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  • Writer's pictureKarl Sander

The Voyage South - Part 4

On my previous two trips through the waters of southeast Alaska, the skies were overcast. It had still been scenic, with wispy low clouds weaving in and out of the treetops, but it was more sublime than stunning.

Not so on this trip.

We’d boarded M/V Malaspina in the wee hours of the morning after what seemed like a lengthy loading process. The sun was already beginning to come up, and we took a last look around at Juneau’s Auke Bay before heading below to shower and sleep a bit.

Frederick Sound

We woke up to a dazzling, nearly cloudless sky and sparkling waters dancing between emerald isles where Stephens Passage met Frederick Sound. After a quick walk around the outside to take in the views, it was time to eat. The ship’s cafeteria was at the aft end of the second highest deck, with large windows on three sides, making for a great place to take in the views while we ate and lingered.

Kake, Alaska

The ferry made a quick stop at Kake, a village of 500 or so people, before heading around the north end of Kupreanof Island to head for Petersburg. With the uncharacteristically clear skies and bright sun, I couldn’t resist spending as much of the early afternoon outside as I could.

My only other stop in Petersburg had been on a gloomy late September evening, and all I saw were lights from the dining room where I ate dinner. But on a bright May afternoon, we had plenty to look at as we arrived. Sea lions lounged on a channel buoy; when our captain blew the ship’s horn to get the attention of a small boat in the middle of the channel, the sea lions felt compelled to answer.

Chatty Seals of Petersburg (photo by Karissa Sander)

As it happened, Petersburg was hosting its annual Little Norway Festival the weekend we passed through. Unfortunately, the ferry’s stop wasn’t long enough for us to get out and explore. While we were looking forward to getting to Ketchikan and then home, we agreed that the festival would have been fun to check out. I filed the thought away for the future while at the same time thinking it might have been worth stopping off – like many of the other passengers were doing – if we had known.

Petersburg, Alaska

Later in afternoon and early evening, Malaspina threaded her way down the Wrangell Narrows, the narrow passage of water separating Kupreanof Island to the west from Mitkoff Island on the east. At times, the opposing shores are very close to each other, with the channel making tight turns. At one point, the crew posted a lookout at the bow. While it wasn’t the biggest ship I’d ever been on, maneuvering something the size of Malaspina though the tight and twisting channel – all while fishing boats and tugs with barges went this way and that – had to have been a relatively intense experience on the bridge. The commercial cruise liners are far too large to venture this way.

Wrangell Narrows

Wrangell Narrows (photo by Karissa Sander)

As the shadows grew long – which happened earlier and earlier as we headed south – we made our stop in Wrangell. Karissa knew someone who was planning to retire to Wrangell Island, and so we were interested in checking out the town from the railing of the ferry. Again, the stop was too short for us to get off and wander around. It looked small and quiet, but comfortable. I could think of worse places to retire.

Before long, we’d turn in again. It would be another early morning when we arrived in Ketchikan. Fortunately for us, it would be the last early morning of the trip.

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