Dawes Glacier

We were late leaving Juneau because of a delayed delivery of food from Anchorage. The captain decided having food on board was better than being on schedule – we agreed. Daylight is long at 58 degrees N in late spring so Captain Ron wasn’t worried about getting to a quiet cove to anchor for the night. Destination for the next day was Dawes Glacier and then to Ford’s Terror for the night’s anchor.

Leaving Juneau as the sun was getting low.

Leaving Juneau after dinner, as the sun was getting low.

We were warned that the captain would start the engines early, at 6:30, to make up some lost time by our late departure (we later learned why this was so important). I slept very soundly but at the first quiet rumble of the generators starting, my feet hit the floor – I didn’t want to miss anything.

Our stateroom was on the second deck, close to the bridge (everything is close on a small ship) so I joined Captain Ron as the anchors were being hoisted on the bow of the first deck.

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Anchor hoisted on starboard side.

There is a door on each end of the bridge where we could go outside to a very small viewing deck. I eagerly greeted the morning with camera in hand, three layers, earmuffs and gloves, even though Captain Ron was summer barefoot.

We traveled south in Stephen’s Passage, surrounded by mountains. I was equally awed by sun-drenched snowy mountains and cloud-shrouded peaks. This is the Tongass National Forest, a giant temperate rain forest, so I knew to expect some clouds and rain but on this early morning I basked in the shining sun.

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Mountains with sharp peaks rose above the many glaciers that have moved through this area. The rounded mountains were under ice.

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When we entered Endicott Arm that leads to Dawes Glacier, we were greeted by floating ice shining in the morning sun. We had been told that the temperature would drop as we approached the glacier and I felt the coolness sharpen as the boat moved forward.

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Endicott Bay is a 20 mile long fiord that is 1,000 feet deep in many places. Fiords were formed by glaciers as they moved, carving out deep valleys, scouring and grinding the rock with the large boulders and stone rubble they carry. On each side of the fiord, the mountains rise straight up showing beautiful rock formations formed by the glacial action.

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The line on the rock above the water line is pine pollen, unusually heavy this year, deposited as the tide was receding.

As we worked our way down the fiord, the pieces of ice increased in number. Captain Ron slowed the engine so he could pick his way through the ice – hitting the ice at high speed increased the risk of damage. The silt from the glacier turned the water a beautiful shade of aqua.

The going was very slow and we didn’t have time to go as close to the glacier as we could have. The captain had to allow sufficient time to reach the entrance to Ford’s Terror because there is just a 15 minute window at slack high tide when it is safe to go through the narrow passage.

We did get close enough to see a piece of the glacier fall into the water, called calving, but I wasn’t quick enough (or lucky enough) to catch a photograph.

What looks like tire tracks across the glacier are actually embedded characteristics in the ice. The face is one mile wide and goes deep beneath the water. It is called a tide water glacier.

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The face of the glacier is as much as 20 stories high above the water line. Getting too close can be dangerous because of the ice breaking off.

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After the screams died with the falling ice and resulting huge splash, we turned around to slowly make our way back to Ford’s Terror. I will explain how it got its name in my next post.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also want to read my first post in this series on cruising the inside passage of Southeast Alaska, Life Aboard a Small Ship.

Life Aboard a Small Ship

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.

Island Spirit at dock in Juneau.

Our first view of the Island Spirit at dock in Juneau.

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.

Leather furniture to curl up to read, take a nap, or chat with fellow travelers. They even induced a nap or two.

Leather furniture to curl up to read or exchange travel stories with fellow passengers. They even induced a nap or two.

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 really wanted to try kayaking in the quiet coves.

I really wanted to try kayaking in the quiet coves.

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.

Anchor chain and hoist.

Anchor chain and hoist.

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.

Supper is being served. Please come to the dining room.

Welcome to Ford’s Terror. Dinner is being served so please come to the dining room.

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.

This door was almost always open for visitors.

This door was almost always open for visitors.

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.

Using electronic steering.

Using electronic steering.

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 bare-foot captain.

The bare-foot captain.

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.

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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.