Alaska Route Planning

Sailing to Alaska: So Many Options, Such Little Time

Saturday, March 07, 2015S.V. CAMBRIA

When we first arrived in the Pacific Northwest in October of 2008, we were overwhelmed by our cruising options and had no idea where to go or what to do.  In the end, we decided to take the “eating an elephant” approach to our new cruising grounds and bite off a small section at a time, building our way up to what we believed would be the icing on the cake: Southeast Alaska

It’s finally time to ice our proverbial cake, and that brings us right back to where we started – feeling overwhelmed by our options.

Southeast Alaska has over 26,000 miles of coastline to explore and planning a trip is turning out to be a lot harder than I expected.  It’s not like I’m new to the challenge:  I’ve been planning intricate routes through this labyrinth known as the Inside Passage for years, but I’ve always had the luxury of knowing that we’d be back through an area the following season.  So, if we missed something, it wasn’t a big deal. But this will be our one and only trip to Alaska; there won’t be any second chances to revisit favourite anchorages or discover new ones along the way and I’m feeling a little pressure because of that.

I’ve been working on our routes for weeks now and every time I think I’ve finally come up with the perfect way for us to navigate through this maze of islands, inlets and channels without missing anything I discover another “must-see” anchorage to add to our growing list and have to start again. 

The biggest question, surprisingly, has been whether or not we should do the west coast of Chichagof and Baranof Islands to see Sitka (a city everyone raves about).  As recently as yesterday, I’d decided that it made more sense for us to stick to the inside rather than add on the extra miles but we met up with some friends the other night, one of whom used to live in Sitka, and he offered a strong argument for making the extra effort.  Time will have to tell on that one, but I think I’ve been persuaded. 

So, why bother?  Why not just show up and have a good time exploring?  It’s a good question.  One that can be boiled down to a simple answer: charts!

Despite the fact that we have several chart plotters aboard (Coastal Explorer, C-Map and Navionics) and use them almost exclusively, we fall firmly on the “must carry paper” side of the debate when it comes to charts.  So, if we don’t have the paper aboard, we won’t be going. 

It’s not just about charting-up, though.  There’s romance in planning a passage. To me, choosing where to go is one of the most exciting decisions you can make on a boat:  It’s where the dream of cruising starts to take on a life of its own. Where anticipation takes root and begins to grow.  And as frustrating as the process can be sometimes, it’s where the fun begins.

For now though, it’s time to put away the cruising guides and planning charts to start focusing on getting the boat ready.  Like most years, we have several jobs we need to do before we can drop our lines in early April and the days are falling off the calendar a little too quickly!

Stops Along the Way

Here’s a short list of some of the highlights for this coming season:

Ford’s Terror
Warm Springs (natural hot springs)
El Capitan Caves 
Meyers Chuck

Follow Along

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  1. You're right about the amount to see. Here are our experiences from 2012

    1. Thanks, Judy! I'll be sure to check it out. The more information we have, the better!

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