Known for its icy
blue waters and a rugged, tree-lined coastline, the Pacific Northwest offers
much more than scenery to the yacht charterer. From bird watching to dining, from
flight-seeing to fishing, experiences aplenty await.
For those beginning their cruise at the southern end of the range, the two most popular ports of embarkation are Seattle and Vancouver, thriving cosmopolitan cities that deserve exploration. Both the "Emerald City" and Canada's Vancouver, considered one of North America’s most elegant cities, feature spectacular natural maritime settings against a towering mountain backdrop.
Some of the best cruising can be found between the two cities. This is the Sunshine Coast of the Pacific Northwest, known for above-average temperatures and safe anchorages. A must stop is Victoria, at the southern tip of Vancouver Island. In this faded outpost of Empire, an intimate charm resonates in traditions such as afternoon tea at the Empress Hotel.
The majestic 1,000-mile Inland Passage connects this area and other coastal communities to Skagway, just north of Juneau. Protected by off-shore islands and tempered by the Japan current, during its brief summer this maze of deep channels, quiet bays and forested islands forms one of the world’s most interesting cruising grounds. Tracy’s Arm, Desolation Sound, the Queen Charlotte Islands and many other beauty spots are much the same as when viewed by Captain Vancouver 200 years ago.
Magical moments come fast and often in Alaska – an enchanted land of stunning grandeur. Any given day here might include whale encounters, pine trees thick with mist, blue icebergs calving off mountainous glaciers, and waterfalls cascading from sheer granite cliffs and snow -capped mountains.
Ketchikan provides a fine first glimpse of Alaskan life. Squeezed between mountains and a narrow arm of the sea, the town is surrounded by verdant wilderness without highway or railway connection to the rest of the world. Ketchikan is the jumping-off point to Misty Fjords National Monument.
Sitka, the gem of Alaska, became known as the “Paris of the Pacific” for its lavish balls during Russia's ownership of the territory. Here, the onion domes of Orthodox churches mingle with the totem poles of ancient and complex Tlingit Indian cultures. Sitka is surrounded by breathtaking natural beauty. To the east are snow-covered mountains; to the west, the waters are broken up by myriad small, forested islands that form ragged silhouettes at sunset.
Nearby Wrangell, Skagway and Haines were founded by gold-hungry prospectors. Wrangall sits on the edge of the huge Tongass National Forest, currently one of North America’s largest wilderness areas. At the head of Lynn Canal, with its hundreds of waterfalls, is the five-block-long town of Skagway, the “Gateway to the Klondike.” Elsewhere, tiny settlements dot the islands.
At the north end of the Passage lies Glacier Bay National Park. It is an area of spruce forests, bare shores and dramatic fjords. The blue-green bay, with its floating ice castles, is a place of exceptional beauty. Sixteen active tidewater glaciers offer a spectacular show of geologic forces in action. The best, John Hopkins Glacier, is so active that yachts are kept about two miles from its face to avoid getting in harm's way as new-born icebergs crash into the sea.
At every turn is Alaska’s legendary abundant wildlife. Humpback whales, many almost 50-feet long, may breach alongside your yacht. Distinctive fins of black and white Orcas cut through the water. Large colonies of basking sea lions and seals line the rocky points and capes, their barks punctuating the stillness. Rafts of up to 60 sea otters chatter away, like old gentlemen on park benches, as you cruise by. Bald eagles establish constituencies along the shore. Salmon flash silver and red against the green and black of the deep, as they begin choking the river with their spawning runs from late July. And if you’re lucky, you’ll catch sight of a brown bear rambling down to the shore to feast on those very salmon.