- Captain Albert's Blog -

Stories from the Sea, Past and Present

20 July 2019: Gulf of Alaska.

A good day today, at least for what could have been. The skies remained overcast with a gentle breeze from the SE and that caused rain clouds drifting over but it also meant no “clouds” at seawater level so the bridge had a good view at all times and the Captain could stay in bed during the night. There was a low swell running from the South West but it was less than a meter and that is not enough to rock the boat. And even that low running swell disappeared in the course of the day, leaving us with an oily looking sea without any wind. A Vista Class ships needs about 10 feet of swell & waves to get going so 3 feet is nothing. All the guests would have liked sunshine but that comes with the inherent fog and then it is hard to sleep in the balcony cabins as the horn will be blowing every 2 minutes to warn the world that we are there. So give me overcast skies here at any time, better for a good night’s rest and although the guests might like sunshine, I do not think they are on an Alaska cruise to go sun bathing……………… Continue reading

19 July 2019; Glacier Bay, Alaska.

This was not a day that will go down in history as a Sunny Day in Glacier Bay. It was a Regular Day in Glacier Bay. The lower bay was fogged in all day so the bridge only saw the Rangers coming and going by boat on the radar screens and once in the upper bay it was clear but cold and overcast. I always debate with myself what is better for the guests, have an off day which is sunny and warm so it is nice to be outside or have this weather which shows Glacier Bay as it is. A rugged glacial area, untamed by humans and not habitable for those who not adapt themselves. In the past people have lived here and with that I mean the upper bay area, first of all the Indian Tribes and then also gold prospectors or those who wanted to be close to nature. Now since it is a National Park, human presence is regulated by permits and approval and those who live here, live here temporarily either for vacation or for science purposes. And we do see little tents and kayaks along the shore line. Continue reading

18 July 2019; Skagway, Alaska.

Skagway lies at the end of the Lynn Canal which is a long and narrow fjord that pierces deeply into the mountain ranges on the border of USA and Canada. As a matter of fact it is only a short drive from the port up the road to get to that border. I did that once, a number of years ago, with a friendly Alaskan pilot who had a car there and who wanted to show me a regular border crossing and not the big work that I was used to when coming into the USA or Canada to join the ships. As everybody knows everybody here the CPB officer was more than willing to have a chat as business was slow. All he processed thus far in the morning, was one RV, two cars and a Moose. The appearance of the moose was a fairly regular occurrence but most of the time the animal avoided the road and crossed the border through the greenery, today it had attempted to do so by road and that had caused some divertissement when it came to the barrier. But the CPB Officer was getting ready for the arrival of the Alaska Marine Highway ferry that arrives around 13.00 hrs. in the summer and sends ashore a whole convoy of RV’s and trucks that come up from the lower states and then go on into the interior.  Those going north are not a problem for the Americans, they let the Canadians deal with them; those coming south and are not a problem for the Canadians, they let the Americans deal with them. And by ignoring the Moose the whole world was perfectly in balance. Continue reading

17 July 2019; Juneau, Alaska.

Today we are in Juneau and the shopkeepers must be very happy and also the shore excursions people as it is a full house in the port. We have in port the Royal Princess (3600 guests), Azamara Quest (686 guests), Crystal Symphony (848 guests), Star Princess (3100 guests), Westerdam (approx. 2100).  So based on lower bed capacity we are already talking over 10000 guests. I put approx. 2100 for the Westerdam as normally the number is lower but it being high season we have a lot of families on board and then the bunk beds fill up.  This also means approx.4000 crew in the port and if 50% would make it ashore then it is even busier. Most crew are going to the supermarkets and Costco in the valley for which a whole myriad of shuttle buses are in existence. It is known that Costco stocks up on gadgets when the tourist seasons starts as they know that this is of great interest to the crew. They cannot take TV’s home but small electronics they can. And a lot of crew have extended families with lots of nephews and nieces and they all want a present when the sailor comes home. I once saw a Filipino bar tender going home with 41 fluffy toys in a box. He told me that his wife had sent him a list of so many in pink, so many in green and so many in blue and preferably Pokémon characters. He was quite happy as he gotten them for a very good deal in Chinatown Vancouver. But for the older ones, electronic gadgets are needed and that is all out there. Continue reading

16 July 2019, Ketchikan, Alaska.

Today we are in Ketchikan and this is the Ketchikan I recognize. Drizzle, Rain and Swirling Clouds around the mountains high above the town.  The Westerdam arrived early as we had to drop off a container, and instead of going alongside the berth and getting a flatbed truck onto the dock with a big crane, the ship sailed to the Ketchikan Shipyard and went briefly alongside the fitting out pier and the shipyard crane hoisted the container ashore. And then the captain just sailed the ship astern (backwards) to our regular dock. By 05.30 we were all fast and all the hard workers went back to bed. Sailing a mile or so from the ship yard to the dock with wind and current can be a challenge but Azi-pods ships have so much power that it is not really a challenge. Azi-pod ships are often better in sailing astern than in sailing forward as pulling the ship is often easier than pushing it. Continue reading

15 July 2019:  Inside Passage British Columbia, Canada.

When we left last night we were in quite a hurry as the tide window started around 22.30 hrs. From Lions Gate Bridge to Discovery Pass is 90 Nautical Miles and when passing the bridge at 17.00 hrs. to getting there then gives 5.5 hrs.  90 miles at 20 knots. Is 4.5 hrs. at full speed but the last part, when sailing into Discovery Pass leading up to Seymour Narrows, the speed has to come down to 16 knots and then 10 knots due to traffic and no wake sailing close to the coast. That costs another 30 minutes and you suddenly are looking at less than an hour for any un-expected happenings. And you have to prepare for that as there is a lot of barge traffic in the area and as it is high summer, fishermen both professional and amateurs. Thus while in the open waters of Georgia Strait the Captain let the Westerdam come up to sea speed to build up a little plus and so to ensure that we would be on time. Continue reading

14 July 2019; Vancouver, Canada.

It is my personal opinion that for a compact large city, Vancouver is one of the nicest ports to sail into, together with Venice and maybe Naples. With compact I mean, you enter and there is constantly something to see. New York is also impressive with the Verrazano Bridge, the Statue of Liberty and downtown Manhattan but it is all far apart.  Same for San Francisco, again an impressive bridge, followed by Alcatraz but is takes place over a considerable distance. Vancouver only takes 30 minutes from 1 mile before the Lions Gate Bridge to the dock and in those 30 minutes there is a constant impact on the senses. I have never heard anybody complaining on the bridge about sailing into Vancouver while normally, a long sail in gives rise to grumbles among the navigators; and they are very good in grumbling. (Not to say moaning). Continue reading

13 July 2019: Inside Passage, British Columbia, Canada.

There is a lot of confusion over what the Inside Passage exactly is as there are so many routes.  Holland America tries to show as much of the Inside Passage as possible but it depends on the available time frame and what we can do then. And we can do less than in the past. The main focus point is the need to make Seymour Narrows on the slack tide. This is a narrow channel north of Discovery Pass where the tides rush through at any time except slack tide, the moment when it goes from ebbing to flooding. At maximum flood or ebb, there can be as much as 14 knots of current and then a ship cannot get through safely. This there is only a certain length of time, a window of opportunity, when the current is weak and the ship can sail through without being pushed all over the place. That window is normally between 4 knots of flood and 4 knots of Ebbing tide. Most of the time we go through when it is less than three knots.  We are not the only ones waiting for this window, so there is a whole line up of cruise ships, cargo ships, tug and tows and sometimes yachts who also want to go through at that time. Continue reading

12 July 2019: Ketchikan, Alaska.

Rain meters  or liquid sunshine gauge. are a favorite in Ketchikan. They call themselves the rain capital of the world, but also the salmon capital of the world and The First City of Alaska.

I suppose when you are a weather forecast guru you can always hedge your bets by calling it partly cloudy or partly sunny or overcast with a chance of showers. That way you are nearly always right. So we were expecting a chance of showers and what we got in the morning was fog and a steady drizzle and that lasted to the early afternoon. Then the clouds pulled away and the sun was brightly shining in Ketchikan. There was a chance of showers and we got the constant drizzle in the morning so I suppose the weather forecast was right. In the past the weather prediction was nearly always rain or a variation of it as it did nearly always rain in Ketchikan. 332 days of the year in the 1980’s. So if you then predict rain, you do not have more than a 10% chance of being wrong. And that is not bad in the Art of Meteorology. But we have seen more and more days of sun in Alaska and that includes Ketchikan. Thus now the weather is not as predictable as it used to be and thus we had overcast with showers for today and I had to get my sunglasses out and sun block 35 to protect my brain cover. But on the other hand in August 2017 they had the highest recorded monthly rain fall since 1967 and those aberrations do not make weather predicting any easier. But the locals say on average it now does rain less. Continue reading

11 July 2019; Juneau, Alaska.

Juneau is the capital of Alaska and is so because of historic reasons as the city of Anchorage is much bigger and it could be expected that that was the capital. Every so often there are voices heard that call for making Anchorage the capital but thus far all change has been resisted.

Alaska cruising the early days. Follow the Totem pole route.

Because of having the State legislative buildings and operations there, the town was never reliant on the Tourist Industry as such. It had the politicians, it had a gold mine and there were the canneries for the salmon fishing. That does not mean there were no tourists coming here and also that there were no cruise ship passengers. From as long as there have been steamships involved in regular ferry service to the various ports of Alaska, they brought with them passengers who were on sightseeing adventures, then called excursions. The name cruise came only later. Operators such as the Alaska Steamship company or the Canadian Pacific Railroad brought early travelers to Alaska and even provided “cruise excursions” by sailing to Glacier Bay. Continue reading

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