The Perfect 10: Going with the Floe
What » A private yacht charter through Alaska’s Inside Passage and along British Columbia’s coast.
Who » Michael Sawyer, the president of Infinity Yacht Charters, specializes in tracking down superyachts in the Pacific Northwest. "They’re not up here every year," says Sawyer, who is based near Seattle, "but many of the world’s elite superyachts include a visit to this area in their global rotation. Last summer we had three in Alaska."
A former charter captain, Sawyer regularly inspects yachts and meets with crewmembers at broker shows in the Caribbean and Europe. "Assessing what a crew can deliver and working with them to coordinate successful, unique experiences are what being a broker is about," he says. In Alaska, the job also entails uncovering hidden gems. "There is a wide range of adequate yachts stationed in Alaska all the time," he says. "But superyacht owners often do not permit their yachts to be published or shown online, so it is always best to inquire."
The Trip » Sawyer hesitates to recommend a specific yacht for an Alaska charter because options in the area change so frequently. However, he suggests a boat in the 130-to-260-foot range, which will provide ample space and amenities for a group of four travelers. He prefers a yacht with an onboard helicopter for excursions into the wilderness.
For a 15-day superyacht charter, Sawyer suggests starting in Juneau, where his clients will meet their captain before cruising to Taku Harbor. In the nearby Tracy Arm Cove, named for a Civil War general, the captain will carefully navigate around ice floes and 10,000-year-old icebergs and past calving glaciers. "There are steep, rocky walls and waterfalls on both sides of the cove," says Sawyer, "and huge blue icebergs where the sound of ice cracking and rolling is remarkable."
A few days later, when the travelers reach Admiralty Island, they will travel by tender up the Seymour Canal to the salmon-spawning—and bear-feasting—site at Pack Creek. (The 1,600-square-mile island is more densely populated with brown bears than anywhere else in the world.) The group will then head south on the yacht to Frederick Sound, which Sawyer says may be the best place on the planet to observe humpback whales. "Many clients will list watching the whales bubble netting among their all-time favorite experiences," he says. "The whales circle well below the surface, blowing up a steady column of air bubbles to collect floating krill. Then, in unison, they turn to swim straight up, breaking the surface with their mouths open and gorging themselves with food."
The travelers will cruise down the Alaskan coast to Ketchikan and on to British Columbia, where they might spot orcas and, on Princess Royal Island, the white Kermode bear. The northwest corner of British Columbia also presents the opportunity for cultural excursions. At the U’mista Cultural Centre, the group can watch native dancers perform, and view the Potlatch Collection, an "amazing display of masks and carvings from the Kwakwaka’wakw tribes," says Sawyer.
Another suggested stop is Desolation Sound, where, according to Sawyer, "peak-season air temperatures reach 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and water temperatures reach 70 degrees." Along the sound, which is part of a provincial marine park, "the shoreline varies from low-rolling hills to 4,500-foot peaks, with many protected anchorages tucked into bays," he says. "There are many opportunities to play with water toys and enjoy swimming, picnicking, and hiking."
Travelers can end their journey in Vancouver or prolong the trip and continue to the San Juan Islands and Seattle. "We’ve had clients enjoy some of these highlights in as little as 10 days," says Sawyer. "Others have decided to extend their experience up to six weeks."
The Exclusive » "John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club, visited LeConte Glacier over a hundred years ago and thought it was the most beautiful glacier he had seen," says Sawyer, who adds that the view of the popular tourist destination is even more spectacular from above. "Travelers will board a helicopter and fly over this magnificent river of ice, while their yacht will be steaming westward through the Frederick Sound to join the helicopter at Fanshaw Bay."
Price » Current options for summer 2009 charters for four or more passengers start at $2,100 per person per week. Rates for superyachts begin at about $50,000 per person.
Infinity Yacht Charters, 604.714.0288, www.infinityyachts.com