Jane’s Alaska Blog

by Jane Miller

We look at each other across the restaurant table, some just now joining this amazing journey, others having met at the beginning .

Anacortes to Tracy Arm/South Sawyer Glacier to Ketchikan and home. Over 2,000 miles that would challenge us, awe us, cause us to doubt ourselves, and allow us some triumphs over adversity. The miles stretched out as undiscovered country.  

This is Jim Rard’s Sail Alaska. But in June it was twelve boats’ worth of captains and crews just trying to get to know each other.

Doctors and nurses, attorneys, teachers, scientists, developers, writers, dog lovers, children huggers, adventurers. Some have sailed all their lives, learning the rhythm of the currents and tides in dinghies. Others are new to this life with just a year or two experience. We are 55’ power boats, Island Packet sailboats, a smattering of Jenneaus, and a 56’ Sundeer.

Sail Alaska 2017 was a diverse group to be sure, each had lessons to learn and situations to experience over these two  months.

Three weeks after we set out, I left the group on August 8 for surgery in Portland. The specifics are another story, but I missed most of the “Alaska” part of “Sail Alaska.” I can only speak for myself, what I have learned, and what I have gained. Because despite losing Alaska, it’s been an unforgettable time.

Fishing is a wonderful sport for OCD, competitive women. We never give up. There is always just one more cast to make, one more spot to try. Much like the perseverance needed to cruise in a sailboat around 2,000 miles. There is always one more thing to try, one more book to consult, magazine to read, process to research. There is no such thing as doing half the job, leaving any stone unturned. It’s all in.

Help comes from the most unexpected places. One of the other sailers unexpectedly came by one morning. He brought fish and thoughts about our starting problem, which turned into both a starting and battery problem. It also turned into a whole-day affair that continued over the radio that evening. The generosity came in all forms, from flowers upon my return, kind cards, and welcoming hugs, to expertise and commiseration in the face of adversity.

Plans are good; back-up plans are better. When faced with sustained winds of 35 knots, six-foot seas, and ocean swells, it pays to have safe harbors — places to hunker down out of the storm. Like Blind Channel (thank you, Lori Lee and Breakaway) and Southgate Group (thank you, Lioness) and Baker Inlet (thank you, Sea Pie). Beautiful ports in the storm I would not have seen were it not for back-up plans created in advance so decisions could be made not on fear but on planning.

Planning. On a boat there is no such thing as too much planning, as long as it leads to action. Good things don’t always come to those who wait, they come to those who do, who try new things, learn new skills, face fear because not to do so is just not an option.

I am almost ready to say my good-byes to this experience, but not quite. A week ago I saw the most beautiful wolves; their grace and strength were mesmerizing. I have fished in the rain off the back of our sailboat. Yesterday I watched four humpback whales enjoying a deep bay, rolling, flukes in the air, tails slapping the water. Tomorrow, who can tell? I can say this, though, “Safe travels, everyone. We will see you somewhere soon.”

 

Exhausted and Exhilarated

 

So far, on our “Modified Alaska” plan, we have

Spent 31 days on the boat … Traveled 753 nautical miles … Through two countries … And 17 anchorages and ports.

And I have reached exhaustion.

The days start early and end late, with an average of eight hours of boat travel. Then there’s the regular boat/life chores, like laundry, meals, dishes, cleaning the boat, taking care of systems, riggings, and lines. There’s keeping my balance in six-foot seas, holding on to lines as we furl or unfurl the jib, standing on the transom to keep watch for deadheads or maneuver us in and out of anchorages. But I am also stronger for it.

And I have sailed. That’s right. S. A. I. L. E. D.

We started with putting up the jib, without the mainsail, and only when the seas were choppy but the wind still good. Every time we put up the sails, I am nervous, tense, frightened, and unsure. I settle down, but those emotions are ready to surface at the drop of a hat, should the situation warrant (at least what situations I feel warrant, not what Erik feels warrant). But as Erik noted as we motored the last few miles to Bishop Bay, I am a changed sailor from the first day we rounded Trial Island to Sidney, when I could barely take us out of Victoria Harbor, had a panic attack, almost bailed – from the boat and the relationship. I am still afraid, there is no way around that. But I am also stronger for facing it.

And I have been cold.

My face is tan, as are my hands. My arms are sort of, but the rest has been wrapped up in leggings and cargo pants, sweatshirts and long-sleeve Gap t-shirts. It’s been cool to cold, but sun all the way until the morning we woke up to rain and fog in Bishop Bay. We’re supposed to have the rain for a few days, so we’ll see how that affects travel. Boats become more difficult to move around when the decks are wet, when you’re tense, or when your muscles don’t move easily. Erik and I are ever vigilant.

And I have fished.

I love to fish, which Erik also understands now to mean “Jane loves to fish and chat. And sing the ‘Little Black Rain Cloud’ from Winnie the Pooh, as she tries to convince the fish that she is nothing but a passing shadow who bears them no ill will.”

And I have fallen more in love.

The number of times I’ve said “I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for Erik” is beyond count. Erik has told me the same as he’s looked down into my eyes. “I would not be here without you. You must know that.” And I do.

I have less than one week before I fly down to OHSU for my third operation. My girls (Laura, GPhiB, and Sisters) will be there to help me, but I’ll miss Erik. I’ll also essentially miss the “Alaska” part of “Sail Alaska,” but I have already had the most wonderful experience I could have wished for, with someone I deeply love.

Second star to the right and straight on till morning.