Stories along the Way: Malaspina Ferry, Ketchikan to Sitka

The quiet calm of the ferry changed in Ketchikan as 200+ high school athletes, coaches, teachers, chaperones and fans boarded the ferry to Juneau for basketball tournaments. It’s Alaska’s version of “March Madness”, a tribute to the NCAA basketball playoffs. It’s the highlight of the year for Alaska’s hundreds of small communities not connected by roads where basketball is king. Wrestlers, dance/cheer teams are part of the mix. Extended family members come along to support them including grandparents, aunties, parents, siblings and small children.

 

They take over the ferry and can be found in every nook and corner draping their flexible bodies over chairs, tables and the floor. The air is filled with excited chatter showing their happiness to be with friends and on the way to the much anticipated tournaments. Alaska teens are at home in boats and small airplanes as their mainland counterparts are in school buses.

In the forward lounge, adults sit near boxes of Costco food, fruit and vegetables. A teen happily munches on a red pepper as she walks down the aisle. But the vending machines receive constant visitors.

 

They take over the non-functioning bar with large blow up mattresses and sleeping bags (in the old days, when I traveled to the villages, we were lucky to get a smelly gym mat on the floor). They manage to get video games on the TV.

Like teens everywhere, they dress in jeans, sweats, hoodies and logo t-shirts proudly proclaiming past tournament victories. The local fashion touch is x-tra tough rubber boots folded down to the height of ankle boots.

They lounge in the computer/study room even though there is no wifi. Sitting on tabletops next to “do not sit on table” signs, their happy chatter is nonstop.

I admire their casualness with each other and between the sexes, far different than my ‘60’s high school days. Though, in general, it’s still groups of girls playing cards together and groups of boys playing cards and games like Risk.

Its not all fun though. Periodically, an announcement is made requiring a certain school to gather in a location for a study meeting. Teens periodically complete assignments by themselves. I see an advanced Trig book on top of a pile. Good grades are a requirement for sports.

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A boy sits reading a paperback, ignoring the chatter around him, a girl sits on the floor deep in homework, a tall young couple tries to find a private corner to no avail and resort to sitting next to each other in the corner of the cafeteria (I simply can’t call it a café) his arm around her trying to coach the practiced pout from her face.

They seem to fill every inch of space– in the lounge with reclining seats where sleep is allowed, favoring the floor beneath a row of seats. The tail of a camo sleeping bag moves like a sea lion; a fully clothed couple squeeze into floor space sharing a sleeping bag. Up front girls pointedly blow up their giant mattresses that only fit beneath the front windows. The navigation rule is lights off at sunset and the darkness deepens. A couple of cabinless passengers manage to find places to sleep, the three across seats providing a little comfort. They curl up in their clothes to sleep, covering themselves with a coat.

As girls jump up and down on the bench seat in the cafeteria joining and leaving the card game and conversation, retired high school teacher Jim, says “I retired from this.” But surely sitting next to a bouncy dance/cheer team is not all bad.

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These are a good bunch of kids, and it does my heart good to see the upcoming caretakers of the world. They are smart, fit, happy and boys and girls both play sports……and never stop talking. More schools will join the ferry in Kake, Petersburg, Hoonah and Sitka. There are weary eyes this morning as sleep was short, but soon they perk up and the chatter picks up speed. Even the ferry crew is delighted to have the enthusiastic teens join the trip.

And now the passenger update, though we lost a few in Ketchikan including a snorting, rattlely truck and semi truck that carefully left the car deck with its load of goods for Ketchikan. Jim received a PA call to move our Sprinter on the car deck, so now it is parked next to a Sprinter of the same colour.

  • plaid flat golf cap is wearing the same outfit and has had a hot dog and fries for dinner for the last three days that he eats with relish (ha ha). I have not been able to catch the title of his book
  • The attractive couple lives in New York and left Alaska three years ago, originally from Biloxi, Mississippi. She was a nurse at ANMC, Providence, and Fairbanks Memorial Hospital. They miss Alaska “Who travels to Alaska in the winter?” he laughs. They will leave the ferry in Juneau and fly to Anchorage for a few days, talking about the city they love.
  • Ms booging -black -Mountain –Hardwear-coat still steps outside regularly for a smoke, but is alone and looks sad.
  • A threesome, husband, wife mother help the bright crocheted hatted mother and her cane as the ferry rocks. We are now on regular greeting status. They get off in Sitka
  • The smartly black dressed flat golf hat man walks around the ferry. I did notice that he slept on three-seats amongst the teens and doesn’t have a cabin. He wears his NorthFace back pack.
  • A table of four late 20’s-early 30’s men sit at a table in the noisy cafeteria next to Jim and me. Two joined the ferry in Bellingham, –I recognize the dreamy-eyed long curly haired man, but the other two came aboard in Ketchikan and quickly found new friends. A stocky knit capped man T-shirt says “dark seas” while the fit red-head next to him wears a hoo doo T-shirt. There is no alcohol sold on board so their laughter and talk is pleasant.

 

We stop in Wrangell for departing passengers and pick up another school team. There’s little snow compared to Ketchikan’s fresh foot of snow and a little blue peeks through the clouds. Like most of the small SE towns and villages the houses are near the water that backs up to the forested mountains with some climbing a small distance in the hills behind them.

Walking back to our “stateroom” from the cafeteria, I pause again at the painting of an Alaska Native woman and child by the well known artist Claire Feyes that is a gift to the captain and crew for her “safe journey” aboard the ferry. There are many items around the ferry that tell of its decades of service and there’s plenty of time to search them out—including this 1969 nuclear accident warning. Next to the purser’s desk, there is a handout of the ship and its mechanical makeup. Jim is quickly absorbed in it—“it burns 5gallons of fuel a minute.”

Jim and I head back early to our “stateroom” missing the peace and quiet of the ferry yesterday but also a little caught up in the excitement of “March Madness.”

Monday morning dawns bright, cold and windy with Jim reporting back to me in the cabin where I am enjoying a second cup of tea. The nice hammock rocking of the ship is also a little brisk. Jim said the teens are out running around on the decks in the wind, as only teens will do. I see a few pairs of shorts and flip flops in the cafeteria. The port side windows are covered with salt spray. This morning’s passenger count is 254 though it seems like much more!! I sit on a couch next to the purser’s station, (a quiet spot) and love the sound of the brass bell chiming on the quarter hour and watch it being wound again this morning.

A girl stops at the station concerned about the lack of wifi so she can consult a dictionary. “Don’t you have an app?” he says but gets a loaner dictionary for her.

Sitka is up next, one of my favorite places and we have a 3-hour layover. Who knows who will join the ferry there! My favorite walk in rain or shine, is the Totem Forest, a national park. I always walk it when I come to Sitka with it’s beautiful totem poles and tall, tall trees that were here when the Russians invaded the area. But, I don’t think I can make the walk this time. Next time for sure!!

 

Ferry sails from Sikta at 1615hours

 

Stories along the Way: Malaspina Ferry, Ketchikan to Sitka

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