Written by John Janowiak | Photography courtesy of Mike Finn
Mike Finn will never forget his first extended boat trip along the Northwest coast. “The trip of ’82 is a trip I’ve talked about all my life,” he says. Years from now, his sons can say the same about their great trip of 2009. In April, Brandon and Casey, ages 14 and 7, hopped into their dad’s brand-new Meridian 490 and made the trip of a lifetime: a 10-day, 1,250-mile adventure from Portland, Oregon, to their hometown of Sitka, on the Alaska Panhandle.
Mike, who owns a Radio Shack® store and other businesses, is a lifelong boater. He purchased the 490—the 14th boat he’s owned—at Hayden Island Yacht Center in Portland. Before picking it up, he equipped it with a powerful bow thruster, extra chain and a double-size anchor. He spent almost a week test driving the boat around Portland and getting used to the electronics. Finally, he splashed a name on the transom—Goo Finn Off—and the boat was ready for its maiden voyage to Alaska.
Mike’s parents, Larry and June, were there for the ride just as they were in 1982. “Dad’s been around boating all his life, and he taught me everything I know, so it’s something he really enjoyed,” Mike says. “Mom loves to cook on the boat. She would live on a boat all her life if she could.” The grandfolks live in Idaho now, and they relished spending time with the boys, playing board games, spotting gray whales and just relaxing.
The 1982 trip was aboard a sailboat, and the starting point was Seattle. Otherwise, the experience was much the same. They stopped in the same port towns and were taken aback to see how they had been transformed over 27 years. Island ports like Bella Bella, British Columbia, didn’t have road service back then. “When we came through in ’82, it was basically a float facility with a guy and his pump for fuel, and he had a cabin on the beach and that was it. Nowadays, there’s a full town there. They’ve got a 150-ton lift for hauling boats out.”
There was little time for sightseeing, as they were determined to get home quickly. Mike’s wife, Liz, wasn’t able to join them, so they wanted to get back and see her. They were also eager to ride the 490 in their usual stomping grounds around Sitka. So they kept up a brisk pace, averaging 12 to 13 knots, and logged an average of 12 hours of travel a day. (The longest day was a full 19 hours.) First they cruised the Columbia River 90 miles from Portland to Astoria, Oregon. Once out in the Pacific, they headed up to Neah Bay at the northern tip of Washington. Reaching British Columbia, they followed the straits around Vancouver Island and stopped in more familiar port towns such as Comox and Bedwell Harbor. Passing through the Johnstone and Queen Charlotte straits, they made their way back out to open water and up to Prince Rupert, British Columbia.
Hurricane-force winds kept them in Port McNeill for a few days; otherwise, they would have completed the trip in just over a week. All along, they slept on the 490 and cooked their own meals. “This boat is fully equipped to do everything you need to do,” Mike says. When they reached Ketchikan, Alaska, however, they succumbed and ordered a pizza.
The most difficult part of the journey, as the family expected, was getting past the Columbia Bar, that volatile area where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean. “You get water coming at you from all directions, so you can’t turn your boat to control it very well,” Mike says. “You just have to give it power and pound through it. And it took us about 12 miles off the coast before we were able to turn north and get out of that.”
The boat handled fantastically, though. And for much of the trip, Brandon was behind the steering wheel. He’s been driving boats since he was 5 years old, and he aspires to earn an unlimited tonnage seaman’s license. “That’s one reason we bought a boat this big,” Mike says. “At age 14, he can start logging his time for the U.S. Coast Guard, and this is something that will give him some good tonnage and some good experience.” Not to mention some great memories.