Heading North


Launch: Anywhere in Pacific Northwest. We departed from the San Juan Islands, but any good ramp along the Washington or British Columbia coast would be fine. Most out -of-area boats would find Anacortes a fine place to begin the adventure.

Nearby campsites: There are fine state park campgrounds and private RV parks near Anacortes.

Comments: This is a journey that could done in one big swallow, a leisurely sit down meal, or many little bites scattered through time. However you do it, you will be cruising some of the finest salt water this continent has to offer.



------The journey can take a week, a summer, or a lifetime. In the 1930's, M. Wylie Blanchet cruised these waters on the 25-foot wooden boat, Caprice, for fifteen summers. She did so with her five children and a dog. Her tale, Curve of Time, is one of the best sea stories we have read (and reread) -- it is not so much an adventure as a wonderfully described story of life aboard, traveling through a marvelous land, across a challenging sea.

------Much has changed since Blanchet's tale was lived. But much has not -- the windswept remnants of old growth rain forest still cling to the granite slopes. Cougars and bears prowl their depths. Tidal currents still rip through saltwater rapids, and orcas, seals, and otters still feed along the shores. There are more boats, large ferries, and cruise ships -- more towns, logging camps, and marinas. But the land and sea dwarf these intrusions, and these waters remain a challenging route to incredible waterways, scenic vistas, and people.


------It is a long way -- a very long way -- from Seattle to Juneau. It's about as far from Seattle to Los Angeles, New York to Florida, or Boston to Chicago. In round terms, our 2006 cruise has been 2000 nmiles, and your cruise will vary depending upon how many fiords one wishes to explore en route.

------For many years we lead raft trips down the Colorado River through Grand Canyon. Most other outfitters took 8 days -- ours were at least twice as long, for the same distance. We looked at raft travel along the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon as a journey down the 'highway' -- a marvelously beautiful and exciting journey -- but also an access route to the even more beautiful and seldom-visited side canyons that required time and hiking.

------ We viewed our passage north the same way -- a marvelous journey along the Inside Pssage route followed by ferries, cruise ships, and most pleasure boats -- but for us a 'highway' that gave access to the more isolated and wild inlets, fiords, and channels seldom visited by other boats. I'm writing this while we are in Fiordland Recreation Area, and today we haven't seen another boat. Just waterfalls leaping thousands of feet off sheer granite cliffs, a grizzly sow and her two-year old cub, a black bear, and countless seals and sea birds. We are in the heart of a wilderness park -- alone -- in our boat!

San Juan and Gulf Islands

------You begin with a cruise through those delightful boating destinations, the San Juan and Gulf Islands. There is a brief, and usually pleasant, border crossing between the two sets of islands. Then, there is the challenge of crossing the Straits of Georgia. This is one of the three mighty 'dragons' lying in wait along this northwest coast for the unaware boat traveler. (The other two are Queen Charlotte Sound and Dixon Entrance). With patience, a good ear to the VHF weather reports, and an eye always cocked to the sky and horizon, the crossing can be easy.

Straits of Georgia - Early AM - The Dragon is Sleeping

------There is an additional man-made challenge to the crossing of the Straits -- Whiskey Gulf. The Canadian military has cordoned off a large area in the central straits for torpedo and undersea testing and research. When Whiskey Gulf is 'active' pleasure boats must make a few wide doglegs to avoid an unpleasant encounter with military patrol boats, planes, helicopters, ships, or torpedoes.

Princess Louisa Inlet

------Once across, coastal British Columbia mainland waters can be traversed through channels mostly protected by offshore islands. Immediately ahead, and less than 200 nmiles from your launch site in the San Juan Islands, is one of the gems of Pacific Northwest cruising -- Princess Louisa Inlet.

------Our need for beauty can never be satiated, even with Chatterbox Falls and the towering granite cliffs. However, there is more to the north so you must tear yourself away from the Princess.

Desolation Sound

------The journey north requires a brief sojourn along the unprotected shoreline of the Straits of Georgia -- tempting the dragon to lash his tail. Life is a combination of ying and yang, and it is worth the risk, since just to the north lies Desolation Sound -- a maze of mountain and water beauty.

------The passage through the islands is a challenge not just for the cruising boat but also for the tidal waters of the Pacific. Tides, sometimes in excess of fifteen feet during flood tides, must pour zillions of gallons of water through these islands every six hours. In every channel north, rapids replete with whirlpools, overfalls, and rips churn the pass. Photographs of vessels foolish enough to traverse the rapids during full flood decorate the walls of marinas in this area and fill pages in every cruising guide. One carefully reckons the exact time of slack water at the turn of the tides and then the rapids seem like an imaginative nightmare concocted to frighten the timid.

------Those tidal waters also create strong currents through Johnstone Strait, a constricted northerly continuation of the Straits of Georgia. The Johnstone lies northwest-southeast -- and the dominant winds of this region are either northwest or southeast. When the direction of the wind opposes that of the tide, there is a titanic wrestling match between Neptune and Aeolus. The passage of Johnstone is to be treated with respect.

Broughton Islands

------The reasons for the earlier temptation to continue more northerly is now evident -- the beauty of the less-traveled passages through the Broughton Islands with hundreds of scenic islands and passages and exciting views at every turn.

------Now, another 'dragon' lies waiting -- the route north requires a passage through the edges of Queen Charlotte Sound. Here one feels the full heft of the Pacific Ocean, open all the way to Japan. Opposing the force of the open ocean, tidal currents, and winds (a recipe for maelstrom) is a new factor. Floodwaters pour down from melting glaciers and snowfields on the coastal ranges, concentrate into wide churning brown rivers, and dash pell-mell into the sea. The addition of these fresh water floods into the confused sea swell-wind-tidal mix of the coastal ocean creates an amazing and frightening display of raw power. To slip through this barrier requires careful calculation from tidal tables. Half the time the tide is ebbing, and then you don't travel since the fresh water flood creates 'rapids' miles out to sea). One also cocks a thoughtful ear to weather reports to get an idea about winds and sea swell. Then fingers crossed, hatches battened down, and fingers crossed one tempts the dragon.

Queen Charlotte Strait, Cape Caution -- Another Dragon Sleeping

------You are now about half finished with your journey to Prince Rupert. There are long lonely straits, few other boats except ferries rushing to maintain schedules, and dramatic views on the route north. Many fiords slice deep into the granitic resistence of the Coast Range, each tempting one to venture toward the icefields. We succumbed to many and are thankful we did. Some of the tales follow:

------Eventually, one ties off at the docks of the Prince Rupert Yacht Club. Here, in this coastal city of fine pubs and friendly people, we tipped a toast to a successful voyage of over 1,500 nmiles along the British Columbia coast.

------The Dixon Entrance lies to the north, sliced by the international border -- the next dragon. Once again, the full force of the North Pacific lies off the port rail. Whoever named this ocean Pacific had never cruised to its northern latitudes.

------North of The Dixon lies Alaska and those tales are told as:

(05 - 06)

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