Alaska Ferry / Sailing With The Tide

Tide Gauge

The highest tide here in May is a 20.0 – which would put the marker at the very top of the picture. The lowest tide this month is a minus 4.7 – which would put the marker another 7 feet lower than it is in the picture.

It takes about six hours for that change of almost 25 feet.

Not all tides here are that extreme – a small high tide would be like a 12 or a 13 and a small low tide would be a 4 or a 5.  A much smaller difference between high and low.

High Tide

Low Tide

These two pictures were taken six hours apart. The high that day was around a 16 and the low was around a 2 – pretty average.

I’m sure you can see how this can cause transportation issues. A channel that is navigable at high tide might be impassable (or even walkable!) at low tide.

The tides also affect the flow of the water – the narrower or shallower the channel the faster the water flows.

In very narrow spots this ebb and flow can temporarily turn the ocean into a river and the ferry schedules have to account for his. There are some areas where the water can sometimes move too quickly for large boats to pass safely.  In those cases the larger ferries have to time their passage for peak high tide or peak low tide (aka “slack tide”) when the water is still.

M/V Fairweather (one of our fast ferries) moves 250 passengers and ~35 vehicles at 32 knots

The newer “fast” ferries were built with strong enough engines to muscle their way through the narrows at any stage of the tide. The larger ferries can’t do this so their routes have to be meticulously planned – which is just one of the reasons that ferry schedules are not available a year in advance…

So if you are taking the ferries through Southeast Alaska and you have an extremely inconvenient arrival or departure time (like 2:45 a.m.) I hope you can understand that we’re working around Mother Nature.

M/V Columbia (one of our “not fast” ferries) moves 500 passengers and 140 vehicles at 17 knots

Like I tell everyone that gets frustrated by the complexities of the ferry schedule, “it’s part of the charm…”

Tour Season And Waterfalls

Tourist Watching

I’ve been back in Juneau for just over two years now and as much as I like to think that I can see things with ‘fresh eyes’ I’m starting to find that I can’t. I forget how impressive the mountains can be because they’re all around us. I don’t know the name of the mountain in the picture… it’s just part of Admiralty Island to me. And if I had been facing any other direction then there would’ve been another very similar mountain in the background.

That’s what’s so great about tourist watching – seeing people experience these things for the first time is a good reminder that yeah, this really is a cool place.

And speaking of not knowing the names of things I see everyday… there are these waterfalls right above town that I see all the time but I don’t know what they’re called. I suspect that even if I did know their names it wouldn’t do me any good – does anybody else in town know them?  I doubt it.  There’s just so many of them that we pretty much ignore the common ones.

I was downtown the other day and saw some tourists taking pictures of them. Here’s one of the waterfalls behind town. (those are not fall colors – that’s what the cottonwood trees look like right now)

A Waterfall

And here’s a picture of Nugget Falls – a much more impressive waterfall that I see several times a week.

Nugget Falls

So what I’ve decided to do with this blog is to not worry so much about the quality of the pictures and just post whatever I come across.

Because after posting a picture of one of the most common things in Juneau I’ve learned that I just can’t predict what people will like.

Have a good weekend!