Expedition Around North America
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Leg 9 :
Dutch Harbour - Sitka (Alaska)
(27 September - 7 October, 2008 )
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Leg 9
Dutch Harbor - Sitka (Alaska)
(27 September - 7 October, 2008 )

October 7, 2008 (Onboard time = UTC - 8)
Sitka, Alaska
22h35 local time

Sitka, Alaska

Numerous islands and islets are scattered around the bay. We can distinguish them from the clear sky and the mysterious, larger mountains in the background. There is no vessel traffic in the sound - everything is quiet, but it’s getting cold: our thermometer shows 2°C only. As we round Sasedni peninsula, the floodlights of the airport take over from the darkness. We slowly glide into the harbour between the breakwaters and tie up at dock number 8 of the Richard I. Eliason marina. Under the harbour lights frost patches glitter, adding the magic of the starry sky. A thin layer of fog covers the water. It’s 3.45am and the ninth leg of our expedition comes to an end.

Participants of this leg:

On top, from left to right:
Boudewijn Neijens (Holland)
Olivier Pitras (France)
Michel Laforcade (France)
Monique Douard (France)
Laurent Ceresoli (France)
Dominique Pépin (France)
Michel Lassègues (France)

Bellow, from left to right:
Peggy Vaugelade (France)
Vincent Berthet (France)

Crew
The Crew on the
Dutch Harbor-Sitka leg
Photo Vincent Berthet
(Click to enlarge)

October 6, 2008 (Onboard time = UTC - 8)
Gulf of Alaska
56°59’N – 135°56’W
22h45 local time

The wind eventually veers to the south east, and by early morning we’re facing the wind head-on. Frequent squalls force us to adjust our route but we keep progressing towards Baranof island. By dusk we’re close to cape Edgecumbe, marking the south west corner of Kruzof island, the first landmass facing the immense gulf of Alaska on our route. The first quarter of the moon is visible for a short time before disappearing first behind a cumulonimbus and then over the horizon. The halo of Sitka illuminates the sky just behind the two Lazaria islets. As we enter Sitka sound, wind and waves calm down. We start our final 20 mile approach to Sitka under a starry sky.


Photo Vincent Berthet
(Click to enlarge)

October 5, 2008 (Onboard time = UTC - 8)
Gulf of Alaska
57°07’N – 139°30’W
22h35 local time

At long last we’re getting some decent westerly winds, allowing us to sail at a good speed and in comfort. Each squall allows us to accelerate for a while. It’s mostly sunny and the albatross have resumed their harmonious flight over the waves. The crew is keenly discussing the next stop, while the local team is already organising this stop and is identifying potential areas of interest related to the expedition. Sitka will also give us the opportunity to sleep a few nights without watches, a luxury that we haven’t had since Ilulissat in Greenland mid-July. We typically need a few nights to re-adjust to a full 7 or 8 hours sleep.
In the evening the wind turns to southerly, the sails start to flap again and our speed diminishes.

Lever de soleil-Photo Vincent Berthet
Sunrise
Photo Vincent Berthet
(Click to enlarge)
October 4, 2008 (Onboard time = UTC - 8)
Gulf of Alaska
57°12’N – 143°40’W
22h35 local time

Light winds make our progress painful, with flapping sails. We’re in the middle of a modest low which is moving along with us. Every once in a while we get hit by a squall. Tomorrow we should benefit from stronger winds. We take advantage of our slow motion to prepare the next few
stops on the West Coast. Vancouver in particular promises to be a busy stop. We will be hosted by the Maritime Museum and we have conferences and round tables planned for every day of our stay.

Preparing the next stopover-Photo Vincent Berthet
Preparing the next stopover
Photo Vincent Berthet
(Click to enlarge)
October 3rd, 2008 (Onboard time = UTC - 8)
Gulf of Alaska
57°21’N – 147°32’W
22h50 local time

On the continental shelf which stretches to 70 miles offshore the waves are short and steep. Despite the calm sea our boat rolls madly. At dawn we finally arrive in deeper water and we leave behind us the few fishing boats with their powerful lights. Wind and waves are now in agreement with each other and our comfort level increases significantly. At mid day an albatross joins us. Its majestic flight, skimming the waves without a single wing flap and taking advantage of every ripple to pick up speed, gives us a great lesson in free flight. This bird remains the absolute master in such matters.

Marsouin - Peggy Vaugelade
Albatros
Photo Vincent Berthet
(Cliquez pour agrandir)
October 2nd, 2008 (Onboard time = UTC - 8)
Gulf of Alaska
57°42’N – 151°43’W
22h30 local time

We wake up to a bright sunny day. Plans are made for our day at port.
Showers and a visit of the village quickly make it to the top of the list. We only have a few hours ahead of us, since we plan to cast our lines at 5pm. A small team stays on board to mind the shop while the crew heads for the village, where it gets a warm welcome from the locals. As planned, we leave the harbour at the end of the afternoon to start our crossing of the Gulf of Alaska.


Marsouin - Peggy Vaugelade

Saint Paul, Kodiak
Photo Vincent Berthet
(Click to enlarge)
October 1st , 2008 (Onboard time = UTC - 8)
St Paul, Kodiak Island, Alaska
57°46’N – 152°25’W
23h55 local time

At dawn we enter Shelikof Strait which separates Kodiak island from the Alaska peninsula. The island, first only visible on the radar screen, is now clearly in sight and we start hugging the coastline. A few pine trees huddle in small clusters on the green mountainside. These are the very first trees we see since our departure from Tromsø, four and a half months ago.
The weather is gorgeous. We leisurely make our way north-east, inspecting each nook and cranny of the coast. Numerous humpback whales cruise by, and porpoises come and visit regularly. In the early afternoon we reach Kupreanof Strait, close to St Paul village. Here we finally find what we had been searching for hours: a female Kodiak bear with her two cubs strolling on the beach. Kodiak brown bears are the largest on the planet. A few rocks prevent us from getting close to the beach, but our binoculars allow us to admire the family from afar. Despite the distance our presence seems to perturb the sow; who picks her way up the cliff followed by her cubs. We resume our route to avoid further disturbing them. They soon disappear into the thick bush.
As we enter the strait; a favourable current pushes us forward. Two humpbacks slap the water with their huge tails, presumably to rid themselves of some parasites. The current accelerates and we rush through the narrow Whale Passage at 11 knots. On the south-eastern side of the island reefs and shallows are quite numerous. In the evening we see our first light beacons, confirming our return to civilisation. Our passage is therefore quite easy, and we spot the light halo of the village once we clear Spruce island. By 11:45 pm we tie up “Southern Star” in the south basin of Kodiak’s harbour.


Popoise - Photo Peggy Vaugelade

Porpoise
Photo Peggy Vaugelade
(Click to enlarge)
30 September, 2008 (Onboard time = UTC - 8)
Approach of Shelikof Strait, Kodiak Island, Gulf of Alaska, 57°11’N – 155°20’W
23h50 local time

We’re sailing on a calm sea, under a blue sunny sky with excellent visibility, and a balmy 14°C – an unbelievable temperature for us arriving from the Arctic. These are truly exceptional sailing conditions for the end of September. The rough weather patches are located further south, where lows follow each other with winds up to 60 knots. We make steady progress towards the east north east. North of us Mount Chiginagak towers over Nakalilok Bay and Cape Kuyuyukak from a height of 2153 metres. Over half the slope of the mountain is covered in snow, which puts the snow line at roughly 1000 metres.
We’re spotting more and more sea life: Dall’s porpoises are familiar by now, and humpback whales are becoming quite common. At sunset three killer whales grace us with a visit – two females and a huge male. Quite a few of us had never seen these majestic whales in their natural setting before. We’re impressed by the male’s huge fin and the simple presence of these elegant predators.
Our course on this moonless night roughly follows the path of the Milky Way. At port the Big Dipper points us to the Polar Star, and Cassiopeia is visible at the zenith. South of us Orion, already high above the horizon, confirms that we’re back in more temperate regions.


Reading on the deck  - Vincent Berthet

Reading on the deck
Photo Vincent Berthet
(Click to enlarge)
29 September, 2008 (Onboard time = UTC - 8)
Gulf of Alaska, 55°54’N – 158°09’W
23h55 local time

The stars make a welcome appearance when the wind shifts to the north-west and clears the sky from its dense cloud cover. The constellation of Orion will guide us through the night, until the Shumagin islands become visible at daybreak. These craggy islands hide numerous bays whose names remind us the of powerful influence of the local fauna: Eagle Harbor, Porpoise Harbor, the Whale Back.
In the strait west of Nagai island we spot a group of roughly forty whales, without managing to properly identify them. The following night will once again be pitch-black, and the presence of fluo-plancton illuminates our wake. Suddenly a few luminous streaks to port attract our attention: a couple of Dall’s porpoises are clearly visible thanks to the fluo-plancton. Each animal is surrounded by a tunnel of light that
stretches out for a few metres before vanishing. Their bodies are therefore clearly visible and easy to identify thanks to their characteristic white sides.


Navigation, Gulf of Alaska - Vincent Berthet

Navigation, Gulf of Alaska
Photo Vincent Berthet
(Click to enlarge)
28 September, 2008 (Onboard time = UTC - 8)
North Pacific, 54°38’N – 161°26’W
22h40 local time

We’re not quite finished setting up the whisker pole when the sun rises, prompting a short pause to admire the perfect cone of Shishaldin volcano emerging from the clouds above Unimak island. We welcome the return of daylight after a pitch-dark night.
The calm weather allows us to stay close to the Alaska peninsula, enjoying the views. A strong low lies south of us under the 50th parallel, but up here we’re looking forward to a few days of leisurely sailing between these beautiful islands. After suffering a bit in the rough waters of Akutan Pass the new crew is settling in and proudly steers Southern Star towards the east.


Shishaldin volcano - Vincent Berthet

Shishaldin volcano
Photo Vincent Berthet
(Click to enlarge)
27 September, 2008 (Onboard time = UTC - 8)
North Pacific, 53°58’N – 165°25’W
21h00 local time

At sunrise this morning, Saturday, we leave toward the Pacific Ocean. The visibility is excellent. We can see in the distance ice capped volcanoes.
When we approach of Akutan Pass, our door to the Pacific, the current is contrary. Waves break every where. The chaotic zone is not big but we have no speed in it. Soon, the sea gets flatter, we go on, we can said bye bye to the Bering Sea and enjoy our first milles in the Pacific Ocean toward Tigalda Island


Laurent on the mast - Vincent Berthet

Laurent on the mast
Photo Vincent Berthet
(Click to enlarge)
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