My planned trip to Alaska is somewhat unconventional. For one thing, I'm only 22 years old and I will have just graduated from college. Most people I meet when I'm boating are quite a bit older. I'll also be making the trip on a much smaller boat than most others. These factors tend to generate a lot of questions and I'll try to answer some of them here.
I think the better question is, "why later?" We never know what the future holds, and right now I'm (thankfully) in a position to make the trip. I don't know when things will fall into place to enable such a trip in the future, so I'm taking advantage of it now. Health, jobs, family, and finances must all align to make this type of extended trip possible, and right now they do.
Is it safe?
I get this question a lot. The short answer is yes. Traveling in such a small boat does require vigilance in selecting weather windows for some of the more exposed passages, and it is always prudent to respect mother nature. My biggest concern on the trip is bad weather, but there are lots of ways to mitigate this risk. Short term weather forecasting is quite accurate these days, and access is ever increasing. Weather information is always broadcast on the VHF radio and much additional information can be obtained online when internet access is available. Since I won't have much of a schedule to keep, I'll be able to carefully select which days I move from anchorage to anchorage, hopefully avoiding the inevitable bad weather. Furthermore, the Inside Passage offers a wide range of possible cruising routes that can be adjusted to best suit current weather conditions.
In preparing for the trip, I've spent a lot of time thinking about safety gear and a lot of money buying it. I have an inflatable life jacket that is comfortable to wear and will be on whenever I'm outside the cabin in good conditions. When I'm alone, I'll never go outside when the engine is in gear. If the weather is bad, I'll wear a type I lifejacket with a personal locator beacon (if activated, a message is relayed to the Coast Guard via satellite for 24 hours with my GPS coordinates), portable VHF radio, portable GPS, and strobe light. Additionally, I have a ditch bag with flares and other signaling gear, food and water, and a space blanket that can quickly be grabbed in the unlikely event that I have to abandon the boat. I also have a SPOT locator, which will transmit my location every 10 minutes and can broadcast a distress signal if needed.
The boat itself is very safe. In addition to the reliable Honda 90hp outboard, an additional backup engine (Tohatsu 6hp) will be installed with an independent fuel supply. The forward 2/3rds of the boat (roughly) is completely enclosed, so even if (when) I do encounter bad weather, boarding seas are quickly evacuated. The cockpit is equipped with two 1100 gallon per hour bilge pumps and there is just one below-the-waterline through hull on the entire boat, minimizing the chances of flooding. Several other C-Dory 22's have successfully made the trip from Washington to Alaska, and a lot more regularly ply the waters of both states and everywhere in between.
Why the C-Dory?
The short answer is because I already have access to it. C-Dory's are well proven and capable boats. While it would certainly be nice to have a larger boat, it simply isn't in the budget. I'd rather go now with what I have than wait (potentially forever) to do it in a bigger, fancier boat.
That said, the C-Dory is well suited to the task. They're tough, efficient, and safe. I'm comfortable running the boat and familiar with the systems. I have no doubt that the boat is up to the trip.
How will you know where to go?
The entire Inside Passage is well charted. The primary navigation system is a Raymarine C80, which includes charts, radar (to see other boats in the fog or at night primarily), and an autopilot. Additionally, my iPad and iPhone both have complete sets of charts and integrated GPS sensors. I have a USB GPS sensor for my laptop, and another set of charts installed on it. And of course, I'll have paper charts aboard as well.
Cruising guides also play a major role in finding safe passages, interesting places to explore, and essential services like fuel and food. Several people have generously sent me their cruising guides and charts and I'll buy a few newer ones before my departure.
Will you run out of fuel?
The Retriever holds 50 gallons of gas in two 25 gallon tanks. Depending on speed I can expect a range of anywhere between about 150 nautical miles and 275 nautical miles with no reserve. Fuel is readily available throughout the Inside Passage, and while careful fuel planning is critical, I don't anticipate any problems with running out of fuel. I'll also carry additional fuel in six gallon containers for emergencies or exploring areas that are more isolated.
How can you live in such a small space?
It's only a small space if you stay on the boat. There are tons of areas to explore by foot and kayak, and I intend to find nice anchorages and then wander around as much as possible. When there are so many beautiful places to explore, who needs tons of interior space to get lost in and big screen televisions to be distracted by?
That said, the interior volume is small. This necessitates discipline in keeping things clean and orderly. The experience is really more akin to camping than anything else that I've done. I've found that I'm quite content looking at what's around me, reading, and watching the occasional movie. It's a simpler life and a nice change of pace.
Saturday, November 26, 2011
I recently bought an iPad with the idea of using it as a planning tool and backup chartplotter on my trip to Alaska next summer. I tested it out yesterday and it works great, with a few exceptions.
iPad mounted on the electronics shelf
I have several different charting apps installed on the iPad. My favorite is iNavX ($50), which is actually quite powerful. I have both NOAA raster charts (free!) and Navionics vector charts ($40). I prefer the Navionics charts because that's what I'm used to looking at on the Raymarine plotter. iNavX is quite powerful. It can display charts in either north up or course up, export routes (but you must have an internet connection), and even be interfaced into the NMEA network on the boat using a wireless multiplexer, which I don't have.
I also have the Navimatics West ($25) app installed. The charts are not nearly as detailed as the Navionics charts for iNavX but they could get the job done in an emergency. The best part of the Navimatics app is that it has Active Captain support, even when there's no internet connection. Active Captain is basically a TripAdvisor or Yelp for boaters, with reviews of marinas, anchorages, etc. Offline support is critical, since roaming charges and poor cell coverage limit internet availability when cruising in remote areas.
Finally, I have an old iPhone version of the Navionics app. I think it only cost $10 and has charts from the Columbia River to Glacier Bay. Big value, although it's not great on the iPad and doesn't offer the advanced features that iNavX does.
Another great app is NOAA Buoy and Tide Data ($2). The name of the app is quite descriptive. Basically, it makes weather buoy data and tide information easily viewable on the iPad when it has an internet connection.
All of these apps also run on my iPhone.
The internal GPS on the iPad (only 3G models have internal GPS antennas) seems to be good. It doesn't respond quite as quickly as the Raymarine GPS, but it's better than my iPhone 3GS GPS. A word of warning: the iPad chews through battery quickly when using the GPS, so it's best to have it plugged in when you can.
I mounted my iPad on a RAM mount, through bolted to the electronics shelf above the helm. The mount is sturdy, adjustable, and all but the small base is easily removable for the times that the iPad isn't aboard or being used.
My hope is to plan out routes in advance on the iPad, export them to the Raymarine C80, and let the autopilot steer the route. This is proving to be more difficult than I hoped. For now, the only way to export routes from iNavX is through email or xTraverse (a cloud based map, waypoint, and route utility). Unfortunately, this requires an internet connection, which I often won't have. The iNavX developer has told me that a new release will allow syncing routes with a computer via USB and I hope this will be the case. But once I have the routes on my computer, I still face several issues. iNavX does not export routes in a format that the Raymarine system can read, so I have to use a utility called GPSBabel (free) to convert the files into a Raymarine Waypoint File. Shockingly, this file is still not readable by my Raymarine chartplotter. Instead, I must use RayTech Planner (free, Windows only) to convert the files into the correct format and then export them to a compact flash card. I have yet to get this whole process to work correctly, but remain optimistic that it is possible.
Alternately, I could install a Brookhouse iMux. This is an NMEA multiplexer that would wirelessly link the iPad (or laptop, iPhone, etc.) to the Raymarine network. Theoretically, I would then be able to transfer routes over the network or even drive the autopilot directly from the iPad. I may explore this route more fully if I can't get the cheaper first option working.
One of the great things about the iPad is that it offers a lot more than just navigation. I can watch movies, browse the internet, check weather, and read email. It's a great addition to the boat, with a lot of uses beyond navigation.
Thursday, November 24, 2011
For a long time now I've been interested in photography. It pairs well with other hobbies, like traveling, boating, and skiing. On my upcoming trip to Alaska, I hope to continue improving my ability as a photographer and capture some of the splendor of the areas I'll be exploring. Below are just a few of the photos from trips I have taken in the last year or so to South Africa and the Galapagos Islands, both spectacular places!
Our campsite on our first night of the Salkantay Trail. This is at about 15,000 feet; the mountains in the background are 20,000 feet. We were the only group on the trail that we saw without a guide and we had a great time.
A land iguana in the Galapagos, one of several we saw.
We watched this hawk eat a dead sea lion for quite a while.
A baby sea lion
A beautiful and rare bird. Unfortunately I can't remember the name.
On our last game drive we followed two cheetahs for several hours. This is one of them.
Closer to home, I enjoyed my second backpacking trip around the Maroon Bells (near Aspen, CO) in the fall. This photo was taken at our campsite at Snowmass Lake with 14,156' Snowmass Peak towering above.
Sunday, November 13, 2011
It's been close to four years since my last big trip and the next one is in the planning process now. The idea is to depart Anacortes around June 1 for a three to four month journey up the Inside Passage to Glacier Bay, Alaska and (hopefully) back. Exact routing and stops are going to be left intentionally vague so I can take advantage of opportunities as they arise and adjust for varying weather conditions. If all goes according to plan and the weather cooperates (a big if!), I hope to make the return trip on the west coast of Vancouver Island and maybe even make a side trip out to the Queen Charlottes. I expect the overall distance cruised will be 2500 to 3000nm, or roughly the same distance as the Pacific crossing from San Diego to the Marquesas. I'm trying not to think about how much fuel I'll burn!
So far, much of the planning has been focused on preparing the boat. I've had an autopilot installed that interfaces with the Raymarine MFD and allows me to focus on navigation while cruising and will let me relax a bit on the long days that I'll inevitably have. I'll be able to plan out routes on my laptop or iPad, load them into the MFD, and let the computers steer the boat. I also had a windlass installed which makes anchoring as easy as pushing a button. Definitely a necessity after my microdiscectomy last winter! The electrical system has been reworked to make power management easier. Last summer, I bought an inflatable kayak (Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame) that will make exploring anchorages much more pleasant than it was with the 8 foot inflatable I took on the last trip. This winter I'll have a 120v battery charger installed for when I'm at a dock as well as a Tohatsu 6hp kicker in case the main engine fails. Since the last trip I've also added a stereo with Sirius radio for news and entertainment, changed over all the lights to LED's to save power, and purchased a personal locator beacon (PLB) in case the worst happens.
Next to my desk I have a couple of large planning charts hanging from the walls that I look at regularly. I've got a pile of guidebooks that I read when I have time. These books are filled with information about the myriad of islands, coves, fjords, and anchorages that line the Inside Passage. The Inside Passage is the holy grail for boaters in the PNW, and I'm excited to make my first complete trip when I'm as young as I am (22). Hopefully it will become the first of many!