Friday, July 23, 2010

Off to Skagway

Yesterday was our day to take the ferry from Haines to Skagway, and what an adventure that turned out to be. I checked with the ferry office to find out when we could park in the terminal area because we had to be out of the campground at 11:00 AM and we supposed to report to the ferry office at 8:00 PM. I was told that anytime after 2:15 would be fine. Well, we had other things to occupy our time, so we didn't get there until after 4:00. What a surprise! There were about 30 motorhomes already there. We went to the office to get our tickets and were told to disappear until 9:00 PM. There were problems with the loading ramp and the boat could not be boarded. Of course, boarding the boat was impossible because there was no boat there! We were supposed to get placed on the boat between 8 and 10, at which time the ship would leave Haines for the one hour trip to Skagway.

We drove down the street a ways and pulled off the road. I walked up to the terminal a few times and saw that nothing was happening. No boat! Finally a little after 8 we moved the RV and Jeep to the terminal lot and we parked in the assigned lanes. Helen, in the Jeep was the very first in her lane and I was the very last in mine. The ferry was coming from Juneau and would not be there until 11. Then it was 12, and later 1 AM. It actually docked at 12:40 AM.

Then the loading crew went to work.......sort of. First all the people and vehicles getting off at Haines had to disembark, and that took a long, long time. And finally they started boarding the out going cars and RVs. We have used ferries several times in the past, four times in Canada and once in Washington state. It was done in a very efficient manner and the whole crew worked as a team in each case. The offloading and onloading was done quickly and in a controlled manner. Not so in Alaska. It took over two hours to unload and load the ship. We didn't get going until almost 4 AM.

The first inkling I had of problems was in the way the ferry is loaded. All the ferries we have been on, the vehicles enter from one end and exit the other, a straight line, right through. This ferry had the loading door on the side near the bow, so you had to drive in and make a sharp left turn to get parked. OK, there were side doors on the front, but there were doors in the rear, so the ferry would back into the dock in Skagway to drop us off.

The ship, the "Malaspina" was a very comfortable ship and plies the waters between Skagway and Prince Rupert, British Columbia. It has numerous staterooms, a movie theater, restaurant, and several comfortable lounges. We only had access to coffee and that was given begrudgingly by a gruff old kitchen attendant. Helen and I didn't realize what had created all the trouble, but we soon learned. A caravan of almost thirty campers were supposed to depart on the 7:15 AM trip on Thursday. After all of the towed cars and a few campers were loaded, the ramp broke, so the ship left for Skagway with only a partial load. All of the campers in front of me were ones that were supposed to be on the early trip.

That settles the situation with the ramp and the stranded campers, but what about the ferry. We found out that the ramp was only a part of the problem and had nothing to do with the late arrival of the "Malaspina". The ship had developed a serious leak prior to arriving in Juneau and had to be repaired. That's what caused the long delay. Only after divers fixed the leak and certified seaworthiness could the ship leave port. In the meantime, the Ferry Authority had lost track of the caravan and didn't really make plans for them on the next trip. At the end of the line, I was worried that I might be "bumped" to a later trip. Meanwhile, Helen was at the front of her line and would be gone.

Miraculously, they fit us all aboard, with enough room left over to fit two small cars or a few motorcycles. Now, we're all aboard and the ferry heads for Skagway. We were talking with the people in the caravan and heard their tales of being there at 5:30 AM on Thursday only to finally board the boat at 3:30 AM Friday, 22 hours. They were a likable, spirited group and they made the best of the situation. Late in the afternoon, they had a pot luck dinner right there in the parking lot and seemed to be having a good time.

Now, we are heading into Skagway and I'm waiting for the ferry to turn around and back in, so we can just drive out. To my horror, it continued straight in and I could see the loading ramp on the side. Would we have to back our rigs out of the ship? No, we would turn around on the ship and drive out in forward. That sounds nice, but remember what I said about the little amount of room remaining after we were all loaded. The crew had to do some juggling to create enough room for the first two campers to get out. One very long 5th wheel had a devil of a time. Finally it was my turn and I backed into a corner as directed, cut the wheel all the way and I was free.

Since I was near the end getting in, I was the third vehicle getting out. I wanted to stay and see how they got the 45 footer out, but chose to depart as fast as I could. I drove a very short way and pulled over to wait for Helen. I used the time to walk both the dogs and settle down. We wanted to find a place for breakfast, but the effort was futile. I found an open area and we pulled in. Helen smelled the cooking bacon on the ship as the kitchen crew was preparing for the trip back to Juneau. People on this leg get full restaurant service. With the fresh thought of bacon in mind, Helen chose to cook breakfast herself. Delicious!!

Now I'm in the Mountain View Campground listening to the rain on the roof. AGAIN????? Helen is totally exhausted, but not quite enough to keep her from the many shops along the strip. The town is crawling with people now as a cruise ship came in, dumping a few thousand people into this small town.

Eyes are starting to close..........

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