A Very Merry Ferry

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A Very Merry Ferry

6/10/19. On Board the Columbia Ferry on the Inland Passageway

I messed up this morning.  I’m having a bit of difficulty adjusting to the fact that I am dependent on other people to make my transportation happen.  When traveling with the trailer, getting somewhere is primarily my responsibility and, generally, I can leave when I want to and not worry about things like ‘departure times’.  When traveling by boat or plane, that doesn’t work too well since they have pre-arranged times that might vary a bit, but not a whole lot.  We already experienced one of those problems the other day when, although we had made the reservation for the shuttle to the airport on a timely basis, the driver failed to show up on time and we ended up having to take a cab to make sure we caught the plane on time.  We made the plane, but the stress of the thing ended up causing me difficulties with TSA – and, well, I’ve told that story.

This morning, the problem was all mine.  Dutifully I remembered to set the alarm last night.  And the alarm went off exactly for when I set it.  But the problem was that I got the time wrong.  I had remembered that the ferry for today’s trip boarded at 7:15 – but I failed to verify that information.  So, it turned out that the ferry LEFT at 7:15 and boarded at 6:15!.  I had set the alarm for 5:00 and shortly after we woke up, the hotel shuttle service called and asked if we were ready.  Of course we weren’t.  They said they couldn’t wait more than five minutes, and so we told them to just go on.  We were ready thirty minutes later, but it wasn’t fair to the other passengers to keep them waiting.

So, for $40 we called a cab.  It turned out that we had no problem getting here, checking our single bag, and boarding with ample of time before the ferry started.  But when you don’t know how these things work, it all becomes an item of high stress.  

Yep, I should have checked my departure and boarding times better last night.  And I should have set the alarm for 4:00 AM, not 5:00.  And I should have done this and I should have done that…but I didn’t.  In the end it didn’t matter, except for all the early morning stress.

The weather just sort of sucks this morning.  There is sporadic rain, the clouds completely block out the sun, and it is cold enough that jackets are required if you want to step outside the enclosed viewing lounge on the ‘Boat Deck’.  Today most everyone is on this deck which houses the observation lounge as well as the snack bar and the regular dining room.  Based on the ship maps, there is supposed to be a bar right next to this wall where I am writing this, but it appears they have closed the bar permanently.

I’m not sure how they name these decks, but this is one floor below the ‘Solar Deck’ which is mostly for lounging in the sun.  Today this deck is also where bunches of young people take advantage of a cheap ‘inland passage cruise’ and rest in sleeping bags on the floor and a few plastic chaise lounges.  Ceiling and wall gas heaters keep the area toasty, and “corridors” marked “keep clear for pedestrians.”  They should probably change the name of this deck and call it the ‘Hostel on the Water’.

On the decks below us are the Cabin Decks where you can actually reserve a berth – we are doing that on another trip – and below that are the vehicle and baggage decks.  This ship only has a half-dozen decks – imagine getting all the names straight on one of these huge cruise ships we saw in Juneau.

View from the ferry on the way to Skagway

This is the Columbia, one of the larger ferries making up the Alaskan Maritime Highway system.  The system serves southern Alaska as their road system, since few of the communities are actually connected by highways.  Clearly not as big as the cruise ships we saw docked in Juneau, these boats serve a much more functional purpose.

Along with airplanes, the ferry system is a key part of the Alaskan transportation system, especially in this part of Alaska, the panhandle.  Or as some call it, the Southeastern part of Alaska.  (On a map, this is the part of Alaska between the Gulf of Alaska and the northern part of Canada’s British Columbia province.) 

Historically, this is where most of Alaska’s recorded past takes place.  Sitka was established by the Russians as their outpost in North America several centuries ago.  Skagway and Haines were supply depots for the Yukon gold rush.  And Juneau was the capital of the territory after the U.S. bought Alaska for two cents per acre in 1867.  The area was the center of Alaska’s early industries in fishing and forestry.  Thanks to ports like Juneau, it is, today, a major center for Alaska’s cruise ship industry.  It was only after oil was discovered on the North Slope and the transportation and pipeline networks were built out of Anchorage to support that industry, in the 1960s, that the focus of development and population began to shift further north.  As mentioned in yesterday’s post, though, they haven’t been able to actually move the capital up there.

Some of the same cruise ship are now here in Skagway

So today is a lazy day for us.  It is too chilly and wet to spend time outdoors, and the views, although striking, are subdued by a lack of color – everything is cast in dull shades of blue, green, and grey.  Still, though, chugging along at a whopping 25 mph, this is a restful way to get to our next stop.  (Sitting here in the lounge, typing away, could only be improved by a nice glass of red wine.). Even with all the cloud cover, the mountain peaks emerging out of the islands to the west and the mainland on the East are gorgeous.  You certainly can’t forget that you are in Alaska.