When it comes to superyacht cruising grounds, sometimes it may be easy to forget that there is a big wide world to discover outside of the hustle and bustle of the main Mediterranean and Caribbean hotspots. With more and more owners and charter clients opting to stray a little further from the beaten track, here we shine a spotlight on some of the more exciting cruising destinations from all four corners of the world, with the help of the experts who have fallen in love with it. In this issue, we speak with Chris Fagan, Captain of the 39.6-metre Westport-built superyacht Serengeti, who takes us through his ideal week-long itinerary cruising the awe-inspiring fjord-riddled waters of Alaska.
Take me to... AlaskaI’m Captain Chris Fagan, and I’ve been at the helm of the 39.6-metre Westport yacht Serengeti for the past two years. Before making Captain, I worked on the boat for an additional two years as the First Mate, so I’m happy to say that I know Serengeti inside and out and I still love living and working on board as much as ever! We’re a US-flagged yacht, and our owner loves cruising the States, so our typical charter itinerary consists of heading up to Alaska to start the season, stopping in San Francisco and Seattle on the way before we arrive in Juneau in late May. Once the season is over in August, we go back down the coast to California and occasionally go down into Mexico.
We’ve basically done the same itinerary for the past 11 years, so myself, the crew and the yacht are all well seasoned Alaska-expeditioners. We really love Alaska. I think that folks cannot really understand this place until they’ve been there themselves. It sounds cliche, but it’s true! It’s like Jurassic Park - the wildlife really is spectacular, you just keep on cruising from one incredible spot to the next. You can spot a group of orcas and follow them for a while, you can see 50’ humpback whales fully breaching out of the water - who will even hang out with the boat for a while! - bears prowling through the forests, and the fishing is just like nowhere else on the planet. It’s explosive.
The extreme beauty of the landscape matches the extreme wildlife. It’s not long, rolling plains, but giant mountains violently jutting out of the water and rising up for thousands of feet. There are also glaciers upon glaciers which are super cool to be able to see from the boat. They vary in size and colour, but are all immediately awe-inspiring. There are not many vacations which offer such sights from the comfort you find on Serengeti. There isn’t much civilisation between the major towns… it’s 75% national park so you can’t build on a lot of the land in southern Alaska. If you’re a client looking to escape the yacht for a couple of nights for the best fine dining… well, you won’t be able to find it here. But when we start or end our trip at Sitka, there is a particularly amazing restaurant that we always recommend to our guests. It’s really wonderful. The thing is, the food on the yacht is generally 10 times better than Alaskan cuisine!
In terms of charter, we’re always booked by brokers because of our experience in the region, which is a super important element of cruising in Alaska. I genuinely think that if your mind is open to exploration, Alaska is for you. Some of our guests can be a little apprehensive about the weather before the trip, especially when they see the foul weather gear we have on board! But if it’s raining and you have that gear on, all the awesome stuff still happens, you just need to have a slight sense of adventure. So, without further ado, here’s just one of the sample itineraries we offer for making the most of your time in Alaska.
Fly into Juneau to meet Serengeti. A historic capital, enjoy your first afternoon soaking in the city’s local culture or take a tram 1,800’ up Mount Roberts. Later, cruise away from civilisation to a quiet bay for the evening. Before the sun sets, set crab traps to be pulled in the morning.
Day 2Spend your morning catching Alaskan Dungeness crabs from the traps set the night before. After crabbing, go ashore to the local village of Hoonah, which originated in 1800 when the North West Trading Company built a trading post there. Later, cruise a few hours south looking for whales on our way to a protected anchorage. This sheltered spot is ripe for an Alaskan-style crab cookout featuring your daily catch!
Enjoy your breakfast while anchored out beside the beautiful waterfall looking for bears walking along the waterline. Go ashore for Baranof Warm Springs where at the end of the boardwalk hike, you will find yourself in front of the exceptionally beautiful Baranof Lake. Once back on board, cruise farther south along Baranof Island, through a narrow cut, to anchor for the evening.
Shrimping, fishing, bear viewing, whale watching, and hiking are just a few of the activities to keep you busy as you continue to explore the beautiful and remote area of Southeastern Alaska on the fourth day of the journey.
Day 5In the morning, you will travel to the south end of Admiralty Island. This is the perfect spot to cast a line for salmon and halibut in this world-class fishing spot. Once you’ve reeled in the daily catch, the chef will prepare it for dinner. The area is home to a wide variety of sea life; tender around the bay in search of seals and sea lions.
Spend your morning whale watching in Frederick Sound, a favourite feeding ground for humpbacks. Be on the lookout for wildlife, especially brown bears that feed on the salmon that run in the area. Drop anchor and head ashore for a beautiful Alaskan sunset.
Day 7Enjoy breakfast as you cruise through the passage of the Tracy Arm fjord. The twin Sawyer glaciers can be found here. Take the tender past the awe-inspiring north Sawyer glacier and keep an eye out for the array of wildlife that call this area home, including seals, Orcas, Dall’s porpoise, eagles, even mountain goats.
Cruise through Stephen’s Passage to the Gastineau Channel at sunrise before arriving back in Juneau. Spend the morning enjoying the city before heading for the airport.
Alaska Top 5: Highlights of cruising in Alaska
Prince William Sound
Helicopter through the glacial ice fields
Photo: Blue Kennels
Baranof Warm Springs
WildlifeNeed to know
A few things to remember before embarking on your Alaska discovery
Alaska is, as Captain Chris calls it, the Wild, Wild West of the States, and it’s important to remember that this is not St Tropez. A lack of infrastructure in combination with sparsely populated lands means planning ahead, but with proper due diligence and a great crew guiding your way, this region promises unforgettable sights and experiences. Here are some top tips.
You need a permit to fish
Everyone wants to fish in Alaska, but many do not realise that fishing is very regulated in Alaskan waters. Though regimented, going through the proper legal issues with the official system means that you’ll be making all the big catches your heart desires. Bypass the system and all you’ll end up with is a big fine.
Plan for rain
Alaska weather can be temperamental. The upside is that the weather does not affect what you want to be doing. The wildlife is still there and the fishing, in particular, is just like nowhere else. The scenery is unbelievable even if you are are a little bit damp and chilly at times!
It’s not easy for every yacht
Cruising in US waters can be a headache for those yachts not built in the US or US-flagged, and foreign-flagged yachts may need an expensive navigational guide on board. Make sure you’re fully up to date with the latest rules before heading out into the wilderness. Yachts in excess of 60-metres may also find locating anchorage spots problematic, so do your research.
For more information on cruising in the States or to book your own charter adventure in Alaska, get in touch with the experts at Northrop & Johnson at [email protected]. Helicopter photo provided by Blue Kennels. Arrange your tour at [email protected].
This article was featured in the latest edition of the SuperYacht Times newspaper. Subscribe now to receive your copy straight to your door and never miss another issue