Haines: The Other Skagway

Seabourn Sojourn, Haines, and the Mystery of Lynn Canal. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Monday, July 3, 2017

I awoke around two in the morning as Seabourns Seabourn Sojourn made her way up North America’s deepest fjord. I peered out my curtains at the blue-tinted surroundings of Lynn Canal, which connects the towns of Haines and Skagway with Juneau. Another cruise ship, its lights burning brightly, was making its way down from Skagway. The faintest wisps of smoke were visible from its funnel. I stepped out onto the balcony in my pyjamas. I knew the wind would be there – it always is in Lynn Canal – but its ferocity still caught me off guard.

It’s hard to believe, but Alaska (and British Columbia)’s worst maritime disaster occurred here, in Lynn Canal, in 1918. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

In October of 1918, the worst maritime disaster in Alaska (and British Columbia) occurred here, as the Canadian Pacific steamer Princess Sophia made her way south. Travelling from Skagway to Juneau at the end of the season, she was running late and being driven hard through a snowstorm. Her captain, Leonard Pye Locke, couldn’t see the bow of his own ship through the raging blizzard. Quite possibly, he relied instead on an old technique that other mariners would later report seeing him (and many other sea captains) use to navigate Lynn Canal at the time: he would sound his ship’s whistle, then shuffle back and forth gently on his feet, counting the seconds until the whistle’s return began to echo and reverberate back.

In doing this, he was determining where, exactly, in Lynn Canal he was – and how close his ship was to the shoreline. All while running at 16 knots through a blinding storm with reduced visibility.

Lynn Canal, as seen from Seabourn Sojourn. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Things didn’t work out well for the Princess Sophia. She ran aground on Vanderbilt Reef, just north of Juneau, with such force that she high-centered herself. Completely out of the water and battered by the storm, a flotilla of rescue ships stood by for two days, unable to transfer a single guest from the stricken vessel. It was thought, at the time, that the safest place to be was aboard the ship on the rocks.

That assumption turned out to be false. Around five in the evening on October 25, 1918, the storm intensified. Princess Sophia was lifted clear off Vanderbilt Reef, but not before the rocks opened her keel up like a tin can. She sank in minutes, taking with her an estimated 350 souls to the bottom.

Today, Seabourn Sojourn is docked in Haines, Alaska. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

A quaint town of just over 2,000 people, it is divided into two sections: the modern town, and historic Fort Seward, which can be seen at the end of the cruise pier. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

I wrote a book about the sinking in 2015, primarily because the incident has both fascinated and horrified me ever since I learned about it a decade ago. It’s not something you see in too many cruise line brochures (for obvious reasons), but I think it’s appropriate to mention it here. The Princess Sophia is as inexorably linked with Lynn Canal as the Klondike Gold Rush is with Skagway.

Speaking of, you may be interested to know we’re not in Skagway today. On its Alaskan itineraries, Seabourn has chosen the nearby port of Haines instead of its more famous Gold Rush counterpart. And as much as I love Skagway (I really do), I think Haines is the better fit for Seabourn.

The walk into town is easy…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…and picturesque. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

With a population of 2,500 people, Haines is a real, authentic, working Alaskan town. It will charm you with the friendliness of its residents, quirky businesses and pleasant, walkable streets; a sort of small-town Americana normally reserved for works of fiction.

The cruise pier is located in the heart of historic Fort Seward, while the modern downtown of Haines is an easy 10-minute walk away. While there are some very cool things in Fort Seward, like a bicycle rental shop and a distillery, you’ll probably want to walk in to modern Haines.

It’s Hammer Time

Say hello to the Hammer Museum! Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

The first thing I found was the Hammer Museum – the first museum in the world dedicated to hammers. Opened in 2002, it has about 2,000 different hammers on display at any given time, and over 7,000 hammers in its total collection. The museum itself is dedicated to preserving the history of the hammer, and educating visitors about the evolution of the world’s first tool.

This unassuming space could very well be my new favourite museum. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

You’re reading this thinking, ‘A hammer’s a hammer, right?’ Wrong. I’m not a handyman by any stretch of the imagination, but I never knew that such a simple tool had such a complex history. Inside this little house-like building are hammers from various centuries and places around the world. There are hammers used on railroads, industry, blacksmithing, shipbuilding, and hammers for professions and needs that no longer exist in most parts of the world. It’s unlikely you’re going to need the Hitching Post Hammer – meant to mend the hitching posts that horses were tied to – anytime soon. There’s even a hammer personally signed by Tim Allen, star of the 1990’s sitcom, Home Improvement.

The museum displays 2000 hammers at any given time, and has a collection spanning over 7,000 individual pieces. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Most hammers are accompanied by a description of what they were used for, and what era they date to. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

The Hammer Museum dares to ask the questions that we’re all thinking. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

This auto-nail gun from the 1800’s looks dicey at best. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

For $5, this is one of the most fascinating museums I’ve ever been to. It was surprisingly informative, and even displayed the exhibits with a degree of fun not found in most museums. Above a box of “sterilized tacks” from the 1930’s, a placard asks why the tacks were sterilized. There’s a rotating “Hammer of the Week” that’s housed in a unique display case, and lots of other whimsical touches. The museum even has a gift shop.

It’s also not hard to spot. Just look for the 19’8″ claw hammer standing in the front yard on Main Street, carved from a spruce log 26 inches in diameter.

Beautiful downtown Haines is easy to navigate. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

It’s also helpful that the Brewery, the museum, and the main shopping stores are all clustered along a single street. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…particularly when this is as busy as it gets in Haines. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Equally nice: it’s easy to find your way back…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…to your ship. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Don’t forget to buy a copy of the local newspaper in Haines; it’s a fantastic look at rural life in Alaska. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Other cool diversions in Haines include the Haines Brewing Company, which makes a tremendous spruce-tip ale; the Babbling Book bookshop that features titles by numerous local authors, as well as a great selection of local and general interest books on Alaska; and the Sheldon Museum and Cultural Center that showcases the region’s rich Tlingit heritage. Best of all, each of these is located on Main Street.

The Spa at Seabourn, Evenings Onboard

This afternoon, I tried out a treatment…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…at the Spa at Seabourn. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

This afternoon, I tested out Seabourn Sojourn’s Spa. Located on Deck 9 aft, it’s open most days from 8am until 10pm (though check your Seabourn Herald for exact times). Run by Steiner, The Spa at Seabourn offers up a full menu of treatments, from hair, waxing and nail services to elaborate massages and facials. There’s even a 24 Karat gold facial.

I chose a treatment I’d never experienced before: the “Revitalizing Leg Therapy.” At $86 for 45 minutes, it’s one of the least expensive treatments on the menu. Good for those with aches and pains in the feet and legs, or poor circulation, this seemed like the ideal treatment after a day of walking around Haines.

The treatment was basically three things: an exfoliating scrub that’s rubbed onto the legs and (that tickles!) feet; a leg and foot massage; and a hot mask that’s applied to the legs and then peeled off after a few minutes.

Setting sail…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…and heading southbound down Lynn Canal towards Juneau, Alaska. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

I’ve never had the urge to fall asleep during regular Swedish or Hot Stone massages, but this Leg Therapy treatment was so nice I nearly fell asleep several times. I had to actively try to keep myself awake. It was fabulously relaxing, and I liked that it was quick and didn’t take up a lot of my afternoon. But when all was said and done, my legs felt spectacular – like a new person.

This evening, we sailed back down Lynn Canal en-route to Juneau. I enjoyed an evening of cocktails up in the Observation Bar on Deck 10. It’s one of the nicest spots on the Seabourn Sojourn, particularly with Alaska’s long evenings.

Still, I made time to look up from my book and my drink and admire Lynn Canal. I could hear the wind howling against the doors of the lounge. It reminded me that in Alaska, some things never change.

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Our Voyage Report from Seabourn Sojourn’s Ultimate Alaska voyage continues tomorrow as we arrive in Juneau on Independence Day. Follow along with our latest cruise adventures on Twitter: @deckchairblog.

Seabourn Sojourn - Ultimate Alaskan Sojourn

Monday, June 26, 2017Vancouver, British ColumbiaEmbark Seabourn Sojourn1700
Tuesday, June 27Cruise the Inside Passage; Seymour Narrows; Queen Charlotte Sound
Wednesday, June 28Ketchikan, Alaska08002300
Thursday, June 29Scenic cruising Misty Fjords
Friday, June 30Wrangell, Alaska07001600
Saturday, July 1Scenic cruising Glacier Bay National Park10002000
Sunday, July 2Cruising Tracy Arm and/or Endicott Arm
Monday, July 3Haines, Alaska07002000
Tuesday, July 4Juneau, Alaska08001700
Wednesday, July 5Sitka, Alaska10001900
Thursday, July 6At Sea
Friday, July 7, 2017Seward (Anchorage), Alaska0700Disembark



Comments are closed.

Looking for something?

Use the form below to search the site:

Still not finding what you're looking for? Drop a comment on a post or contact us so we can take care of it!