I had posted this story a while back, but thought it might fit in this thread. In hindsight, we were pretty lucky, and learned a thing or two, in this episode:
Some years ago, we were on our first SE Alaska cruise in our C-Dory 22. We had worked our way north from Sitka, toward Cross Sound and Elfin Cove along the outside of Chichagof Island, and ducked inside some of the small islands just north of the Khaz peninsula via an intricate route called Piehle Passage. Back outside maybe 15 miles further north at Imperial passage, and then back into protected waters at Lisianski Strait. Weather was fine, we loved that run.
Two weeks later we headed back south along the same route, anchoring for the night halfway down to Sitka. This time we had with us a guest, who had never seen waters any wilder than Lake Powell.
Next morning the SW wind was up to 15 knots or so, but it didn't look too bad. We were inexperienced interpreting barometer changes for weather prediction, and were out of weather radio range.
We proceeded down through Piehle Passage, poked our nose out of the narrow opening, and found we were heading into 8-10 foot relatively gentle waves. Thought they might be just swells piling up as they came in to shallower water there, and if we crossed them to deeper water it might be OK to head SSE on the outside, down toward Sitka. Turned out to be not such a fine idea.
Just outside the narrow exit into open water, we manage to get kelp wrapped around our 90hp outboard, shutting off the water flow and activating the overheat alarm. (We might have remembered, from our northward trip, that the big kelp patch was there). We shut down the motor.
Now we’re in big waves, on a rocky lee shore, without power. I fire up the 9.9hp kicker (it started right away, thankfully), but then we could go only basically straight out into the waves while the big motor cooled down. So I sit out in the rain steering the kicker, watching the bow go up and down ever higher for maybe 15 minutes, while every so often Cindy tries the big motor, until finally it comes on without the alarm. By this time we're a mile or so offshore, and the waves are getting really big. I come back into the cabin, and we try to figure out what to do.
Don't want to head SSE to Sitka, because there would be 15 miles of unprotected water and the waves in our face are already up to 15+ feet. Wind is only maybe 20 knots, but later we learned that the waves tend to pile up especially big in that area (where the bottom comes up from very deep to only 100 feet or so) when the wind comes from certain directions. After all, there’s nothing west of us until the Aleutians.
We don't want to go back into Piehle Passage, because of the kelp, and the narrow rocky entrance. We decide to go with the wind and waves, NNW 8 miles to Khaz Bay, a much wider opening. Heading that way is tricky, as over toward the shore there are big rocks just below the surface. They create huge explosions of spray when the water is moving up and down that far. On and off from the massive wave tops we can see these boomers, looming out there in the rain.
The waves keep driving us closer toward the boomers, and we decide we'll never make it on this course, so we have to bear left. The size and steepness of the waves keep us from going just a bit left, so we have to tack WSW to gain sea room, then come back to our desired NNW course. After a mile or two of WSW, we turn back NNW, eventually get to the mouth of Khaz Bay, and slide in to safe anchorage.
We had estimated the following seas at 15-25 feet. While Cindy was navigating, I had been concentrating on steering and continually adjusting the throttle, so we would climb up the back of a wave, slow down and mush through the top of it, then maintain our heading down to the next trough, not going so fast as to stick our nose into the next wave. The C-Dory was so good! We never once took green water over the bow, in maybe 1.5 or 2 hours of this (we were too busy to look at a watch - sure wish I had videotape). I would hate to try the same thing in our present much bow-heavier deep-V boat.
At anchor later, whilst thanking our lucky stars (with the gin bottle out), we were scanning the radio and listened in on two commercial fishermen who had been out in the same stuff in a 38 and a 54-footer. They clearly had not enjoyed it. We broke in, told of our adventure, and asked them how big they thought the seas had been. They said 20 to 30 feet, with an occasional 35. Thank you again, C-Dory!
Over the next three days we moved north some on the inside, and then holed up in Portlock Harbor (still out of VHF weather broadcast range), waiting for the seas to moderate. We tried poking outside three times (~10 nm each time), and each time came back in with our tail between our legs. We called fishermen who were on the outside for conditions reports, and finally got one that said waves were down to halfway reasonable. We asked him if he thought we’d be OK in our 22-footer, and he said yes.
We knew we were low on fuel, but had not yet calibrated the fuel gauge, so we weren't quite sure how low. We thought we ought to take a shot at it - didn't know how many more look-see's our fuel would allow us. As we came out of Imperial Passage heading north, he called us back. He had been talking to his mate, and revised his opinion. “You could make it, but it sure won’t be a cake-walk.”
At that point we figured we had to continue or risk running out of gas. I hoped that if we at least got well inside Lisianski Strait we might be fairly safe, and could maybe get a tow if we ran out. Two hours of 10-15 footers later, with our hearts still up in our throats, we gratefully rounded the nun into the mouth of Lisianski, and began to relax. Pulled into Pelican, refueled, and found we had been down to 5 gallons of gas – maybe fifteen miles worth.
It was ten years before our guest was willing to travel SE Alaska with us again.