April 5, 2012

Mooching the Inside Passage

SOME OF THE MOST PICTURESQUE cruising waters in the world lie along the Inside Passage from Seattle to Alaska. The problem is that they are often cold and wet. There are few sandy beaches and nary a coconut palm to be seen.

Nevertheless, there are hardy souls who row and sail the length of this coastline each year in mighty small boats. I myself have been tempted by the thought of beach camping, because I have long loved small dinghies such as the Drascombe Lugger and the 16-foot Wayfarer. I even considered doing it in an 11-foot Mirror dinghy, mainly because I happened to have one and because it would be easy to haul out on a beach each night, turn it over, and sleep underneath it.

But on a lugger or a Wayfarer it's a lot of fuss and bother getting your gear ashore in bad weather, setting up camp (if you can find a spot), and pulling the boat up out of the reach of some very high tides. And finding a landing place when you're tired after a day's sailing might not be easy, either, because quite often there is no beach at all and you have to land on rocks or pebbles or even muddy, marshy ground.

Then I did a story for Small Craft Advisor magazine about a local lawyer, Michael Kleps and his very sporting wife, Elizabeth MacDonald, who spent their honeymoon sailing (and rowing) a 15-foot Albacore racing dinghy from Bellingham, at the northern edge of Puget Sound, to Alaska. They camped ashore every night but elected to keep the boat anchored off in deep water because she was heavily loaded, and it would have been a great sweat to haul her out — and then find her high and dry when you wanted to sail next morning.

So it occurred to me that if you're going to keep your boat in deep water, you might as well have something like a Cal 20, which has a small cabin and a fixed keel with a draft of about 3 ft. 6in.  At least you'd have a dry place in which to sit down, cook, and sleep, a sort of floating fiberglass pup tent.  But this means you wouldn't actually be beach camping, of course, and you'd need a small dinghy to get ashore.  It might suit me better, though. Mike and Elizabeth found they could sleep almost anywhere: on rocks, in hammocks, even on bare marina piers. But I'm getting a bit long in the tooth for that sort of thing.

Maybe one of these days I'll go back to the Mirror idea.  I had a cunning thought about that.  I had plans to become a singlehanded Mirror moocher.  I would sail into an anchorage  populated with cruising yachts every night.  I'd come alongside one and offer to buy some matches to light a fire so I could cook supper on shore. I would look fatigued and pathetic and they would ask what I was doing and I would spin great tales of derring-do.  Then they would offer me a bunk for the night.  Yes, they would. A nice warm dry bunk.  And I would be profuse in my thanks, and accept with such grace that they would throw in supper and a couple of beers as well.  It could work, I swear it could. Sailors are such generous people. They just need to be given the chance.

Today's Thought
Journeys, like artists, are born and not made. A thousand differing circumstances contribute to them, few of them willed or determined by the will—whatever we may think.
—Lawrence Durrell, Bitter Lemons.

It’s too bad that by the time we get old enough not to care what anybody says about us, nobody’s saying anything about us.

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)


mgtdOcean said...

John, love the idea of small boat cruising, but only have done it on larger ones myself. What do you think of using a Hobie Cat 16' or Wharram Hitia 17". Can be easily beached and the tramps provide sleeping. Throw in a boom tent and your living the high life! :) Can't carry as much cargo as a Lugger but then every boat is a compromise.

SamS said...

Your idea is a good one and works to some extent. When I was sailing and beachcamping the Sea of Cortez in my Wayfarer I was gifted unused ice and beer by a group of insurance salesmen from St Louis at their last nights anchorage before returning their boat to the Moorings charter operation in Pto. Escondido.

doryman said...

Having cruised the Inside Passage for a few years in an open boat, I suggest that the bigger boats do not see a dinghy or admire it's daring-do. In fact, that's a real problem, so beware.
This year I will be going back to the small cruisers I grew up with and taking my trip in a 23 foot Stone Horse. At least I'll sleep dry all night.

John Vigor said...

There are many days when the wind is either absent or blowing against you, so it's important that your boat should be close-winded (as the Albacore racing dinghy was) or else capable of being rowed, paddled, or motored.
You might find it awkward to row a Hobie singlehanded, or fit an outboard motor to it, and much the same goes for a Wharram. The trampoline certainly would make a convenient sleeping place, though. Two hulls are also heavier to haul ashore than one, so you'd need a crew. My preference is for two singlehanders sailing as buddy boats. For these reasons, many people tackle the Inside Passage in kayaks, and some even in dedicated rowing boats. As you say, it's all a matter of compromise. Incidentally, if you Google 'kayak' and 'Inside Passage'
you'll find a lot of useful information about camping spots etc.
John V.

mgtdOcean said...

Hi John, I had an electric outboard on a hobie 16 over 20 years ago. It was a pretty simple installation as I recall. As for rowing I agree, but that's why I stick the oar off the stern:) Sculling(yuloh), good power and narrower overall width. But my current build I'm considering a recumbent position using a pedal powered prop:)

Oh man this isn't good. I'm remembering how much fun that Hobie was, bet I could get one cheap. Just have to keep my wife from seeing it!

Thanks for the google search ideas, I'll check it out.

Anonymous said...

That is an exciting suggestion. I never tried to do that in any boat tour I had in the past. I think the rib trip oban is the most exciting boat ride I had in years. An open boat would be an exciting way to cruise the Inside Passage. I will definitely do that this year!