Sunday, July 22, 2012

July 21 – Prince William Sound

We had decided to try another glacier cruise to make up Jennie’s less than pleasant time on the last one. The water is much calmer here. They didn’t even mention seasickness. I had looked at the weather yesterday and it seemed like it was getting worse for the next while so we booked the trip for today.

We used another 2 for 1 coupon. This one is $120 a person for a 7 hour trip to Columbia Glacier. The one in Seward was $180 a person for the 6 hour trip with the all you can eat meal. This trip was OK but the Seward one was much better in so many ways.

It was supposed to be cloudy today but no rain. For once the forecast was correct.

Here is our boat which we shared with 100 other passengers. There must have been a German tour group because there were quite a few on the trip. The language choices for the tour program were English, Dutch and German.





This is the view back towards Valdez. It sort of disappears. All you can see is the small harbour.


The terminal and tank farm at the end of the Alaska Pipeline is just across the bay from Valdez. The tanker at the dock is filling up with 750,000 barrels of oil. You used to be able to take tours of the facility but it is yet another victim of 9/11. Now boats can’t even get close to it.


The tanks are huge, covering about an acre each. The captain said that due to the heavy snows this winter the company had to bring in 150 extra men just to keep them shoveled off so they wouldn’t collapse.

The captain let anyone to come into the bridge as long as they were quiet while she did the tour narration.


When we were cruising along she would just sit back in the chair and steer with her feet on the bottom of the wheel.

There were lots of tall mountains and glaciers as we worked our way down the sound.


Apparently the pink salmon were running. When we got to this spot there were a few fishing boats out.




There had to be over a hundred. The season is highly regulated. Each boat only gets a certain amount of time measured in hours. They don’t even have time to go back to port to empty when their holds are full. There are other larger ships here that just sit and offload the smaller ones so they can quickly get back to fishing.

They are what is called purse seiners. A large boat and a small boat work in pairs. They let a long net out and the two boats loop it around the fish.


The net has a rope along the bottom edge which they then draw tight like a purse string to trap the fish in the bowl of the net. Then they just reel the net in.


We circled this boat as they were just about finished a set. They must be used to being gawked at by tourist because they at least pretended not to notice us.



The captains said this was one of the best catches she has seen this year. She also said there have been less fish this year but they have been larger so it has evened out.

Onward down the sound to the Columbia Glacier.



They served the “light lunch” as stated in the brochure. A cup of chowder, a bagel with cream cheese, some Oreos and some lemonade that tasted like Freshie. A bit of a step down from prime rib and salmon.


As we started to approach the glacier there was ice in the water everywhere. Small chunks are called growlers. Larges ones are bergy bits and only the largest (I think over 15 feet long) are called icebergs.

Columbia Glacier is retreating very quickly. When it was advancing it pushed a wall of dirt and rock in front of it called the terminal moraine. This wall would insulate it from the warmer sea water and greatly slow the melting. In the early 80’s it stopped advancing. Sea water eventually got behind the moraine and the ice started melting and retreating. As the moraine doesn’t retreat with the glacier more and more sea water got in and the retreat won’t stop until the front of the glacier is out of the water. Currently the front is 12 miles behind the terminal moraine.

The problem for us is that the big chunks of ice from the glacier get caught on the moraine as they go out to sea causing a sort of traffic jam. Behind the moraine the icebergs and bits are so jammed together that boats cannot get through. This means that we never got closer than 12 miles from the front of the glacier. We did see a lot of interesting ice shapes though.


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This was an interesting one because you can see the part under the water.


We had to weave our way in amongst the large ones. We just bashed through the smaller ones.


The glacier itself is around the corner of the valley in the center of the picture below. This is as close as we got.




There was a sea otter on one of the bergs watching us carefully.


On the way out we spotted a couple of humpback whales. We stopped for about 1/2 hour and watched as they dove and came back up a few times.





Very cold.


Next it was on to a stellar sea lion rest area.


As it was high tide and there was not a lot of room on the beach, a lot of them were out in water and they came very close to the boat. It almost seemed like they were playing because they jumped a lot.



This was one of the other tour boats. It was much smaller and could get a lot closer. If we hadn’t had the 2 for 1 coupon we would have gone on that one. In hindsight I think we should have anyway.


As we headed back it got a bit brighter but still no sun. There were some interesting patterns in the sky and a lower layer of clouds that seemed to cut some of the mountains in half.





We went over to Bligh Reef where the Exxon Valdez ran aground. I am not sure why we bothered as the reef is under water and there was nothing to see.

Some Dall Porpoises decided to surf on our bow wave.



Going back the fisherman were so thick we actually had to weave our way around the nets.




When the oil tankers go in or out the fishermen have to haul in their nets and get out of the way.

Back at the dock we were walking back home and saw that one of the fishing charters had come in. There is a fishing derby on and one of the fish was now the current leader. A 202 pound halibut. It’s the one on the dock. The other ones aren’t too bad either.


Here it is hanging up with the rest of their catch. The mouth of the one on the ground here was too damaged to hang up.


The thing was almost 6 feet long. Two very strong guys had trouble hanging it up. Everyone was crowding around so it was hard to get a good picture.

If we hadn’t already done the other glacier cruise this would have been a great trip but …

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