I have been sitting behind my computer for the last 24 hrs looking totally puzzled at the weather forecast for Ketchikan. It kept changing about every 3 hours. At one moment I had 3 forecasts that were totally different so in the end I gave up. There is a low pressure system building over the Northern Gulf and it seems that nobody can get a good handle on it. My main concern is always the wind on arrival and thus I looked at the real time wind; e.g. wind at the moment at Ketchikan airport. That is just across from the cruise ship docks and gives a very good indication of what to expect. Thus I was very happy to see that it read CALM at 07.00 hrs. By 9 am we started our approach through Tongass Narrows and slowly but steadily we saw the wind increasing. That was not in the planning and not to my liking either. By the time we approached the dock, it was gusting up to 35 knots. However it was still dry and that is for Ketchikan already a major thing.
You can see that near the stern, the dock is only a catwalk and the current can (and does) play freely around the ship under ever changing angles. In the front the gangway, nice and low, resting on the floating pontoon that goes up and down with the tides.
Wind is never nice, but gusting wind is even more problematic as it makes it nearly impossible to find a balance between the ship and the elements. If docking is still safe with that sort of high wind, what you do then is carry out a controlled drift maneuver. Find the best balance possible on the wind, so the ship sits still and then with the thrusters start a slow sideways movement without losing that balance. That is a lot safer than doing the normal approach and hoping that the wind will not change direction at the crucial moment of touching the dock. Dock four in Ketchikan has the additional issue that the current plays around the stern of the ship. Also it runs along the dock at the same time and that gives another anomaly to deal with, keeping the ship still/on location while the lines go ashore. If you would try to simulate this dock in a training center, then the computer would get a nice headache. So I brought the Statendam to a complete standstill about 200 feet from the dock and watched what the wind and current did to her and then went slowly sideways. At the same time we were planning a different line up at the dock compared to last week, so that the gangway could be on the floating part and that meant no steep ramps for the guests any more.
It all worked out and by 11.10 the guests streamed ashore, going for the culture and the shopping delights of Ketchikan. And it was still dry. While the deck dept. was doing crew boat drills, I hopped ashore with a shopping list. Sanding paper, stainless screws, bolts, nuts, window wipers and batteries. All the items that keep the lifesaving department going and the lifeboats in good order. I have learnt in the last 30 years where I can find the shops that have all the stuff that we need for the best price, and it gets me off the ship for awhile. Back on board came the challenge of packing.
As you know I am signing off in Vancouver and thus it is time to get all my uniforms and everything else back into two steamer trunks. Or better said one, as my second trunk was confiscated a long time ago by my wife. If you start dating somebody on board as an officer and that date/fiancée/future spouse finds out that officers have steamer trunks, it is amazing what happens then. Every officer who gets hitched on board goes through that experience. Those trunks become a focus of intense fascination and then you at least lose one. If you are not careful, both. What is the most important item that has to be stored in the trunk: a miniature Christmas tree. It seems that you cannot go around the world without one in your steamer trunk.
The wind did not let down and on departure it was still gusting 30 knots and by now we had torrential rains as well. Rains that started around 14.30 in the afternoon. Those are supposed to last until midnight and then it should get better. Getting off the dock was easy. I used the –blow away-maneuver- and in no time we were in the middle of the bay. So this evening it should be windy and rainy and later on it should die down considerably. Maybe we will have a nice last day in the Canadian Inside Passage.