Whittier To Seward 2012

As I sit and reflect about the last voyage of the Sundog for the 2012 season I feel I have just a little better understanding of the verse from Psalms that talks about “a tempest that lifted high the waves”
it is really worth a read so I will just post right here and share more about the journey after.

Psalm 107:23-31
23 Some went out on the sea in ships;
they were merchants on the mighty waters.
24 They saw the works of the Lord,
his wonderful deeds in the deep.
25 For he spoke and stirred up a tempest
that lifted high the waves.
26 They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths;
in their peril their courage melted away.
27 They reeled and staggered like drunkards;
they were at their wits’ end.
28 Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
and he brought them out of their distress.
29 He stilled the storm to a whisper;
the waves of the sea[a] were hushed.
30 They were glad when it grew calm,
and he guided them to their desired haven.
31 Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
and his wonderful deeds for mankind.

How about I start at the beginning, when the trip was just in the planning stages and we were imagining deer, bear, goats, halibut, salmon and waterfowl eagerly sacrificing themselves and throwing themselves onto our boat to avoid the coming winter.  I will warn you that I went into some detail about the trip so it is a bit wordy but it was a good way to debrief and think through some of the memories.  So,  I tend to be an idealist and it is not the first time that positive thinking has gotten me in to trouble.  Statements like, really “I think these waves will get smaller when we round the corner” and oh “just around the bend” let’s just say that those that have journeyed with me have learned to at least be a little skeptical.  The one advantage I have and would almost say that I am known for is that I tend to be a bit overly cautious.  You know, the kind of wear your life jacket, grab a marine radio and stick an e-pirb in your back pocket kind of guy that generally makes life much more boring or at least safe.  The first couple of days out of Whittier were pretty uneventful and the weather was cooperating and we made a straight run all the way to Green Island, roughly 70 miles and had a wonderful anchorage in calm waters and although unsuccessful in terms of hunting we enjoyed two beautiful weather days and managed to get in some skeet shooting off the top deck.
Our crew was made up of Larry Carmichael, Kevin Stickler, Ryan Breese, Caleb and myself and it was a good group.  After a couple of days of no luck on Green we decided to run around to Bainbridge passage looking for animals and move into Goat territory and stage for the gulf crossing into Seward.   It was a beautiful albeit very wet run through Bainbridge and I was excited to be traveling in an area of the sound I have not had a chance to explore.  We worked our way into Hogg bay which did not match up with my older version of the Lethcoe guide book that I had but I found a nice little anchorage behind some rocks that made for a terrific anchorage.  While crossing from Green I was able to talk to Cathy by phone and she found a online took for checking marine weather and from our conversations I was confident that the largest seas we would see on our crossing was 6′ so it was all systems go to make the 35-40 mile run of open water until we round the corner into Resurrection bay.  In fact the link suggested 1′ seas in Johnstone bay where we hoped to give a try at Goat hunting.  As we worked our way into the gulf from the bottom of Bainbridge passage it was pretty clear that we would see more than 6′ seas and we had a go, no go conversation as a group and decided to continue on.  I understand the weather fairly well in Prince William Sound but the stretch across the open Gulf to Seward is very new to me and the only NOAA weather report gives weather from a stretch of water that is huge and although I was seeing rough forecasts I assumed if we stayed close to land we would not see the sea state that we ended up in.  By the time we were near Johnstone seas were a steady 10-12 ft and the marine forecast matched up what we were experiencing and although the seas were big they were fairly far apart and following so it was manageable and we pushed on for 5 hours of rough going to Killer Bay where we anchored up and rested for a couple of hours.  We considered staying in Killer for the night but since it was early afternoon we decided to take a stab at going around the point into Resurrection bay and this turned out to be a mistake, or at least a bigger opportunity for experience than any of us would have chose in hind sight.  As we pushed towards the point which was only about 4 or so miles away the seas just kept growing and becoming more confused and blown off on top and I could find no good way to point where we were not taking a beating.  The Sundog is almost 15 tons and it was tossed around like a toy and we turned sideways to a degree that I have never been before on the boat and much of what was on the helm or elsewhere that was not lashed down was spread around the cabin.
Phew, just writing this get’s me tense again and I realized I am spreading my legs wide to keep my balance.  Now I have to be honest that I don’t have a lot of experience in big seas but these were by far the biggest I have every been in while captain and although the forecast was for 12′ I am convinced that some of these were 15 plus and the real challenge was just the overall confused state of the seas.  To add to the excitement was the huge plumes of sea crashing into the land off our starboard and the whipping of the wind.  I am confident that those folks who commercial fish or work the bering sea would have thought this was just a mild adventure but for me and our crew it had our excitement adrenaline meter pegged and poor caleb was shaking, throwing up and repeating that he though he was going to die and those noises Ryan was making are the things nightmares are made of (sorry Ryan;).  I remembered during this experience a previous conversation with a crusty commercial fisherman had told me, if you get in one of these situations just slow down your boat, relax and ease along.  I backed off hard on the RPM’s and that helped and we all agreed that we could not safely turn the corner into Resurrection without risking rolling the boat so we decided to turn tail and head back to Driftwood Bay allowing us to run somewhat with the sea swell.  The hard part is that moment when you are looking for a more mellow set of seas to make the turn.  I watched the sets for a bit and then just went for it turning the wheel hard and pushing the throttles full speed ahead to make the turn and as Kevin said let’s just say I am not impressed with my turning speed.  However we made the turn with not to much of a roll to the port and settled into surfing with the following seas into Driftwood Bay.
It really felt so good to get into Driftwood bay and although we had to anchor twice in 2-3 foot chop before sticking it was good to be out of the big stuff.  I was completely exhausted and hit the rack while the guys took turns on anchor watch which I sure appreciated.   It was a very sloppy night but our anchor held, in fact I let out almost all 300′ of chain and we put out our stern anchor as well.  The next morning forecast was calling for 8′ seas and after praying together as a group we decided to poke our nose out and see how things go.  This time just to be more prepared we donned our survival suits and towed our inflatable canoe.  Larry likes to say the 5 “P’s” which is prior planning prevents piss poor performance and with our suits on and mentally prepared it must have scared the seas down some and it was a mild 8′ sea state that after the night before seemed like child’s play and it became quickly clear that we would make it around into Resurrection bay.
It felt so good to make it into the bay and the sea state was calm and we celebrated by anchoring in Thumb cove and doing flips and dives off the upper deck into the sea in our survival suits.  Once we were tied up in Seward and walked up to the Harbor Master he mentioned that he was surprised to see a 36′ boat come in since all the big boys were staying in town waiting for the weather to improve.  He then mentioned something about the size of the Cojones of the captain which of course my crew got a good laugh at as they know it has nothing to do with courage and everything to do with not reading the weather right and pushing a little farther than I should have.  The reality is however that no matter how careful you are, if you boat long enough you will get into seas that test your courage and experience and I was thankful to be with a group of men who handled it well and stood with me.
We can say together that we “saw the works of the Lord, his wonderful deeds in the deep.”
Now the work begins as I prepare the boat to put up on blocks for the winter and winterize.  I have a long list of work next spring to prepare the boat for it’s 3rd season with our family and one of the items at the top of my list is a survival raft system.
It is good to be home and I look forward to the winter time to plan and dream about next years boating adventures and revisit memories from over a decade of boating Alaska waters with wonderful friends.
Thanks to Larry, Kevin, Ryan and Caleb for sharing the trip!
Sundog Out!