Illywhacker - Aleutian Passage


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PASSAGE DATA - Kurils, Kamchatka and the Aleutians


A yacht cruising Asia and the western Pacific has 3 primary options should they wish to sail to the US and Canadian west coast. The less stressful method is to head for warmer climates and utilise the equatorial counter-current to motorsail east against the lighter tropical winds; this route usually takes about 12 months. The fastest option is to follow the clockwise currents of the north Pacific and use the NE Tradewinds of the lower latitudes and the Westerlies at 40N. This route requires good weather timing and a yacht properly equipped to handle 40 or more days at sea. The most northerly route suggests "island-hopping" the Aleutians and usually involves a departure from Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan. This was illywhacker‘s route that also included sailing the Kuril island chain and a stopover at Kamchatka, Russia. As it transpired, the documentation required for stopping at any of the Kurils was too difficult to arrange. It should also be understood that the first US Port of Entry is at Dutch Harbour, about 1000nm east along the Aleutian chain.


The most crucial aspect of a North Pacific crossing is the weather. The Pilot Charts suggest a weather window from June to August with an average wind strength of Force 4, varying in direction from all points of the compass. This compares very favourably with weather patterns for the remainder of the year when gales or stronger are the norm. The weather from Japan to Kamchatka however is largely influenced by the pressure systems from Northeastern Europe meeting the warmer Kuroshiro current as it curves east across the North Pacific Ocean. Fog, NW winds and low temperatures predominated on our passage to Kamchatka.


A crossing from Japan to the US west in 3 months is a fast cruise for us and we would have liked to spend more time, especially as these cruising grounds represent a unique, once-off experience. To see even a small amount at our normal pace would require sailing in September or later or perhaps even spending a winter in Alaska. Our time in Russia however, was limited for us by the visitor entry rules. Several government-authorised agents whose customers invariably arrive by air serve the fledgling tourist industry in Kamchatka. Our yacht club contacts however were able to recommend Yelizovo Tourservices who were not fazed by the complications of a yacht and prepared to take on the necessary additional approvals for a small sum. With all this help it still took quite some effort to arrange a visa and we finally managed a 2-week stay with a fixed start date. An early arrival was out of the question so this meant that any delays in the passage reduced our 14-day stay. The weather was kind for an on-schedule departure from Hokkaido but this soon changed and we were delayed so that in the end we enjoyed 10 days in PK.


Illywhacker was built for the Tropics and for this trip required an upgrade to the insulation and heating. We installed an engine-driven, heat-exchanger type heater that quickly warmed below-decks and with the main hatch open, dropped the chill from inside the zipped-up cockpit. We carry diesel for a range of 1000nm which we found very useful since we motor-sailed frequently both to make distance and to keep warm. We also installed a Wallas 30D ducted-air diesel-fired cabin heater in Japan that was not up to the task. It was only after we spoke to Alaskan sailors and fishermen that we realised how the demands of this climate could be met with this technology. They had diesel-fired systems of a substantial size with combined cooking and hot water facilities and often with distributed hot water heating.

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