Alaska Inside Passage Paddle

9:30 p.m. on March 5, 2014 (EST)
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I'm a newbie. I plan to paddle the Inside Passage in the summer 2015. Any advice and or comments are appreciated. Deciding on kayak or canoe, leaning toward canoe. I have more than a year to practice and prepare. Maybe paddle alone or maybe with others.

10:56 a.m. on March 6, 2014 (EST)
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Hi Arnold, welcome to Trailspace. The first question I'll ask is how much paddling have you done? The second is what is your experience with the Inside Passage and if you intend to paddle the entire length or just a section?

As far as a choice of alone or with others, you are running a great risk if you are alone. The risks are great enough with a companion.

I would recommend a sea kayak, expedition size for gear. You will need to have your roll down well enough that you can do it without a paddle(hand roll), and when you are fatigued.

You will have to have a great knowledge of the route and expected conditions. Tidal flows in the Inside Passage can top 12 knots. You can't paddle that fast. It can be quite rough, with high winds. Beaches are infrequent so you will need to know how to launch off rocky shores.

I would suggest a couple of easier trips, such as the Broken Group to test your skills.

I can advise on boat models. Again, a sea kayak would be my choice and I am primarily an open boat guy with 8 canoes and one Ik in my garage.

11:34 a.m. on March 6, 2014 (EST)
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Arnold,

Heed Erich's words. I have been up the Passage 3 times, twice on the Alaska Ferry and once on a cruise ship. Even 850 foot ships get tossed around making the crossing at Dixon Entrance.

Reading tide tables is one of the most important skills for such a trip. The normal tidal range at Ketchikan is 23 feet. Twice a day all of that water flows thru shallows, inlets, and around islands. Tidal currents bury buoys, swallow logs in whirlpools, and create standing waves higher than you can imagine. The water is in the 40s in the summer. Often there is nowhere to land except rock piles.

Most people can paddle about 3 knots. If the current is adverse, you will be going backwards. Large ship wakes, ferry wakes, and barges with cables are some of the other hazards. Help is a long way away.

I would start with something simple like the San Juan Islands. It is hazardous enough. Rethink your plan.

2:10 p.m. on March 6, 2014 (EST)
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Arnold...typically I feel I am the one preaching against caution...as I feel a lot of folks treat the outdoors as an environment where a cruel and terrible death is the only certainty...when the outdoors is actually very safe given the everyday risk we take without a moment of hesitation. However...in this case I am on the side of caution...because as Erich and ppine noted...the Inside Passage has some very serious obstacles and potential threats...and certainly something I would not recommend doing solo unless you have a lot of sea-kayaking experience.

If you are dead-set on paddling the Inside Passage then you should check out a few of the really great books on the subject...as they will help a lot with the planning and preparing. You can also get updated information regarding local conditions (camp-sites + fresh water +etc) on several forums...and youtube has several videos that you could watch and learn from. Folks with very little (if any experience) have paddled the Inside Passage before...so it is not that it cannot be done...but unlike 99% of the outdoors where tragedy typically follows a long succession of bad decisions and poor circumstances...it takes much fewer on big water.

Youtube videos:

Here is a video by some folks with very little experience completing 500 miles of the IP: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qz5-72fhIzw

This guy did a solo...and he clearly had very little experience at the beginning...and seemed to have made a good go of it with very little money: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8dDAGu96BAw

Here is a high production video that I just like watching: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OQxYOPJIyAs

5:59 p.m. on March 6, 2014 (EST)
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Arnold,

If you are still determined to go solo, consider a small sailboat like a Montgomery or West Wight Potter with an auxiliary outboard. Or maybe an aluminum fishing boat with a house on it. Your chances are much better of staying out of serious trouble. You would then have much deeper hulls to take the weather and obstacles. You would have a place to get out of the rain and wind, and most important you would have power to overcome all of those currents. It would be easy to sleep aboard in a protected anchorage.

8:43 a.m. on March 7, 2014 (EST)
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Hi, Eric, thanks for the reply and info. I have only taken some kayak classes as far as paddling experience goes. I have rolled it twice so have some idea of how not to roll, LOL. I hope a year of practice and training will be enough to pull this off.

I intend to start around Ketchikan and maybe up to Haines. I have made four trips through there by ferry. I am a nature photographer, and paper maker among other things. I know it's risky but so was joining the army. I accept the risk but plan to approach this with some common sense. I am not a reckless personality. I don't want to be laying on my death bed saying I wish I had done this. I have wanted to do this ever since I first saw the inside passage but I was always in the rat race and could never take the summer off to chase a dream, now I can.

Thanks again

Arnold













I intend to start arounnd

8:48 a.m. on March 7, 2014 (EST)
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Hello PPine, thanks for the note. I plan to take shorter, "safer" trips first. You suggested I re-think my plans. Are you suggesting I do not go?

Thanks again

Arnold

8:49 a.m. on March 7, 2014 (EST)
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Erich, sorry I misspelled your name.


Arnold

9:04 a.m. on March 7, 2014 (EST)
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Thanks Joseph. Yes, I am dead set on going. Appreciate all the cautionary notes from everyone. If I don't feel ready next summer then I will postpone till I do but I am going.
We only get one shot at this thing called life and intend on taking mine. I have backpacked and hitchhiked through twenty or more countries around the world, some of which are constantly in the news such as Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkey, Burma (Myanmar), etc. but it is not enough. I need more. When I was a little boy my friends had pics of athletes and bands on their walls while my walls were filled with maps of far away places. I accept the risks involved. I believe they are manageable with common sense and planning. That's why I joined this site so folks like you could talk to me.


Thanks again.


Arnold

11:49 a.m. on March 7, 2014 (EST)
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Hi Arnold,

Thank you for your reply. No worries on the name misspelling.

Certainly, Joseph is correct that people have done it. An old classmate did it for his honeymoon, rowing a skiff with his wife, and he went on to found Sea Kayaker Magazine. He has lots of sea experience. Certainly, such trips are possible with great planning, great skills and luck. I would point to the fellow who recently tried to kayak across the Pacific. I know the folks at Seaward Kayaks and there is more to the story than what you see in the press. And I also spoke at length with the fellow who attempted. ppine suggested something like a West Wight Potter. It is a capable design, and there are others. But if you are dead set on kayaking, you have a road ahead. Certainly you have backpacked in areas considered dangerous. I traveled to those areas and Yemen and Arabia when in college. People around the world are much friendlier than you see in the news, and they are people. And you walked. Growing up on the water, understanding its various moods, would give you some of the skills.

When I mentioned, getting your roll down, I did not intend to you to think about capsizing. I meant you have to be able to do a roll, a means of righting yourself when you capsize. Also called an Eskimo Roll. That is very basic knowledge and I'm surprised, but it sounds you don't know about that.

The sea, as many have found throughout the ages, is very unforgiving. The west coast of North America is known as the graveyard of ships. World navigational books say that the coast is extremely hazardous for small craft. They consider small craft anything under 120 feet.

After my words of caution, you will need, money. This can't be done on a shoestring and if your boat breaks, you can't park it and hitch to the next village.

Solid boat, with good capacity.

Two GPS units, batteries, charts and compass.

Great navigational skills.

Great skills in understanding currents. There are guides, but they don't tell very much. I have seen the current flow the same direction in a large bay, whether ebb or flood. Things like that can catch you by surprise.

Phenomenal kayaking skills. Again, you should be able to roll without a paddle(hand roll) wet exit and enter. You should be able to do this when getting tossed around in breaking seas of ten feet.

Composite boat repair skills. Have you worked with composites? Kayaks often leak at the seams.

Weather prediction. You have to know what it is going to do, whether it will be safe to cross a channel, and not get drowned in a squall. You have to smell the weather. Nuff said.

The ability to navigate with dead accuracy, without any electronics.

Lastly, and most importantly, you will have to have an innate sense of self preservation. Many solo adventurers die, and because of that, fail in their endeavor, because they didn't have caution, only bravado. How many times have you pushed yourself to summit a peak, and then thought, "Not today, my friend, not today"? How many times have your tried to adhere to a schedule that was imposed by others or self imposed and it put you in harm's way?

Lastly, I know wherefrom you come. I was never into the usual athletics(though I rowed and sailed competitively). I read HW Tilman, Richard Burton, Lowell Thomas, Walter Bonatti, Warburton Pike, Joshua Slocum, and hundreds of others and wanted to be them. Early on, I had some good mentors and I developed the skills to go on adventures safely. And it eventually became my career, filming in often remote and unusual places.

In the service, you no doubt learned that in order to be successful in your mission, you had to have an intimate knowledge of the terrain, the enemy and have a back up plan for any eventuality. 

Go, but go safely, and with knowledge, lest you put others at risk.

5:47 p.m. on March 7, 2014 (EST)
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Arnold,

I would never tell anyone what they can and cannot do. We just want you to heed Erich's excellent advice and maybe try a shakedown cruise before you commit to the Inside Passage. The San Juan Islands gave me all I could handle with only about a 6-7 foot tidal range and 55 degree sea water. Confused seas and boat wakes piled up on the points and built some large waves. The tidal rips are commonly 2-3 feet but look much bigger when the ocean is in your lap.

10:20 a.m. on March 8, 2014 (EST)
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Hey, Erich, thanks again. I knew about Eskimo rolls. That was one of the first things discussed in the classes I took and then I promptly capsized twice in training and had to use it. Sort on unintended trial by fire. I don't want you guys to think I'm just going out to do this and hope for the best. While I am a gambler I am not foolish. Nothing in your last post surprised me about what knowledge and abilities I will need for this. I have a couple of tune up paddles in the works and will see how they go.

Thanks again for the info.

Arnold

10:26 a.m. on March 8, 2014 (EST)
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Hey, ppine, thanks for the reply. Yeah, I have the San Juans on the radar as well as a 7 day Alaska guided paddle on the radar. If that's not enough I'll do more until I feel ready. Don't worry, I'm not going off half cocked, as it were.

Thanks

Arnold

1:42 a.m. on March 11, 2014 (EDT)
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Arnold, the San Juans are beautiful, but pretty tame for training. Two good places to train are the Broken Group and Desolation Sound. A third place to get you feet wet is Nootka Sound. If you can survive those places with no problems, have all of your skills down, then I would say you are ready.

I would add that the stretch from Ketchikan to Haines is less open that other parts of the IP. Certainly paddling in the waters around Haida Gwaii is more hazardous as the crossings are often quite long and seas rough. As well, from Port Hardy to Haida Gwaii is quite difficult. Personally, I would want to handle those stretches in anything under 70 feet.

12:51 p.m. on March 11, 2014 (EDT)
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Erich,

This is one of those times I completely disagree with your assessment of the San Juans as "pretty tame."

A paddle out to Suchia Island is very exposed. Haro Strait crossings especially with wind from the sw can teach people a lot. There is a ton of boat traffic including ferries, barges on cables and large power boats. Deception Pass has currents in the 8 knot range that people surf in using river kayaks. Plenty of tidal rips, and the consequences of not interpreting the tide table correctly will be totally obvious. It can be as exciting as you want it to be. No need to travel all the way to the end of Vancouver Is or go well into BC. A newbie will know within 2 days whether he is on the right track ....or not.

 

Maybe some people go there in July and August for the good weather, with strong high pressure. The rest of the year, the weather can be difficult.

 

My uncle, Alaska Bob did the mail run in the San Juans by powerboat for 2 years after he retired. He finally quit the job for fear of getting knocked out making the required fast runs in rough weather.

2:49 a.m. on March 12, 2014 (EDT)
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ppine, please take my comment in perspective. When I say that the San Juans are pretty tame, it is in comparison to the other places I mention. Sucia  Island from Orcas is quite exposed, as is Patos. As are many of the Gulf Islands. I have had the experience to sail in the Broken Group, off of Haida Gwaii and Desolation Sound. All are a notch up on the scale from the San Juans, which are themselves pretty extreme in certain situations. You mention Deception Pass, I just did a race through there in December. Tidal rips? Yes. And pretty high on the pucker scale. But a notch or two under paddling the Broken Group in fog and 10 knot currents. Have you paddled Haida Gwaii? Wonderful place, but tidal rips exceed those in the San Juans.

I'll add that when Perfect Storm came out, it made it seem like the weather in the Banks was the worst and that fatalities were more the norm than anywhere else. Unfortunately, the memorial at Fisherman's Terminal in Seattle, the four fishing shows I did for National Geographic and the Discovery Channel, and Icicle Seafoods, show that the fatalities in Alaska are far higher.

12:59 p.m. on March 12, 2014 (EDT)
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I should add that the folks who regularly surf in Deception Pass are using sea kayaks. Arnold, here is a link to one person in a Greenland style boat in Deception Pass. These conditions are not unlike the ones you are likely to encounter on the Inside Passage. When you can match this guy's skill, I'd say you are ready for your trip.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MfuVuSoHdXI

7:23 a.m. on March 13, 2014 (EDT)
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Thnks for th e

October 22, 2014
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