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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.

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.

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.
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.
There are about 5 guys watching to make sure we don't hit or break anything.
Again, the engineer and his assistants are great.
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!!!

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.

They actually get into a lifeboat and practice rescuing a 'man overboard'.
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.


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?

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.
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.

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.

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.

We finally arrive in Sitka around 11:30 and we are one of the first ones off the ferry.
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

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