A Grand Exploration Along the Inside Passage
For several years, two long, narrow maps have hung side-by-side in our garage, a colorful illustration of the waterways from Puget Sound to Southeast Alaska depicting the route along the Inside Passage. It has been a long-time dream of my husband and me to motor the entire passage from Anacortes, Washington to Glacier Bay, Alaska. The maps have patiently awaited our journey, as if beckoning us to, “just do it!” each time we parked our cars. The origin of the idea began almost twenty years ago when we chartered a boat to see the sights in the San Juan Islands.
(Seen below: A Fleming anchored in Takatz Bay in Alaska.)
We happened into a shop at Friday Harbor that stocked charts and maps of the area, and there we saw the Inside Passage boldly displayed, as if extending a personal invitation to a voyage across the coastal waters with endless coves, inlets, fjords, and glaciers. We purchased the maps, a promise of a future adventure. For a while the maps were thumb tacked onto our basement walls, a subtle reminder of the possibility, but as the years passed and we became busy raising two children they were relegated to the back corner of a closet, neatly rolled with a rubber band securely holding them in place.
(Seen below: Anne and Bill enjoy some hiking in their "Alaskan Slippers".)
Though it had lay dormant and somewhat forgotten for many years, this dream refused to die. Chartering a boat out of Juneau and circumnavigating Admiralty Island for our twenty-fifth anniversary sparked our vision anew. The following January we attended the Seattle boat show curious what options might be available for making this journey a reality. As we wandered around the docks at Union Lake we walked through several boats before we came upon an old Fleming 55 for sale.
We made our way to the foredeck where we settled into two wooden Adirondack chairs just as the sun was beginning to set and watched as white puffy clouds turned golden then pink against the deep blue sky. We had already fallen in love with the layout and details of the Fleming but the stunning sunset was icing on the cake. The Fleming had captured our hearts. Within the year we found Mystic Dancer, a 53 foot Fleming, in Portland, Oregon. This was our first foray into boat ownership other than the sixteen foot Hobie Cat we had raced years ago and it felt a bit daunting.
(Seen below: "Mystic Dancer", a Fleming 53.)
It took a few years of getting acquainted with our boat and my husband’s retirement from full-time work before we began our grand exploration. After a lot of planning, provisioning, and creating a detailed itinerary that was adjusted multiple times, we left Anacortes on May 1, 2017 with our tanks full of water and fuel, our water maker repaired, and our tender outfitted with downriggers. It was a late start, 6:30 pm, and we didn’t get very far that evening, only to James Island in the San Juan’s, but we were at last on our way.
Our plan was to push north as quickly as possible to allow for possible weather delays crossing Cape Caution and Dixon Entrance the two open water segments of the journey. Both crossings were uneventful and we arrived in Ketchikan, Alaska on May 11th passing several large cruise ships in the Tongass Narrows before docking at Bar Harbor Basin. From here our pace would slow down significantly. Even though we were tired from spending long days of motoring at nine knots per hour (1800 RPM seemed to be the sweet spot), we were beginning to sink into the rhythm of the water and experience the magic of being on the boat.
(Seen below: A seal lounges on the docks.)
The key to having a positive experience exploring Alaska was being prepared and flexible because you never knew what might arise, be it an unexpected storm or a malfunctioning boat part. All the equipment on Mystic Dancer was in working order before we left the dock and we brought along every spare part we could imagine needing. We carried paper charts of U.S and Canadian waters to complement our electronic charts as well as guidebooks describing the various anchorages along the way. Other than picking up guests on specific dates, we were free to meander as we chose through the waterways of the ABC’s, Admiralty, Baranof, and Chichagof Islands.
We allowed twelve weeks for our 3,200 nautical mile round-trip expedition and we barely touched the surface of all there is to discover in this vast wilderness. We encountered a myriad of weather conditions; winds gusting to 60 knots with 18 foot seas causing us to stay an extra day on the west coast of Chichagof Island, four days of steady rain and fog near Petersburg, and an unheard of five days of clear blue skies along the east coast of Baranof Island. In general, most days started out misty then cleared off in the afternoon with temperatures ranging in the mid-fifties to sixties.
(Seen below: A dolphin plays off the bow of our Fleming.)
Though there were countless encounters with wildlife, local culture, and unbelievable beauty, some of our most memorable moments included a trip to Pack Creek where we watched a mama bear known as Chino and her two cubs, Java and Bean, frolic and eat in the grassy field near the mouth of the river not more than thirty yards away. It felt like we were part of a National Geographic film being so close to the grizzlies. Then there was the time we picked our way through an ice field towards a gleaming blue glacier where we listen to the groans and pops preceding large chunks of ice tumbling in the water and along the way we seeing a seal with her pup floating on a berg.
(Seen below: Chino and her two cubs, Java and Bean.)
And of course we snagged a small chunk of ice to chill our cocktails.
In Port Refugio we sat captivated as a hump back whale and her calf slapped the water with their fins to stun the fish then breached, full body, out of the water multiple times. At one point we felt the spray of water on our faces. There is also nothing like the thrill of catching your own dinner, be it halibut, lingcod, prawns or Dungeness crab, or navigating through a challenging passageway like Ford’s Terror.
(Seen below: Crabs are plentiful!)
But the memories that have lingered in my mind long after being ashore are the quiet evenings we spent in secluded coves sitting in the cockpit wrapped in our soft blankets listening to the breath of whales in the distance, the rushing sound of a waterfall, or the sing-song call of an eagle as the boat gently rocked in the calm waters surrounded by tall granite walls and ancient pine trees, completely immersed in this wild and majestic place.
Enjoy these additional photos of the Knorr's trip to Alaska!
This cruising story writte by: Anne Knorr