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The final 500 miles of the Inside Passage to Alaska takes the yachtsman out of the well-traveled waters around Seattle and Vancouver and on to the spectacular fiords of the north. This northern section is no place for the novice who likes to laze along in the company of half a dozen other cruisers and tie up at night in a snug marina. In these chill waters, the towns are little more than fisheries depots with a gas dock and a grocery store. The boats one meets are mostly commercial salmon trawlers.
If the amenities of modern cruising are lacking, however, there is no shortage of adventure. Along this coast the biggest grizzly bears in North America come down to the beaches to comb the surf for 50-pound salmon—the same fish that you will seek in trolling offshore. Here, too, the killer whale moves into the inlets hunting for seal. A few miles at sea, the 60-foot blue whale rolls and spouts his way to southern waters. On the islands protecting the Inside Passage from the Pacific there are quiet coves where you can catch a bucketful of big succulent crabs. Indenting the mainland are deep gorges, their channels so narrow that the tide sweeps against your bow at 20 knots. In every inlet, on both sides of the passage, discoveries await you and, as Part II of Inside to Alaska shows, the waterways are wide open for the yachtsman who has a taste for the unknown.
DUNCANBY TO BELLA BELLA
The jumping-off place for the last half of the trip is Duncanby Landing, a small fishing village in British Columbia. Here you can tie up for the night at the dock, fill your tank with gas and water and take on a load of groceries. Your next gas stop will be Bella Bella, 60 miles to the north. But before you head for Bella Bella, take a hard right just outside Duncanby for a day of superb salmon fishing at the head of Rivers Inlet.
SIDE TRIP: RIVERS INLET. From mid-July through the end of August Rivers Inlet is jumping with big salmon. Here, as at Phillips Arm in the southern part of the Inside Passage, no fishing license is required. Just check in with the Fisheries Commission, which has a man stationed at the cannery wharf a mile below the river mouth. The best lure for the larger spring salmon is a five-inch spoon, and the best place to troll is usually the head of the inlet. When the spring feeds, he feeds quickly and ferociously, but you usually have to wait him out. During our first day at Rivers we hooked two, both of them well over 40 pounds.
While you are trolling you will see dozens of seals hunting the salmon. And sometimes the seals themselves are hunted by killer whales, vicious 30-foot carnivores with black dorsal fins that jut ominously from the water as they surge across the inlet looking for their prey. When killer whales appear, the fishing is over. The spring salmon hides from them and won't feed. Only the sockeye will continue jumping and somersaulting—and the sockeye does not take a lure.
If the salmon go into hiding, you might try a little bear watching. Rivers Inlet is at the center of the finest grizzly country in North America. At any time of day, grizzly sows and their cubs may come down to the shores of the inlet to feed on the salmon. The big male bears usually stay hidden in the woods, taking their fish from the creeks. If you are an experienced woodsman with a good rifle, a hunting permit ($25) and can hire a licensed guide (nearest one is John Stanton of Knight Inlet; he charges the standard $25 a day and is best reached by mail in advance of your cruise), you have an off chance of getting a world-record grizzly.
When you have loaded your boat with salmon (or bear) or just pleasant memories, head back out to Duncanby Landing, then turn northwest for a stop at Calvert Island.
SIDE TRIP: CALVERT ISLAND. Calvert is cut by a long narrow harbor that reaches west to within a mile of the island's Pacific shore. Anchor here, let down a crab net and walk the path over to the Pacific. There you will find one of the rare sand coves of the Northwest coast, a semicircular beach shaded by tall cedars and bordered by a strip of clean white sand. If the sun is out, lie down on the sand and warm yourself. Then hop into the surf for a quick—and very cool—swim. After lunch, try a slow walk back through the cedar forest. Along the way you can pick fat ripe huckleberries from eye-high bushes which line the path. Once back at the boat, pick up your crab net. It probably will be filled with a tangle of crabs. Boil the crabs, eat them hot from the pot and wash them down with sugared huckleberries and milk.
Then shove off for Bella Bella, 40 miles away. (Namu is slightly nearer, but the smell from the fish-rendering plant is overpowering). This is the part of the trip where you will make your best time. Your course winds through narrow, sheltered channels where the water rarely is broken by more than small ripples. At Bella Bella you can tie up for the night at the huge fisheries wharf. The grocery store is right on the dock. Order your supplies while you take on gas, then cook dinner and sleep aboard.