Posted on Wednesday, July 29, 2009 by Peter Knego
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
After three wonderful nights in scorching Vancouver (see prior blog post), it was finally time to embark Hapag-Lloyd’s 8,378 gt, 200 passenger MV HANSEATIC. Not only would this be my first time on the five star German expedition ship, it would be my first ever sailing with the legendary Hapag-Lloyd.
I dropped off my luggage in comfortable Category 2 outside cabin 419 on starboard Amundsen (2) Deck and headed with the camera gear back into the muggy incongruity of Canada Place to get some less-than-stellar, heavily shadowed or backlit views of HANSEATIC on the east side of the terminal and Peaceboat’s troubled OCEANIC on the west side. Further embarrassment awaited the mechanically-challenged OCEANIC in the days to come when she would leak fuel oil into the harbor during her extended visit. The incontinent beauty…
Cabin 419 is a pleasantly decorated 22 square meter room with twin beds (at night, the bed spreads are replaced with plush duvets), a mini-bar, fridge, sitting area, several closets, three night stands and a modular bathroom with a plexiglass-enclosed shower. Twin portholes versus a full picture window are the only discernible physical difference between it and the higher Category 3 cabins on the decks above.
All photos by and copyright Peter Knego 2009 unless otherwise noted. Please click on images to view larger versions.
The bathroom has two mirror-faced cabinets, a marble sink and floor and additional storage space beneath the sink.
Cabin toiletries include Crabtree and Evelyn brand bath gel, moisturizer, shampoo and conditioner along with emery boards and cotton swabs.
Dinner on HANSEATIC is in one seating in the ship’s 186 seat Marco Polo Restaurant on aft Marco Polo Deck (3). I was assigned a table for two adjacent to a similar table for two occupied by the only other Americans on board, the Seays, a friendly couple from Solano Beach (near San Diego), California. This would be the second cruise for Thomas (who sailed in HANSEATIC last year to Antarctica). For Veronica (“Ronnie”), it was her first, excluding a crossing she made as a child on ILE DE FRANCE and another as a teenager on the GROOTE BOER.
After my last German cruise, I was a little hesitant about the dining situation but within a few short minutes, it was all put to rest. To begin with, the bread is among the best I have had on any ship…
Even better, when accompanied with olive oil and vinegar to dip it in. Just ask, and it is delivered…
Although many of the dishes do contain meat (it IS a German ship, after all), most or all of them can be prepared without it. I let our friendly and efficient waitresess Nadin and Anja know that I do not eat meat or meat products. They have since “advised” me about certain things I might not catch on the menu, such as bacon in certain fish dishes or beef stock in some of the soups.
Forget about resisting the desserts! I learned quickly that the HANSEATIC has one of the best pastry chefs afloat. Breads, cookies, cakes and various combinations thereof were absolutely superb in both presentation and flavor.
And the petites fours — homemade chocolates, creams, marzipan and more. Enough to keep one up all night…
Back out on deck, a hint of twilight lingered, despite the relatively late hour. At 10:30, provisions were still being loaded on the ship, enough to last for a few weeks as she sails onward to Nome and then embarks her next journey across the Northwest Passage to rendezvous with fleetmate BREMEN.
Finally, with lines loosened and gangway withdrawn, HANSEATIC began to back away from festively lit Canada Place and into Vancouver harbor.
With her lights shimmering in the tranquil waters, OCEANIC’s youth had momentarily been restored. The night had obscured the scars of time from that long swan’s neck bow, magnificently sculpted superstructure and fantastically finned funnel. But I still could not help but wonder if this would be the last time I would ever see her “alive”.
HANSEATIC turned westward, leaving the glow of Vancouver behind as she eventually passed under the Lion’s Gate and into the Strait of Georgia. I laid the cameras, then myself, to rest.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
I awoke shortly after HANSEATIC’s 8:00 AM arrival in Victoria, B.C. Even at the relatively early hour, the mercury was hovering in the 80 Fahrenheit range. At this rate, I would be running out of shorts and tees within the first few days of the cruise.
In the 74 seat Columbus Lounge on aft Bridge Deck, the breakfast buffet awaited. This handsome wicker and yellow-hued room also augments the slightly more formal Marco Polo Restaurant for lunch. In the afternoons, usually at 4:00, it is used for tea and at night, it is transformed into the reservations-only (no tariff) Ethno Restaurant (hopefully more on that later in the blog). A sheltered terrace aft provides al fresco seating overlooking the ship’s wake.
A line up of fresh pastries in the forward starboard corner was positioned next to a selection of familiar (orange, tomato, apple, grapefruit, pineapple) juices. In the buffet station, there were cold cuts (salami, proscuito, etc.), several cheeses, herring, smoked salmon, an array of delicious breads, crackers, yogurts, cottage cheese, blintzes, and fresh fruits and melons. The starboard corner contains a number of cereals, granola and Birchermuesli. In addition to a double dose of cappuccinos, the salmon and muesli, my selections included a piping hot Swiss omelet from the a la carte menu provided.
HANSEATIC would share Victoria with Silversea’s likewise five star SILVER SHADOW, which arrived midway through my breakfast, just prior to 9:00 AM.
As most of my fellow passengers wandered off to explore Victoria, I had the ship to myself for a quick interior documenting spree, which began with the 100 seat Observation Lounge overlooking the bow on forward Observation Deck. It would become a favorite late morning and early afternoon haunt — my own personal wifi hot spot with a view (usually accompanied with a pot of freshly brewed green tea). Prior to dinner, it is a haven for an hors d’oeuvre and/or a cocktail and after dinner, a pianist usually keeps things going until late night refreshments are served at 10:30 PM.
Between the forward Observation Deck vestibule and the sheltered midships lido, there is a spa area with a salon, gymnasium, sauna, solarium and glass-enclosed whirlpool.
The Explorer Lounge seats the entire ship’s passenger complement of 186 on aft Explorer Deck. It is used for cocktail parties, the captain’s welcome on board reception, the ship’s band and guest artist performances. A small, open air, sheltered terrace is directly aft.
I finally ventured into Victoria in the mid morning, stopping to get a few photos of HANSEATIC at her berth. The usual rain and fog I have experienced in this beautiful little Canadian hamlet was nowhere in the cards on this outrageously hot and muggy day!
As I rounded the bend through the residential area into downtown Victoria, I heard a familiar whistle as the little tripod mast of Black Ball Line’s dashing MV COHO glided above a landscape of trees and apartment buildings just ahead. The 1959-built ferry is something of a legend in these parts and has just emerged from a $4 million re-engining that should keep her around for a long time to come.
I lingered in the shade of the harbor across from the Empress Hotel (once a bastion of Canadian Pacific finery and now a much-hyped tourist and tea haunt) to watch as COHO discharged, then embarked a new load of passengers for her perpetual crossings between Victoria and Port Angeles, Washington (recently featured as the setting for the hit teen vampire movie, “Twilight”).
COHO can carry 1,000 passengers and 110 vehicles on her four times daily summer round trip runs across the Juan de Fuca Strait. After watching the Philip F. Spaulding and Associates-designed mini-liner make an effortless reverse exit to the turning basin in the inner harbor, I located the nearest cafe with wifi access to upload the last blog (see Vancouver Manoeuvers). A sizzling walk back to the outer harbor past meticulously manicured Canadian gardens and lawns found me back at the HANSEATIC a good hour before her 2:00 PM departure.
I was happy to find my companion, Mike Masino, had finally made it to the ship after a last minute flight the night prior and a harried series of local shuttling (courtesy of Glenn Smith, Vancouver city buses, the Tsawwassen ferry to Sidney, another bus and a taxi to Victoria harbor). Food was on both of our minds, so we headed directly to the Columbus Lounge for a nice buffet lunch as HANSEATIC prepared to sail. I began with the usual mountain of salad, deliciously dressed in the ship’s freshly-made balsamic vinaigrette.
I’m not a shell fish fan but do appreciate that good oysters are a delicacy, so made visit the special oyster bar setup on the terrace.
Mike’s oyster struck a pose before its esophogeal transit.
As HANSEATIC’s thrusters rumbled her away from the pier, the hard-working COHO was returning from her latest run.
She slipped quietly by as we gained forward momentum toward the breakwater. Instead of turning eastward and sailing through the Strait of Georgia and later, the Johnstone Strait (as listed on the itinerary) in the shelter of Vancouver Island, we turned westward into the open Pacific. The ensuing sea breezes were a welcome respite from the searing monotony of the heatwave.
Aside from her perfect size, great name (she is the fourth German liner to bear the appellation), impeccable service and gourmet food, another thing I like about the HANSEATIC is her user-friendliness, especially for people who love ships. There is an “open bridge” policy when the ship is at sea.
The silvery waters of the Pacific beckoned through the bridge windows. The wheelhouse is especially large, providing much space for revelers, pilots, watch officers and the captain.
Once the ship cleared Washington’s Olympic Peninsula on the port side, the seas began to pick up. Moderately, at first…
A daily workout was necessary to ward off the already excessive caloric intake. The small gym has several cardio machines, a very limited stretching area and a handful of dumbells.
After the captain’s cocktail party that evening, we enjoyed dinner with our fellow American tablemates, Matthias Mayer (the HANSEATIC’s kind and hospitable cruise director) and Sylvia Stevens (the ship’s worldly, uber-lecturer from Solano Beach, California — how is it that three out of five Americans on this ship are from Solano Beach?). I left the cameras in the cabin, which is somewhat regrettable as both company and courses were stunningly good…
HANSEATIC pitched her way northward into the night. On an occasion or two, she would shudder as her screws churned the air.
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Chief Officer Ulf Sodemann was in the Observation Lounge at 11:00 AM to give the English speaking passengers their mandatory zodiac training. I was still a bit groggy from the indulgence of the prior night, or, perhaps, a pale shade of green from the HANSEATIC’s spirited pitching in the Force 5 or 6 seas. Or a bit of both.
After returning our life vests to the cabin, it was off to the Marco Polo Restaurant for the special Round The World buffet with Scandinavian, Caribbean and Italian “stations” set up.
From the Italian sector, I reached gastronomic nirvana via selections of buffalo mozzarella caprese doused in pesto sauce, piping hot minestrone soup and a pesto/pomodoro gnocci, served graciously by maitre d’hotel, Tiziana La Rocca.
The Scandinavian section was a smorgasbord of meats and had some excellent breads, cheeses and desserts to augment my Italian spree.
I worked on photos and prepared this blog a bit, then attended a 3:30 PM lecture about Alaska by Dr. Klaus Videbont in the 171 seat Darwin Hall down on Darwin Deck (2). Eventually, the pitching piped down as HANSEATIC turned slightly eastward into the shelter of Queen Charlotte Sound. Just in time for dinner, which included spinach lasagne, crab cakes and a delicious grilled roughie.
The dessert was out of this world: a “a warm biscuits fruit” soufflé with pralines cream.
Thankfully, this ship is basically an Andrew Lloyd Weber-free zone, eschewing all the typical glitz and Broadway-style schmear found on most cruise ships. Instead, a pianist or the ship’s band provide a musical backdrop to cocktails and conversation. Tonight, there was an exception, a show entitled “Spanish Soiree” by guest pianist/saxophonist duo Deff and Julia Ballin in the Explorer Lounge.
Friday, July 31, 2009
U.S. Immigration officials boarded the ship this morning, requiring all of the HANSEATIC’s passengers to stop in the Explorer’s lounge for a round of questions. We were among the last in the queue shortly after 8:00 AM. From there, it was off to breakfast in the Columbus Lounge, then up to the bridge as we entered Misty Fjords on yet another picture-postcard-perfect morning. Sylvia Stevens was at the mike explaining the sights around us in both German and English. This gracious lady, who originally hails from Glasgow, has been with the HANSEATIC for fifteen years and previously served with Canadian-based Marine Expeditions. Antarctica is her specialty but she is an expert in the natural phenomena encountered on these expedition trips and loves “opening people’s eyes to this great world around us.”
Did the good captain really announce that the fo’c’sle was open to all passengers? What a contrast to mega ship cruising this is…
The sun was hitting the glass-like early morning waters in just the right manner to reflect the HANSEATIC’s sharply raked bow.
I stuck the cameras through various openings, clicking away blindly in the hopes of getting a decent view.
Back on the bridge, Captain Wolter asked me if I would be interested in riding the zodiac to deliver the authorities to their sea plane in the fjord. Hello? Yes, please! Moments later, I was suspended over the ship with chief officer Sodemann in the zodiac SHACKLETON, which was being lowered by a pulley into the tranquil waters. We picked up the officers, two of the ship’s photographers and Mike at the shell doors and sped off to the plane.
Then, the fun began. We circled the HANSEATIC as she began to pick up speed, following from all angles. At one point we were riding just a few feet in front of her bow wave.
And then, more in-motion close-ups from the stern.
On our way back to the ship, the SHACKLETON broke down. But not before we got some lovely views of the HANSEATIC.
After jiggering with the outboard motor, Officer Sodemann called for assistance. A small part had come out of the gear and would require a special tool to fix.
Soon, we were onboard another zodiac with the disabled SHACKELTON in tow.
35 year old Officer Sodemann joined Hapag-Lloyd a year and a half ago on the BREMEN, transferring a couple months ago to the HANSEATIC. A dedicated ship enthusiast, he is from the former East German city of Rostock (home of the GEORG BUCHNER) and was trained at the Fachhochschule Wismar Fachbereich Seefahrt at Warnemunde before heading off to sea on Hapag-Lloyd’s container ships and eventually their expedition passenger vessels.
After lunch, it was time for our first “official” zodiac cruise into the most remote part of the fjord. Towering granite bluffs, thickly forested embankments and gushing waterfalls formed an idyllic backdrop. Each zodiac was commanded by a familiar member of the ship’s staff, who are all rigorously trained for the task.
We passed underneath a sheer stone cliff and its silvery reflection in the glacial turquoise waters.
We also melted in the relentless sun on one of the hottest days ever recorded in the area. There was no sign of mist, either. Just crystalline beauty as far as the eye could see.
The young man in the tee shirt driving the neighboring zodiac looked very familiar. Hello, Captain Wolter!
After an hour or so of scenic cruising, the zodiacs gathered in the shadows of a small cove. In the center of it all, our supply “ship” prepared a special treat.
From toasting in the zodiacs to toasting in the zodiacs, we all raised our glasses, “five star expedition” style.
Later, as the ship departed, we enjoyed the solace of the upper decks in the amber-tinged afternoon light.
The freshly-filled pool was too tempting to resist. It was the perfect temperature, too!
At dinner, the good captain was kind enough to announce that we would soon pass HAL’s 1992-built MV STATENDAM off our port side. I was out on deck to capture the as-of-yet-unmodified southbound ship. An extra deck and a ducktail stern loom in her near future.
Another slight revision in the itinerary had us arriving in Ketchikan at 10:00 tonight in lieu of the following morning at 8:00 AM. This would give me a chance to get some blog work posted from the free wifi waves courtesy of the saloon across from the piers.
Alas, Ketchikan on a Friday night makes spring break in Cancun look like a monastery in Mongolia. The bars were hopping and the locals were stumbling in every direction.
Saturday, August 1, 2009
Shortly after we awoke, Princess Cruises’ ISLAND PRINCESS glided past our porthole and berthed at the southernmost quay adjacent to town.
“The Salmon Capitol Of Alaska”, Ketchikan was established in 1900. In the heart of the 17 million acre Tongass Forest and one of the rainiest spots in Alaska, it was not immune from the high pressure system that was broiling the Pacific Northwest. Instead of the usual rain and fog, it was bathed in brilliant sun. Alas, my day’s agenda was to visit the engine room (another plus with cruising on the HANSEATIC is that tours of the machinery spaces are provided), get caught up on some writing assignments and perhaps borrow some more wifi waves from the saloon across the street.
From the Columbus Deck terrace, we watched as Alaska Marine Highway System’s classic MALASPINA made her way south in the safe distance of the outer channel.
At 10:00, we met 33 year old Zadar-based chief engineer Sinisa Mrvica for a tour of the engine room. This was not a “hush, hush VIP special” but part of the standard HANSEATIC experience, made possible by signing up at the reception desk. Mrvica “prepped” us in the control room by explaining the various operations systems on the computer screen before walking us through key areas such as the main engine compartments, the generator room, air conditioning plant and work shop.
Meanwhile, Jessica, our (near Frankfurt-based) 24 year old cabin attendant, was changing 419’s linens and straightening things up for the afternoon. She joined the ship last November and is now on her second five month contract. Like every member of the staff on HANSEATIC that we have encountered, she is friendly, efficient and meticulous. Nary a small hook or sliver of brass gets by without an authoritative sweep of her polishing cloth.
As HANSEATIC’s clientele mused over native artwork in the local shops, posed with totems (Ketchikan has more than any place in the world), hovered in helicopters and flew over fjords, I enjoyed some peaceful writing time on the quiet ship. Another deadline was just barely met as I finalized an article on the lovely old Turkish liner AKDENIZ.
From my perch, downtown Ketchikan and the ISLAND PRINCESS transitioned from being backlit in the late morning to basking in the bright early afternoon lighting.
Outside, a steady breeze kept Ketchikan’s heatwave in check. Another hour or two on the “wifi” bench outside the saloon across from the quay finished off the afternoon. Meanwhile, the Vancouver-bound ISLAND PRINCESS blew her whistle and cast her lines at 6:00 PM.
After dinner, local storyteller Joe Williams and his “clan” shared some Tlingit culture, costumes and ritual dancing with HANSEATIC’s appreciative audience. Our good ship departed at midnight for the 91 nautical mile journey to Wrangell.
Sunday, August 2, 2009
As its guide proudly boasts, Wrangell is the only town in Alaska to have been ruled by four nations: Tlingit, Russia, Britain and the U.S. The current town was incorporated in 1903 but little of the original architecture survived fires in 1906 and 1952. Today, the local economy is in somewhat dire straits due to restraints on the timber and fishing industries.
Wrangell is located on the Stikine River, some 150 miles south of Juneau. I learned a bit later that the local residents were getting very tired of the heatwave and lack of rain for the past week or so. Ironically, today was the first day cool enough to warrant wearing long pants.
I made a left turn at the terminal entrance and walked about a mile along the two lane highway to Petroglyph Beach, a somewhat mysterious site where native rock carvings are estimated to be between 1,000 and 8,000 years old.
From there, it was back through town to Shake’s Island, located in the center of the inner fishing harbor. At low tide, it is a bit like an Alaskan Mont. St. Michel, connected to the mainland by mud banks. Named for a famous Tlingit chief (whose grave is nearby), the spot was the Tlingit tribal house from 1840 to 1940 and now is used as a cultural center. Towering totems share the airspace with bald eagles and ravens.
From there, it was back past Totem Park where three replica totems and a bright red fire hydrant distinctively mark the landscape.
Hapag-Lloyd provided free access to the Nolan Center, a local museum with displays of native artifacts, artwork and even local fur samples (the sea otter and lynx seem to have garnered the most votes for softest).
I lingered a few moments at the terminal to enjoy an absolutely delicious cappuccino at the friendly Java Junkie before heading back to the ship. As HANSEATIC thrust away, the sun finally broke, illuminating the silty glacial waters and picturesque town in our wake.
Much of the afternoon was spent marveling at the passing scenery and trying to spot bald eagles as HANSEATIC wound her way through Wrangell Narrows, a waterway that larger cruise ships must pass by. Of course, the fo’c’sle was open for all who like to face the wind and water.
Afternoon tea in the Columbus Lounge was a strudelfest. I savored the flaky, crispy, tart blueberry selection but there were also some delicious apple and peach choices.
Teatime without the ship’s cookies is like a day without sunshine. The pistachio and almond cookies that come with each cappuccino are perfection but so are the freshly made strawberry jelly cookies dusted in powdered sugar.
Dr. Eckhard Denker gave a presentation on birds for the English-speaking passengers in the Darwin Hall. A nice touch is that the lectures are simulcast on the ship’s Channel 3.
When we emerged, a lot of commotion was going on, with everyone rushing to the ship’s starboard side. A baby humpback leapt out of the surging seas some ten meters away, just in time for me to catch the splash on my camcorder. A moment later, it was waving to us with its dorsal fin from the HANSEATIC’s wake. Over the next hour or so, HANSEATIC circled slowly. In every direction, humpbacks were blowing and breaching, much to everyone’s delight.
Hearty salutes to Nadin, our wonderful Berlin-based waitress. She joined the MV EUROPA three years ago and was “trained on the job”. This is her second cruise on the HANSEATIC.
We loved watching the waiters exchange knowing glances prior to setting our courses on the table. There is an almost ballet style synchronicity in this service. Impeccable, yet with no pretense or airs.
Monday, August 3, 2009
I awoke at 7:15 when the excursion announcements began but squeezed out a further hour or two of rest after closing the cabin’s blackout blind and donning ear plugs.
HANSEATIC was comfortably anchored off Haines, Alaska when we emerged in the late morning, just in time for lunch on the Columbus Deck lido. A fantastic, freshly-prepared melanzane penne, ratatouile, a huge salad and the usual assortment of cookies nourished mind, soul and love handles. Today had another “far niente” agenda of sorts: more time to catch up on writing projects as well as this blog and wander around the town of 1,811 residents while most of our fellow passengers took the ferry further up the Lynn Canal to picturesque Skagway for a ride on the White Pass Railway (see last month’s SAPPHIRE PRINCESS Southbound blog for photos).
As I slurped up my second cappuccino, the silhouette of Holland America’s 1993-built MV RYNDAM emerged from the haze. The soon-to-be-refitted ship took the only berth at the end of a long jetty just south of the fishing harbor. After yesterday’s slight respite, the heatwave was back, bringing with it a devastating cloud of orange smoke from countless forest fires raging throughout the Alaskan panhandle and neighboring Canada.
A short while later, we were off on the tender to explore Haines and hopefully settle in at one of its coffee shops for some high speed “internetting”. We soon learned the best view on this visibility-impaired day was of the two ships in the harbor, although HAL had tried to spruce things up by investing in some potted flowers for the erstwhile bleak jetty. Otherwise, the town lacked not only character but also a decent coffee haven. The only cafe we found had watered down, overpriced cappuccinos and wifi for pay. Eventually, we settled in at the public library, which was overwhelmed with cruise ship passengers queued up to use its available computers.
After a couple hours in the library, I decided to wander back through Haines in the hopes of finding something of interest. Before long, I was humming my favorite Peggy Lee tune and “kept on dancing” as I took the waterfront route back to the tender and the far more welcoming ship. Unlike Wrangell, which is suffering from similar downturns in the fishing (supplies depleted) and timber (see fishing) industries, the word “charming” would have been a bit generous in describing Haines. Maybe it was just not a good day…
From the Observation Lounge with the familiar accompaniment of laptop and green tea, I tapped away at the keypad and gazed through the glass as HANSEATIC slowly swayed about the anchorage. There were glacial mountains on both sides of the channel but one would never know. Even the red sun fizzled out in the clotted sky well before its scheduled 9:15 PM setting.
The afternoon included a workout and some quick interviews with members of the ship’s staff before a very low key dinner in the Marco Polo. With most of the passengers still on excursion, the room was almost empty as we ordered selections from the always available a la carte menu (enhanced with a nice bottle of Ravenswood zinfandel) that included delicious mozzarella caprese, caesar salad (this time without bacon bits), piping hot spaghetti al oglio and a wicked creme brulée. After watching RYNDAM sail, we finished off the day with an after dinner snack in the Observation Lounge.
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
Following breakfast, everyone was up on deck for the Point Adolphus “cruise by”. Located at the entrance to Glacier Bay in the Icy Strait, the strong currents fill the waters with nutrients, attracting a fantastic food chain that begins with salmon and otters and works its way up via harbor seals, porpoises and orcas to the happiest humpback whales in the seven seas. With this cruise, I have been forever spoiled by cetaceans that not only breach but leap into the sky and twist around before splashing back into their watery abode. They come up alongside the ship, groan, sputter and disappear momentarily before reappearing in the distance for a skyward plunge. HANSEATIC circled slowly about, her upper deck revelers armed with extended digital cameras hoping to record the action despite the fleeting breaches and frustrating digital delays.
A wonderful, scenic midday sail past rocky Inian Island found us on schedule for our arrival in the narrow Lisianski Inlet off the fishing village of Pelican on Chichagoff Island. With a population of 163, I would guess there are more fishing boats in its harbor than permanent residents who live on a small peninsula and a steep hillside adjacent to a wooden walkway atop pylons.
HANSEATIC anchored in the shelter of two small islands, allowing her passengers to zodiac ashore to this less-frequented Alaskan hide-away. The 1974-built 2,132 ton ferry LECONTE was loading supplies and preparing for her 4:00 PM departure as I photographed her from the adjacent cove.
Maybe it was my “Haines hangover” but I detected beneath Pelican’s quaint and colorful surface a festering resignation and weariness. I could not help but feel sorry for the local boy who held up a sea star to show curious passersby. Would he still have that innocence and enthusiasm in another five years?
Our visit was short but long enough for me to traverse the length of the promenade. I found the place, despite its beautiful, painterly setting and the sunny, positively perfect weather, melancholic and haunting.
Once the last zodiac was stowed back on board, MV HANSEATIC lifted anchor and sailed back through the Lisianski Inlet and turned northward into the Gulf of Alaska. I watched through the gym windows as countless salmon hopped out of the calm waters in much the same fashion as the morning’s humpbacks. Maitre’d Tiziana La Rocca had suggested earlier in the cruise that tonight would be a good night (for my particular dietary limitations) to partake of the featured Chinese Duck dinner in the Ethno Restaurant. Honestly, I am not a huge duck fan but the food on HANSEATIC was so well prepared, it was well worth the risk. From the moment we set foot in the room (which by day is the handsome Columbus Lounge), I knew we were in for a treat.
With lights perfectly dimmed and every seat booked, another five star culinary event unfolded. It began with a beautiful assortment of artfully-presented appetizers that included: traditional pancake stuffed with crispy duck and hoisin sauce, well-seasoned duck ragout served in a dough basket, pieces of duck leg fried in tempura, savoury strips of duck breast with Chinese cabbage and green curry and spicy prawns with banana-chili salad. There was also glazed loin of suckling pig with sweet soy sauce and vegetable strips for Mike. Next came star anis flavored duck broth with poultry won ton and grilled fillet of red snapper with soy sauce served with Chinese stir-fried bell pepper and steamed rice. The main course was a magnificent, cripy whole roasted honey-chili duck with ginger sauce on wok vegetables and glass noodles. The dessert was a ragout of exotic fruits in coconut-vanilla sauce.
Afterwards, we wound it up in the Explorer’s Lounge to enjoy the Ballin duo’s second saxophone/clavier/piano concerto, “From Bach to Boogie”.
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
For the second time in almost a week in Alaska, it was actually not hot. This was a bit of a welcome relief and a great opportunity to finally don one of the nice red parkas provided by Hapag-Lloyd (along with rubber boots) for our zodiac landings. Smoke from the still raging Canadian fires clouded the sky with a tint of umber as HANSEATIC slowly made her way into Yakutat Bay in tandem with Clipper Cruises 5,218 gt 1989-built MV CLIPPER ODYSSEY (ex OCEANIC GRACE, OCEANIC ODYSSEY).
At 8:30 AM as we approached spectacular Hubbard Glacier at the mouth of the bay, the smaller ship veered off into the starboard distance and dropped anchor. And in predictable fashion, while the cameras were safely stowed, a massive chunk of the Hubbard calved suddenly, crackling, crumbling and then crashing into the tidewater. I finally managed to capture a later calving, albeit on a much more modest scale…
This was my first trip to the Hubbard Glacier out of some five Alaska cruises. I found it even more awe-inspiring than Glacier Bay’s Margerie (see last blog). One of the few Alaskan glaciers in recent years to actually advance, it is 6 miles wide and no less than 76 miles long.
Before long, we were off in a zodiac, first to bump and grind among the ice detritus of neighboring Turner Glacier (very impressive on its own but somewhat dwarfed by big “brother” Hubbard) and then within a safe distance past the growling face of Hubbard, whose massive wall was shedding its outer edge of 400 year old ice with abandon. At one point, a small blue berg suddenly rolled over right next to the zodiac, causing a splash and generating a few startled “oohs” and “aahs”.
Harbor seals poked their heads through the ice, shyly disappearing as we approached. Meanwhile, one could almost hear strains of Wagner as the angular, finned 76,522 gt, 1,900 passenger CELEBRITY MERCURY entered the anchorage and pivoted around like a supermodel superliner on an icy runway. Soon, we were zipping back to the HANSEATIC but not before a tantalizing sweep past the zodiac-deficient MERCURY, whose passengers would just have to content themselves with crowding the rails for a distant view of the surrounding magnificence.
As the last of the zodiacs were being hauled up to their nests, HANSEATIC lifted anchor and began the procession of departures from Yakutat Bay. On cue, the skies clotted up with ominous clouds and the rain began. It was a much needed-respite from the heatwave and would hopefully put an end to the smoke. We maintained a very slow, deliberate course, allowing CELEBRITY MERCURY to take the lead. HANSEATIC turned northward into the Gulf Of Alaska and made speed toward Prince William Sound, almost 200 miles away.
Thursday, August 6, 2009
HANSEATIC hugged the Alaskan coastline as we slept in, leisurely skipping breakfast for a gentle green tea awakening in the Observation Lounge. Outside, it was a bit nippy, although the rain had abated. At noon, the hunger pangs would be sated by the special barbeque on the Columbus Terrace.
Gradually, the clouds began to lift, turning the gray coastline a spectrum of freshly-drenched green. Our planned arrival at the Chenega Glacier in the recesses of Prince William Sound had been delayed a bit, allowing the skies more time to clear. Meanwhile, there was time to pack, then soak up the view as HANSEATIC sailed though a picturesque archipelago.
Well, if a trip must come to an end, it is always best when it does so with a big bang and not a whimper. All my recent glacial treks had not prepared me for such a symphony of beauty. HANSEATIC meandered into the verdant, jagged Nassau fjord under a brilliantly marbled blue and white sky. Ahead was impressive Tigertail Glacier but HANSEATIC turned to starboard and proceeded slowly towards the Chenega.
Even the ship’s staff, who visit the world’s most pristine and beautiful places on a regular basis, seemed even more gleeful than usual. We were off in the first zodiac group for a closer view of the two mile wide face of this lovely apparition.
We sailed through an ice field and played a bit of “hide and seek” with the mother ship lurking behind large chunks of glacier. There was a savored moment or two of stillness as the bergs around us clicked and popped. And, then, suddenly, another one rolled over right alongside us, prompting an onward move.
I get it, I get it, I totally get it! Expedition Cruising in Hapag’s five star style is incomparable and addictive. How often does one have such experiences on an average cruise?
We capped our last zodiac adventure off in style with my first ever “Jaeger Tea”, served by always accommodating Hotel Manager Robert Peukert.
All too soon, we were returning to the HANSEATIC. The comfortable red parka and those boots (which we never had the occasion to use since there were no “wet” landings on this part of the journey) would be stowed for another lucky passenger to use in the future. Late in the afternoon, after the second group had their turn in the zodiacs, HANSEATIC weighed anchor, with course set for Seward. But not before a swing through the ice field and a parting glance at Chenega’s majesty.
One of the pilots later told us how odd it felt, crunching through ice he had been so keenly trained to avoid. HANSEATIC’s reinforced bow grinned as it ground along…
A striking blue berg we had encountered earlier was on its way to sea on the ebb tide.
On the fo’c’sle, I took my final shots as HANSEATIC turned in the fjord.
A glacial swan (or was it a mermaid?) sang “farewell”.
Friday, August 7, 2009
Ah, the rude awakening of the final day. HANSEATIC was berthed in Seward, dwarfed by the neighboring RADIANCE OF THE SEAS and RYNDAM. The tide was very low, exposing vast amounts of the silty harbor banks but the backdrop of snow-capped mountains was nonetheless impressive. Another brilliantly sunny day awaited, although the view outside our portholes was obscured by pylons supporting a makeshift dock. Ever-resourceful Hapag laid out red carpets atop wooden planks to accommodate passengers venturing off on excursion. I will truly miss the wonderful staff and crew of the HANSEATIC. They made us feel very welcome and pampered!
At precisely 3:00 PM, the lines were cast and our tiny Teutonic “traum schiff” (Sorry, Deilmann folks, but this really is a “dream boat”) backed into the turning basin.
The Alaskan authorities were not thrilled to have me linger on the jetty as the ship dieseled onward to Nome via a number of off-the-beaten-track ports. From Nome, HANSEATIC would commence a Northwest Passage transit, rendezvous-ing with fleetmate BREMEN, before heading into the Atlantic.
Our train to Anchorage left at 6:00 PM, so there was some time to wander Seward. In the midst of a shopping plaza, there is a memorial to the victims of the whopping 9.4 quake that devastated the region in 1964.
It was my first stroll through a designated “tsunami zone”.
The marketplace was filled with passengers from RYNDAM and RADIANCE OF THE SEAS. Surely, they would enjoy their respective cruises…but I guarantee they had nothing on our experience!
The four and a half hour train ride past mottled glaciers, over trestles and through fields of fireweed was truly spectacular. A great way to end this Sea Trek, although a couple of those little cookies from the Columbus Lounge would have made it even better.
Special thanks: Martin Cox, Cruise Director Matthias Mayer, Chief Engineer Sinisa Mrvica, Hotel Director Robert Peukert, Chief Officer Ulf Sodemann, Hostess Helga Spickerman, Lectorin Sylvia Stevens, Isolde Susset, Cindy Tanenbaum, Captain Ulf Wolter
End of blog. “Finalized” on August 30, 2009