It is 5 a.m. The car ferry from Juneau to Sitka departs at 6.30 a.m. Our tickets say we should arrive two hours before the departure time. With the ferry terminal ten minutes by car from our hotel, we were up at 4 a.m.
Yesterday we called in at the wharf to check whether, in such a small place, it was really necessary to arrive two hours before the ferry left. The friendly, round-faced fellow behind the office counter was unequivocal - nothing less than two hours would do.
"We have three ferries leaving tomorrow morning. There'll be hundreds of cars. It will take at least two hours to load them." he said.
Then, as if to emphasise his point, he reached into his pocket, took out a green marker and highlighted the words "Arrive by 4.30 a.m." on our tickets.
We have now been sitting in a queue for forty minutes. Other than checking in at the ticket office, nothing has happened. Absolutely nothing! Apart from a few other tired-looking passengers, no-one else is about.
|The car ferry to Sitka|
We arrived in Juneau from Bellingham, near Seattle, a few days ago. In Bellingham we were required to check-in three hours before the Alaska Marine Highway ferry's departure time. Frustrating as that was, at least it was in the middle of the afternoon. Moreover, there did seem some point to it. The ferry stopped at six different destinations and had two vehicle decks with an elevator which could handle only one car at a time. Cars, trucks, RV's and motor cycles all had to be loaded according to the constraints of size, weight and destination. Even so the first hour after our arrival was spent waiting in line for something, anything, to happen. (For my blog post on our near catastrophe boarding the Bellingham ferry - click here.)
Fast forward one week and we are re-living the nightmare. We sit, we wait and nothing happens. Just in case you missed it - it is the middle of the night. A few RV's and pick-ups, some pulling boats, are lined up beside us. No-one is stirring in them. It is as if they have been here all night, with the drivers asleep in their vehicles. There are only a couple of other cars. The locals are still in bed. So too it seems is the ferry crew.
|It's just us and a few others. We are the silver car behind the red pick-up. Don't let the apparent daylight fool you. At this time of year it barely gets dark.|
At 5.10 a.m a woman with a cheerful smile which bellies the early hour asks for our tickets and ID's. I hand over our passports.
"Just the two of you?" she says, "Carrying any dangerous materials?" she hesitates then adds "Or firearms?" as if guns don't fall into the category of dangerous items.
She looks at our passports. "All the way from Australia, huh. Wow, you've come a long way. Just stay here it will be a while yet."
I smile, but inside my head I'm screaming "We could still be in bed!"
|The locals all know the system and finally start turning up about 45 minutes before the ferry is due to depart.|
David doesn't do early mornings and he abhors this sort of pointless queuing. Combine the two and he gets very grumpy indeed. We have two more ferries to catch before we connect up with the mainland road system at Haines. After this morning, there is not a way in the world I will get him to arrive on time for either of them.
|The ferry is quite nice once we finally get on board.|
At 5.35 a.m. we hear a vehicle engine start. A truck towing a large RV pulls out of its lane and drives toward the ferry. Fifteen minutes later the lane next to us begins to move and by three minutes to six we have boarded the ferry, parked our car and found a couple of seats upstairs in the forward lounge. It starts to rain, D disappears in search of coffee and I fall asleep in my chair.
The Alaska Marine Highway is run by the Alaskan State Government. We are told that a private operator intends to introduce a rival service next year. All they have to do is promise not to require passengers to sit in their cars for hours on end, to no apparent purpose on cold, wet mornings and I am confident the rival service will be a great success.
|Sitka at last.|
For my other posts on The Alaska Marine Highway and our U.S/ Canada road trip click - here
24 July 2015