A Return to Cruising in Alaska

A family gets used to life underway again after a two-year hiatus.

February 20, 2020
Taz Basin
Although wonderfully secluded and protected once you’re inside, Taz Basin, along the coast of Granite Island, Alaska, has a tricky entrance that will put navigation skills to use. Andy Cross

Perched on Yahtzee’s high side with my back resting against the ­lifelines, I watched the early morning sunlight spread across the Gulf of Alaska to the south and the verdant mountains of the Kenai Peninsula to the north. Sailing closehauled for Kodiak Island in a fresh breeze and steep chop, green water washed over the foredeck and under our overturned dinghy while my wife, Jill, and I soaked in the scene.

Then, in what seemed like an instant, my face fell from a happy “We’re sailing!” smile to a sudden “Oh, no!” bug-eyed panic. We’ve all had this ­feeling before.

Rushing down below, I pushed quickly through the galley and saloon to the V-berth, where my fear was quickly confirmed: A lot of that water I’d been watching pour over the foredeck was now spraying like a saltwater hose into the boat. I quickly dogged the partially open hatch, surveyed the watery scene and rushed back to the cockpit, spewing choice words all the way. Though the rest of that 80-mile sail was picture-perfect and the forward cabin was no worse for the wear, I couldn’t quite shake my failure to ensure that hatch was closed.


I was disappointed in myself, because securing all ports and hatches is one of the last boxes I tick when making my rounds before heading offshore or even out for a daysail. Why I had forgotten to complete this small yet important task bothered me, and I later realized that, in this particular instance, I was still working into my groove of being underway again. Actually, our whole family was adjusting.

After a nearly two-year hiatus to top up the kitty in Seward, Alaska, and work on our beloved 1984 Grand Soleil 39, our family of four had set off a mere 10 days prior to return to the cruising life. In ­many ways, we were all finding our footing, clearing out the cobwebs of life under sail. And it certainly wasn’t just the instance of forgetting to close a hatch.

Kidney Cove
Kidney Cove, near Sitka, Alaska, offered the perfect place for the Cross family to get back into the swing of the cruising lifestyle after a long hiatus. Andy Cross

Days earlier, we’d made an error that rarely would have happened before and hasn’t happened since. In the excitement of being out exploring new places, we switched anchorages before adverse weather moved in. When it did, we began swinging uncomfortably close to a lee shore and decided to move to a more suitable spot. Ultimately, we would have been fine, but it was stressful because we’d known the weather was coming, and we weren’t on a schedule and didn’t have anywhere to be. We’d essentially gotten caught up in the moment.


Even seemingly routine things that we’d taken for granted before stopping in Alaska were being relearned and adjusted to. No longer being weekend warriors with the crutch of a nearby marina, life aboard with no shore power, abundant fresh water or a nearby fuel dock meant getting used to managing our onboard resources carefully once again.

Don’t let the faucet run too long! How many gallons of diesel do we burn per hour? Can we turn off the fridge tonight to save power?

Even the task of properly organizing the boat down below for life underway took some adjustment and revisions. Fortunately, these instances amounted to nothing more than minor annoyances, and we know it is all part of life underway on a cruising sailboat. We roll with it and learn as we go.


Personally, as an experienced sailor and cruiser, I took some of these mistakes hard because they were missteps that I pride myself in not making. In that vein, you can consider me humbled by the sea. The ocean doesn’t care about our sailor pride or ego. The best we can do is swallow it, learn from our errors and oversights, and move forward in a positive direction. Now, several months and thousands of miles later, I look back at those first two weeks of cruising with a smile. Those moments of frustration have passed far astern now, like so many miles under our keel.


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