Alaska - June 2005 with Mema!
Well -- here's the plan -- Patty has been after me to take this trip, and finally I succumbed! Usually when this kind of thing happens, and it turns out to be a great trip -- it was my idea! Our goal is to see the inside passage between Seattle and Juneau, AK, as well as Skagway, Petersburg, and other interesting spots along the way. From the Alaskan Native and British Columbian totem carvers, to Russian traders, gold miners, fishermen, loggers, and a few "travelers" (NOTE: "Spirit of Discovery" gang --- that means you!) along the way, and with the storied scenery and wildlife, we hope to pick up a little on the geology, culture and heritage of this part of the world we'd not yet explored. Our choice, after a bit of interviewing folks who'd been there, is CruiseWest's small cruise ships -- enabling them to get into small tributaries, and fjord areas that other, larger vessels can't reach ----- safely!!!
This picture tells you two things -- that once again we're able to find our favorite spot to rest our heads, and also that we're in Seattle, WA (See Space Needle?) In any event this is our jumping off port for our Alaska inside passage cruise on Cruise West's "Spirit of Discovery".
We took a couple of days to "experience Seattle", and followed up on some tips from Dick Eckburg and Joe Dobransky -- OLD UPSers! (OK - fess up, --- how many of you knew that Seattle was the original home of that great company? )
--- then Dick had another tip: Take the Bainbridge Ferry to get a great look at the Seattle skyline, AND grab a great lunch in the fascinating little town of Bainbridge (the pics are expandable, by double clicking on the smaller "thumbnail" pics, then clicking on the "back arrow" to return to the web page.) So, here is the quaint little town of Bainbridge ----
Then back to Seattle, and some great views of the Seattle skyline --
DAY 1 - Welcome aboard the "Spirit of Discovery"
We board "The Spirit of Discovery", and are introduced to our crew, and given our introduction by the enthusiastic Karine! We transit the Hiram Chittenden Locks in Ballard, out to Elliott Bay, take one quick swing thru the Seattle harbor (with a fuzzy view of Mt. Rainier), out thru Puget sound, and off to the north country! The Aussie Gods are at work -- among the first folks we meet are Damien & Suzie from Darwin, in the Northern Territory of Australia! Great folks from a great town in a great country. But then you guys who follow this website knew I'd get hooked up with Aussies!
DAY 2 - Friday Harbor
Day 2 (Thursday!) finds us entering Friday Harbor, and a chance to explore the San Juan Islands. About 2000 people live in Friday Harbor year round, yet this small boat harbor hosts over 20,000 overnight transient boats annually! It is the county seat and main population center of the San Juan Islands
An interesting town, obviously a popular spot for sailors and kayakers, and a few of "the beautiful people". Johnny Carson spent the last couple of years of his life here aboard his yacht, and real estate on the water is soaring. Still, it retains some of its rustic ways, although farming is being replaced by more exotic exploits, such as lavender farming, and raising Alpacas & Llamas! The primary attraction, however, is a chance to spot the Orca whales, who maintain their pods in this area, and are frequently seen here. (Not yet by this guy, or rest assured, there'd be a picture of one right here!!!! ) In fact, this is the base of worldwide Orca Whale research - including the Southern Resident J, K, & L Pods, located in Puget Sound and the San Juans.
AND NOW -- WE'RE ENROUTE TO THE CANADIAN INSIDE PASSAGE!
The end of a perfect day!
DAY 3 - Exploring Southern British Columbia
A bit about our vessel, crew, and fellow travelers. The Spirit of Discovery, was built in 1976, and has plied these waters under the names of "Independence", and "Columbia" before being purchased by CruiseWest, and renamed "The Spirit of Discovery". She is 166 feet in length, has a beam of 37 feet, and draws only 7.5 feet (keeping in mind that our 43' masthead sloop drew 6'!!), making her an ideal vessel to explore the nooks and crannies, and tributaries of these cruising grounds! She weighs 94 tons, has a maximum speed of 15 knots, and a cruising speed of 13 knots. She's designed to carry 84 guests in 43 staterooms, and carries a crew of 22. NOW, here's the good news! On this particular trip, we're 40 passengers, with a crew of 20!! Are we spoiled!! Food superb! Service outstanding!
We explore "The Sunshine Coast", and her many waterways and islands, as well as the well known Desolation Sound. The entire area is known as a "Yachter's Paradise" throughout the west coast. Next, we cruise up Johnstone Straight, a 50 mile long stretch, bordering Vancouver Island. This is really where the harbor seals make their first appearances in numbers.
A warm day means BBQ time!
DAY 4 - Cruising Mainland British Columbia
Above - Day 4 (Saturday) has us relaxing on a cruise along the mainland of British Columbia and her many islands. This entire area is covered in Coastal Temperate Rain Forest, which I learn constitutes one of the most endangered forest types on the planet. (Less than 1/5 of 1% of the earth's surface!) They have 3 distinguishing features: 1) proximity to oceans; 2) the presence of mountains; and 3) high rainfall. It makes for beautiful wilderness!!
Alert Bay above, and Butedale below, are two very quaint spots. The bloke in the small boat is the sole resident of Butedale, and as you may have noticed, he has a cannery there that might qualify as a fix-up! Earlier, I introduced you to Karine, who is our very knowledgeable guide to all that's interesting Alaskan! She comes by it naturally, having been born and raised in Petersburg. (Her Dad is a very successful commercial fisherman there.) Now meet her sidekick, Morgan, who supplements Karine's local knowledge nicely, with her background in marine biology, oceanography, and wildlife/sea life of the area. (I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that Morgan brings a bit of "Aussie" to the party, since she went to college in Brisbane, and has a bit of "Sheila" in 'er!!)
This cruising life aboard "Spirit" could spoil you. As I indicated, we're only half occupied, with a full staff. These are bright young folks, who are well trained, anxious to serve, and just make every hour a kick! The food is exceptional (our Chef, Robert, and his kitchen gang are top notch, and the servers bright, fun, attractive young people!) You've got to stay alert, though, for calls beyond the wildlife sightings -- things like barging containers to all of these relatively small villages, and something I've never seen before -- timbering by helicopter (Lee, note: some dual rotor). Then, another perfect end to a perfect day of cruising British Columbia, with some perfect new pals, Linda & Robb, from Battle Creek!
DAY 5 - Ketchikan
We leave Canada behind and begin cruising in Alaskan waters, as we head to the salmon capital of Alaska -- Ketchikan. We cruise through beautiful Misty Fjord and Rudyerd Bay enroute. It's the state's 4th largest city, and is located on Revillagigedo Island. The year around local population is approximately 14,000, but during the cruise season, this can increase by 50% each day from their cruise ship visitors. Tourism has really become a mainstay of Ketchikan's economy. Also known as the rain capital of the world, since it averages about 162 inches of rain a year! Very noticeable from the outset are the signs of the rich Native American heritage evident throughout this proud community. Totem poles tell the story!
DAY 6 - Wrangell Narrows & Petersburg
Early morning finds us navigating the 22 mile long Wrangell Narrows, something you don't get a chance to do unless you're a reasonably small vessel. Since the Narrows averages only a half mile wide at high tide, only ferries and smaller cruise ships can get through. To give you an idea of the snakelike path of the Narrows, there are 46 course changes for the helmsman to make, and because of the 70 red and green navigational lights marking the course, some refer to the waterway as "Christmas Tree Lane". Even during the day, I found it interesting to fall back on my training, and line up the range markers, etc. So we head into the handsome fishing village of Petersburg.
As I indicated earlier, this is Karine's hometown, and her family still reside there. In fact, her Mom comes down to meet us. We then all head for The Sons of Norway Hall where we're given a wonderful reception, complete with fresh baked pastries, and dancing by the children -- The Leikarring Dancers! This town of only 3000 residents, on the northern tip of Mitkof Island, is principally a fishing community, and as measured by tonnage produced per 1000 population, or per fishing vessel, it is one of the most productive fishing communities in Alaska.
Having enjoyed the hospitality of this picturesque seaside community (wish I'd had time to "jaw" with some of the local watermen!), we head out to explore southeast to LeConte Bay, and hopefully to get a glimpse of LeConte Glacier, the southernmost tidewater glacier in the Northern Hemisphere. We get more than a glimpse. Our Captain gets us about as close to this glacier (particularly one that is calving as frequently as this one), as I need to go! BUT, it is spectacular!
The SOD Gang at LeConte Glacier!
DAY 7 - Frederick Sound & Tracy Arm
Frederick Sound and Stephen's Passage are a favorite feeding area for humpback whales due to the huge concentration of krill and other small schooling fish, and we see them, playing and showing off a bit as we head for the glaciers in Tracy Arm. Tracy Arm is a steep-walled fjord more than 25miles long. It is headed by two active tidewater glaciers. Because of the activity of the glaciers - we give them plenty of respect, and plenty of room. Still - a spectacular sight!
When the going gets tough, or the temps go down, you have both your inside gang, and your outside gang! (Karine & Morgan always up for any elements!) The Sea Lions appear to be the latter! (Note the Blue Ice - Patty's thought - "Just add Vodka"!!)
Above, how to dress for the glaciers - - and how NOT to dress for the glaciers! Really an interesting day in both Tracy Arm and Frederick Sound. We actually cancelled the entertainment for the evening, because the humpback whales put on such a great display well into the evening hours. Wish now I'd brought along my video camera. Digital cameras are terrific, EXCEPT the delay doesn't work well with breeching whales!!
DAY 8 - Sitka
The former Russian Alaska capital, Sitka is the oldest non-Native settlement in Southeast Alaska. We have an early breakfast, because we arrive early in Sitka Harbor.
We take a small bus, along with Judy & Clay Powell, from Richmond, VA to the Sitka airport. We're slated to fly over the glaciers, but the weather is not cooperating. The owner-pilot, Hunter Horvath, is an impressive guy, and I hope some day we'll get a chance to reschedule with him. Since we have the time, I find an internet cafe where I can update the website. We prowl around Sitka a bit (pretty touristy this time of year), and then back to the boat. Patty even takes a brief nap (REALLY unusual for her), then lunch, and we're off cruising again, this time in the Olga, Neva, and Peril Straights.
A little commentary on the two rows immediately above: Karine gives a personal tour to Clay & Judy, Bill sports a great message on his sweatshirt, The Kiwis relax, Dick Thomas always on the prowl for a good shot, Suzie & Damien (Great Aussie pals!),dining room photos, and then my favorite, Rita just mesmerized by Patty's scintillating conversation!
Tonight is Casual Night (and/or "Crab Night"), and it seems like a great time to introduce (or reintroduce) the members of the crew of SOD!
Let's start with our Captain, Chris, and his "Exploration Team", Morgan & Karine!
Top row L-R: Capt. Chris, Chef Bob, Daryl, Jalene & Jessica, Mary,Daryl & Jessi Bottom row L-R: Mary, Steve, Jessi, Michael serving David (Great Kiwi!), and last - Michael with his best customer!
A Fun Evening!
DAY 9 - Glacier Bay National Park
Many of us who have been fascinated with Alaska, her history, and all she has to offer, have been moved by the writings of John Muir. In 1879, when the famed naturalist, Muir, visited Glacier Bay, the wall of ice that had stymied Captain George Vancouver in 1794, had recede nearly 40 miles, uncovering vast areas of previously unseen landscape that stirred his mind, and captured his heart and his imagination. These men were not the first to see Glacier Bay. It is believed that the Hoonah Tlingit were the first to inhabit the area, perhaps for thousands of years, and they still consider it to be their ancestral homeland.
- - - and speaking of homelands, let me introduce a few great folks from the SOD Guest list. L to R are the Minnesota contingent, Bill & Lu, and Jane & Roland, Tucson, Arizona's Kathleen & Charlie, Dick & Jan from Cardwell, Montana, Damien & Suzie from one of my favorite haunts - Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia, and Yolanda & Jacques of Montreal, Canada
Not a bad way to end the evening!
DAY 10 - Haines & Skagway
Today we make our way down Taiya Inlet to Haines, home to the mighty Chilkat band of Tlingit natives. Haines is considered a distribution center, and until 1978 was the only southeast port city with a highway to the interior. With a population of about 2000, Haines is a haven for creative folks! Drawn to the breathtaking beauty of the site overlooking Lynn Canal at the foot of the Chilkat Mountains, there is a sizeable community of artists, ranging from watercolorists to wood carvers. Haines is also credited as the birthplace of The Alaska Marine Highway System.
We took a little float trip with about 12 of our SOD Mates on a stretch of the Chilkat River. Not too productive in terms of wildlife today, although did see eagles in abundance (guess I'm getting too casual), a one ton eagle's nest, a wet Gray Fox, and assorted SOD wild folks!
Too bad we don't have a little more time to explore Haines, which is a quaint looking little town, but we still have Skagway to visit today, and that holds a good deal of interest for most of us. I guess for others as well, since it is COVERED with those cattle ships! (Sorry -- larger cruise ships! If you can't tell, some of us on SOD have become small cruise ship snobs!) Skagway is best known as the gateway to the now famous "Chilkoot Trail", or "The Golden Stairs". On foot, would-be prospectors ascended these daunting mountains on their way to the Yukon. Lots of wild stories about wilder people who came here to seek their Klondike fortunes, as well as not a few scoundrels who attempted to relieve any, all, and each other, of any "fortunes" made or held. The narrow gauge White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad afforded us some spectacular views of the country these hearty folks traversed, as well as another view or two of some of our SOD Rail Gang!
From L to R, I call these: Skagway Greeters; Bill's Skagway News Girl; OK -- Listen Up!; and, All Aboard the WP&YRR!
From L to R, I call these: 90 degrees, same train; Some trestle; Gorge; Gorge 2; The SOD Rail Gang; Have a hike!; Klondike view; Klondike view 2; Klondike view 3; Mervyn at work; More of the Gang; Suzanne & Bill, Rita & Robert; and Judy & Sleepy!
Tonight we had The Captain's Dinner, a fine affair. Very appropriately, Captain Chris had good words to say about each of his 19 staff members. It was clear that the entire assemblage of passengers shared in the very positive comments. This is a talented, dedicated, high energy crew of folks, and we felt that they added incredibly to the enjoyment of our cruise. With only 40 passengers, and 20 crew, we had a real opportunity to share experiences --- and we did. Patty and I are hopeful that our paths will cross again, not only with the passengers, but with crew members as well. We love to share the Savannah (and Skidaway Island) experience!
BUT - we had one other experience to enjoy before we headed to our staterooms to pack, and get our last night's sleep aboard "Discovery". Karine & Morgan assembled us all in the lounge for a great photo/slide recap of our time together. A REALLY great presentation, with some terrific shots, many taken by our Captain, and his powerful lens! That's not all! Karine then introduced Mervyn, our Kreative Kiwi videographer. We were soon to learn that his creativity goes well beyond the lens, and goes easily to the pen. The ballad below was sung by Mervyn, with all of us joining in on the chorus! It was a highlight that will always be remembered when we reflect on our SOD cruise!
OOPS! Sorry, --- struggling with the printed pages of the ballad. Seems you have to click it once, then click on the page once again -- which takes it to regular size. A little work, but you'll get the idea. A dynamite wrap-up to the entire trip, thanks to the talents of Mervyn! (Don't forget to hit the "back arrow" instead of the "X" to stay on the website, after viewing any of the "thumbnail" pictures, or the two pages of Mervyn's Ballad.)
DAY 11 - Juneau (Alaska's State Capitol)
We bid all our new pals goodbye, and head off to explore Juneau. We're here for a couple of days, and as it turns out, we run in to a number of our SOD friends as we move about this relatively small coastal city (population 31,200, making it Alaska's 3rd largest city). The Tram is identified as one of the "must do" activities, and so we take it. OK -- and does give a pretty good view of Juneau, and the Chilkat Mountain Range.
Note to Spirit of Discovery gang -- sorry it's taken so long to get these pictures posted. Thanks for a great trip, with such great folks!
Did manage to get together with Suzie and Damien, and Dorothy and Mervyn for dinner Sunday night in Juneau, and you'll be pleased to hear that Mervyn behaved very well!!! Don't forget to double click on the small pictures to get full shot, and then hit the back arrow to go back to the web page. Cheers! Bill