Tuesday 5 October – Captain Cove

Position: 55 10.19 N 162 04.81 W
At anchor Captain Cove
Wind: West F3 gentle breeze
Sea: Calm Swell: nil
Weather: overcast, cool
Day's run: 51 miles

I was just about to turn in last night when I noticed that Sylph's head was pointing to the north. This was not a good sign as East Anchor Cove was open to the north. I went on deck and found that while the breeze was very light it was indeed from the north and that a slight but noticeable sea was invading the anchorage and Sylph was just starting a short bobbing motion in response. The shift in wind direction did not particularly surprise me. From the weather facsimiles that I was able to pull in the day prior I was expecting a wind shift to the north west and, while East Anchor Cove provides shelter in this direction, all the mountains and bays which form the Alaska Peninsular funnel and direct the winds in ways that I am only just beginning to gain some understanding of.

Even though the local time was a little after 2200, there was still an hour or more of daylight left. I figured that there was a good chance that if I got underway I would find myself once again becalmed for the night, on the other hand I dread the possibility of being caught at anchor on a lee shore in a rising wind. Consequently I decided to weigh anchor and depart the cove before it got dark. At 23.30 the dinghy was inboard and secured, the anchor was home, the mainsail was set and we were motoring out of the cove towards the open sea.

And an hour later we were close reaching to a gentle north westerly. Two hours later we were reefed down making good six and a half knots into a strong breeze. I was congratulating myself on what I thought had turned out to be a good decision when, very suddenly, like someone had flipped a switch, the wind went from strong to calm. My vision of a brisk overnight sail through Deer Passage was dashed with equal rapidity. In studying the chart I realised that what had happened is that as we got clear of East Anchor Cove we came in line with the wind blowing from the Bering Sea through Morzovoi Bay and then across the waters of Pacific side of the Peninsular. Then we had gone behind the wind shadow of the mountains on the eastern side of the bay, the most notable being Frosty Peak which, according to my chart, ascends to the heavens some 5784 feet above my much lower mortal plane of existence. As usually happens with a sudden drop in the wind, Sylph was left bouncing around in a short and confused sea.

A further close poring over the chart with torch and magnifying glass led me to conclude that if I stuck to my usual puritanical motor free approach that we could likely be rolling and pitching in this confused sea for a long time to come, for, while we were in the lee of some very tall mountains to our north, the winds that were causing the short confused sea were no doubt still funnelling through Morzovoi Bay, and also probably Cold Bay which formed another opening for the wind through Alaska Peninsular's precipitous terrain some twelve miles to its east. Rather than interminably torture Sylph, the cat, and me to this terrible motion, tired and feeling a little defeated, I started the engine, cursing Alaska, picturesque though it may be, as one of the worst sailing grounds I have yet encountered.

It took almost two hours to motor through this dead patch, for even though the seas gave the impression of life with their ceaseless motion, they were not alive like the well formed waves of a fresh breeze, but were lifeless ghouls, their life source cut from them hours before, things dying that know not yet that they are dead, the chaotic slop but the shadow of a real wave, mere wavelike spectres from the Underworld. But come dawn we were through my little Hades, and, as I had hoped, the wind returned, along with the reefs to the sails, and we powered to windward hopeful of clawing our way past Fox Island and into Deer Passage without having to tack. With a little assistance from the flooding tide, Sylph easily cleared the rock strewn obstacle, heeling hard over to the fresh breeze in the morning sun, spray flung boisterously over her bows with each leap through the living blue cresting waves. I offered my old boat, slow and heavy though she may be, with some tender words, and asked forgiveness from the land around me for my curses.

While the fickle winds were to continue to dog us as we negotiated the confines of Deer Passage at least we were not to encounter any more confused seas for the remainder of the day. I had previously set my sights on Volcano Bay as our next stop but by now the fatigue of the last few days and nights of little sleep was taking its toll. The confined waters were not going to allow me to get any rest while under way for many miles to come. I needed to find somewhere reasonably close to stop and get some sleep. King Cove was very near but there was also a large settlement there, which no doubt would involve a lot of messing around with people, and cost money, something that my cruising coffers are decidedly short on for now. The next most appealing stop looked to be Captain Harbor at the head of Belkofski Bay. It was just to the short of Volcano Bay, and its entrance, narrow and winding, led into what looked like a very secure anchorage, described by the US Coast Pilot as “the best small-boat harbor along this section [of coast]”.

At 12.25 we dropped anchor in six meters of water, calm and still, surrounded by mountains, landlocked but for the narrow winding channel that leads to the Bay outside, and the boundless restless Pacific Ocean beyond.

All is well.