- Captain Albert's Blog -

Stories from the Sea, Past and Present

26 May 2008, Skagway.

The season is now really underway. Skagway had a full house today for the first time this season. Rhapsody of the Seas, the Queen of the North, Veendam and Millennium. (The last one has not been in dry dock yet, so it does not have the pre-fix Celebrity yet) All docks were occupied although the Queen of the North, which is a paddle wheeler, occupied a space that could have been used by a bigger ship. However all docks had a ship alongside and thus it was a full house.

Fitting all the ships in means; that the harbor master makes a planning and sets a sequence of arrival. The Veendam as an example has to arrive ahead of the Millennium as it would be very tight to for the Veendam to squeeze by if the Millennium was already docked. With a wind still day you could do it, with about 30 feet clearance between the ships but it is hardly ever wind still in Skagway and you cannot plan the dockings that way. So there is a pecking order established and the agent sends the sequence out to all the ships. While approaching Skagway in the early morning, the ships line themselves up accordingly. In our case, the Millennium which came from Juneau had to slow down to let us pass. We were coming from Sitka which is a longer distance and with the average speed that we had to maintain could simply not meet the Millennium’s schedule. The bumpy seas of last night did not help either of course.

Thus while our official arrival time was 0800 for Skagway, we were set for a first line ashore at 06.00 and be docked by 06.20. The Millennium, who has an official arrival time of 0700 hrs, can then dock at 06.30 right behind us. They have to wait for the Veendam, but will still be on time. There is a similar puzzle going on in the other ports. With Alaska being so popular and serviced by so many ships, it is a major challenge to get them all in on the right day and the right time. Sometimes it requires “hot berthing” with one ship departing and the other one already waiting to takes its place. We will do that in coming Ketchikan, when the Amsterdam will leave and the Veendam will take its place.

We had a glorious day in Skagway. Nearly wind still on arrival and with temperatures rising to 70oF out of the wind. The sun shone from the moment we arrived until the moment we left. If it is sunny, the wind can blow considerably in the afternoon through the Lynn Canal which acts as a funnel and increases the momentum of the wind while it travels up the Fjord. But today it did not come higher then about 20 knots and had died down by the time we left. Making it a very easy departure.

The Veendam docked at Skagway with the Millenium docked next door. The ferry dock is empty as the Malaspina had just departed. The next ferry was due late this evening. Foto courtesy of Leah Fehr, wife of the Chief officer. Taken while on a Glacier Bay Helicopter tour.

Also the departure of the ships is done in a pre-arranged order, again set by the harbor master. That means that the official departure time might not be the sailing time. This evening one of the ships tried to sneak out before the other, contrary to the schedule and a chorus of voices rose over the VHF. Although the captains are the ones who are doing it, it are the pilots who take the flak for it. There are two on each ship and all from the same pilot association. When the ships are docked they normally meet up during the day for coffee ashore and then some arguments will be settled about what happened during a certain departure sequence. This time the ship that tried to sneak out first was stopped in its tracks, before it had released its lines, and the departure sequence took place as scheduled.

Although all my guests were on board by 20.15 hrs. I had to wait because of this until 21.00 hrs. as we were the last one scheduled to leave and so we did. It is only a short run to Juneau, 15 knots average for the whole night, even with an early arrival, so I was not unduly concerned about leaving late. For Juneau our official arrival time is 08.00 hrs. but we will be docked by 05.15 am. again due to this scheduling of all the ships coming in. Weather for Juneau looks great as well, so the cruise is getting better and better all the time.


  1. We are thinking in Skagway that YOU and your cruise passengers are bringing the weather to us, bright and beautiful as it has been and continues to be. Full up is right, I believe we are maxed out as far as passengers arriving on certain days…over 9,000 two days a week. Any more and I believe it will not be an enjoyable experience for those going ashore. Personal opinion only, I would not find a handfull of local people who would agree…I am enjoying your weblog so much. After all these years ashore, to get a peek behind the scenes is delightful.

  2. Missed career at sea Miss

    May 28, 2008 at 10:57 am

    My ‘personal file’ with interesting tidbits is already getting TOO big! I thought I would read the same story from here on in. Klaarblijkelijk, there’s no such thing. What can I say 🙂

  3. Captain Albert,

    I only discovered your blog late last week. Fascinating read.

    As of today, I have made it up to 1 November 2007. Hopefully, I will catch up with you before you leave the Alaskan waters.

    I am a retired U.S. Navy and have a deep and abiding love and respect for the sea. But, my speciality was medicine (not a doctor, but a corpsman) and I have learned so much from your blog about the vagaries of the sea and how it affects those that travel on it.

    Two years ago, I have the distinct pleasure of taking a 5 week cruise on a containership of the CMA CGM line. I thought I had learned a lot from its’ Master, but you are so much more a fantastic teacher.

    Hopefully, we can sail together in the future.


  4. I find it so interesting to read your blog. While cruising I simply sit back, totally oblivious to any concerns or decisions our captain may be handling. I really do appreciate the “job well done!”

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