This video, filmed and edited by our good friends Krystin Bablinskas and Bixler McClure, captures the spirit and adventure of sailing in Alaska better than any film we know of. Set aside an hour and step into a world of bear hunting, salmon fishing, avalanches, glaciers, whales, island hopping, mishaps and triumphs in America’s last great wilderness. Be aware there are two short hunting-related scenes and a bit of sailor vocabulary.
We took advantage of beautiful weather yesterday to do some sailing on Resurrection Bay. Dall porpoises showed up around our boat as usual and several times we saw salmon leaping. Maia got her first experience at the helm of a sailboat.
Air temperatures were in the low 60’s, so a light jacket was in order, but the sun felt great.
It’s always good to look up and see the mainsail catching wind.
These are the good old days.
Seward Harbor, May 21: This is the view from the back widows of our pickup truck camper, our summer home while we work to get Bandon ready to live on and to sail. Mornings start early up here, the first sunlight slanting into the camper a little after 5:00 AM – and getting earlier each day. Warblers and other songbirds are the first to wake. Too early for us. By the time we roll out of bed, gulls are calling and scolding and the high chirps of eagles have taken over. The fishing season hasn’t come into full swing yet, though a few engines can be heard making ready for a morning or a day on the water. Blueberry pancakes with maple syrup and strips of bacon on the side some days, fried eggs others, cold cereal when we’re really eager to get moving, but always with a ruby red grapefruit, a glass of orange juice and a big mug of coffee made from freshly ground beans. Then the walk to the end of the dock and a full day of work. In the photo above, as you look down the open water between the docks, Bandon is the last mast on the left.
We’ve submitted the paperwork to the coast guard in order to change the name of our Island Packet 350 from Tarsus to Bandon.
This is a sound vessel, and she surveyed well, but there is always work. The first of it has begun with giving every square inch of her interior – from her beautiful teak-wood sole to her overhead – a good cleaning. Meanwhile, there’s sorting through all the items previous owners left behind. From can openers to canvas, much of it is useful, and much of it is not. All of it requires a decision: toss out, donate to the local thrift shop, or clean and restow.
Everything we touch, clean, move off or bring aboard makes this boat that much more ours. Bandon will be our home. In the near-term, that means about three months out of the year. And so we are outfitting it as such. This means furnishing it with good dinnerware (we went with Denby for our plates, bowls and pasta bowls), stemware (we found Schott Zweisel Tritan crystal wine glasses that look and feel luxurious but are exceptionally break resistant), and quality bourbon/Scotch glasses.
We anticipate that Bandon will be a full-on sailing vessel in every sense, but we recognize that even the most serious sailing vessels spend most of their days at anchor or in port. We want those days to be comfortable and inviting.
The t’s have been crossed and the final i dotted. All 37 feet and 12 tons of the sailing vessel Tarsus is ours.
What have we gotten into?
There’s a line from the film The Shipping News that seems to fit. “Course, you don’t know nothin’ about boats, but that’s entertaining, too.”
Four years ago when we bought our C-Dory, Gillie, I’d never piloted a power boat longer than 12 feet – my dad’s aluminum car-topper with its 5 hp engine. Barbra had even less experience with boats. All we really knew was that we wanted a fishing boat. So we did our due diligence – read books, researched on the Internet, visited dealerships, checked out boats in marinas, talked to people and attended boat shows. In the end, we came to a familiar set of conclusions, the short of which go like this: There are a lot of boats for sale, and most of ‘em float. Out of all those boats, a few makes stand out. After that, everything is a compromise. The boat we really wanted was too big to readily trailer; thus it was not the boat we really wanted. We took the plunge, bought Gillie and a year later towed her all the way to Alaska, to the Port of Valdez, which is over 3,000 miles from Sacramento. We then launched her, ran 90 miles to the Port of Cordova, and spent the next eight days and nights fishing and camping aboard our boat in Prince William Sound.
Above: Jagged rocks and islands create a maze leading from Resurrection Bay out into the Gulf of Alaska. Top photo: Massive Blackstone Glacier towers above its namesake bay near Whittier, Alaska.
Time and tide kept me from sailing, but I honestly can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t want to sail. It’s always been there. Landlocked in western Pennsylvania, my family would take summer vacations to the coast – up to Cape Cod, down to North Carolina’s Outer Banks, west to Oregon – where we’d spend a week frenetically touring museums and historical sites, dining out in restaurants, perusing art galleries and shopping. For my part, I could have spent all day every day on those vacations doing nothing more elaborate than fishing the first tide of the day, combing the beaches, and walking the marina docks. The boats, particularly the sailboats, were magical. Mesmerizing. I’d see their owners emerging from below deck, or topside working on this or that, or just relaxing and looking off in the distance and I wanted to be those people. I had so many questions for them, but I never worked up the courage to break free from my family, approach one of them and ask. Questions like, How does it work? How do you steer it? Do you live on it? What does its name mean? Where have you been on it? Where will you go next?
Tarsus’ former owners were podiatrists. Although we haven’t completed a formal name change yet, on each piece of paper associated with the sale (for a boat this size, there’s nearly as much paperwork as in a home sale) we have penned in Bandon where the vessel’s name appears.
Sea otters are a common, always welcome sight along Alaska’s southeast and central coasts.
There’s a small town on the southern Oregon coast where a river with runs of salmon, steelhead and striped bass joins the Pacific. Bandon. For a long time, Barbra and I looked at land on the Coquille River upstream from Bandon. In addition to the fish, the area has deer, turkeys, game birds and elk as well as good mushrooming and abundant wild berries. It’s a quiet part of the world, not overly far from wine country. We talked about a piece of land with trees, a spot for a garden, raising chickens there and cutting our own firewood for a wood burning stove in a cozy house where we would homestead.
Bandon is that. But it’s more. This time, it’s not the boat that represents the compromise. It’s the lifestyle. Choosing to become sailors means, at least for now, not becoming homesteaders. It means not driving our camper all over North America, or having a cabin on the shores of a lake full of walleyes, or collecting wine, or, in Barbra’s case, getting a pilot’s license.
Bandon will be docked in the Marina at Seward, pictured here in early July.
To borrow from Robert Frost, Bandon is the road we’ve taken. She’s got a sound hull, every amenity and comfort we need and then some, and sails to take us over any sea. It is dreams come true for us, and in some of those dreams there is a placid lake full of walleyes, and endless summer days touring North America in our camper, a herd of elk feeding on windfalls beneath our apple trees, a salmon fresh from our river for Thanksgiving dinner, a wood burning stove and a freshly made blackberry pie.
Resurrection Bay, where Seward is located, has one of the largest summertime concentrations of Coho salmon in North America. There is an abundant, varied and rich ecosystem in the bay, making it a premier locale for everything from watching sea birds and otters to seeing whales, dolphins and porpoises. The surrounding mountains are spectacular and help ensure for predictable winds, making Resurrection Bay a great place to sail. For more information about the sailing vessel Bandon, click on the word Tarsus.
We fell in love with this 2002 Island Packet 350 last summer while visiting Seward. Here she is hauled out for survey on March 3.
Her tip-to-tip length is 37′ 10″, on deck she’s 35′, and at the waterline 29′ 4″. Her mast rises 48′ 3″ above the water. Rigged as a cutter, she’s also powered by a 38 hp Yanmar diesel engine. Displacement is eight tons. Gross tons: 12.
Below deck there are two staterooms (sleeping berths), one fore and one aft. The two settees convert to beds to sleep a total of six people. Teak deck, 6′ 4″ of headroom in the main cabin, and lots of storage space. The head, complete with shower, is located just aft of the forward stateroom. The fuel tank holds 50 gallons of diesel and the freshwater tank holds 100 gallons. There’s a dedicated navigation table, a dinette table that folds into a bulkhead when not in use, a smartly designed galley and easy access to the engine.
The gimbled two-burner stove with oven is the centerpiece of the galley. The narrow space allows the cook to wedge in and brace when the boat is moving. The microwave will go.
Here she is this past summer with a fresh coat of bottom paint. She sure put a song in our hearts! (Click photo for larger view.)