Sailboats and warm tropical islands have been on the back of my mind for
longer than I care to remember. While the horizon always seemed to beckon me
to go to such places, I knew in my heart that Alaska was not ready to let me
go. Thirty five years ago, when I first finally managed to get to Alaska, my
thoughts centered around a cozy log cabin in some wild place with herds of
caribou migrating past the door or moose high up on the hillsides. I’d been
lucky enough to fly airplanes and helicopters over much of state during that
time and had had the opportunity to visit many folks who were actually
living the wilderness life that I’d thought someday would be mine as well.
But, as the years crept on and my experience with such things increased, the
cabin idea fell by the wayside and the sailboat dream took over.
The motor sailor "Skookumchuck"
under power in the Alexander Archipelago.
It seemed that boats of all kinds had always been part of my life. My first
one, “Tar Baby” I made from some old boards my dad had left
over when building cement forms in the construction of our new house. It
leaked so much, that roofing tar, the thick sticky kind that’s used to
cement cracks in shingles, kept most of the water out. Later, I acquired a
kayak that was badly in need of new skin. Somewhere along the line an Old
Town canoe came into the picture. It too, needed a new covering and the
experience I’d had with the kayak proved very beneficial. And that
experience proved a great asset when I started recovering and doing patch
work on the fabric covered Super Cub I would later own and fly into a big
portion of Alaska’s outback. While the dream of far away places with their
soft tropical breezes continued to linger in the back of my mind there, it
was not to be. Alaska had taken me into her bosom so strongly there was no
where else I wanted to be.
Commercial fishing paid the bills for nearly thirty
years and boats then were always in the forefront of everything I
thought about. Of course, the airplanes I flew when I wasn’t fishing
took up the slack. Ultimately, it was the airplane that changed my
thoughts from the log cabin in the wilderness to a boat in the
wilderness. Alaska had so much water and coast line! I had experience
with Western Alaska and the Bering Sea with the fishing and had visited
the North Slope and tasted flying near the Artic Ocean with the
helicopter but had still never managed to explore any of Southeast
Alaska where the waterways seemed to go on interminably.
Skookumchuck rides at anchor in
a quiet SE Alaska cove.
Still, it took a shock to get me off top dead center and do something about
it. I was 56 years old when it occurred to me that my life was slipping
away. My dad had died at 65. What was I waiting for? Skookumchuck,
a fifty-three foot blue water motor sailor built by Skookum Boat Works in
Port Townsend, WA, came into my possession shortly afterward. Even with the
sale of my Super Cub, I still had a huge debt and I now had two boats to
look after but, at least, no airplane. That was eight years ago. The debt
was finally gone and the sailboat boat was rigged almost to perfection.
There was no excuse for any more delay. And so, a week ago, the cruise I’d
held in my thoughts for all those years actually left the dock. It was
So where does a person go in his boat in the wintertime when his summertime
is filled with chartering and commercial fishing when that person knows in
his heart that he doesn’t want to leave Alaska? Well, if you’re in Southeast
Alaska, the answer is simple. Its incredible inland waterways are perhaps
the best kept secret in the whole world. They are a joy to explore in the
summer and many people certainly take advantage of them. In winter it is a
wilderness lover’s paradise come true with hardly a soul around. On top of
that the place is like having your own private hunting and fishing reserve.
Ducks, geese and deer abound. The salmon are long spawned out with the
stream banks littered with the bones of their carcasses. The bears are
elsewhere. Perhaps they’re in the high country eating the last of the
berries and thinking of hibernating. There are winter storms to deal with to
be sure and bays that freeze over but there is nothing better than going out
on the deck in the early morning light with the fragrance of the forest
heavy in the crisp air.
With so many bays to explore and finally enough time to do them justice,
it’s hard to know where to begin. There are old mines and cabins just
begging for someone to wander through one more time while wondering about
the past inhabitants. Waterfalls everywhere that deserves a closer look and,
of course, there’s the hiking. “Wonder what’s up that valley?” Or, “Let’s go
see where that big meadow goes.”
I say we because cruising is not something I ever wanted to do alone. I know
at least one guy who travels that way. He starts out in early March with his
snowshoes strapped to the back of his 27 foot sailboat. Only in Alaska! I’d
been divorced for 22 years and, although I bought the boat while still
alone, I never gave up hope of finding a traveling companion. And last year
it finally happened. Cindy has two grown boys and had been on her own for a
couple of years after her divorce before we met. She has lived in this
incredible country for nearly 30 years, is familiar with boats and is as
close to a wilderness woman as I’ve ever met. But, she’d never had the
chance to get out and explore back country. We clicked in every respect. We
put our noses to the grindstone and our hearts and souls together just so we
could do this very thing. We are two of the luckiest people alive!
Winter Cruising l
Starting Out l
We Get Visitors l
Winter Comes l
A Windy Night l
A Special Day
Back to Civilization
Skipper Ted Mattson is an Alaska sailor with broad experience in
Bristol Bay and especially his home, the Alexander Archipelago, Alaska's
panhandle. Ted operates popular
adventure sailing cruises with guests in the summer months aboard the
Where next on www.outdoorsdirectory.com?
Alaska fishing books and videotapes
The Secrets of
Fishing Alaska Your Way ,
Bear Attacks: Their Causes and
Fly Fishing Alaska's Wild Rivers, Fishing
Alaska on Dollar$ a Day,
Kenai Peninsula fishing books & video
Alaska hunting books and
Alaska maps & mapping software
Alaska travel books
Alaska-related outdoor products
Alaska fishing page
General information about fishing in Alaska with leads
on where to find out more.
Main Alaska boating page
lodges and Alaska hunting guides,
Alaska saltwater charters, air taxis, transporters,
tackle, and more. Hundreds of
listings throughout Alaska.
What is it like to fish in various areas of Alaska?
Alaska Fishing Forum
Read what people are saying about fishing in
Alaska. Post your own comments.
Stories and information about fishing (and boating and hunting) in