The annual Slowboat Flotilla is heading up the Inside Passage, expecting to reach Sitka, Alaska, around June 5. The trip up the Inside Passage, from Seattle to Alaska, is an awe-inspiring voyage, with majestic vistas of snow-capped mountains, tumbling waterfalls, deep-blue water, remote coves and the possibility of the sudden appearance of whales, eagles and bears. And then there are the open water passages where the next land to the west is across the Pacific in Asia.
You can do the Inside Passage on your own, or in a group, such as the Slowboat Flotilla. I’ve done it both ways, and each has its own advantages. The first time was about 30 years ago on a Donzi 33 with Eric Schweikardt, the photographer, and the two of us were by ourselves, all the way from Seattle to Juneau, Alaska, where we spent the night, and then turned around for the trip back home. The sense of independence and accomplishment was incredible.
The advantages of taking on such a long trip in a group are the obvious safety in numbers, companionship, and the ability to learn from experienced cruisers who’ve done this before. In this case, that includes the Slowboat leaders, Laura Domela and her husband Kevin Morris on their Nordic Tug 42, Airship, and Sam Landsman on his Nordic Tug 37, Safe Harbour. This year the flotilla has four other boats: a Nordic Tug 39, Jester; an Eagle 40, Polymela; an Ocean Alexander 44, Nereus, and a Helmsman 38, Salish Spirit.
The lead boats left Seattle and met the others on May 4 in Prevost Harbor on Stuart Island, Washington, in the San Juan Islands just above Roche Harbor. Then, with a series of weather delays, they cruised through the Canadian Gulf Islands, along the northwest coast of mainland British Columbia and, after a 4:30 a.m. wakeup call, around Cape Caution, a 40-mile stretch of open ocean.
So far, they’ve run through rain and fog and clear days, taking time to explore hidden coves by dinghy, setting crab traps (providing Dungeness for dinner), and visiting locals along the way to catch up on the news. After one such visit in Ocean Falls, BC, Domela and Landsman wrote on their blog, “The bitcoin mining operation that sounded promising last year is now operating, although it doesn’t employ many locals.”
After Ocean Falls, the flotilla cruised up to Bella Bella, and Shearwater. “Our cruise took us through Gunboat Passage,” they wrote, “a narrow, winding, shallow cut that looks intimidating on the chart but is easily navigated with the aid of modern electronics.”
Shearwater is one of the few stops on the passage with a modern marina, grocery (the flotilla boats “cleaned out the fresh produce,” Domela wrote), chandlery, restaurant and inn. (On our return trip from Juneau, Schweikardt and I spent an enforced three or four days there waiting for an engine part, which eventually arrived by float plane.)
For this year’s Slowboat Flotilla, the best part is still to come. The glaciers, icebergs and even more remote coves and islands are still ahead. Stay tuned. For more: