Sailing hooks fans in Seward and beyond

Posted: Sunday, June 03, 2007

SEWARD - Bobbing on the water at seemingly precarious angles, the sailboats tacked and jibed in unison, following the wind's patterns on Resurrection Bay.

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Bits of shiny metal on the boats caught the sun's rays, glinting like sparkling diamonds. Boats sailed toward each other, their occupants waving friendly hellos, before turning.

It was as if the boats and their sailors were performing a graceful dance, coming together and moving apart. The music was the sound of the wind flowing through the sails. The stage was the water, rolling in the late-afternoon breeze.

Scenes like these are what make sailing such a pleasurable sport, said Louann Stinson from Bartlesville, Okla., visiting her son, Bob Stinson, commodore of the William H. Seward Yacht Club.

"It's just you and nature doing the work," she said, as she sat on her son's J-35 racing sailboat on a glorious Saturday afternoon, the official opening of the Seward Boat Harbor. Sailing enthusiasts from across Southcentral were there, readying their boats for the season.

Along the docks, boat owners could be seen rigging lines, polishing wood and scrubbing decks. Along Dock H, two riggers hired from Seattle, hung from the mast of one sailboat like spiders on webs as they worked on the halyard, which lowers and raises the mainsail.

On another dock, two men dressed in full scuba gear emerged from underneath a fancy Island Packet sailboat after inspecting and scrubbing its undersides.

"You can't be lazy owning a boat," said Piper Warren, who with her husband, Mike, a petroleum engineer in Anchorage, recently purchased a 2006 Beneteau 39-foot sailboat they call the Lady-J.

The boat is lovely inside, crafted of smooth cherrywood that gives the main cabin a lavish but comfortable living-room feel. A bright green plant is perched on a shelf by the table, and a laptop computer is on a countertop that could easily serve as a home office.

Piper Warren, a vivacious woman wearing a ballcap and sunglasses, joked about life aboard the Lady J.

"We live on board during the summer," she said. "It's so nice to get outside into some of these little bays that just aren't that far away.

"You go to Thumb's Cove on a Friday night and when you wake up in the morning, it's like an RV parking lot, there are so many sailboats out there."

The best places to go remain treasured secrets, Stinson said. He has a place he won't reveal where he can sail his boat and stay all weekend without encountering crowds. Fishing is great and the solitude is priceless.

"You really do have to get out of Resurrection Bay for that," Mike Warren said.

According to the Seward Harbormaster's office, there are 293 sailboats among the 700 boats at Seward Harbor. There are two yachting clubs, one a locally based group and the other a more exclusive club whose members enjoy the harbor-side clubhouse and take part in racing and other organized events.

There is even enough demand for a sailboat broker based in Seward called Sailing Inc., which helps customers buy and sell sailboats.

Scan the docks and the prevalence of these lean vessels becomes obvious.

"It used to be mostly a commercial fishing port," said Judi Sweeney, a lifelong Seward resident. "But you come down now and this place is just full of sailboats."

No one knows whether the influx is a trend or simply a reflection of more Alaska residents today, Sweeney said.

"We keep trying to promote the idea of sailing in Alaska, and Seward is a great location because you have the choice between Kenai Fjords and Prince William Sound," said Deborah Altermatt of Sailing Inc. "You can reach either of those places from here."

Pat Nolan is a longtime member of the locally operated Kenai Fjords Yacht Club and captain of the tug Junior, whose bright blue hull can be spotted in the harbor most days. He thinks the numbers of sailing vessels has climbed steadily but not dramatically.

Instead, he thinks sailors congregate in Resurrection Bay because it offers something most ports in Southcentral Alaska do not: "good wind."

"We have enough wind, but not too much of it," he said. "It comes up out of the south every day around noon and blows until about 9 p.m. and then goes away. At least that's how it tends to be in the summer."

In places such as Whittier and Homer, he said, you never know what you'll get.

"Their winds aren't as steady, and in Whittier they tend to blow too hard," he said. "There needs to be a balance."

The scenery is not bad, either, said John Baker, who also keeps a sailboat in the Seward harbor.

"I've been to places all over the world, and this is one of the most exotic ports there is," he said, gesturing toward the snow-tipped mountains across the bay. "Just look at it."

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