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Taking the “Aluminum Box on Wheels” on the Alaska Ferry

Haines, Alaska to Juneau, Alaska Saturday, July 21, 2007

rain 0 °F

Today is the big day—our first experience of driving our large 5th wheel onto a ferry. Jere is the first one out of bed this morning: he’s a little nervous about getting this thing on the ferry. So we eat breakfast and start to pack up when we hear a knock on the door. Our neighbor’s truck won’t start, so Jere tries to jump it for him, but that’s not working. Jere offers to drive them to their tour (they can walk back tonight and hopefully figure out what’s going on with their battery) and takes them to the harbor. We were up early with anticipation so we still have lots of extra time even with the unplanned jumpstart/drive.

We get to the Haines Ferry terminal two hours early as instructed. I go in for our ‘lane assignment’ and we drive to our lane and wait. The ferry is on time today and should be here in about 90 minutes, so we have lots of time to go to the restroom, turn off the propane, label our gas can that will get stored in a special compartment on the ferry, take pictures, and worry about how we’re going to get this big thing down the steep ramp and onto the ferry. Jere knows he can do it; I know he can do it; but we still wonder how the heck we’re going to do it. The tide is low, so the ramp is steep and then we know we have to make a 90 degree turn to get it into the ferry. These are not the type of ferries where you drive in the back of the ferry and drive out the front of the ferry—that would be way too easy :-) Of course it’s drizzling out this morning, so the ramp is also wet – not a big deal for us, but the motorcyclists are not looking too eager about driving down the steep, wet ramp either :-)

The ferry arrives.
A few cars and RVs drive off and then they start loading us. They load the vehicles pulling trailers last. They pull us out of the line and tell us to go first. The drive down the ramp is fine, but the left turn at the bottom presents a challenge. They have a ‘lead mechanic’ who is great at doing his job, which is loading the vehicles on the ferry. Then there are two ‘spotters’ who watch the back and opposite side of our rig. As we’re turning into the ferry, one of our back jacks catches on the ramp and the mechanic stops us immediately before any damage is done. The bottom line is that after several minutes of following the lead mechanic’s instructions, we get into our spot. The only excitement (besides when our back jack gets caught on the ramp) is when Jere is looking in his rear view mirror to see where the 5th wheel is and doesn’t realize that the lead mechanic is walking toward him trying to get his attention -- Jere almost runs into him with the front of the truck. The lead mechanic then explains to Jere that his only job is to keep his eyes on the lead mechanic and do whatever he tells him. The crew will watch the rig for him.

When we’re all settled in our seats in the front lounge of the ferry, Jere asks me if I was worried about the rig going down the ramp and rolling out the other side of the ferry into the water. What? “What are you talking about?” Apparently I never even noticed that the ferry’s door was open on the other side of the boat and if our brakes had failed going down the ramp onto the ferry that the rig would roll right out the other side.

When we get to Juneau, we get to back up and turn the 5th wheel around on the ferry to exit it – that’s going to be interesting.

The ferry leave about 30 minutes late (partly due to us). It’s drizzly and very overcast for the first hour of our ferry ride from Haines to Juneau. That’s unfortunate—this is a very pretty part of the Lynn Canal, with glaciers and waterfalls on the side of the mountains. But even though the rain may put a damper on the scenery, I think the rain is a bigger deal to the tenters on the top deck of the ferry. They have two more nights before they reach Prince Rupert:
However, after about an hour the rain stops. By the time we get to Juneau, the clouds are higher in the sky so the tops of the mountains can be seen.

So what has Joe been doing since he woke up early this morning? Reading his Harry Potter book. Except for a quick breakfast and lunch, and the excitement of driving onto the ferry, he is reading. Joe loves the Harry Potter books and they are wonderfully written (and it's raining/cloudy), so Jere and I are letting him read (and not bugging him to go look at scenery etc).

The trip down Lynn Canal is still scenic, despite the weather.
The mountains have so many waterfalls (they had a record-setting snowfall this past winter) and the glaciers can be seen as we get closer to Juneau. We also pass two pretty lighthouses that are on islands.

As we get closer to Juneau I see a humpback whale in the distance, but can’t find Jere to show him. We do finally find each other and spot what appears to be an orca whale closer to the ferry. The whales are a nice surprise. Hopefully we’ll see more on our future ferry rides around the inside passage.

We get a great view of the Mendenhall Glacier as we get to the Auke Bay Ferry terminal (Anchorage).

There's another ferry, the Kennicott, at the dock. I take a picture to show the side garage door that is also on that ferry.

And now we (actually Jere) get to drive this rig off the ferry. We wait for the mechanic to tell us what to do.
We’re parked in the middle of the ferry, so first he has us back up til our back end is near the opening. No problem so far. We hang out there for several minutes while the cars on the other side of the ferry get off. They leave us go last so we have lots of room to maneuver.

The lead mechanic then comes over to Jere and explains that he’s going to back up and turn the trailer to the right. The back end of the trailer will go out the opposite door, “but don’t worry. We won’t let the trailer fall off the ferry into the water,” What!!! Jere and I smile. So does the mechanic. Now we understand why they have both doors open in the ferry. So we back up and the back of the trailer does indeed stick out of the ferry like the mechanic said it would. I try to take a picture but the lighting does not cooperate, so here is a picture of the trailer on the way to the opening.

After we back up, we can drive through the other side and onto the ramp and back to land. This ramp is much more level than the ‘low tide’ ramp at Haines. Getting off ends up being much easier than getting on for us today.

I breathe a sigh of relief and Jere is now much more relaxed. Jere did great getting on/off the ferry and must feel a sense of accomplishment. The lead mechanic was wonderful—he knew exactly what to do to get our 35 ft 5th wheel/short bed pick-up truck onto the ferry. We had read that the people working on the ferry would help us maneuver on/off the ferry and they were correct. I’m not sure that we would have decided to take the ferry if we would have seen the steep ramp/left turn onto the ferry that we had to make. Sometimes ignorance is bliss :-)

We drive to the Spruce Meadow RV park near Mendenhall glacier, where we have reservations for the next 4 nights. The women who check us in greet us by name (we are the only 5th wheel getting off the ferry today) and are very helpful in telling us the activities we can do in the Juneau area.

The bonine that I took for the ferry has turned me into a zombie (plus a late night last night getting the Harry Potter book), so we have a late dinner and spend the evening in the trailer, with an early bedtime.

Posted by jengelman 10:04 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel

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Okay, may I just say, NO WAY- sorry- I would have gotten out of the truck before entering the ferry. Can you do that? I showed Brian and Dustin, they thought it looked cool- Well, way to go Jere- great job done-!. Okay Claire, just curious, but how is this mail thing working? I just can't imagine how the mail is keeping up with you- just can't think how that is working,so thought I would ask. One more thing to add to this education you are giving me with this trip. Well, I am glad everyone is breathing easier now that the ferry trip is over, will you need to do that again- I guess Jere will be considered experienced if you do. Hopefully the weather will cooperate and give you nice days.

by imrobin

Ok sis sorry a little late but happy bday. hows it feel to be almost 50. Glad to see your all learning how to really drive a big machine. Have fun. Mom and Dad will be leaving the Smokies around 1st week of August heading to cabin. Need to get up there before and make sure still in one piece. later Smiley

by smiley52

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