Surely some of the grandest of God’s creation yet unspoiled by the hand of man! That was Alaska’s Inside Passage as we experienced it aboard and ashore from The Dawn Princess, sailing from picturesque Seattle, Washington on Saturday, August 26, 2006 and returning on Saturday, September 2. The cruise ship itself is a floating village 856 feet long, 13 stories high and home for a week to more than 2,000 passengers of all ages and stations in life hailing from six continents and islands of the seas.
Yet for all the cosmopolitan diversity, it was a small world still. One day we chatted with a young lady from Sara Faye’s home town of Franklin, Tennessee. Another day our lunch seating included a retired couple from Hamilton, Ontario, a Toronto suburb of 400,000 population, who just happened to be personal friends of my friend Clark Pinnock, longtime theology professor at McMaster Divinity College in that very city.
Sunday morning we attended a shipboard interdenominational Christian worship meeting at which I presided and gave a brief talk about God’s all-encompassing love from the story of Jonah, himself like us a seafaring cruiser. Also present were Dan and Rhea Pettus from North Carolina, and since Rhea was worship leader at their Baptist congregation back home she graciously played piano for us in the Vista Lounge-turned-church and led us in singing several hymns. This hour of fellowship and worship with 40-50 fellow-believers beginning our first morning at sea set the tone for the seven days of sightseeing in the land of glaciers and rain forests, salmon streams and icebergs, the habitat of eagles and whales and bears.
From Seattle we sailed 890 nautical miles to the island town of Juneau, Alaska, where the refreshing 54-degree temperature reminded us why August is a good month for Houstonians like us to take a vacation. In Juneau we also enjoyed spiritual refreshment in the company of local resident and gracEmail subscriber Michael Clemens who met us on the dock and kindly provided a delightful personal tour of Mendenhall Glacier and the city of Juneau itself.
Tuesday found us in Skagway, Alaska where we boarded the White Pass & Yukon Railroad to Fraser, B.C., crossing mountain peaks that dropped 3,000 feet into valleys far below. This was the path in 1898 of the Klondike-bound gold seekers, many of whom turned back or perished en route to their dreams. Returning to Skagway by bus, we stopped over at Liarsville, Alaska, so named because it was the base for journalists who covered the Gold Rush for newspapers elsewhere and who regularly embellished their stories or made them up altogether.
On Wednesday morning we stood on the fore deck of the ship in 36-degree wind as we sailed up Tracy Arm, a fjord enclosed by sheer granite walls 7,000 feet high that guided us to the Sawyer Glacier, a mobile mountain of ice several miles long that over centuries cuts through solid rock as it advances and recedes in silent majesty.
At 4:15 a.m. on Thursday we entered the Tongass Narrows to dock two hours later in Ketchikan, Alaska. There we visited a First Peoples village and learned about the lore of the totem poles, traditional tribal records which missionaries mistakenly thought to be objects of worship. From Ketchikan we sailed 600 miles Thursday night and Friday to Victoria, B.C., arriving just in time for an evening tour by horse-drawn trolley through this provincial Canadian capital. As we slept Friday night we sailed back to Seattle, the splashing ocean water audible inside our 11th-floor stateroom with the balcony door slightly open.
Shipboard entertainment and amenities rivaled the most luxurious land vacations and included nightly musical shows, mental and physical games (I beat a talented teenager at ping-pong then smilingly told him I was 62 years old), five-course gourmet dinners (including lobster and Flaming Baked Alaska presented by a parade of about 40 chefs adorned in white uniforms and distinctive tall hats) and daily informational illustrated lectures by the renowned adventurer and naturalist Michael Modzelewski. Few Christians seem to manifest the admiration and respect for God’s creation expressed by this explorer, who has climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa, charted the interior of a glacial crevasse and lived two years alone on an island in Alaska. We may all pray that this man of such reverence for God’s physical handiwork may also come to know the Maker as revealed in Jesus Christ.
This was our first cruise, one recommended to us by several of you, and we thank you for the recommendation. Truly it was a week we will long remember and fondly cherish.