Monday, November 28, 2011

Frequently Asked Questions

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.

Why now?

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.

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