Cruising Tracy Arm – in Luxury

Today, Silversea's Silver Shadow spent the day sailing majestic Tracy Arm Fjord. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Today, Silversea’s Silver Shadow spent the day sailing majestic Tracy Arm Fjord. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

After four solid days spent stopping in ports, guests aboard Silversea’s Silver Shadow were treated to a day of scenic cruising in beautiful Tracy Arm Fjord. I’ve been here four times before, but my experience today will forever make me eat my words the next time I describe it to people.

Silver Shadow makes her first turn to port while entering Tracy Arm Fjord. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Silver Shadow makes her first turn to port while entering Tracy Arm Fjord. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

We had to first wait for Princess Cruises' Grand Princess to exit the fjord. We encountered her just after ten in the morning, meaning their guests only had a few hours compared with our full day of scenic cruising. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

We had to first wait for Princess Cruises’ Grand Princess to exit the fjord. We encountered her just after ten in the morning, meaning their guests only had a few hours compared with our full day of scenic cruising. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

You see, Tracy Arm is one of those places that is frequently listed on itineraries as including visits to the North and South Sawyer Glaciers. In practicality, however, the glaciers are difficult to reach. They’re located at the end of a fjord that is normally choked with ice even during the warm summer months. This hampers the ability of most cruise ships to even get within sight of them.

More critically, the fjord narrows considerably as you approach the North and South Sawyer glaciers. It takes a series of tight port and starboard turns to even reach the mouth of the glaciers – leaving ships with precious little room to maneuver should ice block their path.

A rarely-seen friend also made their return today. Hello, Mr. Sun! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

A rarely-seen friend also made their return today. Hello, Mr. Sun! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

With mainstream ships, there is also the question of time. As we arrived at the mouth of Tracy Arm this morning, we had to wait approximately 20 minutes to let Princess Cruises’ Grand Princess exit the fjord. The ship was bound for Juneau, just a few hours’ sail north.

While the Silver Shadow was planning to spend all day in the Fjord, guests on the Grand Princess were already leaving at ten in the morning. Assuming they entered the fjord around 7a.m., that only leaves them with about 90 minutes of sailing time before they have to turn around to make their scheduled 2 p.m. arrival into Juneau.

Sailing into Tracy Arm Fjord aboard Silversea's Silver Shadow. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Sailing into Tracy Arm Fjord aboard Silversea’s Silver Shadow. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

That means I know exactly where Grand Princess stopped her journey: a little clearing about halfway into Tracy Arm with a brilliant waterfall on the starboard side. It’s the only place – aside from several turns many more nautical miles up – that a 952-foot long vessel like Grand Princess could successfully turn around in.

I’ve been here four times, but I have only seen the glaciers once, on an excursion nine years ago that departed from Juneau aboard a small catamaran and rejoined our ship in – you guessed it – the little clearing with the waterfall.

Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

One of Silversea's greatest Scenic Cruising advantages: ample deck space. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

One of Silversea’s greatest Scenic Cruising advantages: ample deck space. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

The other times, we’ve always sailed halfway down the fjord before stopping – and turning – in the little clearing with the waterfall. So, naturally, when readers ask me about Tracy Arm, I make sure to add the disclaimer about actually seeing the glaciers.

Given the positively chilly temperatures here as of late, I wasn’t expecting much out of today. I figured much of the pass would be too caked with ice to really traverse any great distance. So you can imagine my surprise when we steamed right on past the little clearing that I am so used to hearing the bow thrusters whirr into life on and just kept right on going, sailing at a safe speed that sometimes barely broke five knots.

We cruised deeper into the fjord than I had expected. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

We cruised deeper into the fjord than I had expected. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

...and the landscape continually changed. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

…and the landscape continually changed. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Although the sun disappeared and the temperature plunged dramatically the closer we got to the glaciers, the scenic cruising we enjoyed today was every bit as in-depth as the small catamaran excursion I took nearly a decade ago. During the intervening nine years, not much has changed in Tracy Arm – it’s still as beautiful as ever.

Waiters aboard Silver Shadow offered up hot chocolate...and Gluhwein! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Waiters aboard Silver Shadow offered up hot chocolate…and Gluhwein! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

To keep those of us out on deck warm, Silversea’s helpful bar attendants walked around with trays of hot chocolate and my absolute favorite drink ever: Gluhwein. Anyone who knows me can attest that the path to my heart is paved with the spiced, mulled wine that is commonly served in the European Christmas Markets throughout the month of December. I had to indulge in two glasses. It keeps you warm and, for all I know, it will be another six months before I can have another cup of the stuff.

Even crew members came out to watch as we sailed deeper and deeper into Tracy Arm. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Even crew members came out to watch as we sailed deeper and deeper into Tracy Arm. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

When we finally reached the clearing for the Sawyer Glaciers, I was astonished to see that we were continuing on, towards the South Sawyer Glacier. We were now officially further than I had ever sailed into Tracy Arm on any ship, and Silver Shadow crawled along at two or three knots, pushing bergy bits and small chunks of ice out of her path using her bow thrusters and careful navigation.

Along the way, Captain Alessandro Zanello came over the public address system to inform us of all the seals and sea lions that were resting on ice in the bay ahead. He said this was a very rare event, and I can certainly attest to that. Their barks, sounding like crying children, rang out across the mountains in the bay. I have never seen or heard anything like it here in Alaska. Silver Shadow lingered in the bay for nearly 45 minutes as the ice clinked and cracked against itself and the currents and the sea lions and seals crawled on and off small bits of ice.

The South Sawyer Glacier - and some bergy bits. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

The South Sawyer Glacier – and some bergy bits. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

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Our Live Voyage Report onboard Silversea’s luxurious Silver Shadow continues tomorrow as we arrive in the town of Wrangell, Alaska! Be sure to follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog or the hashtag #LiveVoyageReport.

 

One Response to Silver Shadow Live Voyage Report – Day 7

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