Route Planning

Photo Credit: Kel Rohlf

A note from Kel regarding route planning:

I truly appreciate and enjoy the fruits of Les’ planning. My criteria for the route amounts to calm seas and a thrift store in every port.

Words and Photos by Les Rohlf

Southeast Alaska is so large that even our two months’ time here allows only an overview. How then to choose the places we’veincluded in this year’s trip?

My approach to creating a list of desired destinations involved reading (in some cases over several years) as many blogs and trip logs as I could find from those who had previously traveled here. A number of C-Dory owners have toured southeast Alaska and memorialized their experiences on C-brats.com. These were invaluable, as well as blogs and webinars from Slowboat.com, for example, who have led flotillas of boats to Alaska for several years. Descriptions of the various places to anchor, sites to explore along the way, and available facilities helped us narrow the choices of stops. Printed references included Exploring Southeast Alaska by Don Douglass and Reanne Hemingway-Douglass. People have also reached out to us personally with suggested destinations based on their previous trips.

We’ve been fortunate to travel across a wide area of Southeast Alaska, to include the northern-most destinations within Glacier Bay and the Lynn Canal, along with the towns of Skagway and Haines. For at least our first trip here, I’ve tried to stay within the shelter of the Inside Passage straits and passages. Given more time to allow for weather delays, I would love to explore some of the destinations on the west side of Chichagof and Baranof Islands, as well as the more exposed areas on the west side of Kuiu Island.

I’ve been looking ahead at the next couple weeks as we begin the return journey southward toward Ketchikan. We chose to go directly to Auke Bay after departing Sitka, in order to avoid getting caught out in the messy weather we’ve experienced for most of last week. Because of that choice, we missed exploring several beautiful bays that line the east side of Baranof Island, so our route south will include that section.

The dark blue line on the image below shows the overall view for the next week with approximate route planned from Auke Bay at the north end to Keku Strait at the south. The possible stops at Ell Cove, Takatz Bay, Warm Springs Bay, Red Bluff Bay, and Gut Bay are located south of Peril Strait on the west side of Chatham Strait.  After leaving Chatham Strait, we’ll travel west in Frederick Sound to Kake for gas before heading south through Keku Strait. Keku Strait, which separates Kuiu and Kupreanof Islands and whose middle section includes the remote and challenging Rocky Pass, leads south into Sumner Strait, from which we’ll transition to Clarence Strait and eventually Ketchikan. 

Each day’s route requires a certain level of detailed planning. I’ll use the Auke Bay to Funter Bay leg as an example. This section is planned for Tuesday, 8/17 after servicing of our main motor has completed. This is a relatively short leg of 26 miles, since we’ll be starting from Auke Bay in the afternoon.

 

I start by adding waypoints along my planned route on the chartplotter as shown in the image below. The chartplotter addsfunctionality to setup a Route by linking these waypoints. The straight, black line connecting the waypoints represents the route. The less-straight, green line that coincides with this route is the actual track from our trip last Saturday to Auke Bay, so we’ll be traveling the reverse of our route from last week for the first 90 miles.

 

Once I have the route established, I zoom in on each leg to look for obstructions or details that warrant changes to the route. While I don’t blindly follow the route when navigating, I don’t want a route that if followed would run us into an island, rock, or reef. Once underway, I also use a higher resolution view that makes identifying and avoiding such obstacles easier.

When planning each day’s route, we also consider the effects of tide exchanges. This is more important when transiting potentially dangerous passes like Seymour Narrows, but also establishes expectations for each days’ routes. The next image shows the tide forecast for Funter Bay on 8/17, our planned arrival date. The tide forecast for Auke Bay, our starting point, is fairly similar. Assuming we depart Auke Bay after high tide at 9:45 am, we can expect some benefit from the ebb tide until low tide at 3:10 pm. 

 

In some cases there are good reasons for going “against” the tide. With south winds expected for Chatham Strait on 8/17, a south wind blowing in the opposite direction of an outgoing or ebb tide can create steep and uncomfortable waves. Wind moving in the same direction as the tidal flow tends to lessen the effect of the wind on wave height.

In addition to what our chartplotter shows, tide forecasts are available from the Ports and Passes book which we carry and from a smartphone app I use. Best practices involve verifying that forecasts are in agreement for similar locations, rather than consulting only one source. Tidal forecasts are just that, and may vary with wind and other weather conditions. Nevertheless, having an idea of what to expect (and when) from tides and their resulting currents is a critical part of route planning in the Northwest U.S. and Canada.

Another important aspect of daily planning includes places tobail-out should weather conditions deteriorate or differ from forecasted. This works both ways, as there have been days when we continued beyond a planned stop to take advantage of good weather conditions.

Next up Kel will muse about the three environments of living on the boat: 1) Cruising Days 2) Anchorages and 3) Marinas.

We humans keep brainstorming options and plans, but God’s purpose prevails. (Proverbs 19:21)

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