The lightning started at 1 a.m. on night four of our 600-mile offshore passage from Craig, Alaska, to Neah Bay, Washington. We were 40 miles west of Vancouver Island and our 50 foot aluminum mast was providing the highest point within hundreds of square miles. As lightning provided the only light in an otherwise pitch black environment, my wife, Jenny, and I sat huddled underneath the dodger, questioning every decision made that led us to that moment. Below deck, our dog, Disco, was undoubtedly questioning her loyalty to us as we slowly made our way towards shore, waiting to be struck by lightning and swallowed up by the cold, dark sea.

The crew of Maya, Jenny and Mac, along with their dog, Disco.

How did we find ourselves in this situation? In late June 2021, we embarked on a path less traveled to return to Washington from a season cruising Southeast Alaska aboard our 1980 Alberg 37, Maya. As many Pacific Northwest boaters know, British Columbia’s section of the Inside Passage offers an excellent route when transiting to and from Alaska. That path provides shelter from the mighty Pacific Ocean and many safe anchorages in which to rest along the way, not to mention breathtaking scenery and wildlife.

The Inside Passage was the route we selected for our journey north from Anacortes, Washington (see “Cruising in Closed Waters” 48° North, January 2022). At the time of our departure in the early spring of 2021, the border between the U.S. and Canada was shut down due to Covid-19. Fortunately for us, the Canadian Border Patrol allowed us to pass through their waters under the stipulation that we make no unnecessary stops and that we not step foot on land except for fuel and water. No problem. We complied and 18 days later (5 days of weather delay) we arrived in Ketchikan, Alaska ready to spend the season cruising Southeast Alaska.

The idea to take the offshore route back arose even before we arrived in Alaska. Instead of spending two weeks transiting the myriad of fjords, motoring for long stretches, and endlessly scanning the water for logs and debris, we figured, “Why not do a straight shot home?” That would afford us an extra week to enjoy Southeast Alaska. We had spent so much energy to get up there, we might as well stay as long as possible.

The offshore route was roughly 600 miles, which we estimated would take us 6 days. As you’d expect, we had lots of questions: Can we handle a passage like that? Probably. Did we have any overnight sailing experience? No. Did we have any offshore experience? Well, sort of… Our circumnavigation of Vancouver Island a few years back gave us about 200 miles of the open ocean experience, although it was never at night and we carefully picked our travel days. At least we could call ourselves accomplished sailors though, right? Not exactly. We had spent the last few summers cruising, but we never considered ourselves diehard sailors. We often opted to use our boat’s 30hp diesel if conditions weren’t ideal. We had flown our spinnaker a handful of times, but we hadn’t gotten around to experimenting with the pole.

Maya underway in Frederick Sound, one of many stunning places in Southeast Alaska.

Even though we were a little green for a trip of this magnitude, there were positives. Maya is a great boat and, while she is what some would consider vintage, is well constructed and designed for offshore use. We also know her very well. We’d been living aboard Maya for several years, managing all the maintenance ourselves — electrical, mechanical, rigging, and so much more. Maya was in good shape and she was ready to be offshore.

Another incentive was that we already had plans to sail Maya to Mexico in just a few months — a journey which, of course, would take us offshore. Why not just jump into this whole offshore thing a little early?

All of these questions played in our minds the entire time we cruised Southeast Alaska, and we waffled about the ideal return trip route. Ultimately, the desire to spend more time in Alaska won and we decided to go offshore on our way home to Washington.

So, after several months of wonderful cruising, we positioned ourselves in Craig, which would serve as our launch point for the southbound voyage. Tied to the transient dock of North Cove Harbor Marina, we stowed all unnecessary items from the deck, including the outboard engine, fenders, and grill, which all fit in the V-berth. We assembled a ditch bag, ran jacklines from bow to stern, and put up the lee cloth to make our seagoing berth in the salon. We had been in contact with a weather router and it looked like we had a decent weather window. The night before launch, we put on anti-seasickness scopolamine patches in preparation for the ocean swell, although the medicine did nothing to calm our nerves. This was it. We were ready.

Maya at anchor in Southeast Alaska prior to sailing back south to Washington.

At 6 a.m. on the morning of June 26, we untied the lines and shoved off the dock, slowly motoring away from Craig in thick fog. Passing through Ursua Channel and into Bucareli Bay, the fog began to lift and the offshore breeze started to fill in. It was here we got our first taste of Pacific swell. With northwest winds around 15 knots, we hoisted the sails and began cruising south.

Day one was sunny and the sailing was brisk. With good wind off our starboard quarter and the swell pushing us along, we were steadily making miles toward our destination. To port, we got our last view of Alaska as we passed by Forrester Island, which was draped in a dramatic layer of cloudy fog. Farewell, Alaska, you’ve been wonderful.

On that first night, we entered the outer reaches of Dixon Entrance, the wind picked up, and the sea state became much more pronounced. We reefed once; then put in a second. Finally, with winds consistently at 30 knots, we put a third reef in the mainsail. And there we sat in the cockpit, wet and freezing cold, rolling back and forth in the swell in the absolute middle of nowhere. I would love to say we confidently and bravely rode out that night, but most of my thoughts were of the “what the hell am I doing out here?” variety.

As dawn approached, the winds decreased, the sky lightened and we were treated with a sunrise over the mountains of Haida Gwaii. We had put Dixon Entrance behind us and had survived our first night passage! It was one small step for this passage, one giant leap for our cruising careers. Now, we only had four more nights to go.

The next two days saw us making good progress south. The winds calmed down considerably, forcing us to rely on the engine, however the seastate never seemed to relent. Thankfully, the weather was mostly clear — the sunrises over the mountains and sunsets sinking over the endless Pacific were stunning. One pleasant surprise was the amount of daylight we had. Since it was late June at northern latitudes, we only had several hours of complete darkness before the sky would lighten as dawn approached.

As day four arrived, the weather changed. We were about 50 miles northwest of Vancouver Island’s Cape Scott when the clouds rolled in. During the course of this passage, our only means of communication with the outside world was through a Garmin InReach device which allowed for basic text messages. We had been in close contact with our weather router as well as another sailor friend who had been keeping a close eye on the weather for us. Almost simultaneously, we received texts from both alerting us to a fast approaching storm front. The forecast was calling for southeast winds, rain, and possibly lightning.

Encountering the lightning storm off Vancouver Island, Maya pushes onward.

Equipped with this information, we reefed our sails and continued on our course waiting for the storm to hit. Jenny woke me up around 1 a.m. to let me know that the lightning was here. Lots of it. Poking my head out of the companionway, a bolt of lightning streaked across the sky followed by a thunderous boom. The storm was real and, just as forecast, it had arrived. Quickly donning my foul weather gear, both Jenny and I huddled under the dodger as the rain came down in sheets and the wind howled — all the while, the lightning and thunder blasted on.

We elected to turn east and head directly to shore. We could deal with the wind, rain, and sea state, but the lightning… we were helpless against that. I am not an expert about lightning, but I am fully aware that tall metal objects attract lightning. With our aluminum mast 50 feet in the air, and the tallest thing in at least a 40 mile radius, we felt exposed and worried. We motored Maya toward shore, where we could at least be surrounded by land and trees taller than us. There was one small problem with our plan, though. We had not checked into Canadian customs and therefore we were not allowed to be there. However, when faced with the proposition of being struck by lightning in the middle of the ocean, and bureaucratic customs issues, the latter was by far more appealing.

As luck would have it, about 10 miles off Vancouver Island the lightning dissipated and the sky lightened. The storm had passed. Both Jenny and I had been up all night and were completely exhausted. Nothing sounded better than dropping the hook and resting in a safe anchorage, but with the storm now behind us, the thought of illegally entering Canada was a much bigger deal.

Begrudgingly, we adjusted our course to the south and continued on. The storm left an unpleasant and jumbled sea state, and essentially no wind. Still exhausted, we motored, happy to accept rough seas in place of lightning.

Day five quickly turned into night five and then day six. We entered the Strait of Juan de Fuca, carefully timing our crossing to avoid the steady stream of tankers and big ships transiting in and out. That afternoon, we pulled into Neah Bay, Washington and dropped the anchor. We had done it. Our first offshore passage was in the books and we were back in Washington.

The couple’s favorite anchorage in Southeast Alaska, Puffin Cove.

Having accomplished our goal, we look back now with some lessons learned from the experience. First and foremost, the scariest and most uncomfortable part of the whole trip occurred before we even left the dock in Craig. The weeks leading up to our launch day were filled with anxiety and doubt about our decision to go offshore. While our guts told us it was the right move, our minds would not let us rest, brewing up all sorts of terrifying situations to push us back down the safe and standard inside route. Almost all of those thoughts vanished once we were on our way — actually doing it was far easier than dwelling on the scariest wonderings about the unknown.

Secondly, reaching out to fellow sailors in the community provided helpful insight about what we could expect out there, and was instrumental in our decision to go offshore. We got into contact with several people (including 48° North Editor, Andy Cross), and they each had positive and encouraging words for us. Just knowing that others had completed a similar route was extremely comforting and made everything feel less daunting.

This passage was a major milestone for me and Jenny. We had gotten into cruising only a few years prior and, from the very start, it has been an educational journey that has led to immense growth. I can recall losing sleep for weeks prior to backing out of our slip for the first time, terrified of hitting another boat or making a mistake. In hindsight, I have to laugh about how nervous I was to simply back out of a marina slip, but the terror was real. We eventually did back out of that slip, thus taking our first step on a much bigger adventure. Over the years, cruising has continued to present these situations, often forcing us to second guess our skills and abilities when facing a new challenge. And yet in practice, every time we have pushed past those fears, we’ve been rewarded with rich experiences and further developed our skills, allowing us to tackle bigger and more challenging goals.

We are still not the best sailors, we still get nervous, and cruising still challenges us. Through those moments of struggle, however, I can wholeheartedly say that it’s all been worth it. Now, we very much look forward to the next horizon… hopefully free of lightning.

Mac, Jenny, and Disco soaking in the scenery in Alaska.

Mac, Jenny, and Disco have continued to cruise aboard Maya, most recently spending several winters cruising Pacific Mexico. You can find videos, photos, and lots more about their travels at and