Being on a self-sufficient cruise, sail or power, takes on different dimensions depending on the cruising ground. As I just wrote about provisioning in the islands, I thought it would be most enlightening to compare provisioning for a long cruise in an area quite different from the traditional winter playgrounds of Mexico, the Bahamas, and Caribbean.
I recently spoke with David Allen, a veteran Alaskan cruiser from La Conner, Washington. David and his wife, Marilyn, have cruised to Alaska numerous times, and they fully understand what to bring and what to expect along the typical summer-long travel through the beautiful Pacific Northwest up through British Columbia and into Alaskan waters.
David told me he begins his cruise planning by careful setting up a high-level route from his home in La Conner to their chosen end destination, often Sitka, Alaska. He knows how wonderful it is to veer off a straight course, out of the main channels, and explore remote islands and bays. But he also knows how easy it can be to get lost from these detours and side trips, as the tremendous number of enchanting islands and waterways create a landscape which pretty much blends together.
To avoid any confusion, he finds it very helpful to have that high-level route saved on the plotter. No matter where the boat is, he only has to zoom out from his current position to find the closest point along the main route to reconnect to the high-level route on the chart. This has worked well for them.
For years, the couple cruised aboard Sunday, their Nordic Tug 37. The boat had three freezers for the provisions they stored in preparation of the trip. They count out the number of days they expect to be gone, and provision accordingly. They then store steaks, chicken, pork chops, ground beef, and all the other perishables they plan to eat. They vacuum bag all meats on a meal level, rather than simply freezing bulk packaging.
Today the couple cruise on a Grand Banks, appropriately named Sunday II. She is one of the last 32-footers the builder made. “The more freezer space you have the better,” David told me. “Fill them with staples and then supplement the space that becomes available with the salmon and crabs you will no doubt catch along the way.”
(Seen below: Marilyn holding us an 8" Dungeness Crab!)
(Seen below: Marilyn working on cleaning the mussels that were just harvested.)
(Seen below: The meal is complete! What a satisfying experience to eat fresh seafood on your own boat, cruising Alaskan waters.)
Restocking salad and fresh vegetables is easy while cruising to Alaska, as there are many wonderful places to stop for fresh water, fuel, and all kinds of provisions. David shared his list of major stops on his high-level route from La Conner to Sitka:
• Nanaimo BC
• Campbell River BC
• Alert Bay BC
• Port Hardy BC
• Bella Bella BC
• Prince Rupert BC
• Ketchikan AK
• Wrangell AK
• Petersburg AK
• And finally, Juneau or Sitka (they prefer Sitka).
This list works for anyone leaving from around the Pacific Northwest, whether it is Seattle, Anacortes, Bellingham, or any number of other home or charter bases. Make sure your boat is in excellent condition and bring the proper spares with you. When you look over the charts along the from these major stops, you can see you will travel through very remote areas, with no towboat services easily hailed on the VHF radio.
When provisioning, David suggests that you be aware of crew preferences for a particular brand of item, whether it is peanut butter, cheese, cut of meat, or whatever. Buy enough for the trip. You may still be able to restock it during the cruise, but it may not be the same brand or flavor.
We’ve all heard and expect that food and other consumables are more expensive in the remote areas of Alaska and British Columbia. But how much more expensive is it today? Ah, the beauty of the Internet! I spent a little researching this very subject, exploring the shelves of grocery stores located in some of the towns mentioned on David’s list. It was fun.
I compared local groceries I routinely buy in Annapolis with the same (or similar) products from different grocery stores in Canada and Alaska. (Currently $1.00 CAD equals $0.76 USD.) Highlights include:
• Philadelphia Cream Cheese, 8-oz, is $3.29 at my local grocery, and is $5.19 at the Safeway in Ketchikan. Quality Foods in Campbell River, B.C. sells the same product for $3.99.
• Fresh bananas can be found at the Wrangell IGA for $0.89 a pound. My local market sells them for $0.57 a pound.
• Fresh XL eggs are $1.69/dozen in Annapolis, $5.69/dozen in Ketchikan, and $3.99/dozen in Campbell River.
• Fairlife Ultra-Filtered Whole Milk (52oz) is $4.49 in Annapolis, same product in Wrangell and Ketchikan sells for $5.69.
• Bounty Select-A-Size six-pack paper towels in Annapolis is $10.99, same product in Wrangell and Ketchikan is $17.69.
• Scott Bathroom Tissue, Unscented, 1-Ply, 12-roll pack for $12.79 in Annapolis, same product in Wrangell and Ketchikan is $12.49.
Another consideration besides food pricing and availability relates to the regulations and restrictions when crossing into Canada from the U.S. on the way to Alaska. The latest information on the official website (https://www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca/travel-voyage/pb-pp-eng.html) also has a specific warning that cruisers bringing in any form of CBD oil, for any purpose, is illegal. This is odd, as cannabis (marijuana) is legal in Canada. Be warned.
The Canada Border Services Agency lists limits about how much one can bring across the border in terms of baked goods, dairy products, meats, fish and seafood, fruits and vegetables, even cut flowers. The limits are quite reasonable, in my opinion, for cruising on a boat. Twenty kilograms (44 lbs.) of meat, poultry, and dairy each per person in not very limiting. Coming from the U.S. through Canadian Customs is pretty straightforward, generally handled by phone at the border.
Wine, beer, and liquor, on the other hand, are quite restricted and one is limited to two bottles of wine, or 24 cans of beer, or one large bottle of liquor free of duty and taxes. Better to limit the amount of alcohol while passing through Canada and purchase your evening libations when you arrive in Alaska. I also hear there are some great Canadian wines from the Okanagan region that are worth seeking out while in British Columbia.
David said they usually wait until Ketchikan where there are fully stocked liquor stores and supermarkets with all the groceries one could ask for. I was surprised at the tremendous selection I found online. I was able to many of the same labels of most kinds of wine, beer, and liquor as well.
(Seen below: Fishing while cruising can also be a great way to re-stock your supply with fresh salmon!)
The Allens were once boarded and searched by a Canadian Border Patrol officer. She spent a half-hour looking through their Nordic Tug (with David and Marilyn off the boat). Her comment after getting off their boat was “Well Stocked!” She made no mention of the quantity of meat or cheese.
The couple does not stock the boat for guests, and they are not shy about asking visitors to bring their own liquor and snacks. That is fair enough.
One interesting comment mentioned was that they eat on the boat much the same as they eat at home. Marilyn stocks the boat with the ingredients she will need to make an apple or blackberry pie if the mood strikes. Eating aboard is no different than being at home.
While they like to get out of the main channels to explore, they still have all they need, except for fresh food that is consumed, such as milk and eggs. But even the small village stores along the way have these basic, as the shopkeepers support the local neighborhood. Just expect to pay more.
One reason they enjoy Sitka so much is the weekly farm truck barged up from Wenatchee, Washington, loaded with fresh fruit, vegetables, and other products. Have farmer’s market will travel.
The Pacific Northwest and Southeast Alaska cruising season runs from May to September. It is generally nice weather, but be prepared for rain, with rubber boots, hats, and foul weather gear.
The run from La Conner to Sitka is about 1,000nm. Cruising at 8.5 knots for 8 hours a day, it takes about 13 days to make the trip north. The Allens only stop at marinas if they need fuel, water, or supplies, or to see local attractions. The rest of the time they drop the anchor and put out a crab pot.
Speaking of local attractions, they have on occasion made a point of spending July 4th in the Alaskan town of Tenakee Springs. The town is known for its traditional and funky celebration with kids, games, a big party and parade, complete with the town’s one vehicle, a firetruck. It is a day of celebration that includes a slimy “slug slinging” contest as a fundraiser. After this fun holiday, they begin their cruise south again, and the rest of July through September is spent enjoying the picturesque San Juan Islands.
(Seen below: The July 4th Tenakee Celebration. Photo cred: Alaskan Channel.)
I remember visiting the bear and eagle observatory in Anan Bay, outside Wrangell. The park rangers carried shotguns, as bear outnumber humans during the season. I asked David about this and he does not recommend bringing firearms of any kind. While it is okay to have a hunting rifle or shotgun on the boat for possible use in remote portions of Alaska, these “non-restricted” firearms must still be declared crossing into Canada and the proper paperwork filed and signed in the presence of a Canadian customs officer. David has done it, but as he has never needed a firearm, he no longer feels it necessary to have a shotgun aboard. He did say that one can avoid the hassle of crossing through Canada with a firearm by shipping it ahead to the harbor master at a major destination in Alaska.
Despite the rugged remoteness of this wilderness part of the world, the camaraderie is strong, and boaters are always willing and eager to help other cruisers and fishermen. The locals are also ready to help with any emergency. It is the way of life up here, people supporting and depending on each other.
Life is good when you go cruising in the Pacific Northwest and Southeast Alaska. I never tire of its charm and rugged wilderness. One can spend a lifetime here, and the natural beauty and majestic wildlife are just good for the soul. David and Marilyn know this well, and I thank them for sharing their experience and local knowledge.
I did note that one can readily find Marmite Yeast Extract in British Columbia if you have a taste for it. A 125-gram jar is only $5.99 in Campbell River. Yum…or not.