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Stories from the Sea, Past and Present

22 July 2014; Scenic Cruising, Tracy Arm Alaska.

In the morning the sunshine came through and at once the clouds came down and for about for 2 hours, it was a very small world again. The ships whistle announced it to the world accordingly. But as always when coming to any ice field or ice cap, the air and water temperature changes and thus when coming closer to Tracy Arm the world opened up again. A good thing as sailing into a Fjord full of ice cubes, while having no visibility is not something that is wise to do, but no challenges today. Visibility was good and there was little ice while sailing in and that meant that the whole sightseeing program could take place as planned.

So by 2 pm the ship sailed into Tracy Arm and slowly worked its way towards the glacier face. Tracy arm is open to everybody, it is not a National Park, and thus not regulated by the National Park authority. It also means that there are no Rangers around and thus the scenic narration on board is done by our own Travel Guide. Sawyer Glacier is quite nice and very similar to Marjorie Glacier in Glacier Bay, rising steeply up from the water to a height of about 300 feet. As mentioned last week, for me the attraction of Tracy Arm is the steepness of the Mountains on either side of the water. It reminds me very much of the Norwegian Fjords, even down to the coloring of the rocks in certain places, although the variation in rock composition is greater here than what I have seen in Lyse fjord and Sonde Fjord.

The Ship sails mid channel courses everywhere in Alaska, unless it has to go around a bump somewhere and it also does so in Tracy Arm. The safest way to go, although near some of the rock formations it would be safe to sail 2 or 3 feet away from them, as the rock face goes straight down in the water for another 100 to 200 feet. The pilots in Norway told me that in the old days, they did “broom stick” sailing. This meant bringing the bridge wing so close to the rock wall, that it could be touched with a broom stick from that bridge wing. That could be done as the rock wall went straight down under water for another few hundred feet. Navigational wise it was and would be quite a challenge as due to the size of everything, it is very difficult to correctly estimate distances.

When I was with the Prinsendam in Norway, we stopped opposite Pulpit Rock and all the officers were asked to guess the distance from the Ship to the rock wall. We were 2000 feet away but everybody thought we were much closer due to the height perspective. We had to use the Radar to measure the correct distance. So these local navigators must have had quite some experience and tricks up their sleeves to get the broom stick trick right. The Amsterdam left Tracy Arm around 8 pm, with all the broom sticks still safely in their lockers.

From there it is a slow run to Juneau for an early morning arrival. We will be in port together with the Oosterdam which is expected to pull in around 08.00 am. Weather forecast, overcast with passing showers and a gentle breeze. As long as that breeze stays gentle then it is fine by me, as the trainees are going down in the lifeboats again.

1 Comment

  1. Missed Career at Sea

    July 28, 2014 at 9:53 pm

    There you go again, Captain! This is very interesting to me; Sailor Captains going around with broom sticks to get the safest distances near these rock formations! I wonder if this tidbit of information can be found in any book?!
    And, I do remember your blog entry near the Pulpit Rock in Norway.

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