The Dixon Entrance: North to Alaska!

Everything comes to Alaska by barge.
June 1, 2015

Today we cross into Alaska.  My first time in the state, and Mathias' as well. And we will arrive by slow boat from Seattle. It is three weeks since we left and we've covered about 750 miles, never in the same place for more than a day.

But to get to Ketchikan we have to cross the Dixon Entrance, and of the two open water crossings, Dixon has the nastier reputation.  We leave Fitch Island Cove (in Brundige Inlet) at 0520, and we're greeted at the mouth with gentle, rolling swells, less than a meter. Dixon is a pussycat this morning. The skies are overcast and there is a bit of fog (enough that keeping an eye on the chartplotter is imperative).  The horizon is featureless, and steering a straight course is surprisingly difficult. I can identify with sea stories that have ships sailing in circles. But the going is easy, and after a time the shoreline of Alaska becomes dimly visible.

57 miles in 13 hours

Wavelet emerged from Brundige some time later, and we called them up on the VHF and asked them how well we showed up on their radar. I have the radar target that most people have... the collapsible aluminum "sphere" that one puts together from three slotted aluminum plates. I've never asked anyone with radar whether I show up well, and Glenn confirms that I'm reflecting a good signal, which is nice to know.

It is only 10 miles to the mouth of Revillagigedo Channel, though another 5 or so is still exposed to the seas that sweep in from the Gulf of Alaska.  In a couple of hours, we're distinctly in US waters again. We're in Alaska!

The cruise ship  population in town for a few hours each day
often exceeds the resident population of Ketchikan.

As it is a fairly long haul up to Ketchikan (especially if you leave from Prince Rupert), it is acceptable to make the trip in two days, stopping in Foggy Bay for the night without clearing customs. You are expected to check in by telephone (there is cell service!). We think we can get all the way into Ketchikan, though, as long as the weather holds.  We check in anyway, and they say fine... just give them a call when we are close. Much later in the day, an hour or so out, we check in again. They say fine, call when you are closer. All they really need is five or ten minutes notice, and they will meet you at your marina or even at the fuel dock! This is about as convenient as customs clearance gets!

The customs officer meets us as we are filling tanks, and he is patient as I get things squared away. He asks a few questions and checks our passports, and I nonchalantly inquire as to whether he has cleared any smaller boats into Alaska today (I meant ever).  He says no, but what he really wants to chat about is a vessel he cleared earlier in the afternoon... m/v Serengeti, which as it happens used to be Johnny Carson's yacht.  Serengeti passed us a couple days later, heading north into Clarence Strait.

Johnny Carson's yacht, Serengeti (now owned and chartered by a California Dentist)
One last customs clearance story... this one, Glenn and Becky told us. If you read Jonathan Raban's acclaimed memoir, Passage to Juneau, you may recall Canadian customs dinging him for duties on the wine he had aboard for his trip north.  Customs duties for alcohol above the scant allowables are stiff... 100% of the purchase price.  Glenn and Becky had done their homework and knew the rules, and were respectful of them. They had a store of wine they sealed and labeled as 'ship's stores', with a manifest detailing the wines and their value: the obligation is to leave such stores undisturbed until back in US waters to avoid paying duty on them. They also had wines they intended to drink on the way north in Canada, and these, too, were itemized on a manifest, and they were prepared to pay duty on them. The Canadian Customs agent inspected their paperwork and expressed his appreciation that they had been diligent in their observation of Canadian law, and told them "Enjoy your stay in Canada" and sent them on their way. He was careful to tell them that they should not count on such forbearance - it is discretionary, but clearly he appreciated their thorough willingness to comply with the regulations.

Having refueled and checked in, we travelled our last mile of the day, settling into Bar Harbor Marina and starting our chores.

good night, moon


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