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Ocean Liner History and Stories from the Sea, Past and Present. With an In Depth focus on Holland America Line

25 May 2012; Glacier Bay, Alaska.

You approach Glacier Bay via Icy Strait, named so a long time ago, when Glacier Bay did not exist yet and was completely covered in ice. The Glacier then calved directly into this strait, hence the name. Since then the glaciers have been retreating and now we have to sail about 50 miles up the bay to get to them. That journey starts with entering the lower bay and picking up the Park Rangers. Glacier Bay is a National Park since President Coolidge signed a Presidential decree for it in the late 19th century.   Thus as long as I have been around the routine has been the same, we pick up the Rangers and then we proceed up the Bay towards the glaciers. The thing that has changed through the years is the number of people that board at the Ranger Station. In the early beginning it was only 2 Rangers. One to make the announcements and the other one to walk around the ship, to talk to the guests. The next step was to bring books and maps on board for sale and the 2nd ranger would stand at a table in a central point. In our case the Crows nest.  Then an addition to the team was a member of the native tribe who lived in Glacier Bay before the Ice Age of the 17th & 18th century dislodged them, but who are still in the area.  Lastly there is now a wild life observer as well, who spends the day on the bow with a range finder making observations. That is, if he/she is not distracted by curious guests of course.

glacier bayWhat has also changed is the amount of wildlife in the Bay. During my first summer here back in 1982, we saw hardly any wildlife in the bay. If a bald eagle flew by, or a “lost whale” made it into the bay that was cause for great excitement. But conservation has really paid off and now we see whales, eagles, otters, sea lions, dolphins and a host of birds I cannot even name on a regular basis.  The Rangers keep a count of whale sightings in the bay, and if these sightings increase during the summer, they issue a “Whale Water” regulation. That means that in a certain area of the bay, so many whales have been sighted that a compulsory speed limit is introduced. Most of the time that is 13 or 10 knots.

Research has found out, that if a ship travels slower than 13 knots, the chance of hitting a whale becomes very remote.  It seems that the animal then has time to react to the engine noise, or the change in water pressure and can get out of the way in time. We on the bridge have been trained in spotting whales, recognizing them and to take appropriate action to avoid whale encounters.  We try to keep a whale at least 500 yards away, although there is always the problem that the whale is not “aware of this distance” and decides to come closer. Then, quite often, we cannot go anywhere anymore due to shallows or other traffic and the only thing we can do, is slow down even more or even stop the ship. That is all part of the routine but it means that I have to set the margins of my cruise schedule quite wide in order to be able to make it all work.

Another rule that we have to comply with is that we will spend at least 4 hours in the upper bay, including at least one hour in front of a glacier.  If there is a lot of ice floating in the upper bay, then the time schedule becomes a nice puzzle as the ice navigation eats into the time available as dodging bergy bits has to be done at slow speed.

Today we had a real Glacier Bay day. Overcast, foggy patches, a lot of calving at Marjorie Glacier and quite a bit of wildlife to enjoy.  I always hope for overcast weather, as it brings out the colors of the ice in a more natural way. It is also better for taking pictures as it avoids that reflective glare from the snow and ice that can otherwise spoil your precious mementos of a great day.

So we had a great day in the bay and due to the whale speed limit and my ice dodging, we arrived 45 minutes late back at the ranger station. Not much of a worry. Tomorrow will be a sea day and I will have ample time to catch up.

The weather forecast for the Gulf of Alaska looks good. No more than 20 knots of wind and only light showers. For the month of May, that is not bad at all.

I am hoping to give you an update about our Corinto efforts each Sunday from now on:

Here is the first one:


From the Crew Coin box                               $139       (Discarded change)

05/14                                                     $100       (Cabin 012 California donation)

05/16                                                     $100       (Cabin 007 California donation) 

05/23                                                     $200       (Cheque Florida donation)


One box               arrived 14 may SDO         (Canada donation)         


3 compactor boxes  full since Corinto.

1 Comment

  1. I appreciate that you are singing the praises for the conservation efforts of all involved here in alaska and especially Glacier Bay. The respect you pay to the whales and other wildlife by making every effort to leave them unharmed is testimony to your level of caring and your humanity.

    The contribution the cruise lines make toward continued research and observation in allowing the Parkies aboard is just one of the many kindnesses HAL and others contribute to Alaska and the ports around the world where ships dock. Thank you, Captain.

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