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Glacier Discovery Blackstone Bay Cruise

Alaska Railroad Glacier Discovery Train

and Prince William Sound Blackstone Bay Glacier Cruise

June 24, 2005
Copyright 2005 by Richard Elgenson

From home base in south Anchorage, I used the People Mover municipal bus to downtown Anchorage.  I arrived early enough to stop at Phylliss' Restaurant for breakfast, then walk the several blocks and down the hill to the Alaska Railroad depot.


To make things easy, this story will focus on the glacier cruise and return to Anchorage on the Glacier Discovery.  For the Anchorage to Whittier outbound trip, click here.  It happened to be a beautiful day in Anchorage, all the way to Whittier and out on the Prince William Sound.  Susie Kiger and the approval guy and one station agent bid the Glacier Discovery farewell.


On the way outbound, Mount Redoubt is visible approximately 50 miles to the west.

On this day, my itinerary is slightly different.  Instead of staying on the train to Grandview, I have been booked onto Major Marine Tours vessel Emerald Sea to tour Blackstone Bay's two most major accessible tidewater glaciers.  Once the train stops at Whittier, cruise ship passengers and glacier day cruise passengers walk across the road to either the cruise ship terminal or the smaller adjacent dock.  I joined a lengthy line and was happy when the Major Marine representatives called their passengers first.  The check-in was performed by the Emerald Sea captain and cruise director. 


Down on the dock, Gail asked all passengers to pose for a picture for possible purchase later in the afternoon.  Upon entering the ship's cabin, Tanya greeted all passengers with a smile.  All passengers were pre-assigned to a lunch table.  After all passengers were loaded, the announcements commenced. 


First up was Captain Charles Crabough who explained the particulars regarding the Emerald Sea.  She is 100 feet in length, displaces 98 tons and has a 6 foot draft.  She is powered by 3 Detroit diesel Gu71's and can cruise at 14 knots.  This is a fast speed when one is used to 4 to 7 knots as on most sailboats.  As my friend Blackwell says, you can have a lot of fun at 7 knots.  Oh, yes, Captain Crabough announced our destination of Blackstone Bay where Blackstone Glacier and Beloit Glaciers terminate. Also, the Captain stated that the bridge would be available for visitation after lunch.  Cruise Director Shea gave the safety announcements next and stated that the Emerald Sea contains 154 adult and 16 child life vests, has 9 fire extenguishers, and 2 fire hoses.  The crew performs a man overboard safety drill 2 times per month.  Another important bit of information was one hand for the boat and one hand for yourself.  Again, Blackwell has said on our sailboat adventures, boat bites happen. 


Next up was Gwen Herrewig, Ranger Interpreter for the U.S. Forest Service, based at the Begich Visitors Center at Portage Lake.  The main territory for the Rangers based in this area is the 5.5 million acre Chugach National Forest.  One third of this forest is ice and snow.  Since our afternoon cruise was taking us to glaciers on Prince William Sound, Gwen educated the passengers about glaciation.  The grinding action of tons of ice against rock produces glacial silt which has the texture of flour. Ranger Gwen also spoke about animal life in the Prince William Sound environment.  Her table had maps, books, a vial with minute ice worms, and an otter pelt.  The otter pelt has some interesting qualities including extreme softness and insulation capability.  The habitat for otters is fairly wide ranging.  I have seen otters in Prince William Sound, Ressurection Bay near Seward and the Cook Inlet.


With our destination being Blackstone Bay, approximately 22 miles from Whittier, a small amount of human history was given. There was an explorer named Blackstone who perished in the neighborhood of Prince William Sound.  As he was trapped in a crevasse, Blackstone wrote a farewell letter to his wife while hearing his dog howling from above.


The route traverses Passage Canal to the east where we see Billings Glacier, named for one of the Cook Expedition crew members.  This glacier is retreating, therefore it is melting faster than it is advancing.  Alaska is known for some extreme weather conditions and Ranger Gwen pointed out Poe Bay where trees were blown down by 120 mph winds which lasted for three days!  In early 2005, Anchorage experienced 100 mph winds.



Within 20 minutes of departure from Whittier, the buffet lunch was on most passengers minds.  Major Marine Tours has a reserved seating system in the Emerald Sea main cabin.  Table numbers were called and passengers lined up for their turn through the buffet line.  Our menu featured bread, salad with a very tasty dressing, rice pilaf, prime rib, and silver salmon.  My plate included everything except for the bread which I enjoyed through my Alaskan Amber beer.

The food was delicious.

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