July 8 – Our ferry was scheduled to depart at 4:45 pm, so we had most of the day for adventuring. We packed up camp in the morning and took care of some maintenance projects (oiling locks, straightening tent stakes etc.) It was a wonderful morning and there had been no signs of that pesky squirrel (though Dave wasn’t taking any chances with his new cookies). We thought that it would be nice to get in another paddle so we found a different boat ramp (out by the airport which was on a long narrow island). It was low tide and we saw more wild starfish in the marina. As we entered open water Dave thought he saw a large splash. It appeared again and turned out to be a sea lion! There was a fish cleaning float nearby and the sea lion was feasting on the scraps. We stayed and watched until there were no more scraps and the sea lion went away. We then explored a few more of the surrounding islands.
We were a little apprehensive about our ferry trip to Juneau. All of our tickets had always shown a check-in time and a departure time, but on the tickets for this leg of the journey there were no times listed, just a note to call the ferry office after 1:45 pm on the day of departure. This was another overnight voyage (in fact the longest trip) and we didn’t want to sleep on couches again so we had stopped by the ferry office (which is only open when ferries are in town) the day before to see if it would break the bank to splurge for a cabin (with beds). The agent laughed at Dave and said “nobody gets a cabin on the LeConte”. When asked about the check-in time she said that they wouldn’t know anything about our voyage until after 2pm on our departure day. We got back to the boat ramp at 2:05 and Dave immediately called the ferry office. The agent he spoke didn’t have an immediate answer and after shouting “what’s going on with the LeConte?” to another agent he told us to be in lane number 8 no later than 4:30. This time seemed to agree with our scheduled 4:45 departure. So we put the kayaks back on the truck and set out to find some lunch. We decided to check out a local grocery store because we also wanted to get some stuff we could take on the ferry for dinner. Stacie was in luck! Her crab vendor was set up in the parking lot and she got another ½ crab. Dave didn’t like anything the grocery store had to offer so we went up the road to the next grocery store and then Dave was happy. We didn’t want to eat in the truck (and get crab juice all over it) so we decided to look for a roadside park with a picnic table. As we rounded the last curve in the road before the ferry terminal we got a scare – there was a ferry at the dock loading cars and it was only 3:00! But then we saw another ferry sitting in the bay anchored. We recognized the ferry at the dock – it was the Columbia the biggest and newest (5 years old) of the ferries (they’re very proud of it since several of the other ferries are over 40 years old). So our ferry must have been the smaller one in the bay. We thought nothing of it and found a picnic area just north of the ferry terminal. As we were eating we noticed that the ferry in the bay had placed one of its lifeboats in the water and we could hear it’s motor. The lifeboat was on its way back to the ferry from the dock. This didn’t bother us, but the fact that the motor kept stalling and not restarting for several minutes did. We finished lunch and pulled into the ferry terminal at 3:45. Dave went inside and got the boarding pass for the truck. The agent told him we were an hour early, but were welcome to wait in lane 8. We sat in the truck and waited. At 4:45, the Columbia was still tied up at the dock. Finally at 5:15 the Columbia blew her horn and pulled away from the dock. Our boat the LeConte chugged in after her and started to unload cars. We felt sorry for those drivers, they had to sit and wait for 3 hours, only 500 feet from their destination (apparently the lifeboat or tender was used to take the foot passengers to shore earlier). The LeConte is the smallest ferry in fleet (hence no cabins) and we were concerned because there must have been at least 20 cars waiting to get on. But they got us all on there and we set sail just after 6:00. From what we could gather the Columbia arrived at a point a few hours before low tide and as the tide continued falling she bottomed out (since she is the biggest ferry she needs deeper water and they haven’t gotten around to dredging since this situation only happens occasionally). As a result they had to wait until the Captain felt that the tide had come back in enough to allow loading and eventually departure.
Seating space was limited on our ferry and there were no couches on the boat. It boiled down to one of two choices either get 2 recliner chairs that we both had trouble sleeping in or try the solarium – we went for the solarium. The solarium (not as glamorous as it sounds) is an area of the top deck that has a glass roof, side windows and no back wall. While it is protected from the elements, it is still an open air experience. There was a supply of plastic lounge chairs like you might find around a swimming pool. To make the space more comfortable there were electric heaters hanging from the ceiling everywhere. We managed to find space to squeeze our two chairs in the row and had windows to look out of (granted Stacie was looking at a life raft). Before we got all settled in, we went down to the café for dinner. We had brought our own drinks and salads, but we wanted some soup too (and somewhere we could plug the computer in to charge). While eating, Dave started making these grunting noises and tapping the window. Stacie looked out and was able to see the tail of a humpback whale as it dived. Dave then swallowed and said, “did you see that?” From that moment on, dinner was no longer the focus. We both stared out the window hoping to see another whale (they travel in groups). A few minutes later another one surfaced and stayed up for around a minute, breaking the surface several times to breathe. Then, just like the ranger on our first ferry described, we saw it hump its back and then dive, raising its tail in characteristic fashion. We didn’t see any more whales, but a few porpoises did happen by.
After dinner we went back to the solarium to digest. The skies cleared enough to give a nice sunset. Finally, the time came to curl up and sleep, but this proved challenging because of the overabundance of heaters. We had brought our sleeping bags, but they were just too much. We can say without hesitation that we know what it feels like to be to be a burger at McDonalds, we were being slow roasted! Some people were sleeping in shorts. Stacie had to move her chair to the edge of the roof to be comfortable, Dave slept on top of his sleeping bag. Some people moved completely outside, and later in the night they got rained on.
Just as we were finally sound asleep around 11:20, the purser came on the public address system to announce our pending arrival in Angoon, a very small fishing village. We tried to get back to sleep, but then came the ‘we have arrived’ announcement, followed by the ‘we’re leaving’ announcement, followed by the standard lifeboat announcement. At midnight the purser made the ‘please be quiet so people can sleep’ announcement. This routine was repeated at 3:30 in the morning for Tenakee Springs (another small fishing community with semi famous hot springs). While Stacie was up she did snap a few pictures (the sun was about to rise and it was light out already). The solarium is in the upper right (the orange stripes are the heaters). We dozed back off and were awakened again at 6:30 for Hoonah (originally an Indian village, now also a fishing port). We tried to fall asleep again, but the purser kept making “if you slept in the café and aren’t buying breakfast, please leave so paying customers can sit down” announcements. Stacie braved the jumble of people still sleeping on the café floor and brought hot water up to the solarium so that we could have oatmeal. Dave’s wasn’t quite hot enough so he held it up to a heater (they worked great on wet towels too!) Finally at around 9:30 we saw Point Retreat lighthouse and we knew our journey was almost over. Then we turned a corner and we saw a glacier (one of the three around Juneau). Finally, Mendenhall glacier (and the dock) came into view. The glacier can be seen from just about anywhere in Juneau. Because we had gotten on the ferry early on in the voyage, the truck was buried and we were among the last vehicles off (and we had to back off the boat).
It was almost 11 am at this point and we each might have gotten six hours of sleep. We headed to the campground and picked out a nice site with a fabulous view of the glacier that was 25 feet from the Mendenhall river. We set up camp and contemplated what to do with the rest of the day. It was sunny and around 75 degrees out, a rare event and we probably should have gone exploring in the kayaks. But, we were exhausted and out of clean clothes so we went in search of a Laundromat (wouldn’t it be great if they had laundry on the ferries?) After laundry we fuelled the truck, bought ice and returned to camp to relax by a fire. We were in bed by 8:30!