- Captain Albert's Blog -

Stories from the Sea, Past and Present

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.

As mentioned before with Seymour Narrows the big challenge is the current. Not just because there is a lot of it but because you have to make a 90o turn while battling the current. Plus the current is not following a direct line as the ship does. Now it creates back eddies in the middle, there are back currents, there are counter flows, there are bounce back areas from the shore; it can be a real cauldron with contradicting happenings in the water. My experience is, that the higher the current, the less back eddies and counter flows there are. The current rushes straight through. So in principle going through at a high current should be easier but it is not due to the 90o turn that you have to make. As long as you have the current straight on the bow or straight on the stern it could be considered, but being set sideways with 10 knots of push is not a good idea. Plus going against 10 knots of current means that you have to have your engines on sea speed with 20 knots, just to make a 10 knots progress. Not a good idea either. So we go through with currents under 4 knots and then with a 12 knots speed, or whatever the pilot is comfortable with, you can then make the turn safely.

Seymour Narrows. The arrows indicate what direction the current could take. In the middle of the Narrows between Wilfred Point and Maud Island  it says Ripple Rock in the chart. More about that tomorrow.

I went once through with 10 knots of current in the stern but that was not planned but a necessity. The year is 1984 and the brand new ms Noordam (III) is coming down to Seymour Narrows with the following tide. We are slowing down to aim for a good passage time but then on the VHF all hell breaks loose. The Sun Dancer had run aground just south of Seymour Narrows on the way up.  This was a cruise ferry sailing from Seattle with the idea to focus on the RV (camper) crowd who could take their mobile home with them to Alaska. During their 3rd voyage on 29 June it hits a reef near Menzies Bay with on board 495 pax. and 292 crew. Later it was established that the grounding had caused a gash of 20 feet below the water line. The problem was that this ship, being a car ferry had vast open spaces inside where the cars and RV’s were parked, so nobody really knew if it could survive this as the water, once coming in, did not find much in the way of Watertight Bulkheads to stop it. The ship had slipped off the reef again and was taking on water fast and started to sink. The plan was to try and get it to Duncan Bay (just to the south where there was a pulp mill dock) and settle it there against the pier so the passengers did not have to go into the lifeboats. But nobody was sure how fast the water was coming in and if they could get there before the engine room would flood.

The ms Noordam (III) seen here at anchor in Juneau during the maiden call. in 1984. (Photo courtesy Anton Janssen, Ships Photographer)

Thus everybody was on battle stations and the Canadian Coastguard asked if the closest ship could come to the rescue in case the passengers had to go into the lifeboats. The nearest ship was the Noordam but on the wrong side of the Narrows. After an in depth Master – Pilot conference it was decided that it could be done with 10 knots current as the pilot knew (a real old timer from before the days of Radar) that there would not be any back eddies. He asked for 10 knots of speed and we raced through with 20 knots over the ground. It was during my watch and I was fascinated. I had now made about 12 cruises to Alaska and had an idea of how the currents swirled through the hole. So I had an idea of how I would do it and was now watching intently if the pilot did the same and if not why he did it differently.  I was quite pleased with myself that he nearly followed the same track that I had in my mind. Unfortunately in those days the pilots were a sort of a law to themselves and he was not willing to explain his logic behind his maneuver. The captain later confided in me that the pilot knew what he was doing but he was doing it on pure experience so he might not have been able to exactly explain what he was doing. Just that this worked with 10 knots of current.

Once at the other side, we were all getting excited about lowering lifeboats and being heroes, but luckily the Sea Dancer just made it to the dock and then listed against it. The list caused about 2 mil. Dollar damage to the dock. The passengers and crew left the ship by climbing down ladders provided by Fire Engines which were parked on the dock. We were thanked for being on standby and allowed to sail on to Vancouver.

There are some photos of the listing Sun Dancer on this ferry forum for those who might be interested. http://ferriesbc.proboards.com/thread/7730/mv-sundancer

We are sailing on to Ketchikan where we will stay in port from 07.00 hrs. in the morning to 15.00 hrs. in the afternoon. We will be a bit earlier as we will have to land a container which has been on board for some time for engine room purposes.

Weather:  Overcast with 96% chance of rain 59oF / 15oC. Wind expected in the rain clouds. So it will be a regular Ketchikan day.




  1. Hi Capt. Albert

    Your blog is the best—thank you!
    We’re on the Zuiderdam and will be in Reykjavik tomorrow.
    At dinner, I asked our waiter if he knew you, and he said you’re very important, always making notes about what needs to be done, and very well respected.
    Bill & Susie Cashin

  2. Hello Captain Albert,
    I find this an absolutely fascinating read ! As a passenger, and many times I have been on this route, one has no idea about the calculations about tides and currents happening on the bridge well before departure and during the sailing through the inside passage. Next time I take the cruise through the passage I will be sure to be either on my veranda to see the different currents and eddies,but it might be better to observe it all from the front windows of “10 forward”!
    Thank you so much for taking all this time to give us a good insight into all the operations of the ships on our routes.

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