There are many things you need to know for your first voyage along the inside passage.
Who among us hasn’t daydreamed about the ultimate cruise up the beautiful and breathtaking Inside Passage? The one where you depart in May or June and are self-sufficient until returning home in September. For many boaters, it’s just that, a dream for whatever reason. It can be time constraints, the fear of the unknown, uncertainty of boating skills, the open-water passages or the thought having to transit saltwater rapids.
It doesn’t need to be just a dream. Once you make the decision to go, the following are helpful tips for a safe and enjoyable experience.
KNOW EVERY INCH OF YOUR BOAT
A basic prerequisite is you need to be familiar with the operation and inner-workings of your boat before leaving the dock. But ask yourself: Do you know the location of every through-hull fitting? If you begin to smell burning electrical wires, can you access your battery-disconnect switches easily? When was the last time you inspected the steering gear?
LIBRARY ON BOARD
Establish a library of owner manuals for each piece of equipment, such as the motor, transmission, refrigeration, head equipment, winch, electronics, galley equipment, steering and hydraulic systems, to name a few. They will be invaluable should you experience a problem or need to perform some preventative maintenance or troubleshoot an issue.
CARRY SPARE PARTS
The farther north you travel, there are few, if any, places to find spares. Carry at least the following:
• Fuel filters. Most important, follow your engine, generator and furnace manufacturers’ recommendation for each filter element’s micron rating. They’re inexpensive, don’t take up much room and they don’t go bad if sealed in plastic wrap.
• Alternator belts. Stow at least one complete set of new belts for all engine driven gear, such as alternators and water pumps.
• Impellers. Have one spare impeller for the motor and generator.
• Spare fluids. Before departure, check coolant, engine oil and hydraulic-steering and trim tab systems for leaks and fluid levels. Carry spare fluid of the correct type.
Having spares on board is a wonderful thing when in the wilderness, but they serve no purpose if you don’t have the tools required to install them. Every boater should carry at least a minimal assortment of hand tools on board. The size of the tool bag and the selection of tools will obviously vary with the size and type of boat you own and with the kind of cruising you do. However, no matter the size of your particular boat, there is a basic set of essential tools that you need aboard every vessel for making emergency repairs as well as for performing routine maintenance procedures. Most engine manufacturers provide a complete list of required tools for performing maintenance and repairs. Then there are those tools that make things go easier:
• Hearing protection
• Magnetic wand
• Telescoping mirror
• Wire strippers
• Rubber mallet
• Strap wrench
• Putty knife/scraper
SHARPEN YOUR NAVIGATION SKILLS
Know the Rules of the Road, basic navigation skills and how to operate the onboard electronics. Have a complete set of paper charts and study them. If your electronics fail, you can fall back on the paper ones. Be aware of wind and currents that can push you onto a hostile shore or rocks.
Make tide and current awareness part of your pre-departure checklist. Ensure you know the time, strength and direction of tidal currents. Most electronic software has a very easy-to-use tide function. I also keep a tide table in my onboard library just in case my electronics fail.
SEMINARS AND FLOTILLAS
A good way to prepare for your first-time cruise along the Inside Passage is to attend seminars. They are offered during boat shows or by organizations and companies throughout the year. They address such topics as what to expect, how to prepare, clearing Canadian and U.S. Customs, route planning, navigation, weather, transiting rapids, straits and open water.
There are also guided flotilla cruises, which are like floating seminars with experienced guides educating participants along the way and where you share your experience with other like-minded boaters.
CONTACT CELLPHONE PROVIDER
If your float plan includes crossing the border, contact your carrier before you leave, and make sure you are signed up for international service. Most phone service is available near populated areas.
An alternative, once across the border, is to purchase a Canadian subscriber identity module (SIM) card, which is a small chip with information that identifies and authenticates a device on a cellphone network. Once the current carrier’s card is removed and replaced with the Canadian SIM, you pay local rates for calling data and texts.
The downside is your phone becomes a Canadian phone and you won’t receive calls or text messages at your normal phone number until you re-insert your original SIM card.
PREPARE TO LOSE INTERNET ACCESS
If your boat has satellite internet access, great; otherwise, don’t count on it until you reach populated areas. A Wi-Fi antenna and booster mounted high on the radar arch can mean the difference between having and not having an internet connection strong enough to handle email and surfing the Web. There are many options for these units. On Easy Goin’ we installed an Ubiquiti Bullet II and multidirectional Wi-Fi antenna.
DON’T PACK TOO MUCH FOOD
U.S. and Canadian customs regulations are a bit confusing and constantly changing. Once across the borders, you can provision fresh fruits, vegetables and meats before you head into the wilderness. North of the U.S./Canadian border, there are plenty of opportunities in Vancouver, Ganges and Sydney. North of the B.C./ Alaska line, a good selection of provisions is available in Ketchikan.
FIRST AID, CPR AND MEDICAL KIT
There’s nothing worse than seeing a loved one wounded or sick — except maybe being unable to do anything about it. Buy the best kit you can afford, then ensure you and your mate take a first aid course. Knowing how to dress a wound to stop bleeding, or brace somebody until help arrives, will make a crucial difference. Also, take a CPR course. In recent years it has become popular with cruisers to equip their boat with an automated external defibrillator (AED) to address cardiac arrest.
Make sure you have enough of your prescription medications in prescription containers and an emergency supply of wide-spectrum antibiotics, prescribed by your doctor. Also ensure your onboard first aid kit is well stocked to cover any emergency situation.
As wonderful as memories of a cruise up the Inside Passage may be, you will want a more tangible memory. Make sure the digital camera is always charged and there are spare memory cards. A picture, after all, is worth a thousand words, and sometimes that’s what’s needed to convey the wonder of the experience, to prove the stories you tell are actually true, or just for a future stroll down memory lane.
PURCHASE USEFUL REFERENCE BOOKS
There are many good cruising guides and they’re available online. A few include:
• Waggoner Cruising Guide, Fine Edge Nautical Publishing
• Northwest Boat Travel, Vernon Publications LLC
• Cruising The Inside Passage — Puget Sound to Alaska, by Peter Vassilopoulos
• Dreamspeaker Cruising Guide Series, by Anne Laurence Yeadon-Jones
Things on the coast are constantly changing and the first two guides are updated annually.
DON’T TRY TO KEEP A TIGHT SCHEDULE
Weather conditions in the Inside Passage are usually good, but there are occasions when it’s best to hole up and wait out inclement weather. Conditions can become extremely difficult, and cruises are delayed for a day or two. The best practice is to schedule lay days into your float plan.