Syl & Ken's Personal Iditarod travel blog

Lowering the Ferry's Ramp

Ready for those Vehicles

Magistrate's Office With Style

Fishermen Couldn't Care Less About that Whale to Its Right - But...

The Kennicott, 382 feet long and 85 feet wide with nine decks, was built in Mississippi in 1998 and is the newest of the ferries in the Alaska Marine Highway System. Alaska has more coastline than the rest of the US combined and more than half its coastal cities are unreachable by regular roads; hence, the importance of the ferry system. This water highway actually covers 3500 miles and 34 ports all of which I would like to visit at some time. We'll only be stopping at seven. The Kennicott was well equipped with a dining room, observation rooms, a theater, a kids' playroom, a store, etc. Although we read that the ship could accommodate 748 passengers we were blessed with a sparse crowd - perhaps it was just late in the season. Because of the smaller number of passengers, we had plenty of room to wander and sit.

Our first night aboard was quite comfortable, especially since I took two Tylenol PMs and stopped hearing Lee's snoring after a bit. In the morning, I got to test the shower first and it was hot, powerful and delicious - almost like our shower at home. After my refreshing night rocked by the sea, during which I did not hear the kids cavorting next door either, I was ready for breakfast (which we brought in our cooler) and bird and animal spotting.

We enjoyed breakfast with our friends in the dining room that was surrounded by windows and then made our way to the front observation deck. Of course, I could not stay inside, fearing that I would miss a whale, porpoise, or bird so out I went to watch and make new friends. I lucked out and made a new friend from Prince Rupert who, also bundled, and with his superior binoculars, helped me scout out new birds. At one point I saw what appeared to be, based on the shape of its head, an albatross and was thrilled to find out that it was. Its wings undulated when it flew and I was excited at this new addition to our life list. Paul was a font of knowledge and told me that one way to know whales are nearby is to watch the gulls gathering around an area. His explanation of bird behavior reminded me why, in the past, I have loved reading Sibley's bird behavior descriptions.

Dall porpoises ran alongside the ship and Ken tried to get photos as they arched in and out of the water. Except for a short break for lunch, I maintained my vigil hoping to see more creatures, ever the optimist. The conversation was fascinating, hearing about the evolving economy in Prince Rupert and the challenges to the environment. Paul described living with much rain and how he and his partner Margo enjoyed birding even in their frequently rainy climate. Based on his recommendations, I may have to try Gore-Tex raingear so that we can wander uninhibited and dryly in wet weather. When I was young - in my early teens - I used to love to put my yellow slicker on and walk in the rain through puddles. Wouldn't be bad to try that again in modern gear.

At about 8:15 our second evening, we made a stop in Yakutat, "the place where the canoes rest," and just had to disembark to check out the town. First we curiously studied the crew taking vehicles off the ferry, fascinating to watch with its lifts, turntables and ramps. While we were gazing at that, the locals were getting on to enjoy what they consider their temporary floating McDonald's. Once we had hiked up the hill, we were really impressed with the range of food in the small market we entered. Various items from Costco (we suspect from Anchorage) were included, but we were not equally impressed with the prices. It is understandable, however, when one realizes that everything, but everything, has to be shipped in. Yakutat is only reachable by boat or plane so even those things that came from Costco required a multi-day journey to Anchorage via boat and car or plane. The cost adds up. Finished with the market, our short tour through the small town continued. As we passed the magistrate's office, we realized that some things just did not rate large marble edifices. You'll have to see the photo.

Once back on board, the captain announced that all visitors had to leave and the locals, sated from their meal out, left the ship with warm good-byes to the crew. I guess this ferry that only stops here every two weeks (and only in the summer due to heavy winter seas in the Gulf of Alaska) is a real treat and regular happening in this town of just over 800 residents. Yakutat receives some of the heaviest precipitation in the state, annually averaging 110 inches of rain, and another 219 inches of snowfall. So the locals, most of whom live a subsistence lifestyle, enjoy this delightful diversion. A bit of warmth and welcome from the residents was the local book exchange from which Phyllis, our new ferry friend, returned with bags of books to read en route to her home in Mexico. Now Mexican locals will enjoy books that traveled from Yakutat.

We left Yakutat, in the darkening but still light night, enjoyed our dinner with our gang and then another "quiet" night in our digs. The next morning we luckily spotted some whales albeit in the distance and Ken even got a shot of a dorsal fin. With a cute little lighthouse in view we approached Juneau and our next opportunity to explore Alaska's coast.

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