Whether cruising all the way to S.E. Alaska or a shorter trip along the beautiful Inside Passage through British Columbia, most small vessel owners, power or sail, will have understandable and common concerns about the cruise.
1. One of the first concerns is the worthiness of the vessel as pertains to two major issues, namely safety and comfort. I have been cruising for close to 40 years in the Pacific Northwest typically spending two to three months traveling along the Inside Passage in our 32' powerboat. In general, the larger the vessel, one can expect greater safety and comfort both. Yet, most boaters start with a small vessel taking short trips and with time and experience add destinations further north. So, what is a 'safe' vessel?
By definition I would propose that a vessel in reasonable seaworthy shape that is skippered by an experienced and knowledgeable captain and crew could travel the Inside Passage in safety almost regardless of the type of vessel or its size. Small sailboats have sailed around the world for years as have powerboats in the recent past. Thus, traveling in sheltered water along the coastline should not be a major concern for most boaters. Understanding tides and currents, being knowledgeable about weather, knowing how to cruise in thick fog, plot a route and how to anchor are other factors that should be thoroughly understood prior to undertaking a long distance cruise. Knowing the characteristics of ones vessel and its ability to handle stormy conditions is also a given.
My recommendation for cruising the distance to S.E. Alaska is to have a well found vessel, have local cruising experience and leave the dock sooner in your life than later. Too often we have prior conditions that impact our choices making major adventures in life very difficult to experience. For instance, monetary concerns impact the size, type, age and condition of the vessel itself. Too often boaters think that they just have to have a ' better' boat or 'more' equipment, or more money in the bank to undertake a major cruise. Let's face it, when sitting in a nursing home someday will you be able to talk fondly of the experiences you've had in your lifetime or the amount of money in your bank account, how often you purchased a new car, the size of your home, or the length of your boat? I hope you will agree that 'things' can be replaced, but memories can never be.
Another issue for many pertains to health factors. It is extremely important, especially in remote locations, to have good health! Yet, the older we get, the more likely we are to have health issues. Therefore, just as it doesn't make sense to wait for enough funds, it doesn't make sense to wait until we are old and decrepit!
The other issue (excuse) for putting off an extended cruise is the lack of time. For those who are employees, getting a paid or unpaid leave of absence from a job can be a major issue. Perhaps though, there are ways to make your dream trip a reality other than waiting until you are retired. Throughout my own life I have been self employed. Thus, when I took time off for a cruise, not only did I need to cover on-going living expenses, but also lack of income due to the fact that I couldn't make a sale while gone. All but the best of customers won't wait an extended period of time for you to return. Thus it was necessary for me, in order to take two or three months off, to work harder during the nine or ten months that I wasn't cruising. If your lifestyle is predicated on your job, perhaps you should change the emphasis. Make your job fit your lifestyle!
I would like to add the fact that a round trip to Alaska just can't be done adequately in a short period of time. Our vessel travels at close to 7 knots of speed. A cruise to Alaska from my home port is a distance of 1,000 miles each direction. Divide the round trip distance of 2,000 miles by 7 equals 286 hours of travel. In a 12 hour travel window one would need to cover 24 miles each and every day. Stated another way, at my boat speed, it would take me 24 days of travel putting in 12 hour days just to travel the distance. I don't know about you, but when I go cruising I frequently spend a day or two at many anchorage sites. I frequently travel for three or four hours each day from scenic location to the next one. And then, of course, there are going to be gale and storm force winds that impact travel plans.
To conclude... See what you can do creatively to make your dream cruise come true. You just might discover that your trip of a lifetime actually came to you multiple times instead of just once.
2. The other factor, beyond safety, is comfort. A larger salon, spacious master stateroom, nicer skiff, modern galley fixtures... are nice to have, but again, are they necessary? I guess for some people there are minimal features that must be aboard a vessel in order to meet ones' comfort level. We all have minimum requirements. I would urge you to seriously consider, 'how low can you go?' At the very least one needs to account for the comfort levels of each person on the cruise. It doesn't make sense to spend quality time in an inferior, hateful and grossly inadequate vessel. Yet, looking at a calving glacier nearby, snow capped mountains, the brown bear walking a shoreline ... don't require top of the line sleeping accommodations, or a new stove. Some of my fondest memories are of camping trips in a tent and early ocean cruises in a 17' aluminum boat powered by a stinky 90 h.p outboard engine. Ask yourself how you can make your dream cruise happen in the near future. Remember that as you get older, have longer vacation times available, have more money in the bank, a larger boat, etc. you are able to cruise in style. Decide for yourself, what exactly is style?
The next blog will focus on choosing the best vessel for cruising. Stay tuned sail boaters, planing hull power boaters, and trawler boat owners. Still other blogs will focus on destinations along the inside passage, handling tidal rapids and traveling for hours in fog.
Cruising the Inside Passage to Central or Northern British Columbia or even further, to S.E. Alaska, is for many small boaters the cruise of a lifetime. The first time boaters have understandable concerns about the adequacy of their vessel, weather concerns, routes, anchorages, provisioning and more. Dealing with extensive fog and transiting tidal rapids along the way can be of major concern as is the crossing of large bodies of water that will need to be handled along the chosen route. The author and his wife have cruised the Inside Passage to S.E. Alaska and have come to know the choice anchorage sites both along the well traveled routes and those that are seldomly visited. Future blogs will detail the above information so check with this website regularly. Boating seminars are also available for those seeking further information as well.