Mystical totems, rollicking dive bars and tourist-packed cruise ships: Alaska, at last

Barbara Marrett kayaks on Foggy Bay, a common first stop back in American waters after many days on the British Columbia coast for boaters heading up the Inside Passage

AHOY, AGAIN, FRIENDS. Osprey is back in the world of Wi-Fi, so here I am again to report on our salty sojourn. The big news, which you might have guessed by now: We’re in Alaska!

From our home latitude of 48 degrees north, we’ve made it to 56 degrees, a north latitude shared with Denmark, Sweden, Scotland’s Firth of Forth, the North Sea and a whole lot of Russia. Not only have we moved northward 672 miles from Bellingham as the eagle flies, we’ve also arrived at the longest day of the year. The summer solstice is at 1:13 a.m. tonight, Alaska Daylight Time. On the boat, we’ve sure noticed the longer days. While we’re not far enough north for Alaska’s famous midnight sun, we’re close. There’s plenty of light in the sky until about 11:30 p.m. Tomorrow’s official sunrise time here in Wrangell, where I’m writing, is 3:59 a.m. Yes, the sun comes over the horizon, blazing through our portholes, before 4 in the morning. It makes me yawn just to write about it.

Here are more penned ponderings and footnotes from the journey.

Wednesday, June 15

In Prince Rupert, B.C., we awakened to a gorgeous, calm and sunny morning, a perfect day to transit Dixon Entrance, our second open-to-the-ocean passage. An easy exit from “Rainy Rupert,” as locals usually call it, through winding and narrow Venn Passage. Barbara M. wore a walkie-talkie headset and stood on the transom to help us line up with some range markers and keep me informed at the helm when yet another sport fisher was about to zoom past.

Three good things this day:

(1) We made it to Alaska! At 10:23 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time we crossed the international border, in the middle of the wide-open, lightly rippled waters of Dixon Entrance. Day 19 of our voyage. “Huzzah! Huzzah! Huzzah!” we all shouted. We reset our clocks to an hour earlier, on Alaska Daylight Time.

(2) I handled the anchor by myself for the first time, as we dropped the hook in 39 feet of water in the cozy inner cove of Foggy Bay. With Hasse no longer with us, we can’t team up on all tasks. Went like clockwork. Foggy Bay is a standard stopover point for cruising boats traveling between Prince Rupert and Ketchikan, at 85 nautical miles too long a trip for one day. However, to make the stop, in American waters again, we had to telephone and get permission from the Ketchikan office of U.S. Customs and Border Protection before leaving Prince Rupert. Surprisingly, only one other boat joined us in Foggy Bay, a sailboat crewed by a pleasant Canadian couple from Vancouver Island.

(3) I barbecued hamburgers and grilled fresh asparagus on Osprey’s propane grill, mounted on the stern railing. We ate in the sunshine up on the boat’s cabin roof, where four (plastic) Adirondack chairs are stored. Absolutely perfect weather, with a light breeze for comfort, in an idyllic little bay ringed by lichen-bearded cedars. To top off the day, a sensational Kodachrome sunset. “Red sunset at night, sailor’s delight.”

An Alaska state flag replaced the Canadian courtesy flag on Osprey’s starboard spreader after we arrived at Ketchikan.

Thursday, June 16

Three good things this day:

(1) The weather forecast on the VHF radio called for 25-knot winds overnight, so we had braced for a hectic night at anchor, especially after our barometer had plummeted as precipitously as the stock market in recent days. (Yes, we made the mistake of checking world news.) But for once, the forecast was wrong in a good way. The boat sat like a statue all night long. We awakened to a sunny morning on looking-glass water.

(2) Barbara M. and I went for a kayak paddle – first of the trip. Launching the plastic-molded kayaks, lashed to the roof, by gingerly lowering them by hand line proved a cinch. They were stable and easy to paddle, and we spied a bear on shore. A big black bear was digging for grubs in a patch of grass, pointed out to us by the helpful and friendly neighbor on a Hunter sailboat who regularly took his fuzzy doodle dog (some sort of poodle mix) for walks ashore.

Historical Creek Street on Ketchikan Creek, the city’s one-time red-light district, now home to boutiques, gift shops and galleries.

(3) Made it to Ketchikan, which calls itself “Alaska’s first city,” because it’s the first Alaskan town as you head up the Inside Passage. Twenty-knot following winds and a current pushing us northward got us there by 3 p.m. Immediately snagged a first-come, first-served slip at our marina of choice, Thomas Basin, right downtown. After weeks of wetness, we enjoyed a sun-drenched afternoon in this Alaska city that averages up to 160 inches of rain per year. We all enjoyed a tasty dinner at New York Café, which inexplicably is located in Ketchikan, Alaska. I had a roasted root-vegetable salad topped by Alaska cod ($24.) Delicious!

Cruise ships of every shape and size prowl Alaskan waters. This is the Disney Wonder on Tongass Narrows.

Friday, June 17

A stopover day in Ketchikan, along with the waddling Large Americans off of six cruise ships. Eek! If the ships are running full, which they usually do, that adds at least 18,000 tourists to this town’s usual 14,000 population. Got postcards, wrote some and found a mailbox for them.

“Man Wearing a Bear Hat,” a Tlingit (say “Klink-it”) totem at Totem Bight State Park, near Ketchikan.

Three good things this day:

(1) With Barbara M., I took the city bus to Totem Bight State Park, about 30 minutes north of town. A scenic spot in mossy woods edging Tongass Narrows that showcases faithful replicas of historical totem poles carved by native artisans. The preservation project began with the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. Today’s collection includes 15 masterful poles of Tlingit and Haida design, plus a stunning Clan House, a roofed structure like those that housed 30 to 50 people of a particular lineage in the early 19th century. The poles include figures of local animals, ranging from eagles to beavers to an octopus, as well as human figures, such as the man wearing a sort of top hat in which the rings represent the number of potlatches he has thrown to show off his wealth. A wonderful outing steeped in native culture.

Barbara Marrett steps out of the Clan House at Totem Bight State Park.

(2) I got to grill a gorgeous filet of halibut, which Barbara M. had frozen after finding it at a fish market in Port Hardy. Dressed up the fish with garlic butter, lemon and lime slices, and dill. A big hit with the whole crew.

The Potlatch Bar reeks of Alaskan character, on the boardwalk above Ketchikan’s Thomas Basin marina.

(3) We Osprey-ites spent a rollicking evening drinking Juneau-brewed Alaskan Amber and singing along with the locals on Karaoke Night at the Potlatch, Ketchikan’s supreme dive bar, just across a boardwalk from our Thomas Basin moorage. A real gas. Local heroes, all, ranging from men in plaid lumberjack shirts and knee-high rubber boots to the tragically disillusioned Millennial goth who crooned the only song of the night that was actually written in the current century. In his sailing tale “Passage to Juneau,” author Jonathan Raban described the Potlatch as having “all the noise, violence, and energy of America trapped inside a single room.”  This night, both TVs aired live wrestling. Amid all that, we met Shannon and Ed, locals who come every Friday for karaoke. She’s a nurse who delivers babies at the local hospital. He recently retired as a mechanic for Alaska Airlines at the local field, perhaps the only international airport in America that can be reached only by ferry, since it occupies its own separate island. “We’ve got some good singers!” Shannon beamed, willing us (successfully) to have as good a time as she was. Ed was an Amber man; his sweetie drank Alaskan White, with a polar bear on the label (“a little lighter, a little bit hoppier,” Ed explained). The evening’s downside: ear worms. The worse songs buzzed through my head into the next morning, including a twangy, Dolly Parton-style “Jolene,” and Jim Morrison’s melancholy and morbid “People are Strange,” covered that night by a slightly off-kilter, bewhiskered local who seemed to delight in exemplifying his song. My favorite? A barmaid’s huskily-belted, Joplin-esque rendition of “Bobby McGee.” Yeah. Somehow it just shouted Alaska.

Saturday, June 18

Before putting Ketchikan astern, we got out the hose and washed down the boat, then took Osprey for diesel and propane at the Petro Marine fuel dock. We got the “over-100-gallon discount” so the fuel cost “only” $5.30 per gallon (!). Total bill: just over $800. And we’re not halfway through the trip yet. Oof.

Three good things:

(1) Awakened without a hangover, which was a surprise after Karaoke Night at the Potlatch.

(2) Lucked into the last dock space in the cozy harbor at Meyers Chuck, our destination for the night, 33 miles north of Ketchikan. (A “chuck,” locals told me, is an inlet that fills and empties with the tides, though this one didn’t do that. Go figure.)

Along a daisy-lined path, an old shack adorned by fishing floats serves as a sawmill in the remote community of Meyers Chuck, 30 miles north of Ketchikan.

(3) Fell immediately in love with Meyers Chuck, a tiny off-the-grid community of about 40 residents in the summer and only four in the winter. I found charm at every turn, ranging from the flower pots by the rough-hewn benches on the pier, to daisy-lined footpaths that are the only “streets,” to the sign in a hut next to the float-plane landing: “Meyers Chuck International Air Terminal VIP Lounge, Occupancy 2.” According to a bulletin board at the head of the pier, you can order homemade cinnamon rolls delivered to your boat if you call a local baker the night before. We asked the first person we came across if he knew Lee Greeley, an old friend of Barbara M., and he pointed the way to a house three doors away. We ended up cheerfully hosting a happy hour on our crowded boat full of new and old friends, and got invited to breakfast the next morning.

Barbara Marrett, right, with Meyers Chuck friends Lee Greeley, left, and Becky Fleming during Happy Hour in Osprey’s salon. Bill Watson photo.

Sunday, June 19

Three good things:

(1) A hearty breakfast of pancakes, bacon and coffee at the home of Derral and Becky Fleming, who appropriately live in the former teacher’s cottage at Meyers Chuck, next to the former schoolhouse, which we’re told was designed by the same architect who did the one-room school that I know well from numerous visits to Stuart Island in the San Juans. It’s an appropriate home for the Flemings because (I soon learned) Becky was formerly the assistant superintendent of schools in Vancouver, where I worked for a decade at The Columbian newspaper.

(2) Besides loving Meyers Chuck, I immediately fell in love with Barbara M.’s old friend Lee Greeley, a mutual chum of our former Osprey crew member Carol Hasse. A sweet Leprechaun of a woman in her 70s with a knowing, gently impish smile, Lee is clearly an old soul. She confided with me that she, too, lost a beloved spouse to cancer, and when she joined us for breakfast this morning and brought a glorious bouquet of her garden’s flowers for our boat, she also brought me a small handful of posies, a kind gift of solace. She and I traded loving hugs as we parted, capping our one-day friendship.

Osprey, near the head of the line of boats, on the Meyers Chuck dock at sunset.

(3) During an uneventful passage across Ernest Sound, I read aloud to my shipmates the whimsical Robert W. Service poem “The Cremation of Sam McGee,” an old chestnut my father could recite by heart. I read from a beautifully illustrated copy I’d found in Ketchikan at a Water Street gift shop called, what do you know, Sam McGee’s. Then, after carefully navigating the tricky zigzag narrows of Zimovia Strait, we Osprey-ites ended the day in a marina in Wrangell, feasting on a dinner of stuffed peppers prepared by Barbara M. and watching “The Princess Bride” in Osprey’s salon, with plenty of hot buttered popcorn. Can’t ask for a much better day than that.

Monday, June 20

          Got moved first thing to a marina closer to downtown Wrangell, within walking distance of shopping, laundry and the library.

A minus tide exposes the tidal grid adjoining Reliance Float in Wrangell harbor. Osprey is moored at center left.

Three good things this day:

(1) Wrangell is a friendly, untouristy Alaska town. We got smiles and hellos from everyone we met on the street as we walked to a hardware store for a new water-hose nozzle. At a corner park, as Barbara M. paused to photograph a totem pole, an older couple greeted us as they walked by. The woman immediately volunteered, “I once found a pair of dentures on the ground right there!” Her husband (presumably) added, “It turned out they belonged to an old gal who we figured had a snootful at the bar and came by here to upchuck in the bushes, losing her teeth in the process!” His better half added, “But they didn’t have any vomit on them. I turned them in to the police station.” We’re not in jaded, overvisited Ketchikan anymore. This is small-town Alaska, mostly untrammeled by the biggest cruise ships.

Me, in rain togs, in Wrangell.

(2) Wrangell’s lovely, comfortable, well-stocked Irene Ingle Public Library library is open from noon to 5 this Monday. In pouring rain, I tramped across town in my foul-weather jacket, Seattle Sombrero Gore-Tex hat and duck boots to this welcome refuge, named for a former head librarian who held the post for 30 years. Free Wi-Fi! Finally, I can post to my blog again.

(3) Groceries and laundry and showers, oh my! When you’ve been on the water for three weeks, sometimes it’s the little things. Got an online weather forecast, too. Sun is supposed to rejoin us by Thursday, and maybe stay a while. Meanwhile, tally ho and toodle-oo. We push north toward Petersburg on the morning tide.

Good night, sweet Prince (Rupert)

A golden, sunny evening in Prince Rupert brought diners to the deck of the venerable Breakers Pub on the Cow Bay waterfront.

WHO WAS HE, this prince for whom a remote British Columbian city was named? Prince Rupert of the Rhine was a German-English army officer, admiral, scientist and colonial governor who first came to prominence as a cavalry commander during the English Civil War of 1642–1651.

I’m sure you were on the edge of your seat, wondering.

One thing Rupert’s eponymous city has no shortage of is bald eagles. They’re like Seattle’s crows: everywhere you look. During our brief stay here, the beautiful big raptors have been our constant companions in Cow Bay Marina, especially this sun-drenched evening when the sport fishermen returned from a day of angling and cut up their catches on the sterns of their boats. Eagles swooped over Osprey’s roof again and again in hope of harvesting a fish head or two that might get tossed their way.

The Wild Man of the Woods mask, at the Museum of Northern B.C.

And they’re constantly hanging out nearby. Elsewhere in the world, we’re accustomed to eagles roosting in the tippy top of old gray snag firs, but this town’s urban birds prefer to while away the hours atop a stubby communications tower on the roof of the port building. They are the pigeons of Prince Rupert.

Tuesday, June 14

Three good things from this day, before we set out tomorrow for our next perilous ocean crossing, at Dixon Entrance:

(1) Enjoying a strong WiFi signal so I can catch up with my blogging!

(2) Visiting the nearby Museum of Northern British Columbia, with its excellent collection of First Nations artifacts, crafts and regalia, including a pair of 19th-century painted-bark leggings trimmed with a generous fringe of puffin beaks, of all things — dozens of them, enough to rattle and shake as the wearer walked.

Just down the street from the museum, behind the Prince Rupert courthouse, we also enjoyed the colorful sunken garden, a public treasure created in days past by a venerated groundskeeper.

Prince Rupert’s Sunken Garden, on the courthouse grounds.

(3) Getting my laundry done at a downtown laundromat, and buying another week’s worth of underpants at Walmart. Cruising life will now be easier.

Relentless rains make for riotous waterfalls on northward trek

The gushing waterfall at Butedale, British Columbia.

HARD TO BELIEVE it’s been a week since I’ve updated you, faithful readers, but Osprey’s crew has been busily wending our way northward, encountering only a few lonely First Nations villages among the rain-drenched fjords and mossy inlets of the northern British Columbia coast.

Internet access has been as rare as, well, cell towers in the wilderness.

But all is well. Today, I bid you greetings from Northern B.C.’s “big” city: sunny Prince Rupert. Back to that soon.

In the meantime, it’s been a wet, wet, wet, wet week on this coast. The silver lining: Pouring rain makes for gloriously gushing waterfalls, anywhere there’s a ravine, or a 2,000-foot cliff, or a not-yet-melted snowcapped peak.

Here are my latest journal scribblings, focusing on three good things per day on this 10-week round-trip from Bellingham to Juneau aboard Osprey, our chartered Nordic Tug 37.

Sunrise reflects on Codville Lagoon, B.C., before the rains began.

Wednesday, June 8

Three good things this day:

(1) The lovely dawn-time reflections of mountains and rocky shoreline on Codville Lagoon as we departed. Something a painter would struggle to copy.

(2) Lucking into an open dock space at Shearwater Marina, which had never responded to our emails or phone messages requesting a reservation. The local Heiltsuk First Nations band purchased the resort a year ago, and their business management style tends toward what you might call relaxed. But we found the gentleman in the harbormaster’s office to be soft-spoken, genial and welcoming.

(3) Shipmate Carol Hasse’s kind hosting of us all to dinner at the marina’s restaurant. It was the perfect end to a day that included welcome showers, espresso drinks at the coffee shop and catching up with messages from home. Bill feasted on a big rib-eye steak, something he’d been lusting after for days.

Thursday, June 9

Departed Shearwater at 7 a.m., bound for Rescue Bay, just off Mathieson Channel. A very rainy day.

Three good things:

(1) After listening to the weather radio, we knew this would be the worst weather day of the week, and we wanted to make some northward progress before expected gale-force winds arrived in the afternoon. With some good advice from a retired Coast Guard friend in Victoria with whom Hasse had been in touch, we made our way to narrow, protected Reid Passage. That let us skirt wide-open Milbanke Sound, swept by wild ocean swells this day. As we motored west from Shearwater on wide Seaforth Channel, rollers were breaking like Waikiki surf on lonely islets and hidden rocks until we turned northward into Reid Passage, about 100 feet wide between rocky and mossy shores. There, danger was past. A nerve-wracking bit of piloting for me, and a relief when it was over.

(2) Rescue Bay didn’t rescue us. Winds were blowing from the northeast, directly opposite what was forecast, bringing waves right into the northward-facing bay. So we pressed on northwestward into a very narrow and rock-strewn channel of Jackson Passage, sheltered by high hills on both sides. We were joking to one another that “wouldn’t it be nice if we could just drop the hook in here?” when we suddenly spied an anchor symbol on our Navionics chart plotter, marking a tiny cove just to starboard. We pulled in and anchored for the night, perfectly protected, as we listened to weather reports of 50-knot gusts at Egg Island in Queen Charlotte Sound, which we had transited two days ago. We dubbed the unnamed cove “Jackson Hole.”

(3) A very pleasant evening of cozy camaraderie on board as the rain poured unrelentingly. A fishing boat joined us in our cove, but not too close for comfort. We played a game of Murder of Crows (Barbara M. won, for the second time in a row) and watched a movie I brought, “Mrs. Henderson Presents,” with Judi Dench and Bob Hoskins. A fun evening. Up at dawn to weigh anchor by 6 for a long day on the water tomorrow…

Friday, June 10

Three good things this day:

(1) Seeing the beautifully decorated Big House, the First Nations ceremonial meeting house at the Kitasoo/Xaixais village of Klemtu on Swindle Island, and marveling at the layering of landscapes, softened by fog and rain as we motored peacefully up deserted Tolmie Channel, seemingly the only people left on earth.

The Big House at Klemtu, British Columbia.

(2) Exploring the dramatic 5-mile fjord of Khutze Inlet, a wonderland of high hills, thousand-foot waterfalls and deep saltwater.

(3) After our plan to visit the First Nations village of Hartley Bay is quashed by a COVID closure, deciding on the spur of the moment to turn in and stay the night at the dock at Butedale, a long-abandoned cannery site off Princess Royal Channel. We met sailors on two other boats, including the pretty schooner-rigged Wild Gypsy, crewed by a couple of retired school teachers. Arriving shortly after us: two intrepid kayakers who are paddling from Lund, B.C., to Skagway, Alaska. Carol, Barbara M. and I explored the ruins, stepping around a generous pile of bear scat on a boardwalk, and took a dinghy ride to get a close look at the mammoth, rain-fueled waterfall that drains from a lake above the site. Every manmade thing at Butedale is crumbling, as nature takes back its own.

Osprey sits at dock adjacent to the crumbling, abandoned cannery at Butedale, B.C.

Saturday, June 11

Three good things this day:

(1) I awoke at 6:30 to the singing of loons echoing across the bay at Butedale. Their haunting yodel lent a wondrous delight to the tired old shorefront.

(2) My “baked underwear” scheme was a resounding success! After inadvisedly skipping a laundry opportunity at Shearwater Marina, I paid the price by running out of clean undies and socks yesterday. While rinsing out underpants in soapy water in the head sink worked fine, I knew that they would never dry in this damp, cool weather if hung in the boat cabin or outside on a railing. But I knew from experience that the engine room during a long day of motoring gets positively oven-like. So I wrung out a pair of briefs, spread them atop a battery box and secured them under a strap so no flying underpants would get tangled in moving parts. At day’s end, they were Death Valley dry. So this morning I washed two more pairs and a couple pairs of socks, which went below to bake during our voyage to Lowe Inlet. That’s cruising.

(3) Arriving at Lowe Inlet at 2:30 p.m., we dropped our anchor right in front of beautiful Verney Falls, which empties out of an adjacent lake. The guidebooks tipped us off that the current from the falls would hold us in line without swinging far on our anchor, and it pretty much worked like a charm. We had a lovely view of the falls and the hills all around, including the pretentiously named Duchess of Dufferin Range to the south, and the less-interesting Bare Top Range to the north. But what if the duchess went bare topped, maybe that wouldn’t be so ho-hum, Hasse suggested…

The current from raging Verney Falls kept our anchored boat from drifting on Lowe Inlet.

Sunday, June 12

We’ve been at this for over two weeks now and Carol H. is about to leave us. It will be a big change to our dynamic as a crew. She has added so much heart and so many smiles to the voyage. I told her today that I would miss making coffee for her every morning, and we shared a hug.

Three good things:

(1) A pleasant morning with sun breaks! The rain has been a burden this past week. We’ve not been out in our kayaks yet, nor taken any real hikes on shore. Our ongoing quip, “Oh, what a surprise, it’s raining!” has worn as thin as a thrice-darned sock. We were glad for the sunlight on the hillsides and kept watching for rainbows as rain clouds lingered.

(2) I made my almond-flour pancakes again (daughter Lillian’s recipe), on this Sunday morning when we didn’t plan to go far and a 10 a.m. departure (late for us) worked fine. Cooked up some crisp turkey bacon with the flapjacks. Could anything be better in this world than the rapturous aroma of bacon frying on a boat anchored amid the outflow of a rampaging waterfall in the Canadian wilderness?

The narrow entry to Baker Inlet hid a delightful, almost landlocked anchorage.

(3) Spontaneity struck again, in a delightful way. After re-reading the guidebook details of this day’s planned anchorage, Kumealon Inlet, we were feeling lukewarm about it. Previous visitors wrote online about logging onshore, and poor holding ground for anchors. A few miles short of arriving, we saw a navigation marker onshore and checked the chart. It was the entrance to Baker Inlet, which looked intriguing. We quickly read good things about it in Waggoner’s and another favorite guide, with mention of howling wolves by night and wandering bears and deer by day. And the narrow, narrow entry we now saw was barely an opening in the trees! Hard for the adventurous spirit to resist. After a quick poll of crewmates, Hasse and I convinced Bill, at the helm, to turn in. The entry was barely wide enough for two boats. Tree branches hung low and blind-alley curves concealed what lay ahead. I asked Bill if he recalled the scene of Humphrey Bogart hauling his boat through the jungle in the film “The African Queen.” This looked like that, though charts promised safe passage. After a few minutes we emerged to a wide, wonderful lake-like setting surrounded by snowy peaks and ribbon waterfalls. Nary a ripple disturbed the inlet’s nearly landlocked surface. A magical spot to spend the night. We’d listen for howling wolves!

A wall of waterfalls serenaded us with the constant sound of cascading water at Baker Inlet, British Columbia.

Monday, June 13

Three good things:

(1) No howls overnight, but we were compensated by waking up to a mirrorlike pond surrounding Osprey. The tide was quite low; Hasse’s tide-guide research tipped us off to a 20-foot range overnight. We departed at 6:30 a.m., aiming for a noon arrival at Prince Rupert so Carol would have plenty of time to pack and prepare for her early Tuesday departure as a foot passenger on the B.C. Ferries sailing for Port Hardy, where a friend will meet her with a car. I piloted Osprey out the ultra-narrow passage at the entrance to Baker Inlet. Added to my morning cuppa strong coffee, it was an adrenaline rush. While charts indicated good depths, the low tide narrowed the breadth between rocky shores. I proceeded at dead slow, sticking carefully to mid-channel. Expelled a big sigh when we popped out into Grenville Channel at last. Fun, fun, fun. And memorable.

(2) After a week in the wilds, it was a treat to spend a day back in town. Prince Rupert, with its towering cranes for loading container ships, and long lines of train cars parked along the industrial waterfront, is a big city in this corner of the world. After checking in to Cow Bay Marina, we walked up a hill to reprovision at a big Safeway supermarket, then enjoyed a pub dinner with lots of cold local beer, Wheelhouse Gillnetter pale ale.

A whole different world for Osprey and its crew: Prince Rupert’s industrial waterfront.

(3) Skyped with daughter Lillian. Sitting with my laptop out on the boat’s foredeck in the British Columbian sunshine – finally! – it was a pleasure to see her smiling face for the first time in two weeks, and to catch up on family news. In three days, she and a girlfriend fly to Paris for a European adventure. You just can’t nail us Cantwells down.

Us Osprey-ites, now reduced to three, have a stopover day in Prince Rupert to play tourist. Then, north toward Ketchikan! Alaska. Finally. Can’t wait.

A peaceful night on Baker Inlet, British Columbia.

We otter see plenty more marine life on this voyage of discovery

A sea otter floats in circles around our anchored boat in Bull Harbor, Hope Island, just off the northern tip of Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

THERE ARE ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES to being unwired for days at a time on the rainy and remote British Columbia coast. The good part of having no internet, and often no phone service: Who really wants to know what’s going on in the outside world? The down side: Friends and family wonder if my friends and I are still afloat.

We are, happily wending our way northward.

But it might be days between hooking up to the World Wide Web (which isn’t, quite yet, worldwide). So be patient. There’s nothing to worry about. Until you hear otherwise. I’ll post more when I can.

Here are my latest journal scribblings, as Osprey voyages toward Juneau:

Saturday, June 4

Three good things this day:

1. Woke to a beautiful sunny morning in Echo Bay, on Gilford Island, B.C. What a lift to our soggy spirits! Chatted with Jackson, the affable jeans-and-hoodie-wearing marina manager who quite naturally often ended sentences with “eh?” I also photographed Cocoa, the shepherd-husky mix, who had a healthy self-awareness of her photogenic qualities.

Cocoa, the lovable dock mascot at Echo Bay Marina on Gilford Island, B.C.

Jackson, a former tugboat skipper, offered us a good tip on how to get Osprey’s stern pointed off the dock for departure (looping a bow line on a cleat and motoring forward). He also knew how to scratch Cocoa on the rump just in that special place she could never reach herself. A friendship that will last, I think.

2. Wound our way through pretty, low rocky islands until we made a rough crossing of Johnstone Strait, then happily nosed into an easy spot at Telegraph Cove Marina with the help of the friendly son of the marina manager.

3. Spent a quite pleasant hour with my fellow crewmates drinking a pitcher of Nanaimo-brewed Longwood IPA and nibbling on calamari at the dockside pub at Telegraph Cove, where scenic shore-clinging homes connected by wooden boardwalks date to the 1930s. Ahhh. Chatted up the exotically-accented server, one of several young people from France who have come here to work for the summer. Canada’s bilingual nature makes it a good place to come learn English, she explained.

Sunday, June 5

We departed Telegraph Cove at 8:15 a.m. when our binoculars showed a lack of whitecaps on Johnstone Strait, and water in the marina was glassy calm. The forecast for coming days sounded bad for crossing Queen Charlotte Sound, one of our two expanses of open ocean on this journey. Taking advantage of what was expected to be a brief calm, we made tracks northward, regretfully skipping a planned stop at the renowned native cultural center at Alert Bay (vowing to put it on our homeward agenda). Instead we headed 25 miles north to tie up for the night at Port Hardy, the northernmost city on Vancouver Island.

Three good things this day:

  1. While our Telegraph Cove slip, wedged into a far corner of the marina, was easy to get into, it was decidedly not easy to back out of. But I piloted Osprey from its shoehorned space as smoothly as could be, backing and filling with the side thrusters, no longer a mystery to me. I’m also getting the touch of the touchy electronic throttle. We were all happy for an easy departure, starting to look like pros at this.
  2. Our first humpback whale of the voyage! As I piloted the boat past Alert Bay, I spotted a whale spout ahead and alerted the others. Three, four times more. Then, unexpectedly, a massive, gray-colored whale back broke the lightly rippled surface just 100 yards off our port beam. A small dorsal showed, then a massive forked tail rose clear of the water before it dove again. “Humpback!” my friends called out. Beautiful.
  3. As we scoped out a tie-up on a public port-authority dock in Port Hardy, a loon paddled directly in front of our boat, twice raising up from the bay’s surface to do its characteristic dance on the water. We opened a door to hear the iconic, high-pitched yodel call. Not two minutes later, as we edged toward a bank of mossy rocks revealed by low tide, a phalanx of white heads caught our eyes. Bald eagles had discovered a fish carcass or some other disgustingly tasty, decaying edible on the rocks. It was a collective feathery feast, full of shrill bickering. I counted 15 eagles competing for their lunch. This definitely isn’t Kansas, or Puget Sound, anymore.
  4. A fourth good thing this day: Osprey’s big Cummins diesel engine ran cool and happy today after shipmate Bill and I successfully cleaned out the big raw-water strainer that feeds the cooling system. Careful as we had been this past week to avoid floating puddles of eel grass and kelp, after long days of sucking up every kind of plankton and what we technically describe as “sea gunk,” the strainer had become heavily clouded. A challenge we soon discovered: We couldn’t locate what was obviously a specialized tool needed to remove the cap from the bronze strainer. Nothing in Osprey’s tool kit would fit the square keyhole in the cap’s center or the two “winglets” jutting up from each side. Bill was able to text our contact at San Juan Sailing in Bellingham. She contacted the boat’s maintenance team. The reply: They didn’t have the specialized tool either, but typically used a long screwdriver laid across the winglets to get leverage to loosen the cap. We improvised with a box wrench. It did the trick. We got the strainer open, degunked it with the high-pressure deck-wash hose, and today Osprey ran like a top.
At the public dock in Port Hardy, a Norwegian-owned ship that specializes in cleaning nets for aquaculture operations dwarfs Osprey.

Monday, June 6

Three good things this day:

  1. Barbara, Carol and I had a helpful and enjoyable visit with the commanding officer, Gary Deis, at the Port Hardy Coast Guard station, a 5-minute walk from our dock. We picked his brain for advice on our Queen Charlotte Sound crossing, where to spend the night before we leave, the best route, etc. He commands a 21-meter patrol vessel/lifeboat with a crew of five. At 59, he’s been in the service since age 17, and “came up through the hawsepipe,” as he puts it. He is happy that COVID travel limitations are no longer in force and tells tales of U.S. visitors who didn’t think the rules applied to them. “But it’s really starting to look like normal again now – the gill netters are moving around, cruise ships are going by, sailboats are coming in,” he said. We each bought a Canadian Coast Guard cap for $5 apiece. Great souvenirs. He proudly showed off a garden space his crew has decorated with old propellers and anchors.
  2. In a fir tree just above the Coasties’ station we spied an eagle nest and two eagle parents with an eaglet in the nest. We commented to Deis about the abundance of eagles around the bay, and he chimed in, “I’ve seen a hundred eagles right here (on the tidelands in front of the station). There’s a guy who throws some fish out and they’ll just come from everywhere!” I got some great photos of Mama on the nest with her goofy-looking, still-awkward offspring.
  3. A sea-otter extravaganza! We spied a sea otter near our dock last night — a real sea otter, not the river otters we see in the San Juans. This day on the way out of the bay we passed otter after otter, most floating on their backs and curiously watching us motor by. One group had half a dozen of these rare sea mammals, once hunted almost to extinction for their dense and warm furs. We continued to see them all day as we cruised 22 miles north to Bull Harbor on Hope Island. We had our own personal sea otter slowly floating around our anchored boat once we dropped the hook in the beautifully protected inner harbor. The island is property of a First Nations band, and going ashore was prohibited. Not a soul to be seen, though there were fish-raising pens at the bay’s mouth. Seeing all the otters is heartwarming evidence that endangered species can come back – and these guys are particularly charming.
A mother eagle perches in a nest in Port Hardy as her fuzzy-topped chick peeks out from beneath the top sticks.

Tuesday, June 7

          Three good things this day:

  1. We awakened to a blue-sky day, our first to last through till evening! Saw the crescent moon and Big Dipper in the night, a first in this cloudy corner of the continent. Bull Harbor, with a mid-entry island protecting the inner bay from winds, was as cozy as a baby’s crib, and the mud-and-shell bottom provided excellent holding for our big Rocna anchor. I was up first to watch the initial golden rays of the sun light the shoreside treetops and slowly come down like a theater curtain. I piloted us out on glassy waters. Never saw a human. We decided the otter was the native band’s caretaker.
  2. This day we crossed Queen Charlotte Sound, open to ocean swells and weather. Forecasters called for increasing storm winds as the week progressed, but we found a good weather window and went for it, raising anchor at 6:15 a.m. and motoring for 12 hours. Our fears proved groundless on the clear-sky, light-wind morning, and we rounded fearsome Cape Caution at 9:15 a.m. Mild ocean rollers rocked us gently. A cakewalk! Snowy peaks decorated the eastern horizon, a stunning panorama from our saltwater viewpoint. In the other direction: Japan. (OK, you have to squint.)
  3. An anchorage I had chosen, Kisameet Bay, turned out to be a dud, despite glowing recommendations in the guidebooks. (New since the last write-up: an unattractive floating dock with an “AREA CLOSED” sign. And our anchor kept dragging as we tried to set it.) So we quickly found another nearby option on the chart, Codville Lagoon. As we approached the lagoon, I chose to start dinner prep, as it was my night on the chore list. I told my friends I was available to help with anchoring if needed, but it was going on 6 p.m. and I knew all would be hungry, so I got rice cooking, asparagus cleaned and shrimp ready for the propane grill mounted on Osprey’s aft railing. My shipmates handled all the anchoring duties, found a great spot for the night, and soon we were celebrating our crossing with delightful gin-and-tonics on ice. The gin, a special bottle gifted to Barbara Marrett, was made in Haines, Alaska, where they apparently know how to make good gin. Who knew? And the shrimp dinner was savored by all. Onward!
Peaks of the Coast Range as seen from our crossing of Queen Charlotte Sound.

Bears, beauty and a backwoods character in B.C.

At Lacy Falls, foaming curtains of water thundered down a rock wall and into Tribune Channel.

MORE JOTTINGS from my Alaska-bound voyage aboard the 37-foot Nordic Tug, Osprey.

Tuesday, May 31

Three good things today:

  1. The peaceful patter of rain on Osprey’s roof, and the magical, misty morning as we departed Ford’s Cove, Hornby Island, B.C., at 6:30 a.m. in calm seas. A good breakfast of scrambled eggs with ham and cilantro, thanks to shipmate Bill Watson. Low clouds and low visibility lent a cocoon feel to the boat.
  2. No problems at Cape Mudge, where currents and winds can be nasty, enabling a noon arrival at the small city of Campbell River.
  3. Buying a new billed cap, with an embroidered eagle design by a Kwakiutl artist, at a First Nations gallery and gift shop, and finding bear spray at the big Canadian Tire store in the mall next to our marina. Friends who’ve traveled this coast say bear spray is a must-have if we want to go ashore.

Wednesday, June 1

        We departed Campbell River at 5 a.m. amid a glorious pink dawn to catch the 6:30 slack at Seymour Narrows, where currents have been documented to be some of the strongest and most dangerous on earth. Capt. George Vancouver described it as “one of the vilest stretches of water in the world.” By 8:30 a.m. we were northbound in Johnstone Strait in lightly rippled seas amid dramatic, fjordlike scenery with humpty green hills, snowy ridges and sculpted granite shorelines that resembled elephant skin – gray and wrinkled. Only one other vessel was in sight, identified by our AIS system as a 39-foot pleasure boat named “A Couple of Bucks.” “Two gay guys?” my shipmate Carol speculated.

We’d been worried we’d be in a nonstop parade of northbound boats in this post-COVID year (if indeed we can call it that), but now Bill has wondered repeatedly if everyone else has fallen off the edge of the earth. The seas are empty! And for a waterway notorious for steep waves and fierce winds, Johnstone Strait this day showed us its cultured, gentle side. If it was at a tea party, it would have been sipping with pinkie raised.  Snow-capped peaks laden with lots of snow peeked from the east, and it was chilly out on the transom where I wrote these notes. Our instruments said 48 degrees F. air temperature and water temperature of 49.

Three good things this day:

  1. The totally calm, pink-sunrise morning that enabled an easy exit from our Campbell River marina, with a dead-easy transit of notorious Seymour Narrows, which we caught at slack water between tides.
  2. Dolphins riding our bow wave! In the pancake-flat water, they were easy to see even underwater, and a treat to watch. They have so much fun! Shipmate Barbara Marrett identified them as Pacific white-sided dolphins. A half-dozen or so accompanied us as we headed north on Discovery Passage.
  3. Never thought this would be one of my “good things,” but we encountered our first cruise ship of the voyage as we approached Seymour Narrows. The pilot put out a “Sécurité” call on the VHF radio to alert other boats that he was approaching the narrows and asked for contact from any concerned vessel. The ship was less than a mile behind us and closing fast. I thumbed the button on the radio mike and conversed with the jovial pilot, who expressed sincere appreciation when I told him we’d pull aside into Menzies Bay and let him go through the narrows ahead of us so there would be no conflicts. We had been warned to just stay out of the way of cruise ships and expect no courtesy, so this was a happy surprise. The vessel, Star Breeze, was relatively small, probably carrying fewer than 1,000 passengers, we estimated.

We anchored for the night at Boughey (say “Boogie”) Bay, off Havannah Channel, around the corner from Johnstone Strait. It took two tries to anchor before we settled on a good spot. I barbecued vegetarian burgers on the grill, supplemented with a Greek salad.

After dinner, around 7:45 p.m., Bill was peering out the stern window when he suddenly called out “Bear!” Sure enough, on the narrow shoreline about 50 yards from us a good-sized bear was lumbering along the beach. Woohoo! Our first bear sighting. We grabbed cameras and dashed out on deck. I thought it was a black bear, but my shipmates convinced me it was too brown. And it had a hump. It was a grizzly. What a thrill! Surprisingly, we had phone service in this remote and lonely spot, so I texted friends and family in excitement.

First bear of the voyage: A grizzly saunters along the beach 50 yards from our boat.

Thursday, June 2

Unrelenting rain dimpled the waters of Boughey Bay as we awakened to the early-morning sound of a foghorn on nearby Johnstone Strait. By the time I was up and making coffee, with the diesel heater warming the boat, visibility improved, but snatches of wispy cloud remained strewn across the dramatic landscape like crumpled tissues cast about by a sniffly mountain troll. Beautiful, in a somewhat forbidding way. It was another good day for cocooning on our cozy boat.

No sign this morning of our bear friend. I admit, I slept in the salon with the door to the transom firmly locked after Barbara and Bill laughed about how even their cat can open door handles like Osprey’s. If Spanky can, how about a griz? (And bears are good swimmers.)

Three good things from the day:

  1. Making almond-flour pancakes from daughter Lillian’s recipe, and getting raves from everyone around the breakfast table.
  2. Spotting two orcas just before we cruised in through narrow channels to see the tiny islands of Matilpi, just outside Boughey Bay. A white-shell midden marked the site of a long-deserted native village. Barbara and Carol noted that the whales and an eagle on the beach were likely spiritual descendants of the former villagers. The place felt mystical.
  3. Motoring through Chatham Channel, Call Inlet, Knight Inlet and 550-foot-deep Tribune Channel with waterfalls right and left and snowy mountains framed by forested saddles. We ended the day anchoring in 80 feet of water, using 300 feet of anchor chain, in gorgeous and tranquil Kwatsi Bay, where we were the only boat in a wide bowl of saltwater surrounded by mountains with five ribbon waterfalls plunging thousands of feet. Ahhh.
Osprey, all alone at anchor on remote Kwatsi Bay, B.C., looks like a toy boat amidst the overpowering landscape.

Friday, June 3

Waking up to pouring rain in Kwatsi Bay, I reflected on my recent visit to Hawaii, where I’ve always said that if it starts to rain, just wait five minutes and the sunshine will return. On this trip, my crewmates and I are coming to realize that if it stops raining on the B.C. Coast, just wait 5 minutes. It will start again.

The good news: We’ve been blessed by sun breaks every day around 5, just in time for Happy Hour in the Adirondack chairs on Osprey’s rooftop.

Three good things this day:

Local First Nations bands have donated several ceremonial masks to Billy Proctor’s Museum on Gilford Island.
  1. Lacy Falls! Wooo bloody hoo! I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Fueled by the heavy rain, from high above curtain after curtain of white water cascaded down a 100-foot-wide gray granite wall and into the saltwater of Tribune Channel. Truly spectacular. We all rushed to the transom to snap photos, and applauded as we departed. This was worth the whole trip – like ocean surf, but vertical! All framed by green conifers and wispy low clouds.
  2. It was my turn to prepare lunch. Everybody liked the grilled cheese sandwiches with dill pickles and sliced orange smiles on the side.
  3. From Echo Bay Marina on Gilford Island, escorted by Cocoa, the friendly husky-shepherd mix who is the marina’s mascot, we hiked through the woods (bear spray in hand) to Billy Proctor’s Museum. This 87-year-old fisherman, born on an island eight miles away, has spent a lifetime collecting everything from 150-year-old beer bottles to a jade skinning blade found on the beach when he was 5. An authentic, salty backwoods character, he has also been a political activist, marching on Victoria in opposition of fish farming in his local waters. We chatted about his colorful life and beautiful island home. What a good way to end an adventurous week.
87-year-old Billy Proctor welcomes boaters and other visitors to his homespun museum on Gilford Island, B.C.

Good things multiply on the way to the Last Frontier

Our chartered Nordic Tug named Osprey shares a dock with a burley Canadian tug named La Fille at Ford’s Cove on Hornby Island, British Columbia.

ONE OF MY NEW FRIENDS told me about a good way to work through difficult times: Every day, write down three good things that happened that day.

I tried it, and it has turned into my journal for our voyage to Alaska. Here are my entries for the first few days, featuring me and my three crewmates: Barbara Marrett and Bill Watson, from Friday Harbor, and Carol Hasse, from Port Townsend.

Saturday, May 28

  1. We departed on our great adventure to Alaska.
  2. We saw orcas! Just off Flattop Island as we motored from Bellingham to Sidney. Spouting and surfacing again and again. We throttled down, veered away, and oohed and ahhed.
  3. At the Sidney, B.C. customs dock, we met an extremely friendly and helpful crew of a Royal Canadian Mounted Police patrol boat. (On the side of the big, modern vessel was the silhouette logo of a Mountie on a horse.) They were the nicest federal agents you ever could meet. They gave us tips on where to find hot springs and great crabbing as we head up the British Columbia coast. O, Canada!

Early in the day, oil-pressure doubts delayed our Bellingham departure. The gauge was reading well below what the owner’s cheat sheet recommended (55 rather than 70-90), but after we took our worries to the charter office, Matt the mechanic came and gave his OK. We were misinterpreting the gauge reading as kilograms instead of PSI – pounds per square inch. Oh, well. Better cautious than stranded dead in the water.

We motored through nice, pancake-flat seas most of the way to Sidney. Caught a counter-current along the shore of Speiden Island, which sported a gorgeous, seasonally transitional mix of green and brown hillsides, sculpted like a shapely gelatin mold. Stately oaks punctuated hillsides grazed by Japanese deer, which previous owners of the island had imported long ago as part of a misguided exotic-game hunting scheme, briefly renaming the isle “Safari Island.”

Osprey skirts the shore of Speiden Island.

Carol donned her knitted maple-leaf tuque hat (complete with dorky chin straps and a beany on top) to raise the Canadian courtesy flag as we crossed the international border on Haro Strait. We sang the two bars of Canada’s anthem that we knew. I vow to learn the words before the voyage’s end.

Crew member Carol Hasse, aka Sea Goddess, raises the Canadian courtesy flag as Osprey crosses Haro Strait.

Sunday, May 29

Three good things today:

  1. How helpful and kind my three friends were when I, taking a turn at the helm, totally botched the dock departure from Port Sidney marina. (I looked at the side-thruster toggles and couldn’t for the life of me figure out which one to use as I backed out. For those familiar with the holiday film “A Christmas Story,” I pulled a Total Ralphie. “Football? What’s a football?”)
  2. On the way to Nanaimo, we navigated and transited our first major marine challenge, Dodd Narrows. We perfectly timed it, got there an hour before slack water and didn’t get stuck behind the waiting tug with a long raft of logs. We smiled and waved at a small crowd of spectators sitting on the rocky shore watching boats maneuver the often-swirling waters. Apparently it’s entertainment when you live in Nanaimo.
  3. We snagged a buoy tucked into pretty Mark Bay at Newcastle Island Provincial Park, with a smashing view across the harbor of downtown (with its three high-rise – 25-story? – buildings, which I don’t remember from when I was last there about 20 years ago). After a happy hour on Osprey’s sun-drenched rooftop, we went for a walk in Hasse’s “favorite park in the world” to see the big old-fashioned dance hall and lovely views of anchored freighters. Then all four of us scrunched into the dink to buzz across to neighboring Protection Island, a few hundred yards away, for dinner at the Dinghy Dock Restaurant, accessible only by boat. (A giant bowl of clam chowder for me.)
Nanaimo at sunset, as seen from our delightful moorage at Newcastle Island.

Monday, May 30

Three good things today:

  1. After lots of angst, angst, angst about the day’s planned destination of Comox, for which we didn’t have proper charts, the anchorage sounded dodgy, and the departure involved transiting a very iffy bar, we bailed on that idea. As we passed the gorgeous lighthouse on Chrome Island, we spied little Ford’s Cove Marina on neighboring Hornby Island. Hasse and I asked ourselves, “Why not here instead?” It would add just 12 miles to our planned 30-mile day tomorrow, I discovered with a quick flick of dividers on the nautical chart. So we headed in and tied up in one of the homiest, funkiest little non-tourist marinas this side of Mexico. We were the only visiting boat among an earthy, friendly community of locals and liveaboards who were out sanding rails and leaning against pilings. They reminded me of the Scottish townspeople in the movie “Local Hero.” A great little store, well-stocked, stood a few feet from a building housing terrible, stinky pit toilets. “Sorry, we’ve no running water,” explained the charmingly accented young harbormaster as we paid our $50 Canadian for a night.
  2. While Barbara and Carol went for a walk to a waterfall and other scenic wonders, I hung with Bill and prepared dinner: salmon steaks marinated in soy sauce, ginger, garlic, sesame oil and turmeric, with grilled fresh asparagus and quinoa with olive-oil toasted almonds. On our rooftop, we dined in the sun and listened to eagle calls and the echoing kettle-drum thumping of a woodpecker on a dead tree high on a wooded hillside above us. In the distance: snow-frosted mountains on Vancouver Island. Sublime!
  3. We ended the day with a lively round of Barbara and Bill’s favorite board game, “Ticket to Ride.” I almost won, laying down a rail route from Seattle to Montreal, but Barbara edged me out. Bill and I agreed to get up early the next day and shove off while the women slept in, so we could catch the tides right for our passage of dreaded Cape Mudge (you have to say it with a droning voice of fear, which Barbara has mastered) on the way to Campbell River, our stop for the night. I sat on the rooftop and wrote in my journal as the sun sank behind the mountains and a refreshing chill settled over the cove. The morning would bring rain, dramatic mists, and more adventures.
One of the full-of-character project boats at Ford’s Cove.

Heading northward, with the geese

The cover of our logbook for the coming journey. Osprey is our chartered 37-foot Nordic Tug, based in Bellingham, Washington.

TOMORROW AT NOON, I jump off my little world.

Well, sort of.

That’s when my brother Tom and I board the water taxi and I leave my little island for a big adventure.

We’ll load totes into my red Honda and meander our way across the Skagit Valley, dawdling a bit in the charming burg of Edison to look for roosting raptors in the Eagle Tree and pick up a loaf of Breadfarm bread. Then we’ll wind our way up Chuckanut Drive as it slithers the slopes of Blanchard Mountain to end up in Bellingham, where my adventure begins.

In this case, adventure lurks in the form of a 37-foot Nordic Tug named Osprey. Tom will drop me at Squalicum Harbor Marina and then make his way back to Center Island for cat-sitting, while three friends and I shoehorn a boatload of gear and provisions aboard the charter vessel that will be our home for weeks to come.

Saturday morning, my fellow voyagers and I shove off. Our direction: north. North, to Alaska.

For a year, we’ve been dreaming of and planning this trip up the famed Inside Passage. Our ultimate destination: Juneau, the capital of the state that pretty justifiably still calls itself the Last Frontier.

For some 900 nautical miles each way, at a speed of 8 knots — about 9.2 mph — we’ll explore a coastline of endless green forests and cool, misty shores. Armed with sharp binoculars and zoom-lens cameras, we’ll watch for whales leaping from the saltwater and bears sauntering the beaches. We’ll keep a sharp eye peeled for lurking rocks and half-sunken logs, and match our sea wits against whirlpooling currents and Pacific squalls. We’ll explore remote fjords all abob with icebergs. Like the giddy gold miners who flocked northward like geese in the 1890s, we’re bound for the wild unknown.

For me, it will also be a time for introspection and healing after a year of loss and, sometimes, loneliness. It will be 10 weeks of living in the now. I expect days of awe, bliss, exhilaration… perhaps interspersed with occasional moments of terror, depending on what the mighty Pacific throws our way. But with a stout craft and many sea miles between us, I’m confident we’ll make it through.

Grab a cup of good, strong coffee, buckle up your life vest, and stay tuned.

Voyaging to The Last Frontier in 2022

Osprey is a Nordic Tug 37 that began its life as a mobile clinic serving remote Alaskan villages.

I HAVE A HAPPY NEW OBSESSION, a good distraction, a great adventure for which to prepare over the next 11 months

A year from now, friends and I are taking a 37-foot Nordic Tug called “Osprey” on a 10-week voyage up the Inside Passage to Alaska.

For any serious Pacific Northwest boater, the Inside Passage is a temptation, if not a dream. When my dear wife passed away in April and I faced this uncharted future, one of my first “What Do I Do Now?” thoughts was to renovate our old Westsail 32 sailboat, Sogni d’Oro, and take her to Alaska. It wouldn’t be the boat’s first time; when we bought the boat in 1989 from a Bainbridge Island plumber, the home port on the stern read Ketchikan. In subsequent years the boat’s been a veteran of the Baja Bash and many San Juan Islands explorations.

But it’s also been an innocent victim of deferred maintenance in recent years when I’ve had other things on my mind, and projects have a way of piling up. Bringing Sogni d’Oro back to ocean-cruising readiness could drive a 100,000-ton freighter through my 401k. While the 1,000-mile saltwater route from Puget Sound to Glacier Bay threads inside islands wherever possible, enjoying significant protection from the open sea most of the way, the voyage is no doddle. You need a stout boat properly equipped. Like me, Sogni d’Oro is getting older, and while not ready for permanent drydock, she’s a little tired.

So when my Friday Harbor friends Barbara Marrett and Bill Watson told me of their ambitions for an Inside Passage voyage in the summer of 2022 and asked if I’d like to sign on as crew on their chartered vessel, I didn’t have to think hard.

I first got to know Barbara Marrett through a book she co-authored about sailing the South Pacific, “Mahina Tiare: Pacific Passages,” which to this day occupies a bookshelf on Sogni d’Oro. Later in my travel writing career, we got acquainted through her job as communications director for the San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau. Her partner, Bill, retired from a tech career and recently completed a term as a San Juan County councilman.

Barbara holds a 100-ton captain’s license, meaning she’s officially qualified to pilot vessels up to that size. While she likes sea voyages, she and Bill don’t especially enjoy organizing trips. As a travel writer, that sort of thing is my forte. I happily took on the task of finding a boat. (Toss the kid the candy-store keys!)

Barbara’s desired parameters: a boat with two staterooms, plus a cozy cabin with big windows for enjoying the scenery full of breaching whales, beach-roving bears and calving glaciers. That ruled out most sailboats, which mostly feature small portholes or narrow windows.

It took only a few days on the internet before I stumbled on a charter boat that ticked almost every box I could think of: reliable big diesel powerplant with 1,000-mile cruising range, modern navigation equipment, forced-air heat, a queen-sized berth as well as twin-sized bunks, a new RIB dinghy with 20-horse outboard easily launched from davits, two kayaks for exploring remote bays, 300 feet of anchor chain…and much more. The boat was Osprey, listed with San Juan Yachting Charters in Bellingham.

Built in 2006, Osprey originally served two doctors who used her as a mobile clinic visiting remote oceanfront communities in Alaska. The current owners, Nick and Anna Davidson, bought Osprey and completely refitted her for charter in 2018. They’ve expressed delight at our plans to return the boat to Alaska waters; they plan the same trip aboard her in 2023.

In a couple weeks, Bill, Barbara and I will meet them aboard Osprey in Friday Harbor and talk about our plans. They’ve asked us for a wish list of improvements they could make to the boat before we set out next May. I like the boat and I like these owners.

I’m already immersing myself in planning and prep, including reading acclaimed British travel writer and novelist Jonathan Raban’s “Passage to Juneau: A Sea and its Meanings,” the story of his sailing trip from Seattle, his adopted home, up the Inside Passage in the 1990s. “Alaska liked to advertise itself as ‘The Last Frontier,’ a slogan tinged with self-canceling whimsy since it appeared on vehicle registration plates, courtesy of the state licensing department,” Raban wrote. “If the phrase could now be held to mean anything at all, it belonged to the sea, not the land; and the sea around Alaska was a real wilderness, as wild and lonely as any territory in the American past.”

Admittedly, his voyage pre-dated the multiplicative inundation by today’s monster cruise ships carrying as many as 5,000 passengers each. But much remains wild in water and on shore once the big ships have passed by.

Can’t wait.