|Not in the tropics anymore ...|
This will be our last 'on passage' update for a while: Fluenta docked in the wee hours of day 27 at Dutch Harbor Alaska (0500 Majuro time 16 July 19 / 0900 Alaska time 15 Jul 19).
You may have noticed that we sailed steadily from 171 deg E to 166 deg W without ever mentioning that we crossed the date line. We crossed 180 deg longitude a few days before the end of the trip, when the weather was getting challenging and no one was very interested in celebrating, so we decided to keep things simple for the remainder of the passage and just stay on "Fluenta Local" time (GMT +12) which kept all the math and calculations for weather and watch rotations easy and consistent. This meant that we needed to go back in time and 'lose a day' as we came towards Dutch Harbor, so what better day to repeat than Sunday, with its promise of juice and bacon!
As it turned out, having cooked a big brunch on one day, I didn't much feel like doing the same again the next day, so we just played Sunday Music and reminded ourselves all day that it was Sunday instead. The currents were strong and in our favour, so even when the wind was very light, we made good progress. We had a combination of motoring (ie warm boat) and light air sailing (ie silently gliding). After several weeks of off-shore conditions, it was surreal to be in the flat calm. The watermaker was running with the engine, so we had plentiful water, which meant the luxury of hot showers all around. We had single-digit winds but 3 kts of current, so we were doing 3.7 through the water and over 6 kts over ground.
It was powerful, almost visceral, to come upstairs on Sunday morning and to see the height and breadth of the nearly 7000 ft glacier-capped hills that were sliding by, barely 3 nm away. To our right we had the immediate view of Umnak Island and to our left we had an active volcano belching out smoke and ash into the cloud layer. The sky was grey and heavy, as it had been for most of the previous week, so the brilliant greens that blanketed the island were especially vivid. Johnathan was using the binoculars to look for waterfalls, teaching Benjamin to look through them and use the internal compass. I had somehow been expecting bare granite (which I think is more to be found towards the western end of the Aleutians), so I wasn't prepared for the beauty and vibrancy before my eyes; there are so few shades of green and no elevation in the atolls! When Benjamin had woken up and seen snow at the top of the mountains, he was disappointed that he couldn't stop and touch it: "All my life I have wanted to see snow" he told Max :)
There was a lightheartedness to the atmosphere aboard Fluenta all day. We had completed the hardest part of the journey, and we simply needed to stay the course (and keep paying attention) until we docked. We regularly remind ourselves that 'we are not there until we get there' so we stay vigilant. Victoria made pizza for supper, using our last two packages of sliced meat and plenty of cheese.
We had our friends on Sweet Dreams to thank for our dessert: just before we left, they arranged a care package of items for Fluenta, and as a surprise included some Skittles and some Jolly Ranchers for the kids. After spending two months together, they knew these candies were well-loved but unavailable in Majuro. The Jolly Ranchers have been carefully distributed at some of our milestone events on passage, but the Skittles had been untouched. For dessert, we finally opened one treasured bag, and everyone received a tiny handful. The kids are very good at savouring their treats, while making sure that Mom doesn't keep things so long that they spoil!
My night watch after dinner had a specific goal: to get us to Dutch Harbor at precisely the right time, not too early and not too late. We had about 20 nm to go, and I had 5-6 hours. The likelihood was that the wind would die as I came around the last headland before Dutch Harbor, so I would sail for a while and then motor the last stretch. As it turned out, I had just enough wind to keep the sails from slatting on a deep broad reach, and we ghosted along at 2-3 kts for almost the entire night. Just when I thought I would have to start the engine, the wind rebounded from its 3 kt low (1.9 kts of boat speed) and built back up to 12 kts. We arrived at the outer harbour as dawn was lightening the horizon, so Max took the watch and jibed gently back and forth until it time to call the Harbor Master. The kids woke on cue, so while I dozed in my bunk, they all got out lines and fenders and readied the upper decks for docking.
|Docklines ! What !|
The first thing everyone noticed when they looked around Dutch Harbor in the daylight was all the bald eagles! They seemed to be sitting on every tree, post and surface that we motored by. As we entered the small boat harbour, there was even an eagle guarding a massive nest (made with branches and old rope) at the top of the navigational buoy. We started to feel like we had signed up for a guided tour when we started seeing sea otters. The kids had seen a few during the day on Sunday, and we saw several as we entered the outer harbour. Just like on the nature documentaries we had loved as kids, we could hear them noisily opening their food with rocks. The closest one showed up in time for docking: startled from his breakfast, he dove under our bow as we approached the dock. We had hardly been in Alaska 24 hours, and we had already seen volcanoes, a whale, bald eagles, and sea otters!
Docking can sometimes be one of the most stressful times in a passage. After 3,000 nm, it all comes down to putting Fluenta in exactly the right position with only a few feet to spare. We were given a spot on a long dock, with a fishing boat to one end of us and the bow of another sailboat facing us at the other and a gap just long enough for Fluenta in between. The wind was negligible, but was blowing us slightly off the dock, which meant that Max made a steep approach, and the kids and I were to step off as soon as we were close enough (but without any heroics!) and get the lines secured. It went off without a hitch. Seven years after leaving Anacortes with two small children who had to be kept downstairs during such maneuvers, we made our first docking in North America with two teenagers who could take the bow and stern lines while I stepped ashore with the center line (and a five year old who stayed downstairs!). Fluenta glided into position, we each got our lines into place, and without a raised voice to be heard, we were secured with room to spare. Job done.
It is sometimes said about parenting that the hours are long but the years are short. Similarly, as we sailed from Majuro to Dutch Harbor, the watches sometimes seemed long (and cold) but the passage now feels short. Having crept up the latitudes along the Mexican coast, we flew by the latitudes where special people at home live (Oregon ... Ontario ... Nova Scotia ... British Columbia) all in the space of a few days. It was fun to have people at home being parallel to us, but we didn't have much capacity to stop for contemplation at the time! Before we knew it, we were further north than anyone we knew, and we were carefully following our route around the Aleutian Islands to our destination.
|Entering Dutch Harbour|
Everything we had read about Dutch Harbor had suggested that the welcome here would be warm and friendly, and that has certainly been our experience. We expected to be alone on the dock, but found that there were already three cruising boats here, so we felt immediately at home and part of a community: before the end of the day, the kids had been invited to go for a blueberry-picking hike (apparently is wise to go here and now: it is safe in the blueberry patches around Dutch Harbor as there are no bears in the Aleutians, unlike spots further east in Alaska). To top it off, in the best kind of small-world cruiser serendipity, dear friends whom we hadn't seen since NZ (over a year and almost 6,000 nm ago), tied up beside us the next day, so our kids have an instant social circle.
For those who love statistics, here are some numbers:
Direct distance (Majuro to Dutch Harbor) - 3004 nm
Miles traveled - 3782 nm
Avg speed 5.5 kts
Days sailing from Rongerik to Dutch Harbor - 24 days 16 hours
Days sailing from Majuro - 26 days 10 hours total
Total Engine hours - 104 hrs
Engine hrs for heating - approx 5 hrs
Engine hrs for charging - negligible (once or twice)
Fuel used - approx 50%
Bags of Milestone Chips for the 500's - 5
Starting sea temp - 30 deg C
Current sea temp - 9 deg C
Maximum sustained winds: 29 kts
Minimum sustained winds: 0.9 kts
Time drifting: one night
Significant maintenance issues - 3 (torn spinnaker [we have a spare], vang gas cylinder [can use the topping lift instead], fractured vang end piece [lashed together with dynmea line]; we also re-stitched much of our rain enclosure and some non-essential electronics failed)
We made a list of our hopes for the passage before we left Rongerik. I am grateful to say that I was able to check off all the items after we docked. This was our list: no gales; motor little and have enough diesel; calm period to cook NZ steaks; arrive in time to have a nice visit at Prince William Sound; surprisingly good weather. We spent over a month with no one to socialize with but one another, and we are all still on speaking terms; in fact, our teamwork and skills are stronger than they were before we left. We have had a good trip.
Thanks as ever for your love and good wishes as we crossed such a vast stretch of the Pacific Ocean. We are grateful for your support and emails, and are glad that we had the technology for you to vicariously travel along with us!
Love to all,
At 2019-07-01 9:51 PM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 33°20.87'N 166°42.48'E