Seward, Alaska

We have an unplanned port call on Le Soleal in Seward, Alaska today. Captain Le Rouzic calls another ‘all passenger’ meeting this morning to announce that overnight our plans to visit Holgate Glacier today have been changed in favour of a professional diving inspection of the hull and any repairs required in Seward. We will be in port from 11am until 10pm.

He also mentions that the acrid burning smell permeating the ship is from nearby forest fires, as there had apparently been some concern from the crew and passengers after yesterday’s grounding incident. The forest fires are unusual for Seward, caused by a hotter than usual and dry start to summer. It will be 29 degrees today, and we can’t see Seward from the entrance to Resurrection Bay for the smoke being blown across the bay by an off-shore wind.

It’s a shame about the smoke – Seward must be a stunning location without it, ringed by mountains that still have some snow covering. The smoke is less apparent as we near the port, where we can see the Regent Seven Seas Mariner cruise ship is at the dock. The Mariner is easily double the size of Le Soleal, and completely obscures her from view from the town as we pull alongside.

Seward is a small town of about 3,000 people, so it will be interesting to see how it copes with 700 passengers from the Mariner, 200 from Le Soleal, holiday makers for the 4th of July long weekend, and the running of the Mount Marathon, a marathon that takes place up and down the 3000 foot mountain behind the town.

The expedition team and Cruise Director have scrambled to organise shuttle buses to take passengers  to the Exit Glacier or to the Sea Life Aquarium. Over 130 people have signed up to go to the Glacier, which makes it seem like a school outing. I elect just to walk from the ship, skipping the shuttle bus, and try to get as far along the coastline as I can.

It’s easy walking through Seward, but the road to the wildlife watching point I want to get to requires sharing a dusty gravel road with a bunch of campervan drivers, so I give up on that idea and hike back along the shoreline. There are sea otters visible from the shoreline, so that’s a few hours spent tracking them trying to get a better shot. The holidaymakers in their Gulfstreams, Winnebagos and other RVS are something to behold. There must be 2 kilometres of them along the shoreline, of varying sizes from small camper vans through to some the size of long distance buses, with hydraulic extensions to make them even more spacious. Many of them seem to have ‘support vehicles’ in the form of small SUVs.

The marathon and the 4th of July celebrations mean that ‘downtown’ Seward has a festival atmosphere, with many marquees and street food vendors set up to cater for the crowds. It looks like the marathon will be televised as the local TV stations have their vans and equipment set up next to the Seward Fire Station.

Seward should be named ‘City of Murals’, as there seems to be an active ‘mural society’ that is decorating some of the town’s buildings. The most impressive on is on one of the hotels, featuring horned and tufted puffins.

18km of walking later, I’m back at Le Soleal at around 7.30pm. I’ve apparently missed another passenger briefing from the Captain, to the effect that although the ship has been cleared to sail, another inspection is required, so we will be in Seward overnight and until 6pm tomorrow. The expedition team have already organised a 6hr cruise using local operators to the Holgate Glacier, or there is the option to watch the marathon. The bad news is that we will have to sail straight from Seward across the Gulf of Alaska to Juneau, forgoing Icy Bay, in order to disembark on schedule on July 6.

The smoke creates some special effects in the late evening, with the setting sun turning red from the effects of the smog.

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