Saturday, May 16, 2009

#17 - Prince Rupert to Ketchikan

My alarm went off early at 4:30AM and it was already light. Using the PRRYC's wifi connection I was able to download the 4AM Canadian marine weather report and updated buoy observations. Our barometer had started to fall ever so slowly, which meant the storm hadn't yet arrived. The reports called for gale force winds throughout the region. Forecast for Dixon Entrance East, which we needed to traverse, was 2 meter seas (6.5 feet) with 15-25 SE winds by mid-morning, it was already blowing about 8 knots from the SE in Prince Rupert.

The bad news was the gale force winds and seas to 2+ meters until Monday. We fly out of Ketchikan on Tuesday, so that's cutting it close.

The good news was:
1. 4:30AM buoy report had only 1/2 meter seas in Dixon Entrance with east winds of 17 knots.
2. The wind forecast was for Southeast 15-25 knots and we would be cruising a northerly course, so the wind would be coming from behind.
3. If we left at 6AM, the current would be ebbing by the time we reached Dixon Entrance, so the wind and current would be moving in the same direction and both would be pushing us.
4. There's a bombproof anchorage called Brundige Inlet on Dundas Island, just before we cross the Entrance, so if it gets too nasty, we can hide from Mother Nature.

Our route to Ketchikan

During last year's Alaska Cruise we had similar go-no go weather decisions and chose to go each time. The boats performed fine, but on at least one occasion, the occupants were under duress for the voyage (for the full story see Based on our experience, it seemed that the weather forecasters were typically a bit early in their timing, and the conditions didn't quite live up to the forecasts. It paid to note the actual buoy conditions where we were headed, as opposed to a general forecast for the area. So based on this experience, I decided to give it a go, and bail out at Dundas Island if things got messy. At least we would be 25 miles closer to Ketchikan.

We left the Yacht Club at 6:00AM, the only pleasure craft going north. I warned the guys about what to expect and told them too chew their breakfast real good, just in case it wants to come back up! When exiting Prince Rupert to the north, we always use Venn Passage, the twisty, shallow and narrow passage that saves about an hour. It gets shallow at low tide, but we had 10+ feet above low tide and easily exited into Chatham Sound without incident.

Venn Passage exit from Prince Rupert

Chatham Sound initially was tame, but as we cruised up it towards Dundas Island the wind and seas built. We were seeing 3-5 foot seas on our starboard beam with 20+ knots of wind as spray would occasionally blot out visibility from the pilot house. A few times the spray would blow up across and over the fly bridge. The ride was not too bad as the active stabilizers counteracted the beam seas desire to roll us.

As we approached the top of Dundas Island on its east side nearing Dixon Entrance, I noticed the tug Pacific Pride on the AIS Transponder just west of the Island. We exchanged weather reports. His weather was quite similar to ours, and he said Dixon Entrance shouldn't be worse. We kept going, knowing we could turn back to Brundige Inlet in a pinch.

Surprisingly, as we progressed further across the Entrance, the seas diminished, and the wind moved further aft. The current pushed us up over 10.5 knots with a few 11 knot bursts. There was little or no boat roll, and no ocean spray. It was a fine ride! Entering Revilla Channel, the seas stretched out and got larger but were easily managed by the boat. After Revilla Channel, the ride was smooth as always, the seas and winds having abated.

Arriving in Ketchikan at City Float is like coming home. The Dockmaster greeted us by name saying "Hello Mr. Benson. Welcome back to Ketchikan." Wow! I like Alaska. Who knows, maybe we'll run into Sarah soon too. We're just one boat away from those DanCin Dream(er)s Dan and Cindy Selene 47 of Seward. It's a great town and we'll have dinner tonight at the top Ketchikan, the Cape Fox Lodge.
Arriving in Ketchikan. Hey where are the cruise ships?

DanCin Dream(er)s, Sophia Princess and Wild Blue settled in Ketchikan at City Float

Oh. This is Pat's favorite way to cruise! I keep telling her that the Honda Pilot can do this!

Cruising with my college roommates this week has been a bunch of fun and brought back the memories of college times. One memory came to me as we awoke our first morning, and I heard a familiar dry, scratchy cough. That sound took me back to 1970 living with Mike and Joe on Pismo Street in SLO. 969 Pismo is still there and it looks a whole bunch better than when we students were the occupants. Joe's scratchy cough hasn't changed in 40 years! Amazing! I thought it was me, but Willie and Mike confirmed it.

Some things have changed a bit. We all drank enormous sums of alcohol in college, mostly beer, but Joe was by far the drinking king. He has changed and stopped drinking 20 some years ago. He mentioned something about wife Becky giving him a choice: the bottle or her. He made a good one but it was difficult drinking and not having Joe clinking his bottle. Finally, after all that time, Joe had a beer. We won't tell Becky.

Joe is drinking again. Don't tell Becky!

Wow the alcohol content is a bit different these days.

It's been a fun and weather informative cruise from Port Hardy. We'll be cruising again starting mid-June. The Seagaters, Los Osos surfers and those SLO Cowboys from last year join us next. It's Craig, Kake and Sitka. Check back starting about June 16th. Have a great spring.

Alex and Pat on Wild Blue.

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