- Captain Albert's Blog -

Stories from the Sea, Past and Present

21 September 2012; Ketchikan, Alaska.

The stretch from Juneau to Ketchikan is a high speed run and as soon as we were past the city limits of Juneau, we put the pedal to the metal and raced down Stephens Passage. During this overnight voyage there are two points of (nautical) interest. Rounding Cape Decision and sailing through Snow Passage. Cape Decision has two challenges, first we have to go around the Cape through a fairly narrow passage where we cannot always see the traffic and secondly in this area we are exposed to the ocean swell and that can on occasion create a very lively ship. In Snow Passage we have two issues; currents can be very strong there as all the water is being pushed through a narrow gap between the land and it can be full of whales, which in general do not follow the Rules of the Road. Putting the onus on us not to bump into them.

cape Decision

Excuse my drawing skills, for rounding Cape Decision. Is is much more smoother when I do it with the ship.

For Cape Decision we can take precautions ahead of time. During the pre voyage discussion we review the weather and we decide whether we need to put the stabilizers out, have to secure the anchors, have extra manning on the bridge for traffic, and if we need to alert the guests about the unexpected fact that the ship might suddenly start to jolt at 2 am in the morning. This time, with the great weather that we are having, there was not much swell to worry about and we could do it all on the regular routine and Bridge manning. We are in pilotage waters which means that the pilot has to Conn the ship around the Cape but it is up to us to verify that he/she does it right and stays within the safety limits of the company. Those safety limits are normally the same as the ones of the pilot but that does not mean that we do not have to check. Trust and Verify they call that.
snow pass

The course change is only about 70 degrees or so but when doing so, the ship can get caught in the strong current and there is very little room to drift.

Snow Passage is a totally different situation. We go through this Passage as the only other option is to go all the way around Zarembo Island to the north and if you do that, you do not arrive on time in Ketchikan. To deal with the current we slow down to maneuvering speed which gives the pilot more time to execute the proper courses and it gives me the time to override and use my ship handling skills in case something goes wrong. For this Passage I am on the bridge to carefully monitor the progress while the pilot and the navigation team execute the passage. This morning we had about 4 knots of current against us, at least that was the prediction. That means that if you have 14 knots of speed on the engines, you are only progressing through the Passage with 10 knots.
In reality it is most of the time we feel less than those four knots. The ship is not always under the full influence of the current as the water flows around it in various ways and the axis is not always where we are. For the whales we keep a sharp look out and it helps of course if it is daylight or in our case just before sunrise. All summer we travel through in day light and then I always invite the early risers on board to stand on the bow and look for whales. Now in twilight I did not bother as it would be very difficult for the non trained eye to make them out.
So at 04.30 in the morning we went through and as always it all went as it should go. We slowed down, the lookout reported that the whales stayed nearer the shore and not in the middle, the pilot made a perfect turn and I could drink my tea without having to do something. By 05.30 we were through and heading for Ketchikan.

The Statendam arriving in sunny Ketchikan today. Photo courtesy John Kimmel, one of our local agents.

Glorious Ketchikan was coming towards us through banks of early morning haziness. Haziness that burned off very quickly by the rising sun. By the time we docked the temperature was reaching 64oF and all was well in the world. Later on it clouded over but it remained dry for the duration of our whole stay. I hope the guests realize how lucky they have been on this cruise.

The weather is supposed to remain the same for the coming days, also the prediction for Vancouver calls for sunny weather.

1 Comment

  1. Missed Career at Sea

    October 5, 2012 at 12:06 am

    Some backtracking to Haines here, Captain! Quite an eye opener for me to see how linesmen in Haines had to work in the dark. And, on some precarious little platforms! Now I also know what those huge, big yellow lights are for. I did make a picture of you under this yellow light (hope you’ll pardon me) without your permission …
    In Ketchikan I happened to bump into the young, new Captain of the Zaandam (without hurting myself), actually hoping to meet a dear young lady from Bali on the Oosterdam. This Captain clarified the change of Chief Officer to Staff Captain (one of my very first questions in December 2007). In my opinion, for any lay person this means there are 2 Captains on a ship 🙂

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