Travelling by ferry
|Ferry travel is one of the slower modes of transport available to the
modern tourist. 10-15 knots is fast going, and in Alaska's narrow waterways
boats move a lot slower than that.
It's actually a very pleasant way to travel. You stake out an area of chairs using whatever luggage is available. For the average backpacker this is not a problem. Then just settle back, to read, write, play cards, or just watch the scenery go by. It helps a lot that Alaskan scenery is so spectacular, and that there is such a lot of it to go by. The ferry really allows you to appreciate it: the rate of change is slow enough that you can look closely, and fast enough to keep you interested. Drive, stop, point, snap, drive, stop and so on is just not the same. The details just don't seep in, and a month later all you can remember is what you can see in the photos.
Plus, there's just enough action each day on an Alaskan ferry to give the day a little structure. Many events revolve around the cafeteria, but there's always the wildlife encounters. Opinions are divided on this. Some think that the captain's announcements of "humpback off the starboard bow" may be more related to moving ballast to the right of the ship then anything to do with whales. Still, we have managed to spot porpoises, dolphins, humpback whales and orcas (killer whales) on various legs.
The orcas were just today. Dorsal fins jutting four or five feet above the waves, and an occasional flash of black and white body. An odd mixture of menace and playfulness, all backed by the slate gray of some truly awful weather.
One other attraction of ferry riding is the chance to do some intensive people watching as well. There is always a group of people in the front row of the lounge who seem to get on the ferry before anyone else is allowed on. They all have powerful binoculars, wear turtle neck sweaters and spend hours scanning the horizon. Every 30 minutes or so, there is general excitement and seemingly without speaking they communicate to each other about what the spot (usually a bird) is. Then they all go back to scanning the horizon and the rest of us wonder what it is we have missed - a gull or a golden eagle? Or (more likely) a sparrow misidentified as a lesser Bloggses' rheumatic thrush?
There is also always a group of back packers playing cards and another
group discussing their navels. Finally, there are the ones who seem
to sleep for the whole trip, leaving you to wonder what they have been
doing which has made them so tired - climbed Mount McKinlay? Kayaked
with whales? Camped with bears? We will never know....