2000: Alaska

A Gray Day

August 28


I awaken around 7 a.m. to gray light filtering in thru the curtains. We are in a misty, foggy, gloomy passage. Even the sea is gray. Looks like a day to stay in and read; no one wants to play outside in the rain and cold!

Most of the passengers are in the lounge by mid-morning, chatting, watching the foggy view, and reading. I bring up my needlework, adding to my growing stash of jacket, hat, gloves, binoculars, e-camera, and 35mm with phallic 500mm lens.

At the player piano, two fellas are sorting through some sheet music; one of them begins to play. After a while I wander over and sing along to one tune. We introduce ourselves; they are John and Tom from Rochester, Minnesota, and they both play the piano quite well.

Most of the music is too modern for us middle-agers to recognize it; finally we find a book of Broadway standards. I grow more bold and start singing in full theater voice; a couple of passengers sing along in a more subdued tone.

We go through every song in the book; we get smatterings of applause and great appreciation from some of the crowd. Well, at least they didn't get up and leave! I guess now I'm an international performer - this IS Canada, after all!

Someone spots a bald eagle and we all stampede to the deck. The Nikon and its projectile lens have been left in the cabin so Mike goes sprinting after it.

At first the passengers sound like an Abbot and Costello routine:
"Do you see it?"
"See that tall tree? Go just to the left, at the top. Do you see it?"
"There! Follow where I'm pointing! Do you see it?"

Then..."Ooooooooh! I see it!"

We start to see eagles fairly regularly, one or two every few hundred yards. They are easy to spot once you get the technique. Just look for a small dot of Wite-out painted in the top of a tree, often a "snag" (a dead leafless tree) - the dot is the eagle's head.

They sit quietly and watch us float by. It's no wonder these birds need protection - any fool with a rifle could pick them off. We see one in flight - more white as the eagle spreads its tail. By the time Mike returns to the deck with the big lens....eagles all gone. Grrrrrrr.

We have a merry lunch with John and Tom and their friends. I have seen the guys escorting these two ladies around the ship, and mistakenly assumed they were sons with mothers; but Perry and Berte are friends and former neighbors. John and Tom own a music box store in Rochester, Minnesota. I prevail upon them to get a website! Of course, they haven't even made it to e-mail yet.

We're treated to more shenanigans of Philip the waiter. He's rapidly becoming the ship's most unforgettable character. He'll bring anything you ask, but as they say, be careful what you ask for!

In the afternoon, we see our first humpback whale spouting in the distance. Apparently this is quite rare for British Columbia waters.

Giant waterfall near Butedale. Russ the hermit.

In mid-afternoon, the ship slows, passing a huge noisy waterfall as we near Butedale, a now-deserted former fish cannery. Well, almost deserted...Russ, the sole inhabitant, waits for us on the dock with his two dogs and his visiting daughter.

We float past tumble-down buildings, one halfway into the water. The Captain nudges the bow as close as he can to the dock, and Jen our Cruise Director tosses a small bag to Russ: some fresh fruit and cereal. Apparently all the small ships stop here to bring supplies, including large bags of dog food -- kind of a Meals-on-Water-Wheels.

As we back away from Butedale (does a ship have reverse gear?), another passenger points out the small spruce trees growing on top of one of the old cannery buildings.The whole place looks as if it is just days away from being reclaimed by the forest.

Smoke puffs from the roof of a shack further up the hill that Russ calls home.

They say travel is broadening...this is certainly a lifestyle I never imagined!

We leave Russ to his solitude and return to our foggy course through the seemingly endless channel between tree-covered shore and tree-covered islands.

Yet another waterfall. Foggy peak. Eagles flocking on a beach. Tugboat in the mist. 'Got any threes?'
Die-hard Hearts. Carolyn the bartender.

With little to do but watch the foggy shores roll by, a rash of game-playing breaks out in the lounge. Mike coaxes Marian into a Hearts game at one table. There are also games of Kings in the Corner, Euchre, and dominos going on. One intrepid lady breaks out a jigsaw puzzle onto an inadequately sized cocktail table.

Vacationing is not for the idle! We must WORK at RESTING!

Dinnertime finally arrives. We have a pleasant meal with Allison, the hotel manager, and her parents Larry and Roberta, all from Long Island, New York. We learn a lot from Allison about the ship’s crew and how hard they work. Most of them stay four weeks on the ship, then have two weeks off. Almost everyone does multiple jobs; the customer service representatives, as they are called, both serve meals and clean rooms. Jen, our Cruise Director, is up at dawn and going all day to plan activities and announce wildlife spottings or points of interest. Allison, as Hotel Manager, is responsible for all personnel and supplies. Even the Captain takes a break from steering the ship to occasionally speak at dinner.

Truth or dare?

After dinner the crew hosts a game of "To Tell the Truth". Three at a time, crew members tell a story about something that happened to them and we must vote on which one is telling the truth. Out of three rounds, I miss all three times.

Our favorite crew member, Philip, is always so full of B.S. no one believes him in his round, but of course he is the one telling the truth. Philip is originally from Indiana, and the story he tells is that he got to meet Paul Newman when he visited Indianapolis for the Indy 500.

Afterwards, Mike stays in the lounge for more card-playing while I retire to a boring videotape in our cabin, the perfect way to get to sleep.