Our Life on Water – an Island Packet, a C-Dory, and fishing

The Sailing Vessel Bandon sits dockside in Seward, Alaska. She’s an Island Packet 350, a boat capable of ocean voyaging.

For the past four years, we’ve been spending part of our summers living in our Lance camper, our C-Dory 22 Angler in tow as we tour Alaska exploring small towns, hiking, fishing, boating, berry picking and nature watching. The balance of the summer we live aboard our sailboat, exploring the breathtaking beauty of Alaska’s seas. These have been the most rewarding summers of our lives.

Although we still don’t know much about boats, we’re learning. Our lives seem to be comprised of a series of seat-of-the-pants-you’ll-figure-it-out-as-you-go adventures (and misadventures). 

For the time being, we will keep the C-Dory. Neither too large nor too small, it is exceptionally fuel efficient, runs quietly, and trolls beautifully. We love fishing for salmon, halibut and rockfish on Resurrection Bay and in the nearby Alaska Gulf, and The Gillie is the boat for the job.

During the winter, we live and teach in Point Hope, Alaska, an Arctic village of about 700 residents, most of whom are Inupiat (Eskimo). It’s cold, to be sure, and the heart of winter is dark. The Arctic winds can be downright terrifying. In November 2011, we had three days of hurricane force blows that sent the windchill  plummeting to negative 80 degrees F. But we have a cozy, well insulated house, and we love living up here. Our students are nice, and at the end of the workday and on weekends the lack of things to do (no movie theaters, nowhere to go, really) lends itself to a lifestyle that suits us. Barbra is working on a master’s degree in technology, and the lack of distractions is perfect. Up here, we are afforded an abundance of that most precious commodity: time. Time to write, to sort through photographs, to cook, to visit with friends, to talk, to plan and dream…

During summers, the focus of our blog will increasingly turn towards sailing, fishing and nature watching. Of course, we’ll continue to cook and bake, and we’ll sample wines, beers, Scotch and bourbon, too, and those subjects will account for some of our posts. But for us, sailing – and everything that will go with sailing – represents a steep learning curve. We want to create a record of that journey for ourselves and for interested readers.

And, this being Alaska, there will probably be photos of bears and whales and puffins… not to mention a few of those impossibly cute sea otters.

Thanks for reading.

Jack & Barbra

35 comments on “Our Life on Water – an Island Packet, a C-Dory, and fishing

  1. We’ve always said that the best two days of owning a boat is the day ya buy it and the day ya sell it :-) I’ve actually liked the days in between the best. Loving your stories of Alaska. Been to Bristol Bay yet? Best Salmon in the world.

  2. How exciting!! My sister is really into sailing and will be so jealous! Looking forward to reading about you adventures….it’s like an escape from daily life! :-)

  3. I live on the Kenai Peninsula, so if you ever need a break, come on over and I’ll meet you for dinner. There is a fabulous brewery/stone oven pizza place in town I cant get enough of. We can swap salmon recipes and Alaskan ocean and fishing stories. :)

  4. This may be an odd question, and I understand if you don’t want to answer this, but do you know much about the culture and daily life of the Inupiat people up there? I am very interested in the culture and have found very little about it, both online and at my local library. I have been to Alaska, but wasn’t there long enough to get a chance to do more research. I would appreciate anything you could let me know, but again, I understand if you don’t want to answer. Thanks.

  5. I guess I should elaborate on that. I’ve found a lot of basics online and in books. Summaries of rituals, culture, and lifestyle. What I’ve found says a little about a lot of things, and I guess I’m more interested in knowing more details about everything. Perhaps I need to visit the museums in Alaska and read books by people who know more, but right now that isn’t an option. Thanks again.

    • I am not an expert on Inupiat culture or daily life, but I really enjoy reading books and talking to people in order to learn as much as I can. I’ve really enjoyed reading Art and Eskimo Power which is the story of Howard Rock’s life. He was born and raised in Point Hope and went on to experience a pretty interesting life. Let me know if there any specific things you would like to learn. I may be able to direct you to some interesting books. Before we moved up here, I had a difficult time finding information as well.

  6. Thanks! I will start by seeing if I can find that book, and some of the others I’ve found online. Right now I am not thinking anything too specific. Mainly I’m looking for more detailed information on anything to do with it. Thanks again.

  7. Looking forward to reading more of your blog, particularly since my wife and I toured Alaska in an RV about 20 years ago. I wrote about it in Catching Wild Salmon in Alaska and Cooking Wild Salmon a Home, at theliteratechef.com

  8. I just checked out your blog, and look forward to exploring it in greater depth at my leisure. Your adventures in Alaska should be interesting, particularly since my wife and I toured there in an RV on two occasions 20 years ago. I wrote about it in Catching Wild Salmon in Alaska and Cooking Wild Salmon a Home

  9. Good afternoon! I love how you guys show your love for Alaska. That amazing place is my home, even when I live elsewhere. I return every summer to Bristol Bay’s commercial salmon fishery for the culture and opportunity it affords. And seeing your blog, I wonder if we met over wordpress, Alaska our common ground, or if we met on the road system somewhere, on some epic driving/hitching adventure? Either way, thank you for living life the way you do, and take care!

  10. Love it! I have never been to Point Hope, but spent 2 years traveling back and forth to Barrow to do outreach there. You have wonderful stories about your off-the-path Alaska living. Thanks for sharing! :)

  11. You make all these wonderful meals and desserts. Are these all prepared from a land based home, or are you creating these in your camper? Does the standard propane oven work well enough, or are you considering upgrading it to meet your culinary skills? (if so, to what make and model).

    Thanks, great site and travels …

    • Thanks for reading, Logan. We cook in all of our kitchens and have made some fairly complex things in our camper. Propane is a terrific cooking fuel. Our camper stove has three burners (two would be sufficient 90% of the time) and although the oven is a bit small, it has not at all been a limiting factor (unless we decided to cook a 20 pound turkey!). The sailboat has a two-burner propane stove and an adequate oven. We also use our trusty Coleman stove on our C-Dory. The real key is to use good cookware. Happy cooking!

  12. If the key to good cooking is cookware: When you’re in the camper or on the boat, you have limited storage so I imagine you have to pare your cookware to essentials. What are your essential cookware choices and which are your favorite brands.

    • Hi Logan. We need to do a couple of blogs on this subject. On our boat and on our camper, our frying pans are Swiss Diamond. We carry the 7″ pan, which is perfect for a couple of eggs or heating up a small meal. We also carry a medium-large Swiss Diamond frying pan and their big 12.5″ model. For easy storage, we took the handle off the largest pan. The largest pan, without its handle, fits in the oven in our camper for storage and for baking. The two small pans nest with a silicon trivet and kitchen towel between them to prevent scratching. All pans have lids. We have been using Swiss Diamond pans for several years now and are impressed with their durability and the way nothing sticks to them – making for great cooking and easy cleaning. The trick to these pans is to heat them over medium or low heat and to never heat them past medium-high. This is plenty of heat to cook a perfect steak and just about anything else, and by keeping the heat down the surface remains in great shape long after other non-stick pans have given up the ghost. The largest frying pan is perfect for larger fish as well as for cooking pizza. Heavy pans mean no warping and even heating, and again, in a camper or on a boat, the easy clean-up is worth a lot.
      We also carry a heavy, stainless steel, medium-sized pot, again with lid. Our bowls (Denby) nest inside this pot. We also carry a large, heavy, stainless steel soup/pasta/crab-boiling pot which we don’t use often, but which is indispensable when we need it. We have been happy with All-Clad products. Again, heavy pots prevent burning food, heat evenly and are easier to clean up.
      Our large cooking utensils are stored in a clear, plastic (Lexan?) cylindrical container that I mounted permanently to the countertop behind the sink on the Lance Camper. (They’re stored in drawers on the boat.) A good spatula (fish & pancake flipper), big stainless steel spoon, slotted spoon, soft silicon batter spatula, wire whisk, wooden spoon, large chopsticks, center-toggle tongs (we dislike the more popular design that joins at the back of the tong), sharpening steel and high-quality, stainless steel kitchen sheers go in this container. The container itself is mounted on a soft silicon trivet cut to size and the inside is wrapped with a cotton placemat to prevent the plastic from cracking. It’s survived several trips up and down the Al-Can highways between California and Alaska.
      Of course we also carry a variety of odds and ends that make cooking more enjoyable. Good cheese graters, nut crackers (that serve as our crab/lobster crackers, Oxo Good Grip oyster knife & clam knife, waiter’s corkscrew (we like this model, which has a nifty foil cutter ), paring knife, a small salad spinner, collapsable silicon colanders, nesting silicon measuring cups, nesting measuring spoons, two-cup measuring cup, small, very sharp vegetable peeler and a kitchen timer with a strong magnet that stays put on our range hood while we’re cooking.
      We also carry a 7″ fillet knife, a sushi knife and a chef’s knife. Wustof and Henkel make excellent products, but lately our go-to knife has been an 8″ chef’s knife made by Shun. The best cutting board we’ve found is Shun’s Hinoki (wood) cutting board. This is the only board we know of that won’t dull blades. We also carry a few colorful flexible plastic cutting mats – but never use them with the Shun. All the boards are mounted with a Velcro strap to the wall of the camper behind the stove – out of the way and convenient. The knives are sheathed in folding silicon sheaths with magnetic insides.
      Plates (Denby) are stacked with soft, plastic shelf lining (such as Duck Brands Easy Liners) between them. All of our shelves are also lined with this shelf lining. It’s light, absorbs shock and stored this way we’ve never lost a plate or bowl. We particularly like Blossom Trivets and use these between pans as well as to wrap glasses. These are convenient, multi-purpose and again, we’ve never lost a glass or coffee mug.
      We make our coffee with a Chantal tea kettle, grind our beans with a Hario hand grinder, and use a plastic filter holder and Costco paper filters. This system requires no electricity, is eco-friendly, and makes great coffee.
      The one thing we don’t have – on our boat, on our camper, or in our home – is a microwave. We drink our coffee while it’s still hot, heat up leftovers on the stovetop, and do most of our cooking from scratch. Taking out the microwave on our boat and on our camper created valuable storage space for kitchen items we’d rather have.
      We created a stemware rack in our camper. Wine and champagne glasses hang upside down below the “gun cabinet” in the Lance 845. We have Schott Zweisel titanium stemware on our camper and on our boat. These glasses are not unbreakable, but they are beautiful and surprisingly tough.
      Anyway, thanks for getting us thinking about these things. We’ll post more information with photos in upcoming articles.

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