We are on board the M.V. Columbia for a 61 hour journey to Juneau, the only mainland US capital you can't reach by road. The Alaska Marine Highway is a system of inter-connecting car and passenger ferries which run from Bellingham, just north of Seattle, to Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands on the far south-western tip of the state.
We are among the lucky few who have a cabin. More than half the six hundred passengers came equipped with blankets, sleeping bags and pillows ready to bunk down wherever they can. The well-organised have brought tents and transformed the open-air decks into makeshift campgrounds. Instead of tent pegs, canvas is secured to the deck with duct tape - industrial strength and lots of it.
|Notice the duct tape|
The sky is blue and the sea is calm, but even so the forward motion of the vessel creates a mini gale seeking out any loose flaps it can find and reminding the campers of the precariousness of their position. During the night many lose their battle against the forces of nature. There are less tents in the morning.
David and I speak briefly to one of the campers just as the ferry is pulling out of Bellingham. With the confidence of a young man he is looking forward to the night's adventure. In the morning he is gone. With our first port of call still many hours away I can only guess that he sought shelter in one of the interior lounges.
There is a solarium at the back of the ship, open to the elements on one side. Furnished with sun-lounges typical of those you might see at a hotel swimming pool it has several rows of heat lamps as well as a perspex roof and sides to capture the sun's warmth. Sleeping bags convert the lounges into beds where many of the cabin-less and tent-less spend the nights. Families have staked out spaces with blow-up air mattresses, eskies and assorted holiday gear announcing to the world that, for the duration of the voyage at least, this is their own small piece of the planet.
|Many of those without cabins or tents bed-down in the Solarium|
Our cabin is basic but comfortable. We have warm bunks and a window. Compared to our fellow passengers we consider ourselves fortunate indeed. Tomorrow we arrive in Ketchikan for a five hour stop-over but today, the first full day of our voyage, we sail all day.
|Among the few who have a cabin, we consider ourselves fortunate.|
Our world consists of water - the water of North America's Inside Passage. It is broken only by uninhabited islands and the spruce pine covered, sparsely populated Canadian coastline. After a few hours, life aboard the vessel develops a slow rhythm. Relaxing in the forward lounge we watch for wildlife. We hope to see whales or at the very least dolphins. Some of the other passengers say they saw killer whales this morning. In the early afternoon my efforts are rewarded with a brief glimpse of an ebony body curving out of the water before sliding back under. There are a few whale spouts and it is gone. I learn to spot bald eagles in the trees.
"Look for their white heads", I am told.
There are so many I become quite blase after a while.
|Sailing the Inside Passage.|
The best excitement of the day is provided by the crew doing an anchor drill. Once a month or so the ship's anchor is lowered to ensure the mechanism still works. The ship stops and the Captain's voice comes across the public address system warning us not to be alarmed.
"There will be a violent shudder as the anchor drops", he says.
To an audience of passengers watching from the forward observation lounge the anchor is let free. We wait for the inevitable crash. Nothing happens. The anchor chain is stuck. First one, then a second crewman swings at the chain with a gigantic sledge hammer. On the third or fourth blow the chain flies free unravelling so fast that clouds of rusty corrosion rise up and envelope the crewmen. Then we hear the crash - a deep boom which reverberates through the ship.
|Check out the sledge hammer.|
The entertainment is soon over and the crew disperse. I go back to watching for whales.
For the next post in this series click - here
For all my posts on our Alaska Marine Highway and Alaska Highway road trip click - here
20 June 2015