A Library to Alaska

1970 Aquarius 23 #231
Lamplugh Glacier, Glacier Bay

On her voyage to Alaska, Lacuna carried over a hundred pounds of paper--charts, current guides, cruising guides, and background reading. They were invaluable, providing local knowledge that allowed her to explore remote nooks and passages.

Charts are essential for every mariner. Small-scale charts (small detail, large area) are used for route planning. Large-scale charts (small area) provide the detail necessary for tight passages and rocky anchorages. Most of the bathymetry for the Pacific Northwest was accomplished decades ago by daring surveyors in small boats sounding with lead lines and triangulating on shore details. In British Columbia and Washington, the original bathymetry was detailed. Subsequent revisions and surveys have improved detail and accuracy.

In Alaska, the initial bathymetry was sometimes hurried and incomplete (no small wonder, given the weather in the Gulf of Alaska and the complexity of the terrain). In areas with little commercial traffic, few revisions have been made to correct the original surveys. When off the well-travelled route, the navigator is wise to assume that there are hazards that the chart doesn't show. Many a well-handled boat has run afoul of uncharted rocks.

Lacuna's library included almost all the paper charts from Olympia to Glacier Bay. I accumulated them over a few years, finding some at a library book sale, buying a set of used charts from a yacht that had returned from the Inside Passage, and purchasing many new, no small investment given their cost (~ $18 each). (click here for Lacuna's list of charts .xls)

Although many mariners rely on electronic charts, I found my C-Map vector charts unsatisfactory because they omit all land detail beyond the shoreline. The chartplotter was useful when going through fog, tight passages, or an unfamiliar harbor, but for the most part I kept it turned off. I did most route planning on my laptop using Fugawi navigation software and raster charts, which are scans of government paper charts. I uploaded waypoints and routes to my hand-held Garmin GPS. While making passage, I kept the day's charts at the ready in the cabin and looked at them frequently to note my location, confirming my route with the GPS.

Guidebooks are essential. My favorite is the Waggoner Guide, which provides information on local color, safe harbors, public and commercial facilities, but does not cover Alaska. It's updated and revised every year, and I recommend carrying the latest edition. Don Douglass and Reanne Hemingway-Douglass explored seemingly every harbor, nook, and remote passage researching their guides to Southeast Alaska and British Columbia. I wouldn't sail these waters without their guidance close at hand. Other guidebooks, including some written for cruise-boat passengers, added supplementary information such as street maps and tourist tips.

Tide tables and current guides provide the information needed to accommodate these powerful hydraulic forces. Careful attention to the tide table reduces the chance of finding oneself aground, and knowing the current enables the pilot of a slow boat to add knots to her speed over ground. Sometimes the current will flow in opposite directions in adjacent parallel channels, and the correct choice can speed the mariner on. In some passes and narrows, reversing tidal currents can exceed 15 knots. The cautious mariner approaches these passages only at slack, which in some cases lasts only minutes. Rip currents around prominent points may make an otherwise placid passage an exercise in survival. Careful attention to currents pays dividends. Of the current guides, I find the Canadian Current Atlas, Juan de Fuca Strait to Strait of Georgia the most useful for the inland waters of northern Washington and southern British Columbia.

Lacuna's library includes:


Chart 1: Symbols, Abbreviations, Terms. Canadian Hydrographic Service. January 1996.

Chart 3312: Jervis Inlet & Desolation Sound. Canadian Hydrographic Service, 1991.

Chart no. 1: USA Nautical Chart Symbols Abbreviations and Terms. 1990. NOAA.

Cruising Atlas: from Queen Charlotte Sound to Olympia. Evergreen Pacific. 1990.

Current Atlas, Juan de Fuca Strait to Strait of Georgia. Fisheries and Oceans, Canada. 1999.

Gulf Islands, Victoria Harbor to Nanaimo Harbor. Canadian Hydrographic Service. 1985.

Marine Atlas, Vol. 1: Olympia to Malcolm Island. Franks Morris and W.R. Heath, Bayless Enterprises, 1986.

Pacific Coast Catalogue. Canada Hydrographic Service, 1999. (chart of charts)

Pacific Coast List of Lights, Buoys and Fog Signals. Canadian Coast Guard, 2000.

Ports and Passages: Tides, Currents, and Charts, Olympia to Prince Rupert. Chyna Sea Ventures, Ltd.

Proven Cruising Routes, Vol. 1: Seattle to Ketchikan. Kevin Monahan & Don Douglass. Fine Edge. 2000.

Puget Sound Current Guide. Island Canoe, Inc. 1991.

San Juan Current Guide. Island Canoe, Inc. 1991.

Southeast Alaska Current Atlas, Grenville Channel to Skagway. Randel Washburne. Weatherly Press, 1989.

Weatherly Waypoint Guide, Vol. 1 : Puget Sound, San Juan Islands, Strait of Juan de Fuca . Robert Hale. Weatherly Press. 1997.

Weatherly Waypoint Guide. Vol. 2: Gulf of Georgia. Robert Hale, Weatherly Press. 1996.

Weatherly Waypoint Guide. Vol. 3: Desolation Sound to Port Hardy & Blunden Harbor. Robert Hale, Weatherly Press. 1998.


Cruising Guide to the West Coast of Vancouver Island, Cape Scott to Sooke. Don Watmough. Evergreen Pacific. 1998.

Exploring Alaska & British Columbia, Skagway to Barkley Sound. Stephen E. Hilson. Van Winkle Publishing, Holland, MI. 1976.

Exploring Southeast Alaska: Dixon Entrance to Skagway . Don Douglass & Reanne Hemingway-Douglass. Fine Edge. 2000.

Exploring the North Coast of British Columbia, 2/e. Don Douglass & Reanne Hemingway-Douglass. 2002.

Exploring the South Coast of British Columbia 2/e. Don Douglass & Reanne Hemingway-Douglass. 1999.

Northwest Boat Travel. Vernon Publications, 2004.

Small-Boat Cruising to Alaska. Leif G. Terdal. Hara Publishing, Seattle. 2000.

Waggoner Cruising Guide. Weatherly Press, Robert Hale & Co. Bellevue.


Practical Pilot. Leonard Eyges. International Marine Publishing. 1989.

Small Craft Piloting & Coastal Navigation. A.E. Saunders. RTP Sales, Toronto. 1990.

Anchoring and Mooring Techniques Illustrated. Alain Gree. Sheridan House. 1991.

Storm Sailing. Gary Jobson. Hearst Marine Books, NY. 1983.

Complete Canvasworker's Guide, 2/e. Jim Grant. International Marine, Camden, Maine.

Handbook of Sailing. Bob Bond. 1980.

Expert Dinghy Racing. Paul Elvstrom. Adlard Coles, London. 1963

Heavy Weather Sailing. Adlard Coles. John De Graff, Inc. Tuckahoe, NY. 1967.

Advanced Sailing . Tony Gibbs, St. Martins Press, NY. 1975.

Sailpower. Lawrie Smith & Andrew Preece. Fernhurst Books. 1994.

Sailing Drills. Rick White and Mary Wells. RAM Press. 1995.

Northwest Marine Weather. Jeff Renner. The Mountaineers. 1993.

Knots. Brion Toss. Hearst Marine Books. 1990.


Rough Guide to Alaska. Paul Whitfield. Rough Guides, NY. 2004.

Alaska's Southeast: Touring the Inside Passage 8/e. Sarah Eppenbach. Globe Pequot Press. 2002.

Coastal Companion: A Guide for the Alaska-Bound Traveler. Joe Upton. Coastal Publishing, Seattle. 1995.

Essential San Juan Islands Guide. Marge & Ted Mueller. JASI, Medina, WA. 2000.

Whales, Dolphins & Porpoises. Adrienne Mason. Altitude Publishing. 1999.

Western Birds. Roger Tory Peterson. Houghton Mifflin 1999.


The Blue Bear: A True Story of Friendship and Discovery in the Alaskan Wild. Lynn Schooler. 2003. Recounts the relationships of a photographer, a guide, and their elusive quarry. Recommended by several residents of Southeast Alaska.

The Curve of Time. M. Wylie Blanchet. A widow and her five children explore the Inside Passage in the 1920s and 1930s.

Passage to Juneau: A Sea and Its Meanings. Jonathan Raban. A solo sailor explores the natural world and the depths of his soul. Vintage Books. 2000.

Ed's Van Isle 2000

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