Whitehorse Daily Star

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TEMPTING BUT OFF-LIMITS – The continued closure of the Canada-U.S. border is preventing Yukon boat owners from accessing their vessels in the Skagway harbour, seen here Tuesday. Photo courtesy MATT O’BOYLE

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Photo by Vince Fedoroff

BOAT OWNERS MAROONED IN TERRITORY – Boats require regular maintenance, points out Yukoner Mike Martin.

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He is worried his vessel may be deteriorating without the maintenance he cannot give it because it’s moored in the Skagway harbour. Photo by MIKE MARTIN

Boaters Float Pass Idea

‘You do get bonded to your boat’: owner

By Gabrielle Plonka on August 7, 2020

More than 20 Yukoners whose boats are harboured in Skagway are seeking a single-day pass to cross the U.S. border and perform maintenance on their vessels.

“All we’re trying to do is be able to go check on our boats, make sure they don’t sink,” Mike Martin told the Star Tuesday.

“All the boats need maintenance to make sure they don’t sink or deteriorate or get mold, all these kinds of things.” 

Martin hasn’t visited Skagway in six months.

In a normal year, he would have taken about 10 trips over that six-month period to replace the zincs, check the ropes and top the batteries on his boat. In pre-pandemic summers, Martin would be sailing around Alaska at this time.

Martin’s boat isn’t insured, and he can’t get it surveyed while the border is closed. He worries his vessel may be deteriorating without regular maintenance. 

“It might be an inanimate thing, but it actually becomes a friend, and a lot of people feel that with their boats,” Martin said.

“You do get bonded to your boat, so it becomes more than just a thing, it’s not just a monetary issue, it’s more for a lot of us.”

David Storey is another Yukoner concerned about his boat sitting unattended in the Skagway harbour for an unknown period of time.

“I spoke with the border about three months ago and asked if we could come down for a day … they said that unless the boat was floating free in the harbour and running into other boats, we couldn’t come down,” Storey told the Star.

“It was rather heartless, I’m afraid.”

Storey recruited a friend from Juneau to top his batteries with water, but there are numerous other concerns.

“There are otters in the harbour that get into the boats every now and again, and they’ll totally trash your boat if they do,” Storey said.

“There are winds that can wreck the canopies and things; all boats leak through their decks, that’s kind of what we worry about.”

Storey has kept his boat at the Skagway harbour for about eight years. 

“A boat is a huge liability and has to be attended to regularly and loved,” Storey said.

“You are – forgive the expression – kind of married to them; they require that kind of attention, I guess.” 

Martin has been in touch with more than 20 Yukoners in a similar situation.

Everybody is trying to find a way down to Skagway, he said. The community is seeking a single-day allowance to drive directly to the harbour, spend three to four hours there, and return home.

“Of course, if any Skagwayians have any problem with this, then we don’t want to pursue it at all because it’s their country,” Martin said.

“We feel that what we’re asking for is not going to put anyone at risk if it’s done properly.”

Travel across the U.S. border is restricted to “essential” purposes only.

A spokesperson for U.S. Customs told the Star those rules won’t bend for Yukon boat owners.

“Travel for the sole purpose of checking on a boat is not deemed essential under the temporary travel restrictions,” Jaime Ruiz, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Branch Chief, said in an email Wednesday. 

“However, if additional circumstances make the travel essential, the traveller may be admissible into the United States.”

Some boat owners who corresponded with the Star said they’re considering chartered or private flights to Skagway.

They were optimistic that customs agents might allow them to land and make the quick trip to their boat.

Ruiz told the Star that border rules shouldn’t apply differently to those who fly versus those who drive.

“Without speculating the rule is technically the same – travellers arriving on private aircraft would need to request landing rights – or landing authorization,” Ruiz said.

“Approving their arrival will depend on the totality of the circumstances.”

Martin contacted Larry Bagnell, the Yukon’s MP, late last month.

Bagnell told Martin in an email July 21 that he’s received numerous inquiries about visiting boats Alaska-side.

“This appears, on the surface, to be a very simple exercise, but unfortunately Canada does not treat any border crossings differently, at any time,” Bagnell wrote to Martin.

“I will continue to raise this problem, but I am not aware of any solution that is evolving in the near future.”

Bagnell said he estimates “hundreds, likely thousands” of Canadians and Americans are facing similar problems with their boats and properties on the other side of the closed border.

He said both federal governments are likely aware of the situation.

Matt O’Boyle, Skagway’s harbormaster, told the Star there are approximately 49 Canadian-owned boats at the harbour. Twenty-nine of those are in the water.

“Harbour staff do walk the docks daily, but we aren’t allowed on the boats unless we see something that’s alarming,” O’Boyle said.

A local contractor has towed at least two Yukon vessels to the Fraser border crossing for the owners to pick up from the Yukon side.

Some boats are too large to be trailered, however, so this isn’t an option for everybody, O’Boyle said.

He said he’s been in regular contact with several Yukoners who are concerned about the state of their boats. Some have enlisted friends in Skagway to take over the maintenance this summer.

“It’s been kind of a community effort to help out those people who aren’t able to come down,” O’Boyle said.

The collective of boat owners in Skagway is tight-knit, he explained.

“Right now, basically, we kind of miss our Whitehorse boating family,” O’Boyle said.

“There’s a good camaraderie between everybody who comes down from Whitehorse to use the small boat harbour, so it’s like having a little bit of your family missing.”

Comments (26)

Up 1 Down 0

Craig on Aug 15, 2020 at 1:40 pm

These guys knew there was a pandemic and had their boats put back in the water anyway in spring. They didn't listen then and now want to put others at risk for their poor decisions. Sounds about right.

Up 7 Down 7

DMZ on Aug 12, 2020 at 11:23 pm

I think people criticizing the request are on the wrong track. Every day we hear a lot of conflicting theories and a lot of pessimism. If this does go on for a long time and there is no vaccine, it's essential to recognize that a lot of priorities have to be balanced. Funerals, family, boats...we can't just suspend everything for an indeterminate length of time. It has to be figured out. Good for the boat owners for opening a discussion.

Up 43 Down 21

Anie on Aug 10, 2020 at 1:42 pm

Seems to me some people are just childishly jealous. "Wah, I can't afford a boat so you shouldn't be trying to find a way to take care of yours". Well, I certainly can't afford a boat, but if a group of people can find a cooperative solution that doesn't harm anyone, then more power to them. Let's try not to be petty. Life is nasty enough right now.

Up 35 Down 3

Northerngirl on Aug 10, 2020 at 1:01 pm

Here's what I would do in this situation:

A. I would hire a local to care for my boat. Seems like some nice folks have already posted up offers for help here.
B. If this pandemic continues like wildfire in the USA, consider hiring a captain to take your boat to Prince Rupert for you. Import it from there into Canada and enjoy a wonderful cruise down the West coast. Get yourself set up a slip someone down in Vancouver, Victoria or the Gulf Islands, and enjoy. We've kept our boat down there for 8 years after buying and shipping it from California. And yeah, we hire someone to watch it for us

Up 8 Down 35

Nathan Living on Aug 10, 2020 at 12:19 pm

Checking on a docked boat is like an essential medical appointment or treatment.

Customs could ask that multiple boat owners travel together. It's unfortunate this cannot be realized.

Up 15 Down 21

North_of_60 on Aug 9, 2020 at 7:00 pm

@At home in the Yukon is misinformed. The number of cases is a meaningless metric that only reflects the amount of testing. Many people test Covid positive with no infection or sickness; they're already immune.

If IQ tests were given widely then we would see a lot more confirmed idiots.

The important metrics are the number of Covid hospitalizations and Covid caused deaths. The infection rates, hospitalization rates and fatality rates for Covid are the same for Alaska, Alberta, BC, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, and those are among the lowest for any state/province in North America.
This statement is correct and can be easily verified if you know how to use Google.

Up 22 Down 5

Jan Tronrud on Aug 9, 2020 at 3:44 pm

Many of us in Skagway share your frustration. We took our camper up for repairs in early March. And there she sits. We also have a couple of cabins we haven’t been to since last year. Don’t know if there has been any damage from last winter, unwelcome visitors such as a squirrel, etc.

Up 22 Down 17

Mike Martin on Aug 9, 2020 at 3:15 pm

Thanks for the comments. RE Politico, we are not asking for the law not to apply to us. We are suggesting that there should be provisions for responsible solutions to issues that are a result of covid. Geographically speaking it makes sense to me that Alaskans can travel through Canada to get to their destinations, visit and care for family members, check on their cabins or other reasonable concerns. I feel that we to are in a situation where it makes geographical sense for us to visit our boats to ensure they don't sink. I agree with the comments that we hire Skagwaynians to look after our boats. I have done so since February however boats tend to have idiosyncrasies that do require the personal maintenance. In response to Seriouslu....... my insurance company would not re-insure my boat unless it had an out of water survey. There were not enough boat stands in the boatyard for me to get pulled out of the water last fall to get the survey done.
As for all those in the situation of not being able to visit family for illness, funerals, or births...... I feel for you. I can only imagine how hard that must be on you and I agree that those concerns are more important. I still feel that if this covid thing is going to go on for a long time yet that these and others issues will need to be addressed at some point. I recognize that some of you don't understand my/our situation. It is OK because I also don't understand many of the other special allowance covid laws/rules that speak to only other certain groups. In response to Jeff Brady and Rhonda I can heartfelt say that You both epitomize what I love so much about Skagway. I could not ask for better neighbours!!

Up 31 Down 12

Really?? on Aug 9, 2020 at 1:07 pm

Funny how one of the whiners is a Doctor who should know better and yet calls the entire ordeal heartless! Wow!

Up 42 Down 3

Charlie Widrig on Aug 9, 2020 at 11:30 am

Options are few. Suggest go on Skagway Swap and search for a mechanically inclined local to check on and maintain your boat.

Up 68 Down 4

Rhonda on Aug 9, 2020 at 11:17 am

Please feel free to reach out if myself or my USCG captain/engineer husband can help in any way... we would be very glad to check on your boats for you! We are here in Skagway and LOVE our Canadian neighbors ❤️

Up 45 Down 7

Jeff Brady on Aug 9, 2020 at 10:30 am

Welcome to our world. Very few Skagwayans have been let into Canada and only for medical/essential. That said, with 0 cases here and few up there and in AK compared to the rest of the continent, it's a shame we can't live by the old Arctic Brotherhood creed, "No Boundary Line Here." Border guards have to do their jobs so don't blame them. Be kind and seek neighborly solutions till this is over and we can roam freely and be together again.

Up 32 Down 9

At home in the Yukon on Aug 8, 2020 at 10:20 pm

North_of_60, I believe your information is incorrect. Yesterday Alaska recorded 77 new cases. With a population of about 750,000, that's about 10 per 100,000. Canada's worst provinces, Alberta and Quebec, are at about 1.5 per 100,000. Alaska is WAY WORSE OFF than anywhere in Canada.

Up 21 Down 24

Mike H on Aug 8, 2020 at 9:00 pm

Pretty entitled boat owners whining about first world problems as hundreds of thousands around the are dying. No sympathy here.

Up 22 Down 15

Grab a brain on Aug 8, 2020 at 3:05 pm

No sympathy from me. Couldn't afford to isolate for 14 days so I couldn't go to a close family members funeral. I am sure the boats will do just fine if they are boats that are in good shape.

Up 32 Down 20

Dave on Aug 8, 2020 at 11:35 am

People have family members who are ill on both sides of the border and aren't allowed to cross, yet these boat owners are trying to come up with a way to circumvent the rules. Pretty sure they could make some arrangements with the harbour master.

Up 32 Down 17

Steven on Aug 8, 2020 at 10:09 am


No. You can't go work on your boat. Or rather, sure, go ahead... but you can camp in a tent just this side of the border on your way back for 14 days, before coming back into anywhere populated.

Up 35 Down 19

Get real on Aug 8, 2020 at 8:49 am

If you have enough money for a boat, you can hire someone to maintain it. Also, that's what insurance is for. There are people who have family members that are ill (unrelated to covid) and they can't even cross the border to see them. But we should allow them to cross to tend to their boat. This isn't even a newsworthy story yet here we are.

Up 42 Down 17

Christopher Perry on Aug 8, 2020 at 6:36 am

Sorry to hear you’re unable to visit your boat, while others are unable to visit families for special events and funerals.

Up 52 Down 0

jack on Aug 8, 2020 at 12:33 am

Sounds like a business opportunity for someone in Skagway.

Up 23 Down 58

North_of_60 on Aug 8, 2020 at 12:31 am

Alaska IS NOT having an out break of the Covid virus. That is unsubstantiated anti-American fearmongering. The infection rates, hospitalization rates and fatality rates for Covid are the same for Alaska, Alberta, BC, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, and those are among the lowest for any state/province in North America.
Americans can travel through the Yukon, and we should be able to travel to Alaska as well. The request for a one day pass to maintain a boat is quite reasonable. It's too bad we don't have an MP who will work on our behalf.

Up 34 Down 18

Seriouslu on Aug 7, 2020 at 10:30 pm

Wait? You’re rich enough to have a boat...but too poor to pay someone in Skagway to check on it? Also, how is his boat allowed to be docked when it has no insurance?

Up 9 Down 12

comen sense on Aug 7, 2020 at 9:35 pm

The Americans can have 24 hr to be on our turf via Yukon to Alaska

Up 15 Down 22

Guncache on Aug 7, 2020 at 6:20 pm

Alaskans from Skagway and Haines can come to Whitehorse so why can't Yukoners go to Skagway and Haines?

Up 28 Down 17

Bouyed on Aug 7, 2020 at 5:22 pm

This isn’t news especially given current circumstances.
First World problems to an elite few.

Up 98 Down 36

Politico on Aug 7, 2020 at 4:04 pm

So if you are rich enough to own a boat you are special and the law shouldn't apply to you. In case Mr Martin and his friends haven't noticed Alaska is having an out break of the Covid virus. Letting them go there and come back to a Covid free Yukon without the isolation period would be a very bad idea. Why not just hire some one in Skagway to maintain the boat? I'm sure there's someone in that town who could do it.

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