Sula’s Voyage to Alaska

By Janice Walker, Krogen 39’ Sula

A year ago, I would have categorized myself as “not a boat person.” We live in southeast Alaska so boating and being on the water are important parts of our life. However, when we would take our 19-foot Seasport on the water, I was a nervous wreck and spent the travel time in the vee berth. I love camping, fishing, and beach combing when we get to our destination but the trip to get there was nerve-wracking for me. My husband, Tim, is very comfortable on the water but my stress levels would get him on edge. Regardless, I would usually make a few white-knuckle trips a summer

I’ve found when I go out on friends’ boats that are in the 40-foot range, I am much more relaxed and calm. I attribute it to not being responsible for the boat–just being along for the ride. Tim believes my anxiety is related to the size of the boat. During 2009 he started looking at boats on the Internet (we called it “boat porn”). During the summers of 2009 and 2010, we would take evening walks on the docks in Ketchikan to look at the transient yachts and 30- to 40-foot pleasure boats. We visited with the boat owners and I realized they are regular folks, just like Tim and me. I was warming up to the idea of looking at a bigger boat. The realization that there were so many couples and small groups of people piloting their own boats made me realize Tim and I could actually handle a bigger boat.

In October 2010 we went to Seattle to look at boats. We visited a lot of boat vendors during that week. I didn’t know the difference between the various boat brands, much less types of boats, so it was quite an education for me. Tim had been doing a lot of research for over a year so he focused his attention on boats with a pilothouse and boats with full displacement hulls.

After more research, we both focused on a couple of manufacturers. We were going to look at them more at the Seattle Boat Show in January 2011. I thought the search for a boat would take years but late in 2010 there was a 1987 Krogen 42′ on the market that we looked at. I fell in love!!! When we took her out for a sea trial, I was overwhelmed and felt we could never learn enough to operate the boat but Tim was confident we could, so we made an offer on the boat. The deal on that boat fell through. At the Seattle Boat Show in January we went aboard a Krogen 39′ and liked the layout, so the wheels were in motion once again. Tim and I became the proud owners of a 2000 Krogen 39′ in March 2011. (An interesting side note is that this boat’s first owner is a businessman in Ketchikan whom I know.)

We had to get the boat, which we named Sula, home to Ketchikan from Seattle. I knew I could handle being on the boat in the protected waters where we live but I did not intend to go on the trip to bring the boat north. I kept hearing other boat owners talk about their experiences crossing the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Seymour Narrows, Queen Charlotte Sound, and Dixon Entrance–not always good experiences. As the spring progressed, I thought back to the regular folks we had visited at the docks in Ketchikan during the prior summers and I finally decided that I needed to take the plunge and go on the trip to bring the boat north. I needed to learn how to cope with the seas and how to run the boat if I was going to be a ”boat person.” My goals for the trip north were (1) to survive and (2) to not hate the boat when we got to Ketchikan. If I could keep from getting Tim stressed out, he would be able to remain calm for the trip and “the calm” would help keep me from being a nervous wreck.

We scheduled leaving Seattle on Monday, May 23, 2011. There was a lot of prep work to figure out a route, estimate how far we would make it each day so we could have safe anchorage at night, and all of the other items that need to be figured out before taking off on an eight- to twelve-day trip.

Tim, our daughter Jill and I flew to Seattle and worked the weekend before our departure to get all of the supplies we needed, including spare parts, and get the boat ready. On May 23 we had a late start but decided to go ahead and leave at about 3 P.M. on the scheduled departure date. Our Kadey-Krogen Yachts broker, Dennis Lawrence, was able to come along for the first part of the trip and provided very valuable training to all of us. We followed the route Tim had planned and adjusted our first day for the late start, which meant we would anchor at Port Townsend the first night. Dropping the anchor was really easy with a windlass and we were in a very secure location for our first night. I was actually enjoying this!!

The second day started out pretty rough as we headed across the Strait of Juan de Fuca. I needed a Dramamine but after my stomach settled down, I enjoyed the ride. We went through the San Juan Islands and headed north to Vancouver Island. The water settled down and it was a very nice ride through some beautiful scenery, lighthouses, and wildlife. We went through Dodd Narrows, which is a short set of whirlpool/rapids. It was exciting to me and Tim guided the boat through with no problems. We moored temporarily at Nanaimo, Vancouver, to go to the grocery store for a couple of things we’d forgotten and to get some essentials–namely beer and wine. We spent the second night anchored on the outskirts of Nanaimo.

The third day had a beautiful sunrise. It was a big day; we needed to get through the whirlpools and rapids at Seymour Narrows. I saw a commercial fishing boat in front of us get turned sideways. The nerves kicked in. Tim piloted the boat through the confused seas in the narrows with little trouble. There were a lot of whirlpools and eddies as we continued up the coast of Vancouver Island but we made it with no problem. The third night was at Vere Cove, which provided good anchorage. We shared the bay with two other boats. I found myself liking the boat and the trip more each day.

The morning on day four was beautiful with a mist hanging over the mountains that surrounded the bay. We were ready for an intense run because we needed to get to Port Hardy. Dennis was scheduled to leave there on Friday. This was our first day with a deadline we had to meet. It all worked out fine. We saw a lot of lighthouses, killer whales, Dall’s porpoise and a bear. We made it to Port Hardy a little before 5 P.M. We tied up to the dock in transient moorage for the night. With shore power, I did a couple of loads of laundry (I didn’t want to run the generator to do laundry on the other nights). By the end of the day, I really loved being a boater.

The fifth day started off with a challenge: getting across Queen Charlotte Sound and Queen Charlotte Strait. We were boating without Dennis for the first time. The seas were pretty rough when we started out so the plan was to go to Pine Island and make a decision to continue across or stay at Pine Island until things calmed down. Right outside of Port Hardy we saw a humpback whale. The whale surfaced several times by us then sounded. When we reached Pine Island, the seas had calmed down so we decided to push across the strait. There were big swells but the waves were vey small so it was actually a fun ride to go up one side of the swell and ride down the other side. We reached Fischer Channel on the other side of the strait and were back in protected waterways. We spent our fifth night in Codville Lagoon. The entry to the cove had interesting geology where the rocks looked like teeth. We shared the cove with two other boats. I continued getting more and more relaxed with each passing day.

The sixth day we were in protected waters and all went smoothly. There were some beam seas and a swell in Milbanke Sound but the boat handled them well. We anchored in Swanson Harbor for the sixth night. There is an abandoned cannery there, so we lowered the inflatable to go ashore and do some exploring. The walls of the cannery were cement so they were still intact, but the wood roof and interior walls had rotted. The brick smokestack was still standing, too. Once again we shared the harbor with two other boats (not the same ones from any of the other nights). I was still lovin’ it.

Day seven was a long and intense day. We headed into Grenville Channel, which is narrow with very steep walls. There is no place to anchor so we had to get through the channel. We saw killer whales and Dall’s porpoise again. We got through with no problem and closed in on Prince Rupert. We spent the night anchored in Big Bay. The sunset was fabulous as we looked for a good place to anchor. It had been a 17-hour day so we were all very tired and ready for some sleep. The weather forecast for the Dixon Entrance was good for the morning, with the winds kicking up in the afternoon. If we didn’t get across in the morning we would most likely have to wait it out for two more days when the winds were forecast to die down.

The day dawned with calm seas and no wind. Off we went to cross Dixon Entrance. We saw a humpback whale that kept surfacing by the boat. The seas were so calm that Tim and Jill went to the flybridge to fly kites. I piloted the boat across Dixon Entrance and the only challenge was to avoid hitting logs and kelp patches. We made it across Dixon Entrance and were home in Ketchikan by 1 P.M. I was ecstatic! I would have never in a million years thought I could make the trip.

I was actually sad to be back home. I had completely enjoyed my eight days on the boat and was very relaxed. I understood why people like a cruising lifestyle–the clock ran slower while we were underway. The hustle-and-bustle of our daily lives was gone while we were at sea. I look forward to the many cruises we will take but most of all I am so grateful for Sula for finally making me a “boat person.”