Alaskan Adventure

About the Trip

NW Explorations has offered quality yacht charters and sales for nearly 30 years. Charter one of their luxury trawlers to explore the San Juan and Gulf Islands. If you’re feeling more adventurous try the points beyond: Desolation Sound, Inside Passage, Broughtons, SE Alaska, Haida Gwaii & Prince William Sound.
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Alaskan Adventure

By Bing O’Meara
Our publisher joins NW Explorations on an unforgettable Alaskan journey through the inside passage.
Alaska is not an easy place to get to. Yet, once you arrive you will spend the rest of your days praising the area and planning your next trip back.

I have been to Alaska twice now — both times as a guest of NW Explorations and its famed “Mother Goose Flotilla.” My first cruise was a three-week trip in 2010 that began at the company’s home base in Bellingham, Washington and ended in Ketchikan, Alaska. This time around, NW Explorations — a first-class charter service and brokerage firm — invited me on a weeklong journey from Juneau, Alaska, navigating through the Inside Passage and ending up at our destination of Ketchikan.

Why Mother Goose?

Alaska occupies a vast amount of space. You can start your engines and go for three days straight and never see or hear another human being. There are no stores or shops, no newspapers, magazines — just you, your travel companions and the breathtaking landscape. Smartphones will not get you very far. You can go days without being able to place a call, unless you have a satellite phone. If a lone or inexperienced boater got into trouble, the probability of finding someone to help would be very difficult. The “Mother Goose” flotilla concept was conceived to provide help when needed, 24 hours a day, with experienced people at the ready.

My most recent trip consisted of four trawlers and one lead boat, the Deception — a 49-foot Grand Banks Trawler and the boat I spent my week on. Deception had a crew of three including Captain Rich Fitzpatrick, first mate Rowan Yerxa and naturalist Gregory Smart.

Captain Rich, an Annapolis grad, is also a recently retired naval officer with 30 years of service. He commanded several Navy ships, including an 820-foot helicopter aircraft carrier, and also carries a 100-ton U.S. Coast Guard license.

Rowan, the first mate and mechanic, also carries a 100-ton license. He is, in addition, a classically trained violinist who has been known to perform occasionally on the bridge after dinner. As if that were not enough, Rowan also performs surfboard exhibitions in water too cold for man or beast, while balancing on the 49-foot Grand Banks wake like a pro.

Gregory Smart was also on board — a naturalist with an encyclopedic mind who can answer any and all questions without missing a beat. Smart is his last name and a most appropriate one.

Arctic Adventure

NW Explorations charter fleet is in pristine condition. They have an in-house, 25-man staff that can handle any mechanical or electrical jog that comes their way. The boat you board when you arrive will be spotless, all mechanical systems checked out, as well as all electronics. The lead boat will have a mechanic on board to take care of any problems that may occur underway.

When you are with a group of like-minded people friendships form quickly. To help facilitate social life aboard, there is a cocktail party the night prior to getting underway. Most nights were spent at anchor or rafting up — another great way to meet fellow cruisers.

Whale sightings were common throughout our trip. They would not jump; they would “bubble,” most likely for sardines. Bubble net feeding is a technique where the whales dive deep and exhale in unison. As they surface with their mouths open, they exhale the water through the baleen and swallow their catch. This bubbling phenomenon is seen only here and one other place in the world. These whales have a unique lifestyle. They eat nonstop all summer off the coast of Alaska. Come fall, they migrate to the Hawaiian Islands where they spend the winter months mating and giving birth. They were a fantastic sight on our seven-day journey through the frozen, vast Alaskan landscape.

July 19: Chicago to Juneau

I left Chicago on an early afternoon flight to Seattle/Tacoma where I connected to Air Alaska for a two-hour flight to Juneau, Alaska. When I arrived, I took a cab to Statter Harbor/Auke Bay where I met up with Captain Rich. He gave me a tour of the 49-foot <<ITAL>>Deception that would serve as the lead boat for the cruise, “The Best of Glacial Alaska.” The cozy starboard stateroom would be mine for seven days.

July 20: Juneau to Tracy Arm Cove

We left Auke Bay Marina, cruising down Stephens Passage for Tracy Arm Cove. It’s a distance of 56 miles and is also the gateway to the Inside Passage. Thanks to NW Explorations, I can now brag that I have completed the Inside Passage as well as the Outside Passage.

The icebergs get more numerous as you approach the glaciers. The seals lie on their backs soaking up the sun and the bald eagles practice bomb runs with perpetual scowls on their faces. As we slowly moved through Holkham Bay, we had to keep our eyes wide open because the whole area is littered with icebergs.

We spent two nights at Tracy Arm Cove — which is a popular spot, even with celebrities. On our first evening there, someone in our flotilla located Rush Limbaugh’s 150-foot yacht Rushmore, however we never spotted Rush.

Later on, the boat next to us yelled over that there were two female kayakers pitching a tent about 30 yards off the beach. We were watching their progress and grew a bit concerned because we had noticed a pair of grizzly bears chasing one another on the other side of the cove. The kayakers noticed that the bears had closed in, but did not appear to have any interest in them. When the bears appeared next to the cooking equipment, the kayakers froze and did everything they were supposed to do. When the bears ducked into the woods, the women ran over to their two-person kayak and took off.

Next thing we knew, the women had paddled around the island and were climbing aboard Deception. Once onboard, the kayakers — Keka and Joan, from Holland — calmed down, had a cup of tea and took up Captain Rich’s invitation to borrow his stateroom for the night.

July 21: Tracy Arm Cove

In the morning, our Dutch guests and a few of our crewmembers took the dinghy to the island. The ladies packed up their camping gear and food in the kayak and off they went searching for their next adventure.

As you slowly cruise into the Inside Passage, another masterpiece created by Mother Nature unfolds. We glided by a soaring granite mountain that rose up 2,500 to 3,000 feet. When we were 25 feet from the mountainside, our depth sounder read 2,500 feet deep in the fjord. These mountains (or walls) are not occasional peaks; they are continuous bare walls with almost no foliage.

As we proceeded, we came to our first glacier, South Sawyer Glacier. These glaciers are an incredible 10 million years old. It looked like a frozen river about 200 feet wide by 50 feet high, jammed packed between two mountains. When a huge chunk (and by huge, I mean 20 tons) drops off, also known as “calving,” it produces the sound of 20 tons of rock falling into 800-foot deep water. As the “bergs” become exposed to oxygen, they turn a magnificent color of blue. And the bergs that have melted down to a pound or so look like expensive jewelry.

We also encountered magnificent waterfalls, fed by rainwater and melting snow. In the spirit of adventure, we nosed the bow pulpit under a freezing waterfall, where Captain Rich and a few other brave souls decided it was the perfect time to rinse off.

From the glaciers, we headed back to an island to raft up in an ideal cove off a nice beach, enjoy a warm dinner and hit the sack.

July 22: Petersburg

Greg spotted a group of orcas off the port side before we even left the bay. There were no fewer than eight whales swimming in small groups.

We turned back towards the open water of Stephens Passage and rounded Point Astley where we saw our first humpbacks of the day and even a killer whale (with baby in tow — a rare sight)! We passed by the Five Finger Light (the first manned lighthouse in Alaska), and as we neared Petersburg whales swam in all directions.

Once in Petersburg, I met the owner of the best looking boat in town, a brand-new Kadey-Krogen. The rest of the night was spent exploring the Scandinavian main street downtown.

July 23: Wrangell

We pushed off from Petersburg and headed through the Wrangell Narrows towards Wrangell.

Tlingit people and their ancestors have inhabited this island for thousands of years. Having been Tlingit territory and then under the jurisdiction of Russia, Great Britain and the U.S., Wrangell has the unique status as the only Alaskan city to have been goverened under four “flags.”

The afternoon was spent at the Anan Wildlife Observatory. The observatory consists of a covered viewing shelter, several decks and a photo blind. Beginning in July, Anan Creek hosts a major run of pink salmon. By the end of the month, the creek is generally alive with thousands of fish. This is a favorite spot to view brown and black bears feasting on the salmon.

July 24: Berg Bay

Berg Bay is home to the world famous black bear that recently ate a resident’s kayak (search the news if you don’t know what I’m talking about). The bay is a half-mile long, but only 150 yards at its widest point. We rafted our boats together and relaxed for a nice, lazy day.

The night ended with a outstanding violin performance by Rowan as the sunset settled over the water.

July 25: Meyers Chuck

On yet another calm day, the flotilla spread out over Blake Passage, while Rowan took an icy swim and spent the morning surfing the wake of <<ITAL>>Deception — a feat I dared not try.

We cruised southwest, stopping along the coast of Easterly Island to watch sea lions, where we ended at the protected bay of Meyers Chuck. This neat fishing village is reminiscent of one in coastal Maine.

We ended the night with a tasty potluck, complete with chicken curry and fresh crab.

July 26: Ketchikan

The islands’ famous resident Cassy — one of the few full-time residents on Meyers Island and also the town’s postmistress, seamstress and manager of the art gallery — bakes cinnamon rolls that are delicious. She was kind enough to motor her dinghy over to our flotilla and hand-deliver some freshly baked rolls before we headed out on the last leg of our trip.

Our last stop on the map was Ketchikan — a town that gets 15 feet of rain annually, beating out “Rain City” (Seattle) by a long shot. On our way over, we passed by seaplanes taking off as we savored our last moments in this frozen paradise.

Adventure of a Lifetime

The “Best of Glacial Alaska,” was right up my alley. I love to cruise to new places with like-minded people and enjoy spectacular scenery and wildlife. If a trip like this is not on your bucket list it should be; there is nothing that compares. I have met people on these two trips who have boated in every part of the world and people who have just started boating. At the end of each trip, everyone is more knowledgable.

A special thanks to Shakeel and Joanie on <em>Telita</em> for the excellent last supper at the top of the hill. For those of you who have been dreaming of an Alaskan cruise, this is the way to go. 

South Shore JUN17