Alaska Cruise

We’re home from our week long cruise to Alaska with 35 quilters on Holland America’s Zuiderdam.  What a great week! 

Our home away from home.

We’ve met cruisers here in Victoria who have told us the only sunshine they saw for their cruise was the two hours’ approach to Victoria, so we were prepared for rain and cold.  John and I had booked a bicycle trip down from White Pass in Skagway, and so I even brought my rain pants!!  Did not need them at all.   The weather was amazing throughout.  We left Vancouver in rain, and returned to rain, but Alaska pulled out the most spectacular sun and warm temps. I was wishing I had brought my shorts!

My friends Susan Purney-Mark and Daphne Greig were the other two teachers aboard.  This is the third time we’ve cruised with them and we all did quite a bit of preparation for the classes and to help make the cruise as enjoyable as we could for our quilters. This time, we brought 18 sewing machines along with us so that we could run concurrent machine and hand classes. Thanks to Sawyers Sewing Centre here in Victoria for their generousity in letting us use their Janome Gems.  A couple of our gals walked away with new ones, they liked them so much! Our cruise director was Sharon Sher, and she travels with us to ensure everyone’s shipboard questions are answered.

The first day aboard is always about orientation.  The Zuiderdam is a sister ship to the Oosterdam, which we were on a few years ago, so it wasn’t difficult to find our way.  We met with Ken, the crew member designated to help us set up the teaching rooms, and sorted out how we would manage to run 18 sewing machines and 3 irons on 4 plugs! We organized all the door prizes and sales bags for our cruisers, and hit the hay early.

The next day we were at sea on the Inside Passage.  That means a sewing day!  We started with our opening welcome and concert.  Gave away a bunch of door prizes, introduced ourselves.  We had quite a few new cruisers on this trip, which was wonderful. I had figured out by that point when and where my “secret place” on board would be to gather the non-quilters to write a song together, so I handed out the invitations to that.  Then, in the afternoon I taught my Mock Mola class, featuring two new patterns based on Alaskan petroglyphs.  Lindy was the first to get it completed. All she has to do is to bind it when she gets home!

Lindy won the prize for getting hers finished first!

It was a busy day, but that was it for me until Wednesday (songwriting). On Monday we visited Tracy Arm, which was wonderful, then arrived in Juneau for the afternoon and evening.

Celebrity Infinity cruise ship in Tracy Arm

We had been in Juneau several years ago, in February, thanks to our friend Joanne, so we didn’t book any shore excursions there.  Joanne and her friend Vickie came on the Mexican cruise with us too.  Vickie met us at the dock and showed us the house she and her husband are building with a perfect view of the Mendenhall glacier.  It’s going to be beautiful. We arrived at the Glacier after most of the buses had left, so it was relatively quiet there.  (Timing is everything, when you’re trying to avoid the crowds when 5 huge cruise ships land in your town at the same time!!!) Last time we’d seen the glacier, the lake had been frozen and we walked across it to get close.  This time, there were lots of “bergy bits” from the glacier floating in the lake, with the sun making them gleam.

Bits of Mendenhall Glacier

We met Joanne for dinner – far away from the downtown – and had a great time catching up.  Maybe we can some day entice them back on another cruise!

The next day we were in Skagway. In 2006, we took an Alaskan State Ferry from Juneau, which took all day to get there, jumped off in Skagway in February – when everything is closed – and met Judy Munns, the curator of the Skagway Museum.  We were on the quest for the Duck Neck Quilt, which I was interested in writing a song about (and, subsequently, did). It was made around 1905 by a Swedish missionary, Jenny Rasmuson, who was living a subsistence lifestyle in Yakutat. She may have shot the ducks herself, although it is said her husband did. She learned how to tan the duck skins (feathers included) from the local Tlingit tribe, and then sewed them together to create an amazing piece.  I haven’t seen it since 2006, and had forgotten how beautiful it is in person.  No photograph will show the luminousity of the feathers, especially those of the mallards, nor the deep dimensionality of the feathers. If it wasn’t behind glass, one would be VERY tempted to immerse one’s fingers in the soft feathers!

Skagway Museum, where the duck neck quilt lives

There is so much gold rush history in Skagway that I was very interested in seeing in tourist season.  John had booked us to take the White Pass and Yukon Route railway up to the top, then bicycle down.  We sure didn’t need our rain gear that day!

White Pass and Yukon Route railway

John on the bike at the top!

We bicycled through the US border, which was a first for me, and had 14 miles of downhill.  It was a great slow way to appreciate the scenery. I’m sure the fellows toting up their year’s worth of supplies in the 1890s would have loved to have had bicycles.

 We left Skagway and overnight made it to our day in Glacier Bay.  It’s not far, as the crow flies, but we had to go quite a bit south  along the Lynn Canal to get around to the entrance. Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve is an incredible area that is only accessible by boat and plane.  You can see it if you’re on a cruise ship, or if you have a boat (with permit). We saw only one other cruise ship that day.  I wasn’t teaching, so my job was to tell the quilters when the photo ops were.  It kept me running most of the day!  Our first stop was Reid Glacier.  Nice introduction to glaciers coming right down to the shore.  Then we got to Johns Hopkins Glacier and stayed there for a long time, listening to the thunder as bits fell off into the sea. 

Johns Hopkins Glacier

There were lots of harbour seals on ice chunks at the foot of the glacier. There are benefits to late-season visits to the area: ships are not allowed near when the seals are still birthing and mating.  When we were there, there were only a “few” around (a few hundred, perhaps) and we were able to get very close.

The next glaciers were equally fascinating – one was black, as a result of the soil that had blown over it from the nearby mountain. We were able to get very close to the Margerie Glacier as well. 

Margerie Glacier

On the maps of the area there are lines where the glaciers once were.  In 1794 our ship would have had to stop over 60 miles from where we ended up, because the entire bay was full of ice.  In 1860, the ice had receded 30 miles. In 1880, another 20 miles of glacier were gone.  It’s amazing how quickly it all changed.  Tarr Inlet now ends just before the Canadian border. Perhaps we’ll be able to cruise into Canada the next time we take this trip?

What an exhausting day.  Running around to get the best pictures, dealing with all that sun and warm temperatures, standing on the bow feeling that we could almost touch the glaciers, being dwarfed by the size and magnificence. 

Ketchikan was next, and we decided to have a quiet day.  We visited the quilt shop, of course, and said hello to the folks at the Silver Thimble whom we’d met last time we were there. We went for a walk up the creek and found out that it was spawning time for the king salmon.  I have never seen so many fish at once!

Hundreds of king salmon

It looked like you could walk on their backs across the stream, there were so many! I’ve seen a couple of salmon spawning streams, but never like this.  It was so humbling, to see what kind of effort it took them to get up the stream that we could walk in a half an hour, and they weren’t there yet.  I’d be ready to cash it in at the end of such an endeavour, too.

Our last day at sea was a busy one.  All three of us were teaching in the morning (Daphne and I co-taught an Alaskan Redwork class) and taking care of packing up the sewing machines. In the afternoon we had our final concert as well as a little presentation about the Caribbean cruise in January of 2012. I learned a pirate song, Susan found eyepatches, and I found hoop earrings. It was great fun!  Holland America has a wonderful offer on board – it costs only $100 for a downpayment on another Holland America cruise. We had already decided on the next one (details on, and it made it very easy for our quilters to book).  We’ve already signed up 30 for the next one!!!

At the final concert, we also premiered the new song written aboard by the non-quilters of our group.  It’s called “NQS” — Non Quilters’ Society — and was very well received! The NQS had meetings at every port, generally at the cafes next door to the quilt shops!!!  It sounds like they had fun too.

It was a sad last night on the boat, knowing it was almost over. One last wonder: a large school of white-sided dolphins graced our presence just after dinner, and we watched them racing the boat. John and I had a similar experience several years ago on a BC ferry to Bella Coola, and it was lovely to see them again.

The next morning, through barely opened eyes, I saw the Lion’s Gate bridge go by overhead at about 6am, and the rain was back.  Both John and I had come down with a nasty flu bug, which made it okay that the cruise was over.  We picked up the car, loaded our stuff into it, and headed for the ferry.  It’s always a bit of a downer after a cruise to get on BC Ferries.  We think it’s the best ferry system in the world, and usually love the food and amenities, but we’d just been royally wined and dined, and there’s no comparison. We got home, unpacked, and went to bed.

But we could have wakened again to the ever-changing views, the soft rocking feeling, the sunshine, and the sense of adventure that we had had for the previous week.  It was a great trip.

The view from our stateroom. Ahhhh.

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2 Responses to “Alaska Cruise”

  1. Jennifer Says:

    It is a lovely trip, wish I could do it again… are so lucky having done it more than once! An interesting read is “Pioneering in the Yukon” by Agnes Degraf, in the early 1890s she went to Alaska to look for her son and was one of the first women to climb the trail from Skagway in winter, she was in her 50s at the time.

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