- Captain Albert's Blog -

Stories from the Sea, Past and Present

13 August 2013; Ketchikan, Alaska.

Against my better knowledge I had promised our guests in Ketchikan a sunny day as that was in the weather forecast. However during the night, the (light) winds shifted a little bit to the South giving a rain system the chance to lay over Ketchikan. That made it a drizzling day all day long. Tonight the wind will shift again and that will mean that Juneau, where we are tomorrow, should be dry and at least partly sunny. At least the guests could see Ketchikan as it is for 332 days of the year. It is a typical pattern here in Alaska that when they predict bad or rainy weather they are always right but when it comes to good weather, the reliability goes down a little bit. Same as at home in England where the Met Office is also really good at predicting the weather that has happened already. When you wake up in the morning and you find snow on the grass, what do they say on TV: it snowed during the night. Well we had seen that already by looking out of the window.

For the Alaska season we still have 7 weeks to go. Made up of three 14 day cruises with a change over in Seward and then one 7 day round trip to close out the season. Then we start the South Pacific cruise from Vancouver, calling at San Francisco on the way down to San Diego. All three ports are embarkation ports. Nobody will leave after Vancouver; otherwise we violate the Passenger Service Act of 1886. Most people call it the Jones act but actually most rules fall under this Passenger Service Act. Basically the ruling is, with both laws combined, that non-USA flagged ships are not allowed to carry goods or passengers directly between American ports. That means that cruise ships during a cruise have to call at a non US port somewhere. For Alaska it means that if you sail out of Seattle, the ship will have to call at Victoria or Vancouver. For the Vancouver based ships, it is easy as they are already in a non-US port.

But I look forward to calling at San Francisco, it is a beautiful port and we do not call there often enough in my personal opinion. A longtime ago Holland America sailed for two seasons from SF with the Noordam of 1984. Always sailing full but we suffered from bad weather at the start of the cruise and at the end, and thus Los Angeles was a better option. Still sweet memories there, from the days I was single and willing to mingle.

The pilot was embarked at 05.00 hrs. right after a Princess ship and thus we sailed in convoy towards Ketchikan. That sailing in and out of ports in Alaska is regulated by the Voluntary Waterway guide. This is an agreement between all stakeholders in South East Alaska to ensure a safe and smooth operation. The cruise ship company’s, agents, USCG, Alaska State, & Local business all sat together a number of years ago to deal with the increase of cruise ships. The Voluntary Waterway Guide was the result. It is called Voluntary but it is more or less compulsory to participate in for everybody, otherwise it does not work. The Voluntary part is important as otherwise a government body might decide to make their preferred parts compulsory and then another party misses out. Hence Voluntary……….but we all have to follow it.

What the guide regulates is the way we sail in and out of port. The most important part of that is the speed. The faster you go the more wake a ship produces and that is not always pleasant for houses and or boats along the way. So for each port, the speed is stipulated and brought down in steps. You can approach with 20 knots and then at a certain point you have to be down to 15, then to 10, then to 7 and when entering the harbor basin it is down to 5 knots or less.

Also the commercial anchorages are clearly defined, so that ships drop the hook in the best place possible and not block other ships, or occupy the whole port leaving no room for another ship.
For sailing into Ketchikan it meant that the moment we came to the Tongass Narrows, we had to be down to 10 knots; and while sailing through the Narrows, we had to do 7 and once coming towards the Ketchikan dock we had to be under the maximum of the 5 knots allowed. The approach to the dock is not regulated but each captain will slow down to drift speed by the time the dock is near as the idea is to moor at the dock and not to crash into it.

The skies brightened, the moment we left Ketchikan at 3 pm in the afternoon and that gives high hopes for tomorrow in Juneau. Maybe the weather guru’s will have it right this time.


  1. This post reminded me of how much we like to be up and out on deck for the leisurely sail-ins to Ketchikan and Juneau. Rain or not they provide beautiful views. Even, on occasion, a few whales!

  2. First welcome back! As with everyone else, I truly miss your daily posts when you are on your well-deserved days off. Thank you so much for this clear explanation of the Jones Act and the Passenger Service Act (which I was unaware of). My husband and I will be sailing with you, from Vancouver, on that lovely cruise and I did wonder how we could stop at two consecutive US ports to pick up guests.

    We very much look forward to sailing with you in 45 days!

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