- Captain Albert's Blog -

Stories from the Sea, Past and Present

22 May 2012; Ketchikan, Alaska.

The pilot was scheduled for 05.00 hrs in the morning as it takes about 90 minutes get to the dock in Ketchikan. Ahead of us was the Star Princess, one of the shopping trolley Class of Princess Cruises. Most of the ships in that same class have had their observation bar on the stern (that horizontal bar that makes the ship look like a shopping trolley) removed but the Star has most probably not gone into dry dock yet. All the ships have more or less the same pilot station time here and who goes first depends on which dock you are going to. Princess goes to four; we go to two, so the Star Princess goes in first. In that way we do not have to pass each other while approaching the dock. It is all very well organized here in Alaska. All companies have the same agency which has been around for nearly 50 years in the cruise ship business and they regulate and organize everything to everybody’s satisfaction. Occasionally there is a captain who has not been on the coast, or does not understand the routine and tries to go against the flow and then finds out very quickly that that was not such a good idea. Fifty years of experience has to be respected and they really ensure that we are well prepared for the season. If each agent in the world would be like that, the world would be a better place and our lives a lot easier.

beth 4 web

Berth 4. It is the newest one, the biggest one and meant for the mega liners, but also used for smaller ships if it works out that way for the arrival and departure  cycle.

So we aimed for 5 am and the pilot came on board shortly before as the boat carried the pilots for both ships. Being a Tuesday ship means that it is fairly quiet in the port. There are berths for four large ships and room for one big one at anchor or two small ones. Peak days are Monday (northbound) and Thursday (southbound) as the majority are Saturday ships (Vancouver or Seattle day). In our case it meant that we had the whole of berth 2 and berth 1, which is the same quay, to ourselves so we could more or less park where we wanted. That is to say, more or less, because we had to be more at berth 2 than at berth 1. If we would have stopped at berth 1.5 or berth 1, then the flow of guests going ashore would change and that would affect the shopkeepers, who then complain to the agent who assigns the dock locations. So apart from figuring out the best berth for a ship, they also have to take the commercial aspects into the equation.
high gangway web

The gangway at high water. It is a ramp all the way, so guests who need to roll-on-roll-off are not left out.

Thus with the aim to keep everybody happy, we docked at the after section of berth 2. I like my mooring lines to run long and if there is the space I go for it, regardless of moaning shopkeepers. By 07.00 we were in position and the shore gangway was hooked in. At the moment we have extra high & low tides and that makes the gangway steep to very steep at times. That means that during the day we have to shift the gangway between the Deck 3 door and the Deck 5 door. Unfortunately we do not have a door on deck 4, so we cannot work in between. This is all being looked after by the agent and it runs like clockwork. Today we had to stay on deck five, because the door of deck 3 was only coming above the flat of the dock just before sailing time. In Juneau there is one dock, the ferry dock (now called the Cruise Terminal) where you can put the gangway on the old car ramp, which then goes up and down with the tide so it stays even with the ship. Unfortunately other docks do not have that. It would be very expensive to put in and the moment the cruise ships would find out about it, they would all want the ramp somewhere different. Thus we fudge around with gangways.

The weather forecast was claiming 20% chance of showers during the day. I do not know if that was correct, but if so, then that 20% fell on the ship between 07.00 and 11.00. Then it cleared and turned into a beautiful day.
By 3 pm we were on our way again, heading for Juneau. Around 7 pm we will be nearing Snow Passage which is an excellent opportunity to see whales.
The weather forecast predicts 50% chance of rain tomorrow but I am more interested in the wind. I have to park the ship tomorrow at the Alaska Steamship dock, with the tender pier in the front and the Oosterdam in the back. 50 feet spare on 800 is not that much.

1 Comment

  1. Welcome back to Alaska Captain! I shall look for you here in Skagway where I am a year round local resident. Bring us what sunny weather you can gather about you as you sail from here to there and back again.

    If you ever have a chance to come into town, please shout a “hello” to me at 3rd and Broadway next to the News Depot!

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