2000: Alaska

Misty Fjords and Ketchikan

August 29

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Got my first really good nightís sleep. The time changes today so we are up by 6 a.m. Alaska time.

We are passing thru Misty Fjords, a magical place of sheer granite cliffs covered in shawls of mist, interlaced with glassy calm waters. Here we see many bald eagles, an occasional harbor seal poking its nose out, and even snakes in the water. It is very cold and damp on deck, but with enough layers I manage to survive.

Misty Fjords. And how. Mists... ...and more mists... ...and a waterfall... ...and even MORE mists.
Eerie island in the mist.

We shoot quite a few eagles with the big lens; I hope the pictures come out. (They didn't - too blurry).

An occasional salmon swims right beside the boat, just under the surface, jumping up to catch a bug and then swimming away.

Instead of lunch, today we have brunch at 10:30: fresh fruit platters, smoked salmon with capers, eggs benedict, bacon and sausage. Hope I don't starve!

Everyone is starting to make fat jokes. Philip, our waiter, informs us that we were all secretly weighed as we boarded the ship, and the crew receive bonuses according to how much weight the passengers gain in a week. I'm half tempted to believe him.

Philip also brings us free samples of his home-made glycerin soap, concocted with "glacier water". He has every fruit-flavor imaginable, and some others that are quite unimaginable -- like chocolate brownie soap.

We retreat to our cabin to rest a bit from gorging. We always leave our cabin curtains open, since our deck has no outside walkway and no one can walk past our window to see in. Imagine my surprise when a window washer appears suspended outside our porthole! Good thing I was decent...or at least dressed.

Sunny day in Ketchikan.

At 2 p.m. we approach our first port, Ketchikan. As we pull into the harbor, the sun makes a grand entrance and the scenery is gorgeous. If there were no winter, I can't imagine a lovelier setting for a town.

Small boats come and go merrily in the smooth waters, and seaplane after seaplane glides into the harbor as our ship slowly approaches the dock.

Mike meets the Statendam.

Our ship settles in behind two cattle-boat cruise ships; our little craft looks a bit dwarfed next to these monsters. As we walk down the huge dock, Mike is stunned at the size of the Holland America Statendam; he has never been close to a "real" cruise ship before.

Ketchikan is a bustling fishing/tourist town, bigger than I expected. It has many charming (if newly built) seacoast-style buildings, most of them housing tourist shops.

While much of the bustle originates with the cruise tourists, there are many, many cars and trucks on the roads through town as well, local residents going about their business while we transients pass through.

At dockside, we walk past a large "tourist mall", a building full of curio and souvenir stores, furs, Indian art, and snack shops.


For a shore excursion, we have chosen to attend The Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show, which is great fun. Two teams of two men each complete in real lumberjack activities, such as chopping, sawing, log rolling and pole climbing, with a generous dash of comedy thrown in. Josh and Gunther, the burly Americans, win most of the strength contests, while Brian, an agile Canadian, is awesome at pole-climbing and deadpan humor.

Thar she blows! Look out, Mike's got an axe!

We only have eight people in the audience for the 3 p.m. performance. The big cruise ships pull out of town mid-afternoon today, so itís only our small ship that is still around. The fellows give their all nonetheless; as a performer, I appreciate the difficulty of playing to a small house!

Even with only a few people, there is audience participation. Mike gets a chance to compete with another audience member, throwing an axe at a target. Mike won. (Did I mention the other contestant was a woman?)

Gunther and Josh make sawdust. Pole climbing. Josh is a real swinger. Watch those toes! Brian, Gunther, Josh and Dan give Carolyn a thrill.
Log rolling! Dan splashes Gunther. The balance shifts... ...and down they go!
Salmon taking a break.

After the show, we go hunting for the Ketchikan salmon hatchery.

We wander for a while around the curving hilly streets, asking directions and looking for signs. The hatchery is located in a residential area, with quaint houses accessible by rickety wooden staircases, clinging to the hillsides.

Along the way we find the stream which leads the spawning fish back to their birthplace. Alongside the river is a "fish ladder" - a series of man-made concrete pools, each higher than the last, which allow the fish to "climb" up the hill to the hatchery.

Nearing the hatchery, we are fascinated by a large pool where hundreds, perhaps even a thousand, salmon are resting on their journey. Some are changing color and look exhausted, indicating they have already spawned.

We finally find the hatchery, but itís already closed. Just as we turn away, a young woman comes out. She can't re-open the hatchery, but she kindly offers to let us see the two permanent bald eagle residents. These two birds were both injured and can no longer fly. The larger female flew into a high-voltage wire and injured a wing. The smaller male was shot and has lost one wing.

I snap away with the e-cam as Mike whistles and claps to get the birds' attention. I feel a bit like a groupie harassing a pair of celebrities, but the eagles retain their regal demeanor despite the indignity of their circumstances. I also feel sad that these magnificent creatures are confined to a small space at the hands of man, even though it's in their best interest.

I'm growing to love this camera more by the minute...I can immediately see the results and take more shots, no wasted film!

By 5 p.m., Ketchikan has rolled up the streets; the big ships have left and apparently our 92 passengers don't warrant keeping the shops open.

We re-board our ship for cocktail hour. Marian lets her hair down and orders a grasshopper in the bar!

Tonight is crab-feed night; all the servers are dressed in slickers, rain hats, and their own individual touches. Maggie sports a whole crab (stuffed) on her head. We take our customary booth with Tom, John, Perry and Berte.

I'm not a big crab fan so I just watch the carnage around me. Marian amazes me with her capacity, and Tom and John compete for some kind of crab-consumption record.

Philip flings crab after crab at our table, as we sink under a mountain of shells. We have a great time, as usual.

We even find room for dessert (I don't know how). Philip always urges us to have ice cream with our dessert; is he running a sideline?

All dressed for crab night. 'More crab?' 'No thanks, I'm full.' 'Yummmm! Crab GOOD!'

After dinner I go out on deck and admire the crystalline lights of the town sparkling all around. The air is so clear the lights seem to pierce your eyeballs.

All around the ship in the dark water, small salmon are constantly flinging themselves above the surface to catch insects. Their will to survive is remarkable, even frantic.

Joe Williams, a member of the Tlingit tribe, led an excursion around Ketchikan today and now is onboard to give a program about his tribe's culture and customs. I'm not up to sitting down for a long evening, so I listen over the intercom and then kibitz from the doorway of the lounge

The eagle and the raven.

The most interesting part of Joe's talk concerns the subdivisions of his tribe. Everyone is either a Raven or an Eagle. Ravens must always marry Eagles and vice-versa. It is unthinkable for a Raven to fall in love with a Raven, or an Eagle with an Eagle. If Shakespeare had been a Tlingit, we'd never have heard about Romeo and Juliet.

As a finale, Joe brings in his children in tribal regalia; they perform some (loud) tribal songs with drums. I retreat into the hallway for the sake of my eardrums.

Late in the evening, the ship pulls away from the dock and we watch the twinkling lights of Ketchikan recede into the distance.