See Alaska Through The Inside Passage

“Well, sounds like a good job, but you’d better be careful or you’ll get lost.”  Those were the words of one of my East Coast mariner friends when I told him I’d been offered a job with Cruise West and that my route would be from Seattle to Juneau through the Inside Passage.

I grew up around boats, sailing the lakes and waterways of the East Coast.  Lazy summers spent on the water as a child grew into highly competitive collegiate sailing.  That eventually led to a 4 yr stint in the U.S. Coast Guard where I was flown across the country to a very busy Search and Rescue station in Newport, Oregon – Station Yaquina Bay.  So, I felt confident and up to the task.

Me, worry about getting lost?  How could I? The main shipping lanes or “highway” to Alaska is well-traveled by big cruise ships and ferries all summer long.  If all those boats safely ply these waters at all hours, then I’ll be fine.
Reporting to the Spirit of Alaska, as Second Mate, my collateral duty was to maintain the charts.  There were hundreds!  My first clue that there might have been some truth in my friend’s words.   As I studied the charts, I realized very quickly that these charts could be categorized. There were the series of charts that all the BIG ships use (you do need those for part of the route) and then there were the OTHER charts…those that would help me get “lost.”  The charts for sailors and mariners who weren’t interested in traveling with the rest of the armada and wanted to choose the waterways less traveled and really see Alaska.  Those charts were well worn, with many personal notes and tips handwritten throughout.

Suddenly, I realized.  I was getting paid to get “LOST.”  What a job.  

Although I don’t work on the boats anymore, my own tattered cruising guides are still a part of my personal library.  I can still envision every back passage and narrow waterway, know the characteristics of the land and could probably still get “lost” with the best of them.  Alaska does that to you.  Touches your soul and never lets go.  A lifetime of memories is mine…after all, aren’t the best travel experiences those where we get “lost”?

Posted by Leigh


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