Whether sifting through sand, or scrambling over a rocky shore, it's about finding treasures in every day. 

A Highway on the Water

This is a highway:

The M/V Taku. She is 353  feet (107 meters) long and can carry 370 passengers and 69 vehicles.

The ferry system in  Alaska, also known as the Alaska Marine Highway, is a wonderful way to experience Southeast Alaska and travel from town to town in a relaxed, social atmosphere. Plus you can take your vehicle along with. 

I have loved traveling on the ferries since I was a little kid. Maybe part of that is because my granddad was a mate on one of them when it came out of the yard all shiny-new in 1963.

They are great boats to form friendships on. The cafeteria and the forward lounge are nice places to turn off the devices, and turn to a person nearby to start a conversation.

After that super-fun trip to Ketchikan in the de Havilland Beaver I caught the ferry “Taku” north to Wrangell. It was evening and the scenery was such a beautiful study in contrast. Massive, rugged mountains made serene by the violet light of evening. So pretty.

Most of the Alaska ferries run on a 24 hour schedule – the route is too long to be just day boats. So it was close to 11p.m. when the Taku was all-fast in Wrangell and I disembarked. The Taku departed forty-five minutes after landing to continue on to Petersburg, Kake, Juneau, and Haines. Sometimes lovely Sitka-by-the-sea is in that schedule, too.

Evening scenery along Clarence Strait

Vehicles driving onto the ferry at the Ketchikan terminal.

After a few days in Wrangell I was ready to go back to Thorne Bay, and the Taku was making her way south again. I drove my truck down the ramp onto the car deck, where the crew directed me to a parking spot. The Taku departed Wrangell just after noon for a sunny, calm, six-hour voyage to Ketchikan.

Leaving Wrangell

The main line ferries Taku, Malaspina, Matanuska, Columbia, and Kennecot have good accommodations and amenities. There are staterooms that you can rent in order to have your own private room for the voyage. There are also recliner lounges where people relax, read, nap, or sack out overnight. The purser will rent you a blanket and pillow set for just a few dollars. Lots of people like to camp in the solarium on the top deck.

Hot and cold meals are available in the cafeteria, and vending machines provide quick snacks. You can purchase a special memento in the small gift shop.

Killer whales (orca) in front of the ferry in Tongass Narrows by Ketchikan, Alaska.

I like to hang out in the forward lounge and watch the scenery and wildlife, which I did on this trip. Dozens of Dahl’s porpoise were in Clarence Strait. The Dahl’s porpoise is a 300 to 500 pound marine mammal often moving at 35 mile per hour (55 kph) . When they hit the surface to breathe, a splash rips across the water, and then the animal is gone again. Those sprays sparkled in the sun on both sides of the ferry.

Coming into Ketchikan there was an announcement from the bridge that a pod of killer whales was in Tongass Narrows ahead of us. In between Ketchikan and the airport is a very busy place for boat and aircraft traffic, so I was surprised that those five animals would choose to hunt there.

Killer whales (orca) surfacing in Tongass Narrows. On the left is a male. (Sorry about the poor quality of the whale photos)

I botched the photos badly - not that I could botch them goodly, just that I’m admitting right here that the only reason I am even showing you these is to illustrate how visible wildlife is in Southeast Alaska.

Ketchikan is ferry-central at times. The Malaspina, Tustumena, and Chenega were at the shipyard. If you are wondering where the names came from, the ferries are all named after glaciers.

Alaska ferries Tustumena and Malaspina in the shipyard at Ketchikan. The Tustumena, aka Trusty Tusty, has ports of call in southcentral and southwest Alaska, as well as Kodiak Island.

The Chenega is one of two fast ferries doing day trips in Southeast Alaska. This 235 foot (71 meter) catamaran carries 250 passengers and 35 vehicles at 32 knots (37 mph or 59 kph)

I also saw the Lituya in Ketchikan. It was making it's daily run from Metlakatla on Annette Island. The Lituya is the only open car deck ferry in the Marine Highway system.

The 181 foot (55 meter) Lituya maneuvering between two freight barges to dock in Ketchikan. She runs from Metlakatla to Ketchikan, and then back the Metlakatla, each day.

The Alaska ferries really are a highway, and we depend on them. Long live the Blue Canoe!

This post is getting a little long, so tomorrow I will show you the crew handling lines to tie the Taku up in Ketchikan.

Be well, my Friends,

Alaska Beachcomber

Here's more on traveling in Southeast Alaska - Flying in a de Havilland Beaver