The Hard Voyage North


On the morning of Saturday, July 27, 1940 at 4:30 am, Ron and Maggie set sail for Alaska. The sea was cold and dark, and rain relentlessly pelted the deck. If it were not for the length of the voyage ahead and the necessity of returning home before winter came, Ron might have waited for a better day. It rained so heavily in fact, that the auxiliary engine took a soaking and gave up, and Ron was forced into the small boat basin in Port Townsend. [Maps are provided throughout the pages of this article detailing Ron’s voyage and the locations named.]

The next morning was socked in with thick fog. Most mariners unfamiliar with the local waters and coastline would have chosen to wait for clear air. But Ron, confident of his navigation skills, viewed these conditions as an opportunity for a practical test of his navigational aid, the nomograph. The device would soon prove its value.

For adding to the perils of the fog in these first days of the voyage, Maggie’s auxiliary engine continually misbehaved: "All the ingenuity in the world seems to be required to run one of these marine engines," he wrote, and soon discovered that the only recourse to rehabilitate the faltering engine was to dissemble it. But it was at times like this, including through the fog in the Straits of Juan de Fuca and in Chatam Sound, that the nomograph proved as reliable as the engine was faulty. With each instance of engine failure, Ron quickly calculated how severely the Magician had been carried by the current, enabling him to not only avert going aground, but to return his vessel to proper course.

Many a yachtsman would have found a similar mechanical failure adequate justification to turn for home; either unwilling or afraid to rely on sail power alone while at sea. But the next day, after the repairs were successfully completed, Ron pushed northward into the Straits of Juan de Fuca assisted by the Magicians temperamental engine and only a little breeze filling her sails.

Throughout the voyage the power plant would prove to be unable to stand up to the rigors of sea and rain, and a source of constant trouble. Among numerous mishaps, the muffler blew off two-thirds of the way to Ketchikan, and fuel or electrical failures occurred at critical moments through much of the voyage.

The Magician’s Log

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