Alaska Dreamer: A Conversation with Elsie Hulsizer

Sailing has always been a priority for Elsie Hulsizer, 66, of Seattle, Washington. Her love affair with Northwest sailing was launched when she was 12 and her father built an 18-foot Robert’s Knockabout.
Author:
Updated:
Original:

Sailing has always been a priority for Elsie Hulsizer, 66, of Seattle, Washington. Her love affair with Northwest sailing was launched when she was 12 and her father built an 18-foot Robert’s Knockabout. Later, Elsie and her husband, Steve, trailer-sailed their Venture 21 in Maine before buying a Chesapeake 32, which they cruised from Boston to Seattle via the Caribbean, the Panama Canal and Hawaii in 1977 and 1978. The couple started cruising from Seattle to Vancouver Island’s windswept west coast in the early 1980s. They bought Osprey, their Luders-designed Navy 44 sloop, in 1982 and began tackling more complex trips. Eventually, in 2006, they quit their jobs and set sail for Alaska. Now, dozens of trips up Vancouver Island and five cruises to Alaska later, Hulsizer has written two books about the cultures, communities and ecosystems that she loves.

Tell me about your cruise from Boston to Seattle.

We were moving pretty quickly to do it in a year. It was three big ocean passages—from Charleston, South Carolina, to the Caribbean, then from Mexico to Hawaii, and from Hawaii to Washington. We missed hurricane season, but we hit a winter storm with 50-foot waves in the Gulf Stream leaving Charleston. It wasn’t a good way to start our first real ocean sailing.

What’s cruising in Alaska like?

It’s glaciers, bears and totems! You can go days without seeing a house. It’s total wilderness. You’ll see grizzly bears on the beach, mountain goats and tons of whales. The mountains are beautiful, so close and so steep. The sailing is mixed. There are lots of calms, but it can be windy in the channels. You need to have a good sense of adventure.

Are there amenities?

The marinas are built and managed for fishermen. They’re good marinas, but they don’t have fancy showers. 

Are bears a problem?

We always bring bear-spray ashore with us, even in some towns. But we’ve learned that bears don’t perceive danger coming from the water. They’ll ignore us in our dinghy, even when we get close to take photos.

Is ice a worry?

You’re navigating among the ice, not breaking it. Your goal is to stay away from the ice, but you’re in the ice. For example, in Glacier Bay, the glaciers were calving. Sometimes you need to stop, drift and wait for a lead to open up. We’ve never hit anything hard enough to do more than a scratch. But you have to use your eyes.

Are the charts accurate?

They’re accurate, but it’s a strange experience to look at an Alaskan chart—it’s a really big scale! Looking at charts pulls you into thinking that things are closer than they really are.

Any advice for aspiring Alaska cruisers?

Cruising the west coast of Vancouver Island is a great trip to prepare for Alaska. [Vancouver Island] has more challenging sailing with its fog, wind and the challenges of navigating amongst the rocks. It’s a great place to test your boat and your sailing skills before going to Alaska.

Also, you learn to accommodate your personal schedule to match the geography. For example, most of the rain falls in the morning. Lots of people [think] they have to get up and get going early, but the trick is to accommodate the environment.

Have you ever considered circumnavigating?

We’ve chosen “regional” cruising. You really get to know a place; it’s almost like going to a summer home. One year it’s sunny, the next year it’s cloudy and windy. And you get to make friends and see them each year.

Related

210801_JR_SE_Tokyo20_346141438

Olympic Sailing Updates

Though the results are in for most of the Olympic sailing fleets, there’s still time to cheer on team USA in the NACRA 17, both 470 and Finn classes. In the NACRA 17 fleet, Riley Gibbs and Anna Weis are in 9th place securing a spot in the medal race. They’re currently 17 points ...read more

01-LEAD-IMG20210409160620-copy

Cruising: La Soufrière Volcano Eruption

This past spring my family and I were at anchor aboard our 50ft steel-hulled cutter, Atea, off Bequia, a small island five miles south of St. Vincent in the Southern Antilles. Bequia’s large, protected bay is lined by a collection of beach bars, restaurants and hotels, and is a ...read more

01-LEAD-GMR_ISLA_0415-1

Electric Multihulls

Witnessing the proliferation of Tesla automobiles you would have no doubt that the revolution in electromobility is well underway. Turn your gaze to the cruising world, though, and you might well wonder what went wrong. Where are all the electric boats? And as for electric ...read more

Lee-Cloths-Lee-Boards-and-single-bunks-on-ISBJORN_by-Andy-Schell_Trans-Atlantic-2019

The Perfect Offshore Boat: Part 2

November, 2009: Mia and I were sailing our 1966 Allied Seabreeze yawl, Arcturus, on our first-ever offshore passage together, a short hop from Wilmington, North Carolina, to Jacksonville, Florida. Our second night out, the brisk northwesterly wind shut down, but the sea state ...read more

210727_JR_SE_Tokyo20_186871368

Tune in for Olympic Sailing

Today marks the start of 470 and NARCA 17 racing on Enoshima Bay, and racing in the other seven fleets is already underway. A few of the American sailors are already off to an impressive start, with Maggie Shea and Stephanie Roble currently in second place in the 49er FX, Luke ...read more

Happy-Cat

Boat Review: Happy Cat Hurricane

I’m not sure what I expected from my daysail on the Happy Cat Hurricane. One thing I do know is that the day didn’t go as planned. The SAIL staff was invited by Alex Caslow from Redbeard Sailing to Gunpowder State Park on Chesapeake Bay near Baltimore. We were to test several ...read more

210722_PM_Tokyo20_4910_5979-2048x

Olympic Sailing Guide

The Opening Ceremony for the Tokyo Games is finally here. From July 24 to August 4, sailors from across the world will be gathering on six courses on Enoshima Bay to race for gold. Ten classes will take part in the event: RS:X (men), RS:X (women), Laser Full Rig, Laser Radial, ...read more

01-LEAD-TobagoCaysHorseshoeColors

Chartering: Voltage is King

For some time now, both in the pages of this magazine and with individual charterers, I’ve talked about how important it is to pay close attention during a charter checkout. The idea is to listen “between the lines,” as it were, to be sure you aren’t missing any hidden red flags ...read more