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All at sea on an Alaskan ferry


It was 5.30am and the tiny town of Skagway, Alaska was silent, the clear night skies hidden behind the looming darkness of the mountains. I walked through the empty streets to the ferry terminal, where I was taking the two day journey to British Columbia in Canada, through the stunning, wild islands and inlets of the southeast Alaskan coast, known as the Inside Passage.

The darkness had given into a still morning shrouded in thick sea-mist by the time the old boat set off. I ate my breakfast in the clean but scruffy canteen, gulping down hot coffee, my ears filled with the gentle shuddering of the boat and the soft murmur of the few other passengers. After breakfast I found myself a seat in the recliner lounge with its old-fashioned silver ashtrays and well-worn carpet.

Around mid-morning the mist lifted to reveal thick forests which gave way to rugged mountains strewn with turquoise glaciers, and surrounding us crystal-clear water as blue as the sky.

I often had the deck to myself, braving the icy headwinds as I watched the beautiful landscape amble past, spotting rare sea birds and even a distant whale, and envying the remote houses on wild shores.

At each port we were able to get off the boat, giving me time to stroll through sleepy villages or along empty beaches taking photos of bald eagles and sea otters. Pick-up trucks and piles of firewood lined the driveways, “beware of snowplows” warned a road-sign.

On the morning of the second day we awoke to find ourselves docked in a small town called Petersburg, nestled among the mountains and fjords of an area known as ‘little Norway’. No one seemed to mind their journey being delayed as we waited in the port for the mist to clear, allowing us a safe but slow passage down the Wrangell narrows which in parts seemed barely wider than the boat. It was here that a group of us watched in wonder as two powerful orcas made their way towards us, their black fins rising cleanly as they swam past.

Darkness was no less beautiful than the day, and as I ventured into the cold night air I was rewarded with a sky silver with stars as the boat glided silently through black water. Knowing that the rest of the passengers were sleeping made the single shooting star that flashed across the firmament feel like a personal gift.

So it was with a heavy heart that I stepped off the boat at Prince Rupert, BC and greeted the friendly Canadian border official. As I showed my passport and declared my bear-spray, the two days of peace and beauty I had spent on board a rickety old ferry in Alaska started to feel like a dream. But a good dream, the kind you never forget.

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