Gone Floatabout

Sailing, Photography, Wilderness

Inside Passage, express style. (September 2017)


Fishing boat in Cross Sound

Fishing boat in Cross Sound, the evening we reached the Inside Passage again

After a couple days of rest upon reaching the sheltered waters of Southeast Alaska, we set off for a nearly non-stop trip south down the rest of the Inside Passage. We started on this marathon on September 9 and our goal was to be back in Port Angeles, Washington in two weeks. 

The tidal currents in certain sections of the Inside Passage can run in excess of 10 knots, which meant we had to time these areas for slack water. So our first stage was very short, just 20 miles to the village of Kake, where we spent the night and awaited the next day’s tide through aptly named Rocky Pass.

Rocky Pass-2

Navigating Rocky Pass

There are two ways to go between the northern part of Southeast Alaska (where the striking peaks of Glacier Bay and such are) and the southern part, where one finds slightly mellower terrain (for Alaska, anyway) but still plenty of wildlife and interesting islands. The obvious route is Wrangell Narrows that ends in the north with Petersburg. This is well-marked and pretty straight so that, as long as you time your tides (they meet in the middle), it’s easy. We had taken that way several times previously – it’s low stress and we love the town of Petersburg. This time we wanted to try something different, so we went for Rocky Pass. It’s also well-marked, but it’s twisty, narrow, rocky, and very shallow, so with a draught like ours (6.5ft deep), we could only do it on slack high water. We had no troubles and enjoyed our trip, despite the low clouds and drizzle.

Rocky Pass

Our wake through one of the wider and straighter parts of Rocky Pass

Once through, we just kept on all night down Clarence Strait so as to reach Ketchikan by evening of the next day. A friend of ours from our winter in Port Angeles, an Aussie sailor who’s done the Inside Passage over the last few years in his motor boat, met us on the dock. It was great to meet up, even if it was too briefly (just dinner on board), before we took off again for Canada.

Alaska gave us quite the farewell on our overnight to Prince Rupert. First a pod of orcas visited us:

Orcas in SE AK

Orcas outside Ketchikan

Then we had a lovely clear sunset, and finally in the middle of the night, right at our change of watch, we were treated to a spectacular show of the Northern Lights, dancing green over our wake. Alaska, I’ll miss you!

We couldn’t get a shot of the aurora from CELESTE’s deck (which was moving too much for night photography!) but here’s a shot we took in Iceland a few years ago that gives an idea of what it was like: Northern Lights

We were both struck by the summery weather we encountered the next day as we came into Prince Rupert. We seemed to have chased summer south and left fall behind. We didn’t want to let it catch up, though, so after clearing Customs and checking email, we set sail that same afternoon and kept on.

We had some lovely sailing in the wider channels and some pleasant putters in the narrower, calm ones. We crossed Queen Charlotte Strait (north of Vancouver Island) on a black, black night (overcast, no moon), which was slightly nauseating due to choppy sea conditions but also really pretty cool when a pod of Dall’s porpoises came to play around CELESTE, leaving blazing phosphorescent contrails!

Port Hardy, at the northern tip of Vancouver Island, was our next port, where we planned to wait out the southeasterly that was in the forecast. It was kind of a non-event, but we were happy to have a day to walk around and catch up on rest. We were still ahead of fall – the blackberries were at their height and we picked a big bowl of them. Blackberries

Then it was onward again, overnight through Johnstone Strait, where the oscillating showers and sunlight made for gorgeous rainbows:


Rainbow over CELESTE

And thence to Seymour Narrows, one of the spots that rips with current. We arrived at Seymour Narrows a bit late, with the tide running at its height in a favorable direction. We debated between just going for it or waiting for the next slack water in an anchorage. We decided to go for it. Seymour Narrows is dead straight, no curves, so we were fine and had a great run, with CELESTE hitting 15 knots through the water!

A bit of a southeasterly wind came up once we were through so, instead of spending a frustrating night battling it down the Strait of Georgia, we sheered off for Cortes Island, where we’d been when we’d first bought CELESTE in 2013. On our way into the anchorage, another pod of orcas showed up, this one with a baby in the mix!

Orca and baby in BC

Orca and baby

Cortes was the end of our overnight passages for a while. The next day we sailed to the island where I’d spent a lot of my childhood. It was wonderful to catch up with old friends and revisit some of my favorite spots. We could really only spare a day, but it was cherished one.

Hiking in BC

Hiking on the island where I grew up

Sunset in BC

Sunset over CELESTE, anchored off my old childhood home

Next up was Gabriola in the Gulf Islands, where friends of ours had settled and built a house. They’re a couple we met while sailing around the world, and we actually hadn’t seen them since the Panama Canal 10 years ago! We’d lost touch, too, and they’d found us thanks to this blog – pretty good! We had a great evening with them – again, too short! – before we set off on a long (slightly hung-over) 80-mile day-sail back to Port Angeles. We got there around 11pm on September 22nd, so we’d made it in two weeks and still seen and done a fair bit!

21 thoughts on “Inside Passage, express style. (September 2017)

  1. Pingback: 2017 in Photos | Gone Floatabout

  2. Pingback: Passage to San Francisco (October 2017) | Gone Floatabout

  3. Still enjoying your amazing adventures and great photography,. I love the part where you were doing 15 knots, pity there wern’t more of them, thank you & cheers.

  4. Pingback: Work and Play in Port Angeles, WA (September 2017) | Gone Floatabout

  5. Another amazing post – thank you for sharing!

  6. Well done on the Speedy Gonzales passage. Love the shots of the orcas. We’d like to see some but are a bit scared of them at the same time!

  7. Love the Orca encounters. Lush blackberries. Fun!

  8. Wow , wow wow! Great pictures and travel log. Thanks for taking us along! I like your adventure spirit of taking the rocky way. I’m glad the trip went so good. Just curious what the island’s name is where you grew up. Thanks for keeping us posted.

    • Thanks so much, Don! It was certainly a great trip, despite being so fast – fun to see some new things, like Rocky Pass, and catch up with friends!

  9. I remember some of those ports from our good times aboard the ketch “Penobscot”

    Please keep this blog going! We love it.

  10. Great stories Ellen. I look forward to the next ones.

  11. Congratulations on your exciting voyage and beautiful photography, and thank you for sharing
    it thru your blog.

    I also had a voyage this summer. From Center Harbor to Bucks Harbor and home in the same day.

    • Thank you, Steve! That’s a beautiful sail up to Bucks Harbor and back – so glad to hear the lovely sloop Annie is going strong!

  12. Those Heretic shots are like reading “Dove”! lol