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Live from Cruise West Spririt of Columbia Gold Rush Cruise
I am in Juneau preparing to embark on an Alaska Goldrush Cruise on the Spirit of Columbia. This is part of an extended trip which started with crossing Canada by train from Baltimore to Prince Rupert BC. I continued to Juneau on the Alaska Marine Highway with intermediate stops in Wrangell and Haines. On disembarkation in Seattle I will conclude the trip with a return home on Amtrak. I am detailing my journey on Cruise Critic's sister site at:
Day 14 - Wednesday, September 1 - MV Malaspina to Juneau
I left the B&B about 7:45 for the ferry dock, about 5 miles from town. The Malaspina was approaching as we arrived and docked about 8:15. The Malaspina was the first vessel specifically built for the system, one of a group of 3 delivered about 1963. It, the Matanuska, and the Taku started out as triplets, but have become somewhat different in subsequent modernization. It and the Matanuska were lengthened by 56 feet in the 70's
but the layout of the rooms and especially the cabins are somewhat different. The ships in this class each have a “promenade” deck at 8 laps per mile. The Malaspina went up and down the inside passage to Prince Rupert and Bellingham for nearly 40 years but was retired from that service in 1998 when the new Kennicott was introduced and now does a daily round trip from Juneau to Skagway in the summer. I was on board getting settled about 8:30 for our 9:00 departure.
This is my shortest run ever on the system, just 4 ½ hours to Juneau, mostly down the Scenic Lynn Canal. There are cabins on the ship but there is really no need for them on such a short voyage. Our forest service naturalist did give 2 talks, one on glaciers and the other on Juneau. We had pretty good luck with whales shortly after noon, catching a brief glimpse of a humpback less than 100 feet from the bow and getting sightings of several more a couple hundred yards away. As we approached Juneau a steady rain had started to fall.
The stopping point for Juneau is not very convenient for foot passengers. It is about 14 miles north of Juneau and about 2 miles from the city bus. There has been a shuttle into town but that has been discontinued. There is still a meeting point for shared taxis. When I looked while stopping on the way to Haines it had been deserted but the trick is apparently to get there early. I managed to board a taxi with 3 other people about 1:40 and arrived at my hotel at 2. My share of the fare was a reasonable $11.
My stay in Juneau is at the Goldbelt Hotel, Cruise West's headquarters in the city. They have a hospitality desk at the hotel and their dock is directly across the street. The Spirit of Columbia is docked there and 5 other ships, the Spirit of Endeavor, Sapphire Princess, Coral Princess, Oosterdam, and Ryndam. The rain did stop and I did get some time to walk around Juneau.
As today's parting shot, I'll try to comment a bit on the Alaska Marine Highway. It is definitely not luxury, but offers an opportunity to visit places not accessible any other way and an opportunity to encounter real Alaska people. I find myself being drawn back time and again.
The weather was not very cooperative for my day in Juneau and I spent much of the day inside. Except for 3 or 4 hours in the morning there was a steady rain and low lying fog. The things I had most wanted to do, Mendenhall Glacier and the tramway, were particularly unattractive. I did take an afternoon walk and do a bit of shopping, and caught up on some computer work but not much else. I am free Friday until 3PM and will try to get in a bit of activity before embarkation. Cruise West is offering a tour to Mendenhall Glacier; I may go that way or more likely do it on my own.
As todays parting shot I'll mention (no surprise) that I really prefer smaller ships. As I have walked past the mainstream cruise ships and found them imposing and unattractive. Among the smaller ships I have passed were the Ryndam and Statendam and even those impressed me as “just too big”. This is largely a matter of perception as I have enjoyed my stays on larger ships and these are small by todays standards at about 1250 people. Still, I recently made a choice for a cruise to far north Europe and my final choice was between the Ryndam and the 800-passenger Princendam. Walking by the Ryndam, I felt very thrilled I had chosen the Princendam.
I'm on the Spirit of Columbia and have arrived in Skagway but the town's wifi is not working so I can't copy and paste from my wordprocessor but will post more when possible (At Least Monday). Got an upgrade to a top deck cabin.
Day 16 - Friday, September 3 - Board Spirit of Columbia
The weather was considerably nicer than yesterday. There were several companies that run shuttles to Mendenhall Glacier. I booked with Juneau tours (the white bus). Of the companies I saw they were the busiest and the least organized. The ride to the glacier is about 20 minutes. Once there I walked the Nugget Falls trail. While the glacier came close to the visitor center in 1950, it has receded and is now about ¾ mile away. The trail ends at a waterfall with the glacier face about 200 yards to the other side of the falls. The glacier ends in a lake; it has recently been calving into Mendenhall Lake although it did not do so while I was there. I spent about 1 ½ hours at the glacier and then went back to the bus stop. My shuttle was about 20 minutes late and left about 10 people behind when it filled up, but I was not one of those left behind. The state capitol is about 3 blocks up the hill in a building opened in the 1930's as the territorial legislature and transferred to the state in 1959. It is a pretty plain building with the chambers on the second floor and about 3 floors of offices above. There were tours offered but when I showed up I was reminded there was a noon organ concert in the nearby State Office Building. The organ dates to a 1920's theater and was rescued when the theater closed and installed next to the state library in the buildings lobby. I found it notable that neither the capitol nor the office building had metal detectors or other intrusive security; I was able to just walk into both buildings. After the concert I returned to the capitol. There were supposedly tours offered but the clerk didn't know when they would be so a few of us just walked around the building, and I took a look at both the House and Senate chambers.
We assembled in the Goldbelt Hotel lobby at 3:30 and boarded buses for a short tour, crossing the Gastineau channel to Douglas and about an hour presentation of Tlingit song and storytelling. After the performance we went to the ship.
The Spirit of Columbia was built in 1979 as the New Shoreham II for American Canadian Caribbean Lines and sold to Cruise West in the 1990's. In it's former life it cruised New York's Erie Canal and was built to navigate waterways with less than 20 foot clearance. There has been extensive modification of the ship since that time but it still retains much of the ACCL character. There are now 4 decks. The lowest extends below the waterline and has a few cabins with no windows but is also largely crew and mechanical space. The second deck has a lounge in front and the dining room and galley in the back with 4 cabins in between. There is a door at the front of the lounge leading to a bow ramp so the ship can pull head in to a beach and the ramp extended to shore. I don't believe we will be using the bow ramp on this cruise. The 3rd deck is all cabins with a narrow passageway around the ship which can serve as a promenade deck in a pinch. The top deck is where the ship has really changed. The pilot house could originally be lowered to the deck below to pass under the Erie Canal's low bridges. It is now a permanent structure and elevated about 4 feet above the sun deck. Several cabins have been built behind the pilot house covering about the front half of the sun deck with an open area at the back of the ship. The ship is SMALL, with a length of 148 feet and beam 28 feet compared to 183x40 for Blount's latest ships.
I was originally booked in one of the “dungeon” cabins on the lowest deck but as I board the Hotel Manager tells me I have been upgraded to the Multnomah suite up on the Sun Deck. The room is about 9 x 13 feet and has a large vanity, a combined toilet/shower and a very nice window. After boarding we have orientations on safety from the Captain and daily life from the Hotel Manager, and then some free time as we pull away from the pier. Dinner today is a single seating at 7PM, and we learn there will be single seatings for lunch and dinner, and at least for tomorrow there will be a 6-9AM continental breakfast in the lounge and hot breakfast 6:30-7:30 with the White Pass railway tour leaving at 7:30. After dinner we had an orientation talk from our Expedition Leader (close in function to a Cruise Director) and were done for the day.
My parting shot today will go back to the Mendenhall Glacier. It was astounding to walk out of the visitor center and look at the distant glacier with the knowledge that it had extended to where I stood in my lifetime. It is debatable how much of the change is due to the actions of man but the glacier was very visible evidence of how our world is changing.
We arrived in Skagway about 6:30am, docking by the ferry terminal. A bus pulled up to the gangway at 7:30 for our short drive to the train station. The White Pass and Yukon Railroad was built in 1899 to carry miners and gold to the Yukon. While the Gold Rush was short lived, the railroad was busy into the 60's both in freight and passenger business to Whitehorse. It was the primary supply line when the Alaska Highway was built during WWII. It also pioneered the container concept that is so prevalent in today's shipping but the railroad hit hard times and went out of business in 1982 before being revived for tourists in 1988
From Skagway we climb 2865 feet to White Pass Summit on the Canadian border and continue another 7 miles to Fraiser where our bus returns us to Skagway over the highway. Since the 24 of us have our own car we can all sit on the left hand side to see the spectacular views of the valley below as we follow the Skagway river and the trail used by thousands of prospectors. We make several scenic stops on the highway and are back to town a bit before noon. After lunch we have a couple of hours to explore Skagway on our own and we head out the Lynn Canal a little before 4 past waterfalls, majestic mountains, and glaciers. My search for internet in Skagway was frustrating. There were 2 internet cafes, one did not have wifi and the other had wifi but it wasn't working. When I logged onto one of their computers it appeared to have a virus and kept telling me the sites I wanted to visit were dangerous and not letting me enter without buying a “Windows defender” package. The next computer worked but by that time I was almost out of time. A very unproductive session.
As today's parting shot, the WP&Y RR was built for a very specific purpose, getting goods to and from the Yukon Gold Rush. That purpose was relevant for less than 2 years, but the railroad has managed to reinvent itself several times and is a wonderful resource 110 years later. Change is inevitable, but if we work with it rather than simply resist it we can thrive.
Glacier bay was seriously affected by a recent mini ice age. In the 1600's a native village near the present Gustavus was covered by a glacier and the settlement was forced to relocate to a nearby island. By 1750 the glacier started to recede and has pushed back 60 miles in the last 260 years.
We awoke to rain. As we headed up into glacier bay we observed a large number of Stellar Sea Lions on South Marble Island. Dave, our ranger, and Tlingit cultural interpreter made presentations in the lounge. Gloomy Point really lived up to it's name this morning; it is one of the few places where mountain goats can be seen at sea level. We reached Margerie Glacier just after lunch and observed it for about half an hour. While the vast majority of Alaska Glaciers are receding Margerie is currently holding it's own, The ones that are holding steady all are fed by snow fields at high elevation and receive enough snowfall to offset the ice that falls off the front. We stayed about 200 yards from the glacier for about half an hour. The views were spectacular but the half hour was plenty as a drizzle was still falling. Ranger Dave gave an afternoon talk on bears. I had always thought of bears as great consumers of salmon. I was surprised to learn that it was a two way relationship; the waste the bears leave behind is crucial to the nutrients which provide a diet for the salmon.
I have visited 2 glaciers the last 3 days, Mendenhall in Juneau and Margerie in Glacier Bay. This should have been the most spectacular but I really enjoyed the Mendenhall more. As my parting shot today it is amazing how much being warm, dry, and comfortable can add to a spectacular experience.
There will be no internet Tuesday in Tracy arm but I do hope to post Monday from Petersburg.
(Posted Labor Day courtesy McDonalds of Sitka)
Last edited by rafinmd; September 6th, 2010 at 07:59 PM.
Sitka was first settled in 18904 by the Russians and was the capitol of Russian America. The original explorers were looking for the Northwest Passage but the colony was greatly valued for the fur resources. After Juneau, it is Southeast Alaska's second largest city. it sits on an island close to the open ocean, but in the midst of many small islands that provide a narrow, sheltered passage for ships. The harbor is small and large cruise ships (there were none today) must tender in. The chief industries are health care, education, government, and tourism. We threaded our way all morning through the narrow, twisting channel leading to town (with about a 20-minute exposure to the open Pacific) and docked about lunch time.
I was on the basic included tour which left after lunch and toured the National Park visitor center. There were a number of totems at the center. Our guide pointed out something I had never noticed before. The totems are not really a single piece. They basically have a c-shaped face, and wrap around a plain pole which sits in the ground. When the pole in the ground rots, the carved portion can be dismounted and remounted on a fresh pole so the intricate art work is not lost. We walked on a portion of a loop trail at the visitor center, stopping at a stream where salmon were spawning. The clear stream was loaded with fish, probably about 1 per square yard. The salmon have a 2-year life cycle, returning to the place of their birth to spawn and die. The rotting remains of the first generation provides the nutrients which start the next generation off. The Historic Site also includes the location where the sale of Alaska to the United States was completed. After this tour, a number of people embarked on additional tours by kayak, bike, or a historic walk while I explored the town independently. The main attraction in town is St. Michael's Cathedral (Orthodox) which sits in the center of town but unfortunately, like much of the town, was closed for Labor Day. The Bishop's house is I did do a bit shopping and walked to McDonalds on the edge of town and caught up on my email.
Sitka lies mostly on Baranof Island but extends to Japonski Island. In the afternoon I walked the bridge over to Japonski, about a mile from the ship. Japonski is the home of the University of Alaska Sitka and the airport.
After dinner expedition leader Kate gave a talk on whales. In the next few days the whales we are mostly humpbacks, among the largest of the baleen whales,.
Today's parting shot: I walked past the spot where our purchase of Alaska was consummated. At the time it was called Seward's icebox and Seward's folly. It is hard to imagine how deeply our perception has changed over the years. Time is a source of great perspective.
Today's “Adventure Update” indicated wakeup would be at 7am, but expedition leader Kate woke us at 5:30 to tell us there were whales outside. When we got out there were several beautiful humpbacks and every time one surfaced about 3 more would take it's place. We stayed there 2 hours and the views kept getting better. In all, a member of the crew estimated 74 whales total, and that did not seem at all unreasonable. They were visible in every direction, forward, aft, and to both sides, usually at least a half dozen in each direction simultaneously. It was by far the greatest concentration of whales I have ever seen, from a half mile or so out to sometimes 25 feet from the ship (and the main deck is only 10 feet above the water. Often we could look out and see 7 or 8 spouts in a line. I took my walk on the promenade deck at 7 and could not have avoided the whales if I wanted. I didn't need to stop for one, as soon as I turned the corner another came into sight. We finally went down for breakfast at 7:30 but there were still numerous views of whales out the dining room windows. The crew was expecting whales at about this location but had never before experienced this quality and quantity before.
Heading into Tracy Arm we passed Sumdum glacier, so named because it was the way the natives interpreted the sound of the calving glacier--Sumdum, Sumdum. On our ap The 10-hour sail up Tracy Arm, a deep, narrow fjord, was scenic and at the end we arrived at South Sawyer Glacier. Near the end we saw quite a few icebergs, including several with seals floating along for the ride. We approached about a half mile from the face of the glacier. Kate told us that glaciers have a “tongue” extending under water, and that large pieces of ice can break free and rise to the surface, posing a danger if a ship gets too close. The glacier was not very active but we did see one good sized chunk of ice calve off. The day was not quite sunny but it was warmish and dry, overall a much more pleasant glacier watching experience than in Glacier Bay. As dinner started we began our journey back out Tracy Arm. In the evening we had a DVD in the lounge, Syd Wright's Alaska. Syd was a former teacher who moved to Alaska, was “adopted” by Tlingit in Hoonah, became a commercial fisherman, and shared his experiences as a fisherman and the story of John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt's parts in the creation of the National Park System.
Today's parting shot: Today was among the best of the whale viewing experiences I have had. Others have been in /Antarctica and the St. Lawrence by the mouth of the Saguenay River. Each of these has been a once in a lifetime experience, with other visits to the same area not producing nearly the same result, and all have been better experiences than any planned “whalewatch” trips. We must remember that wildlife is unpredictable, and we must accept these experiences as a gift and not an entitlement.
Note: I don't expect to have internet access tomorrow in Metlakatla or on the inside passage so my next post will be Sunday or Monday.
enjoying your posting!
This is the way to see Alaska!
__________________ "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts." Mark Twain
Carnival Fascination (3 day Bahama cruise) 2001
MV Columbia (7 day back to back Alaskan inside passage cruise) 2002
Oosterdam (7 day Western Caribbean cruise) 2004
Westerdam (7 day Western Caribbean cruise) 2005
Carnival Miracle (7 day Western Caribbean cruise) 2006
Maasdam (10 day Southern Caribbean cruise) 2007
Maasdam (14 day Southern Caribbean cruise) 2008
Carnival Fantasy (7 day Key West and Bahamas cruise) 2009
Carnival Triumph (5 day Western Caribbean cruise) April 2010
Maasdam (11 day Southern Caribbean cruise) December 2010
Carnival Dream (7 day Western Caribbean) September 2011
Peru! Lima to Machu Picchu April 2012!
Carnival Elation (5 day Western Caribbean cruise) June 2013
Out of curiosity - are they talking anything about Cruise West's restructuring situation and if the company has been sold?
The topic really hasn't been discussed. A brief word about it surfaced at the dance show in Petersburg but the best impression I can give is that everyone is doing their best to stay upbeat and give the kind of service their customers expect.
Petersburg was founded in 1897 by Peter Buschmann, a Norwegian Fisherman. He arrived quite by accident, but found a combination of a good natural harbor, excellent fishing, and a ready supply of ice for storing and shipping fish from the nearby LeConte Glacier. He encouraged many of his friends from Norway to come over, and today Petersburg is known as “Alaska's Little Norway”. While good, the harbor is very small and large cruise ships are unable to come here.
We were due in Petersburg at noon, but actually entered the harbor about 9AM. Our dock was not yet ready for us and we had to arrange dockage but were tied up and had the gangway up around 10:30. Somehow, out tours had also been adjusted, from 12:30 to 2PM, and we had to leave at 4:30, so all our free time was before the tours. I did a bit of shopping, found internet at the library, and took a walk along the shore.
The ship's included tour was a Norwegian dance program put on by local children at the Sons of Norway Hall. The eight children (5th to 8th grade) performed a set of 4 very different dances. Unlike many shows of this type, this one was brief and did not continue past the point where we were ready for more. Norwegian goodies were also served before the performance. Afterwards, I embarked on the “dock walk” starting with a brief tour of a fish processing plant and continuing with an hour's stroll along the docks learning about the various types of fishing operations. Most of the boats will seasonally employ 2 or 3 methods of fishing (long line, trawling, seine, gill net, etc) but each boat is best adapted to one of these methods. We also briefly discussed the competition between commercial, sport (charter), and subsistence fishing interests. At the present time commercial fishing is heavily regulated with restrictions on sport fishing to come, but subsistence fishing seems to be a bit of a sacred cow.
We made out way out of Petersburg through the Wrangell Narrows. This winding passage between Mitkof and Kupreanof Islands is sometimes less than 100 yards wide and open only to very small ships, but is no challenge to the really tiny Spirit of Columbia.
As today's parting shot, I would never have expected to visit Alaska to learn about Norwegian culture. Life is full of surprises.
Ketchikan is one of the most popular cruise ports in Alaska. We passed by Ketchikan about 6:30am and continued another dozen or so miles South to Metlakatla. At breakfast on the approach to Metlakatla we could see Humpback whales spouting outside the dining room window, perhaps half a mile from the ship. This community on Annette Island is the only Indian Reservation in Alaska. The town of Metlakatla was founded by an Anglican missionary, William Duncan. The story as we heard it is that the Anglican Church in British Columbia had been very repressive to the culture of the natives and had forced them to give up their language and culture. Father Duncan, dismayed at this attitude took his followers out of Canada (from the village of Metlakatla, BC) and set up on his own outside his church's jurisdiction. The native culture is Tsimshian and the matriarchal society is composed of 4 clans, Eagle, Raven, Wolf, and Killer Whale. The settlement at Metlakatla is a combination of the 4 clans. Some people occasionally can be “adopted” into a clan. There is also a pseudo-clan of outsiders, the butterfly, composed primarily of people like Doctors who spend some time in the society but do not become a permanent part of the culture.
We were taken to the Long House. Long houses were built facing the water and had the symbols of the clans represented on the side facing the water. We were given a performance of native song and dance by the “Fourth Generation Dancers”, a group which started out as adult dancers but now includes members from 18 months through adulthood. After the performance we went next door to the craft shop, passing through a group of tables used for celebration and potlatch. The potlatch tradition seems to have changed somewhat. The traditional potlatch was a celebration where the hosts provided lavish gifts for the guests, but there is now a ticket booth.
After touring the island for 2 hours we have embarked on a nonstop 2 ½ day cruise on the inland passage to Washington with our next stop in Friday Harbor on Sunday. The 2 forward windows of the lounge have been given a protective cover as we have a possibility of seas up to 6 feet. Waves of that height could prove interesting as the promenade deck is only about 10 feet above the water and many of the cabins open onto that deck. The Captain spoke at lunch and advised us we must keep going as our schedule will not allow us to sit out a storm unless necessary for safety. Our route is a bit longer than I expected as we returned around the North End of Annette Island, rather than proceeding directly South (presumably to avoid open water). As we rounded the North end of the island, around 1PM the Rotterdam came by on it's way out of Ketchikan.
Dinner was moved up to 5:30 to get seated before the rough seas. There was a significant roll but not enough to be a problem. While there have been evening lectures in the lounge on wildlife and out ports, up to now there has been no “entertainment”. This evening we had a session of “meet the crew”, based on the 50's TV game show “To Tell the Truth”. Panels of 3 crew members stepped forward to tell of events in their lives, 2 of the stories were fictitious, while 1 was true. The true stories were meeting Evil Knievel, getting run over by stampeding kangaroos, and working as a bison herder. Soon after the session we entered Canadian waters (and moved our clocks forward an hour) and towards midnight came into the shelter of the Queen Charlotte Islands.
Metlakatla today is a relatively isolated community, although not as isolated as many Alaska villages. In addition to float plane service, there is twice-daily ferry service to Ketchikan 5 days a week. By taking the morning ferry to Ketchikan one can shop for an hour or for 7 hours. As we were returning to the ship our guide pointed out a road under construction which will come close to the road to Ketchikan, allowing a short ferry shuttle between the islands. They are hoping to attract tourists from the big ships once the easy connection to Ketchikan becomes possible, and there is a casino in the village. The people are also working hard to strengthen their native heritage. I hope these two goals are not in an irreconcilable conflict.
Day 23 - Friday, September 10 - Cruising inside passage
We awoke to a cold wind and drizzle, but with calm seas. Tours of the bridge were offered in the morning. The array of electronics on board is awesome but it is all backup to personal oversight of everything from the navigation charts to the condition of the engines. We are pretty much by ourselves on this part of the inside passage. In late morning we passed Butedale, once a busy fishing village and cannery but now pretty much a ghost town. Villages like this are accessible only by private boat, and there were about 4 tied up at the dock. We were overtaken by the BC ferry Northern Adventure on it's way from Prince Rupert to Vancouver Island in the early afternoon and passed the settlement of Klemtu, a village of perhaps 500 with a clearly visible long house and clan carvings on the front, and a juvenile whale a half hour later.
After dinner the movie Blackbeard was started in the lounge, to be completed Saturday night.
For today's parting shot, this is the second time this year I've been in the open sea in a small ship. The first time was in July off New England and Nova Scotia on the Grande Caribe. The overall sea conditions were pretty similar both times, and the Grande Caribe is a bit larger but not enough to make a major difference. The conditions in the dining room on deck 2 midships were very similar, but on the Spirit of Columbia my cabin is 2 decks higher than it was on the Grand Caribe. There, I had very little trouble staying steady but on the Spirit of Columbia I could barely stand and objects on the table were thrown quite badly. In busy seas, position of one's cabin does really make a difference.
Day 24 - Saturday, September 11 - Strait of Georgia
We awoke just as we returned to the shelter of the Inside Passage and Vancouver Island. Vancouver Island has an extensive highway system and is much less isolated than the area we traveled Friday. We passed a Princess ship on one of it's last trips north, and the Alaska ferry Columbia on it's way north late in the morning. There is at most a light drizzle but quite a cold wind made it feel colder than the actual temperature if 50 and got worse as the day progressed..
I was lucky enough to be on the winning team on a morning game of Alaska Jeopardy, with a prize of an autobiography of founder Chuck West.
We passed by Johnstone Strait, permanent home to a large number of Orca whales, but there were only the briefest sightings by a few of our people. We did see a large number of Striped Dolphin and Harbor Porpoise which swam alongside the ship for several minutes, often jumping well out of the water. They were quite a spectacular sight.
I had written a parting shot for today but it will have to wait for another day. The Spriit of Columbia is pretty much a world onto itself with little outside communications (although as I write this we are less than a mile from the fair sized town of Campbell River), and it was only late in the day that I realized this was a day that changed the world and travel in particular. Although we didn't think of it today on the Spirit of Columbia it has affected our experience. I know that until 9 years ago today, Cruise West ships had an open bridge policy and many of the things that happen (or don't) are a direct result of things that happened on that fateful day.
Day 25 - Sunday, September 12 - Friday Harbor, San Juan Islands
We awoke, still chilly and drizzling, a little North of Vancouver. Friday Harbor is the largest village on San Juan Island, a 54 square mile outpost opposite Victoria, BC. We arrived shortly after lunch and began a 2-hour tour of the island. It was the focus of a border dispute between the US and the British which was largely a model for the way disputes should be settled. Not a shot was fired, the 2 sides met and jointly celebrated both July 4 and Victoria day. The 2 camps were on opposite sides of the island but less than 10 miles apart. We toured the American headquarters, where 2 of the leaders were General Picket (later of Gettysburg fame) and Lt. Roberts (later known for his rules). We toured an Lavender farm and an Alpaca farm (with a number of adorable babies) and the other village, Roche Harbor, home to a former limestone quarry but now a fashionable resort.
As we left Friday Harbor we began the Captain's farewell dinner, and I was fortunate to have Captain Doane Brodie at my table. He has been away for 4 months and is looking forward to time for his family, especially his 19 year old son.
My parting shot today has to deal with Cruise West. They are in terrible financial trouble, and I had no idea on board how bad it was. Their restructuring has apparently left passengers on their flagship Spirit of Oceanus in serious hardship Chuck West's autobiography describes similar problems earlier with Westours and “losing the company to save it”. History may be about to repeat itself.. I was fortunate not to have felt these pangs, but it looks like another distinguished niche player in the cruising market may no longer be an alternative. That is really sad.
The topic really hasn't been discussed. A brief word about it surfaced at the dance show in Petersburg but the best impression I can give is that everyone is doing their best to stay upbeat and give the kind of service their customers expect.
Thanks - that is impressive as I bet they have a lot of questions themselves and they are making sure it is not affecting your experience.
Our dock in Seattle was on Lake Union, about 5 miles north of central Seattle. At our 6AM wake up call, we were waiting approaching a lift bridge at the lake inlet. At breakfast we were passing through the lock on the way up to the lake level. We docked after breakfast and relaxed while the final collection and organization of the luggage was completed. We were all transferred to a waiting motor coach which took us to the Westin Hotel, available as a base for those staying in Seattle, and then went on to the airport. I explored the Pike Place market, the waterfront, and rode the new Light Rail system out to the airport. The train is new and makes the trip to the airport in about 35 minutes, connecting in Seattle with the downtown transit tunnel, terminating 2 blocks from the Westin. I went by the Westin about 3:30 and made my way through Pioneer Park to the train station, stopping briefly at the National Klondike Gold Rush Museum. My journey which started in Skagway and Juneau, starting points of the land journey to the Klondike, concluded at the initial departure point for the Gold Rush journey in Seattle.
For my final parting shot, there seems to be an emphasis in cruising on new ships. The Spirit of Columbia, built in 1979, is the NEWEST ship I have sailed on this journey. The ferry Columbia, the flagship of the Alaska Marine Highway, goes back to 1973. The Matanuska and Malaspina were both built in 1963. The Malaspina was first, and the system considered retiring it when the Kennecot was launched in 1998. At nearly 50 years of age, it still provides excellent seasonal daily service between Juneau and Skagway, and on other routes in the off season. A good ship is a terrible thing to waste.