- Captain Albert's Blog -

Stories from the Sea, Past and Present

20 July 2019: Gulf of Alaska.

A good day today, at least for what could have been. The skies remained overcast with a gentle breeze from the SE and that caused rain clouds drifting over but it also meant no “clouds” at seawater level so the bridge had a good view at all times and the Captain could stay in bed during the night. There was a low swell running from the South West but it was less than a meter and that is not enough to rock the boat. And even that low running swell disappeared in the course of the day, leaving us with an oily looking sea without any wind. A Vista Class ships needs about 10 feet of swell & waves to get going so 3 feet is nothing. All the guests would have liked sunshine but that comes with the inherent fog and then it is hard to sleep in the balcony cabins as the horn will be blowing every 2 minutes to warn the world that we are there. So give me overcast skies here at any time, better for a good night’s rest and although the guests might like sunshine, I do not think they are on an Alaska cruise to go sun bathing………………

We are making this part of the cruise without pilots. Last night at 1900 hrs. the American pilots left the ship at Cape Spencer as we were leaving the Alaskan Inside Passage. When we sail into Resurrection Bay tomorrow morning we will get another pilot on board to guide us to the berth. The pilots we thusfar had have no reason to stay on board as Seward is in a different pilotage area serviced by a different pilot association. Would it work to have to combine the two? I do not think so, the area would be too big for one pilot to intimately know and visit on a regular basis to keep up with all the changes in each area. In the past the South East pilots sometimes stayed on board while we went up and down as it only is for 3 days but with the number of cruise ships increasing year by year there is no gap in the system anymore. Plus quite a few of the old timers are retiring.

The boundaries of the South East Alaska Pilot Association and the various pilot stations for pick up and drop off. (Diagram courtesy SEAPA website)

I reported last week that the first Alaska Female pilot is retiring after 25 years and there are a few more.  This means that new pilots are needed and that is now even more urgently needed as more cruise ships are expected next year, which will increase the number of pilot days. Pilotage is in principle open to everybody who is an American Citizen and has an American Master License. You do not have to be an Alaskan and you do not have to live there. Quite a few of the pilots live somewhere south and there is one who is a ski teacher in the winter as he only pilots in the summer when it is busy. (Normally there are only 3 or 4 pilots on call in the winter at any given time to take care of the limited Cargo traffic)

Cape Spencer Lighthouse at the entrance of Inian pass leading to Glacier Bay. In the old days a lonely place for a light house keeper, now automated and visited by helicopter. (Photo courtesty www.lighthousefriends.com)

So there are options also for our captains who have married into the USA (quite a few) to make this step if they would want to as having an American spouse normally gives the option to take American citizenship after 5 years. But the hurdle they are facing is that they have to sit for their Master licenses again, as for incomprehensible reasons the USA does not recognize European Licenses and it is the same way around. Now it would not be so difficult to pass again the exams as the skill and the knowledge is there but it would take considerable time and only then you could apply for a pilot’s job. So we had one officer going over thus far but it has been hard work for him to get through all the paperwork and I admire his dedication to his wife to make it happen. Still being an Alaskan pilot pays better than a cruise ship captain: http://seapa.com/published_rates/cruise_rate.pdf   especially if you take into account that the Norwegian Bliss has 3500+ guests on board.

The local pilot boat at Cape Spencer. The boat is privately owned and chartered by the pilots when needed. (courtesy www.lighthousecollectorsforum.com)

Thus tomorrow we move from the SEAPA (South East Alaska Pilot Association) to the SWAPA (South West Alaska Pilot Association) and we will pick one of their pilots up at 03.30 in the morning for docking at Seward at 04.30 hrs. It should be an easy arrival as there is no wind predicted and that will help as the ship will swing on arrival and dock stern in as that is easier for the luggage. It is not easier for the Captain as docking nose in at this small pier makes much more sense but we are a cruise ship and thus an easy luggage operation is much more important than an easy arrival gig for the captain.

In Seward disembarkation will run all day with the last groups leaving after the first groups have already embarked but Seward is fairly easy on the Customs arrangements. We have already visited 3 Alaskan ports after the pre clearance in Vancouver and thus the chance that somebody is going to do something naughty in Seward must be considered very low on the probability scale.

Weather in Seward; Partly Cloudy, very little wind and temperatures around 64oF/ 18oC. So we might have some fog on arrival but with the sun coming out it should burn off in the course of the morning.




  1. When arriving in San Francisco Feb. 1957 on the Orsova, was amazed how we eventually made it to the pier without seeing anything (barely hand in front of face) on deck. Didn’t even see the Golden Gate bridge, which we had been looking forward to. Fog horns were having their say that morning. We didn’t even know the ship was still moving and eventually looked straight down and saw we were alongside (only about 2 hours late).

    Technology must have been quite different back in 1957 but still worked well.

    Thank you for taking the extra time each day to share your knowledge. Very interesting. My first cruise to Alaska was May l990 on the former Westerdam. Again in 2017 on the Noordam. Many other HAL cruises since and more planned.

  2. Since being introduced to your blogs by a recent HAL cruising friend from the 80 day Prinsendam South America and Antarctica Voyage, I am now getting an entirely different and insightful perspective on cruising. This comes after over 500 actual cruise days on Hollland America ships. Specifically, your blogs on your current Alaska cruising makes me want to cruise Alaska again. My very first cruise was to Seward from Vancouver on the Sun Princess in 2001 (my only non Holland America cruise) was an amazing experience for many reasons. Definitely not limiting these memories to being in the Captain Cook Hotel, Anchorage on 9/11 prior to beginning the land tour by train to Fairbanks.
    Again, I’m now one of your faithful readers, however, I’m still not automatically getting your blogs by email so I go to your website. Email would be very helpful.

    • Captain Albert

      July 22, 2019 at 3:08 am

      Thank you for reading my blog

      I apologize for the system not working as it should. I have re-entered your email again and hopefully that will kick start the system again.

      Best regards

      Capt. Albert

  3. Read the “seasp.com/published…..” All I can say is” good grief!” You’re all in the wrong profession, thank goodness you are all passionate about your work or we would have a plethora of pilots and not enough Captains.
    The measurements would be standard for each particular ship, but the passenger count would differ or did it mean that the millage (had to look that one up in dictionary! ) rate is calculated on the available “beds” for sale or on the actual load ? Obviously best to always have a full compliment in that case. Btw, we love hearing that foghorn blowing, it’s part of the fun of being on a ship !

  4. Hi Captain Albert:
    I haven’t commented much lately but as always have been reading your blogs faithfully since 2005. I am confused about your comment about docking in Seward WRT luggage unloading. I have previously been under the (obviously erroneous) opinion that it didn’t matter which way a cruise ship moored alongside a pier from a luggage loading/unloading perspective. Factors would be easy departure, or maybe life boat drills required on port/starboard side. Any comments ??

    • Captain Albert

      July 27, 2019 at 10:04 pm

      Thank you for your continious support.

      The luggage thing in Seward depends on the size of the ship and the location of the marshalling area. Which on the Vista Class is not in the centre but more aft. So if the Westerdam would go nose in, then the Marshalling area doors where the luggage has to come out off, would be nearly behind the pier (as the ship is sticking out considerably) By going stern in The luggage exit door are brought almost to the middle of the pier, there were there is room for the forklifts to move around. For the S Class and R class it is less of a problem as there the luggage handling area is midships.

      Best regards

      Capt. Albert

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