Leaving Seward, 2012

Rainbow over Cook Inlet – this photo was taken the second week of August, our last week in Seward.

For us, our summer in Seward came to an end in early August. Our sailboat, Bandon, is sitting on the hard with a fresh coat of bottom paint. We are already counting the days till next May when we’ll move back aboard.

Below: There are days on the Kenai Peninsula when it looks and even feels like we could be in Hawaii or some South Pacific paradise. As it is, we are in a paradise – Alaska. We can’t imagine a better place to cut our teeth as sailors than in Seward. 

The Sailing Vessel Bandon

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.

Yelloweye & Grits: Breakfast Onboard Gillie

Yelloweye rockfish (Sebastus ruberrimus), a species of the Pacific Coast from Baja Mexico to Prince William Sound Alaska, is prized for its delicate flavor.

We’d spent most of the night on our C-Dory, drifting over deep water on Prince William Sound, admiring the moon and stars in the clear summer sky, talking about our life and occasionally dropping heavy, water-slicing knife jigs to the rocky bottom 160 feet below. Fishing was slow – a few small lingcod notwithstanding. The night was as still as a painting, the inky water mirroring the heavenly lights. With the engine cut off, the quiet was enveloping. When the yelloweye hit, I knew right away it wasn’t another ling. “Might be our yelloweye!” I said to Barbra as I worked the fish up from the depths.

And sure enough, it was. Barbra expertly scooped it up in the net, I did a quick fillet job, put it in a plastic container which I set in our cooler, and we headed back to port for some well-earned sleep. It was already early morning, though not quite yet dawn.

A few hours later when we woke, the sun was already high in the sky and the marina was bustling with activity. With daylight burnin’, we walked up the dock to the showers, blue skies and a few puffy white clouds overhead, deep green hanging on the mountains rimming the harbor.

Back onboard Gillie I put the Coleman stove on the aft deck, fired it up, and after Barbra made coffee I fixed a fisherman’s breakfast of southern-style grits topped with easy-over eggs and a couple of yelloweye fillets along with the collars – that especially sweet piece of meat that includes the pectoral fin muscle. (The collar looks a little like a lobster in the above photo.)

Not a fancy breakfast, but a special one. I kept the seasoning simple: a little sea salt and black pepper ground coarse. The steaming plates of food accompanied by French roast coffee made for a great start to another day in paradise.

Rock Patterns

Ice scraped past in the form of a glacier, high above the ground and left this beautiful rock pattern.

Shot taken at the top of Exit Glacier on the edge of the Harding Ice Field.

Razor Clam Fry

Jack has put the finishing touches on our kitchen in our new home and is already feeding us well. The above razor clams were dusted with seasoned flour, dipped in beaten eggs, and rolled in cracker crumbs in preparation for frying in olive oil. Having been frozen fresh, they tasted like they were just dug. Every bite evoked the wonderful memories of digging those clams just weeks ago.

I’m grateful that our school not only has a pool, but also a weight room this year!

Seeking Silver Salmon

Coho Salmon

Trolling is boring, I thought. Two summers ago we drove around in our boat outside of Whittier at incredibly slow speeds dragging a couple of lures only one silly little pink salmon came to bite. Heck, you don’t even get hold the rod!

This was my impression.

That has changed.

This summer while in Seward, we heard the silver salmon (Coho) run on Resurrection Bay was hot. Out on the bay, Jack got gear ready for trolling; I was prepared to enjoy the scenery. But no sooner did he put a lure in the water and set the rod in the holder than we got hit! We quickly strategized–I drive, Jack tends rigs, fish hits, Jack shouts “FISH,” I drop the boat into neutral, Jack reels in the fish, I grab the net, and Voila–major fun! Then we switch–Jack drives, I reel in the fish, and Jack does honors on the net!

The limit for silver salmon in Resurrection Bay is six fish – which meant with two limits, we could keep 12.. The first 11 salmon came easily. Naturally, that last elusive fish took us a while to find. We took a break from trolling by catching other fish that day…halibut, lingcod, and rockfish. When we went back to trolling, a dime-bright silver was waiting for us. When we finally pulled up at the cleaning station at the marina with our beautiful catch (two Chinook, several large silvers, halibut and rockfish)…even the locals were impressed.