North – to Alaska

Today is June 5th. Last year this time, I was sweating in the deep south in shorts and a tank top, glopped up with sunscreen. Now I’m wearing longjohns, wool pants, fleece, and gloves. It’s 49 degrees.

We’re halfway to Alaska, cruising aboard Complexity in some of the most stunning waters on earth. Mountains rise straight up from the water, towering thousands of feet above us. Their lower green flanks are covered in trees, their blue tops capped with snow and ice. I haven’t seen a house for days, but I’ve seen dozens of eagles. We are in paradise.
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In February, Paul and Gayle of Indigo asked if we’d like to join them for part or all of their summer Alaska trip. “Yes!” we said, adding the caveat that we had to sell our house first. We decided to take the ferry up, a 3-day trip, and sail back with them for a month.

Then Jim and Barbara told us they were heading north, too, on their 36-foot Halberg Rassy, Complexity. When our house sold in 11 days, all the pieces fell into place.

One day after closing, Barry’s parents dropped us off at Kenmore, the north end of Lake Washington. A friendly pilot named John stowed us and our baggage aboard a 10-passenger Beaver seaplane.

Taking off in a seaplane is like riding in a powerboat. You throttle up and go faster and faster. The nose points up and you begin to plane. But in a seaplane, it just keeps pointing up until you are planing on air, and the next thing you know, there’s no wake and the water is far, far below.

With our noses pressed to the windows, we ticked off familiar landmarks. “Look! There’s Pete’s boat!” Our friend Pete has a boat that’s too deep for his slip, so he moors it distinctively outside the slip, with a spiderweb of lines to shore. We saw Camano Island State Park, Port Townsend, and the San Juans. Then into Canada, less familiar but no less interesting.

Canadian Customs in Nanaimo was easy — how much contraband could you carry with a 24-pound baggage limit? Our route now resembled a whistle-stop airline, dropping passengers at tiny coves like Eggmont and Minke Island. Finally, after one leg each in the copilot’s seat, Barry and I were dropped at Campbell River with a frame backpack each and The Box.

Two days before leaving Seattle, we’d gotten a terse satellite e-mail from Jim and Barbara. “Autopilot is acting up and making noises. Please bring a Raymarine drive unit with you.” He provided a part number, so we called around and found one in stock at the Offshore Store. The $1500 cost was no issue, but the added 20 pounds of baggage was a concern. We took turns carrying it from the floatplane dock to the boat, just over a mile, with Barry carrying it on his head some of the time.
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We’ve been cruising on Complexity for 10 days now, and it is the most pleasant boat I’ve ever sailed on. There’s no yelling, no harsh words, no swearing, even in the stickiest situations. Jim and Barbara treat each other with respect and patience. They are excellent sailing — and relationship — role models. This is how cruising should be: Fun and happy, but careful and responsible.

In a couple of weeks, we’ll leave Complexity in Juneau. They’ll travel on to Glacier Bay to meet up with their next crew, 6 year old Abby, 12 year old Alex, and Barbara’s aunt, Carol. Barry and I will take the backpacks and head north in a multi-modal trek: Ferry, train, bus, and foot. Our goal is to follow the route of the Yukon gold rush and make it to Dawson City, the boom town of 1897.

Then it will be our turn to head to Glacier Bay, where we’ll meet up with Gayle and Paul on Indigo. For folks sailing up from Seattle, Glacier Bay is supposed to be the highlight of the trip. But for us, there will be many highlights, and only ten days into this ten-week adventure, I can hardly imagine what’s in store.

2 thoughts on “North – to Alaska

  1. I grew up in Haines, Alaska. I played Varsity Basketball and Volleyball for Haines, High School. We traveled all over Southeast Alaska from Skagway clear down to Angoon. My favorite place in Southeast Alaska was Sitka. I think it is breathtaking!!!!
    Just been fun reading your journal. Certainly have smiled and laughed.
    Wish you well on your ventures! God Bless and God’s Speed!


  2. My parents drove to Alaska from NY last summer. My father has long wanted to drive the Alaska Highway. The drove all the way to Fairbanks and Anchorage before returning to Haines to catch the ferry. They visited Juneau, Sitka and Ketchiken before coming ashore in Prince George for the long drive back across the continent. They had a great trip, and decided that surviving seven weeks together in a car meant that their marriage was as strong as ever!

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