Help Me With My Alaska Cruising Talk

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Lend a hand, please. I need help in getting ready for a little forum coming up next month.

It won’t be boring. It’s all about cruising to Southeast Alaska.

I did a forum on that popular destination for the Fidalgo Yacht Club, a strong cruising group based in Anacortes, a couple of years ago. The club’s new program person remembered – better than I – and asked me to do it again.

As I recall, I posed questions and the answers came from fellow Alaska veterans I had scattered throughout the audience. So bear with me for a review of the questions and a hint of the answers. I need a refresher run at this.

 Bergs in Tracy Arm

Bergs in Tracy Arm

Question: When do we pull mooring lines aboard and head north?

Likely answer from one of my guys in the audience: If you’re running from the Seattle-Everett-Anacortes-Bellingham area plan to be underway no later than Mother’s Day in May, although even earlier could be better. That assumes you drive a boat that can average 7-8 knots. Thoroughly salty types often are underway in March or April, which gives them lots of time to enjoy the scenery in British Columbia and to make friends while waiting for weather.

Question: How many weeks?

The every-one-agrees answer: Make it months, not weeks. With your 7-8 knot boat you can comfortably do the highlights of Southeast Alaska, but not every appealing cove and fishing hole, and return home in three months. The guiding factor: get out of Alaska before the southeasters begin blowing in early September. A frequent recommendation: leave SE in August and spend the fall months meandering through the protected waters along the coast of British Columbia.

 A good day's catch of Dungeness by several licensed crabbers

A good day's catch of Dungeness by several licensed crabbers

Question: What kind of boat do I need?

My take on this one: People – crazy people – have kayaked to Alaska. I have a friend who, with her husband, rowed an open boat north – and nearly died at least once. She wrote a book about that harrowing journey partly to remind herself, I think, never to do that again.

I recall seeing a small fleet of 21-foot C Dories interrupting a run to SE with a weather break in a south coast marina on a cold, wet and windy day. The crew members were good actors pretending to be happy with life. They succeeded and got to Alaska and home again. I wonder if any would do it again.

A larger boat has advantages in handling seas and in providing storage space for the stuff you will want to carry. They also burn more fuel and moorage for yachts over 60 feet is sometimes hard to find in small fishing communities.

The likely answer: make do with the boat you have because you know what it can and cannot do at sea. See the next question, pls.

Question: How do we get the boat ready? For a major group cruise with 14 other GB yachts with a Mother’s Day departure I began doing “things” to the boat months the previous July. She was in the yard for paint, new transducers and a new generator in December. Fuel tanks were cleaned and engines given loving care in February. I had ordered a new enclosure for the aft deck in December with a due day of May 1. It was installed on time and we were soon on our way.

My plants in the audience added: This is the time to load lockers with spare parts, from V belts to duck bill valves for the head and almost everything in the engine room. Know how to install and service that stuff, too. There is one boat yard with a lift between the north end of Vancouver Island and Ketchikan – and that’s at Shearwater in northern B.C. Boaters I know praise the service but shudder at the price of parts flown in from Vancouver or the U.S.

Question: What do we take, as in provisions? A general answer: less than you think. My wife and I once made our first visit to Costco to stock up for a trip to SE. What a mistake. I remember carrying a case of canned tuna aboard and, three months later, taking two-thirds of a case shore.

You’ll consume more fish, crab and shrimp than you expect, my experts said. All caught with your hands or gifted by friends. The steaks and roasts in the freezer likely will make the round trip with you. Do carry enough in the way of basics to keep everyone fed for several days; but you’ll find decent groceries in lower B.C. communities and in the major ports in Alaska. If your boat has a freezer, make up some favorite casseroles at home and store them aboard for an easy meal after a long day’s run.

Plan on stocking up with veggies and green stuff in Port McNeill, near the north end of Vancouver Island, before plunging northward along the mainland B.C. coast. You may find some fresh edibles in Bella Bella or Shearwater but don’t be tempted to load up in Prince Rupert because much of that fresh stuff may not be ok to carry across the U.S. border the next day.

Question: Best places?

The audience response: This is Alaska. Go look for ice. Glacier Bay is a winner, but encumbered by the presence of our watchful and controlling federal government and the need to make reservations with said overseer. Many do the bay once – its glaciers are spectacular and worth the hassle of fussing with the feds – but turn to Tracy Arm (south of Juneau) for its unfettered access to the Sawyer Glaciers.

But, others lectured, remember that Alaska is a great place to live off the sea. Chase fish, trap crab and prawns almost anywhere.

As for favorite spots, I remember hearing plugs (and I endorse them) for Meyer’s Chuck, a quaint place on Clarence Strait, North Sandy Cove in Glacier Bay, Misty Fjords National Monument (a maze of channels and anchorages south of Ketchikan), Ford’s Terror (a secluded harbor with a tricky entrance near Tracy Arm), Red Bluff Bay and Ell Cove on the eastern shore of Baranoff Island and . . . well, we’re running out of time.

However, there is a lot of help: One of them is a Fine Edge publication, “Exploring Southeast Alaska” that boasts it lists 1,200 anchorages in that region. Don Douglass and his wife, Reanne Hemingway-Douglass, who wrote the book, likely looked in on nearly all those anchorages and offer an abundance of what is prized most – local knowledge. Don’t go without the guide.

Thanks for following this refresher. I think I have the next forum agenda under control. And, finally, if you’ve got the itch you’ve still got the time.

 Kayaking through the ice.

Kayaking through the ice.