500 Miles across the Gulf of Alaska, in a 32 foot twin screw gas pleasure craft.

This map shows the layout of the Gulf of Alaska from Cape Spencer on the right to Prince William Sound on the left.

In August 1997 my 2 oldest sons and I delivered a 32' Carver from Juneau to Whittier(Prince William Sound). The last 2 legs from Cape Spencer to Yakatat, and from Yakatat to Whittier consist of about 150 miles and about 300 miles.

In case you didn't know it this twin screw gas boat used fuel at the rate of 0.68 miles per gallon. In order to make the last 300 miles we had 550 gallons of gas on board. Consisting of 200 gallons in 55 gallon drums, 100 in 15 gallon plastic jugs and 250 in the regular fuel tanks. The weight of fuel plus 4 - 55 gallon drums came to about 4500 pounds(2 1/4 tons). It may boggle your mind to think about having this much stuff on a 32' Carver, but I can assure you that with all this plus our equipment and 3 people, the boat was still capable of cruising at over 22 knots.

You can be sure that I did not tell the engines in advance what I had in mind. Before loading the last 100 gallons, I took the boat out in the bay and conducted some tests doing figure 8's to see if it would plane and whether the handling was ok. Having satisfied myself that we would still be able to plane and the boat would not topple over from the weight, we set out from Yakatat at 1700 hours local time. The plan was to trade gas for distance, to run at 20-23 knots for 7 hours in order to be off Kayak Island by midnight. The alternative was to go with less fuel and go slow which would have taken 20 hours and left us exposed out in the open in front of the shallow Copper River Delta for many hours. This delta is no place to try to go in. It is very shallow and extends for miles and has big tides. No place for a stranger.

The plan hinged on the fact that every 3 hours we would go thru 100 gallons of fuel. 15 hours of fuel at 20-25 knots would carry us 300-375 miles. During the last 5 hours top speed should be about 25 knots. In point of fact we arrived in Whittier with 140 gallons on board. Enough fuel for about 3 more hours.

Would I do this again?
Not on your life. Not because of the 550 gallons(2 tons of gasoline). Not because of the distance. The problem in my opinion was the poor access to the engines with 4 drums sitting on the engine hatches aft. Until we could burn off the 200 gallons in the drums, we could not have any serious access to the engines; in case of fire, breakdown or anything else.

A few side notes. There no other fuel stops on this route. There are only a couple of places to hide on this whole stretch of coast. The whole place is a rotten lee shore, just waiting to gobble ships.

On January 30, 1998, the "Le Conte" a 77' fishing boat sank between Cape Spencer and Yakatat. It took 3 Coast Guard helicopters, of which only 1 was successful in rescuing any of the 6 survivors of the sinking. The story of this accident was widely written up in lower 48 papers in a series of 5 articles from the Associated Press, during the late fall of 1998. The details of this story are so horrifying that just sitting at a table in the safety and comfort of one's home and reading it is enough to make you sick at your stomach! It seems like a miracle that anyone survived, either from the ship or the 3 helicopters. With wind speeds in the 100-150 knot range and temperatures near freezing, it's a wonder the helicopters survived.

In Sitka Alaska, the Coast Guard has 3 helicopter crews who my ten year old would describe as "insane". When he comes to the bridge and tells me that things have reached the "insane" level, you can be sure he knows whereof he speaks!.