pcs'ing on the alaska ferry


Now for some strange reason, the USAF will pay for people to PCS in or out of Alaska on the Ferry system.  In fact, at the time we were there you had three choices: (a) Fly and have a car shipped; (b) Take your vehicle on the ferry system; (c) Drive.  We selected (a) on the way up, and (b) on the way back - something we hadn't originally considered, but people had told us how great it was.  Now I'm telling YOU - this is a great option - take it if possible!!  It was thoroughly enjoyable, relaxing (mostly), scenic and interesting.  Go on the ferry.  Go on, book it now, here's the website:

http://akms.com/ferry/  :)


The first part of our trip, since it was a departing one, was to drive from Anchorage - where Elmendorf is - across the Kenai Peninsula to the port of Seward.  We stopped off on the way to see Portage Glacier.  The only catch being it had retreated out of view of the visitor's centre!  The lake is formed behind the terminal moraine of the glacier itself, which has been retreating for quite some time.  The visitor's centre is very interesting, however, so we looked at everything there before taking a photo of the glacial lake:

Also just nearby is Williwaw Campground with it's own little hanging glacier:

As you can see we were leaving in Autumn.  This made for a few extra photo stops along the way to Seward in order to take pictures of bits of Autumnal colour:

On the way into Seward is the Exit Glacier, which outlets to the Resurrection River.  We got there just as it was getting dark, so I'm afraid the pictures aren't the best in terms of lighting.  First, the path to the ice face:

And then the ice itself:

And the view of the glacier as seen from the road back into Seward:


Seward itself is a pretty little town on a slim bit of flattish land between the ocean (Resurrection Bay) and some steep mountains.  So it's always a bit worrying to see:

The sign isn't actually much of an exaggeration - the mountains are steep and the waves could be massive!  In fact, during the 'Good Friday' earthquake of 1964 there were two tsunamis in Seward - a local one caused by a kilometre of waterfront collapsing into the bay during the quake itself, then the huge main tsunami that came up the bay from the epicentre of the quake.  Wikipedia has a good short article on this earthquake, including a photo of the Seward devastation if you'd care to examine it  :)  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Good_Friday_Earthquake

Seward also features the Alaska SeaLife Center.  As it was late when we were there, much of the SeaLife wasn't in evidence, but we did get a couple of seal photos:


The last picture doesn't really do justice to the speed the seal was using to zoom past the window!  Their rolls, banks and loops would put any airshow performer to shame.  Here's a link for the SeaLife Center homepage if you want to see better pictures  :)   http://www.alaskasealife.org/

Well, the next morning we were due to sail, and had to get up at some ungodly hour to do so.  I don't know what it is about sailings, invasions, advances across open country, firing squads and the like that makes people think "Hm, 'dawn' sounds good to me!" but that is the way it is.  So we showed up in Karl the Mustang, stuffed full of luggage and all my houseplants (by the way, Southerners, you can't say "pot plants" to 'Merkins because they think you're talking about illegal substances........ so forgive the Americanism of me saying 'houseplants'!), at O Dark Fifteen or some such time.  We saw our ocean-going steed, the MV Kennicott (MV for Marine Vehicle perhaps?) as we pulled in 3 hours before sailing time as per the orders.  The loading of the vehicles was fast and efficient, although somewhat scary as you get jammed in amongst all the big trucks etc.  Once you have your stuff out they jam the next vehicles in next to you, and there's no way to open the doors from then on  :)  We wish we'd thought to take a picture during this process, but it was so rushed to drive the car in, get the stuff out, get out of the way, and go up the internal stairs to the passenger decks that we didn't.  Sorry!  Perhaps you can find a picture here somewhere:  http://www.akmhs.com/  That page will also feature details of the various ships we went on.  This particular one - the Kennicott - was at the time the biggest ship the Alaska Marine Highway mob operated, and was almost brand new.  The Kennicott is 382 feet long, 85 feet wide, and has nine decks  :)  Our cabin was very comfy:

As you can see, Jason was too busy with a proliferation of electronic gear, laptop etc to get out of the way for my photo ;) Anyhow, there's our cabin - complete with private bathroom via the door on the right.  Having our own cabin and bathroom turned out to be a big bonus once we hit the open sea!  But more on that later  ;)

I mentioned earlier we were required to turn up 3 hours prior to sailing, as they want to give plenty of time to load all the vehicles.  Having a small vehicle by US standards (UK and Southern people can laugh at the idea of a Mustang being small!) they actually crammed us on as one of the first loads, so that left us with lots of time before sailing to sit around.  Eventually it became light, and as we were about to sail we could finally see a bit of a view:

On our way to our first port of call (like that nautical language, eh?) we enjoyed the scenery of Prince William Sound:

Beautiful!  And there was plenty of that to be enjoyed whilst sipping coffee in the lounge.  We got to our first stop, Valdez (famous for it's, well, it's oil slicks really) just at dusk.

That's the oil depot, the Alaskan oil pipeline terminal, and where the Exxon Valdez had topped up with the crude stuff before spilling it all in Prince William Sound in 1989.  They'd put out the sign for us, but the band apparently had the day off  ;)

We were able to get off the ship (what is it.... disembark the vessel?) here for a bit, so were able to take some photos from the dock.

Our cabin is the one with the light on  :)

Das Boot.  And some nice sunset pictures:

So, back onboard and off we sailed again.  We ate dinner, examined the bar (complete with 70s disco ball!) and I had my mother's patented cure for mal de mer, brandy and dry ginger ale.  Just in case.  Then we went into the movie theatre to watch - joy of joys - the Hunt for Red October (that's not sarcasm, I love this movie).  Ahh..... classic maritime entertainment.  I started to feel a bit queasy towards the end of it, and thought this was perhaps due to my usual lack of enthusiasm for Alec Baldwin in the role of Jack Ryan.  The vague sense of movement I assumed was my mind playing tricks due to the nautical nature of the movie - after all, the trip had been glass-smooth so far.  Not so!  In fact the sea had begun to get a tad lumpy.  The brandy and ginger ale must have worn off, because I started to feel quite sick.  I expected Jason to laugh at me, but as he was turning slightly green himself he didn't get around to it.  To make a long story short, there are no pictures from about the next 24 hours as we crossed the Gulf of Alaska lying flat in our cabins.  Occasionally one of us got up and staggered (the swell was pretty big!) to the bathroom for a drink of water or a toilet call, but neither was actually sick. (Triumph! Must have been the brandy and dry after all). We were very glad to have our own bathroom, as making it down the corridor would have been impossible without slamming back and forth into the walls like some sort of strange dodgem car routine.  The worst part for me was it was so rough that every time I was rolled in my bunk against the lip-thing that makes sure you don't fall out, there was also a huge deep 'CLANG' down in the hold.  This brought to mind all those documentaries I'd seen about what happens when the cargo breaks loose and all surges in one direction.  You know, the documentaries that end up with everyone floating around the icy seas in a bright orange lifejacket.  Anyhow.  At some point during the first night we pulled into Yakutat, which gave us a brief but VERY welcome hour without rough seas.  Then back out into the Gulf and into the swell again.  Ugh!

At some point in the following 18 years (so it seemed at the time) we finally got to the Inside Passage and were cut off from the open sea.  Phew!  Back to the scenery:

As you can see, Alaska truly is a land of photo opportunities  ;)

And as we arrived into Juneau:

Note the large body of ice to the right of the middle ground part of the picture - that is the Matanuska Glacier, Juneau's biggest tourist attraction.  After we were shoehorned out of the boat, we bid farewell to the Kennicott and found our hotel.  We were actually spending 2 nights in Juneau before another crack-of-dawn sailing on a different boat.  Because we were going all the way to Washington, there was no continuous sailing.  Anyway, so the following day we visited Matanuska Glacier:

As you can see it was a bit grubby-looking, as it was Autumn and therefore a long time since it had last seen some snow to hide the evidence of what it's been up to (e.g. scraping mountains away).  The other major thing I did in Juneau was buy a Russian hat.  Just like Arnie (sorry, I meant to say Governor Schwarzenegger) in Red Heat  :)

Only I was without the handgun, at least, at the time  :)

So, off we went again, this time on the MV Columbia.  This was actually a bigger ship, but again through all the rush of getting established on board we have no pictures.  This part of the journey was very pleasant and relaxing, gliding through the Inside Passage where the water was as smooth and clear as I'd ever seen the ocean...... gorgeous.  One of our stops was at Wrangell, and the most interesting bit of scenery there was:

The change in ocean colour where the milkiness of the glacier-fed freshwater met the sea.  This is a suspension of glacial flour (really finely ground bits of mountain) and something I actually remembered from my Geography-studying days  ;)  As you can see, the change is extreme and sudden.

We spent one night on the Columbia, but had to change ships in the O Dark Hours after only one night on board.  This time we went down a level to the MV Matanuska, as the Columbia was going in for a refit.  The Matanuska was, well, a tad shabbier than the other boats....... Jason deemed it a 'rustbucket' actually  ;)  We had two nights on the Matanuska as we cruised along past remote bits of Canada.  We, again, seem to have a distinct lack of spectacular pictures of this part of the journey, even though it was very enjoyable.  It was mostly forested mountains..... saw heaps of Bald Headed Eagles, a couple of whales, multitudes of other birds and fish...... and each night we saw the Aurora Borealis - but taking photos of THAT was completely outside the abilities of either us or our camera  ;)  Here's a bit of Canada though:

If you look carefully, you can see the flag  :)  Eventually we arrived at our destination, the port of Bellingham in the state of Washington in the "lower 48":

And so ended our ferry trip.  Despite the 24 hours of rough Gulf of Alaska swell, it was a wonderful trip and well worth it to anyone traveling to or from Alaska.  OK so you COULD do it in 5 star luxury on a cruise ship, but then you'd have to play quoits or some such thing.  Try the ferry   :)


Go back if you want to see anything else  :)