Go With the Boat You Have
Every sailor in the Pacific Northwest thinks about the Inside Passage. It isn't circumnavigation, it isn't even blue-water sailing, and you're never really out of sight of land. Oh... and there is not really even that much sailing to be done! The local joke is that there are two kinds of boats on the IP... motorboats and motorboats with sticks. But the Inside Passage IS the Pacific Northwest. It is the ancestral home to nations of native Americans whose cultural histories rank among the richest of any indigenous culture. The terrain is majestic and the wildlife plentiful, and a time traveler would find little changed in a millenium, or ten. Well... less ice now.
The Vancouver expeditions gave us the names of many passages, points, and islands, from Desolation sound in BC to Traitor's Cove on the Behm Canal. The stories of the Russian presence in Alaska, from the Bering Expedition through The Russia Company, and the fateful sale of Seward's Folly to a recalcitrant congress are obscure to most, and fascinating to read. The Inside Passage was the throughway to the gold rush, a thousand miles of watery wilderness between Seattle and Skagway. Jonathan Raban's Passage to Juneau, a book The Guardian listed among the 100 best works of non-fiction in the English language, illuminates its rich past and paints a present tinged with poverty, majesty, and surpassing natural beauty. There is no dearth of allure.
Coastal cruising in these waters has plenty of challenges. Summer weather is generally good, but serious storms sweep off the Gulf of Alaska. The tides are large, and the intricacies of the coastal archipelago makes predicting currents a confounding challenge (a small example: two parallel passages in the Broughtons, separated by a narrow island, flow in opposite directions in the same tide). Tidal gates require careful planning with resources that are not always accessible online. There are treacherous capes to round, delta outflows to cross, deep anchorages to plumb. Convergence zones where waterways intersect are often characterized by confused seas that are unpredictable and dangerous for boats much larger than Ripple. And always, the sense of isolation. You're a long way from home. Or even help.
The isolation of the Inside Passage is evident in waterways that serve as the only access other than air travel. North of Lund, on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia, no roads reach the core of the Inside Passage until you reach Prince Rupert, some 350 nmiles north (as the crow flies... more like 500 as the boat plies). Above Prince Rupert, there is no mainland road access at all.
I had been to Desolation Sound and to the Broughton Islands sailing with my friend Terry Noreault on his boat. It seemed like the end of maritime civilization to me then, nearly at the top of Vancouver Island where the Gulf of Alaska funnels into Queen Charlotte Strait. Terry is a geek's geek, and his technical, methodical approach to trip planning provided a high standard for my own aspirations. I learned tidal gate planning from him, and the rudiments of anchoring, and both of us ate exceedingly well on our trips, owing to Alane's (Terry's wife) penchant for fool-proof provisioning.
Still, I hadn't been far from home in Ripple until the Summer of 2014. After sixteen days and 500 miles, I was ready to go out again the next day. Whatever doubts I harbored about long sojourns on Ripple were resolved. That is when I started thinking in earnest of going north. Really north.
I began collecting guidebooks and charts, and thinking hard about the upgrades Ripple would need to be safe and comfortable. A dodger, a chart plotter, better storage options, paper charts and the means to manage them, new flares and fire extinguishers, an AIS receiver, a better anchor and ground tackle, and an auto-tiller. I needed to improve the engine's reliability, as I had had some mysterious issues with my one cylinder Yanmar 1GM10 diesel.
In late Autumn, the Center for Wooden Boats featured Tor and Jessica Bjorklund at their third-Friday colloquium. This intrepid couple sailed their 30-some foot steel gaffer (s/v Yare) from Seattle to Juneau and back... with twin one-year-olds! I think that was the moment that I knew I would go. Tor's words: "go with the boat you have... but go".
Each hour pouring over Google Earth, guidebooks, and charts increased my understanding of the scope of the trip. Learning the names of the waterways and the islands along the way made me want to travel them, visit them, be there. See there. No more excuses.