Taking it slow on Alaska's Marine Highway System
05/04/2010 45 °F
For me there is always a sense of excitement while waiting to board a ferry on the Alaskan Marine Highway system. I look forward to the novelty of taking a long ride on a sizeable vessel. It invokes the adventurous side in me, romantic visions of sailing the high seas. I’ve made three trips so far. All of them have been traveling between Prince Rupert, British Columbia and Sitka, Alaska. This particular trip usually takes about a day and a half on the ferries I’ve been on (the Taku and Matanuska). If you are fortunate enough to get on the “Fairweather,” the trip will take a lot less time. The Fairweather is a catamaran styled vessel and flies through the water. It’s cool to see this ferry at full speed traveling through the narrow straits of Alaska’s Inside Passage.
Boarding my van involves a lot of patient waiting in organized lines being supervised by competent deckhand and cargo handlers of the shipping line. Just follow the hand signals and park, set your brake and you are done. I usually get a cabin. The cabin are bare bones accommodations; small, compact, but comfortable enough. They come with compact full bathroom, with shower, sink, and commode. In the roughly 8 by 8 foot room, there are two table chairs, two bunk beds and a small nook for your luggage. I don’t have a problem spending the money on a cabin. Between two people, spending two nights on the ferry it comes to about 30 dollars a day. Very reasonable in my mind.
I usually bring a lot of stuff onto the ferry, because I know I’m going to have a lot of slow time to enjoy. On the last trip, I brought: A laptop, mp3 player, 3 books, binoculars, sketch pad, journal, camera, GPS. This was just for entertainment purposes. Beyond that, I have clean clothes to change into. A good pair of comfortable sweats are important, as there is no reason to dress up on the boat, and you might as well be comfortable. Pajama days are common for me. I also have a windbreaker, chook, and gloves in case I want to go outside for longer periods of time. I like bringing a lot of my own food and drink on board. There is a full galley with breakfast, lunch and dinner, but I like my own options. The boat has 2 buckets of ice for 25 cents, so I can keep food cold in the bathroom sink.
After settling in my cabin, there isn’t much to do except start killing time. Fortunately, I like chilling out. It’s relaxing being on the boat, you know you don’t have any obligations for 2 days, so I take it real easy. My days go something like this. I get up when I wake up, no need for an alarm. I’ll go get a cup of coffee from the galley, I bring my own coffee cup aboard. I’ll wander to the stern of the ship and go outside, breathing the fresh, cold north Pacific air and sipping strong, hot sailor coffee. YEAH! I love that black liquid gold! I’ll head in to my cabin and have a light breakfast. Than I’ll settle in to the days activities.
The days activities include a lot of gazing out at the rugged coastline of Alaska and British Columbia. There are myriad islands around. Every piece of land you see between PR and Sitka is an island. The islands are thickly forested, usually with Sitka Spruce. Sometimes there are open grassy areas, and they usually have a small, rocky shoreline. I like using my binoculars to look for any sort of wildlife that might be living on the islands or in the ocean. I’ve seen Humpback whales, sea lions, porpoises, deer, birds of all kinds, sea otters, and one mountain man.
Along with landscape gazing my onboard activities revolve around all my distractions. I’m a voracious reader, so it’s easy get immersed into my literature. It’s a good time to catch up on my journal if I’m behind. When traveling, I like to keep a daily journal. I’m pretty good at keeping up with it, but sometimes I need to do a good session to catch up. A laptop is invaluable. Games, writing, movies, music, picture editing, are great ways to get through a long voyage, and I spend a lot of time doing all of them. I like going outside to get some fresh air. I take pictures if I like the conditions. It’s nice to take a nap or two. Snacking and meals are taken whenever the urge occurs.
I love Islands.
The ferry makes regular stops along the way at the small coastal towns located on the islands of the Inside Passage. The time at each port varies, most stops are about an hour. At bigger ports, like Ketchikan and Juneau, a stop of five to nine hours can happen. On the last trip, we stopped at Ketch for about 10 hours, so I got off the ferry to stretch my legs, check out the town and eat a good meal at a restaurant. It was a nice break.
Taking the ferry has a lot of slow time to it, but it’s good time as well. I like taking the ferry, and I’m looking forward to my next voyage.