Sea Days – The Inside Passage and the Gulf of Alaska

posted in: Alaska | 4

On most Alaskan cruises, the sailing is done in the protected waters of the Inside Passage¬†from either Seattle or Vancouver north to Skagway for about seven days. This southeastern “panhandle” area of Alaska is an area roughly 500 miles long and 100 miles wide.

Our 14-day cruise departed from the city of Vancouver and traveled between Vancouver Island and the mainland, the most southeastern part of the Inside Passage, during the first night, May 7th. The next morning the Nieuw Amsterdam turned westward below Haida Gwaii and out into the Gulf of Alaska. The Captain said we had over 900 nautical miles to travel to Kodiak.

The Inside Passage
Early morning views of the Inside Passage from our verandah.
Little islands among larger land masses with snow capped mountains in the distance. It made an interesting layered effect.
The day was cloudy and a bit gray but the views were still beautiful.

Alaska is immense. I knew it was large, the largest state, but you can’t really wrap your head around it until you are there. Alaska contains 586,000 square miles of land and is one-fifth the size of the lower 48 states.

East to west, Alaska measures 2,500 miles, which is just about the distance from Savannah, Georgia, to Santa Barbara, California. During a presentation about Alaska on the ship, this comparison map was used to illustrate the enormous size of the 49th state compared to the “Lower 48.”

Monday, May 8th and Tuesday, May 9th were planned “at sea” days as the ship traveled from the Inside Passage out into the Gulf of Alaska to reach Kodiak Island, our first port. Kodiak Island is a rare port on these cruises and we were looking forward to visiting it. We used these sea days to explore the ship and attend EXC “talks” about Alaska – “We are Alaska” and “Pacific Giants.” At noon on Monday, the Captain announced that the seas would become rougher in the Gulf due to a low passing through the region.

On these Sea Days, we enjoyed walking around Promenade Deck #3. Three times around equals one mile with views of mountains and ocean.

Before we left the Inside Passage, mountains with snow were the view as we walked around the deck.
Out in the Gulf of Alaska, these first sea days were quite chilly, high 40’s.
There were also some rainy and splashy times where the decks got a soaking.
Nice teak benches for a brief rest.
During one lap, the door to the region under the bow deck where the anchor and docking lines were stored was standing open. Al loved the chance to peer inside and look at the inner workings.
It is an understatement to say the lines are big.
We are standing at Muster Station #5 (the green backwards sign behind us.) This was our reporting area should there be a crisis aboard that requires everyone to abandon ship (shudder.) We had to report here immediately after we boarded and be checked in. Safety first!
The tenders that line the side of the ship and hang from Deck 4 are quite large. Much, much larger than our tender on Kindred Spirit, as they should be.
In addition to the larger tenders there are these lifeboat pods.
There were also these smaller odd-looking red boats. Al is pointing to the drooping red thing attached to the exhaust. He actually pondered if something like that could be used on Kindred Spirit to keep the dirty exhaust fumes away from the hull.
Captain Jeroen van Donselaar stopped to chat with Al while we were having lunch on the Lido Deck. Although persuasive, the Captain would not permit Al to steer the ship.

That afternoon Captain Donselaar made his daily announcements informing us all that the ship was traveling at 19 knots in moderately rough seas. The air was 46 degrees and the wind was 25 knots. He also said that there was an increased number of passengers with gastrointestinal issues so please wash your hands frequently and the crew will be vigilantly cleaning all surfaces. Hmmmm. Norovirus. Oh no, no, no.

After lunch we sat by the pool fascinated that these dancing waves INSIDE the ship. It was unbelievable and would have been very dangerous to try and enjoy a swim. Or perhaps a thrill ride.

By the evening dinner hour, the ship was rolling enough to make walking the halls a challenge. The dance entertainment for the evening was canceled.

Wednesday, May 10th was our first port day – Kodiak Island. Our excursion was a walk that included the marina and fishing industry, the most important industry on the island. Kodiak Island is the second largest island in the United States and home to the largest U.S. Coast Guard base.

An announcement from Captain van Donselaar – “The pilot is unable to board the ship due to the sea state. We will have to reassess because a safe arrival is questionable.” Soon enough there were heavier rains and increasing winds. The port stop in Kodiak was canceled. 😢 At 3:00 pm the Captain announced we would be heading to Cook Inlet to find a safe place to anchor and wait until morning to arrive in Anchorage, the next port. At 5:00 pm it was announced that the outside decks were closed, food service was stopped, and the elevators were shutting down. Although we were disappointed about Kodiak, we do understand the need to be safe.

We watched the pilot boat attempt to come along side the Nieuw Amsterdam. Entering Kodiak harbor requires the guidance of a local pilot/captain.
The yellow line shows the boat turning away from Kodiak and heading back out.

Due to the heavy winds, the boat was permanently listing at quite an angle in addition to the rolling motion. We talked with a crew member from the bridge who said the winds had cranked up to 70-75 knots and the seas were 25 feet high. My fear that these giant ships could flip over was about to become reality!!!! Noooo, I wasn’t really thinking that. Not really…… Al did see a couple sitting by the elevators clutching their life jackets.

The world is tilted! These are not photoshopped.
Al’s attempt to open the verandah door was at 4:00 pm before the conditions became even more serious. He was very aware that this was something he should not be doing. But we can all see he did it anyway.

By 6:30 pm the elevators began working and food service started again. The ship had traveled into safer waters for the night. At dinner, passengers on port side lower decks talked about how frightened they were when ocean water was rushing past their windows. Glad we were starboard side and high enough up on Deck 6.

We relaxed that evening with one of our favorite entertainment shows, “Billboard Onboard.” Two young pianist/singers, Wes and Tori, who play and sing popular songs, often by request.

Tori and Wes, two kids in their mid-twenties, using their musical theater background to travel the world. They were fun to watch and listen to.

Fingers crossed that we can get off this ship tomorrow and explore Alaska!

4 Responses

  1. Claire Taylor

    Wow!! What an adventure! Big ships and big seas! You are having a great adventure!!

  2. Ellen R Seltzer

    omg…all i can think of is how harry would be reacting to all of what you wrote…this was quite an exciting adventure for you two…glad you are home safe and sound!

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