I am so ready for some variety, even Ketchikan comes as a welcome relief. An influx of cruise ships has transformed the village into a faux-early Alaskan frontier town but at least it provides a break from the spruce trees. As the first port of call in Alaska, cruise ships heading north have designated Ketchikan a 'must see' attraction. Consequently we share the town with five humongous floating cities.
|This house with totem poles out the front was one of the very few structures to break the monotony of the shoreline.|
Ketchikan has a permanent population of 9,000 people. Each cruise ship carries several thousand passengers. Think about it - on any given day tourists can outnumber the locals by almost two to one. Little wonder the town feels like Disneyland on steroids. Even so, we have five wonderful hours there. The ferry docks a couple of miles from the town centre. After thirteen hours flying from Sydney, a three and a half hour lay-over at L.A. airport, another three hour flight to Seattle followed by thirty-seven hours on the ferry we feel like we have been in transit for weeks.
|A cruise ship at Ketchikan|
It is 7 am and we are among the first to disembark. We briefly consider taking the bus to town then opt to walk. We practically sprint we are so happy to stretch our legs. I have a list of 'must see' sights including Creek St and the totem poles at Saxman Native Village. The village turns out to be several miles out of town but Creek St is a lot of fun. The shop fronts are restored to look like they did in the early days. Behind the facades, jewelry and trinket shops feed the tourists' insatiable thirst for souvenirs. I am far from immune. Soon enough I am the proud owner of a pair of cheap but colourful earrings. The salesman says they are Swarovsky Crystal. I'm pretty sure they are glass. Briefly I possess a matching pendant but it is lost within hours. It may have fallen from my handbag when I pulled out my camera. If you read this and find it - it is yours.
|Fishing boats in Ketchikan Harbour|
We have two more stops before Juneau, where we will disembark. Both Wrangell and Petersburgh are tiny and unaffected by the cruise ships. The behemoths are too big to navigate the Wrangell Narrows and must sail this section of the Inside Passage in deeper waters. The Narrows are a highlight of our voyage. The ferry requires five feet of water below the keel. Consequently we can navigate the Narrows only in the few hours either side of high tide. We are warned when we dock, briefly, at Wrangell not to stray too far from the ship. The Captain cannot risk missing the tide and will wait for no-one. David and I elect to stay on board.
Don, the ferry's spokesman, and source of all information aboard tells us about the boy scouts who sell garnets from a stall in the car park at Wrangell across from the dock. Sure enough as the ferry ties up a group of boys can be seen setting up a tressle table just where Don has indicated.
"They were granted the concession of a gem mine by a former mayor of Wrangell", Don continues. "I know nothing about the quality but do your negotiating quickly. The price goes up as our departure time gets closer."
|Creek Street Ketchikan|
The ferry plots a course through the Narrows as if playing a game of nautical ping pong. The navigation markers are numbered and the Captain knows just how many degrees he must turn the ship as each marker lines up with a pole on our bow, He has a special certification just for this hour and a half stretch of water. As he negotiates the vessel from one marker to the next Don gives us a running commentary. The only safe time to enter the narrows is just as the tide begins to run against us. If we leave Wrangell late and the tide turns it will push the ferry too fast to navigate the channel. Two crewmen are positioned on the bow. No doubt they are providing a last line of warning against unexpected obstacles and shallow waters.
|Coming in to Wrangell|
|Channel markers in the Wrangell Narrows.|
After an hour and a half we are through and pulling into the port of Petersburg. The ferry docks too far from the town centre to make sightseeing worthwhile in the forty-five minutes we are allowed ashore. Early tomorrow morning we will arrive at our destination of Juneau, the Capital of Alaska. The ferry will continue without us on to Haines and Skagway before returning south.
|Coming in to Petersburg|
For all my posts on our Alaska Marine Highway and Alaska & Canada road trip click - here
For more photos of Wrangell, Petersburg and the Wrangell Narrows click - here
2 July 2015