I decided not to join the Navy – although at my age it isn’t an option. But I can now say I have lived aboard a small ship for nine days with 42 people; 30 other passengers, JB & me, and 10 crew. We toured the inside passage of Southeast Alaska on the Island Spirit.
This is the destination we chose for our 50th Anniversary trip because it has been on our to-do list for a very long time. I searched for a small ship because neither of us have a desire to take a large ship cruise. This one engaged me right away because of the small number of passengers and because it is coast guard approved to turn off the generators at night for a quiet sleep. Running off battery power requires lights be dimmed and high usage items (hair dryers) not be used between 10 pm and 6 am.
This isn’t a glitzy ship, but it has the basic amenities: it reminds me of staying in a rustic, north-woods cabin. This was billed as a wilderness cruise, going to places the big ships can’t. Because of mobility issues and fatigue I can no longer hike to remote areas, so I was intrigued when I read that they would take me there by ship. I wasn’t disappointed.
I grew to love the ship as I learned more about it. The Island Spirit was originally built as an oil rig supply ship. Captain Jeff Behrens found the boat in 1994 and had a dream of refitting it as a passenger vessel. As he says, “they were built stronger and faster than the average passenger vessel (and) since the deep-pocketed oil companies financed their original construction, the best materials and thickest, strongest aluminum was used.” Jeff started doing cruises along the Columbia River using hotels but soon tired of the constraints of this, so he completely tore the interior out and constructed 17 state rooms to accommodate 33 passengers. It is 128 feet long, has a lounge, dining room and outside decks as public areas.
What I find most amazing is that it is green – as in ecologically friendly. They make their own water through reverse osmosis that is purer than bottled water (and tastes wonderful). They also treat their grey (galley water) and black water (sewage) so it is clean enough to discharge in any of the waters it travels through. They never had to go to a port to take on water and dispose of waste water. They used florescent lighting in most fixtures and asked that we use the least amount of water possible. I really like the integrity of trying to preserve the natural environment that I had spent a lot of money to visit. They also seemed to be very respectful of the people in the small towns we visited, and asked us to respect the native’s space and privacy.
All was not back-woods rustic. They have a chef and pastry chef aboard who prepared delectable treats. For early morning risers, there was a buffet with a pastry, fresh fruit, juice, yogurt upon request, and plenty of coffee and teas. Breakfast was served at 8:30. Between lunch and dinner, just-out-of-the-oven-warm cookies arrived from the galley, and there were appetizers served before dinner with cocktails. A wide variety of dishes were served for lunch and dinner, including fish tacos, soups on extra-chilly days, crab stuffed shrimp, salmon, steak, chicken, and pasta (along with wine at dinner for those who chose it). There was only one meal that wasn’t a “mmmmm, this is good” delight. Most evening meals were served on table cloths and we always had cloth napkins, folded in unique patterns.
A delight for me was being able to spend time on the bridge watching the captain maneuver down broad water ways and through narrow passages.
He answered lots of questions, had a quick witted sense of humor, and was a professional photographer. He directed our attention to wildlife, moved us to good viewing spots, and helped those of us with cameras find good photographs. He also reminded us that it was summer in Alaska.
The Island Spirit is considered a small ship, but 127 feet is big compared to our 18 foot travel trailer that we camp in. I thought I was prepared to live in small spaces. What I didn’t consider is how crowded it can be with 40 other people milling around. There were times when the noise of everyone talking and laughing irritated my introverted spirit. But this irritation is minor when I realize that the rooms of the ship were open to a vast wilderness.
The Daily Post Photo Challenge this week is “room”. Even though a small ship may not have much inside cruising room, where they can go is amazing. I will be sharing those places in future posts.
The next post in this series of cruising the inside passageway of Southeast Alaska is Dawe’s Glacier.