How To Get To Alaska

Covid continues to mess with our lives in so many ways. Now we’re pondering what my retirement date really looks like. I hate to retire in the middle of a pandemic and be home-bound, but also hate to keep working past when I need to, and not take advantage of all of our good planning. I told my bosses this was my last year of work, and Dec 31 was my last day. I even have a countdown clock on my PC so I see that reminder every day.

But clearly it’s just too soon to know whether small countries will be vaccinated and international borders reopened by next spring when we intended to set sail. So we’ve decided to delay our departure another year. This takes some pressure off the boat refit work we need to do before we go (there will be many blogs about that, I’m sure).

When we left the Pacific NW for our last cruise, we headed north to SE Alaska, and spent three months cruising those spectacularly beautiful waters. Having spent a good portion of my life in Alaska, I have so much appreciation for all that it has to offer. Southeast was new to me, and neither Rob nor myself got anywhere close to our fill on that first trip.

We were feeling sad that our next cruise is starting without another Alaska adventure, but sailing straight to the Marquesas makes more sense next time, since we spent so much time in Latin America last trip. And that means an April departure to get into the South Pacific during that winter cruising season. So how to remedy this gap? I’ve been approved to take this summer off and sail north, then come back and work past my planned retirement date at the end of the year.

But there is that pesky issue of the Canadian border being closed. There was even a pretty nasty comment on our always friendly local Women Who Sail group (that includes all Northwest BC and Washington sailing ladies) about American boaters sneaking into BC and breaking the rules. And so much of the information, with changing conditions, from Canadian Border Patrol, seems to be conflicting about whether we could pass through BC on our way north if it was just a pleasure cruise (no job waiting for us in Alaska).

Finally this morning I found the official policy from CBP, and I’m posting that link here so I can find it if I need to. Things are still fluid, but as we get more vaccinations I hope the restrictions ease more than tighten. Here is the link for the border restrictions:

Of course we are an ocean going sailboat, so why not sail? It’s literally 500 miles upwind and against a persistent 2-3 knot current. It would take us likely just as long to sail up as it will to motor every day and anchor every night in some beautiful remote cove.

How long will it take? I asked Navionics to plot a course from Poulsbo to Foggy Bay, which is just across the border and south of Ketchikan. Navionics said “nope, can’t figure that one out myself”, and showed me a straight line that was just over 500 miles. We’ll have long days to travel, and if we can time the currents right, may be able to make 70 miles in a day. That’s a little over a week. But that’s optimistic.

Here’s a route with some rough waypoints, and the more realistic picture is 700 miles. We may or may not have enough fuel to get that far, depending on how much current push we can find. But we will be allowed to stop for fuel, and likely will refill before we leave the north end of Vancouver Island. We probably won’t go the true inside passage route, but stay outside along the islands on the east side of Hecate Strait. If we get lucky maybe we’ll even get some wind for a bit of sailing there.

For the trip home, we’ll likely take an offshore route (downwind and downcurrent) around the Haida Gwaii and outside Vancouver Island. We’ve sailed this route before, and now that we know about the shallows at the opening of Dixon Entrance that give massive swells there, it’ll be a nice route.

So the planning begins. First the dates. I’ve promised we would put into a marina every few weeks and I would work if needed. How early is too early to go north – I’m thinking early June? Last time we sailed south in August, but September isn’t too late either.

Then the lists start: cats to the vet for heath certificate, fix the heater and outboard, repair the broken furling clutch, rent the house, provisioning, service the liferaft, install AIS xmit (only have receive now), verify EPIRB registration, dig out all the Alaska and Canadian charts, etc, etc.

Yay, finally something to help get out of the Covid Funk and make plans for a fun summer trip. We won’t have pals to buddy boat with and will still have to socially distance, but we’ll be finding some new territory to explore.