Friday, June 10, 2016

Traveling the inside passage . . . Lessons Learned

Well after having a couple weeks to think about it, I am finally ready to post on lessons learned from our passage north, also some items that worked and some that did not work so well.

What worked:

1. Navionics charts on our Android tablet.  Before leaving I reluctantly spent the $50 or so to upgrade to Navionics Plus for our android tablet.  We also have an Ipad, but it doesn't have the built-in GPS the android does, so we used the android for navigating (we have a Samsung Galaxy 2 10.1 from a few years ago).  It was so easy to look up anchorages and watch what was up ahead.  The feature we used the most was the current predictions, which were excellent in Washington and British Columbia, but didn't work very well in Alaska.  Running a slow boat, it is vital to watch the currents!  We also carry a full navigation computer with AIS and an older Garmin chartplotter, but the tablet was vastly superior to either.  I highly recommend it.

2. No set itinerary.  Traveling with kids and the unknowns of weather on a passage this long, not having a set itinerary worked well for us.  We would get up and go in the morning - checking the weather to confirm our route wouldn't put us in a nasty situation, and usually around 5pm start discussing where to stop for the night by looking at the chart for decent anchorages within our range prior to it getting dark.  This was a pretty simple and low-stress way to cruise.

3.  Our Yanmar and Silette Drive.  While they weren't completely trouble-free, they were pretty close.  Traveling this patch of water it is critical to have a good engine - we only were able to sail around 4 hours, with another 8 or so hours of motor sailing over the course of 13 days of travel.  If we weren't in a rush to head north, we could have sailed quite a bit more, but a good engine is absolutely critical.

4. Our Radar.  We have a basic Rayethon 24 mile radar, but it was invaluable about 4 times on the trip, and enabled us to continue on our way in dense fog safely.  I wouldn't consider this a necessity by any means, but we were glad we had it.  We used it in fog, as well as setting the anchor at 1am to verify our distance from shore.  We also used it during our first overnight passage to keep an eye out for other boats.

5. Our ground tackle.  We have a Wasi (Bugel) 65# anchor with 100' of chain and 150' of nylon for our primary gear.  It set easily and instantly every time, and we never moved.  Keep in mind as you head north, you will have to anchor in some deeper areas, and I would consider 200' of rode the absolute minimum.  We managed to anchor in 30-40' most nights, but a couple anchorages were nearly 75' deep.

6. Provisioning.  When we provisioned the boat in Washington, we thought we had about 2-3 weeks of food on board.  Other than running out of fresh fruits and vegetables a couple times, we are still eating the food we provisioned with 5 weeks ago, and have at least a couple weeks left.  As a side note, we didn't have to give up anything at all at either customs stop (in Canada and Ketchikan).  The customs official came to board us in Ketchikan, simply verified our paperwork was in order, and gave us our clearance.  They cleared us over the phone in British Columbia.  It was much simpler than we anticipated!

7.  Water and fuel.  We had no issues with finding fuel or water whenever we needed. We carry about 5 days fuel for motoring (at around 14 hours per day average), and about 10 days of water for the five of us on board.

What we had issues with:

1.  The Graco Seawater Strainer.  As it turns out, the rubber o-ring on the lid for the seawater strainer leaks a little--and as it is above waterline it lets air INTO the strainer.  After about 10-15 hours of runtime, the engine will suck an air bubble and begin to get warm.  Thankfully it is an extremely cheap and easy fix (a small o-ring) but it sure scared us when the engine started to get warm when we were at least 8 hours from the nearest town.

2.  The lock for the Silette outdrive.  The lock cable that fixes the drive in the down position is located right at the entrance to the cockpit.  One evening we must have bumped it down, and sure enough the next morning when we went into reverse, the drive lifted up and sucked in the hoisting rope.  Thankfully I heard it happen and instantly switched into neutral.  We dropped the dinghy and cut the rope out of the prop, and were on our way.  When we arrived in Juneau, I replaced the lifting rope.  Thankfully it was no big deal, but it could have been.  In the future, we will travel with the silette unlocked, and only lock it when we are preparing to anchor or dock and need to use reverse.  This will allow the drive to rise up in the event of a collision with a log or the like, and will help ensure we double check it before placing the drive in reverse.

3. The fuel gauge.  When we pulled into Ketchikan, the fuel read just under a quarter of a tank, and we planned to re-fuel as we left town.  As it turned out, this was just enough fuel to get us up to the finger we were docking at before sucking an air bubble and killing the engine.  Let me tell you, docking with strong wind and a cross current when the engine suddenly dies is absolutely no fun.  In the future, we will be more careful and will consider 1/4 tank to be empty.

Passage Notes in General:

Fuel used:  Approximately 80 gallons
Refueling Stops:  Campbell River, BC; Bella Bella, BC; and Ketchikan, AK
Water Refilling Locations:  Shearwater, BC, and Ketchikan, AK
Number of Days to Transit from Blaine, WA to Juneau, AK:  13
Longest Day of Travel:  Meyers Chuck, AK to Petersburg, AK.  We started at 5:30am and docked at 9:45pm.  Due to weather, we headed over to Wrangell first.
Longest Non-Stop run:  23.5 Hours, Hartley Bay, BC to Ketchikan, AK.
Favorite Anchorage:  Toss up between our little nook behind Westcott Point in Shelter Bay, BC (beautiful beach!) and Fancy Cove near Bella Bella.
Favorite Stop:  Butedale - The caretaker's tour was outstanding, and it is such a neat area!  Note we did travel hard though, and didn't stop many places
Best & Worst Speed:  9.5 knots, Johnstone Strait; 3.5 Knots, Stephens Passage
Worst Weather:  Ocean entrance of Queen Charlotte Strait, right off the Jeanette Islands.  Pea soup fog, 30-35 knots of wind on our nose, the ocean swell running in and the current running out.  Not at all frightening, but deeply unpleasant burying the bow every other wave.

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