Today was the last day of our final Alaska cruise, sailing down to Vancouver. Another great and sunny day to enjoy and the Inside Passage part in the afternoon was just beautiful. We had crossed the Canadian Border at 11 pm. last night and sailed during the night and morning through Queen Charlotte Sound before we re-entered the Inside Passage at 3 pm. at Pine Island. Our whole schedule is linked to passing Seymour Narrows at slack tide and tonight this was at 22.15 hrs. During the evening you can see a sort of parade of ships forming all heading towards the Narrows for the same time. Southbound the Statendam and the Zaandam and Northbound the Diamond Princess and the Zuiderdam. In between a whole gaggle of small craft. Pleasure boats, tug and tows, log tows; all together a heady mix of traffic that all wants to get through the Narrows at or near slack tide.
Most of the information about where all these ships are and how they are progressing towards their destination comes from the Vessel Traffic System for the Inside Passage. All larger ships have to – compulsory- report in by VHF and receive from the operator the latest updates. The one weakness of the system is that is only works for those ships reporting in. Fishing boats and pleasure yachts are quite often too small to fall in the compulsory requirements and then you have to rely on them reporting in voluntarily. Some of them do, but some of them do not even know that the system exists. That causes hair raising situations about which I have blogged a few times in the past already.
This time we had another component that made it even more complicated. Very low hanging clouds. Clouds touching the water. Just before the Narrows a white woolen blanket descended over the Inside Passage and visibility became less than 500 feet. We then see a standard reaction from the small boats; they all move to the centre of the passage and stay there. I assume the logic is, “if you are in the middle, then you are safe and it does not matter if you do not exactly know how deep the water is”. The problem is the big ships also sail in the middle and they have to be there due to their size.
During the evening we had a fishing vessel that made our life difficult. I have to give him credit; he did report in and was part of the Vessel Traffic system. He responded to all calls and was very cooperative by getting out of the way, until the clouds came down. Then he suddenly veered back to the middle of the fairway and did not budge anymore. And so with a large cruise ship on his tail about half a mile behind him, coming closer all the time, he made his way through the Narrows. The moment the fog lifted he made an instant bee line for the shore but the moment the fog closed in, he veered back to the centre of the Passage again. A bit unnerving if you are not used to it, but if you are familiar with the pattern you get used to it and you can anticipate the next move.
The humorous part of it all was, that when our pilot called and asked once again to get out of the way, the fisherman held his VHF pressed and we could hear his wife (?) squawking in the background, “don’t go too close, don’t go too close”. It was quite clear here who was giving the orders and who was in charge of the navigation. Then the lights of Campbell River came through from a distance and domestic bliss settled again upon the wheelhouse of the fishing boat and he starting hugging the shore line again.
By 11 pm we were out of Discovery Pass, the clouds lifted and we could see to the end of the world again. At least it meant that I could get a good nights sleep. Tomorrow morning we will be nearing the Lions Gate Bridge with four cruise ships at the same time but I will leave the puzzle of getting them in the correct line up to the Canadian Pilots.
We are expecting another sunny day with temperatures around 23oC or 74oF. It will be the end of a great cruise after a bit of a miserable season.