The weather guru’s must have heard me moaning and groaning about Skagway as they did their best and this morning the weather was wonderful. Flat calm seas and far ranging vista’s showing the Fairweather mountain range in all its glory. In the upper bay we saw some low clouds hanging but it was a very good start to the day. Today we were expecting only three rangers, compared to the 10 we had on board last cruise as their training is over, the supervisors have verified their schedules and the season is settling down into routine. One Ranger stayed in the crowsnest, one ranger on the bridge for the commentary and the 3rd ranger was shadowing the 2nd one for the narration part. That narration is part set, and part own inspiration by the Ranger. There are fixed parts, pertaining to the route that has to be pointed out, pointers of where to start the narration and where to stop and pertinent information that should not be forgotten. But each ranger has a certain freedom in adding information depending on what route the ship is taking or what can be seen during the day. Then titbits can be added about their personal spheres of interest. I have heard rangers getting all excited about flowers, trees, or bears or whales. As long as it provides the audience with the real Glacier Bay experience it is all good to go.
With this setup it means that we are sailing under a fixed schedule that has been fine-tuned through the years. The Rangers come on board at 0700 hrs. and then 2 hours later, when we cross the boundary of the upper bay, the narration starts. Pending how we can wriggle the ship around the ice cubes that start to appear around 10 am, a route is sorted out which ends invariably in front of Marjorie Glacier where we stay at least one hour. Then we work our way slowly back, depending on the ice concentration. By 1 pm. we then leave the upper bay boundary again, which makes it possible that the presentations start in the Showroom at Sea by one ranger while the other one conducts a program for the juniors on board. By 3 pm. we are then back in the lower bay where there is always a good chance for whale watching.
The duty of the captain and pilot is here, apart from ensuring that we do not bump into the ice, that we keep to this schedule. Most guests on board do not notice anything about what is going on, as it just runs very smoothly according to the program that they have found on the bed the evening before. Still for the captain it is sometimes a puzzle, as a. we might have to sail slower than planned due to the wild life (whale water speed restrictions), b. we might have to go slower due to bigger ice concentrations and c. there might be another ship in the way.
That challenge I had todaywas that the Norwegian Pearl was in the bay with us. Glacier Bay rules allow two large ships in the bay at the same time, but only one at the time in front of Marjorie Glacier. Normally ships come in a few hours apart but as we both have Ketchikan as our next port, we are on the same schedule. The Norwegian Pearl has a very early arrival in Ketchikan and was thus also first in the Bay; one hour ahead of us. That meant that while she was floating in front of the Glacier I had to go somewhere else. Not as easy as the ice in front of Lamplugh Glacier and John Hopkins inlet was still too thick to get through. But we had another glacier, the Reid Glacier on the way up, and we did a slow sail by there. That worked out fine for the guests and the Reid is tucked away in a valley which gives a very good impression of how Glaciers carve out the land when they move through.
The Norwegian Pearl moved away from Marjorie glacier at 10.30 and at 11.00 I was on location. We had low hanging clouds, but as it shielded most of the sun, it really brought out the natural colors of the surrounding area and the ice. What was really exciting today were the Bald Eagles on the ice. Due to some quirk of nature a lot of fish had come up Tarr Inlet and the Eagles were having a ball. Eating on the ice floats and not leaving at all when we came closer and closer. Making it even possible for guests with basic cameras and I-pads to get nice close up shots.
With over 1400 very happy guests on board we returned to Bartlett Cove, to say goodbye to the Rangers at 4 pm. then it was pedal to the metal heading for Ketchikan. I wanted to make a good head start as there is some talk in the weather forecast about –very low hanging clouds— and then I might have to go slower.
Tomorrow we are in Ketchikan with a full house again. All berths occupied. The shopkeepers cannot complain that we are not looking after them.