Story last updated at 11/14/2013 - 5:56 pm
A small, but sturdy white boat swayed against waves crashing into the boat, brought in by gale-force winds.
Giselle Stone, her boyfriend Clifton Miller, and their friend Dave Leggitt — all Juneauites — watched as a wave came over the boat, flipped the cooler packed full of beer (which they thought was secure) completely over. They watched helplessly as six to seven cases of Alaskan beer floated away.
This wasn’t exactly what they’d envisioned would happen when they decided to take a long-range boat trip.
The storm caused not only a loss of large amounts of beer, but also damage to the boat. But the huge storm wasn’t even the scariest part of the trip so far. Wildlife, rather than Mother Nature herself, proved more frightening.
The trip, which they started planning for a year ago in October, has certainly started with turmoil.
Clif bought a sailboat last October in Tacoma, Wash., and sailed it up to Juneau last October.
“We’ve been living on it since then in Douglas,” Stone said. “We’ve been wanting to get it to warmer waters. It’s design was never to be in Juneau.”
Planning for the trip itself started in early Spring, and the trio set sail on Sept. 1.
“We went non-stop, minus a 24-hour stop in New Port, Ore., from Puget Sound to New Port, then to San Francisco. We did that in seven days and had a pretty insane experience.”
The first few days were relaxing with fishing.
“To be out offshore, which that experience in itself, once you get five miles offshore you can’t see the coastline,” Stone said. “When it’s calm it’s incredibly peaceful. The only thing at night is the stars. It seems kind of storybook-esque, because you’re sailing by the stars. You basically pick a couple of stars to fix on, unless you have a lighted compass. We were doing something that many sailors have done, and still do, even though we have all this technology. We have all the charts. Just to turn all that off without anything but the stars guiding you is incredible.”
On the way to California, before they could get into a harbor a gale force wind storm picked up and lasted for 48 hours. They were 40-60 miles offshore.
Leggitt and the others were fishing for tuna, and it was a far different experience than Alaska’s halibut and salmon.
“We were 50 miles offshore of the coast of Washington, we had this huge school of tuna jump out of the water next to us,” Stone said. “I’ve never seen fish all at the surface. All our equipment was set up for salmon. We did reel one all the way to the boat and realized a sailboat was really hard to pull a tuna in. That one got away and broke the line. Dave said he had never felt or caught a fish that strong.”
Then came the storm, which Stone admitted left her shaking for days about it.
“We had to take all the sails down, dragged chain and anchor row to slow us down,” she said. “The waves were bigger than the boat. We were having to basically steer our way through the waves. We had to do that through most of the experience just for the boat to say in line with the waves. The wind was 35-45 knots for 48 hours. The forecast was for 16-foot standing waves, and there were definitely some that were breaking on the top.
Once the storm broke down to 15-20 knots of wind speed, they put the sails back up and reached Bodega Bay.
If that wasn’t enough of a worrisome experience, what peaked out of the water next to the boat off of the coast of California scared them more.
“In Canada we saw a lot of white-sided dolphins, which were beautiful,” Stone said. “They’re all over the place in these huge pods. They can just swarm around you and they love sailboats. They ride the bow and stern waves. We had this pod come up and start surfing around our boat. We were off the coast of Point Arena, probably 40 miles away from Bodega Bay. These dolphins started to come, we got really excited. It was our friend Dave’s first time seeing dolphins around the boat. They were at the back deck. We were definitely rising and falling quite a bit. We rose up and fall behind us an enormous whale. What surfaced was bigger than our boat. Was probably a fin whale, which are huge. They’re a little bit smaller than blue whales and they are all over the coastline. A lot of them are being sighted along the California coast right now. We also found out that dolphins love to swim with fin whales.”
Once the whale went back under they panicked. If it resurfaced too close to the boat it could easily take them down.
“It was a stone’s throw away from the stern of the boat,” Stone said. “I think I was screaming the whole time. I’ve seen the humpbacks my entire life, but I’ve never seen anything that big before. If that’s the portion of the whale we saw was that big, how much bigger the rest of it is.”
It resurfaced a second time about two minutes later on the port side of the boat.
“It was incredible,” Stone said. “I was kind of in a little bit of a shock. Clif was able to see the mouth and the eyes come out of the water. The jaw is what surfaced and he was pretty in shock that it came up that close. It was almost that you could have jumped off the boat and leaped onto its back.”
After a couple weeks of downtime in Bodega Bay, they set sail further south again, and have gained a crew member — Rob, who is Clif’s father.
The couple is planning to take their time sailing the rest of the trip, with plans to stop in San Diego, Cabo (San Lucas), and La Paz (Mexico). Stone said it’s their dream to spend the winter in La Ventana and go sailing around the Sea of Cortez in the winter.
“In the springtime we’re not sure what we’re going to be doing yet,” Stone said. We might go down further toward Argentina. We could either move somewhere further south, or we could also pull the boat out and come and work in Juneau for the summer, which is a most likely option because we might run out of money.
Clif has been saving up for the trip. He attended UAS and moved to Juneau in 2006, later working for the Marine Exchange of Alaska.
“Which is one of the reasons why it made our cruising experience awesome,” Stone said. “They set up boat tracking systems all around the coastlines in the U.S. He knows a lot about tracking, renewable entry. We have a couple of solar panels on our boat.
Stone has a teaching certificate, but for the past three years she’s only been able to substitute teach and has picked up small summer jobs.
That’s part of why they’re taking the trip. They’re young, beginning careers and ready for adventure. As for the long term, who knows. They might be life-long sailing adventurers, or they might decide on dry land after a while, though they do want to stay sailing for at least a full year.
“We might get somewhere we really like, or we might spend a year and decide to come home and do something different,” Stone said. “I’ve had a lot more dreams of raising chickens and growing peas and having my own garden and all of these tangible earthy green things. It might turn out in a year we want to be on land a little bit more. Or we might take two years and travel a little bit further. We love it, we’re having fun and we’re safe.”
Follow their progress on their blog: http://www.sound-discovery.blogspot.com/.
Sarah Day is the editor of Capital City Weekly. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.