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  • Writer's pictureKarl Sander

The Voyage South - Part 2

M/V Kennicott got underway just before noon on Sunday. A low overcast obscured the higher elevations of the land surrounding us as we eased into the western reaches of Prince William Sound, but the scenery was still gorgeous as steep terrain descended to the sea, broken here and there by waterfalls. Even though it was the middle of May, there was still plenty of snow visible in addition to all the glaciers.

Underway in Prince William Sound

Photo by Karissa Sander

In the Sound, the seas were calm. We walked around the weather decks, and sat for a while in one of the viewing lounges, watching the scenery pass below the clouds. But eventually, it was time to eat.

Onboard Kennicott, the dining room is a cafeteria. There’s a salad bar, a sandwich bar, and a grill station. For lunch and dinner, there were always a couple of specials available. But if none of those were to your liking, there was a grill-to-order option – you could still get a burger or fish n’ chips.

Lunch and dinner are also one of the only options for adult beverages since Alaska closed the ferry system’s bars. Each ship used to have a comfortable lounge with a full bar, but that amenity has been a casualty of the State of Alaska’s budget woes. It’s disappointing; when I first came to Alaska, riding a ferry from Bellingham to Haines, the lounges were friendly places to relax. The bartenders made great ambassadors, and it was fun to get to know fellow travelers.

These days, you can get two bottles of beer or servings of wine with lunch and dinner. If you have your own room (which we did), you can drink there. Not surprisingly, then, we had a well-stocked cooler in our room for each of our three legs.

We also had a couple coffee cups and metal flasks. You know, for having water nearby. Because it’s important to stay hydrated.

Our water may, or may not, have included hops and barley. The Alaska Marine Highway System will never know for sure.

Where there's a will...

A few hours after lunch, Kennicott left Prince William Sound and entered the Gulf of Alaska – a long stretch of open ocean. The ferry system only sails across the gulf in the summertime; I’m not sure if that’s due to traveler demand or weather.

As it happened, even though it was already mid-May, we were warned to expect nine-foot seas. I wasn’t too worried, having encountered seas over twenty feet in a former life. Of course, that was on a ship over one thousand feet long.

This ship was just under 400 feet long. It had roll stabilizers, but the pitch – the rising and falling of the bow as we went through the swells – was more noticeable.

Not enough to keep me from meal times, or from continuing to “hydrate.” Because, as you’ll recall, hydration is important.

It was, however, enough to lay my bride out. When we had come aboard, she had remarked about all the containers along the passageways holding motion sickness bags. Little did we know that one of us would wind up using more than a few of them.

Eventually, I convinced her to try Dramamine. It worked for controlling seasickness. I did NOT know it also induced drowsiness. On one evening visit down to our room to refill my bottle (because it’s important to hydrate), I was at first happy to see her resting... and then momentarily concerned that Dramamine might, in fact, have killed her. I resorted to holding the back of my hand in front of her face to make sure she was still breathing.

Crossing the gulf wasn’t especially scenic this trip. A few years earlier, headed in the opposite direction, even though we were in the open ocean, we could see Cape St. Elias and its lighthouse. Not so on this trip, with the low ceilings and reduced visibility. As I sat reading in what used to be Kennicott’s bar, I thought to myself that at least Karissa wasn’t missing anything.

The next morning, not long after breakfast, we pulled into Yakutat. It’s a town of about 200 people right about where the southeast Alaskan panhandle meets the larger ‘mainland’ part of the state. The city is so small that the ferry, when it visits, is the best place to go out and eat.

Kennicott's rotating vehicle elevator at work on Yakutat's elevated pier

Karissa welcomed the opportunity to walk on dry land, and we both appreciated the chance to run into a fellow passenger walking her Shiba Inu – a Japanese dog breed that looks like a husky, only smaller. Since we were now near the eastern end of the Gulf, our new acquaintance and I both tried to reassure Karissa that we were leaving the swells behind for the calmer waters of the Inside Passage.

After the ship got underway again, we were proven right – for a little while. But then we left Yakutat Bay, and Karissa’s stomach proved us wrong. Around ten that night, we passed Cape Spencer and entered the Inside Passage. Karissa was in another Dramamine-induced coma, but I knew that when she woke up, we would be in calmer waters.

On the other hand, it would also be offensively early in the morning, because that’s when we’d dock in Juneau.

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