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COVER STORY


out of San Francisco on a summer-long series of 10-night cruises to Alaska.


After settling in, we headed for the Sun Deck atop the ship for sail-away. Far below, crowds enjoying the summer sun at quayside cafes waved farewell; on the starboard bow lay Alcatraz Island with its infamous Federal Penitentiary that housed America’s most notorious criminals from 1934 to 1963; ahead, the graceful span of the Golden Gate Bridge beckoned.


Our passage under this orange-vermillion suspension bridge was accompanied by an armada of jet-skis, windsurfers and sailing boats.


T


wo days at sea as we headed north gave me time to come to terms with this sequestered corner of the largest of the United States.


Millions of years ago, shifting glaciers carved out a dramatic landscape in south-east Alaska. Known as the Inside Passage, this stretch of coastline extends 500 miles from Puget Sound in Washington State, past Canada’s Vancouver Island, to the Alaska Panhandle in the north, and encompasses more than 1,000 islands, 15,000 miles of coastline and countless coves and bays.


‘Alaska is still thus – ITS GLACIERS have been advancing or retreating FOR 12 MILLION YEARS’


Since it was first charted in the 1790s by British


naval captain George Vancouver, the sheltered waters of the Inside Passage have lured an endless procession of travellers. Some were hunters, drawn by the lucrative trade in sea-otter fur, while others crowded on to steamers bound for Skagway and the goldfields of the Yukon. As we weaved our way north through this hauntingly beautiful watery maze, the on-board naturalist explained that in this most rugged, unspoilt state in the Union, caribou outnumber people and glaciers still carve the primordial landscape. He also revealed that the powerful Tlingit, Haida,


and Tsimshian Native tribes once ruled, crossing the waters to hunt and trade. In 1741, Danish explorer Vitus Bering was the first white man to arrive and then, in 1867, US Secretary of State William Seward bought the territory from Tsar Alexander II for $7.2million. In 1879, naturalist John Muir made the first of his three trip to Alaska’s south-east – or Panhandle – and, while viewing the mighty glaciers, wrote: “One learns that the world, though made, is yet being made; that this is still the morning of creation; that mountains long conceived are now being born, channels traced for coming rivers, basins hollowed for lakes.” In the early years of the 21st


century, Alaska is


still thus; its glaciers have been on the move – advancing or retreating and then advancing again – for 12 million years. Having cruised to the Norwegian fjords on many occasions, I struggled to put the comparison of this


20 WORLD OF CRUISING I Winter 2011-12


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