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Alaska Flotilla Q&A

Join us for the trip of a lifetime—a guided flotilla cruise from Washington’s San Juan Islands to Juneau, Alaska! Along the way, you’ll visit our favorite marinas, overnight at the most beautiful anchorages, and navigate through tidal rapids and open ocean. We’ll watch whales feed and waterfalls tumble into the ocean.

Q: What is a flotilla?

A: A flotilla is a group of boats. On flotilla trips, the group travels together, with experienced leaders acting as guides.

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Q: What is Slowboat?

A: Slowboat is a company formed by avid Pacific Northwest boaters Laura Domela, Kevin Morris, and Sam Landsman. Our goal is to demystify cruising in the northwest and empower boaters to see the Inside Passage by small boat. Read more about us here.

Q: Why would I want to go with a group?

A: Group travel isn’t for everyone, but there are lots of benefits.

  • Experienced guides. We demystify the tidal rapids and ocean crossings, bring insight to destination selection, and provide help when needed.
  • Safety in numbers. While you are always responsible for the safety of your own boat, it’s comforting to know that friendly fellow boaters are nearby. And when a boat does have a problem, the whole fleet pitches in to help.
  • Social. Boating on the Inside Passage can be lonely, with long stretches between towns and marinas. But on a flotilla, friends are always nearby.

Q: Who’s leading the trip?

A: Sam Landsman, Laura Domela, and Kevin Morris are your trip leaders. Together we have many years of experience leading successful flotilla trips to Alaska, as well as experience boating in the Pacific Northwest, British Columbia, and SE Alaska. (To read comments from past flotilla participants, click here.) 

Q: How long will the whole trip take?

A: The flotilla portion of the trip to Alaska is about five weeks long. The return trip could be as short as a couple of weeks or as long as several months. We recommend you have at least one month after the flotilla ends to enjoy exploring Alaska and British Columbia. Of course, the more time you have, the more thoroughly you’ll be able to experience this remarkable area!

Q: Five weeks is a long time! Why not move faster?

We’re covering a lot of distance! We’ve led trips to Alaska as short as three weeks, but they’re just too rushed. Participants said they felt like the three-week trips are a sprint, without enough time to enjoy the anchorages, villages, and towns along the way. Five weeks strikes a good balance getting to Juneau in a reasonable amount of time and still enjoying the journey.

Q: Why go all the way to Juneau? Isn’t Ketchikan far enough?

Ketchikan may be the gateway to SE Alaska, but the real magic lies beyond Ketchikan to the north. Turning around in Ketchikan is like flying to a new city and never leaving the airport! Going all the way to Juneau means the flotilla has the opportunity to visit several tidewater glaciers, magical Ford’s Terror, and hopefully see all the wildlife that Alaska is famous for: humpback and orca whales, brown and black bears, bald eagles, sea lions, porpoises, and more!

Q: How many hours are we underway each day?

A: On average, about six. But this can vary from just a couple hours on the shortest days to 11 or 12 hours on the longest days. And of course it will vary based on cruising speed.

Q: How many nights are at marinas? How many nights are we anchored out?

A: A little over half the nights are spent at docks, although a few of these docks have no power or water. We won’t be anchored out for more than four consecutive nights.

Q: I’ve never anchored or don’t feel comfortable anchoring. Can I still go?

A: Yes! A day of one-on-one training with one (or more) of our flotilla leaders is included with the flotilla fee. You can use that day to practice any skills or ask any questions. We’re also available throughout the trip to help.

Q: How fast does the flotilla travel?

A: The lead boats, a Nordic Tug 37 and a Nordic Tug 34, are both happy at about 8 knots.

Q: What happens if my boat cruises slower than 8 knots?

A: No worries! During the day, the fleet typically spreads out based on cruising speed. Slower boats have the option of departing earlier or arriving later. If we’re transiting tidal rapids, we will spend time with the crew to plan a departure time that gets the boat through the rapids at a safe time.

Q: What happens if my boat cruises faster than 8 knots?

A: No worries! Sleep in and catch up with the fleet, or arrive early and get the best spot in the anchorage. Throughout the cruising day, boats typically spread out based on cruising speed. We’re within VHF radio range, so we can still carry on group discussions, but we’re not necessarily following directly behind the lead boat.

Q: Can friends/family join us along the way?

A: Yes! We have lots of experience flying people to various places along the way. If you’d like to have guests participate in the trip, please let us know, and we can advise on the easiest places for them to fly to and from.

Q: How often can we go grocery shopping?

A: Supermarkets are easily accessible in Pender Harbour, Port McNeill, Prince Rupert, Ketchikan, Wrangell, and Petersburg. Good groceries are also available at Roche Harbor and Shearwater. We’re never more than about five days between grocery stores.

Q: How long between water stops?

A: Potable water is available regularly throughout the trip, at least every five days but often more frequently.

Q: How long between fuel stops?

A: The longest section without a fuel dock is about 85 nautical miles, but the trip is a lot more enjoyable on a boat with a range of 250 nautical miles or more. Boats with less range will spend more time detouring to out-of-the-way fuel docks.

Q: How often will I have cell service or Wi-Fi?

A: We never go more than a few days without getting some access to the internet. Most marinas have free Wi-Fi available (though it’s often satellite based and very slow) and cell service is increasingly available along the route we take. The lead boats are equipped with a satellite phone for emergency use.

One of our upcoming webinars will delve more deeply into the best ways of staying in touch while cruising the Inside Passage.

Q: What happens if my boat breaks down?

A: Before the trip we encourage you to use your boat. Take it out for a weekend of winter boating and test every system. Stay at anchor, tie up to docks, see what you can break.

We’ll supply you with a checklist to go over with your mechanic as well as a list of spare parts that we carry and recommend.

The reality is that most boats have some type of mechanical or electrical problem during the trip. Flotilla leaders are available to help troubleshoot problems, and we have practice obtaining parts in the most remote places along the Inside Passage.

Story time! One year a boat had a fuel hose fail. This was a proprietary part, and the local mechanics were not able to find a quick solution. We got involved and found the part (yeah, the only one in North America!) in Memphis, TN just before 5:00 p.m. on a weekday. We overnighted the part to the engine distributor in Vancouver, had it couriered to the Vancouver airport, and put it on the next Pacific Coastal flight to Bella Bella as cargo. Total down time was about 36 hours.

Q: Are pets welcome?

A: Of course! We’ve had many dogs and cats participate in the past. We select anchorages with areas for pets to go ashore. Be mindful, however, that some travel days are long (~85 nautical miles) with no option to go ashore during the day. Many dog owners find it helpful to train their pets to do their business on board the boat.

Q: This trip is one way. How do we get home?

A: This trip is as much about education as it is about having fun and seeing the Inside Passage. Throughout the trip, we are available to help boaters understand not just what we’re doing, but WHY we’re doing it.

For example, when we go around Cape Caution, we don’t just say, “Today is acceptable weather, let’s go!” Instead, we invite you to look at all the data available and we walk through our decision-making process with you.

Our goal is to help you cruise home confidently on your own!

Q: How many boats will be on the flotilla?

A: Participation is capped at five boats.

Q: Is my boat too small to go to Alaska?

A: Probably not, but it might be too small for you to go to Alaska on. Sam has taken a 22’ boat to Alaska, but that’s not for everyone. As long as you’re comfortable onboard your boat for several months, it’s seaworthy, and it has about 120 nautical miles of range your boat is up to the task.

Q: How large a boat can be accommodated on the flotilla?

A: We don’t have a strict maximum size. In the past, we’ve taken boats as large as 65 feet. If in doubt, ask us!

Q: What experience do I need before going?

A: You should be comfortable operating your boat at sea and in marinas, as well as basic troubleshooting. If you have specific questions, just ask!

Q: What’s included in the trip fee?

A: We walk you through getting ready for the trip using a new series of webinars and a day of one-on-one training with our team. We also include a comprehensive set of cruising guides (2018 Waggoner Guide, Exploring Northern B.C., Exploring Southeast Alaska), planning maps, and tide guides (Ports and Passes 2018).

Most valuably, we accompany the fleet along the entire journey. We provide expert guidance, weather routing advice, plan group events like potlucks and happy hours, and help fix any problems that might arise. And we’re always available to answer any questions you might have.

Q: When is the trip fee due?

A: Half the fee is due upon signing up, the other half is due on March 15th, 2018.

Q: What happens if I have to cancel after paying for the trip?

A: We offer a full refund, less any services already provided, until January 1st, 2018. Due to the small size and long duration of our trips, no refunds are offered after January 1st. We recommend you purchase travel insurance.

Please let us know as soon as possible if you cannot take the trip. If we can fill your spot, we will refund your money.

Q: If I have to cancel, can I sell my spot?

A: Yes, as long as the trip leader approves the purchaser! If we have a wait list for the trip, we will even help you sell it.

Q: Can I talk with someone who’s been on one of these trips before?

A: Of course! We’re happy to put you in touch with previous participants.

Q: How can I get more information?

A: Easy! Just fill out the form below!

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