Breaking the Ice

Aboard Roger Henry, Alvah and Diana Simon are hunkering down for the winter at a marina in Seward, Alaska. "The Roger Henry File" or December 10, 2008

The City of Seward Marina, our home until next spring, lies at the head of Alaska's Resurrection Sound. For more photos, click here [1]. [1] http://www.cruisingworld.com/photogallery.jsp?ID=1000022855

The City of Seward Marina, our home until next spring, lies at the head of Alaska's Resurrection Sound. For more photos, click here.Diana Simon

We are not exactly breaking new ground here by living onboard a small yacht through the deep and dark Alaskan winter. In fact I have met two people who did it once. True, when talking about that experience they got that 1000-yard stare of a returning veteran. But when they came back to the present they did offer some useful advice: "Leave" one advised. "Hawaii is good."

The other cautioned, "Get studs for your boots or you will be blown off the jetty. We lost one like that."

Well, Diana has always said that one day she would like to own a pair of spike heels.

I told them, "I looked forward to sharing the quiet marina with some Alaskan wildlife."

"Oh, you'll share it all right. The otters will make a nest right in your cockpit." (The tone suggested that otters charge when wounded.) "And the eagles will take your cat right off the boat. Did I mention the problems with the ravens?"

As for the depth and duration of the snow, the Roger Henry was buried by October 4. I asked a saleswoman at one of the few stores that stay open through the winter if that wasn't a little early.

"Oh yes, that's way early!" she assured me. "We normally don't get snow like this until the 20th."

Truthfully, none of this deterred me in the slightest. I did worry, however, about meeting kindred spirit, you know, the brotherhood of the sea.

I need not have worried because Seward is a surprisingly busy yachting center. In fact, for as small as the town is, it supports two yacht clubs.

The William H. Seward Yacht Club is an active organization with competitive racing and youth training programs. It boasts a large membership of boat owners, the vast majority of whom live in Anchorage, a two-hour drive away. I wondered why the club was not situated in Anchorage itself, until I saw the tidal rips in the Cook Inlet. We saw 10 beluga whales stranded in a quagmire of mud where hours before 30 feet of water swirled. The WHSYC operates out of a modern three-story condominium perched on the harbor's edge.

The Kenai Fjords Yacht Club operates perched on, well, their bar stools at the Sea Breeze Inn, where they hold regular meetings--very regular. This is a small club of fulltime Seward residents whose only physical asset is a dock cart at the head of J-dock. But they do posses a mountain of good will resulting from their community service projects such as installing safety ladders along the marina jetties for those unstudded but booted unfortunates blown into the freezing water.

Sailing Inc., owned and operated by Deborah and Randy Altermatt, is the only yacht brokerage north of Juneau, and so serves a large area with new and used boat sales, charters, instruction, workshops, and social events. Randy offers one more service: He is a gifted singer/songwriter, and his sailing ballads will stir the saltwater in your veins.

Diana thought the town totally charming until she learned there is no coin-laundry. Not to worry. Paul Rupple, who sails his Island Packet 38 ALL year long, gave her the key to his house.

"I fly for FedEx' he said. "So I'm gone a lot. "The washer and dryer are new. Just make yourself at home."

My supposedly new Yankee is already in bad need of repair. But the nearest sailmaker lies 2,000 miles to the south. A knock on the hull solved that. Bob Denny was passing through Seward as crew on a Seattle-based tugboat. We met Bob and his wife Dianna on their yacht White Swan in New Zealand and again sailing in Vanuatu last year.

"Weight on a tug is no problem. Why don't I take it down there for you?" he offered.

10 days later it lay in the talented hands of my old friend Carol Hasse at Port Townsend Sails.

As for transportation, I met Mike Brittain at the Sea Breeze Inn. As he's an old sailor and skydiver, we had plenty to talk about. He said, "Hey, I gotta fly out for a month. If you drop me off in Anchorage and pick me up again, you could use my car."

My Perkins M30 diesel is smoking like a Kuwaiti oilfield. Because I do not have the money, space, or tools to execute a total rebuild, I consulted Bobby Dunno, the Diesel Technology Instructor at the AVTEC vocational school, as to my prospects of nursing it all the way back to New Zealand.

He said, "Why do that? Bring it in, supply the parts, and my students will do a top-to-bottom rebuild. And don't worry. I supervise their every move."

I am already getting the feeling that the cold of this Alaskan winter will be more than offset by the warmth of the Seward sailing community.

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