Essencia Cruises Alaska

(This story is one of the most compelling tributes to seamanship and the qualities of the Islander 36 you will ever read.)

I'm attaching a few photos from Alaska cruising, but unfortunately Essencia is currently disabled and getting ready to go onto the hard. Here's the story.

I took a trip to Kodiak with a friend of mine during the end of May-beginning of June and got caught in a strong gale on the way home. Riding a stong gale, I found, is no problem for an 3I6. It was a comfortable ride except for being cold and the occasional comber that made its way into the cockpit, but making landfall proved to be more challenging.

After sailing 27 hours on a broad reach (building to a strong gale much of the night weakening to a gale late in the morning) we arrived off the south gulf coast of Alaska around noon in 35 to 50 knot winds with 12 to 15 foot seas (they had been 20 early in the morning with lots of foam and spray) only to find the winds coming out of the fjiords were too strong to tack through (even given we were making 7 to 8 knots).

We failed to make headway into Nuka Passage and decided to use the engine to assist in tacking. Didn't check for lines in the water (bad mistake). I fouled the genoa halyard tail on the prop which killed the engine (an old Westerbeke L25). We gibed and headed back to sea to seek shelter behind Gore Point in the next fjiord to the west (Port Dick), but as soon as we found some relief from the E gale behind Gore Point, we got headed and then knoked down by williwaws coming out of Port Dick. I figure these gusts were traveling close to 90 knots as they were raising curtains of spray 10 to 12 feet off the water.

We were hit by several such gusts from various northerly directions followed unpredictibly by easterly or southeasterly blows from the gale winds spilling around Gore Point. Between gusts we had relatively little wind and with a reefed main and only about 4 ft of genoa unrolled we were making so little way steering was difficult. We let the boom out to try and ride one particularly strong SE blow from behind to gain steerage and to escape this narrow alley of confused winds in the lee of the point when we were hit by a pair of particularly vicious williwaws that in a matter of seconds gybed the boom, then whipped it back breaking the mainsheet car from the traveller which allowed the boom to break free of the gooseneck and the upper main to hang and shread on the starboard spreaders.

With the boom dancing around the deck hung by the reefing ties to the more-or-less intact bottom half of the mainsail we decided to kill what was left of the genoa to avoid being knoked down while we dealt with our mess. The moment we let the genoa loose to roll it in, it wrapped the forestay and tore itself to shreds. At this point we were drifting west toward a rocky lee shore awash in breakers with no engine and rags for sails. The only option we had was to tie a line on the end of the boom and haul it in to make use of the remainder of the mainsail to head back out into the gale at sea. Once we made clear air we were doing seven knots and surfing down waves on a run. We found shelter 5 miles down the coast in Qikutulig Bay after having made 2 miles out to sea to clear all rocks and reefs along the foul coast. This bay heads to the west, so was free of williwaws and once inside we barely had enough wind to limp to a temporary anchorage along its north shore.

The cabin was a shambles with everything on the floor. After a couple of hours we had room to stand and sit down. I called my wife on a rented satelite phone to let her know we were safe, but that we had taken quite a beating. The call was dropped, as all satelite phone calles tend to be, and having been up for about 36 hours at this point I didn't call her back leading her to worry unnecessarily.

She called her sister who talked to her husband who somehow got the impression we were in grave danger so he called the coast guard. Meanwhile we heated up some tamales, drank a whiskey, and went to bed.

I awoke at 6:30 to a strange sound and immediately feared we were being beaten by the wind, were dragging anchor, or worse. I looked out the porthole from the v-berth to see a coast guard heliocopter hovering a little above mast height and maybe a hundred feet off out port bow. I had turned off the VHF to conserve battery power so I pulled on some (wet) pants and waved from the cockpit then hailed them on the VHF. I let them know we were not in any immediate danger, and that we were not requesting any assistance, and after a few questions they departed.

It was now low tide and with the wind from the helicopter we were closer to the rocks than I wanted to be, so I went up on deck and shortened the scope on the anchor (I have a 35lb plow with 250 ft of chain which was all out) then returned to bed as I was still exhausted. An hour or so later I was again awakend, this time by a pounding on the hull accompanied by voices. It was a launch from a coast guard cutter based in Homer.

They boarded and inspected us. Luckily my flares were up to date as I had just purchased new ones, and no violations were found. Although I had no difficulty producing my documentation which I keep in a box atop the hanging locker in the v-berth, I could not for the life of me find my billfold to produce identification. I found it two days later on the floor amongst residual wet clothing. The young men from the coast guard were very polite, professional, and even good humored considering, as we came to find out, they had been up all night looking for us.

They had passed us by heading east as the bay we were in is seldom visited due to the rocky and dangerous entrance, and they in fact had never been into it before. The helicopter, which had not been able to fly due to weather untill the morning, had reported our position to the cutter. I again convinced them we were not in fact in danger, that we planned to free the line from the prop and rig new sails (I had two other headsails and figured I could rig some kind of main out of the scraps of sails I had left).

They offered to help free the prop as they already had their launch in the water, so I took advantage of their support and after failing to cut the line with a knife duct-taped to a stick I donned a drysuit and dived under the boat unrwapping the line. I started the engine and engaged it in both forward and reverse, and bid goodbye to the coast guard, thanking them for their assistance. We moved the boat to the head of the bay where we found a more suitable anchorage for repairs and spent the entire day clearing tangled rags from the rigging and reattaching the boom (it was simply a case of replacing sheared pop-rivets although the boom is now rotated at a slight angle that still needs repair).

The next morning we put up a jib and made a mainsail out of a 20x40 blue tarp folded twice to produce a triangular sail. Our hope were high as we weighed anchor, but were immediately dashed once again as I discovered we had zero oil pressure. I killed the engine, dropped the anchor back down and looked into the engine compartment to find it black with oil. We cleaned oil for several hours using all the adsorbant pads I had on the boat plus 4 rolls of shop towles and 2 rolls of paper towles.

After finding no leak we changed the filter and filled it again with oil, but upon staring as the oil pressure built up oil began to spray from an crack in the crankcase right behind the forward starbord motor mount. At this point I decided it was beyond our ability to repair (although I suppose I could have tried to epoxy the crack), and I called my wife who arranged a tow service.

Homer was closer than our home port of Seward and we were towed overnight through calm seas the 75 miles or so into Homer at a cost of nearly $2800. I have decided to replace the engine with a new one (I'm going with the Yanmar), and will be hauled on July 2 (in Homer this is tide dependent and takes a high series of tides for the only yard with a travel lift).

The yard requires a drawing of the boat with trough-hulls etc. marked, and this is the reason I need the CD. I greatly appreciate the materials made available through the association, and have benefited greatly. Enjoy the photos.


Kim Peterson
S/V Essencia
Seward, Alaska
June 2007

Pictures by Kim Peterson. Click on images to enlarge, click "Back" to return.

[Click to enlarge]
Thumb Cove - what do you get
when the fog clears?
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A new island and ...
[Click to enlarge]
a glacier!
[Click to enlarge]
Kimfish for dinner.
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Cozy below

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