We met Ray & Shirley at the Alaska Marine Highway Ferry Terminal for our 3pm check-in. Then we sat in line until 5pm while they loaded the ferry with trucks, cars, campers, boats and commercial vehicles.
The Alaska Marine Highway System operates along the south-central coast of the state, the eastern Aleutian Islands and the Inside Passage of Alaska and British Columbia, Canada. Ferries serve communities in Southeast Alaska that have no road access, and the vessels can transport people, freight, and vehicles. AMHS’s 3,500 miles of routes have total of 32 terminals throughout Alaska, British Columbia, and Washington. It is part of the National Highway System and receives federal highway funding. It is also a form of transportation of vehicles between the state and the contiguous United States, going through Canada but not requiring international customs and immigration.
M/V COLUMBIA IS THE LARGEST VESSEL OF THE FLEET. THE VESSEL IS 418 FEET LONG AND 85 FEET WIDE, WITH A SERVICE SPEED OF 17.3 KNOTS. THE M/V COLUMBIA IS DESIGNED TO CARRY 499 PASSENGERS AND 63 OFFICERS AND CREW AND HAS A VEHICLE CAPACITY OF 2,660 LINEAR FEET, WHICH IS EQUAL TO APPROXIMATELY 133 TWENTY-FOOT VEHICLES. THERE ARE 45 FOUR-BERTH AND 56 TWO-BERTH CABINS, AS WELL AS 3 WHEELCHAIR-ACCESSIBLE CABINS.
Amenities include observation lounges with comfortable chairs, a covered heated solarium, a snack bar, a full service dining room, a movie lounge, showers, coin operated lockers and laundry, writing and quiet lounges, and a toddler’s play area.
Walk-on passengers are welcome to sleep in lounge chairs, hang hammocks or pitch tents (using duck tape instead of tent stakes) to secure them to the deck.
On our first day we saw 2 pods of seven Orcas. One group was feeding on a freshly killed sea lion.
On day number two, having a six hour stop in Ketchikan, we decided to get off and explore town, 2.5 miles from the ferry dock. Unfortunately Ketchikan is incredibly touristy. In addition, three huge cruise ships disgorged their passengers that same morning. There were some nice gifts and nice views, but lots of “Authentic Made in Alaska” (China) native art and souvenirs, fast food joints, etc.
The ladies enjoyed poking around the gift shops, we all enjoyed the history, diverse population, the refurbished “red light” district, Creek Street (“Where men and salmon came upstream to spawn”) and a quick lunch before returning to the ferry.
Onboard we met a national park ranger, Mike Thompson, who had worked all over Alaska. Over dinner he suggested quite a few scenic towns, campsites and backcountry roads which were not on the main tourist trail. We will report on them later on the trip.