A cruise seemed like an integral part of discovering Alaska, so we signed up for a short cruise with Cruise West – four nights, three full days.
We started in Whittier, a tiny town (150 people year round) in Prince William Sound. The town can only be reached by a 2.5 mile one-way tunnel. Everyone lives in the same apartment complex, which also has a store, clinic and everything else you might want in the winter without going outside.
Only 12 children are in the K-12 school. Stephanie, the teacher for the 7 through 12 grades, gave us a tour of the town. She came here looking for adventure and she found a small town with lots of snow in winter and fog in summer.
I’ve learned that it is considered impolite to ask an Alaskan why he or she came to Alaska. Many came to get away from some problem. If the problem is not too big, (we’re not talking about murder, here) the state you came from may decide it’s not worth going after you.
Our ship, Spirit of Columbia, is a very small cruise ship with 56 guests and about 25 staff. Our cabin is tiny but I have my own bed – which is more than what I had at Camp Denali.
The whole area is part of the Chugach National Forest. Our wildlife sighting starts off well with a whole rockery of black legged kittiwakes. Then a small black bear climbs past the mass of birds and grabs and eats two of them. Some passengers think that it might be a man in a bear suit.We have some cynics.
That first evening, we see harbor seals as well but our boat is too close to wildlife. The seals jump off their ice floats as we approached. If the animal changes its behavior because of you, you’re too close but the Cruise West management may think that the more animals, the better.
Day 2 – We wake up in front of the Harvard Glacier in College Fjords. It’s cold and most people are now inside in the lounge, learning about each other and downloading photos from their cameras.
I have cabin fever even though the scenery is spectacular. We see humpback and orca whales and huge colonies of sea lions. Finally, we see tufted and horned puffins. They’re in the water just like ducks but then take off. I have made puffins a goal on this trip and I am thrilled to see them so early in the trip.
Day 3 – We dock in Cordova, a town of 2,200 on the eastern side of Prince Williams Sound. I can’t wait to get off the ship. Cordova is a port town with no roads in and out. We walk around and see downtown – two blocks including a coffee shop and bookstore. Each town has a counter-culture coffee shop and the Orca was it for Cordova.
I learn that there’s a Russian Orthodox Church and run up to the top of the town to see it. It’s made of aluminum sidings and looks like a prefab.
After lunch, we go rafting with Alaska Rafting Adventures. We walk about 45 minutes on a trail to Sheradon Lake which flows to Sheradon River. We run several rapids, very gentle compared to those on the French Broad but the water is about 30 degrees so falling in is much more serious.
The U.S. bought Alaska in 1867, just after the Civil War. The glaciers around here were named for Union Civil War generals, like Sheridan and Sherman glaciers. Alaska became a state in 1959 at the same time as Hawaii, so now they celebrated their 50 year anniversary last year.
Day 4 is as quiet as the second day. The weather is foul but that doesn’t stop orcas, humpback whales and sea otters to congregate around the boat. I read, play with my photographs and look at the scenery.
Forty years ago, I went on a cruise. I think I’ll wait another 40 to schedule another one.