Susan C. Anthony

Friends on the sailboatPrince William Sound 2006

The weather in Alaska, we're told, cycles through periods of rain and sun every 20 years. My first decade here, the 1980s, was wet and cold. In fact, that's why our neighbor decided to sell his sailboat. It was a lot more fun to spend time in his cozy cabin in inclement weather than fight raging seas, torrential rain, and hypothermia.

We were lucky. About the time we bought our first boat, the cycle began to change. Our first years boating we spent nearly all of our time in raingear, but in the late 1990s and early 2000s, we enjoyed more and more clear sunny days. For a time, there was so little rain that wildfires were record-breaking. Smoke thickened the air and veiled the scenery. We prayed for rain and cool weather, and I vowed never again to complain about rain (though, believe me, I've been tempted).

In 2006, the cycle turned toward rain. We had some great times boating even without sunny weather.

We had one close call on perhaps the calmest and most beautiful day on the water. We hosted a group of friends for a day, including two girls. It was flat calm as we began to cross Port Wells toward Esther Island. The boat was on autopilot and there were no obstacles in sight. I left both girls on watch and went below to prepare lunch. Before long they called me up. Something was in our way, they said. It turned out to be a raft of birds, which, of course, took flight as we approached. I told them not to worry about birds; just tell me about boats or things like that.

Awhile later, I heard one of them say. "Oh no, I think we're going to hit!" I raced aboveboard and there, directly in front of us, loomed a 30' tall weather buoy, the only obstruction for miles in any direction! We were aimed so dead on that after I disconnected the autopilot, I hesitated, not knowing which way to turn! Dennis shoved the tiller as far as it would go and we skimmed past the buoy with inches to spare.

"Why didn't you say something?" I asked the girls. "You must have seen that coming for awhile."

"We did," they answered. "But you said we should only tell you if we saw a boat."

These were not young girls! One was a teenager and one was older. Two of them were on watch! (They might each have been waiting for the other to raise the alarm.) They were standing and facing forward the entire time, chatting with each other, watching intently. The water was thousands of feet deep. We'd seen that buoy in the past, but always as a tiny speck in the distance. What happened was clearly impossible, but it happened nevertheless.

All's well that ends well. We never think of that day without breathing prayers of thanks.

The video features scenes from other trips in 2006. Notice the rain.... The music is "Whitetails on High Places" by Timothy Seaman, from his album Shenandoah: Here on this Ridge. Used by permission. Find more of Timothy Seaman's music at timothyseaman.com

Note:  This is an embedded YouTube video and I can't control what YouTube puts at the end.

Little did we realize when we hauled the sailboat that fall that it was the last time we'd use it for years. We went on to enjoy time on other boats: from Seattle to Ketchikan on a sailboat in 2007, from San Diego to La Paz, Mexico in November 2010 (Dennis, not me), and from Ketchikan across the Gulf of Alaska to Cordova in August 2011. We had a few good times on our Grand Banks out of Seward as well but anchored out only once in that boat. The sunny cycle ended. Summers became cold and rainy, with little fire danger. We're forever thankful that during the best summers of our lives, we enjoyed wild isolation for weeks at a time in what may be the most beautiful water wilderness in North America, if not the world.

Go on to read Seattle to Cordova
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