- Captain Albert's Blog -

Stories from the Sea, Past and Present

23 May 2008, Seward.

Seward is an early morning arrival. The first guests leave the ship at 6 am. to start their overland portion of the trip, or to be bussed up to Anchorage for the flight home, so I have to have the ship parked by 05.30. The town and the dock are located at the end of Resurrection Bay and it takes about an hour to sail from the pilot station at the entrance to the dock. Thus I aim for the pilot to come onboard at 04.00 hrs.


Approaching Seward. The dock area on the left and the lights of the State Prison on the right.

The pilot boards at Caines Head which is a small cape that forms the geographical boundary of the bay. He normally comes out with a small tugboat called the Junior which also acts as the line handling boat for the stern lines when we dock. The ship docks at the Railroad dock which was built in 1964 after the big earth quake. Since then not much has happened to the dock apart from sprucing up the cargo shed on the pier so it can be used as a cruise terminal. It was built with the aim to accommodate ships of the size that was normal for those days. Ships that were noticeably smaller than the current cruise ships. As a result the ship sticks out from the pier and needs to use two dolphins which were built in the 1990’s by the cruise companies. It is called the Rail road dock as trains were be able to roll onto the dock to discharge to or load cargo directly from the freighters at the dock.

Later on a coal terminal was constructed on the west side of the Rail Road dock to export coal from the interior. This is where the fun begins. If a bulk carrier is docked at the coal terminal, it is nearly impossible for a cruise ship to come alongside. When a cruise ship is scheduled they try to alleviate the problem a little bit by moving the bulk carrier as much to the end of the coal terminal as possible and so create the biggest gap possible for the approach but it still not very pleasant, especially as it often tends to be very windy in Seward. Thus when a coal ship is in, the captain prays for wind still weather the day before. When I send my ETA to the agent in Seward, my first question always is, is there a coal ship alongside???

This time there wasn’t, as the agent told me and what a cheerful pilot confirmed. However when coming closer, there appeared to be barge parked alongside the pier. Unknown to the agent and to the pilot, a local operator had parked a barge at the coal terminal for the night, oblivious of the fact that it might hamper the docking of the Veendam the next day. Well, there is not much that you can do at 4 am. in the morning so I had to get the ship in with this obstacle in the way. Wind was blowing a good 20 knots on the funnel but luckily mainly from astern. In the end we squeezed in with 30 feet clearance on the port and 15 feet on the starboard while at the same time angling the Veendam around the end of the pier towards position.

Due to the lay-out of the pier, we have to park the ship in line with the conveyor belt which is used for the luggage coming and going from the ships marshalling area. A gap was made in the side of the pier and a conveyor belt descends through the gap into the open break door of the ship. It is designed in such a way that the conveyor built goes up and down with the ship when it is moves with the tide. Luggage trucks are standing right behind the conveyor belt and the off coming luggage is quickly and efficiently transferred. Luggage that comes to the ship goes the same way, only then a container with an X-ray machine is parked in front of the conveyor built to screen each bag and suitcase before it comes onboard.

It was a bit of a miserable day, with rain and wind, but the good thing was that all boarding guests and luggage had made it by 7 pm. so I could leave on time. Except the barge was still there. Our ships agent, who is a very feisty lady, had been on the phone all day to get the thing moved but the operators only got convinced about the necessity of it all about 45 minutes before sailing. Finally a tug moved over and started pulling the barge away. As the tugboat captain went totally out of communication with the Veendam pilot we could not advise him how the Veendam would leave the dock. In the end the barge moved exactly in the same direction as I had to move the Veendam in order to swing her around safely and head for open waters. So while the Veendam kept coming astern, the barge kept moving further down the bay in the same direction. By the time the Veendam went south the barge was about 2 miles down Resurrection bay, while the tug could have moved the barge just 500 feet to the south and all would have been fine.

After disembarking the pilot we sailed east the same way as we came last night as we are heading back to Hubbard Glacier. Tomorrow we will find out if the fog has lifted.

1 Comment

  1. Missed career at sea Miss

    May 26, 2008 at 2:06 pm

    With your 225th cruise to Alaska coming up on 25 June (as per your interview with John Heald) you might have encountered such a harrowing experience before?
    Just in passing though; I’ve observed a brilliant decision as to the way the HAL ships are leaving the Canada Place (YVR) lately. The last 3 ships (RY, ST, ZA) were consistent in this new procedure. In case it should stay a surprise for your next load of passengers I’m not going into details. But I’m simply bursting from enthusiasm over this change! Too exciting..

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