June 10, 2011 Aboard the Matanuska Ferry
I am still basking in the exhilaration of the past week — and letting the feelings of accomplishment, fulfillment and confidence sink deep within.
Stella and Ellen left yesterday, Wednesday morning; we drove to Skagway at noon today – Thursday – and boarded the Matanuska, an Alaska Marine Highway ferry at 3:30. We are heading south.
Thanks to being on the ferry, we can relax and boy does it feels good.
We slept in the open air under the solarium on the ferry – it was magical!!
The deep drone of the engines and the soft roll of the ship lulled me to sleep. I woke occasionally to look out over the ship’s wake and glance at the snow-capped mountains on either side. Each moment was different and new, but timeless.
I LOVE being on the water; we saw whales spouting and the rain came in over the inside passage and the wind was howling — then the clouds lifted, the seas calmed and we had rays of sun on the mountains, lighting up the glaciers that distinct aquamarine blue.
The mountains are so high even though they are seven miles away they look close enough to touch. We saw hanging glaciers and jagged peaks; eagles soaring and gulls wheeling. The smell of the ocean is the breath of life – the widest range of all possibilities is held within its tangy, briny bouquet.
When we turned into the Wrangell Narrows we understood why the cruise ships cannot enter – this narrow, shallow passage had been scoured out by glacial retreat during the ice ages. Only 22 feet deep at its most shallow, it is 21 miles long. The current runs at 4 knots and comes in from both sides of the island. The normal speed for the Matanuska is 16.5 knots but through the narrows, it travels under 10 knots. At its most narrow, the passage is 100 yards wide.
The Matanuska, the ferry we are on, is 75 feet wide and 400 feet long. The Wrangell Narrows is a perilous passage even today and with all the technology available, the ferry system still requires four people on deck to keep constant watch while the ferry makes its way to Petersburg.
What a fascinating journey. And the sight of Petersburg sent a shot of adrenalin through me. A town of 3,000, it has the biggest fishing fleet in Alaska. The harbour is a beehive of activity. I can’t wait to get ashore and explore.