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Old 11-20-2016, 05:26 PM   #1
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Looking for PNW Cruising Advice

We expect to have [roughly] four weeks to cruise the PNW beginning [roughly] early April 2017. We live on the east coast and neither of us has ever been to the PNW, so needless to say, we are thrilled. My question to all you PNW-ers is this: what would be your ultimate cruise itinerary and must-see stops? Here are the underlying factors:
  • The boat is an AT 395 FB. It is brand new and we will be taking delivery at the factory in LaConner, so we need to be mindful that there will be some shakedown going on. The cruise will begin and terminate in LaConner.
  • We will be travelling with our two Scottish terriers who insist on doing their business ashore, so we need to overnight in places that have shoreline access where dogs are welcome.
  • We love quiet, beautiful remote little anchorages and stunning natural views, and we find small towns to be excellent cruising destinations, but we also enjoy checking out the occasional city that is fun and convenient to visit by boat.
  • We love good food! We enjoy cooking on the boat as well as finding special little eating spots at our destinations, and we really like figuring out the local food scene. We are not afraid to admit that sometimes we enjoy special destinations mainly for the food we can get there!
  • We are not afraid of covering ground, but we don’t want to find that we have spent all our time underway and not enough time exploring ashore and sitting still to soak up the atmosphere.
  • We’re both experienced boaters with extensive [east coast] cruising backgrounds and numerous ocean passages, although our experience is all sailing. The power boat thing is new to us.
  • We assume that Alaska is not an option in April with only four weeks to explore, and also because this is a shakedown cruise. However, depending on how this first cruise goes, we are contemplating leaving the boat in the PNW after our cruise so we can go back and head to Alaska in July-August (or whenever you guys tell us we should do it!). Feel free to comment on the Alaska option, but we’d most like to focus on the non-Alaska waters for now.
  • I have been absorbing the Waggoner guide and getting familiar with the territory through the Navionics and Nobeltec Time Zero apps, but would welcome recommendations for additional resources.

I'm curious about the northern/southern-most limits we should contemplate, how much time we might carve out for specific cruising areas, specific harbors you love, favorite marina and provisioning stops, best restaurants,
We’d love your input.

Go!
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Old 11-20-2016, 06:07 PM   #2
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Get the much better Hemmingway guide. Unless you're very marina oreinted.

You will find anchoring at 3-1 scope is the norm and the tides are much higher than what you're used to.

I would express to the bottom of Queen Charolette Strait and work north to approximately Bella Bella.

The above is not well thought out re time availible but that's what I'd shoot for. Stay in towns often and converse with locals. Exploring towns up north is usually better than anchoring but there are "to die for" anchorages too. Good luck on the weather. Most people don't like rain and your trip could be bright and sunny or constant rain. Be prepared for it.
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Old 11-20-2016, 06:38 PM   #3
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Hi Bruce,

Our NT37, Dream Catcher, is at La Conner marina, slip I-1. I'll probably be there tinkering on the boat in late March and early April, and would be happy to say hello.

If we're not in a big hurry, we find that traveling an average of 30-40 nm/day works well for us. Or even less if we do a lot of fishing, dinghy exploring, or shore trips. If that modest sort of rate works for you, you might choose to stay south of Cape Caution.

As Eric suggests, you could go further north in BC, but rounding Cape Caution (sometimes a pretty challenging bit of open water) as early as April could involve significant weather delays. There are many (50+ on our list) lovely anchorages between La Conner and Cape Caution - it's hard to choose. Fine area for a shakedown, but even there weather can get snotty in April. Take good rain gear.

You might also want the Hemingway/Douglass Exploring series cruising guides, BC South Coast, BC North Coast, and SE Alaska. Waggoner tends to be more marina-oriented, and the Douglass guides more anchorage-oriented.

Make sure you study the cruising guides on the rapids NW of Desolation Sound. You will need to time them appropriately (though not necessarily exactly at slack current - 2 or 3 knots is usually no trouble).

If you do round Cape Caution, make sure you know when the Nakwakto Rapids is ebbing. In a strong ebb (timing of which is quite different from that of the height of the tide), the current from Slingsby Channel can be felt miles out into Queen Charlotte Strait. If opposed by a westerly wind, there will be big waves, even standing waves in the mouth of Slingsby Channel. I'd stay at least 2-3 miles west of the Cape if the rapids are on a strong ebb. We got rolling pretty good even 3 miles out last June.

Mid May through September is a good time frame for heading up through SE Alaska and back.
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Old 11-20-2016, 06:57 PM   #4
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If I were in your position:
Brand new boat.
Brand new "power" boaters.
Brand new waters.

I would forget about crossing the border.
I would make D Hays my best friend.
I would head north up Swinomish channel, spend a week to 10 days in the San Juans.
I would circle back down through Deception Pass and spend the balance of my time in Puget Sound, possibly going as far south as Olympia and maybe through the locks into the lakes.

You would never be far from AT HQ if needed.
You would experience almost all marine conditions the west coast has to offer.
You would find April anchorages still reasonably quiet.
You would discover many quaint "villages" and plenty of good food.
You would wear swim suits and foul weather gear; singly, together or not at all.
You would head to Alaska for 60-90 days; June to Sept

You would need another boat for the east coast.
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Old 11-20-2016, 07:06 PM   #5
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Get the much better Hemmingway guide. Unless you're very marina oreinted.

You will find anchoring at 3-1 scope is the norm and the tides are much higher than what you're used to.

I would express to the bottom of Queen Charolette Strait and work north to approximately Bella Bella.

The above is not well thought out re time availible but that's what I'd shoot for. Stay in towns often and converse with locals. Exploring towns up north is usually better than anchoring but there are "to die for" anchorages too. Good luck on the weather. Most people don't like rain and your trip could be bright and sunny or constant rain. Be prepared for it.
We're accustomed to 11' tides when we head "Down East" in Maine, so we are anticipating something similar. We usually shoot for 5-1 scope unless it's impossible or just a lunch hook. If the weather threatens, we'll do even more.

Thanks for the tip on QCS to Bella Bella. I'll look more closely at those areas. I do think that for starters we'll stay a bit closer to La Conner because of the shakedown thing. How quickly we jump farther depends on how smooth the shakedown process is.

And I'll add Hemmenway/Douglass to my resource pile.

As for the weather...the timing of this cruise is what it is. We're hoping for the best, but we'll deal with the wet if we have to. If nothing else, we'll be happy to be in a tug rather than a sailboat, and we're big on avoiding peak season crowds...
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Old 11-20-2016, 07:14 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by RCook View Post
Hi Bruce,

Our NT37, Dream Catcher, is at La Conner marina, slip I-1. I'll probably be there tinkering on the boat in late March and early April, and would be happy to say hello.

If we're not in a big hurry, we find that traveling an average of 30-40 nm/day works well for us. Or even less if we do a lot of fishing, dinghy exploring, or shore trips. If that modest sort of rate works for you, you might choose to stay south of Cape Caution.

As Eric suggests, you could go further north in BC, but rounding Cape Caution (sometimes a pretty challenging bit of open water) as early as April could involve significant weather delays. There are many (50+ on our list) lovely anchorages between La Conner and Cape Caution - it's hard to choose. Fine area for a shakedown, but even there weather can get snotty in April. Take good rain gear.

You might also want the Hemingway/Douglass Exploring series cruising guides, BC South Coast, BC North Coast, and SE Alaska. Waggoner tends to be more marina-oriented, and the Douglass guides more anchorage-oriented.

Make sure you study the cruising guides on the rapids NW of Desolation Sound. You will need to time them appropriately (though not necessarily exactly at slack current - 2 or 3 knots is usually no trouble).

If you do round Cape Caution, make sure you know when the Nakwakto Rapids is ebbing. In a strong ebb (timing of which is quite different from that of the height of the tide), the current from Slingsby Channel can be felt miles out into Queen Charlotte Strait. If opposed by a westerly wind, there will be big waves, even standing waves in the mouth of Slingsby Channel. I'd stay at least 2-3 miles west of the Cape if the rapids are on a strong ebb. We got rolling pretty good even 3 miles out last June.

Mid May through September is a good time frame for heading up through SE Alaska and back.
Great stuff: thank you! We'll definitely plan to connect when we arrive in La Conner. If you manage to get to Tomco between now and then, feel free to take pics of our boat . I'm trying to get a sense of the variety of challenges that we will face as we head for the different "gates" (I think they are called) and the local knowledge about currents and sea conditions is very helpful. As both you and Eric have suggested, I'm tracking down the Hemmingway/Douglass guides.

We will be arriving with our Airstream trailer in tow, having dragged it across the country from Rhode Island to Florida then west and north to WA. We're definitely looking forward to meeting our "friends in our computers" along the way!
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Old 11-20-2016, 07:18 PM   #7
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I agree with the above on sticking south of the border. There is plenty to see in the San Juans and I mean plenty and Puget Sound. You can cruise this area for years and not see it all.
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Old 11-20-2016, 07:24 PM   #8
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If I were in your position:
Brand new boat.
Brand new "power" boaters.
Brand new waters.

I would forget about crossing the border.
I would make D Hays my best friend.
I would head north up Swinomish channel, spend a week to 10 days in the San Juans.
I would circle back down through Deception Pass and spend the balance of my time in Puget Sound, possibly going as far south as Olympia and maybe through the locks into the lakes.

You would never be far from AT HQ if needed.
You would experience almost all marine conditions the west coast has to offer.
You would find April anchorages still reasonably quiet.
You would discover many quaint "villages" and plenty of good food.
You would wear swim suits and foul weather gear; singly, together or not at all.
You would head to Alaska for 60-90 days; June to Sept

You would need another boat for the east coast.

Perfect! I've actually been wondering if this approach (San Juans and Puget down to Olympia) is worth spending a lot of time in, or if we should push to get farther north. Since we always cruise in a seat-of-the-pants fashion (we rarely know where we are going until the anchor is up and we have to make a decision at a harbor mouth), we won't have any firm plans but we'd like to develop a sense of priorities and possibilities.

A swim suit? Really? I wasn't planning that.

Leaving the boat in La Conner for a return cruise to Alaska in the summer is on the table, but fraught with logistical complications. We'll make that decision after our shakedown adventure.

You need to edit your post and delete that reference to a second boat on the East Coast.
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Old 11-20-2016, 07:25 PM   #9
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I agree with the above on sticking south of the border. There is plenty to see in the San Juans and I mean plenty and Puget Sound. You can cruise this area for years and not see it all.
This kink of feedback is very helpful. Thank you!
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Old 11-20-2016, 07:27 PM   #10
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...

You need to edit your post and delete that reference to a second boat on the East Coast.
Wait..what???
Another boat??? What a brilliant idea!!!
Dorsey????
Bruce
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Old 11-20-2016, 07:34 PM   #11
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Hawgwash has a good idea. Most people heading north want to go all the way to Skagway. And they miss huge areas in BC that are wonderful. I can't get excited about the San Juans or even much about the Gulf Is. But north of Georgia Strait and south of Cape Caution offers very good cruising.

Re the tides they are about double your 11' tides.
And the weather is anyone's guess. There are summer gales and winter gales but about 10 to 20 knots difference between the two. Summer gales can reach 50 knots but most don't and if one comes along you're better off tied to a float in town. I've done two 50 knot gales and rode out a 60 knot in Ketchikan once. Couldn't belive no boats (that I knew of) weren't damaged. That one blew the Metlakatla ferry boat off the dock. Was found the next day on a small island. Most people most of the time experience good to fairly good weather.

A good skill to cultivate up north is how to stay put and not take chances. How to spend time at anchor and enjoy yourselves for 1, 2 or 3 days is probably the best safety thing you can have aboard. I don't do it very well and always want to "stick my nose out" and see what it's like.
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Old 11-20-2016, 07:47 PM   #12
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Hawgwash has a good idea. Most people heading north want to go all the way to Skagway. And they miss huge areas in BC that are wonderful. I can't get excited about the San Juans or even much about the Gulf Is. But north of Georgia Strait and south of Cape Caution offers very good cruising.

Re the tides they are about double your 11' tides.
And the weather is anyone's guess. There are summer gales and winter gales but about 10 to 20 knots difference between the two. Summer gales can reach 50 knots but most don't and if one comes along you're better off tied to a float in town. I've done two 50 knot gales and rode out a 60 knot in Ketchikan once. Couldn't belive no boats (that I knew of) weren't damaged. That one blew the Metlakatla ferry boat off the dock. Was found the next day on a small island. Most people most of the time experience good to fairly good weather.

A good skill to cultivate up north is how to stay put and not take chances. How to spend time at anchor and enjoy yourselves for 1, 2 or 3 days is probably the best safety thing you can have aboard. I don't do it very well and always want to "stick my nose out" and see what it's like.
Huh. 22' tides is more than I expected. We are counting on some snotty weather but still have to do more research to figure out what the worst case scenarios are. I'd like to have a list of really secure anchorages/marinas to head to when the nasty stuff threatens. It's actually been a while since we have cruised in areas that we aren't familiar with, so we need to sharpen our game for this trip to make up for the lack of local knowledge.
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Old 11-20-2016, 08:34 PM   #13
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Lot of good comments already. A few more to add:
* There is so much cruising here you could spend 4 weeks in the US alone, let alone 4 more weeks in each of the Cdn Gulf Islands, Desolation Sound, Broughtons, etc. Many people happily spend years cruising south of Cape Caution.
* Days inApril are not as long as the height of the summer cruising season. Factor that in if you are reading accounts from July.
* Get used to anchoring at 3:1. Swinging on 5:1 (or 7:1!) in 60'-90' anchorages covers a lot of ground!
* There should be lots of space available pretty much eveywhere in April
* Most anchorages Desolation Sound and south have options for the dogs. Up north not so much.
Cheers!
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Old 11-20-2016, 08:48 PM   #14
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If you're crossing into Canada, get a Nexus card for everyone on board. With it you can call in your crossing, but everyone has to have one. Going north, Nanaimo is a less crowded port for customs.
If you want some reading material, Coast Pilots are here: United States Coast Pilot®
BC Sailing Directions Pub 154 is here: Maritime Safety Information
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Old 11-20-2016, 08:57 PM   #15
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Hawg has given you the best advice so far.
Eric is from AK, so his advice on the tides up there is from personal experience.
Shore excursions past Cape Caution are few and far between, as not only is getting ashore fraught with difficulty, you will find your friendly bears a problem for the dogs.

In only 4 weeks, in April, stay in the PNW. You can easily use up your time there and not get bored. You will have later opportunities to venture further afield, where in the last 40 odd years, I haven't ever gotten bored, and I haven't yet made it beyond Cape Caution with my own boat. Like Mark, I use a 1000 footer when I go that far afield.
It rains a lot in the PNW. But don't think heading up into BC's Gulf Islands will help. It rains there too, especially in April. Should you go past Desolation Sound, that rain can settle in for the whole trip. You can expect in mid summer, to see the sun only a few times if you are through the Yucultas, all the way up to AK.
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Old 11-20-2016, 09:02 PM   #16
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Listen to Hawgwash's comments. New boat means unexpected things will surface. Staying close to parts and service will allow you to cope with inevitable problems. . After a couple weeks, move into the Gulf Islands - There's lots to do there and you're still close to help if you need it. Save Desolation Sound and beyond for later when you know your new boat. As you go farther north, you are progressively more and more on your own.
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Old 11-20-2016, 09:06 PM   #17
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If you're crossing into Canada, get a Nexus card for everyone on board. With it you can call in your crossing, but everyone has to have one. Going north, Nanaimo is a less crowded port for customs.
If you want some reading material, Coast Pilots are here: United States Coast Pilot®
BC Sailing Directions Pub 154 is here: Maritime Safety Information
Lepke, Do you know if we need anything special for the dogs when entering Canada? We always travel with their vaccination records, but nothing special beyond that.
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Old 11-20-2016, 09:16 PM   #18
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You have a bunch of sensible input to contemplate...

We arrived here two years ago. In that time, we have been as far as just below Cape Caution, around Desolation Sound, and up two or three big inlets. We are a bit faster than you will be, but have less range in the way of refrigerator space and food storage.

I concur with the others about remaining relatively close, but keep an open mind. If you are all provisioned and feeling good a week into the trip, you may have a weather window to get up to the Desolation Sound area. Maybe it will blow and rain the entire time, and there is plenty to see in-close if that's the case. Definitely bring your credential for entering Canada, it's right here and super easy. You can get a part flown to anywhere mentioned in this thread on the same or next day, so you are not that far off the grid.

I suppose I would draw a SOFT line at about the Johnstone Strait...we spent 2 weeks below that on our first trip, but remained mostly north of the islands. If you get up to the end of Vancouver Island (say Port McNeill) or further, there is a real chance you could be waiting a week for weather to get back.

As far as DO NOT MISS items, I encourage you to get to Princess Louisa Inlet. It should be free of most visitors and the falls should really be running (snow melt). You should stay a couple of nights to get the full experience. Pender Harbor is a good stop the night before. Coming out here to cruise and missing Princess Louisa Inlet would be like going to the North Channel and missing Baie Fine, or heading to the Caribbean but skipping the BVIs.

The other nice to see list, in no particular order, follows:

Sidney, BC - very walkable, one of the best foodie stops, great marina (Greek food and bakery.
Cowichan Bay, BC - surprisingly, a great foodie stop (must visit bakery).
Friday Harbor - famous hub of the San Juans, eat at Vinny's Italian.
Anacortes - Safeway for provisioning, classic marine hardware (best anywhere I think), walkable.
Ganges, Saltspring Island, BC - provisioning at the excellent Thrifty grocery at the head of the dock, surprisingly good prices for an island store, best farmers market.
Victoria, BC - everything!
WA Marine State Parks - visit as many in the San Juan Islands as possible, most are beautiful and offer some interesting shore excursion.

Good Luck!

Jeff
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Old 11-20-2016, 09:17 PM   #19
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Looking for PNW Cruising Advice

I think you can go north of the 49th, but heading north of Caution is optimistic. A week in the BC Gulf Islands, a week in Desolation, with a week traveling uses up 3 weeks. Perhaps a week in the US San Juans? Plus you have to throw in the uncertain April weather.

You don't need a Nexus Card. We don't use one. It helps but not essential. The dogs are fine, but should be up to date with their vaccinations, particularly rabies, but that can be googled.

Tidal currents take a bit to get used to: you are picking up your boat in La Conner, which is an initial challenge to start with. Heading north, you will encounter tides off Lummi Island, Active Pass Porlier, Boundary Pass, and so forth.
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Old 11-20-2016, 09:18 PM   #20
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Lepke, Do you know if we need anything special for the dogs when entering Canada? We always travel with their vaccination records, but nothing special beyond that.
We cross at least monthly. No issues with our dog; we travel with vaccination documentation. Check the Canada Border Services Agency website for the latest details (list of food items too).
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