To Alaska...with a new alternator / by Caroline Van Hemert

A boating blog wouldn’t be complete without some sort of engine trouble. A week ago, Pat and I rose early to slip away from Shearwater before the boys woke up. We made good time and were already ten miles into our day when we could no longer ignore the fact that our batteries still weren’t charging. This had been a recently nagging problem we hoped could be explained by a combination of sailing more (and thus running the engine less), a bout of rain (which meant less sun for our solar panels), and slow discharge over time (we hadn’t done a full charge since Bellingham). But after motoring for two hours and consulting with a friend who is savvy with all things boat-related, it was obvious that the alternator was not doing its job. As we throttled back the engine to decide what to do, Huxley climbed out of bed, looked around, and started wailing. “I wanted to see the docks before we left!”

Well, this time he was in luck as back we went to Shearwater. It was a Sunday, so other than finding available dock space where we could charge our flogging batteries (we’d previously been tied to the breakwater with no services), there was little to do besides visit the local playground again. We resigned ourselves to an indefinite wait for parts and a potentially expensive repair, while being grateful that the alternator had the courtesy to go out within shouting distance of the only full-service marina in the area. Lucky for us, we learned early Monday morning that the parts shop had a suitable replacement on hand. They had ordered a compatible alternator for a different boat and never ended up using it. By afternoon, the alternator was in, Pat had learned a bit more about diesel mechanics, and the boys caught a few more fish from the dock.

Two days and ninety miles later (many of these upwind sailing in stiff but steady offshore winds), we pulled into McMicking Inlet on the west side of Campania Island, where Caamano Sound meets Hecate Strait. These outside islands see strong wind and surf, which make for dramatic scenery, rocky islets, and lots of sand. Just outside the largely protected inlet are a series of white sand beaches frequented by wolves, deer, eagles, and gulls. Harlequin ducks, red-throated loons, murrelets, and guillemots use the clear, protected waters where hundreds of tiny sandlance and other forage fish can be seen schooling below the dinghy. Hidden behind a thick fringe of cedars, the island also hosts an extensive peat bog forest, with bonsai-like fir trees surrounding big mounds of granite. It’s a fairy land of sorts, where wolves and marten leave their tracks and small boys scramble up one rock after the next. This was backcountry hiking we could manage.

Our first afternoon at the inlet, we met Paer, a Swedish sailor, photographer, and filmmaker who has been cruising in his 33’ sailboat for more than three decades. Most recently, he’s been living aboard year-round in British Columbia, exploring the coastline in search of wolves, wilderness, and, apparently, solitude. He connected immediately with our boys, and we soon learned that he had spent several years cruising with his wife and two sons. The boys are grown now, and his wife prefers to stay home in Sweden pursuing other passions, but he recalls his family’s sailing days as the happiest of his life. With no fixed itinerary other than needing to resupply every month or so (he’d been out for six weeks when we saw him), Paer seems in no hurry to get anywhere in particular. He told us about a month he spent in an uncharted lagoon just south of where we met him, after entering at high tide and later realizing he wouldn’t have a suitable exit for four weeks. “It was quite nice,” he said. Like Pat and me, he and his wife began sailing in part because they didn’t want to stop exploring wild places when they had children. But Paer’s first passion for sailing came when he and his brother hitched a ride south on a research vessel leaving Svalbard in 70 knot winds and were put on watch and instructed to wake the captain if “anything happened.” Twelve meter seas and black water crashing over the bow were apparently within the realm of normal as the boat pounded on, the waves curled and broke, and yet “nothing happened.” He explained that the boat would come to a near-complete stop when hit with a wave equivalent to the height of a 4+ story building, then, with a gust, sail on. This, Paer said, “impressed him severely” and he decided that someday he would get a boat designed by Colin Archer, the builder of the Svalbard ice-breaker. So came Sjoa, which he constructed himself. Our Westsail, similar to Sjoa, is also a product of this man’s sea-faring designs (based on Rescue Boat #122, which was among Archer’s 200+ boat designs).

The boys continue to be in their element out here. They play hard, get dirtier than they’ve ever been, eat sand in their dinners, melt down in big, dramatic displays, laugh and cry and generally see nothing the slightest bit odd about life on a boat. Huxley’s first words to me this morning when he woke up to the anchor chain droppping in by his head were “Mommy, big clumps of seaweed mean there are rocks underneath.” Both boys have been embracing the cold water, and we had to drag them out of the surf at 9pm the night before we left McMicking Inlet. Dawson’s favorite phrase lately has been, “Big big ‘pash! Hoooj ‘pash!” (Translated as “big, big, huge splash,” which he has perfected as he jumps up and then immerses himself to his armpits in the water.)

We are now on the move again after three days of exploring. We’ll likely cross into Alaska by the end of the week, assuming Dixon Entrance doesn’t blow a gale. My parents will meet us in Ketchikan for some grandparent time and we are excited to see them soon. Huxley asked just a few minutes ago, after waking up to us on the move again, “Mommy, where are we trying to go this day? How about, this day, we go to see Yaya and Bumpa?” Yep, we’re on our way.

 

 Happily working again.    

Happily working again. 

 

 First catch. 

First catch. 

 Campania Island beach

Campania Island beach

 Paer, our first dinner guest.  

Paer, our first dinner guest.  

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Clear water fishing. 

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Dawson. No words needed.  

 Wolf tracks in the sand. 

Wolf tracks in the sand. 

 A person could get used to this life. 

A person could get used to this life. 

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Amazing seaside scrambling. 

 Peat bog forests. 

Peat bog forests. 

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Wolf signs everywhere. 

 

 “Summit” views.  

“Summit” views.  

 A new friend.  

A new friend.  

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Goodbye Campania Island.