Alaska Inside Passage

Why Sail to Southeast Alaska? Ten Reasons You Should Go

Friday, January 22, 2016S.V. CAMBRIA

Sailing to Southeast Alaska is the pinnacle of cruising not only for those of us in the Pacific Northwest, but many cruisers world-wide. It’s one of the most stunning places on earth and has found its way on more than one bucket list – for cruisers and landsman alike. And now that the 2015 season is behind us, I thought it would be a good opportunity to reflect on the time we spent in her waters. To do that, I’ve written a total of three blogs: The first one lays out several factors that impacted our experience and impression of the area – the weather, commercialism and sailing to a schedule – and can be read here. The second (this one) lists some of the things we enjoyed about cruising in Alaska. And the third will cover the things we didn’t like about cruising in Alaska.

Amazing Scenery

It probably goes without saying, but Alaska is absolutely beautiful which is why “amazing scenery” tops our list of things we liked about cruising in Southeast Alaska. It’s also a very large area and some places are (much) better than others. Here are some of the scenic highlights from our season:

· Misty Fiords National Monument (Walker Cove and Punchbowl Cove in particular) gave us more of what we love about cruising the Pacific Northwest, northern British Columbia in particular. It’s one of those places that doesn’t translate well into words or pictures, where dramatic scenery towers above head and the inlets are lined with high glacial cirques and u-shaped valleys. Most people liken it to sailing through Yosemite National Park, but even that doesn’t do it justice. It’s just one of those places you have to see to believe. We’ve heard that a lot of people skip Misty Fiords and make a b-line for the glaciers. If that’s true, they’re seriously missing out.


·        Tracy Arm is by far and away the most beautiful fjord along the Inside Passage. The day we spent inside her walls was a highlight, not only from this past season, but our entire 15 years of cruising. It was an amazing and humbling experience, one we won’t soon forget and would love to repeat. A close second to our time in Tracy Arm was neighboring Endicott Arm, Fords Terror in particular. It was, hands down, the most beautiful place we’ve ever had the pleasure of anchoring in. Our only regret is that we didn’t stay longer. The few days we spent there weren’t nearly enough to absorb the incredible scenery.


·        Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve is like sailing back in time. For the first 20 miles or so inside the park boundaries, the landscape is fairly ordinary and uninspiring. Hours can pass under the keel before the scenery begins to take shape and come into focus; but once it does, words like “raw”, “overwhelming” and “powerful” come to mind. Glacier Bay’s main attractions lie some 50 miles inland, where rugged mountains line the head of the inlet and massive rivers of ice flow down to the sea in walls that can stretch a mile-wide and reach 150 to 200 feet into the air. For us, sailing up to the face of one of these behemoths in our own home was an once-in-a-lifetime experience and something we won’t soon forget. 


Tidewater Glaciers

Alaska is one of the few places remaining in the world where you can view tidewater glaciers. Today they’re mostly found in Antarctica and Greenland (ice sheets), Chile and Scandinavia making it also the most accessible to recreational vessels thanks to the protected waters of the Inside passage. Seeing one, especially from the comfort and safety of your own home, is a rare and privileged event and we were overwhelmed by the experience and the raw beauty of it all.


Wildlife

If the scenery isn’t enough of a reason to sail to Southeast Alaska, the area is teeming with wildlife: Migrating humpback whales bubble feed for herring. Orcas follow the salmon runs. Black and brown bears graze on sedge grass at the head of secluded anchorages. Bald and golden eagles soar above head while blue herons and oystercatchers guard the shoreline. Seals birth their pups on floating islands made of ice. And so much more. Everywhere you look, there’s something new and exciting to see.


Hot Springs

We LOVE soaking in natural hot springs and Baranof Island has several to choose from. Unfortunately, we were only able to try Baranof Warm Springs but it ranks high on our list and is probably the best natural hot spring along the Inside Passage – both in terms of scenery and water temperature.


Diverse Cruising Grounds

Not only does Southeast Alaska have more than 26,000 miles of coastline to explore, the cruising grounds are as diverse as they are expansive: From glaciers to white sand beaches; protected waters to the open-ocean; islands to fjords; anchorages filled with dozens of boats to ones that look like they’ve never seen man, Southeast Alaska has a lot to offer.  On any given day we could find ourselves surrounded by rugged, snow-capped mountains, anchored off glacier-fed waterfalls, watching brown bears forage along the shore or soaking in a natural hot spring. So if variety is what you’re after, Alaska’s a good place to start.

Well-Protected Anchorages

I’ll be the first to admit that there were several times that I felt disappointed when we sailed into an anchorage: Many of them were large making them feel open and exposed, but the protection we found was generally very good with good holding in mud. A prime example would be Ratz Harbor. Despite the fact that you can clearly see out into Clarence Strait, the protection and holding are excellent. In fact, we rode out gusts over 50 knots out of the southeast in flat calm waters one day in June.

Alaskan Brewing Company

Spending an afternoon at the Alaskan Brewing Company in Juneau is a brilliant way to pass the day, especially a cold and rainy one. First off, it’s not a tour. It’s a tasting. For five bucks you get six 4-ounce tasters and a souvenir glass. But, if you’re feeling really cheap, you can belly up to the bar for free and get three tries at what’s on tap. Secondly, it’s a major social event and more like being at a party where you don’t know anyone but still enjoy each other’s company. As an added bonus, it’s within walking distance of the Costco, but we wouldn’t necessarily recommend combining the two lest you end up with a trolley full of Alaskan Amber (I may or may not be speaking from experience).

Friendly People

Whether it’s on the water or in the towns we visit, the people living in the Pacific Northwest are the best of the best: They’re generous, friendly, welcoming and trusting.  In our experience, locals are eager to help and will offer to lend you their cars, drive you around town or invite you into their homes within five minutes of meeting. Alaskans are no exception.

Fishing

Despite the fact that we don’t fish ourselves (for a host of reasons too numerous to post here), I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention fishing when writing about the best that Southeast Alaska has to offer the visiting cruiser. People come from all over the world and pay thousands of dollars to charter outfits for the privilege of fishing these waters while most cruisers can fill their pots with Dungeness crab or reel in salmon, halibut and ling cod (to name a few) all for the low, low price of a fishing licence.    

Long Days

But what good is all of this without days long enough to enjoy it? In the height of summer, the sun rises around 3:40 every morning and sets at 10:30 pm with twilight in between. Some nights, when the sky is clear, you can see well enough to read outside which meant we had plenty of time to move from anchorage to anchorage and still explore our new surroundings. 

And that completes our list. I hope you’ll check back next week for the third part to our series on Southeast Alaska or ‘Like’ us on Facebook to receive links to the blog whenever there's something new to read or to see what we've been up to lately.

If you have anything to add to our list, we’d love to hear from you in the comments section!

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4 comments

  1. Takes me back! I have such great memories of many of those places. I cruised Alaska on the small ship Alaskan Dream. Sooo can't wait to go back on my own boat!

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    1. It really was an amazing time. I'd love to go back and visit all of the places I mentioned in this post again (without all of the rain), and seeing them from our own home/boat made it all the more special.

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  2. Great post, but it's missing the most important part - how was the sailing?? (unless that's coming in part 3, in which case sadness, since that's the what-wasn't-fun part)

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    1. Spoiler Alert: Yes, Patrick. The sailing was pretty much on par with the rest of the Inside Passage which, in our experience, wasn't very good.

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