Reflections on Cruising The A to Z Challenge

D is for Destination Pacific Northwest

Tuesday, April 05, 2016S.V. CAMBRIA

During the month of April, we're participating in the Blogging From A to Z Challenge where every day (excluding Sundays) we'll be posting to the blog . . . alphabetically. The overall theme we've chosen to tie all the entries together is living aboard a boat and cruising – things we've learned along the way: our thoughts, reflections, and tips for those just starting out or who are interested in this lifestyle.

Why have we spent seven of the last 15 years based in the Pacific Northwest exploring the Inside Passage? It’s a fair question, one with a simple answer: Because it’s one of the most beautiful cruising grounds in the world with over 50,000 miles of coastline to explore. And once we got here, we couldn’t find a reason to leave.

So what’s so great about cruising in the Pacific Northwest?

Protected Waters

From Puget Sound to Southeast Alaska, you’re protected from the open ocean with two major exceptions, Cape Caution and Dixon Entrance. That’s not to say cruising in the PNW is without its own set of challenges: Currents, fast-moving weather systems, katabatic winds, rapids and major bodies of water like the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Georgia Strait and Queen Charlotte Strait offer plenty of excitement. And when that’s not enough, the West Coast of Vancouver Island takes you back to open-ocean cruising.

Diverse Cruising Grounds

Not only does British Columbia have more than 17,000 miles of coastline to explore, Southeast Alaska adds another 26,000 miles to the mix. And the cruising grounds are as diverse as they are expansive: From tidewater 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, the PNW has it all!  On any given day we can find ourselves surrounded by mountains, swimming in waterfalls, walking barefoot in the sand or soaking in a natural hot spring (our personal favourite) miles and miles away from civilization. For us, it doesn’t get any better! 

First-World Cruising

The Inside Passage runs through two first-world countries – the US and Canada – although it’s not a plus for everyone, there are some benefits: The charts are regularly updated and generally accurate, unlike some parts of the world where they can be off by a mile or more. The VHF weather reports put out by NOAA and Environment Canada are precise, informative, transmitted on 24-loop and updated every six hours. Because the Inside Passage is the main commercial shipping route north, marine services are usually available within 50 nautical miles, even in the remotest of areas. And yet there are still opportunities for cultural experiences through the many Native American and First Nations communities. 

Safe Anchorages

In the seven season we’ve spent exploring the Inside Passage, we’ve rarely been more than a few hours away from an anchorage that offers excellent protection, even on the West Coast of Vancouver Island (with one exception – from Cape Scott to Quatsino Sound if the conditions are rough, getting into Sea Otter Cove would be very dangerous). And with the excellent weather forecasts from NOAA and Environment Canada, we’ve always had plenty of time to seek shelter.


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. 


If the scenery isn’t reason enough to be here, the PNW is teeming with wildlife: Humpback whales and orcas follow the herring runs. Black and brown bears forage the shorelines of secluded anchorages along with cougars and wolves. Bald and golden eagles soar above head while blue herons, loons and mergansers guard the water (among hundreds of other species of birds). Everywhere you look in the PNW, there’s something new and exciting to see.


I love to hike and the PNW offers a lot of opportunities to stretch your legs while on the water, especially in the lower portions of the Inside Passage like the San Juan Islands, the Gulf Islands, the Sunshine Coast Desolation Sound. Most trails wind through rainforests and lead to fresh water lakes, beautiful vistas or some of the best beaches in the PNW.


Fishing in the PNW is world-class (do you see a pattern developing here?). Most cruisers find their traps filled with Dungeness crab or prawns with only a few hours of soaking. While others pull in salmon, halibut or ling cod (to name a few). Others still get straight to the point and fill their BBQs with fresh oysters they peeled off the rocks.  It’s all there for the taking, as long as you have a proper license and the area you’re in is open to fishing. 

Long Days

But what good is all of this without days long enough to enjoy it? In the height of summer, we can see 20 hours of light (more in the higher latitudes) which means we have plenty of time to move from anchorage to anchorage and still explore our new surroundings. 

If any of these things appeal to you, I hope you’ll follow along with our blog as we untie from the dock next month and make our way north, highlighting some of the more spectacular anchorages along the way.  

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  1. Great photos of our beautiful pacific northwest. You're a bit further north of me, but the beauty is still tremendous.

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    1. We sailed up the west coast of the US in 2008 from San Diego, so I know what you mean -- the beauty is tremendous here, south of here and north of here!

  2. Oh my! I am jealous. What a great adventure. Beautiful pictures too!

    1. Thank you! It's been an amazing time for us and a such a great way to travel and experience the world!!!

  3. What a beautiful area... Envy, envy... of the incredible wildlife, the spectacular scenery, the accurate weather reports, the long days to have enough time to get into a safe harbor, the comfortable anchorages... We never made it out there with our boat, preferring the tropical weather. But, I did enjoy exploring Alaska and Western Canada by camper. Still... not the same as the peaceful and remote sailing option!

    Liesbet @ Roaming About – A Life Less Ordinary

    1. We definitely give up something when it comes to nice weather (I'm still trying to figure out how my husband managed to convince me that wearing layers was the way to go) but the things you listed more than make up for it (most days)!

  4. Such wonderful pictures! Love this post!

    1. Thank you, Alina. I appreciate you stopping by!

  5. You are totally making us want to charter a boat there for a season! Gorgeous pix, too.

    1. If you do, you won't regret it! Our toughest decisions is where to go on any given day.

  6. Wow, looks so beautiful! Really makes me want to take our boat there. I lived in Alaska for a while and loved the summers! The winters were a bit dark though, and I didn't have blogs to cheer me up! - Lucy

  7. Sold! What do you do in the winter?