Paradise Found in High Latitudes

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(published September 2017)

It’s June and I’m cold. A heavy rain pelts my black Musto jacket and I pull the brim of the hood down slightly to let water drip off. I watch the drops fall on the toes of my sea boots, roll off and disappear on to the cockpit floor. Looking up, I scan the water in front of Yahtzee and see nothing but grey. Well, there are white caps whipped up by a brisk wind, but other than that it’s all shades of grey—water, clouds, rocks, mountains.

Clenching my hands together into a loose ball, I bring them to my mouth and blow a steady breath inside for warmth. It does little. I was warm yesterday. Hot, even. And I know it will come again. Maybe in 10 minutes when this squall passes.

Sure enough, the precipitation turns from a downpour to a steady rain to a surly drip. Then it stops. A patch of blue sky breaks over Southeast Alaska’s Stephens Passage and within minutes I’m closing my eyes, lifting my face to the sun. Smiling.

That night the rain pounds hard on deck and I lie awake, listening. When the alarm goes off at 5 a.m., I’m thinking about the tide instead. It’s low and we need to move 25 miles up Endicott Arm with the flood to catch it high and slack at the entrance to Ford’s Terror. I’ve built in extra time and go through my daily engine checks leisurely.

Water is on the stove for coffee when I climb on deck to hoist the anchor. I find patches of blue sky breaking over white mountain tops and am happy yet not surprised. Being the day before solstice, the sun has already been up for hours, though it never really got dark anyway.

Nearing the entrance to the long fjord we pass a massive iceberg that we stopped to admire the day before. Leaving it on our starboard side, I think about Jill and the boys paddling around it just 12 hours earlier and how much it has changed and how far it has drifted since then. A metaphor for life. It’s much smaller and in a completely different place. The brilliant blue emanating from its craggy shape is still breathtaking and its color is something that truly can’t be duplicated.

Moving along, I sip hot coffee from my Tervis Tumbler and watch more bergs pass while heading eastward up the long arm between jagged mountains. The sky alternates between sun, rain and clouds. The wind comes and goes. Typical. I try to catch a bergy bit with our fishing net but it’s too big and bounces off. More coffee, breakfast and I jog in place and stretch to warm my blood and bones.

In the moment I think about the cold and the impending change of seasons. Surly, cooler, varied weather is something I expected of cruising the high latitudes this time of year. But there are far more positives than negatives at 58 degrees north. The scenery is stunning and intense. The anchorages are breathtaking. And bears, eagles, whales and wolves are all here with us. Like the raw open ocean, it’s true wilderness in its finest form.

Rain, sun, wind, no wind. Rain, sun, wind, no wind. Cold and warmth. I’ll take it all. This is the end of spring in Southeast Alaska and I love it. There’s no place I’d rather be.

Andrew, along with wife Jill and sons Porter and Magnus, are currently cruising Alaska aboard their Grand Soleil 39 Yahtzee. Follow their adventures at threesheetsnw.com/yahtzee.