Glaciers, wildlife, and a variety of protected and unprotected cruising grounds are found in Alaska. For a true adventure, few destinations can match a cruise up the Inside Passage, or a trip through the Gulf of Alaska and the Bearing Sea; the best season for yacht charter in Alaska is May to September.
Space may be called the final frontier by some people, but Alaska is the last truly wild territory for an American adventure. Whales, orcas, grizzly bears, and moose are just a few of the creatures you can encounter here, in an environment that literally explodes with life during the short spring and summer seasons. Fjords, glaciers, and mountains which seem to burst out of the ocean provide the awe-inspiring back-drop. For those in search of the purest untamed scenery in the world, Alaska is the place to be.
Cruises to the northern reaches of the state will take you to the Arctic waters of the Bearing Sea, with hot-spots like Bristol Bay (with its famed salmon run), the Aleutian Islands, and the well-known fishing town of Dutch Harbor. The city of Anchorage, Alaska’s largest population center, lies to the east off the Gulf of Alaska.
Farther south, visitors will want to explore the Inside Passage, a 500 mile long coastal route where the ocean and land intertwine in a series of over 100 islands, countless bays, and numerous inlets. Villages like Sitka, Juneau, Petersburg, Wrangle, and Ketchikan provide plenty of ports along the way, and each has its own character and attractions.
With an entire world of waterways to explore by charter yacht, picking out your ultimate destination can be a tough call. But if you have adventure in your blood and a driving desire to see nature in its rawest forms, a visit to Alaska will be impossible to top.
The Inside Passage is the most popular cruising destination in Alaska from Vancouver up to the Glacier bay National Park. The more adventurous will head out into the North Pacific to visit Icy Bay before moving up to Prince William Sound and witnessing the huge ice face of the Columbia glacier calving enormous bergs of ice into the water.
Though not considered prime season, September and early October charters can be delightful as the crowds are gone and the weather is usually still amenable. Periods of rain are common in May and June and even into early July. Each year is different of course, but fall and spring storms around the British Columbia coast can get gnarly. Visitors tend to stick to the eight glorious weeks during the sunniest part of the year.
The islands off the coast of Washington are known as the ‘Banana Belt’ where the storm blocking effects of the surrounding mountain ranges make for a drier and milder climate. Average temperatures include highs of 60-70 degrees Farehnheit in the summer months with temps dropping into the 50s at night. In winter, you can expect about 20 degrees less for both highs and lows. Some areas of these sheltered waters (like Deception Pass) are prone to fog, so consider a charter boat that has radar.
Other destinations like Victoria, British Columbia are milder, but always expect the unexpected. We went from 43 degrees to 82 degrees on the same mid-August charter. Typical annual precipitation is about twenty inches, with a significant increase in rain in the winter months.
Winds are light and fluky so long, lazy days under sail can be elusive. On a recent week-long charter, we managed to sail about three hours in total with wind speeds from a frustrating five knots to a challenging 25 knots on the nose—all within the same afternoon. Unpredictable and mostly nonexistent sailing breezes make powerboats a good option, and there are many to choose from at most charter bases. If you’re looking at the shoulder season, ask for a boat with a cabin heater.
Weather affects just about everything you’ll bring on a charter: personal electronics, clothes, toys. Some items that will be helpful include a smartphone or tablet with marine apps on weather, AIS, tides and marina bookings. Most charter boats won’t have AIS enabled radar, but you can get that information on your iPhone with an inexpensive app. Although it’s not necessary to have this, it’s fun to track and identify the ships nearby.
Another consideration is toys. Depending on the time of year and on how hardy you are, you may or may not be spending time in the water. If you want to snorkel, swim, kayak or generally play in the water, consider bringing your own light wetsuit. Electronics or board games are also helpful to entertain all ages on rainy afternoons at anchor. However, don’t underestimate the sun factor; bring lots of sunscreen, hats and glasses.
For clothing, think layers. In August we managed to go from wearing three layers and foulies to swimsuits and flip flops. Bring lots of options, some rain gear, and even consider tossing in an umbrella for shoreside strolls through towns.
Photo courtesy Neil Rabinowitz