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Voyages North
Alaskan Cruising for California Boaters
Elsie Hulsizer

Photo: SV Sonamara of San Francisco sailing in Sumner Strait, Alaska

"Alaska? Why would I want to go there?" a former California boater who recently moved to Seattle told me when I asked him if he had any plans to Cruise to Alaska.. "Cruising is about sun and fun, and swimming from your boat," he said

Alaska cruising is a different kind of cruising than California cruising -- what SAIL Magazine calls Adventure Cruising -- where the unexpected can happen and the goal is to see new things and experience new cultures. For Californians Southeast Alaska can offer a whole new world: scenic anchorages, protected waters and lots of new things to see and experience.

No Name Cove
Photo: No Name Cove, Tracy Arm, SE Alaska

Highlights of cruising in Alaska include calving glaciers; whales, sea lions, brown bears, black bears and sea otters; the fantastic carvings and elaborate costumed dances of Alaska Natives; and eating salmon, halibut and crabs. And although you may not want to swim from your boat in Alaska, nothing beats soaking in an Alaskan hot spring while a waterfall roars a few feet away.

Baranof Warm Springs
Photo: Boaters relaxing in Baranof Warm Springs

A week after the conversation with that former California boater, Steve and I gave a talk and slide show called "Why We Sailed to Alaska Five Times" at the Puget Sound Cruising Club (see the post below). The California boater was there. Afterwards he came up to me and said, "I'm embarrassed. If I had seen your slide show before we talked, I never would have said what I did. Of course we're going to Alaska. We have to!"

Not all California boaters need as much persuading. Although I never expected to see many California boats in Alaska, last summer there seemed to be one in almost every major anchorage. But none of them had heard of my book, Glaciers, Bears and Totems: Sailing In Search of the Real Southeast Alaska, which means They lacked easy access to the science, history and unique Alaskan stories that can enrich a trip to SE Alaska. Obviously I needed to remedy that. What better way to spread the word among California boaters than to attend the Strictly Sail Pacific boat show in Oakland? An email and accompanying resume sent to Sail America, Strictly Sail's organizers, garnered me an invitation to speak about cruising in SE Alaska and sell my books at the show's author corner.

For more information about Glaciers, Bears and Totems, go to

I'm still putting together my slide show for the seminar. It will be based on the popular seminar that I give at the Seattle Boat Show with some added information for California boaters including a brief discussion of how to get there from California and more importantly, where to get more information on the nuts and bolts of cruising there.

Cover of Glaciers, Bears and Totems
Photo: Cover of Glaciers, Bears and Totems

Strictly Sail Pacific is the West Coast's largest all-sail boat show, set for April 10-13 in Jack London Square, Oakland.

Hours for Strictly Sail Pacific are as follows:
• Thursday, April 10th: 10am-6pm
• Friday, April 11th: 10am-6pm
• Saturday, April 12th: 10am-7pm
• Sunday, April 13th: 10am-5pm

The times and locations of my Cruising Southeast Alaska seminars are:
• April 12 1:00 pm D Exhibit Hall
• April 13 3:30 pm D Exhibit Hall

My seminars are free for all ticket holders at the show.

To learn more about Strictly Sail Pacific or to purchase tickets online, visit Find Strictly Sail Pacific on Facebook at and on Twitter @StrictlySailPac.

Why We Sailed to Alaska 5 Times
Elsile Hulsizer

Steve and I are giving a presentation at the Puget Sound Cruising Club next Friday on our 5th trip to Alaska, called "Why We Sailed to Alaska 5 Times."

Many sailors have noted that a trip to Alaska is good preparation for blue water cruising. But taking repeated cruises to Alaska is a cruising life style with advantages all its own. There's the fun of getting to know a place and its people more intimately and the comfort of coming back to your own home at the end of the summer. We like being able to contribute to our community and coming back every winter lets us do that.

We've met boaters up there who've made the yearly trek as many as 20 times. There's something up there that keeps calling us back. First, there are the glaciers, bears and totems I portray in my book of the same name - they are endlessly fascinating and endlessly changing. But there are other, deeper, reasons for repeated trips to Alaska.

So why sail to Alaska 5 times?

To Experience the journey
To Explore New Places
New Places
To Experience Nature
To See Old Friends
To Experience Alaska's Unique Culture

Come to the PSCC meeting Friday night and learn more about cruising to Alaska. All are welcome. For more information including directions, visit

I'll have copies of Glaciers, Bears and Totems:Sailing in Searh of the Real Southeast Alaska, written after 3 trips to Alaska for sale at the meeting.

04/04/2014 | Jay Niederhauser
Elsie & Steve's "Why we sailed to Alaska 5 times" could have been taken from the introduction given to guests onboard WESTERLY:


To experience the journey;
To explore new places;
To see more of the places where we have been before;
To experience nature;
To experience isolation and comradery;
To experience the life style of the peoples who live here; and,
To search for more rain.

Of course, we don't have all of the great accompanying photographs (except for many rain pics).
Baird Glacier’s Unusual Geology
Elslie Hulsizer

Photo: Baird Glacier in Thomas Bay, SE Alaska

The April edition of 48 North Magazine includes an article I wrote on Baird Glacier in Thomas Bay, Alaska. Space restrictions caused the editor to omit a side bar on this glacier's unusual geology. Instead, I'm posting it here, in place of the earlier blog about about walking on the glacier's outwash plain.

Like many glaciers, Baird Glacier has retreated and advanced several times over its life cycle. But it is unusual among Alaska Coast Mountain glaciers because it advanced during the 19th century and 20th century, while other Coast Mountain glaciers retreated.

But since 2005, the glacier has been narrowing and thinning; evidence it too is retreating. Then in 2013, two lakes appeared at the terminus, indicating melting ice - further evidence of retreat.

Baird Glacier terminus and lake
Photo: The terminus of Baird Glacier showing a new lake.

Think of a glacier as a river of ice, always flowing. You can also picture a glacier as a conveyor belt. If more snow falls at the top in the winter than melts in the summer as the glacier moves downhill, then it advances. But if the ice melts before reaching the bottom, the glacier is retreating.

In the case of Baird Glacier, an unusually large flow of melting ice from underneath the glacier washed loads of sediment into the bay, building up a vast outwash plain, while the glacier advanced. As a result, there has been land in front of the glacier at least since 1887 when it was first surveyed. That's what makes visiting Baird Glacier such a treat: walking on that outwash plain with its flowers and birds.

Now that Baird Glacier has joined the crowd of other SE Alaskan glaciers in retreat, we can expect it to shrink and its terminus to move uphill. And, if flooding doesn't wipe clean the land, we can expect to see increased vegetation on the outwash plain and species that haven't been there before. We think of geological processes as happening beyond our lifetime, but right now, in Alaska, and wherever there are glaciers, the landscape is changing before our eyes. It's another reason to go there.

Outwash plain
Photo: The outwash plain of Baird Glacier provides an interesting walk

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Voyages North on SV Osprey
Who: Steve and Elsie Hulsizer (author of Glaciers, Bears and Totems and Voyages to Windard)
Port: Seattle
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