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Captain makes return visit to Kodiak island 33 years after sailing from Hawaii

Posted: May 30, 2011 - 6:50pm
Capt. Bill Braden stands in front of the Pier 1 ferry dock in Kodiak during a port call of the Holland America cruise ship Amsterdam on Sunday. Braden arrived in Kodiak for the second time nearly 33 years after his first visit by sailboat in a journey from Hawaii, accomplished solely by celestial navigation and dead reckoning across 2,200 nautical miles of ocean.   Wes Hanna
Wes Hanna
Capt. Bill Braden stands in front of the Pier 1 ferry dock in Kodiak during a port call of the Holland America cruise ship Amsterdam on Sunday. Braden arrived in Kodiak for the second time nearly 33 years after his first visit by sailboat in a journey from Hawaii, accomplished solely by celestial navigation and dead reckoning across 2,200 nautical miles of ocean.

KODIAK — Captain Bill Braden arrived in Kodiak for the second time, nearly 33 years after his first visit by sailboat in a journey from Hawaii, accomplished solely by celestial navigation and dead reckoning across 2,200 nautical miles of ocean.

That was just one leg of a journey that lasted seven years, during which Braden and his then-wife, Clare, traveled 44,000 nautical miles on board their 50-foot ketch-rigged yacht Fortress Cove.

This time, arriving by cruise ship on the Holland America vessel Amsterdam, the 83-year-old Braden still has a bright memory of the hospitality people showed him as he emerged out of the fog to reach Kodiak’s harbor May 22.

Back when the Fortress Cove was built, satellite navigation was still in the development stage, expensive and unreliable. Loran was not available in the Caribbean, where the couple intended to ultimately end up, as Braden writes in his book about his journey, “Blue Water Odyssey.”

So the couple began their journey using a sextant for celestial navigation, which worked well until the yacht reached the Gulf of Alaska.

It got completely overcast, Braden said, and stayed that way for four or five days.

“I didn’t want to collide with an island here without being able to get a position,” Braden said. “I couldn’t get any kind of sight, so we were just dead reckoning and I knew I was getting kind of in the vicinity of where we were going, which was Kodiak.”

But the vessel did have a ham radio and Clare, a ham radio operator, was able to pick up Andy Brumbaugh, a Kodiak resident Braden remembers was in the Coast Guard.

“She was just playing the channels, the frequencies, and came into that,” Braden said.

Clare is quoted in a 1978 Daily Mirror article as saying, “When I heard Andy, I felt like, ‘Yes, Virginia, there is a Kodiak.’ Andy did a lot of things to help.”

News spread that a lonely couple in a sailboat heading to Kodiak was lost at sea, Braden said. The Kodiak Daily Mirror ran a story describing the events July 7, 1978, titled “Lonely ketch is sailing north.”

“On the fifth day, the sun came out briefly and we got a line of position,” Braden said “I still didn’t know where on that line I was. Well, about three or four hours later we got another break, so I got two shots. That gave me a fix.”

The fix told him he was 12 miles from the Trinity Islands just south of Kodiak Island. From there he followed the coastline up to Kodiak.

As the Fortress Cove sailed into Kodiak’s harbor, it seemed like the whole town was there to meet them at the dock, Braden said.

“There was a mob scene down at the docks and I thought, ‘They’re going to sink my boat — that many people aboard,’” he said. “But gee, they were all so friendly. It was a great experience.”

Braden said he wanted to catch fish in Alaska, but his commercial-size freezer was always so full of gifts of fish he never had the chance — gifts received first from people he met in Kodiak, and then restocked as he traveled to other Alaska communities.

Braden was told during his visit that his sailboat was the first yacht to make the Hawaii to Kodiak trip in modern times.

“They assured me there had never been a sailboat that pulled into this harbor,” Braden said. “Mainly, they said, to get from the West Coast it doesn’t justify it, because you have to turn around and go right back before winter comes.”

Braden, then a commodore in the Seven Seas Cruising Association, said he felt it was his duty to tell others about the transit from Hawaii to Kodiak, because it hadn’t been done before.

“The idea is commodores send in bulletins to the headquarters and then headquarters makes copies of these and send it out to 5,000 subscribers that are members,” Braden said. “We wrote about how fine an experience it was.

“So we got subsequent letters from other people that made the trip, and they did it due to the fact that we had reported on it. I’m sure there were a bunch of sailboats that arrived right after we did in subsequent years,” he said.

Eventually Braden sold his sailboat, returning home to Texas to raise fruit trees on 50 acres.

“I got old and the sea didn’t,” he said. “The sea just stays the same.

“I’ve been everywhere I wanted to go. So we got talking about it and thought we might as well quit while we’re winning.”

The Bradens put the Fortress Cove up for sale.

Under new ownership the boat eventually landed once again in Hawaii, but was wrecked on a reef and had to be salvaged for scrap.

Kodiak was just one port call in seven years of adventure, yet Braden chose to return here to relive fond memories of his days spent sailing.

“We were at sea for 350 weeks, and out of that 350 weeks we had a total of maybe 10 days of terror,” Braden said. “The rest of it was just a piece of cake. It was wonderful.”

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