Sparkling glaciers, foraging grizzly bears, and brightly painted totem poles are but a few of the rewards that await you on a Southeast Alaskan cruise. So do hazards associated with fog, rain, strong currents, rocks, and open-ocean passages.
It’s 750 miles from Seattle to Ketchikan and another 450 miles to Skagway. These distances mean you’ll be cruising for most—or all—of a summer. To cover the distance, power boaters may have to venture out in strong winds and seas they would normally avoid. Sailors will have to use their engines more than they wish. For both sail and power, more miles mean more wear-and-tear on boat and equipment with increased potential for breakdowns in isolated cruising grounds. Unless you want to spend weeks in port waiting for parts and for someone else to do the repairs, you will need to make your boat and yourself self-sufficient.
Both British Columbia and Alaska have strong tidal currents and rapids. If you don’t know how to read current and tide tables or don’t have the proper charts, you may find yourself swept onto a rock. And you may have to transit those rapids in rain and fog with a ferry or barge coming at you from around the corner.
Once you’re in Alaska, you’ll find deep anchorages with long fetches and large tidal ranges. If you don’t have enough anchor line or chain, you’ll have to bypass the most scenic anchorages or risk dragging hook.
Based on historical averages, Ketchikan gets 6.6”of rain, Juneau 4.6”, Sitka 4.1” in July, while “rainy” Seattle gets less than 1”. Near glaciers the temperature can drop into the 30s. If you’re not prepared, you won’t enjoy the sights. Your crew may mutiny.
British Columbia’s central and north coasts offer two major north-south routes. Southeast Alaska offers at least three. Without the right information, you may miss the most spectacular scenery or anchor somewhere unsafe.
My husband, Steve, and I have made six trips to Southeast Alaska in Osprey, our Annapolis 44 sloop. On all of our trips we got almost everywhere we planned to go and returned wanting to go again. How did we do it?
Our first goal when cruising to Alaska is to get north as fast as possible. We leave out-of-the-way Canadian anchorages for the trip south to reach Ketchikan in three weeks or less. Although we average 40 mile-days, we take advantage of currents to travel fast and far when we can. That leaves time for an occasional lay day for weather, repairs or even a rare day of relaxing. We avoid running after dark because of logging debris in B.C. waters.
To see as much as we can, we spend at least two months in Southeast Alaska. That means leaving the Seattle area by mid-May and leaving Alaska in early August in time to avoid the fall storms. Powerboats will make faster passages but we have noticed that all boats, sail and power, follow similar routes and schedules.
In our six trips to Southeast Alaska, we saw boats ranging from mini-tugs to megayachts to tall ships. Whatever your boat, be sure it is well-equipped, properly provisioned and ready for the longest and most difficult passages.