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summer passage

It is that time of the year. Time to start planning for this summers passage or passages. Planning a passage is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. You start with the knowns, the clues, and what you want to do and what is practical to do. You begin to document your information as you gather the data. A spreadsheet works out very well for this task since things often change. We have included a sample spreadsheet from our Alaska flotilla that takes you up to Port McNeill at the top of Vancouver Island and near the Broughton Islands group. You can find this Excel spreadsheet in our Free Downloads section on the

While there consider downloading the Weather Checklist, which you can use daily to help organize your weather information.

Using the mileage tables from a resource like Local Knowledge a Skipper’s Referenceyou can calculate cruising hours in the day and quickly see if your plans meet reality. You can look forward and understand what time you need to pass through what we call the Gateways, locations where you have a time requirement like the hours when Customs is open, a critical tidal current pass like Deception Pass, Dodd Narrows or Seymour Narrows where you should go through at slack.

Here is a checklist of how to create a trip planning itinerary:

  1. Start by setting your departure date and a plan for how many days you have available to cruise.
  2. On your schedule, set the knowns, like the dates you know you need to be somewhere for a special event, meeting with friends or some other date dependent event.
  3. Plan for the “Gateways,” slack at Deception Pass or Dodd Narrows for example. If you are headed further north, do the calculations for the area where there are multiple tidal current rapids such as Dent Rapids. Record the times for passage and note whether the distances planned allow enough time to get there. Build a margin of time to allow you to arrive early. Note the direction of the forecasted current for later planning with the winds for that day to avoid or be aware of a wind against current situation such as in Johnstone Strait or even Deception Pass. A strong Ebb against a Westerly wind at Deception Pass will create turbulent seas up to 2 miles out if you are headed north along Whidbey Island. Note the phase of the moon. Use caution on or close to days with a full moon or new moon when currents are at their peak.
  4. Begin to fill in the places you would like to go and their distance.
  5. Make notes for favorite restaurants, and places for fuel, water, and garbage drop.
  6. When your schedule makes sense for you and your crew, start making moorage reservations at the marinas along the way by email or phone. Record this information on your worksheet. For popular anchorages, plan mid-afternoon arrivals during the busy summer months for the best choice of anchorage spots.
  7. Once moorage reservations are made, consider whether you want to make dinner reservations at a restaurant nearby.
  8. Use your itinerary plan daily to make changes due to weather or other factors.
  9. Most importantly – ENJOY! The whole idea of a good plan is to allow the Captain and crew to enjoy the trip by taking way the hidden surprises along the way. It can be frustrating to arrive at a tidal gateway an hour and a half after slack and then have to wait for 4-4.5 hours for the next slack. It happens.

What else do we do?

We prepare a plan even for a short trip and note places on the way where there may be extreme currents that slow you down. In our area, this could be the tidal currents for Tacoma Narrows, Admiralty Head, the Swinomish and Guemes Channels, or even Spieden Channel on the way to Roche Harbor. Sometimes you will find that adjusting your passage through these areas by 1 hour will dramatically change your time en route where a 2-3 knot current can go from slowing you down to pushing you faster.

Be smart and safe with good summer passage planning!

~ Mark Bunzel

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