Deep Immersion and Transitions

Dear friends and family,

We are back in Alaska now, getting ready to set off on the summer’s journey. Even though I was excited to get back here to Wrangell, this year it seemed harder to get my head into the sailboat cruising life after the deep immersion into Colombia all winter.

I think that the deeper the immersion into one lifestyle, the more difficult it can be to shift to the next. I cannot seem to just move from on to the other. The positive side of that is that I realize how deeply involved I get in one activity, which is really rewarding. Then I have to work hard to make the change to the next. These types of activities are so different. The risks of bicycling Colombia are a completely different kind than the risks of sailing Alaska. The former had risks of mostly people. Am I safe? Will I get run over?

The Alaska risks are of a completely different nature. Here it’s more about the safety of the boat and crew from the natural world. Will I get eaten by a bear? Will I manage to put the boat on the rocks? 

One could feel really safe here. Every Alaskan is armed to the teeth with guns. When visiting someone’s boat you can often see the gun rack, not empty. People have these guns mostly for hunting, but also for protection against bears or other wild animals while hiking. It used to alarm me, seeing a hiker with a big gun strapped across the chest, but I’m already used to it.

That being said, the people we’ve met in the small towns of Alaska could not be more helpful. We’ve been gifted salmon, halibut, shrimp and crab by fisher people and when anyone needs help, it seems everyone who can steps up. 

I’m noticing a kind and helpful quality to the people I’ve met on my travels, whether crossing the Southern US, riding across Colombia, or sailing in the wilds of Alaska. Hmm, must just be that I’m lucky in whom I’ve met, or is there some bigger thing at work here?

I’ve discussed fear and anxiety in previous posts. One way for me to mitigate my fears is to create a plan B for most situations. This year that included extra maintenance on engine and systems with spares and better skills to fix what might break. Also it included adding more safety items for worst case scenario of losing the mother ship. This included a first time liferaft, EPIRB (satellite signaling device), and Gumby suits for all. These are insulated cold weather immersion suits to crawl into before jumping into the cold water. 

Will these mitigations help my confidence? Sure will. But probably the most important factor is the many years of cruising experience that I and we have had sailing and cruising. I sometimes need to remind myself of the 45 years of sailing and cruising experience in many parts of the world that I have. And once I get moving I notice the anticipatory fears go away. A need for relearning each season. 

Once ready, we took a shakedown cruise to our favorite close anchorage: Berg Bay. Only twenty miles away, it would give us a chance to check our systems and our psyches for cruising. 

The wind started at seven knots but quickly built to over twelve, so we unrolled the big genoa (front sail on a roller furler) and shut the engine down. Cruising at four to five knots downwind in the quiet reminded me of another sail…

We (Nancy and I) left the Galápagos Islands bound for the Marquesas. A three thousand mile passage lay ahead of us. When I’ve mentioned to either non-sailors or weekend sailors about this trip they often ask if it was tiring, all that sail changing and tacking over that very long distance.

The reality was different: Once two sails were set on the bow of the boat, each day we would have to move the sheets (lines that hold the sails in) forward or back a few inches so the chafing point would not be at the same position. The wind vane (which is a device attached to the rudder of the boat that steers the boat without using electricity, but instead the angle of the wind) would do the steering. A good five minutes of sailing work per day!

That left us to read, write, cook, eat, sleep and enjoy the ocean sunrises and sunsets. Exhausting stuff. I read War and Peace almost straight through. Enjoyable if you like that sort of thing, and I do.

Also plenty of time to take sun sights with the sextant, but no way of checking your work until the Marquesas Islands either show up or not. If you miss them, the next stop might be somewhere in the Far East, so it’s motivating to try to get it right. 

Did it add a dimension of fear? Sure did, but since other islands and lands showed up where they should have previously, the confidence was high.

And they did. From many miles off the high islands showed in the west. It took a couple of days to get in once they appeared, but that  navigation challenge was over.

Those memories must stick, but soon I was brought back to the current situation, having to drop sail to get through the narrows and then sail again to arrive at the Bay.

That’s all it took to be immersed in this lifestyle and enjoy it fully. Over a month in transition and now simply enjoying this and the memories it evoked. 

Wow, how fortunate for us to be here in our own boat to explore these wild places. I am feeling very lucky to be in this situation. Very lucky indeed!

Sending love from Alaska,


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2 thoughts on “Deep Immersion and Transitions”

  1. I was just about to email to see how you were when this post came into my inbox. Nice timing 🙂 We’re gearing up as an R2AK media boat, departing PT June 9 and going all the way to Ketchikan, arriving end of June. If you happen to be near there, let me know. We’ll fly home, leaving the boat, then return in three weeks to bring her home at a leisurely pace. Have fun and as always, be safe.

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