Wednesday, 11 September 2013

An Alaskan Un-Cruise Adventure - Pt 8, Ketchikan

Continuing our magnificent Alaska cruise experience aboard the SS Legacy with the unique style of Un-Cruise Adventures...

Legacy Cruise Day 8

After several days working the small ports and the nooks and crannies of south-east Alaska, we are back in a big port today; the second-biggest, in fact, and the region’s ‘first city,’ as it is usually the initial Alaska port of call for most voyages.

Ketchikan is the former ‘salmon capital of the world’ and one of the wettest places on earth, with more than 13 FEET of rain annually. The record is more than 200 inches but so far in 2013
it has been a ‘dry’ year, some 10 inches below the average by late August. And today is FAR from average, beautifully dry and sunny, with the temperature pushing a balmy 65F.

It is serious port territory, though. There are FIVE major cruise ships already tied up by the time we arrive at 7.30am, meaning there are fully 9,000 day-visitors in a city with has a population of just 8,000. So it’s busy. Really busy.

Thankfully, our little ship is barely noticeable in the overall scheme of things and, while the tour buses load and unload around the mega-ships in a seemingly non-stop stream of humanity, our little travelling band departs on foot in two groups at 8 and 9.30am in the company of local Tlingit guide Joe Williams, whose family have been fishing these waters for generations.

Joe is now a well-established, articulate and amusing guide and, for 90 minutes, we wander
Ketchikan under his leadership, stopping at regular points for him to detail the city’s history, culture and modern development (with tourism taking over from logging as the main industry in the past 20 years).

In fact, the place is almost unrecognisable from even 10 years ago as the former wooden dockfront is now largely concrete – and lined with rows of gift and jewellery shops. Sadly, the frontage has that sameness about it that now marks out the likes of Juneau, Skagway and large parts of the Caribbean as virtually every shopfront looks nearly identical to its compatriots in the other places.

Happily, there is still plenty here to see and enjoy on foot, and Joe pointed out all the salient points, concluding with a walk through Creek Street, the former (and extensive) red light district that was the heart of Ketchikan in the early 20th century (in fact, up until 1954, when it was closed down).

We then had time to wander back through the area and do some shopping before our ‘all-aboard’ time of 12 noon. We sailed at 12.30, while enjoying lunch, and headed out to Misty Fjords National Park, the vast former glacial river valley that is now a monumental scenic area.

Again, most ships don’t venture far up into the Fjords (preferring to offer expensive tours by plane and small boat) but we were getting the grand up-close-and-personal tour, and, once again, it fully lived up to its billing.

En route, another cry of ‘whale!’ brought all binoculars to the port side, where a humpback was lazily patrolling along the shoreline, and, while the bright sunshine didn’t last, we were still able
to enjoy the views under relatively clear skies (as the valley usually fully deserves its ‘Misty’ title).

We cruised serenely through the main part of the channel, past the iconic New Eddystone rock (as named by British captain George Vancouver in 1793; pictured left - spot the sight-seeing plane!) and turned sharp right into Rudyerd Bay, where the ice-carved mountains suddenly loomed 2,000ft above us in the classic U-shaped valley.

Here, bald eagles – including several juveniles – flitted among the trees and the occasional mountain goat was spotted high up on the rocky outcrops. Salmon jumped out of the water at regular intervals and the waterway twisted this way and that, each time revealing a stunning new vista and a new sense of raw, rugged nature.
With the light starting to fade, we reached the end of the inlet and a truly tranquil bay that was utterly quiet apart from a stray gull or eagle call. You could easily believe the hand (or foot) of man had never interfered, and it could easily stay that way for centuries to come.

The journey out was equally spectacular, with more of this immense scenery to drink in, before
it was time to head for another excellent dinner (king prawns being tonight’s highlight, along with a delicious scallop appetiser).

Afterwards, it was time for another presentation from our onboard entertainment group, this time being the turn of naturalist Larry to tell the story of the vast Tongass National Forest that covers much of south-east Alaska, with its geology, flora and modern history.

Sadly, though, it is now time to leave Alaska behind and head further south. We are heading for Canada’s Inside Passage and the route back to Seattle.
2013 it has been a ‘dry’ year, some 10 inches below the average by late August. And today is FAR from average, beautifully dry and sunny, with the temperature pushing a balmy 65F.

Tomorrow: abandoned Butedale - and another major whale encounter!

To learn more about Un-Cruise adventures, call 1888 862 8881 in the US; or visit In the UK, specialist cruise agents The Cruise Line can also help with bookings.

Be sure to read the full report of the cruise in the Autumn edition of World of Cruising, out September 20. You can subscribe here: 
In port in Ketchikan - spot the little SS Legacy against the massive bulk of the Star Princess!