Cruising Southeast Alaska - 2009

By Linda Lewis


3. The Devil in Queen Charlotte Sound - Pt McNeill to Green Island Anchorage


July 25th - I am actually sending this email from Sitka AK! We have had some weather challenges (winds and fog) and once we crossed Queen Charlotte Sound we had lots of trouble getting wifi connections robust enough to send these photo emails. We have also had a few (mis)adventures that kept us away from locations where the wifi might have been available. I’ll catch up gradually below.

Here is a photo of our flybridge and what we call our Cruiser’s Gear. It's not terribly picturesque, but it's sure utilitarian: crab pots, shrimp pots, line, nets, floats, extra fuel for the skiff. We're set to eat from the sea. Well, not quite. We won’t forget the license for fishing, crabbing, shrimping.

On July 3 we left Pt McNeill to try to at least get a start across Queen Charlotte Sound. We departed at o-dark-thirty with a pretty decent wind and sea state condition being reported at the West Sea Otter buoy: NW 10 K, seas 1.4 meters. (One meter = 3.28 feet.) After 3 hours (with approximately 1 mile visibility in the fog) the swells were becoming larger. Knowing that the wind traditionally picks up in the afternoon, we decided to pull off into one of our contingency anchorages: Allison Harbor. (The Walker Group anchorage and Shelter Baywere also on our list, but Allison was the right fit for the day.)

The next morning we left Allison Harbor early with another “OK” wind and sea state – West Sea Otter buoy: NW 18 K, seas 1.4 meters. Outside of Allison we found long 3-4 foot swells with a nasty little chop on top; we expected the chop because Slingsby and Schooner Channels were ebbing. So we headed out and away from shore and decided we could deal with the conditions. The visibility was once again only about 1 mile in the fog, with an occasional drop to 1/8 mile. Things were going reasonably well.

Many of you know that we tow an 18’ skiff that David built which he painted green and named: “The Green Devil”. (It’s a Phil Bolger design.) He gets compliments on it all the time and we love its comfort and the 40 hp engine. The down side is that we have to tow it because of its size.

We were making good progress through Queen Charlotte Sound and were about 4 miles south of Cape Caution when one of our routine glances behind revealed that The Green Devil had parted company with the Royal Sounder.

It was David’s turn at the helm when I suddenly heard him say: “The Devil is gone!” The heartbreak in his voice was clear. I said: “We’ll go back and find it.” We immediately did a 180 and started searching – scanning the water with our binoculars. We spotted it within about 4 minutes. Relief. Smiles. Acknowledged our luck.

However, finding the skiff and getting it re-rigged and back into towing position are two different things – especially when you’re in Queen Charlotte Sound.

Here’s what we did. I drove up to the downwind side of the Devil as if we were picking up a mooring buoy. David reached down with the boat hook and captured one of the lines we always leave attached to the gunwales for side-tying. We secured the skiff along-side long enough for him to board it. It was way too rough for the skiff to stay side-tied to the Royal Sounder so – at his insistence - I cast him off. I wasn’t happy about doing that but there was no choice. He drove by me one more time so I could throw him a bag with a knife and the handheld VHF radio.

Then he headed the Devil towards shore and relatively calmer waters where he could invent a re-rig. He saw the hardware failure that had occurred. Oh boy. The bow-eye was toast.

Obviously the fitting was no longer of service. So David fashioned a nylon rope bridle – looping lines through the gunwales towards the bow in a spider-web fashion to spread the load. Then he attached the nylon tow line which eventually would be connected to the floating tow line on the Royal Sounder.

Here’s another angle that shows the lacing better. Of course, the bridle lines led up and over the Devil’s bow when it was under tow.

It was so foggy while David was working that there were times he could not see the Royal Sounder from his low position in the skiff. You better believe I never let him get out of my sight. When he was ready, he returned to the Sounder and I threw him the floating tow line which he attached to his newly rigged bridle setup. I finally felt I could take a minute and grab the camera. Here he is being towed in the Devil.

The picture is truly deceptive. The ocean swells were about 3-4 feet high. You can get some sense of that by looking behind the skiff. They were nice long swells which is what really made it possible to do all the maneuvering. Nevertheless, David looked pretty forlorn back there. When he was ready, I reeled him in along-side and he quickly boarded.

That inventive rig got us all the way to Prince Rupert where he installed a stronger bow eye and devised a new towing-rig experiment. There are now two nylon lines attached to the bow eye – with one of the lines 2 feet longer than the other. These two nylon lines are attached with thimbles and shackles to the single floating line that attaches to the Royal Sounder. When the shorter nylon line stretches 2 feet, the second nylon line takes on the load and begins its stretch. The goal is to decrease the shock on the bow eye when the Devil see-saws back and forth in big seas. That goal has been accomplished. So far. We hope. Fingers still crossed.

After we rounded Cape Caution the swells increased to about 5’ with a 2’ chop so I had to start quartering the seas. (We are 45’ length overall, semi-displacement, no stabilizers.) I was able to sneak behind Egg Island because the visibility had improved a bit and I have used that route before. Then I was right back out there having to quarter the seas again until we slipped up into Fitz Hugh Sound headed for Green Island Anchorage. The Devil behaved and has stayed with us since.



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