10 Things to Know if you’re coming to Ketchikan, Alaska

Quick check in from the shore-bound crew of Brighter Days. Taking a break from boat stuff today to talk about Alaska.  I really want to use the blog to discuss mostly “boat” things.   On further reflection however, I decided that there is probably an audience for “This Alaskan Life” themed posts…and I just paid to renew the website so I may as well use it. 

T arrived in Alaska early June and I joined a few weeks later.  We’ve spent the last 6 weeks settling in and getting acclimated to life in a completely different setting…and we absolutely love it.   It’s the sort of place that causes one to really relfect and explore emotions, but that is hard to do in a blog.  So… I thought I’d just hit a cursory few of the unique things about SE Alaska. 

Top 10 Things to Know about Ketchikan,  Alaska-

10- There is a LOT of daylight in the summer.  Notice I did not say sunlight.  I said daylight.  On the summer solstice you’re clocking a sunrise right around 4 am and a sunset right around 10 pm.  That gives you another hour easily of dusk.  This is nothing compared to Barrow, where the sun doesn’t set for over two months,  but it’s still enough to throw the circadian rhythm’s into mayhem.  I found some days I was a toddler and wanted to sleep at 8 pm, and other nights I’d struggle to get down before 1 am.  In talking to locals, this is pretty common.   This time of year, August, it is finally fully dark around 10 pm.  I’ve noticed my sleeping has improved. So conversely,  In winter, you have a LOT of darkness.  I haven’t experienced this yet. (I’ll update in January, when we are tentatively planning a return to augment the kitty.)  Locals have a great attitude about it, it’s just something to which they have become accustomed.  The chamber website highlights the local art scene.  The ER staff says people just drink.  I suspect the truth is somewhere in between.  Sunsets (when it is sunny) are amazing! 

Beautiful sunset north of Ketchikan, at Salmon Falls resort.

9.  New words.  Alaskans have their own lingo and it’s thrown about with the expectation that we all know what it means.  Cheechako, borough, Outside, down south, Interior, Sourdough, Xtra Tuffs, muskegs, it goes on and on.  Just smile and nod, you can always google them.  That’s what I did.

8. I could save this for #1, but I’ll go ahead and kill the suspense.  There is a LOT of rain.  A LOT.    I knew this before coming here, but also I happened to make my initial Alaska pilgrimage on one of the rainiest summers in recent times.  We had two glorious days of sunshine in early July…and I saw the sun again July 14 and July 28 for brief glimpses.   It rains almost every day, sometimes for awhile and sometimes all day.  If you want to visit…just expect rain on some, most or all days.  It will rain. The islands of SE Alaska (including Revillagigedo Island, where Ketchikan is located) make up the Tongass National Forest.  This is the northernmost rainforest in the US and one of the few temperate rainforests around the world.

A view from the hill looking down on the town. In the rain. 🙂

7.  It is INCREDIBLY lush and gorgeous.  Makes sense, right?  Rain and a rainforest.  It’s stunning.  You’re surrounded by green forests everywhere you go.  Hiking trails will be completely covered by dense forest, then will open up into amazing meadows.  It’s incredible…but often muddy. 

Ward Lake, a popular day use and camping area near Ketchikan. This was one of the 4 sunny days in July.

6.   Rain will not stop you from being outside.   One of our favorite days was a cookout by Ward Lake, a scenic lake a few miles inland with a well developed day use and campground area.  We grilled, we imbibed, we listened to tunes, the dogs played and swam. And it drizzled all day.  No one cared.    There is always something to do, even if you have to make it yourself…as long as you like to be outdoors.  🙂  Alaska is ALL about the nature.  The forest service does an amazing job of keeping the trails up and accessible to people.  Muskegs (marshy swamps) are common, the forest service installs  bridges and walkways.   Now if only Kida would do as good at staying on the trails. For a dog that hates bathes, she sure loves to get muddy. 

Day camping in the rain at Ward Lake.
Bridge over a muskeg, Kida’s favorite place to go off trail and sink into 3 foot of muck! 


Happy dog getting wet and muddy.











Good example of walkways and bridges installed to make trails accessible to hikers





5.  Wildlife abounds.  It is everywhere and it’s incredible.  Yes there are bears.  We’ve only seen them when we went looking though.  Our island has a large population of black bears, but to my knowledge there are no grizzly bears.  They inhabit only 3 islands in SE Alaska, and are more prevalent up north.   We’ve seen humpback whales in the narrows on two occasions, basically both times we actually stopped and looked.  No Orca sitings yet, we keep looking. Loads of eagles, and other birds as well.  Black tail deer roam the ER parking lot.  It’s really awesome. 

4.   Food is FANTASTIC…or it’s horrible.  The local salmon and halibut is plentiful and delicious.   Those are pretty consistent but the side dishes require a bit more creativity.  It’s an island…which means you get limited supplies.  I’m very fond of one local chain store  Alaskan and Proud.  They have the best selection of produce.   And this one time they even had arugula.  I’ve looked for basil for 3 weeks, no luck.  It’s sort of whatever comes in on the boat. Their produce is generally fresh and plentiful, but “barge ripened” is a real thing here, people.

Food (and a little alcohol) on our cookout in the rain.

3.  It’s expensive.  Basically everything here is imported, so what you have is what you get and what they think it’s worth.  You’re so pumped to actually find it you will pay it.  $10 for quinoa?  Sure!  $28 for coconut oil??  No problem!  (It was a Costco sized Kirkland Coconut Oil, so it was probably worth it.   I haven’t kept track but my guess is that it’s about 25-30% more in prices here.  Gas is over $3 a gallon but we fill up once every 5-6 weeks- 20 miles of roads from one end to the other, not counting the inland logging roads. 

2.  It is ALL about the cruise ships this time of year.  People have mixed emotions about this.  I don’t see the hostility around tourists that I saw in Florida.  Probably because they are only here a day.  🙂  The town boasts 3,000 residents year round, 10,000 in the summer.  But every day 2,000-11,000 tourists descend upon the downtown.  After the pulp mill closed in the 1990’s, the cruise ship business is the bread and butter of the town.  3-4 square blocks are bustling and busy, you’re being called into stores with names like “Diamonds International” and “Caribbean Jewels” (Do they own a map?) to look at the latest arrival or the “sales”.  And then…as the last lonely horn from the departing cruise ship fades… the doors close.  Restaurants that cater to tourists all close their doors.  It’s a ghost town until the next ship pulls up. 

1.  You meet people FAST!  If you’re coming here for stay, and not on a cruise ship, you’ll find people incredibly welcoming.  I had been in town just a few days before we started running into people around town.  At the A&P, at Walmart, or at a number of the small bars and restaurants that cater more to the local crowd.  Everyone knows everyone.  We will care for a patient at the hospital and run into them the next day.  And because there are so many people who have transplanted here, a community develops pretty quickly.  It reminds me of sailors in that way.  There is rarely a day when the social calendar is empty if that’s your thing.  

So there is a little glimpse into life up here. I hope that while you read, you are able to see the love we are developing for this special little piece of the last frontier.

Old dogs have fun too!

What can we take to Mexico??

A great deal of my time and energy this weekend has been spent examining this process and doing research.  I’ve spoke with people who have done it,  people planning on doing it, and scoured the world wide web in search of the most current and accurate information.

We’ve watched many of our friends head south of the border on their own vessels, and I don’t believe a lot of concern was given to what could and could not go (with the obvious exception of firearms, which are something many Americans have but can not be taken into Mexico with only a few exceptions.)  They had their boat loaded with their personal effects and they just went.  That is the beauty of a floating home.  So when friends had…oh…say 4 cases of wine…it was no big deal.  But our situation is unique.  We are FLYING to our boat, which we purchased in Mexico.  The boat was well stocked with items provided by the previous owner, but we clearly have our own “stuff” that we want to go along with us.  The boat, after all, is our home. 

We have two options when flying into the country:  A- declare our items and proceed to Customs for inspection or B- Play the “red light green light” lottery.  This means we go through with our belongings as usual, hit the light, and hope like hell for the green light.

We are opting for Option B.   I want to take our personal effects, I want (need) to take some needed boat equipment that will be necessary to safely operate the vessel, and of course there is the furcrew.  And per Mexican law, we are limited to $500 worth of items before we will be required to pay the 16% duty.  While I don’t have any desire to skirt the law, I also don’t want to have to fork over cash if it’s not needed.  And I’ve found in traveling to Mexico and Central America, the official laws and rules are often subject to interpretation by whichever Custom’s official you happen to encounter. 

So what have I found?

Well…this list  is both mind-numbingly specific ( One device that permits the measurement of arterial pressure??  What does that even mean?  I am guessing they mean a blood pressure cuff) and insanely random. (“ three speedboats with or without sails and their accessories??”)  This list is one of the best, but what concerns me is that while it’s helpful, it’s from a travel website and not a list that I’ve been able to verify or find elsewhere.  THIS list is an official government site, but as you can see it offers little to no specific information other than “Don’t Bring Guns or Drugs.”  So I’ve been left to pretty much decide on my own what will be considered goods subject to duty.   

So how have I decided to deal with this?  In a very uncharacteristic way, I’ve become incredibly organized.  I’ve compiled spreadsheets for each of us detailing all of our “personal effects”.  I’ve listed out our individual electronics, dates purchased, serial numbers and their purpose as to “personal use for duration of stay.” As “Two sports equipment” are allowed duty free, I’ve assigned us each a set of SCUBA gear.  My second “sports equipment” is my paddleboard.  (OR…is that a speedboat??  If so they haven’t seen me paddle)  We are allowed “4 rods” (I’m hoping reels are included) for fishing.  No mention of tackle so that’s listed under T’s  second allowed “sports equipment”.   I’ve done the same itemized spreadsheet for the boat.  As “replacement equipment” is possibly allowed, I’ve attached our boats survey showing the deficient item highlighted, and why it’s being replaced.  I’ve done this for the new radio,  life vests (human AND canine), electronic signaling device (flare equivalent), safety strobes for our life vests, an EPIRB, our Mantus anchor shaft (bar and spade went down on prior trips), and  some other equipment we are bringing.  All of these are accompanied by receipts or invoices.  We are going one step further and identifying the location of each item in bags color-coded with different colored zip ties.  I have an entire notebook with detailed entries. Part of my rational for this is that I have seen first hand how  much easier these processes tend to be if I can show an overwhelming amount of paper.  People get tired of looking at papers. Looking prepared makes a big difference. 

Travis is a bit confused as who has replaced his usually “fly by the seat of her pants” wife, but I think it’s our best option for having a smooth transition into the country with our 8 checked bags, 2 carry-ons, and two furkids.   Wish us luck!  68 days and counting! 

Peace and Love,

T and H, S/V Brighter Days


8 bags to go. Most are underweight and we may consolidate.
It’s a guitar! No…it’s a Mantus anchor shaft and life vests. Makes the perfect bag. (we have a real guitar going also)
Part 3 of 3- Mantus anchor shaft headed to it’s home on board Brighter Days.

*I will update this post after we arrive with details on how it went.

** The process of getting the dogs to Mexico is also very specific and involved, it will be another post completely

***  We will actually be well under the limit provided we are able to find our needed generator to purchase after arrival.  If we have to take our generator from the US, well, all this may go out the window and we will reassess.  A friend is calling around for us this week to see if we can purchase it locally.  It will be more expensive but at 46 pounds and as a potential red flag to Customs that will almost assuredly require us to pay duty there, I’ll gladly pay more and acquire locally.   

Countdown to Cruising….T minus 76 days

It’s actually 75 days and 12 hours til we arrive, but I’ll go with the old grade school method of counting “sleeps” and call it 76 days.  Cue the freakout- 76 days?  And if you subtract the days we work when we really can’t get much done, that’s at least 45% of our days.  Plus there are the days we are in transit from Alaska to Mexico (10 days) and that gives us…well…I suck at math but it gives us NOT A LOT OF TIME to get things done.

Since we packed and sorted our bags last week, things seem to be moving in fast forward.  It just seems REAL.  We have 8 bags (plus dogs) to get checked on that Alaska Airlines flight out of LAX on October 28.   AND we have a boat to catch and roughly 1,235 miles (plus a 30 hour ferry ride) to get there.

The past few days, “To-do” lists have been all the rage in my addled and stressed brain, a couple have even made it to paper.  Things to pack, things to have shipped here, things to get sorted to have done on the boat, etc etc etc.  As seasonal rates more than double starting November 1, we are anxious to get out of the marina.  We realize that we won’t make it out by November 1, but are shooting for a realistic date of around the middle of the month to cast off the lines and head out.  I suspect we will spend a few days (week(s)??) just at anchor, getting sorted, getting things stowed and organized, and testing some of the systems.  We had a new battery bank installed and with that and the inverter setup reworked, we are hoping the power woes which we experienced last fall will be solved.   (I act like I understand these things…but my understanding is quite rudimentary.  Sun goes to panels goes to something goes to batteries goes to inverter/magical unicorn thingy that makes my blender work for margaritas!  YASSSS!!!!)

Anyway, these “To Do” lists are quite long, but the reality is that we will never have it all done by Oct 18 or Oct 28 and certainly not by mid-November.  Things I want and deem important will be put off to next year.  Today I spent some time trying to sort what we wanted for a first aid bag.  As we’re both long time ER nurses, this should be simple, correct?  But this almost makes it more difficult, as we both know what we want, and none of the commercial bags seem to fit.  We will piece-meal a bag together, which will take time…and that is just about our most precious commodity these days.  (After money, of course.  That one is always in the forefront.)  So things like the First Aid bag and even the sketchy refrigeration will get turfed to a later day, while things like getting a dinghy and new life vests, finding flares (I’ve heard they are scarce) and  getting the vital systems on the boat in solid working order and name FINALLY on the stern will take precedence.  Safety and security over comfort.  This season will be coastal cruising, and taking baby steps into this new lifestyle.  I anticipate a sharp learning curve, and Travis and I have promised nothing more than to be kind to each other, not to hurry, and to learn as we go.

I finally did the math, and we have about 20 working days here to get this all in order.  Wish us luck!

Love and Peace,

T and H, SV Brighter Days