A Travellerspoint blog

Ferry Ride from Sitka to Petersburg, Alaska

Friday, July 27, 2007

overcast 0 °F

It's raining when the alarm rings at 5:45am, but we're getting used to the rain by now. Also, we expected rain in this part of Alaska. No need to call the ferry office today to see if the ferry's on time: we can see the ferry (Matanuska) from our campground:
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By the time we're ready to drive over to the ferry around 7:30, the rain stops....well, actually it only stops for about an hour and starts up again right before we load onto the ferry. This ferry ramp doesn't look too steep, so that is good. We wait for our turn
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and then drive onto the ferry as directed. The attendant tells us to go down the ramp, taking it slow. So we start driving slowly down the ramp.
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OOPS! The guys at the bottom of the ramp start yelling and waving at us to stop. So we stop halfway down the ramp and the engineer apologizes to us -- we need to go back...they need to get a boat on the ferry before us.
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Well, that may not be a big deal (to back up a ferry ramp) if you're a car, but we're 52 feet long and Jere can't see back past the top of the ramp AND NONE OF THE ATTENDANTS ARE HELPING HIM BACK UP THE RAMP! When I realize that no one is directing him, I ask if I should get out and he says 'yes' immediately. So I run to the back of the trailer and give him directions. He knows there's a pole on the left side near the top of the ramp, so he tries to get the 5ver to turn a little to miss the pole. Finally the attendant in the ferry office realizes that no one is helping us and runs over to help. THANK GOODNESS! Jere finally manages to get up the ramp and out of the way, with the attendant's help. This is NOT fun. This is also not typical when getting off/on a ferry. We normally get lots of help and it can be a little stressful, but not near so frustrating as this morning.

They drive the boat onto the ferry and then we get to drive down the ramp again.
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By this time we're a little stressed and concerned, but they get us on the ferry and parked. They again apologize for putting us through that. We're just glad that's over. This should have been an easy ferry load...oh well.

We "set sail" for Petersburg and I take a quick snapshot of our campground.
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It's a sportsmen club parking lot right next to the ferry. Very convenient. Not real picturesque, but we basically just slept there two nights and spent the daylight hours touring.

The day turns out pretty nice weatherwise. The rain stops soon after leaving Sitka and we enjoy the next few hours watching the view, including more jumping salmon.
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As we're traveling past some islands, the captain announces that some "rare northern flamingos" have been spotted in the tree around the next bend. His announcement sounds official, like it's a real and rare event. So we get to the end of the island and sure enough there are about a dozen plastic pink flamingoes perched in a very tall spruce tree. Someone has quite a sense of humor.
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The ferry shows several movies during the day, much to Joe's enjoyment. Joe and I watch a movie in the early afternoon; Jere watches a movie with Joe in the late afternoon. It's a 12 hour ride on the ferry today, but it goes quickly between the scenery, whale-watching and movies.

We also pass the Malaspina ferry, that we took between Haines and Juneau:
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We even have several flyovers by a Coast Guard helicopter. There are 4 "armed" U.S. Coast Guardsmen on our ferry today, so maybe the flyover is connected to them. But it gives us something else interesting to watch on the ferry. Of course we also have the ferry's "man overboard" drill to entertain us.

When we enter Frederick Sound, we see several whales. I'm looking through the binoculars and I see a group of humpbacks rise out of the water together. They are bubble net feeding! I am thrilled and quickly hand the binoculars to Joe to see. They're far away, so no pics; but being far away I can see them come up to the surface to feed several times from the ferry. An incredible site. Joe is a 'too cool' 12-year-old to be as excited as I am. I remember being the same way in my early teens. Hopefully he'll learn to appreciate the little things in life as he gets older.

We have one stop between Sitka and Petersburg. The ferry stops for about 45 minutes at the town of Take, a small tribul community on one of the islands.
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It's a small fishing village and it's claim to fame is the tallest totem pole in North America.
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Amazingly, when we dock at Take, the sun comes out for about about 15 minutes -- everyone comes out on deck to soak up the sun. I'm just happy when it's not raining; sunshine is a really special treat :-)
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As we get close to Petersburg, the captain announces that icebergs can be seen far off the port side of the ferry. They're from the LeConte Glacier, south of Petersburg. A very pretty blue color.

We dock at Petersburg around 9pm.
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We again get to back up inside the ferry in order to drive off. And again the back few feet of our trailer extend out the side of the ferry as we back up to turn. Jere goes very slowly and the attendant yells at him to keep going "I promise to not let her fall out" :-)
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The ramp is long and curved, but it is an easy drive off.
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We take off to the campground, Twin Creek RV Park. We had called yesterday to make sure they had a site available and it turns out that we are one of only 2 RVers at the campground tonight.

We set up in the dark (missing that midnight sun that we had in northern Alaska) and then check our email. We have free wifi here -- a nice surprise.

Posted by jengelman 13:09 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Sitka, Alaska

Thursday, July 26, 2007

rain 0 °F

We wake up to rain hitting the roof, but by the time we leave for downtown Sitka the rain stops. Our first stop is the Sitka National Historic Park Visitors' Center. We look at their exhibits about the Tlingit native culture and watch their excellent movie about Sitka's history.
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After the movie we take a hike around the totem pole trail next to the museum. There are about 20 different totem poles from the Tlinglit and Haidi tribes. The totem poles are interesting, but it's the nice relaxing walk in the woods that I really enjoy.
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In the afternoon we walk around the downtown area (along with about 2000 cruise passengers), stopping first at the Russian Orthodox Church in the center of town, St Michael's Cathedral. We learn more about the Orthodox religion and enjoy the beauty of the building. No photos allowed of the inside of the church, but we take some pics of the outside of the church. Actually, I take A LOT of pictures of the outside of the church -- I really like the architecture of the Orthodox churches.
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After spending time in the church we head over to the Bishop's House.
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It is a refurbished house that once was the residence of the Russian Orthodox bishop and is one of the few remaining buildings from the Alaskan-Russian era. The Orthodox church could no longer afford the upkeep so they donated it to the U.S. Park Service, who fixed it up and now have it open for tours. We get an interesting tour of the residence by a ranger, including a tour of the Orthodox Chapel that is on the second floor.
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We spend the rest of the afternoon walking around the town and harbor area.
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Of course we're in southeast Alaska, so eventually we know it's going to rain, and the rain comes in mid-afternoon today. We drive down to the area where the original town of Sitka was founded, before being destroyed by the Tlingits. There's a small park there and it's a very picturesque area. The salmon are jumping in the area and there's a fishing boat in the bay, so we watch the salmon for awhile (in the rain). Alaskans do not use umbrellas so we have also stopped using umbrellas. After awhile you just start getting used to being damp :-)
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We try to take a short hike in the rain in the national forest near our campground, but we don't get very far before we give up and get back in the dry truck. We drive around for a short while and then call it a day.

Posted by jengelman 13:14 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

All Day Ferry Ride to Sitka, Alaska

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

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We have a long ferry ride to Sitka today, so we get up early to prepare for the day. We leave our campground at 8:45. Our ferry doesn't leave til 11:15am, but we need to check in two hours early.
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Jere parks the rig at the side of the ferry's parking lot and I jump out to get our lane assignment. Then we pull into our assigned lane and wait.
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Today the Taku has Juneau as a starting port and is already at the dock when we arrive. It's a nice morning, so everyone is standing outside their vehicles and enjoying the sunshine. Shortly after 10am they begin loading. They take the vehicles going to the farther ports first and then we are the first vehicle to load that is heading to Sitka. The attendant comes over to Jere and tells him that he is going to BACK IN the ferry! Jere and I look at each other and I say out loud "This should be interesting". The attendant smiles and says "not to worry...I'll guide you in". We get into position and start backing down the ramp.
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This ramp is not near as steep as the ramp at Haines. The attendant walks beside Jere's window and tells him which way to turn the steering wheel as we back down the ramp.

Of course, as with the other ferry, we need to turn it when we get it into the ferry to park it.
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There are about 5 guys watching to make sure we don't hit or break anything.
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Again, the engineer and his assistants are great.
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Jere is not near as nervous this time as the first time we were loaded onto the ferry (in Haines), but it still is stressful loading this big rig on the ferry. The best thing about backing into the ferry: We get to drive right off the ferry when we get to Sitka late tonight :-)

We grab our backpacks and head up to the deck to relax. Another successful ferry loading!!!
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It's actually a beautiful morning -- blue skies and no rain. The Mendenhall Glacier looks great as we leave the port. DSCF6687.jpg

We remember from our ferry trip to Juneau that whales can be seen just north of the Auke Bay dock area, so we watch for them and are not disappointed. We see several, including a pod of orcas. They are all too far away and too fast to take pictures. I do get to watch a pod of whales for a long time while the crew practices their life boat drill.
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They actually get into a lifeboat and practice rescuing a 'man overboard'.
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The drill does not go well and takes about an hour to complete, so we get a little behind schedule.

Finally we get going and pass more pretty scenery, including a lighthouse.
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When we boarded the ferry this morning, we found out that the ferry stops at Hoonah, Alaska for a brief stop. This is a small fishing community on one of the islands, mainly natives. I think they have around 800 residents. We're looking forward to seeing a small, picturesque fishing community. When we get close to Hoonah, Jere comes to find me and says "There's a cruise ship there!" I never even heard of Hoonah before this morning and they have a large cruise ship?
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As we sail into the port, Jere and I are standing outside enjoying the scenery. A woman who lives in Hoonah starts up a conversation with me when she overhears us discussing the island. She shows us Elephant Mountain and Tunnel Rock.
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We ask her about the cruise ship and she explains that they get 4-5 cruise ships/week. They got their first cruise ship a few years ago and they get more each year. The port where they dock is called Icy Straits and is about a few miles away from the town of Hoonah. When I ask her what the town thinks about it, she says "they hate it". There are some people who think the tourists are a good idea, but she said half the town hates the cruise ships.

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We continue to talk as the ferry is docked. I ask her if she is traveling to visit relatives, and she explains that she needed to get away from her home for awhile. She has lost two children in the last two years from illness. She shares the details with me and it is heart-breaking. She waves at a boy on the dock and explains that there are about 50 people who have been helping her to get through everything, helping with cleaning, babysitting her daughter, etc. I wish her the best as she and her daughter leave the ferry, and feel incredibly lucky to have 4 healthy children.

As we leave Hoonah the skies continue to get grayer and grayer til it finally does start to rain. So we sit inside the ferry and try to enjoy the views. This ferry is filled with vehicles, but has very few passengers, so we can sit anywhere we want. They have a large theatre area, but do not show any movies. There is also no U.S. forestry ranger on the ferry as there was on the first ferry. So the ferry ride seems long in the evening between the rain and not a lot to do. We eat in the cafeteria -- the food is pretty bad, unlike the first ferry.
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The ferry travels through some narrow parts as we get closer to Sitka. Too bad that it's getting dark and the weather is so bad.
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We finally arrive in Sitka around 11:30 and we are one of the first ones off the ferry.
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Since we backed in, it is an easy drive off the ferry. Our campground is right beside the ferry dock so we pull in, set up in the pouring rain and call it a day.

Posted by jengelman 13:22 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Eagles and Salmon in Juneau, Alaska

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

overcast 0 °F

It finally stopped raining sometime overnight. Still cloudy, but we're hoping for some sun this afternoon. We do some chores in the morning, including a trip to the grocery store. After we leave Juneau tomorrow, we'll be in small towns along the inside passage for the next six nights, so we buy food for the next week.

We're sitting in the trailer having lunch when we see a small black bear in the campground a few campsites down from ours. I run for the camera and take a picture, but Jere insists that we go outside to take a picture. "It's a bear!" I'm not going outside to take a picture, so I give the camera to Jere and he goes after the bear to take a picture.
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After lunch we drive to the Alaska Brewing Company to take their tour and sample their free beer. It actually turns out to be fun. Jere tries 3 different kinds of beer and I take a swig of each. I'm not a beer drinker, but much to his surprise I actually like the last one he gives me to try. It's a dark beer and he doesn't care for it. We find out during the tour that the beer that I like is brewed to have a smoked salmon taste to it -- I love salmon! In fact I keep telling Joe that 'you can't eat too much salmon or see too many bald eagles' :-)
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We also meet a couple there who recognize us as "you're the ones with the large 5th wheel on the ferry from Haines!" We had many onlookers as we loaded our large rig onto the ferry at Haines -- these are two of them AND THEY RECOGNIZE US! Jere later asks me "How did they recognize us?" I think it's because everyone else was sitting in their cars reading or relaxing -- we were pacing in the parking lot wondering how we were going to get our rig down the ramp and into the ferry :-)

After the brewery we drive over to Douglas Island, across the water from downtown Juneau. It drizzles off and on, but we have a nice drive, making occasional stops to look at the scenery.
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Then we drive over to a creek that empties into the water north of Juneau.
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We have been driving by this area the last few days and there are always lots of bald eagles here. We park the car and walk over to the edge of the creek. The creek is full of salmon trying to swim upstream. The fish are about 18" long and they're trying to swim in water that is only a few inches deep at places. They are determined to get upstream. It just amazes me when I watch them. They swim in the ocean for several years and then return to the stream where they were born and do whatever they can to swim back upstream, where they will spawn and die.
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So we watch the salmon for awhile, but we also are amazed by the 30 or so bald eagles here. Most of them sitting by the banks of the water.
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We stay for about an hour or so watching the salmon and the eagles. I have to admit that I am just in awe of this scene. This is where I wanted to come yesterday for my birthday, but the weather did not cooperate. It's not a great day today, but definately better than yesterday weather-wise.

It's dinnertime, so we return to the trailer for dinner (in the crockpot) and then do some chores to get us ready for our ferry ride tomorrow. It may be awhile til the next blog entry. Not sure when we'll get wifi next. We take the ferry to Sitka tomorrow. After two days in Sitka, we get back on the ferry to Petersburg for 2 days, then on to Wrangell for 2 days, Ketchikan for 2 days and then finally get off the ferry at Prince Rupert, Canada.

Posted by jengelman 13:12 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Happy Birthday to Me

Monday, July 23, 2007

rain 0 °F

Today is my birthday. I'm not thrilled about this one; I don't feel old enough to be 54....getting much too close to 55. When I'm 55, I'll be closer to 60 than 50. 60!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Anyway, I intend to enjoy today despite the rain and the fact that I'm only one year away from 55.

Yes, it is raining again. It rains the entire day. Never stops even for a few minutes. Oh well. I'm in Juneau -- it rains 222 days/year here.

My first treat of the day is to take a nice long hot shower in the trailer--I've been allocated the entire tank of hot water for my shower and I can get out and take my time getting dressed with carpet under my feet instead of a cramped linoleum covered campground shower. This is a big deal for me and I enjoy it!

I'm sick of cooking and washing dishes so I've asked to eat out for my birthday. Lunch is at the Thone Ore House, south of Juneau. The campground manager recommended it and I really enjoy it. It's not touristy and has a lot of local flavor.
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The food and service are great; prices are good (for Alaska). But the best part of the restaurant is the decor, including a bulletin board with lots of photos and memorabilia. They have photos of a bear that actually climbed across a heavy cord to their bird feeder to get food. And a photo of a black bear on the roof of the restaurant. Too funny!
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After lunch it's still raining, so we head to the Macauley hatchery, north of Juneau, to look at their inside exhibits. They also give us a tour of the outside fish ladder and fish tanks. We stand under an awning for the tour/talk -- it rains alot here, so the awning is a good idea.

The fish tanks are really full of fish.
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They harvest chum salmon here for their eggs. The eggs are then incubated and the baby salmon are released in the fall. They swim to the Pacific, as far as Hawaii and Japan, and then return here in 2-3 years to spawn. This process helps replenish the ocean salmon that the fishermen catch. Salmon farms are illegal in Alaska, so all salmon is ocean grown. Interesting place.
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The rain continues to pour down, so we run a few errands and then go to a movie theatre to see Ratatouille. We eat way too much popcorn and end up skipping our planned pizza dinner at Bullwinkles. The rest of the evening is spent relaxing in the trailer.

Posted by jengelman 13:10 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

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