There are several routes a ship can take to go to Alaska and the one that is taken, mainly depends on time available and distance to travel. If the ship is going to Ketchikan from Vancouver and the Seymour Narrows tide is early, then a lot of sightseeing through the Inside Passage can be done and various routes can be taken, while still making it on time to Ketchikan. It then comes down to the weather and the captain’s preference of where the ship exactly goes.
Coming from Seattle makes the schedule a lot tighter as there is the additional distance from Seattle to the Vancouver area to travel. Then you still have to go for a slack tide at Seymour and have to arrive at your destination on time. Whether you can do much sightseeing will all depend on what time slack water is at Seymour Narrows. If it is not favorable then a captain will sometimes decide to go outside, sailing around Vancouver Island and catch the normal Inside Passage route near the Queen Charlotte Islands. If the weather is bad outside, then the Inside passage has to be taken but once being past Seymour Narrows, the shortest route possible has then to be used, to make it on time to the next port.
Then there is the 3rd situation and that is the one of the Volendam. She has to make Juneau as a first port of call after Vancouver. That is a very tight schedule and it means that the ship cannot do the maximum amount of sightseeing in the Canadian Inside Passage, which it could have done if going to Ketchikan. But what it loses in the Canadian Inside Passage, it gains in the Alaska Inside Passage.
So last night we sailed through Johnstone Strait, after Seymour Narrows and then dipped into Queen Charlotte Sound once past Pine Island. This is an open area, with little land but famous for wildlife and indeed many whales, dolphins and flying fish were seen. The ship is booked to capacity with about a 100 children on board and they saw flying fish everywhere.
In the late afternoon, the course went west into Dixon Entrance, where the weather can be really bad with storms from the Pacific rolling straight in, in the winter. But we have wonderful weather at the moment and then taking the short cut into the Pacific Ocean is a nice option. This route avoids sailing by Ketchikan altogether. Ketchikan is on most cruises the first port of call and then you go through the Inside Passage to Juneau but by night.
We will pick up that Inside Passage tomorrow around 0500 when we will be in Chatham Strait. Once we come in more confined waters, near the town of Kake, we will board the American Pilots who will be with us for the next 4 days. Sailing from Kake is all the way in inside waters and here the guests gain what they lost today. Ketchikan ships do this stretch by night so they do not see very much, but as the Volendam will arrive at Juneau around 1 pm In the afternoon, there will be some glorious sightseeing in the morning.
This is my 236th cruise to Alaska and I will not see very much of it, as I will be cooped up in the ships training room for today and tomorrow while teaching 48 crewmembers the inner secrets of how a lifeboat works. I am having a very varied audience, from Cast members to the kitchen, dining room and BLD all the way to Laundry crew and shop persons.
In 14 days they will learn how to operate a lifeboat, how to deal with nervous guests that might be in the lifeboat and a 1000 other small details that will result in a safe emergency operation.
So tomorrow morning, we will sail part of the Alaskan Inside Passage and then we will arrive in Juneau around 1 pm. The weather looks great and in Juneau a gentle breeze with a sunny temperature of 75oF is expected. I hope there will be a little bit of wind, otherwise we might get those very low hanging clouds again and that is not good for anybody. Not for me either as I have an outside cabin right under the Radar Mast where they have that whistle that blows every 2 minutes, if there is no visibility.