Captain’s Log: A Week in Alaska

Captain’s Log: A Week in Alaska

Our speed from Vancouver to the ‘Great Land’ and our first port, Juneau, is governed by the time of slack water at Seymour Narrows. The parameter for the transit of this narrow passage is dependent on the speed of the current. We have compulsory pilots with us, from the Pacific Pilotage Authority, and they have more or less set these parameters after years of experience. Most will go through with a current of 4 knots or less, on the ebb or flood, ideally around ‘slack’, when the tide is about to turn. The challenge with this is that any vessel, be it cruise, fishing boat or tug and tow, are also trying for the same ‘window’ of opportunity, some going north and others going south; so as one can imagine, it can be hectic at times.

After leaving Vancouver, the ideal time for a ‘slack’ tide is around 11 p.m. that evening, this results in a manageable speed to Juneau. This week, unfortunately, the tide was earlier and even had we left Vancouver 1-hour early, we would not have been able to make it and so I, reluctantly had to ‘bite the bullet’ and go for the next opportunity, this was at 0240 on the Saturday morning, (having departed Vancouver on Friday afternoon). We slow steamed towards Seymour, biding our time until the early morning tide and once through had to put the ‘pedal to the metal’ to achieve a speed of over 20 knots in order to arrive in Juneau on time. This was achieved, however looking at the fuel consumption on my Bridge instruments, on our way north, it brought tears to my eyes, (metaphorically speaking).

Beautiful weather for our guests this week, glorious sunshine and calm water, we were once again treated to pods of humpback whales in Chatham Strait and Steven’s passage; they all seemed to have stayed further south this year, as the regular ‘whale sighting’ reports indicate few to the north. The fishing boats are out in force during ‘openings’; allotted times in varying areas when salmon may be caught, apparently it’s a good year for the salmon run.

I have first-hand knowledge of it, for in Skagway, just by the bow of the Amsterdam is a ‘salmon ladder’, a contraption which assists the salmon (coming in to spawn), through the dock ‘wall’ by way of a pipe, which leads to Pullen Creek a few yards away. A short stroll along a footpath which meanders alongside the creek, (it’s about 20 feet wide) and lo, one could walk on water, or on the backs of hundreds of salmon, battling their way upstream, one could almost reach out and touch them.



This week in Tracy Arm, I managed to get much closer to Sawyer Glacier, the ice of last week having been ’flushed’ out, however, having done so, there was much weaving in the fjord itself to get around the chunks.

Sawyer Glacier.

Sawyer Glacier.

As we departed, the Oosterdam was on her way in, the ship I took out of the shipyard when she was new, she still holds a special place in my heart; she looked magnificent as she sailed past.

Oosterdam approaching Tracy Arm.

Oosterdam approaching Tracy Arm.

I took some R&R in Ketchikan, 2 hours of fly fishing in Ward Lake, loaned some waders by one of our SE Alaska pilots, (I have my fly rod and gear with me), I spent 2 glorious hours up to my waist; the result? Two beautiful Steelhead trout, both around 5 lbs and both giving a heck of a fight, (I won’t mention the one that ‘broke’ me ;) ). They deserved to grow larger, so once I had taken the fly out of their mouth, I waved them farewell as they slowly swam away from me. I daren’t bring my camera, not in 4 feet of water, so I have nothing to prove my haul, except of course the bystanders on the side of the lake, who were watching my efforts. I tried numerous flies before I found what they wanted; a Clouser minnow did the trick admirably.

Away from Ketchikan and following the “Millennium”, she too bound for Vancouver and going for the same Seymour tidal window, the civilised hour of 9 p.m. After we embarked our BC pilots, we set courses to the east and the Inside Passage. My 6th-sense tells me to look through the binoculars ahead of us and sure enough, I spot the massive fin of a bull orca coming our way. An announcement brings guests to the open deck and we have a wonderful view of him, then we spot the remainder of the pod, coming past the other side of the Amsterdam, how convenient, each side having their own view of these wonderful creatures.

Through the Narrows and set speeds for First Narrows and Vancouver, where we were docked by 7:15. Disembarking our guests and a short break before our new guests arrive for their cruise to the ‘Great Land’.


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  1. Marj Gordon August 6, 2013 at 1:25 am - Reply

    Hi Captain Mercer,

    Just want to tell you how much I enjoy reading your blog entries; having been to Alaska many times, it is just like being back on an Alaska cruise! Glad you are getting such fabulous weather! Your interesting stories always make feel like I’m sailing with everyone on one of my favourite ships!

    I would be very grateful if you could find a minute to pass along a message to Assistant Dining Room Manager Jorn. Tell him that the 2 ladies he met on the Rotterdam in 2011, and who he saw again in May on the Amsterdam, send him their best wishes and hope that he is enjoying Alaska!

  2. Noel & Pat Bell August 6, 2013 at 2:19 am - Reply

    Hi from Melbourne AU Captain,
    It always amazes me that in your busy schedule, you always have time to keep us up to date with what is happening around you and the Amsterdam. Many thanks indeed. It seems so long ago when we met friends in Hob in Feb. on that 42c day & now you are the other side of the ocean.
    Keep safe
    Noel Bell

  3. Jeffrey Kane August 18, 2013 at 11:16 pm - Reply

    Hello Captain John:
    It sounds like it was a great week and I cannot wait to speak with Carol Klinger and hear what a great trip they had with you and on the Amsterdam!
    Just got off the Queen Mary 2 on Thursday from Southampton and had the great pleasure of meeting two passengers from our past Grand World Voyage-they came over to us at embarkation and shouted …”How was the wedding?””””””” Guess Susan and I sent a lot of time planning the wedding while on the voyage. But it was great fun seeing them again and we spent a great deal of time talking about how wonderful the Amsterdam and YOU were…..

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