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Alaska Cruise:
Amsterdam (7 night Seattle return)

by Murray Lundberg

    Page 1: Whitehorse - Seattle - at sea
    Page 2: Juneau
    Page 3: Glacier Bay
    Page 4: Sitka
    Page 5: Ketchikan

Click on each photo to greatly enlarge it.

    Thursday, July 26: After a calm morning at sea southbound from Ketchikan, we passed by Cape Flattery, Washington, and the Cape Flattery Lighthouse on Tatoosh Island, entering the Strait of Juan de Fuca at about 12:45.

    I love this sort of receding skyline. Cathy and I got a couple of deck chairs in a sliver of sunshine on the Lower Promenade, and were treated to it for hours as we cruised towards Victoria.

    We saw a lot of freighter traffic in the strait, including this impressive new Endeavour Class oil tanker. The Polar Enterprise is a double-hulled tanker designed specifically for the transport of Alaska crude oil from Valdez to the West Coast of the United States and Hawaii. The requirement for double hulls was brought about as a result of the Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989. Owned by Polar Tankers, a subsidiary of ConocoPhillips, she loaded her first cargo at Valdez this past February. The vessel's sister ships, Polar Endeavour, Polar Resolution, Polar Discovery and Polar Adventure, were commissioned in 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2004 respectively.

    At 4:55, we met the Victoria pilot who would take the ship to the docking position in the Outer Harbour. I don't understand why a pilot is needed anymore with the amount of electronics on these ships - holding on to a seafaring tradition perhaps. On the distant shore is Fisgard Lighthouse, the first lighthouse built on Canada's west coast (1860).

    We tied up to the dock at 5:30 pm. We had researched orca viewing excursions, but decided not to book anything until we saw what the weather was like. This morning we booked the ship's excursion, which is operated by Five Star Whale Watching. It's interesting to note that all of their tours cost $89 except the 6:30 departures which are aimed at cruise ships - they cost $115 for the same tour.

    Our catamaran pulled away from a dock among some very cool floathouses at 6:25 and headed for San Juan Island on the American side of the strait. As you can see from this photo, there's a lot going on in the Victoria harbour.

    The contrasts seen on the water near Victoria - a sailboat and a Canadian Navy ship from the base at neighbouring Esquimalt.

    Our guide, Kyla, gave a good introduction to orcas and the other creatures we might see. It wasn't until I asked some questions when we were among the orcas, though, that we realized just how broad and deep her knowledge is - those conversations were extremely interesting.

    Trial Island Lighthouse. It was built in 1970 to replace the original 1906 structure.

    The viewing of several resident orca from L Pod was good once we reached San Juan Island, about a 3/4 hour run on fairly rough water. The photography, though, wasn't very good due to both the roughness and the fact that the whales were usually toward the setting sun.

    The guides take pictures during the trips, that are then posted on the company's blog - here's a funny picture of one of the other people on the top deck on the return to Victoria. There is both open deck and enclosed seating - for those who chose outside (as we did), the water was much too rough to navigate the deck to get inside, but there were warm waterproof jackets available for everyone.

    At 9:10 we passed the breakwater into the Outer Harbour, and I was able to get this shot of the Amsterdam with a full moon above (1/50 sec @ f5.6, ISO 800).

    We would have liked to walk around downtown and maybe have a drink, but just had no energy left after being pounded by the seas for almost 3 hours - we were back on board by 10:00 pm, and asleep long before we sailed away at 11:45. Despite the pounding, we both felt that the excursion was worth going on - I've seen many orcas but this was Cathy's first experience with them, and she was thrilled by it.

    Friday, July 27: We docked in Seattle at 6:30, but had registered for an independent disembarkation at 9:00 so were in no hurry. The whole procedure was very smooth, and by 10:00 we were at Budget to pick up a rental car for a couple of days of Washington wandering.

    Our intention was to stay at Port Townsend, but it turned out that it was their annual jazz festival weekend and there was no place to stay, so we went to the Chamber of Commerce and found a room at the Sequim Bay Lodge, 17 miles west. It turned out to be decent, basic accommodation, though the phrase "hot tub" that attracted me to their ad turned out to be "hot tub suites" rather than one I could use, and the Internet access didn't work.

    That afternoon we discovered the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge (the New Dungeness Light Station is seen here) as well as good shopping and dining in Sequim (pronounced "skwim"). We soon decided that this vibrant community is a place that we'd enjoy spending our winters in.

    Saturday, July 28: This was a busy, busy day! We started off at the Sand Castle Festival in Port Angeles (seen here), visited the John Wayne Marina (John Wayne's family donated the land it's built on), did some shopping....

... went hiking at the Dungeness Spit, and finished off with a wonderful (and huge!) seafood dinner at The 3 Crabs on the beach at Dungeness.

    Sunday, July 29: The day started out wet and dreary. we drove to Bainbridge Island (across the Hood Canal Bridge seen to the left) and boarded the next ferry to downtown Seattle (we missed one by about 10 minutes, giving us time for breakfast at a historic diner). We then dropped our Taurus at Budget and they shuttled us a few blocks to meet the QuickCoach to Vancouver Airport for the next leg (that may seem odd, but Canadians can't take a rental car from the US into Canada). Last year the QuickCoach broke down and we had a fairly lengthy delay. I wrote that off as bad luck, but it happened again this year! The delay was only a half-hour, but when we did get a new coach the driver couldn't figure out how to shift gears - I've never heard such crashing and grinding. We won't be using Not-So-Quick-Coach again.

    Arriving at YVR we got a nice surprise when we went to Dollar Rent A Car to pick up a "Dodge Magnum or similar". We were joking with the agent while waiting for the car to be brought up when he said they coudn't find a car - would we be willing to accept a Chrysler Sebring convertible at no extra cost? Hmmmm - let me think about that

    Monday, July 30: We had intended to drive straight through to Kelowna to visit my parents and a sister yesterday, but instead stopped half-way at the Best Western Rainbow Country Inn in Chillwack.The hot tub and pool were just what we needed, and having breakfast in the "jungle" atrium was a fine way to start the day off.

    I put the top down and off we went into the sunny mountains! We had less than 48 hours in Kelowna (seen here from Knox Mountain), but it was a worthwhile trip anyway.

    Wednesday, August 1: My final bit of major fun for the trip - top down on the spectacuar Coquihalla Highway back to Vancouver!

    By 8:00 pm we were back home in Whitehorse. Back to reality - tomorrow....