Call of the Wild

Mother Goose Flotilla

By joining NW Explorations on one of the company’s guided flotillas, you will be embarking on an adventure with fellow cruisers—and have the comfort of knowing an experienced captain is aboard the lead vessel. Along the way, you’ll hear from the lead boat regarding native culture, local history and wildlife. Once the flotilla arrives at an anchorage, you have the option of participating in guided on-shore and dinghy explorations, or relaxing in your chartered Grand Banks yacht. The level of first-class customer service and support has been recognized by Grand Banks Ltd. in its designation of NW Explorations as the only authorized Grand Banks charter operator in the world.

I am not a stranger to chartering. I have been on excellent charter boats that were in excellent mechanical repair and ship-shape condition. And I’ve experienced the opposite. NW Explorations is a first-class operation, but you don’t have to take my word for it. 
Consider the fact that 70 percent of their charters are taken by repeat customers. — B.O.


Call of the Wild

By Bing O’Meara
A “Mother Goose” charter cruise refreshes the mind and renews the spirit.

Cruising is my thing. In particular, I enjoy landing places I’ve never been before.

When we were planning Lakeland Boating’s special charter issue last year, I suggested we cover the San Juan Islands in the Pacific Northwest. I’ve spent time in Seattle and Anacortes, the Washington town that’s homeport to the San Juans.

And I’ve passed through Victoria, British Columbia, but never in a boat. The dream of cruising the Pacific Northwest, to British Columbia and up to Alaska, has always had a grip on me.

When I talked to Brian Pemberton, owner of NW Explorations, he explained his company does bareboat charters and also guides small flotillas of Grand Banks yachts from their headquarters in Bellingham, Washington to Glacier Bay, Alaska. 

The charter is called “Mother Goose,” since Brian leads the other boats on this long cruise, which starts in May and ends in August. The trip is broken down into several legs, and Brian asked if I would like to join them on Leg 1, which, it turns out, is the most popular. It was to leave Bellingham on May 20, arriving in Ketchikan, Alaska on June 15. 

Naturally, I jumped at the chance.

Adventure of a lifetime

This 24-day cruise gives you enough time to settle in and get comfortable with the routines. You have few demands on your time and little negative stimuli such as TV, radio or newspapers. You can go for days without seeing a plane, other boats or other people beyond the folks in the flotilla. I found it very relaxing, especially when I realized there was no cell phone service other than in a few ports. The only newspapers available contained local news; nothing national from Canada or the U.S. After a few days of living in this media void, you begin to truly relax and enjoy the lack of noise and clutter.

If you really need to check in, consider bringing your own satellite phone. There is a sat phone on the lead boat, which is available for everyone in case of emergency.

The flotilla cruise is broken into six legs. The first leg is 24 days, the middle four are shorter, and the last one is the same length as Leg 1, as it runs from Ketchikan back to Bellingham. When the boats arrive in Ketchikan, those who have signed on for the next leg stay aboard; those who are finished fly home. I embarked from NW Explorations’ homeport in Bellingham, then flew home.

When I returned home, everyone wanted to know: What did I do for 24 days? Well, the days flew by for me. Considering the fact that none of my flotilla mates complained, time must have flown for them as well.

Leg 1 is a good 900-mile, leisurely cruise. We anchored out most nights, and without exception our anchorage was in a secluded cove surrounded by snow-capped mountains. Eagles usually stood watch. When anchoring out, we’d normally drop anchor in the early afternoon. The lead boat, Deception, kept two kayaks hanging from the bridge, and they got plenty of use.

One evening, some of the men dropped crab pots. When they pulled them up, the pots were alive with crabs. They boiled them in a large pot on the stern of Deception. They were out of this world. The seafood in Alaska is unsurpassed. One of the crew claimed he didn’t care for seafood. I told him I agreed with him; however, what I was eating there was nothing like I get at home. The color is deeper and the meat sweeter. 

Rewards of cruising

When not searching for bears or observing whales, cruising underway has its own rewards. Aboard, there is always plenty to eat, a book to read and a bed to take an afternoon nap in between watches.

From the lead boat, Martine, the resident naturalist, kept all the boats informed via CB radio of the wildlife she spotted, including their habits and diet, also pointing out the flora and talking about history of the native peoples of the area. She was excellent at her job and added a whole new dimension to the trip. 

To get to know one another, Brian would invite the crew from each boat over to dinner. With his experience cruising these waters, Brian knows the best anchorages. In this case it was Effingham Bay; fellow cruisers Jan and Nel rafted their boat, Victoria, off ours. Brian asked them to join us for dinner, an invitation he extended to all the boats over the course of the cruise. 

There were parties, cocktails and delicious potluck dinners. The people were the highlight of the cruise. They were smart, interesting, funny, easy to be with, kind and generous. They came from England, Holland, Australia, Texas, Seattle and Chicago. Conversations were enlightening. Everyone was well informed and brought a unique perspective from their country’s point of view. I found these visits stimulating, and it was interesting to hear that what’s been going on in our country is not that different from what the Europeans are experiencing. 

I look forward to bringing my wife on another leg of the Mother Goose Flotilla in the near future. If you think you’d enjoy cruising on a fine yacht alongside whales, bears and eagles in the shadow of snow-capped mountains, don’t put it off. You will thank yourself, and the memories will last a lifetime.