In Part I of this two-part series, Waggoner Field Correspondents Bob and Shino Posey share their discoveries while Pocket Cruising SE Alaska on their 24-foot SeaSport.
We trailered our 24-foot SeaSport Explorer from Seattle to Prince Rupert, BC. Our caravan consisted of an EZ Loader tandem axle trailer with liquid bath hubs and electric over hydraulic disk brakes, towed by a Ford F 350 6.7 diesel pickup.
We enjoyed a two-day drive of 1000 miles from the Seattle area to Prince Rupert, British Columbia. About 850 miles are well-maintained paved 2-lane highways. The remaining 150 miles are 4-lane highways near larger metro areas (Vancouver, Prince George and Prince Rupert). British Columbia is a beautiful province, particularly along the Frazer River Valley, and the last 80 miles into Prince Rupert. We saw black bear and many bald eagles. BC provides numerous, well-placed rest areas along the entire route.
Trailer boaters should check brake requirements for towing before crossing the border. British Columbia requires all boat and trailer packages with a combined weight in excess of 6180 pounds to have electric over hydraulic disk brakes. Surge brakes are not acceptable. Enforcement is uneven, but we know of folks turned back at the border for “inadequate” brakes. Confirm requirements online as regulations may change – search on Recreational Vehicles & Towing Trailers – Province of British Columbia.
Prince Rupert, BC
We launched “Explorer” at the municipal boat ramp in downtown Prince Rupert and stayed at Cow Bay Marina, while enjoying the town, nice facilities and friendly staff. Prince Rupert, a town of about 12,000, has good restaurants and services. A Safeway and chandlery within blocks of the marina are ideal stops for provisioning.
Prince Rupert to Ketchikan
After two nights waiting for a weather window, we headed into Venn Passage for our appointment with the open water of Dixon Entrance on our way to Ketchikan. Cruising in a small planning-hull boat means we can make good time when conditions are right. We limit ourselves to 2 -3 foot seas where possible. We took the most direct of the three routes outlined in the 2019 Waggoner Cruising Guide. Transit time from Prince Rupert to Ketchikan was about 4 hours. Seas were no more than 3 feet in the 24-mile open section of Dixon Entrance, less in other areas.
When boating and hiking in rural Alaska, you are no longer at the top of the food chain. You can encounter wild weather and “over enthusiastic” wildlife. However, the most dangerous threat to Alaskan boaters is a tight schedule. Small boats, in particular, must respect wind, fog, and tidal action. Internet access is limited in Southeast Alaska so listening to VHF weather broadcasts and using other weather resources referenced in Chapter 1 of the 2019 Waggoner Cruising Guide are your primary “off-the-grid” cruise planning tools.
Be flexible, having a small, fast boat means you can cover a lot of distance in flat water but be prepared for rapidly changing conditions and adjust your schedule accordingly. In addition to our primary Raymarine E 120, we use Coastal Explorer on a tablet interfaced to a GPS. For backup, we have a second copy of Coastal Explorer on a laptop. Cell phone and internet coverage can be spotty, so we use the satellite-based Garmin Explorer + device to send and receive texts, emails, and receive marine weather reports when cruising outside cell phone and internet coverage areas.
Ketchikan, a cruise ship destination
Our boat felt pretty small next to the floating hotel/cruise ships. It’s not unusual to see four to five ships come in on the same day with thousands of tourists onboard. If you love the action, downtown Ketchikan is a great place for souvenir shopping, sightseeing, and booking local tours. Pleasure boaters have several options for fuel and provisions. The public dock at the north end of town has a nearby supermarket, pharmacy, laundromat, sporting goods store, fuel, and restaurants which are outside the downtown “tourist district” if you prefer the quieter side.
Ketchikan to Port Protection, Prince of Wales Island
We averaged about 25 miles per hour up Clarence and Sumner Straits from Ketchikan to Port Protection at the north end of Prince of Wales Island. Weather and sea conditions to Port Protection were great. We planned to spend the night in Port Protection and leave the following morning. After fueling up, your intrepid captain decided to continue around Cape Decision at the southern tip of Kuiu Island on our way to Baranof Island. There was a price to pay for my lack of cruise planning due diligence on this leg of our journey. The very slow and uncomfortable ride in confused 6 to 8 foot seas was not pleasant. We should have spent the night in Port Protection and left at first light with cooperative tides and winds.
Port Alexander, Baranof Island
After dealing with heavy seas for two and a half hours, we arrived in Port Alexander at the southeastern tip of Baranof Island. Port Alexander has about 30 year-round residents and about twice as many residents during the summer months. Commercial fish boats arrive for the fishing season and tie up at the government dock, contributing to the enthusiasm found at this small village. The Eyak, the mail and wholesale fish buying boat, calls twice a week during the summer months to deliver mail, Amazon orders, and diesel for the local community.
Our daughter-in-law’s family homesteaded in Port Alexander and built several cabins in the 70’s. They are works in progress, running water was installed last year, wood provides heat, and generators provide electricity. Unfortunately, the woodfired snorkel stove hot tub had sprung a leak over the winter and was unusable for hot tubbing; nevertheless, we had a great time enjoying family meals, visiting, hiking and fishing.
For us, SE Alaska qualifies as an exotic cruising area. Having your own boat in these rich waters is incredible. We slept on the boat, explored and fished. The fishing was amazing. In our home state of Washington, 80% of the fish are caught by 20% of the anglers. Fishing is a high-skill sport in Washington, with many of us often coming home empty handed. The huge runs and relative lack of pressure in SE Alaska tilted the odds in our favor. Salmon had not come in during our early July visit but halibut, yellow eye, and black bass were biting.
Warm Springs Bay, Baranof Island
After six days in Port Alexander, we headed north up Chatham Strait. A quick stop in Little Port Walter, the wettest place in SE Alaska, and then on to Red Bluff Bay. Red Bluff Bay is inviting and offers spectacular scenery. Our overnight destination was Baranof Warm Springs, an Alaskan gem. The newly rebuilt public soaking tubs are a delight. The natural “tub” near Baranof Lake, less than a half mile hike along a mostly boardwalk trail, is a must do. Be “bear aware,” particularly in Red Bluff Bay and near Baranof Lake. *
During our travels to remote seaside villages, we were pleasantly surprised at the condition of docks and boardwalks at many of our stops. The state of Alaska uses highway funds to build and maintain docks and boardwalks in many rural island communities.
*Bear and Moose Awareness
In addition to fishing, we enjoy hiking, berry picking and exploring in our ports of call. This brings up the question of wildlife awareness. There is a lot of information online about how to behave in bear country. At a minimum carry bear spray, travel in groups, and make noise as you go. Many Alaskan’s carry firearms in rural areas. Because you will be transiting through Canada, a Canadian Non-Resident Firearm Declaration must be submitted at the border with a $25 payment to cover the declaration fee.
Bob and Shino Posey
WG Field Correspondents
Bob and Shino Posey
Part 2 of Pocket Cruiser
After a wonderful time at Warm Springs on Baranof Island, we headed west via Frederick Sound. As always, the scenery was beautiful. About twenty miles into our day’s journey we encountered multiple pods of whales breaching and bubble feeding. We counted at least seven pods. Bubble feeding is amazing to see up close. We could hear and see the whales spouting, “squeaking” in their language, breaching and feeding. As we neared Petersburg, we saw what looked like large chunks of Styrofoam floating in the distance. We soon realized they were icebergs from nearby Le Conte Glacier.