Yahtzee anchored and stern-tied at Fox Island Spit.

There are times aboard our boats when everything seems to run counter to expectations. We’ve all been there. This particular time, our family was blasting into a sudden 20-to-25-knot northerly headwind towards Alaska’s rugged Kenai Peninsula.

With Yahtzee heeling sharply to starboard, I braced myself in the cockpit and did my best to keep our progress steady to windward. Of course, it happened to be raining, too, and not just a light mist. The heavy downpour rendered my old foul weather gear all but useless. Nearly soaked to the bone, I could barely see the wave sets through my glasses let alone the telltales on the genoa — the little pieces of nylon were, like me, hopelessly sodden.

It was somewhere around four in the morning on a Monday, and I’d just told my wife, Jill, I’d take her watch. She and the boys would be better off sleeping, or trying to sleep, instead of being on deck in this mess. With daylight arriving, the miles wore on and I tried to keep my head in the game. We’d already come 120 miles from Afognak Island, north of Kodiak, and there was no turning back, no pulling in somewhere for rest. Not yet, anyway.

Gripping the helm with cold, bare hands, rain still pounded hard on deck and my mood turned uncharacteristically sour. I cursed the wind: it was supposed to be out of the south, not north. I cursed the rain: it was supposed to be clear, not raining. I cursed our old blown out sails that were struggling to keep us making way to windward: deep down, I knew they were toast.

That’s when I stopped myself. “Snap out of it, Andy,” I silently chided while wiping drops of rain from my face. “Just sail the boat. Embrace it.”

Our boat and crew weren’t in any danger and the conditions weren’t really that bad. They just weren’t what I’d expected. Plus, this was sailing. I was doing what I love with the people I love. On we went toward Resurrection Bay and eventually Prince William Sound, and I chalked the moment up to a “cruiser’s case of the Mondays.”

Yahtzee makes her way eastward toward Prince William Sound.

A Welcome Reprieve

A couple hours and several cups of coffee later, we weaved our way through tall, rocky islands off the Kenai Peninsula and then the breeze completely shut off. I turned my gaze south to look back across the expansive Gulf of Alaska and much to my surprise, I watched in astonishment as the trailing edge of the rain moved over us to reveal bursts of sunshine. Shortly after it passed, the wind came up from the south. Finally! Reaching now under the bright morning sun, the cockpit slowly dried and I shed my jacket. Sigh.

That evening, sitting on a sun-warmed pebbled beach, I gazed out at sweeping mountains with glaciers hanging in prominent valleys. Yahtzee sat just offshore in a sea so clear I could pick out every rock and piece of seagrass below. The boys splashed and swam in the water, laughing as they jumped in and out, and I couldn’t help but chuckle too. The day was certainly turning out better than it had started. What a Monday.

The unpredictable weather had humbled me, proving once again that wind and waves make the rules, we just play by them. I’d learned this repeatedly over the previous four months while sailing north from Puget Sound up to Southeast Alaska. There are ups and downs, we just have to keep going.

Now, though, it was getting into August and summer at 60 degrees north was going to rapidly transition to often-harsh autumn. Our last destination for this round of Alaska cruising would be Prince William Sound (PWS) to the east, and I needed to turn my attention to the days ahead.

Jill soaks up the sun after a day on the water.

The next morning, we chugged north up Resurrection Bay toward Seward, where our crew was eager to tackle boat chores so we could head to PWS on what we hoped would be a good weather window. But we all know how that goes. Seward provided the perfect chance to do laundry, take showers, and provision, but we didn’t know much about the town when we arrived. It was unexpectedly breathtaking. Mountains shot straight from the sea on nearly all sides, glacial waters ran through the marina, and the picturesque town of over 2,000 residents seemed like an outdoor lover’s paradise.

When preparations were finished, it took some coaxing, but we finally ripped ourselves from Seward Harbor and headed south to a nearby anchorage. After some fishing and deliberation about the weather, we dropped the anchor to the north of Fox Island Spit and backed in near shore. Jill and Porter found a huge dead tree stump half buried in the gravel and creatively slung a shore tie through the roots. We were set.

The sun was out in full force by then and, bobbing just boat lengths from shore, we made for the beach like cruisers possessed. It had been a while since we’d had this much warm sun and we were ready to take full advantage. Between swimming, playing catch with the football, paddling the crystal clear waters, and making up games with driftwood — all in the shadows of tall mountain peaks — it was one of those high moments that makes you forget about the lows.

Onward to PWS

The author and son, Porter, admire their catch.

From Resurrection Bay, we turned east to make our way towards Prince William Sound. The sun continued its splendid residency over the area and, just five minutes after dropping a fishing lure in the water, the reel was zinging. I yelled “Fish on!” and methodically reeled it in, hoping not to lose the prize. Jill got the decent sized coho salmon in the net and then went to work filleting it on deck. Dinner.

If the previous day had been our idea of Alaskan cruising paradise, this one was poised to give it a run for its money. Finding a similarly tranquil and scenic anchorage, we once again headed for shore. With the afternoon warming, we poked around the beach and foreshore areas and lazed away on warm rocks. Our salmon dinner was soon on our minds and when the thought of leaving the beach to cook aboard Yahtzee came up, I said, “Why don’t we just get a beach fire going and cook the salmon over it.” That’s all it took to cap off yet another magical day in Alaska.

We woke the next morning to a thick blanket of fog and I instantly knew the weather was turning. With thoughts of sunshine and crisp mountain views behind us, we motored through the gloom into Bainbridge Passage. Fortunately, as we pressed onward the fog lifted enough for us to not only see where we were going, and other boats if there had been any, but to catch glimpses of immense glaciers emerging from tall peaks meandering down to the water, orcas spouting, and a blanket of tall islands spread out in front of us. We’d made it. The weather didn’t matter. This was Prince William Sound.

Magnus learing to tie knots after his grandfather joined the crew in Whittier.

One of our first stops before diving into the heart of cruising PWS was to pick up my dad in Whittier. He joins us every year for some cruising fun, and each time he’s aboard it’s a highlight. This was no exception. He got a true taste of Alaska cruising at its finest and in a place that not many people get to experience.

Stretching from east to west, Prince William Sound is roughly 85 miles wide from north to south, and a similar distance across. It is ringed with tall mountains blanketed with snow and with glaciers that snake down to the water — in many ways, it’s a larger version of Southeast Alaska’s Glacier Bay. The Chugach Range makes up the northern edge of the sound, pressing sharply skyward from the sea and its craggy peaks are a sight to behold. The southern edge of the sound is made up of green, mountainous barrier islands that have a picturesque feel that’s all their own.

We arrived in the sound with no cruising guide and little in the way of information from friends and fellow cruisers who’d been here before, so we simply set out to explore it with the charts we had. After leaving Whittier, we kept going clockwise around the northern portion of the sound, including dodging ice on a motor-sail up Columbia Bay to see its namesake tidewater glacier. Popping in and out of small coves, anchoring in a different stunning place each night, life rolled along fluidly for the five us. We stopped in Valdez to get fuel and resupply, then worked our way south and eventually back towards Seward. We weren’t ready for summer to end, but it was clearly fading; nights were getting cooler and the presence of fog was increasing.

Throughout our short time in Prince William Sound, what we learned most about cruising here is that you can simply poke around under sail and power, uncovering anchorages, and roaming empty beaches — that every nook and turn can be as magical as the last. There were so few other cruisers it felt like the place was our own.

When we sailed into Alaska months prior, we were fully expecting a wide range of experiences. We also knew that every step of the journey, high or low, would be incredibly rewarding and worthwhile. To be sure, Prince William Sound represented an ideal end to an astonishing spring and summer of cruising from Southeast Alaska to Kodiak Island and then up to the Kenai Peninsula. It certainly took some ups and downs to get here, but it was all worth the effort.

Tidewater glaciers are a common sight in many areas around PWS.


Andy Cross is the editor of 48° North. You can follow his family’s cruising adventures at SailingYahtzee.com.