November 2nd, 2012

Transit of venus

Transit of venus

Alpha Male escorting us out of his domain

Alpha Male escorting us out of his domain

Into Canada

Into Canada

I found the perfect crew in Tim, the son of an old Coast Guard shipmate. Tim is a Marine Engineer with an immense amount of sea miles under foot having sailed on LNG tankers since graduating from Kings Point. At 27, he has seen more of the world and done more raw adventures than 99.9% of people will in a lifetime. To describe him in a sentence I would say “he is an adventures soul.” So when he off-handedly mentioned wanting to sail to Alaska some day. I simply told him, “I have boats, I have time, and I have the inclination. Lets do it” and we did.

Though far easier to say than do, it still had to be said to be set in motion. First, the idea, then the word, then the action, then the reality. We put dates on calendars, and began preparations. Three months, we worked with only a few breaks for important stuff like a trip to California to watch the Ring of Fire Eclipse of the sun, two weeks of unavoidable commitment to the Naval Reserve in Singapore for Tim and a day photographing the transit of Venus across the face of sun for me. Then we left Port Angeles on the turn of the tide on a beautiful Sunday morning sailing a light northwesterly breeze to Haro Straits

Northbound in Hero Strait an Alfa Male orca from the resident pod residing off Lime Kiln Point surfaced close aboard in AVANTI’s wake and escorted us clear of his territory. Off to port, close in to shore, the females were feeding. We reached Bedwell Harbor BC to clear customs into Canada just before they closed for the evening. The adventure was underway.

Our first anchorage was in Annette Inlet on Prevost Island BC. We came in the dark, drop the hook and settled to wait the turning of the tides. The ebb and flow of tidal currents became an integral part of our lives. What were the predicted currents and how did they reconcile to the reality of observation was always taken into consideration as we planned our next day. Though the laws of the tides are predictable and true, the depths and currents they produce need to be carefully observed for the sea is full of surprise. The art of navigation is perfected in constant situational awareness.

Background on an Adventure

November 1st, 2012

My first voyage up the Inside Passage to Alaska was aboard a Coast Guard Buoy Tender in 1977. We were on a mission, there was no stopping. Still, my imagination was captivated by the coves and channels on the charts. The names were so wonderful and compelling and they tickled my sense of adventure, as we weaved our way past and through them There were places like Point No Point, Juan de Fuca, Seymour Narrows, Hecate Straight, Revillagigedo Island, Wrangle Narrows, and Icy Straits. On the large scale charts were even greater detail of the passage coves and fjords, places like God’s Pocket, Elfin Cove and the Sumdum Glacier. Thus began the years long yearning to sail my own vessel north, a vessel that would fit into those pristine places seldom cut by bowwake. I just wanted to go there.

Years were passed. Oceans were crossed. Boats were bought and sold. Other adventures were had. My Coast Guard career was completed and my Merchant Mariner career began.

I was a tree climber when I was a boy. The trunk was my mast, the branches my yardarms, the imagination my ocean. I was about seven when first envisioning myself captain of a mighty sailing ship off to see the world. Ah,but a dream is a mere fantasy without action. In ’07 I shipped aboard the Brig LADY WASHINGTON as mate and in ’11 I came aback to her as Captain. Never mind I was 65 when it happened and never mind I was 66 when setting sail for the Inside Passage voyage. Age opens opportunity youth seldom can. And so it was I set sail for Glacier Bay in the year 2012

North To Alaska, the great sail of 2012

November 1st, 2012

p7152426-resized On July 15, 2012, Captain Tommy and 1st Engineer Tim Roberts departed Port Angeles Washington on their epic voyage to Glacier Bay Alaska. You come to.

Tommy And Tim (TNT) heading north to Alaska

July 27th, 2012

July 15, 2012


Tim and Tommy, henceforth known as “T-N-T”, are off to see
the world again, again.  Four months of intense
work on AVANTI to prepare and today is the day of departure.  Alaska
is the destination, adventure is the goal, and to sail pristine uncrowded
waters the reason, not the only reason but reason enough.


The journey really started a year ago when Tim Roberts,
sail.  Little did he know that’s all it
would take to set this trip in motion. 
“Come help me work on AVANTI and I’ll teach you everything I know about
sailing,”  I tells him.  “That should take about 20 minutes, then
we’ll go sailing to somewhere cool.”   Of
course, he thinks by cool I mean really fun and tropical but what I meant was
some place about 55 degrees or lower, oh, and rainy too.  To my amazement , when he finds out I want to
sail to Alaska and that the 20 minutes wasn’t how long we would work on the
boat but how long it would take to teach all I know about sailing, and a three
month trip would take at least four months work on the boat, he came anyway.


On the 15th of April, AVANTI was hauled from the
dry yard to the ship yard after 2 years slumber in the log dust of the Port
water front to begin a bottom to top
overhaul.  Battle
scars from past encounters with harder than water objects in the un-deeps of
the Pacific Northwest were repaired.  She got new black bottom paint with a red
boot-top, then the top sides were painted a rich ivory and the gingerbread on
the bow and name board on the stern were coated in new varnished.  A month was gone. 


In the water again, no leaky-no sinky, and the wonderful
little engine starts right away, then the real works begin.  Varnish, decks re-caulked, lots of sanding
and lots of cleaning.   Tim took great
care with the decks and the bright work, while I started work on a hard
dodger.  Now a hard dodger is not to be
confused with a soft dodger which AVANTI proudly wore for 12 years.  Going north we wanted a Hard Dodger!  In my mind I’m thinking over and over about
gales, williwaws, rain, lots of rain as I screw and glue, screw and glue.  But in the end, the Hard Dodger looks as
though it is a part of the vessel and feels solidly anchored to the cabin top.


It wasn’t all work.  I
took a break to go to California
to watch the “Ring Of Fire” eclipse and then another day to take 200 + pictures
of the Transit of Venus across the face of the sun.  Tim went fishing and to Singapore
and to Arkansas.  Then came today and at 1055,  we sailed from the Port Angeles Boat Haven



September 1st, 2010



After an uneventful run to Terrington Basin, I dropped the anchor near the Otter Creek Sea Plane Port having sail, motored and drifted some 5678 nautical miles from Two Harbors Minnesota.  Now the most dangerous leg of the trip begins the highway home. 


My Labrador friend Jim N. took me to the Goose Bay Airport and I retrieved Thumper and the boat trailer.  Like so many things on the voyage a process must take place to transcend from the water to the land.  I often felt the ground move under my feet as I walked during the first few hours, a reaction to unexpected stability sailors often experience when coming ashore.  I adjust, quickly. 


There are lots of preparations to be made to the trailer and to the CAP’N LEM to bring her back to being a land animal, too.  I take my time.  It’s a long way back to Port Angeles and 500 miles of it on gravel road.


I spend the week-end just resting and thinking about the wonderful things that happened on this voyage of self-discovery, the lessons I’ve learned, and the people I’ve met, the highlights and low points, the moments of truth when the choices are clear

And the moments of doubt when everything is fogged in and trust comes hard.  Like a Hemmingway character who battles and battles only to have the sharks eat his prize in the end, the sea reminded me I am a stranger on the waters whose mistakes will not be forgiven. 


I learned some very useful things.  I learned how to be a lone without being lonely.  I learned to trust the vessel when I could not trust myself.  I learned solo sailing is fun, but sailing with someone is more so.  I learned where to anchor and where not to anchor.  I learned about shortening sail before the storm and about timing the tides to my advantage and about the slow agony of going against tides and wind.  I learned the darkness magnifies fear and how most fear is unfounded.  I learned that sometime you just have to live with the fear and press on.  I learned that some fear is healthy if I allow  it  to spur me into heightened awareness and action.   I learned to never go on deck without being tied to the boat, thus I traveled 5678 miles and did not fall off the boat.  I learned how to think in terms of the moment and the mile ahead and not the overwhelming length of the entire voyage.  One day at a time living became one moment at a time when the seas were huge and the land was far away. 


And about people, I learned first hand over and over their abundant kindness, generosity and helpfulness.  From the first day of launch in Minnesota to the day of recovery in Goose Bay, I’ve encountered the most interesting people.  They wish me well, they wish me luck, and many wished they were going with me, too!  The beautiful old gentleman, Uncle Jim, from the little village of Makkovik will ever be my reminder and symbol of all those dear people who touched my life along the way. 


The adventure is not ending, but changing.  This voyage has given my whole life a renewed sense of adventure by reminding me to never take anything or anyone for granted and to greet each sunrise with gratitude for yet another day of life.  But one does not have to sail to the Northwest Passage to learn that!  One only needs to open their mind and heart to what is around them. 


Check back with me from time to time.  There are still some ideas bubbling to the top of my mind about where to go and what to do next.  Write me about your dreams and give me the chance to be your encourager as you have been mine.  Tell me when you set sail!


Hold Fast, Shipmates, Hold Fast!  




Up with the sun

August 29th, 2010



Up with the sun, up with the anchor, up with the sails.  I depart the fabulous anchorage that was so welcoming last night.  The wind is right but light out of the north east.  Clear of the bay and out on the lake I can see a wind line building and coming this way from the southwest.  It was not unexpected, just earlier than I had hoped.  Ten miles from the anchorage my stern wind died and was replaced with yet another strong headwind.  Rather than fight it with endless tacks and little progress I head toward small cape offering a lee to the wind and waves.  It lies across a shallow sandy shoal of 8 feet.  I’ve crossed shallower.  At 1000 or so, I anchor and wait at Latitude 53° 30’ 20.0” N ~ Longitude 59° 11’ 28.3” W in 14 feet of water.


By 1400 the wind has slackened and I venture out around the point into the main body of the lake and hoist the sails.  By making a long sweeping starboard tack can gain 1 mile for ever 2.5 I sail closer to my goal of Goose Bay.  Thunderstorms are predicted for tomorrow night and the storm of last year on Goose Bay is still fresh on my mind so I press on.


The wind backs ever so slightly and ever so slowly and I’m able to curl around the point and come into Kenamu Bay to anchor at Latitude 53° 30’ 20.0” N ~ Longitude 059° 55’ 44.8” W in 26 feet of water.


My last Lake Melville sunset

My last Lake Melville sunset


August 27th, 2010

Excerpt from the song  Sailing, By Chris Cross


It’s not far back to sanity
At least it’s not for me
And when the wind is right you can sail away
And find serenity
The canvas can do miracles
Just you wait and see
Believe me 


Canvas and wind

Canvas and wind





Leaving the Dark Tickle Harbor astern, there was first a puff, then a breath, then a wind and all from the north.  Up the main and out the jib.  The clouds are few and the sun is, yes, warm.  Passing quickly by Puffin Island, I see there really are Puffins and by the hundreds if not thousands.


The days of pinching into the head wind dissolve into a memory before a glorious beam reach sometime hitting 9+ knots.  The windward amma flies while the leeward still holds above water, the telltale sign that all is in balance so I let her go as she will. The hours turn into miles.


Flying Amma

Flying Amma





My intentions of calling at Rigolet were superceded by the need to transit the Rigolet Narrows on the flooding tidal currents.  As the wind slacked at sunset the currents picked up and the CAP’N LEM progressively built speed through the narrows toward Henrietta Island.  The chart plotter flashed a warning and I called it up to read “Do not attempt to pass the east side of Henrietta Island on any tide other than a neap tide at anything other than slack water”.  I double check, yes I’m on the west side and still the currents increase.  The narrows fork again around Eskimo Island and I take the eastern deep water route rather than save the mile of the western shallower route would afford.  The vessel is making a slow 5 knots through the water but 10.5 knots over the ground. 


All the tidal waters of Lake Melville spill through just three tributaries of the Narrows separated first by Henrietta and then by Eskimo Islands (see lat 54° 08’ 02.7”N ~lon 058°  26’ 39.0”W) and this was a spring* flood due the full moon that was just rising to the east.  In the failing light if day I see the tidal bore and its 3 foot chop all this water is making as it spills with such force into the large lake against a wind I have not yet felt.   I furl the jib and do the only thing I can do, square the bow to meet it at a clean 90 degree angle.  What happens next was… nothing.  As scary as that line of rough water looked the CAP’N LEM simply skimmed through the chop and out into the lake to be caught by a fine wind astern.  Still, it was a full 10 minutes before I stopped shaking.


The tidal bore behind me and the wind in the right direction (sail long enough and it will be in the right direction at least some of the time) I start the long journey to the only anchorage available within a nights sail.


The cloud covered sky glowed with the light of the full moon rising on its other side and gave the islands ahead a foreboding blackness.  But darkness doesn’t change the world, only my perception of it, and I perceived them might close.  I check the radar and the chart plotter obsessively drawing from them short lived comfort.  I check again.  The seas are building behind keeping the progress down the track line steady and fast. 


I’ve explained before.  I am a sea fearing man.  I know the only thing separating me from life and a cold watery death is the hull and integrity of the vessel that carries me and the choices I make.   The CAP’N LEM has proved her integrity time and again.  I ever remain the weak link.  It is situational awareness that is my only edge over the forces of nature that keep pummeling me on these adventures I thrust myself into.   But, at night, at sea, my eyes become liars, my feelings untrustworthy, my mind, a fabricator of false terror.  In the dark, the seas are bigger, the wind stronger and the time, slower.  Only the truth will do.  And the truth is this:  I can not trust myself! 


So, once again, I’m alone, on the water, with a building wind, in the dark.  And I know…I can not trust myself or my senses!  What can I trust!  Luck?  I don’t believe in luck.  Prayer?  Well I do some of that to be sure, and the echo of my mother’s words comes back to me from the past, “God helps those who help themselves”.   Yea, but not even God suffers fools for long.


So, how is it that I can do these things, go these places, experience these experiences and still be here to write to you about them?   Because there are some things that are completely and perfectly trustworthy and they are “Principles”.  The clear and clean principles of good seamanship and good navigation are trustworthy!   The principles of situational awareness!    The principles of knowing where I am and which direction I am going and keeping track of how fast I’m moving in order to predict where I will end up.  The principle of shortening sail before the wind blows.  And this, first and foremost, the principle of telling myself the truth about the situation in spite of how I feel!  And to this end, I must use ever resource available to me to discover the truth and every ounce of the will to make the clearest judgment possible based on that truth to keep the vessel safe and moving toward the goal.  Judgment then must be rooted in the knowledge gained of many nights looking into fog and darkness, the lot that is the sailor’s life.  And this too, I must not allow my fears and feelings to cloud the truth for that is the cloud of which nothing can penetrate!


My only company is the soft glow from the running lights reflecting back off the tips of the ammas, the little flashing symbol that says “your vessel is here” on the chart plotter and the clockwise sweep of the radar antenna.  I use the radar to double check the GPS.  I use the GPS to double check what I see.  I can even use my senses now that I admit their limitations and draw reassurance that dark mass against the sky really is the island I must get around.    


There is 35 miles to be transited between Eskimo Island and Etagaulet Bay where I can tuck into a cove hollowed out of the stone mountains by glaciers long ago, drop the anchor and sleep.  The islands at the north end of the lake only buffer the running swell for a short time and I continue to wallow along down wind with the main rolled down to the first reef. The CAP’N LEM often comes off the face of the swell at 9 and sometimes 10 knots.  I stay huddled in the companion way under the hard dodger bathed in the warmth from the fireplace.   Several times I jump out of my skin at the “quick snap of sheets and canvas as the boom swings wildly from starboard to port or back again in an accidental jibe from the strong winds fickle directions.   Anticipating this, I kept the main sheets at short stay.  This both increases the chance of a jibe and lessens its effects.  Sailing is a series of trade-offs.


When I reach the bay, I force a controlled jibe and work my way into the lee of Point Etagaulet then to the comparatively calm waters south of the hills guarding the bay from the north wind.  Here I bring down the sail, and motor toward the great blackness of the cliffs.  Just when it seems impossible to get through, the blackness of the water changes to reflect the moonlight coming through the clouds and the CAP’N LEM enters the channel to the anchorage.  At 0217, I drop the hook at Latitude 53° 45’ 00.9” N ~ Longitude 058° 58’ 51.3” W in 26 feet of calm water, turn off the running lights, turn on the anchor light and go to sleep having traveled 94 nautical miles from anchorage to anchorage.











*The term “spring tide” is often confused with the season Spring, but spring used in describing a tide simply means those tides of greatest range between high tides and low tides that occur when the moon is either full or new and is a function of the sun and moon working together to create the greatest movement of sea water.  The term “neap tides” are those tides occurring when the moon’s gravity is pulling at a 90° to the suns gravity at the half moon phase thus giving the lower ranges in tidal differences and the weakest tidal currents. 




The Dark Tickle

August 25th, 2010
Islands shores littered with abandon homes

Islands shores littered with abandon homes

To head toward Lake Melville from Emily Harbor I would have to either go north again and round the whole of the big Brig Harbor Island or pass south of Deadman Island and dare the Dark Tickle. The Dark Tickle is a deep but narrow passage between Butt and Camel Islands. The islands shores are littered with abandoned homes from an era long gone from the lands of Labrador. They add a sense of forlorn loneliness to the stark beauty of this remarkable place. Was the tickle named for these broken dreams on her shore or the darkness of the rocks that bound her waters? Even in the bright sunshine of this morning, there is a darkness here and a trepidation. Still, I choose to dare the Dark Tickle.

A passage less than half again as wide as the CAP’N LEM

A passage less than half again as wide as the CAP’N LEM

I checked the tidal current by creeping through the channel past Deadman Island. It was near slack. The wind? None. Slowly I turned the CAP’N LEM south around the Camel Island and felt as much as sighted my way toward the north entrance. The rudder is free to kick up, the dagger board is floating in its case ready to rise. Bump! A rock! I’m too close to the shoals of Butt Island. The slow impact merely slides the hull to one side and I reposition more to the west for the run into the tickle. Checking the chart plotter I see it is I and not the rock that is miss positioned and this gives me courage to press on. The little engine is pushing ahead ever so gently at idle and we slip into and out of the passage less than half again as wide as the CAP’N LEM without incident. With each boat length the waters grow deeper into Dark Tickle Harbor and I line up my escape. But not time to relax, there are rocks and shoals a plenty around Double and Thomey Islands and Man Of War Point. The main channel is still ahead. And the wind just started to rise.



NOTES: I define deep water as any water that will float my boat and shallow water as any water that won’t. Bumping a rock at anytime is not to be taken lightly and I made a thorough assessment to be assured there was no damage.

Daring the Dark Tickle

August 24th, 2010

No blog from Tommy today, looks like he’s got the wind so will sail until late.

“One great day! 69 miles so far. Still underway on Lake Melville. Wind at my back for the first time in a long time. Will ride it as long as it blows Thursday wind back on the nose again and I want to be in Goose Bay before then.

Will blog about the Dark Tickle tomorrow. What fun! it was so narrow but went through fine. No wind then. then the wind came up on the quarter and I sailed all the way to the Rigolet Narrows.

All systems go t.”

In honor Tommy letting me sail with him on the way up to Nain last month, here are a few of my favorite images:

Tommy's makes the world's best French Toast, all in a pan just barely large enough to hold a single piece of bread.

Tommy's makes the worlds best French Toast, all in a pan just barely large enough to hold a single piece of bread. He says the secret is to toast the bread before frying, but I think there is more

Tommy makes new friends wherever he goes.

Tommy makes new friends wherever he goes. If you have to chance to meet him in person, you'll understand immediately.

A narrow channel just off the north edge of Western Kingitok Island.

A narrow channel just off the north edge of Western Kingitok Island. This moment of calm belies many hidden dangers; wind, rock, tides, and cold. Without the decades of experience Tommy has amassed, I would never have been blessed with such a view. Thank you Tommy.

Tuchialic Bay to Emily Harbor

August 23rd, 2010

2100 Position Report August 23, 2010

Anchored in 41 feet of water at Emily Harbor, Brig Harbor Island, Labrador. Lat. 54° 32′ 36.9″ N ~ Lon. 057° 11′ 07.6 W

It was a long run out from Tuchialic Harbor to Cape Harrison with no wind to help the little engine that could only to come around the Cape to a head wind from the south east. That’s just the way it was. I set sail due east out to sea to gain room to tack south. But the way things are, are not always how they stay, and the wind did backed enough to the east that I could tack and make some progress to the south. I fought the urge to tack back out off the coast and threaded my way through shoals and rocks. They were well charted and easily spotted by the breaking swells washing over them. Then, when I needed it most, half way between Cape Harrison and Cape Rouge the wind changed again and this time to the south giving the lift to clear Cape Rouge and run for Emily Harbor on Brig Harbor Island making 7 to 8 kts steady and some spurts even higher. It was a 13 hour day from anchorage to anchorage filled with everything from motoring in calm to some fine white-knuckle sailing. Then the last five miles into the anchorage, it was right back on the bow at 20 kts in some tight quarters. I give up, and motor in at 3 kts. Whee, what a day.

Sunset at Emily Harbor

Sunset at Emily Harbor

Being anchored at Brig Harbor Island brings to mind once again all the fine people aboard the Brig LADY WASHINGTON. A ship of dreams, she is for sure! Many people come on board her as crew to find their lives are changed for ever. Mine certainly was. Many of the crew members on my four month tenure as mate have become life long friends. Some of then, I haven’t seen again, but know when I do, it will be a joyous reunion. Tall Ships are like that. Once crew, always crew.

When I meet sailors working on other vessels like the ISSUMA or WANDERBIRD, I try to encourage them with “sometime, when you’re ready and looking for a ship, go sail on the LADY!” I’m not trying to steal any ones crew, mind ya, just sowing seeds of thought for latter. There were some good sailors on both those vessels when I met them in Nain and I’d love for them to show up on the LADY WASHINGTON someday and say “Capt. Tommy sent me.”

Tomorrow, I start to make my way inland again.