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Over the last several weeks I led a group of five boats north from Anacortes to Ketchikan. Throughout the trip – and despite having travelled the same route several times before – I was awed by the Inside Passage. I was awed by the scenery and wildlife, of course, but also by the people of the Inside Passage and the impact this area has on those who visit.

Here are my favorite memories from the trip.

Entering Desolation Sound and Overnighting in Prideaux Haven

We rounded Sarah Point on a perfect day – light winds, sunny skies, pleasant temperatures, the Coast Range soaring above. In early June, Desolation Sound lives up to its name, and we shared Prideaux Haven with just a few other boats. We celebrated our arrival with happy hour aboard my boat. People were excited and impressed by the surroundings. Not even an early morning departure could dampen their spirits or wipe the smiles from their faces.

Blind Channel Resort

Passing through Dent Rapids, one of the boats called me on the radio and asked where the rapids are. Yep, I’ve done my job and gotten the group through without incident.

At Blind Channel Resort we had dinner at the Cedar Post Inn. The food was outstanding. Eileen said her meal was in the top five she’s had anywhere. People observed: “I can’t believe they have such a classy and tasty restaurant so deep in the wilderness.” The Richter family has done a tremendous job building a first-class facility in such a remote area.

Port Harvey

Tammy, a banker from Houston on sabbatical for the summer, is an incredibly enthusiastic (though inexperienced) seafood harvester. She dropped her crab pot off the end of the dock after we arrived and pulled it up after dinner. Three keepers! She was ecstatic and jumped up and down while waving her hands in the air, an action henceforth known as the “crab dance.” A few of the more experienced crabbers demonstrated various methods of killing and cleaning the crabs. Tammy learned quickly, adopting the “smash the shell into the bull rail” method for killing these crustaceans. Her husband, Andrew, looked worried…

Port McNeill

By the time we got to Port McNeill, nearly every boat needed mechanical or electrical repair. In 36 hours, we replaced a house battery bank, an alternator, a water heater, and an engine thermostat. One mechanic finished replacing the water heater at 6:30 pm, went to a city council meeting, then returned to the docks at 10 pm to replace an alternator. Not only did everyone in Port McNeill bend over backwards to help us out, they also had all the parts they needed to get the job done. We couldn’t have coordinated all these repairs without Steve Jackman, manager of North Island Marina. Thank you to Steve and all the mechanics who worked so hard to get us on our way.

Ocean Falls

We had a wonderful time exploring the ruins of Ocean Falls, but the real treat was the wildlife. On our way in, hundreds of Pacific white-sided dolphins frolicked in Fisher Channel, playing on bow waves and leaping from wakes. Then, the next morning, three orcas swam past the dock. Several of us followed the whales out of Cousins Inlet in our dinghies. What a treat!

Bishop Bay Hot Springs

First, a warning: the mooring buoys at Bishop Bay should not be trusted. We had three boats – a Nordic Tug 32, a Nordic Tug 37, and a Willard 40 – rafted on a buoy. When the wind came up to about 10 knots, we dragged. The buoys might be acceptable for one moderately-sized boat in calm conditions. Beware.

One member of our group had a birthday while in Bishop Bay, so we had to celebrate. We rafted a few boats together and had a birthday feast. Throughout the meal we were surrounded by some of the most magnificent scenery on the coast. After dinner we headed for the hot springs and enjoyed a wonderful soak. Hint: float a bottle of sake in the hot springs and pass it around. The hot springs heats the sake to the perfect temperature. Use a plastic bottle.

Dixon Entrance and Foggy Bay

Dixon Entrance was flat calm, glassy even. In Environment Canada parlance, it was “wind calm, seas smooth.” If I knew how to water-ski, I could have skied across.

Soon after dropping our anchors in Foggy Bay, we spotted a bear ashore. We hopped in the dinghies for a closer look. Then we saw a humpback whale offshore. A bear and a whale within the first hours of our time in Alaska! Later that evening we enjoyed happy hour on the deck of my boat, soaking in the Alaskan sunshine, content with our accomplishment but sad to see new friends go separate ways in the coming days.

Ketchikan

We made it! One couple said this was the best vacation they’ve ever had. They were seriously questioning whether or not to go back to work. Another said they couldn’t believe how friendly and helpful boaters are. All commented on the beauty of the Inside Passage. Everyone was proud of making it to Alaska on his or her own boat.

Arriving in Ketchikan was bittersweet. On one hand, we all made it, safely and on time. On the other hand, Ketchikan was the end of the flotilla. We’d shared our lives for three weeks, the bad days and good, and we’d grown close. Now some of our group would be heading back to British Columbia, others would continue north in Alaska, and some didn’t have any plans.

Surely more adventure awaits, and a reunion is already in the works for the end of August in the San Juan Islands.

Sam Landsman

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