Post Vacation Update #10

It has been 3 weeks since I have returned from my vacation trip and I am finally getting around to writing the final 3 Vacation Updates. I will call these “Post Vacation Updates” to differentiate these from the ones that were sent during the trip. I have decided to do three instead of the two originally planned. This is because there was incredibility fantastic weather at Glacier Bay and there are many pictures from there.

This update will cover the end of the sea crossing from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatski to Kodiak, Alaska, the rainy day in Kodiak, the overnight trip to Homer and the day in Homer. Number 11 will cover the 36 hour trip from Homer to Glacier Bay and the day of “Scenic Cruising” as they call it in Glacier Bay. It was quite spectacular. The final update will cover the half day stop in Sitka, Alaska; the day and a half trip to Vancouver and the trip home from there. I will also include some thoughts about the trip, many of which come from the questions that I have been asked by many people (including many of you) since my return.

On to Kodiak……

The concluding day of the sea crossing was rougher than the other three. In Update #9 I mentioned being northwest of Dutch Harbor, Alaska. I also noted that this is the village/harbor most commonly referred to in the Discovery Channel series Dangerous Catch. Since my return I have seen an episode or two of this series and can tell you that the weather in the Bearing Sea was nothing like some of what they show. It was actually some of the calmest on the entire cruise! If you see an episode of this series, you will often see a map showing where the various vessels are. The Statendam was never that far north. If you look closely at that map (you will need to be quick as it is never there very long,) you will see a strait (actually there are several straits) that separate the island Dutch Harbor is on, called Unalaska Island, from the next island(s) to the east. This is the strait we took. This happened during the night. A close look at an atlas indicates that there are several possibilities there. The most likely one is called the Unimak Pass. The other less likely one is called the Akutan Pass. It was definitely one of these two but almost certainly the first one.

Once the ship sailed to the south side of the Aleutian Islands and into the North Pacific Ocean the seas got rougher. It was not real bad but everybody on board noticed the difference. The weather at this point was still very good. Other than some clouds there had not been any real weather or sea issues since leaving Petropavlovsk-Kamchatski, Russia three days ago. Except for the slightly rougher seas, the rest of this day was uneventful.

These are some of the Aleutian Islands looking north as day 4 of the ocean crossing to Alaska continued.

Early the next morning the ship docked at Kodiak, Alaska which interestingly enough is on Kodiak Island, Alaska. It was raining, really raining. It was blowing. It was not very pretty. Since this was the ships first stop in the United States, after coming from Russia, immigration was the first order of the day. It was completed quite efficiently compared to the last stop is Russia, which had been the worst one for this to date. With the time that the immigration process took there was time to take a few pictures of the wet area around the ship. Here are a few of these:

This was the view that I had out of may stateroom. It was raining down here but not too far up it was likely snowing.

Here is another view just to the left of the other one. Our transportation in Kodiak was by those school busses (Laidlaw by the way). If this had not been a Sunday I do not know what they would have used.

This is to indicate just how much it was raining.

It stayed like this, with very little change, for the entire 12 hours we were there.

We found out later this day that the average yearly precipitation in Kodiak is about 6 feet (just less than 2 meters) a year of both rain and snow. It is a very damp place.

The city overview tour that I was on was the second of the day and did not leave until 2:45 P.M. This gave me some time to invent some sort of rain protection system for the camera. Here is what I came up with.

This is a zip lock bag that was zipped up around the lens as much as possible. It worked surprisingly well.

Finally the time came to venture out in the cold, cruel, and very wet world. Our first stop was the Fort Abercrombie State Historic Park. Here are a few pictures, such as they are, taken on the way there.

Here is the ship through one of those school bus widows. They had paper towels available for us to clean the moisture from the inside of the windows.

Part of the harbor through those semi-fogged up windows. This is about as good as it got.

The man who owned this house was a wealthy local business man. His wife was pregnant. He built a play house for what he was sure would be a baby girl. It was a boy. In the end there were four children,all boys. He built a gym on the back of the house for them. 

The local Wal-Mart store. Nobody can quite figure this out. There is only a small population. Kodiak is on an island with no connection to the mainland. Everything as to be brought in by air or sea. It does not seem practical to have a Wal-Mart here, does it?

Lobster traps were everywhere.

After an incredibility bumpy, (the road was under construction), and still wet ride we made it to Fort Abercrombie. This site was an important defense post during the North Pacific part of the Second World War. All it had were a couple of guns to fire at any hostile ship that came nearby. Kodiak was also a major supply base in the Pacific during the war. Kodiak also has the largest U.S. Coast Guard Base anywhere. So, there is a fair amount of military history here. Nobody was housed at Fort Abercrombie, the gun crews were there in shifts. The ammunition bunker now houses the local military museum. Here are some pictures of this area.

This is the view from the gun placement.

If any hostile ever came near here in WW 2 they would have been shot at.

One of the gun barrels. The gun placement is just to the left. They never fired a shot from here, other than for practice.

Another view from the gun placement.

The point of land. I think there may have been a second gun down there.

The military museum is in the old ammunition bunker. The bunker is shaped in a semi-circle.

This corridor is the bottom of the semi-circle.

Due to the way the rain was blowing I could not get a front view of this so I took a reverse view with our school bus in it.

One additional piece of information about the bunker, the walls are two feet (2/3 of a meter) thick.

Kodiak does not get may cruise ships. We were the first one of 2008 and there was not another one coming for a month. Princesses Cruise Line has cruises stopping there every Friday this summer.  Apparently we had been written up in the local newspaper several days before. Most of the places we visited had signs welcoming us. Most of those same places had “hours of opening” signs that said they were closed on weekends. They were all open on this Sunday for us.

The next two places we stopped were museums. One was the Alutiiq Museum and Archaeological Repository. This state of the art museum was built with compensation money from the Exxon Valdez oil spill accident. Again, outside pictures were a problem with the rain but I did get an inside one of this one.

Across the street from this museum was the Holy Resurrection Russian Orthodox church. I did not get to this but it does have some long history here. Some people who did get to it said the minister was there and he gave them quite a tour and explanation about it. I am almost wishing I went.

This is from the back left of the church. The main entrance is at the far end.

The next stop, the Baronov Museum is just beyond the church pictured above. Normally we would have walked but the rain prevented that. Baronov is involved in Alaska history in a number of ways. He seems to have created havoc where ever he went. He plays a role in Sitka’s history as well. I have no pictures of the museum or what is in it. I do have a couple taken of the area around it. Here are those.

These Bald Eagles were just sitting in the rain in a tree just outside the Baranov museum.

Here is a close up of one. These are the first of many we saw during the Alaska segment of the cruise

The picture at the top of the next page may look familiar. This was included in the Vacation Update Update.
This is a WW 2 Liberty ship that was converted in to what was to have been a temporary cannery. It is still there and is the biggest one in town. The ship is still a ship and could be removed if it had to. It probably never will.

The second to last stop on this extensive tour of a small town was the Kodiak Fisheries Research Centre. It is owned locally but leased to all kinds of research organizations including NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) amongst others. Here we were able to see and touch living specimens of the sea life in the ocean around Kodiak. Here is a collection of images from here.

This circular aquarium has examples of most of the important sea life in the area.

There are may types of star fish and crabs.

More unusual starfish.

For those of you that like halibut, this is a small one.

I believe this was called a sucker or dragon sturgeon. It is a relative the centuries old giant sturgeon.

This is the touch tank. You could touch anything in it. It proved very interesting

Everybody is touching everything!

This is the main entrance to the centre.

After this, there was the local entertainment stop. This is something that is almost mandatory on these tours. This one proved interesting because it was a well known Kodiak group called KID: Kodiak Island Drummers. They are “dedicated to teaching musical expression to kids through the art and fun of hand drumming”. We had a partial group of them.

This was in a classroom at the local high school. It was a quite a noisy, but interesting and well done performance.  This was certainly something different. From here the tour returned to the ship at about 6:30 P.M. The ship was to sail at 8:00.

One additional fact about Kodiak: Many will remember the March 27th, 1964, Good Friday earthquake that struck Alaska. Most of Kodiak, including the area where the canneries are, was wiped out by the Tsunami generated by this 9.2 on the Richter scale earthquake. It is currently the 4th largest earthquake ever recorded. They not only felt it, but 130 people were washed away by it as well. Much of the area we were in was not there immediately after the quake and Tsunami. It does make one think.

As I noted previously the rain continued for the entire time we were there. The road that went by the pier we were docked at was the main road to the Coast Guard station mentioned previously. The rain kept coming and coming. Each time a vehicle headed towards the town along this road I would see a huge spray of water come up. I thought this would make an interesting picture. After a number of attempts I finally took a high speed sequence and came up with this.

This picture is the best of the group. I had studied right were the splash was and held the camera still and let the van drive across the image. I thought it looked neat.

I had dinner at the 8:00 sitting this night and the ship sailed on time. The winds were such that the ship was serious listing to one side, which made eating dinner interesting, but once they were on course for Homer it stabilized and all was well.

The trip to Homer is a very short one, just 140 nautical miles. We were docked there when most people woke up the next morning.

Homer is located near the end of the Kenai Peninsula. Cook Inlet is to the north with the Kennedy Entrance from the Gulf of Alaska to the south. It is at the end of the Sterling Highway approximately 225 road miles from Anchorage. It takes 17 hours to drive this because the buses used for the shore excursions had to drive from Anchorage the day before. It is a very windey and scenic drive.

The ship docked at the end of Homer Spit which reaches 4.5 miles out into Kachemak Bay. The most likely theory for the existence of the spit is that it is the remains of an ancient glacial moraine. It would probably have washed away years ago if it had not been pr otected.

The group of pictures below shows what the scenery around Homer looked like not too long after the ship arrived.  Check the weather out in these early pictures, it improves as the day goes on.

This view shows places like Gull Island, Peterson Bay, and Halibut Cove.

In this picture is China Poot Bay.

Along with the end of the spit, Neptune Bay across the way.

Looking to the southwest, Tutka Bay and further down Seldovia Bay.

All the mountains shown across the bay in the pictures above have glaciers running all around them. Some of these are the Doroshin, Nosnesenski, Grewingh, Portlock and Dixon Glaciers. Today’s shore excursion was a two hour boat tour of Gull Island and the area near it. It was a very short trip from the ship to the boat. Here are some pictures. I have tried to keep these much in the order they were taken in and if you watch you can see the weather improve.

This was the harbor from which the tour left. Due to there being a few too many people, six of us ended up on the little boat with the orange cabin front right.

Here is the Statendam as we sailed out of the harbor and across the bay towards Gull island.

Here is the area around the island.

Something really shook these birds up. It may have been the boat but the guide did not think so.

It was still a bit early to see the greatest number of birds but there were still quite a few.

A closer view of the gull on the rocks.

An early Puffin arrival. There were not too many of these here yet. Some people thought the ones that were here were the early scouts for the main flock.

The inside of the small boat I was on.

I have many pictures of various sea otters but this is by far the best one. Those of us on the boat thought he was checking us out but it was more likely this one was looking for some friends that were behind us.

Here we are heading back to Homer after our tour. You can see the sky clearing.

The Sea Otter picture above is the one that was in the Vacation Update Update that I said he, but did not know what sex it (or he if you like) really is.

After returning to the dock the distance back to the ship was just a short walk so I walked. Along the way I took the following pictures.

This is the Homer Seafarer’s Memorial that is on the Spit just across from the harbor. It was built by fishermen of the North Pacific Fisheries Association. It stands as a tribute to those who have lost their lives at sea.

This bell was recently added to the site. The inscription on the tripod holding the bell says “This bell tolls for all the souls set free upon the sea.” Much of the money to purchase this was contributed in memory of a local fisherman who was lost at sea.

It seemed like there were Bald Eagles all over the place. Here is another one.

Even thought they may be hard to see there are 5 Bald Eagles in this picture. There is one on each of the two foreground light standards. Two more on two of the three cell antennas to centre right and one more on the one in the distant left.

My favorite Bald Eagle picture is the one below. It was taken earlier in the day.

This is probably a young eagle. He (or she, whichever,) sat there for more than an hour.

This picture shows the view of the end of the Spit with the ship from the area around the Seafarers Memorial.

There was not time to take the five mile journey into the town so I went back to the ship. With the weather clearing I went up to the highest part of the ship accessible to passengers and took these pictures.

If you compare these to the earlier ones above you can see the difference.

The diesel fumes from the ships funnel were blowing this way and it was noticeable in the lift side of this and the previous picture.

For you people at Fairview Photo Lab, this picture had the stacked polarizer and Skylight filters on the camera. It is also a nice view with the blue sky and all.

Here you can see the condos on the end of the spit as well as the scenery in the distance. Who would want a condo out here? Nice view but they would be rather vulnerable to the elements being 4.5 miles out in a bay open to the sea.

This is a view looking back towards the town of Homer along the spit. The small boat harbor is just to the left of the centre of the picture.

The town of Homer, almost 5 miles away in the foothills of the mountains.

The ship departed Homer just after 5:00 P.M. heading for Glacier Bay, two days from now.

Here is Homer Spit as the ship sailed away. Homer gets very few cruise ships.

Many people were calling from the shore as we sailed “come back soon”.

After several hours of sailing we rounded the southern tip of the Kenai Peninsula, through the Kennedy Entrance and off to eastern Alaska. The sunset was around 10:30 P.M. so pictures were possible to very late. The pictures below show the last we saw of western Alaska as we departed it for eastern Alaska and Glacier Bay. The two scenery pictures were taken around 8:30 P.M. The whale picture was an hour or so earlier.

You can see the difference a clear sky can make.

This is the same land mass as the previous one but with a clearer sky. This was the last land we saw until Glacier Bay.

I think this is the only picture I was able to get on the entire trip where one might be able to saythat there is a whale of some kind in it. The bright spot is sun reflecting off the whale’s wet skin.

From here it took a day and a half to sail across the Gulf of Alaska to Glacier Bay. This story will continue in Post Vacation Update #11 to come soon.