I’m writing today from the marine vessel Aurora of the Alaska Marine Highway System. We’re currently cruising about 15 knots somewhere between Cordova and Whittier on the blue-green waters of the Prince William Sound. I wanted to chime in today on how wickedly cool the marine highway system is, and simply just to travel from place to place by boat. Alaska has more coastal frontage than the entire contiguous forty eight states combined, but limited traditional highway infrastructure. Alaska is the only state whose capital does not have road access. The Aurora was commissioned in 1976 and launched in 1977; her home port is Cordova, Alaska. This is really an impressive vessel with a capacity for 250 passengers and 34 automobiles. She runs two monster 2,150 horsepower marine diesels and drafts just shy of 14 feet with an operational speed of 14.5 knots (16.7 mph).
The Aurora left Cordova at 5AM this morning and makes the trip across the Sound in just less than seven hours. After driving your own car into the ferry’s belly you must proceed to the upper levels. Your dogs may ride the ferry for free but they must stay in the car deck, in the car, unattended, poor guy. Passengers are not allowed in the car deck while the ferry is in motion. Since we spent all of the previous night tying up the loose ends with the Biogas Digestor Project in Cordova and packing, we proceeded straight to the Solarium for an early morning nap. The Solarium is on the top level of the boat and is a glass and steel structure open to the rear of the vessel. There are electric heaters on the ceiling and lawn chairs are provided. While lounging on the lawn chairs you can see over the stern a little ways below the horizon. The temperature with the heaters is comfortable and we dozed off just as the ship was leaving port in Cordova. The gentle rock of the waves against the bow is soothing for the first couple hours as the Aurora makes its way into the open waters of the Sound. Soon after you are gently awoken by the increasing rock of the boat, catching yourself as you almost roll off of your lawn chair. I opened my eyes to take the sunrise just before dawn on the craggy mountain backdrop of the Prince William Sound. And what a sight it is. A perfectly clear morning in Southeast Alaska, you don’t get too many of those. Every snow covered mountain in the Sound perfectly outlined against the morning’s pinkish orange sky and reflecting vaguely against the choppy waters of the sea. I laid there bewildered by the sight and hanging on to my chair just watching as the sun slowly peaked over the mountains. Only once I could feel its full warmth did I stir. It was the first sunrise I had ever watched in its entirety from a boat. To many more.
On the middle deck directly below the Solarium and its adjacent, unenclosed aft observation deck is the cafeteria where a surprisingly decent breakfast is served along with a full range of coffees, and where I’m writing to you from this morning. To port side of the ship is a movie room and to the bow an enclosed observation deck. After breakfast we made our rounds of the vessel and checked out all. You can actually walk the entire perimeter of the boat all the way to the front and lean over the edge to see the bow cutting through the water. It’s a magnificent feeling, as is being on the open water, but we are about to arrive in port at Whittier and I want to see how the Aurora is tied up at the dock so I’m off.
Included below is a map of my route and the marine highway system in general courtesy of www.byways.org. If you have the chance to travel this way, do it.