Saturday, September 29, 2018

North To Alaska with Nestor - Part #4 Alaska Ferry Ride

After the last several weeks of riding all day, camping every night, 
the slop, mud, muck and mess of the Haul Road, resulting in busting the frame in Coldfoot...

Time to pour a glass of red wine, put on comfortable slippers, kick back in the deck chair and relax with a fine cigar. Let's watch the world slide by from the deck of the MV Columbia. (Nestor thinks they misspelled the name of the ferry, it should be MV COLOMBIA, not Col-U-mbia.) This is the Alaska Maritime Highway ferry that will carry us from Haines down to Bellingham, Washington. Three days and four nights on the ferry with stops in Juneau, Ketchikan and Sitka. Cost is $1540 for one person and one motorcycle.
 (Note: they charge by the length of the vehicle so motorcycles with trailers 
pay more than a solo motorcycle.)

With the bikes secured on the lower level, it's time to enjoy the cruise. 

The shipping activity one sees in the narrow channels from the ferry deck is fascinating. From tugs with their barges, to cruise ships, to whales, to float planes, to dolphins, to fishing vessels...  
A daily parade of shapes, colors and purposes...

There are no roads in this part of Alaska. Everything from your morning Cherrios to rocks to diapers comes via water to where you live.

 A lone fishing boat slides across early morning waters returning with his daily catch.

What is relaxing is we are cruising between the mainland and numerous islands along the Alaskan and Canadian coasts.
No open water or rough seas here. Smooth sailing all the way.

Fading sun falls away as the ferry cruises down the calm Chilkoot Inlet channel.  
More wine, please. Any cheese with those crackers...?

What about the sleeping arrangements you ask? No, we did not pay the extra for a cabin.  
First of all, the ferry cabins are quite small, only furnished with bunkbeds. The space is confining. You really can't see much from them, but you have privacy.

To me, the ideal and my preferred way of travel on this ferry is to camp out in the Solarium section of the open deck with forty of my closest strangers... as Mark Twain commented, strangers are friends I haven't met yet. 

Roll out your sleeping bag, bring a bag of snacks and drinks.
You are sheltered on three sides from the wind and by a roof from the rain.
Too cold? Ask the steward to turn on the overhead heaters.
No matter what time of day or night you are awake, you can watch the world slide silently by. 

A warm sunny day? Simply drag your deck chair out into the open area. 
Raining or cold? Drag your chair back inside.

To me, the huge plus of the Solarium is you have a 180 degree of fresh air (like on a motorcycle) plus have a great view of the world from the aft portion of the ship. The people who choose to camp in this space are usually gregarious, friendly and respectful.  By 9 'o dark,  all is quiet for sleeping.

On the ferry we meet Steve and Phyllis from Medina, Texas who are traveling across the country, north, south, east and west on the red Goldwing you saw parked next to my rig in the first photo.
They are enjoying their retirement as one should.

Actually of the four motorcycles on the ferry, three were from Texas and Nestor's from Colombia. We also met Nick from Georgetown, TX who is tent camping on a lower level of the ferry. There is a protected area out of the wind for those who want to put up their tent on the ferry. It is not under the Solarium heaters as that would be a fire hazard.

Phyllis, Steve, Nestor and your unpaid scribe.

First morning, a bright sunrise turns the water golden as it greets the day... a small fishing boat works the water's depths.

...  further down the coast the sun disappears behind a wet fog bank making the numerous small islands look mysterious and forbidden.

Too wet and too cold to relax out on the open deck, a lonely chair is abandoned.

Being a smaller vessel than the huge tourist ships, the ferry Capitan can thread his boat between the smaller islands with deep channels.

We spotted several whales, tails flipping as they dive deep.
One whale breeching, blowing a cloud of mist.
Unless one has the camera on, focused with the correct settings and... be facing in the right direction, you will not get a good photo of a whale. I tried... blurry images... !

As the trees slide by so close, one feels they could reach out and touch them.
How calm and quiet the waters are... more wine?

Second morning sunrise, a double sun???  Sun is on the right behind mountains and clouds. A few rays found an opening in the fog to brightly reflect off the water on the left creating 
the unusual double sun affect.

Carlos from Madrid, Spain tried camping on the open deck the first night. Was cool but pleasant he said, but by mid-morning a cold constant drizzle and strong wind forced him to move in.

Tomorrow we are back on the bikes heading south, taking a wandering route east along the Columbia River, then northeast into Idaho before turning south toward Nevada. 

Securing our gear, saying our goodbyes at the Bellingham terminal loading area are
Nestor, Nick, Phyllis and I.

The wine bottle is empty, time to ride. See you on down the road.

More to come in the fifth and final episode of Nestor's ride to Alaska.


p.s. Truth be told,  drinking alcoholic beverages on the ferry is not allowed. But it was a pleasant and relaxing thought for three days.


  1. Some really nice pics Jan!

    This post brought back fond memories of my own ride on the MV Columbia coming back from Alaska as you guys did. I did luck out and catch some killer whales as they surfed next to the ferry one evening.....

    I also met new friends on the voyage....I can highly recommend traveling on the solarium one touches your stuff, and it's quite relaxing with the view astern.

    1. Thanks Dom, luck has a lot to do with taking photos of whales from the ferry.

      At first one would worry about leaving their "stuff" unattended under the Solarium when going to the snack bar or visiting the men's room. But not to worry. No one messes with any else's stuff.

  2. One of these years I’ll try the ferry again. The only time I took the ferry was in 1975 from Prince Rupert to Haines. The ferry and views look about the same...

    1. Richard, Since 1975...? about time to experience it all over again. Ferry doesn't stop in any Canadian port anymore, except we did stop at Prince Rupert for a medical emergency in the middle of the night. I know, as I and eight others were called to move our vehicles so they could unload the truck of the passenger who had fallen ill. A crew member commented this was the first medical emergency in the history of the ship where they had to make an unscheduled stop. We got back to our beds about 3 AM.


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