Seven Seas Cruising Association Commodores' Bulletin
We wrote this article after having cruised for three months from Tacoma to Glacier
Bay, Alaska and back via the Inside Passage. The SSCA monthly bulletin is
a voluntary effort, written by its members, who pass along to other
members useful information about cruising locales. Here's our
contribution, which appeared in the March 2000 issue:
Passage to Glacier Bay, Alaska"
left home in Tacoma, Washington on May 14th and returned on September
10th, covered 2,800 miles of the Inside Passage, and reached Glacier Bay
at the northernmost point (58° 47' N). Here are some practical details
that may be helpful to others. All of the places we mention are in the
main cruising guides, of which the best for us was Don Douglass'
“Exploring the Inside Passage to Alaska.” His other two books on BC are
also excellent. You should also take 'Charlie's Charts', although it's a
bit dated, as it has a different perspective on many anchorages.
There's a lot of wilderness out there and if you get off the beaten path
just a little, it's easy to spend a couple of days without seeing another
cruising boat (fishboats, though, are ubiquitous). With so few boats,
relatively, while making the passage there may be less of a sense of
cruising community that you're used to. Still, there are lots of new
cruising friends to made.
challenges of the trip are different from offshore passages in the
tropics. You meet different problems like deep-water anchorages (big
anchor, lots of chain), being on constant lookout for lethal 'deadheads'
(logs floating just at the surface), a 20-foot tidal range, rockhopping
through twisty, narrow passes, and so on. And the Iceberg Watch probably
isn't needed much on the Coconut Milk Run. We had one gale (30 to 40
knots), ridden out at anchor in an cove that was not as protected as it
Although Raven is a sailboat, this summer we were really a motorboat with
a decorative stick coming out of the deck
a nice place to fly the Canadian courtesy flag. We had the sails up just
six times in four months, and only had five really good sailing days,
including two with the spinnaker. There just isn't much wind in the Inside
Passage, and what exists is invariably on the nose. Also, you have so much
distance to cover in the daytime (too dangerous at night because of
deadheads) that you're mostly forced to use the engine. We were on the
move two days out of three, averaging 38 miles on each of 75 traveling
Glacier Bay -- The National Park Service only allows 25 boats into Glacier
Bay at one time, including the cruise ships, so you need to obtain a
permit (it's free) in advance. The rules are very strict. You can apply
for a permit a maximum of 60 days in advance, giving your three choices
for precise entry and exit dates (up to seven days apart), and it's best
to apply by fax (907-697-2230). We found the NPS to be very helpful,
within the rules; for example, they'll fax you right back if you ask for a
quick response. You can find full details and the application form on the
web at the
Glacier Bay website. Phoning to speak with the park rangers is, we
found, more difficult since phone service to that remote location isn't
very good. Two other boats we met had mechanical problems, missing their
permit-specified entry dates into the park, and they found the rangers
accommodating on changing dates. Incidently, you'll receive some printed
nonsense about "maintaining a steady speed of 10 to 20 knots"; the real
issue is, when in certain humpback whale feeding areas, keeping in
mid-channel and staying below 10 knots.
you cross the boundary into the Bay, you announce your presence on VHF
channel 12 and then anchor at the Bartlett Cove ranger station and go
ashore for the mandatory orientation session. From there, we first took
the big tourist catamaran for its nine-hour cruise of the main sights in
the Bay. It was a terrific way to get oriented and see three major
glaciers up close, especially since the closest glacier is over 45 miles
from Bartlett Cove! The crew was good at spotting wildlife, too, and
making sure everyone saw the bears, moose, puffins, marmots, otters, etc.
(Thanks to the Japanese tour guide who translated for her group, we also
were happy to learn that "moose" in Japanese is "moose-o.") After that, we
took our own boat to some of the anchorages. The park is so vast -- the
size of all of Puget Sound -- that you rarely see another boat and even
the cruise ships seem lost in the wilderness.
hoped to visit the Queen Charlotte Islands, but a gale and a series of
fronts at the wrong time kept us from making the crossing. But here's what
we learned from our research and from other cruisers: The most-visited,
southern part of the Queen Charlottes (a.k.a. Haida Gwaii) has become a
national park jointly administered by the Canadian government and the
Haida tribe which is native to the islands. They have begun issuing
permits, too, many of which are taken up by the charter boats and tour
companies. Phone (250) 559-8818 (fax 559-8388) to request a package of
information. The website is <http://fas.sfu.ca/parkscan/gwaii>. Fees are
C$10 per person per day up to five days, then a flat C$60 per person for
up to 14 days, or C$80 each for the season. Six stand-by permits per day
are also available on a first-come, first-served basis. Friends told us
the mandatory orientation session at Queen Charlotte City, Sandspit, or
Rose Harbour is quite informative and helpful. The park, called Gwaii
Haans, also limits the number of people "on shore at one time within sight
or sound of each other." In practice, this can slow down your visit to one
or two of the main village sites such as the most famous one, Ninstints.
Provisioning was excellent and easy in the Alaskan towns: Juneau,
Petersburg, Craig (fresh stuff was poor), Sitka, Ketchikan. Everything we
needed or wanted, including very nice fresh fruits and vegetables, was
available, frequently delivered right to the boat. Remember, though, that
all those towns are completely dependent on barge shipments, none of them
having road access, and so you do better just after the barge has arrived.
Prices will be a good bit more than you're used to in the 'Lower 48'
because of shipping costs. Be careful, too, when the fishboat fleet is in
town between openings in the fishing; they tend to clean the stores out of
things like bread, eggs, and milk as they provision for the next opening.
The Inside Passage towns north of Nanaimo in British Columbia, with the
notable exceptions of Nanaimo, Port McNeill and Prince Rupert, were not
well supplied at all.
Favorite spots in BC's Inside Passage:
Lowe Inlet (be sure to anchor directly in front of the big waterfall);
East Inlet in Klewnuggit Inlet (dead quiet and full of Dungeness crabs);
Bishop Bay (can't miss the hot spring); Cordero Lodge (wonderful dinners
by the German owners). Welcome Harbour on Porcher Island is a wonderful
landlocked bay with a hundred islets and reefs to explore by kayak or
dinghy; Weinberg inlet is similar. Blunden Harbour is well protected, is
the site of an ancient Kwakiutl village, and also has terrific Dungeness
crabbing. We took our small kayaks along and had a great time in many of
these places. Newcombe Harbour is where we rode out the 35+ knot gale --
it's NOT as protected as the Douglass book says. Alert Bay is a Kwakiutl
village that has a wonderful museum of tribal regalia, plus a big new
longhouse (we were lucky enough to be there for the dedication potlatch).
Favorite spots in Alaska:
In Tracy Arm, it's much easier to take your the boat up near a glacier
face than even in Glacier Bay. North Sandy Cove in Glacier Bay had bears
galore, and a moose. Meyers Chuck is a quaint but dying old-time Alaskan
village. Foggy Bay is a neat landlocked refuge after crossing Dixon
Entrance. Floatplane sightseeing out of Ketchikan over Misty Fjords
National Monument was a thrill. Tenakee Springs, a thriving little village
with a famous hot spring, is not to be missed. Ell Cove is a tiny spot on
the east coast of Baranof Island with several resident sea otters which,
if you're quiet, will entertain you with their antics. Red Bluff Bay is a
dramatic fjord with snowfields, avalanche zones and a river. Baranof Warm
Springs has a great rock "hot tub" overlooking a big waterfall. El Capitan
Passage on the west coast of Prince of Wales Island is remote and wild and
involves lots of rockhopping-style navigation; great prawning in the deep
channels, too. Sitka has an interesting history going back to the Russian
settlement, and is on a beautiful bay.
differential GPS signals are available for almost the entire region, and
the charts are highly accurate. our first experience this cruise with
laptop navigation (Nobeltec's Visual Navigation Suite) was excellent. The
software and CDROMs were a great help in navigating through some narrow
and hairy channels with confidence. The only exceptions were some of the
older Canadian charts of remote areas -- the ones still in fathoms instead
of meters -- which are based on NAD27 datum rather than the new standard,
Great Northern Boaters' Net is the main ham radio net for the Inside
Passage; perhaps 50 boats check in at various times. Net control is Dave,
AL7DJ, based in Elfin Cove near Glacier Bay. He and his relays cover the
entire Passage from Seattle to as far north as you want to go. The net
starts at about 0745 PDT on 3870 kHz, then moves up to 7280 kHz at 0800.
(The times in Alaska are one hour earlier.) Great source of knowledge;
someone on the net always knows the information you need, or can suggest
good anchorages, etc.
Shipping, mail, etc.
Don't believe anything FedEx and UPS tell you, especially their
“guarantees” of overnight delivery. Alaska may be in the good old U.S. of
A., but it still takes a long time to get something
shipped in. An “overnight” package shipped by UPS to Petersburg took six
days, which the locals said was average. Sometimes, Alaska Airlines, the
monopoly airline, just bumps freight off its flights for days at a time.
Juneau was the best, as 'overnight' turned out to take only two business
days. Shipping to BC was worse. Forget it for anyplace but Prince Rupert
and maybe Victoria. We waited in vain for a package in Ganges (Gulf
Islands), but it finally caught up with us days later, after hours on the
phone with the shipping company. Our most successful strategy was to speak
with a knowledgeable local person, such as at Mailboxes Etc. (there was a
very helpful one in Juneau) and get accurate information that way.
Shopkeepers often know the true skinny because they deal with the same
problems all the time.
AT&T digital cell phone worked in almost every major town along the way
(Prince Rupert, Juneau, Ketchikan, Sitka, etc.), although the service was
usually analog so the batteries died faster. The cruise ship towns in
Alaska were a special challenge because, when several thousand ship
passengers hit town in the morning, phone service was blotted out for a
couple of hours! The local papers were full of complaints from residents.
We just waited until the frenzy died down each day.
Our favorite Alaskan port, because it's devoted to fishing and receives no
cruise ships. Tourists are a bit unusual, and people are friendly and
helpful. We got to know several locals while waiting for mail packages to
arrive. Don't miss Eagles Roost north of town. Go there on a flood tide to
watch a dozen eagles fishing the tide lines.
A nice town, although we spent entirely too much time there because of a
mechanical breakdown. Auke Bay is a good marina, if a bit chaotic. Don't
expect to have power without a couple days' wait for one of the small
number of outlets. Auke Bay is far from downtown, but there are regular
buses, and you can also rent a car at the airport, which is right nearby.
We found the car useful for chasing parts all over town, trips to the
cyber cafe on Franklin Street downtown, and food shopping expeditions. We
learned -- too late -- that the City of Juneau has an unpublicized card
they will issue you on request (try the visitors information bureau
downtown) that saves you the 5% sales tax on all your purchases. This was
a major resupply port for us, so we could have saved a bundle if we'd
also found a couple of good service people in Juneau, meeting both of them
while docked at Auke Bay. Kevin Dau (Chatham Strait Diving; phone
907-789-9962) is a friendly young guy with his own company who cheerfully
cleans boat hulls, something not many divers in S.E. Alaska will do, we
found. Kevin charged us $150 for a three-hour bottom cleaning, plus one
shaft zinc replacement; that's a good rate for Alaska. We find that these
rich nothern waters produce grass and slime like we've never seen
elsewhere, and the speed reduction was a sharp lesson to us.
recommended is Jim Betts (907-780-8637; cellphone 907-723-2626), who is
not only a good, careful mechanic but he's also personable and willing to
explain. He came to our boat on short notice and stayed until 8 pm when
the engine job was done (replacing an Aquadrive CV joint in the
propshaft), and then another hour to help diagnose some ills with our
Webasto heater. Jim charged $70 an hour (everything costs more in Alaska)
and he's productive enough to be worth it.
the bullet and bought an Iridium satellite phone and pager for the cruise.
Both worked extremely well and proved their worth many times. We paid
US$1.78 per minute for calls to the US and Canada, which we thought was
good value considering that we could use the phone practically anywhere.
We had few dropped calls, except in coves that were surrounded by
mountains, which makes sense. As long as we had a good view of the sky,
and stayed in the cockpit or pilothouse, the phone worked well. It was a
tremendous comfort, when our Aquadrive CV joint blew a seal in a remote
cove in Glacier Bay, to make six phone calls in 15 minutes, diagnose the
problem, get instructions on a temporary fix (a 'Polish Weld', a.k.a. duct
tape), and have the new part shipped immediately. The Iridium pager was
almost more useful than the phone because we left it on at all times,
while we turned the phone off after making each call. It works like
one-way email, since it can receive full alphanumeric messages up to about
120 characters. That was especially good when our credit card number was
stolen and we got a page from home to call the card company immediately.
Now that Iridium phone and airtime prices are plunging, the value should
be even better. [Note: Iridium has since gone
defunct and been resurrected. We may well start up our account again, just
before we cross the Pacific.] Combined with the terrific ham
radio email system which handled over 600 emails for us (many, many thanks
to Steve K4CJX for being our gateway station), we had the fun and comfort
of being in touch with family and friends.
months “on the road” to Glacier Bay and back was a terrific shakedown
cruise for us. Not just the boat . . . the crew, too! We'll be back up
there. After we do the Pacific, though.
Associates Jan (K7JT) and Signe (W3IIJ) Twardowski
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