Alaskan sailing adventur.., p.9
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       Alaskan Sailing Adventure, p.9

           Charles Kaluza & Philip Kaluza
 
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Day 9

  Morning came and the Captain let the boys sleep in an extra hour. When they finished their breakfast, he said, “We need to have a ship’s meeting. Get this boat cleaned up and call me when you are ready.”

  The Captain went aft to his quarters and the boys got busy. The simple breakfast did not take long to clean up and Johnathan asked, “Wonder what the Captain is so serious about?”

  This was enough to bring the Captain forward but before he said anything he inspected the galley. It must have passed muster because he said, “We are coming to the end of your sailing adventure and we need to make a decision on the last couple of days. At the Captain’s discretion, the program offers a ‘blue water’ excursion. I have decided that you have progressed well enough to offer it to you.”

  Quinn asked, “What’s blue water?”

  “It is the open ocean. Usually considered being 50 miles off the coast. The water loses its greenish tint and becomes more blue grey.”

  Johnathan was doing the navigation in his head and said, “That means we will be almost a whole day’s sail off shore.”

  “Yup.”

  Quinn asked, “Why would we want to do that?”

  “No good reason…other than experiencing the vastness of the ocean. Very few people ever experience the utter loneliness of being on watch with nothing but ocean and the vastness of the night sky. If the fog forms, then you will find yourself in a cocoon floating in a completely grey world. It is something that puts your life in perspective.”

  Mikey asked, “Do most groups do this?”

  “I’ve only offered it to a couple of groups. Those that have done it were happy with their decision.”

  Quinn asked, “What is our other choice?”

  “We stay in protected waters and explore Nuka Island and the old homestead sites before retracing our journey back to Seward.”

  Kade asked, “Is there any fishing off shore?”

  “Probably not. Might find an occasional salmon.”

  Kade said, “I hate the thought of giving up fishing time.”

  Johnathan interjected, “This might be our only chance, ever, to experience blue water. You can fish other times.”

  Quinn said, “Will I get sea sick?”

  “Possibly, but only one way to find out. You seem to have gotten your sea legs.”

  Mikey spoke up saying, “We came here for an adventure and I say we should go for it.”

  The Captain said, “It has to be a unanimous decision…all in favor or no go!”

  The discussion went on for some time but Mikey’s comment had pretty much defined the result. The Captain had them write their vote on a scrap of paper and collected them. He carefully read them so none of the boys could see what the others had written. He looked up and said, “It is a go. Get this boat ready and we’ll run up the bay and get some ice before heading to sea.”

  Kade asked, “Can we at least stop and fish the moraine one more time?”

  “If you all would shake a leg we could be back at the moraine for tide change.” He added, “Plot a course for the glacier but post a lookout for ice. Hopefully the outflowing tide will have brought plenty of ice to us.” The Captain went topside and just sat and watched the boys work as a team to prepare the boat and raise the anchor. Quinn was at the helm but did not even ask for instructions or permission. He warmed up the engine and called out to Kade, “Raise the anchor.” Using the engine to take the tension off the rode, the anchor was soon stowed and they proceeded towards the glacier at the end of the bay. The going was slow because of the current flow but as the Captain had predicted the tide was bringing the ice to them. They corralled a six-foot chunk of ice that had melted into a feathery abstract form. Using the ice pick and fish harpoon they broke it into chunks they could handle and hauled it aboard. It was perfectly clear blue ice…just what the Captain ordered.

  Mikey took the helm and headed back to the small opening in the terminal glacier as the other boys stowed the ice and refreshed the freezer brine. Now the tidal current was helping and Mikey called out, “We’re doing 8.8 knots.” Despite their speed Kade was fretting they would miss the tide change. Johnathan was working at his navigation and said, “It will be close but we should make it by tide change.”

  Kade was busy getting his tackle ready and when Mikey cut the engine, down went his line as he shouted, “First one down gets the first fish!”

  Well, almost immediately he got a bite but when he set the hook nothing much happened. He jigged a few more times and started reeling in because something was not right. When his bait got to the surface attached was the funniest looking fish he had ever seen. It was about a foot long, had big eyes, a broad snout and a long tapering tail that looked like a rat…a slimy rat with blue spots.

  Kade called out, “Captain, what is this?”

  The Captain stuck his head out of the rear hatch and looked at the fish hanging from Kade’s line. “Looks like you got yourself a ratfish. Be careful, that spine carries a pretty potent poison and it’ll try and stab you.”

  The fish was doing its best to jab anything in reach with its poisonous spine and Kade decided the most prudent course of action was to just cut his line and leave the hook to come out by itself. Things did not go as planned. The fish fell free but landed on the deck rather than overboard. Now they had a ratfish flopping around on the deck doing its best to nail one of the boys with its spine. Quinn used the handle of the landing net to sweep the fish onto the swim platform and from there the fish finally regained its freedom.

  They had drifted off the moraine and the current was picking up. The Captain started the engine and repositioned the boat saying, “Looks like this is your last chance. Better get busy. All four boys got their lines down and as they drifted over the top of the moraine the fishing took off. One after another the boys called out, “Fish on!” Kade was the last to hook up and the others had landed a couple of fair sized lingcod and one big rockfish before it was Kade’s turn to yell, “Fish on!”

  One look at the rod and the Captain knew he had hooked onto something big. Kade was a strapping young man and it was all he could do to hold the rod up. The fish was making long runs but did not seem to have any headshake. Kade said, “I don’t think this is a halibut. Maybe it is another shark.” The Captain let the boat drift with the tide and simply watched the battle between fish and boy. About the time, he thought the boy was winning the fish would make another long run. They drifted ever further into the bay and when they finally saw the fish realized it was a huge ling cod. Kade called out, “This is probably the biggest ling ever! It is at least six feet long.”

  The Captain asked, “What are you going to do with that fish? It is too big to keep.”

  Kade stared at the fish for a moment before saying, “I guess we should let it go.” Johnathan had already buckled into the safety line and was standing on the swim platform with the net. Kade said, “Johnathan, if you can net the fish I’ll take the hook out and release it.” He handed the rod to Mikey and hooked up to the safety line. When they were ready he called out, “OK, Mikey, pull her in real gently and we will net her!”

  Mikey did as he was told and brought the fish up to the surface next to the swim platform. Apparently, the fish did not approve because instead of lying there passively, it launched itself into the air directly at Johnathan and Kade. Its mouth was wide open and a basketball would have fit into the gaping mouth with the backward curved teeth. Johnathan and Kade did what every brave young man would do…they flinched big time. The fish struck the back of the swim platform shaking the hook and escaping back to the depths.

  Quinn and Mikey were laughing almost uncontrollably but Kade and Johnathan both appeared a bit pale. The Captain wanted to know what was going on and Kade replied, “We let the ling go.” Quinn interjected, “More like the fish got away after trying to eat Kade and Johnathan. You should have seen their flinch.”

  The Captain le
t things settle down for just a moment before saying, “Get things cleaned up. If we don’t cross that moraine soon we will be stuck here until tide change. Make sure everything is secured above and below the deck. Anything that can fall will fall while at sea.” As they headed back across the moraine the Captain ordered, “Navigator, plot our course through Wildcat Pass and then onto Hawaii.”

  Johnathan looked puzzled and said, “Sir, I do not have a chart for Hawaii.”

  “Use the GPS to give you a course and distance. You can estimate time enroute.”

  Johnathan was still confused and asked, “We have to be back in Seward in three days.”

  The Captain explained, “We need a purpose and a route, so we are going to pretend we are headed to Hawaii. I’m not sure you landlubbers are ready for a long ocean crossing but planning as if you were will be good practice.” With that the Captain grabbed his book and settled back in the rear cockpit seat to read while the boys got busy.

  Just outside the pass Johnathan spotted some whales. They cut the engine and just watched the whales. It appeared to be a cow and calf and they were doing synchronized swimming. They porposed together in perfect harmony and when the mother showed her flukes so did the calf. The better part of a half hour went by as they whale watched. The whales were singing and the sound had that eerie characteristic of the humpbacks.

  By the time, they got to the pass the current was nearing its maximum and they were only making three knots with the engine. The whirlpool was present in the narrows but the Captain did not even look up as Quinn navigated the edge. Once through the pass Kade wanted to stop and fish but the Captain said, “This is the Pye Island Reserve and you have to make sure we are outside the boundaries if you want to fish.”

  Quinn refused to stop and continued onward. Johnathan was still working his navigation but gave Quinn a heading of 190 degrees and said, “The course will have us arriving in 13 days at eight knots. If we could average five knots it will take us about 20 days of sailing to reach Hawaii and we will have travelled around 2500 miles.”

  Kade complained, “It only takes six hours of flying to get there.”

  The Captain looked up from his book and said, “Life is a journey not a destination. Those who sail are living the journey.”

  The wind began to pick up as they lost the protection of the mountains and with it the waves. Quinn seemed to be doing well and ordered the raising of the sails. The boat was now stabilized by the sails and was slicing through the water slightly heeled over. When they looked back the snowcapped mountains were easily visible but ahead was just greyness. The sun was out with some patchy clouds but ahead was only greyness as the sky and sea blended together. The Captain went below for a nap and soon others followed him leaving only the helmsman on watch. Mikey had the first watch and tried to anticipate the waves in order to stay on course but a couple of times the sails flapped as the waves pushed him off course. He corrected quickly before the Captain could complain but wished he could use the autopilot.

  The afternoon wore on with each taking a two-hour watch. As evening approached the land was still somewhat visible as a deeper greyness behind them and the sky above was blue with some color to the Northwest. The ocean became more settled as they got evermore offshore. The waves were no longer reflecting off the shore and were much more regular. Naps came easily but reading not so easy for the boys because of the constant rocking. When awake they mostly sat up in the pilothouse and watched the grey world go by. There was no way of knowing if they were moving or if the ocean was just flowing by them because their reference points were gone. As the light dimmed they made the decision to reef the sails to about 50% just in case weather developed. The Captain agreed saying, “Much easier to do before the storm hits while there is still some light.”

  By night fall they were 40 miles offshore and land was no longer visible. Not even Quinn had much of an appetite and eating consisted mostly of snacking on Sailor Boy hardtack crackers with some peanut butter and plain water. The Captain did bring out a large bag of sunflower seeds and said, “These are for the guy on watch. Eat them one at a time and it will help keep you alert.” He added, “And try not to make too much of a mess.”

  Mikey had the first night watch and the Captain took time to point out some stars telling Mikey, “You can’t keep chasing the compass. Pick out a star and use it as your guide. As the night wears on, the earth will rotate but for your short watch any southern star will work.”

  Now Mikey was alone in the cockpit with a sky full of stars but no moon. The only light was the dim light of the compass and the green echo of the radar screen. He tried following the compass but just as the Captain had said, he was just chasing it back and forth as the waves rocked the boat. Concentrating on the star cluster straight ahead worked much better and the sails rarely flapped. Every creak of the rigging seemed loud when the only other sound was the waves striking the bow. The GPS showed he was doing only four knots. Hawaii was a long way away at that speed. He felt alone much like he had when as a young child, he had been lost at the park. The rest of the crew were only a few feet away and it was tempting to call out and have someone keep him company. It was his watch. He had total responsibility; he could do this.

  Something big splashed next to the boat but in the blackness of the night the only sign was some phosphorescence from where the water was disturbed. He had been getting sleepy but whatever made that splash was enough to wake him up. He started to eat the sunflower seeds one at a time and paid more attention to his scan of the instruments and the stars. A few bigger waves knocked him off course but the stars were there to bring him back onto their heading. Two hours is a long time at night, by yourself, with the safety of the boat in your hands.

  When his watch was over he ducked down into the cabin and shook Quinn saying, “Time for your watch.”

  Quinn tried to just roll over but Mikey just shook him again. This was enough. Quinn sat up and put his shoes on to follow Mikey up to the pilot house. Mikey pointed out the stars he had been using and waited until Quinn seemed settled before heading below for some sleep. Quinn had always thought of himself as a night owl but now he wasn’t so sure. He found himself struggling to keep awake even with the side vents open blowing a cool breeze on him. The southern stars started to disappear as low clouds formed and he needed to keep identifying stars more and more abeam the boat which made it harder to hold course. It was a personal challenge not to let the sails flap but it was a struggle. All of the stars were coming and going and he gave up on them. By concentrating on the boat movement, he could anticipate the direction change and try and counteract it before deviating from his course. He found himself working hard and his sea sickness did not seem an issue. By the end of his watch he was tired. Going below he woke Johnathan saying, “Time for your watch.”

  Johnathan followed Quinn topside and settled into the Captain’s seat. Quinn told him how he had reacted to the boat motion. Johnathan listened but did not really understand what Quinn was saying. The darkness outside the windows was pretty complete except for the position lights on the boat. He had been at the helm for only a few minutes before the sails started to flap. He forced himself to concentrate on the compass but oversteered. This caused him to overshoot his heading and the sails flapped again. He started to think about how the sea was playing with him. Out loud he said, “Well, maybe we should make a chess game out of this.” Now he would take a move created by the sea and compensate with a blocking move. There was no hope in winning; a stalemate was all he could expect. Now he was anticipating his opponent and only rarely did the sails flap because he was off course. Two hours is a long chess match for a young man and when his watch was up, he woke Kade to take the finale night watch.

  Kade had been in a deep sleep and it took a moment to get his bearings but he managed to get out of the bunk without hitting his head. Johnathan told him, “Seems the overcast is complete now.
I have been seeing some patches of fog. The moon should be up but the clouds are blocking it.”

  Kade sat at the helm and needed to shake his head several times to clear the cob webs. As soon as Johnathan thought Kade was settled he went below for some sleep. It took less than 5 minutes for the sails to start flapping and Kade struggled to regain his course. As long as he concentrated on the compass the sails stayed full and the boat stayed on course. It was hard work until he realized that the rhythm was pretty regular and if he treated the waves as music he could dance with the ever-changing pitching and rolling of the boat. When a spec of green showed up on the radar and he tried to figure where it was, the sails started flapping again. The fog kept building and he could no longer see the front of the boat. The navigation lights were just a blur of color. It was just like the Captain had said, he was in a grey cocoon and the only thing that existed outside his cocoon was the green blip on the radar. Whatever it was, it was moving faster than they were and headed more easterly. He considered waking the Captain but the unseen ship did not seem a threat. Soon the blip was gone and he was alone again. The two hours seemed like a long time and his cup of sunflower seed shells was getting pretty full as was his bladder.

  The greyness was getting less dark but no sunrise was yet visible when the Captain appeared wrapped in his robe and a blanket. He simply said, “I’ll take the next watch.”

  Captain’s Log

  Day 9

  The weather remains stable and the boys voted for the blue water experience. We headed out through Wildcat Pass on a heading of 190 degrees. Seas are mild and they are working well as a team. We will be about 70 miles offshore in the morning and will turn back towards home port.

 
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