Monday, June 20th

Out of Double Cove we decided to take advantage of the White Sulphur Hot Springs and nosed into Mirror Bay. That was one of the more exhilarating passages of the trip with big sea swells, leading in through thick sea kelp littered with rocks and then once in a labyrinth of rocks and shallows to work through to get to a safe anchor within walking distance of the hot springs. It was so shallow that I needed a bow watch and we used the boat pole to test depths as we went with it getting as shallow as 6 feet under our hull.  The entry required lots of turns and twists to make it in. Moral of the story is don’t go into Mirror Bay at low tide with a deeper draft boat.  However, it was worth the challenge once we made it to the springs. On route we enjoyed a really cool adult size swing going high into the air allowing you to almost kick the limbs.  It did not take long for all of us to be acting like little kids and under-dogging each of us as high as we dared. The hot spring was awesome with a view of the open gulf. We had to jump in the ocean once to savor the contrast of sea water and hot springs. Other than stumbling onto a clothing challenged bather, the trip in to the springs was well worth the effort.

After taking a little rest at the boat and waiting for some water to fill up the route out, we repeated the slalom course through the rocks out back into the open sea working through Ogden Passage and then Lisianski Strait over to Elfin Cove. My new “shipmate”,  Mike Phelps, had a good friend just outside of Elfin Cove on his large boat the Alaskan Harvester and we were invited aboard for a tour and a luxurious dinner put on by Jay the chef. I joked that it might be hard to get my crew back on board the Sundog after experiencing the 5 star accommodations of Bruce’s boat. Bruce and Jay – big hearty thanks for the tour and the wonderful dinner.

We continued to Elfin cove and tied up at the Gas dock adjacent to the no overnight moorage sign where we spent the night and explored the town. Elfin Cove was very quaint and I would have liked to spent a couple of days when the town was not asleep.


Working Up The Coast



Day 3 – Elfin Cove To Yakutat
Tuesday, June 21st

Coming out into Cross Sound and around Cape Spencer my spirits soared with the ruggedness of the area and the gentle seas that greeted us. The extended forecast was very good and with good cell coverage I made a round of calls to let everyone know we were headed out into the big blue. It could have just as easily been Baja as the day progressed and I did not prior have a real perspective of how large the area is. Land on our Starboard and off to the port Hawaii about 2,400 miles away and Japan a little farther at 3,500 or so. Driving slowly along for hours you are alone with your thoughts and without a remote control, or “Iron Mike” as the commercial guys call them, it requires your attention and you settle into a peaceful groove giving your mind time to reflect and to pray and to slow down life taking in the majesty of the moment. My crew pretty much had their sea legs now and I was thankful we did not have any sea sickness to deal with. I am very thankful for these guys and though we were blessed with good seas it did not escape me that with this much open water that they had signed on knowing that much of the way could have been a fight and more an exercise in endurance than enjoyment. I really admire the folks who make their living on the water. This last few months have allowed me to be among them and to be part of that fellowship in a small way. Amazingly on our Gulf crossing we only saw 3 boats the entire way and only one small boat so it felt like we had the entire ocean to ourselves and Larry asked if they knew something we did not and it did make you wonder.

Lituya Bay

Up the entire Inside Passage as I shared our plans many people would say – be sure and stay away from “Lituya Bay” I have seen waves build up the size of pyramids, people die there all the time, it is very dangerous!. I am not making light of their warning but I realized that if the weather was right I had to go into the bay. It is sort of like a big bully on the block that you don’t want to be afraid of.  So, as we came close, all looked good and I flew in on the flood with the water boiling under me; surfing waves off my port side. I took a moment to go “Neener neener to the big bully,” then tucked tail and ran out to deeper water; continuing to motor to Yakutat.


We did not reach Yakutat until 3 in the morning and the seas built to a reasonable 3-4 feet and steep with the wind on top. We were nosing into them for hours on end with the spray hitting our window. It settled down some near evening and on our port side the mountains all of a sudden came alive with a giant red/orange moon rising above the mountains. What a great way to spend summer solstice, slogging our way into Yakutat. It felt so good to tie up at the dock and slump into a hard sleep wakening to a friendly visit from Teresa Hunt who took the time out to show us the town and feed us the best spaghetti dinner I have had in a long time.

Icy Bay

Day 4 – Yakutat to Icy Bay
Wednesday, June 22

We spent a leisurely day in Yakutat with Teresa exploring and were off by 1:00 so that we could make it to Icy Bay before dark, about 10 hours away. The seas were nice and again the wind was right into our faces with the AK flag flying right at us all day long with 15kt winds. We slowly closed in on Mount Saint Elias and it is hard to express the majesty of the second highest mountain in North America, seeming to shoot straight out from the edge of the ocean. As we came around the corner we thought we saw another whale ~ we had seen them throughout the day and even almost ran into one it was so lazy on the surface ~ but this one did not move.  It turned out to be a dead whale floating along. We motored up close to inspect and it was interesting to look at the decaying mass floating along the surface and we had to wonder what caused it’s death. Larry wanted to cut off a flipper and strap it onto the aft deck. There was some talk of climbing aboard and cutting off some muktuk but with the evening upon us we turned the corner into Icy Bay, worked our way into some shelter and set anchor. The sky was clear and the sunset was to die for. We were the only ones that we could see it; what a glorious anchorage with a backdrop hard to capture with photos or words. We all wanted to head back deeper into the bay as we hear the seals were pupping and the orcas were on the hunt but like many things we added to the bucket list along the way we had to table it for rest and the continuation of the Gulf Crossing. I let out a lot of scope and set the hook hard so that we could sleep well as if the wind switched direction we could have had a beating even in the bay as it was so wide with limited shelter. Sitting on the flybridge in the calm of the bay you could hear the light roar of the surf working the outside of the bay and it made you appreciate a break from the open gulf travel even more.

Kayak Island

Day 5 – Icy Bay to Prince William Sound
Thursday, June 23 – Friday, June 24 – 30 plus hour run

This was to be our biggest run yet and also our most challenging. If the weather was good and we could find an anchorage our plan was to sneak behind Kayak Island and anchor up to explore the exposed part of the island looking for glass balls – we really wanted some of these treasures for our collection. However once we were behind Kayak we realized it was not practical and for sure, this would not work for an overnight anchorage so we continued to work through the shallow water behind the island hoping to get a bit of shortcut towards Prince William Sound entrance at Hitchinbrook. Our plans were dashed once we were in 6 feet of water and poking around with the boat pole trying to find the channel that our maps were inaccurately showing.  So after several hours of trying, we decided to back track out and around Kayak Island. This cost us quite a few hours and it was 20 miles to the outside of Kayak Island and we approach it near dark with 60 plus miles ahead of us once we rounded the corner.

The Northwest end of Knight island looked like something out of the Pirates of the Caribbean or a medieval movie with a massive rock mound and a smaller sharper rock that was missing a castle with a princess who had been trapped and awaiting us intrepid explorers to save her! O.k. – I had been away from Cathy for a while. 🙂 The seas and clouds cooperated greatly with the ominousness of the surrounding and Brandon quietly said, “so what are the odds of dying on this trip?” He mentioned he just wanted to know and really did have some serious living yet to do. We gave it pretty low odds after some merry discussion but we did keep our survival suits a little closer just in case.

Once around the corner with a straight 60ish mile run to the entrance we decided to run in 1 hour shifts. Larry was up first and I went down for some rest. Once I woke, I stumbled to the helm where Larry had the compass light working with its red glow, bouncing around with the seas as we worked along. It was just barely light enough to see approaching logs and our progress along the chart plotter was pretty minimal with a good 8 hours yet ahead of us and several hours until better day light. A half hour into my shift, 2:30am, the port motor monitor shot to the top of the RPM’s and then the motor went quiet. My first thought was to call up the guys to help figure it out but directly after the motor died I was surrounded by a group of Dall Porpoise putting on a show and distracting me from the stress of the motor loss so I relaxed and decided to wait to worry the guys. As I watched the porpoise, I had a surreal sense of peace and truly felt like, “you know what – God is in this trip and behind these men. I just need to enjoy the moment and work the problem.” Since the seas were fairly sloppy I decided we would run in on the starboard motor now going 5kts instead. It would add some hours but trying to diagnose the motor in the swell did not excite us and we settled into the slower and quieter run working 1 hours shifts.

Finally we had the entrance in sight and started seeing fishing boats and traffic for the first time in days. I was truly excited to be near home. Prince William Sound is truly home for our family and having the new to us “Sundog” almost into these home waters was exhilarating; even after 30 hours straight working toward the goal. I raised a tug boat to make sure I was not in his way, more to talk with someone not on our boat than really a concern to know. 🙂 Returning to channel 16 we were raised by Charles from the “Margaret Anne” and amazingly he was anchored up on the point of Ziakof Bay, Montague where we intended to Anchor up and fix our motor. Wow, what a blessing to hear a familiar voice and to raft up and work through the motor problem together; not to mention having the option of another boat if needed. I really felt like this was a gift from God and a great “welcome home”. We swapped out the primary fuel filter and decided to bleed the system. After clearing one injector the motor fired right up and we were back in business. Larry and Brandon took the opportunity to explore the exposed side of Montague for shore treasure and we enjoyed lunch and fellowship and just the joy of being in sheltered and home waters. As we were preparing for departure a Orca family, bull, cow and calf, surfaced right off our boats adding to the fun of the moment.

Off To Daycare Bay

Our goal was to be home Saturday afternoon so we needed to press on and continue another 6 hours or so to the backside of Perry Island to one of my favorite anchorages ~ DayCare Bay. We actually didn’t know the name of the bay the first year because it was not in the Lethcoe guide book so we laughed after using it a bunch of times with our new born triplets when we found out that it was named DayCare Bay- how appropriate! With the energy of being so close to home and good weather we (o.k. I) hatched the plan to don our survival suits for a dip in the water. It was not long before we were doing jumps and dives off the fly bridge and working out synchronized swimming in the bay. This was a nice stress reliever and good practice (Cathy pointed out) that we should have done before the Gulf crossing. But, better late then never!

Day 6- Home to Whittier
Saturday, June 25th

Waterfall By Whittier

It was a peaceful run to whittier with our usual stop over at the big waterfall across from town. I found myself just wanting to stay there and hesitant to end the journey – all kinds of emotions flooded my mind and heart ~ Joy, excitement, sadness, majesty, wonder and just a thankfulness to have shared this trip with great men, not to mention to have brought the whole family safely from Anacortes up a thousand miles of ocean to Sitka. We were blessed and the weather was exceptional the whole way. I know that it could have been a much scarier and dangerous trip, but that was part of the draw of the adventure to press into some unknown and live in a full way. Charles, while anchored at Ziakof said, “Sometimes you just have to go do it. Heck so many people dream and talk about things and then they all of a sudden find themselves old or dead and missed the moment.” He has a way with words and is a fine storyteller but to quote one of my favorite quotes “All men die but not all men truly live.”

We were truly home today. Back at church – Immanuel Baptist Church – and my close friend Pastor Al gave the message on David and Jonathan and how they were cut from the same cloth and were also adventurous and trusted the Lord for victory against great odds. He also talked about Saul who he described as a man of comfort who just waited around for others to deal with things and to take the action. There were wonderful parallels in my mind with the trip. And, as I enjoy the memories of the adventure with my family and friends I hope that I can take some of the same boldness into all areas of my life.

Well, I just want to close with a huge thanks for all the prayers that have gone out for us on this 2 and half month adventure and just say that we really felt it all the way. I hoped that you have enjoyed the photos and the posts that I really tried to share from my heart and in a way that someone else planning an adventure with their family might be inspired knowing that someone with my limited experience was able to complete this journey.

Thanks also for all the friends that supported us in so many ways and my team members at work who held up my part of the work while I was gone.

Blessings from the Sundog Crew

“Be strong and of good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.” – Joshua 1:9 Bible