Tour Southwest Alaska Aboard a Ferry: Unalaska-Dutch Harbor await

Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

In 48 hours, the picnic supplies, coffee press, non-perishable food, DVDs, chargers, and other miscellaneous flotsam and jetsam of our upcoming Alaska Marine Highway (ferry) trip will be safely aboard the MV Tustemena, bound for Unalaska-Dutch Harbor. This much-anticipated trip represents the last AMHS route on our sailing list as I write the manuscript of my second book, Alaska on the Go: exploring the Marine Highway System with children. It’s bittersweet this year as Alaska’s state-run ferry system struggles to maintain schedules and vessels in a deteriorating budget situation; I don’t know if the Southwest Route schedule will be the same by the time the book is published in 2016, but I can hope so.

AK Kid is also older, and ready for this last route that will take us from Homer to Kodiak, then across a chunk of open water in the Gulf of Alaska to the long, disjointed Aleutian Islands, or “The Chain,” as many residents and ferry staff refer to the Southwest Route. With a total sailing duration of about 3.5 days, this is a trip we’ve been dreaming about for years. It’s wild, remote, and teeming with wildlife. It’s scenic but raw, and we’re fully prepared for nasty weather, rough seas, and an abundance of adventure.

It's easy to bring food aboard an Alaska ferry, but planning ahead with non-perishable items makes prep and serving easier. Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

It’s easy to bring food aboard an Alaska ferry, but planning ahead with non-perishable items makes prep and serving easier. Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

Preparing for a multi-day trip aboard the Alaska ferry is somewhat akin to making plans for a backpacking journey, but without the hiking boots, and we’ve gotten pretty good at discerning the balance of purchased food in the ferry cafeteria versus home-grown goodies stashed in a giant cooler and several bags. Ferry food is good, and filling, but also can rack up a sizable bill if a family of three eats there three times per day. Plus, AK Kid only needs a plate or two of french fries every other day, so we’ve packed homemade waffles, soup, wraps, fruit, and shelf-stable beverages, enough to tide us over for most meals and plenty of snack times.

Rain gear and cooler, backpacks and hats, all stand ready for a trip down the Aleutian Chain. Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

Rain gear and cooler, backpacks and hats, all stand ready for a trip down the Aleutian Chain. Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

AK Kid has his movies and kindle loaded with the latest in ‘tween-friendly reads,  I have my manuscript and camera, and AK Dad, his stash of magazines and newspapers he never seems to have time to peruse at home.

I’m looking forward to my spotless cabin, ample time to write, and a lack of cell service.

Sounds pretty idyllic, doesn’t it?

The Alaska Marine Highway's Southwest Route takes passengers along the rugged Aleutian Chain.

The Alaska Marine Highway’s Southwest Route takes passengers along the rugged Aleutian Chain.

We’ll see, says the weather report. We’ll see.

Want to follow our progress? All Alaska ferry routes can be traced in real-time via the Vessel Trackerso find the Tustemena between Tuesday, June 2 and Saturday June 6, and you’ll be able to gauge our speed, destination, and estimated time of arrival.

Interested in learning more about the Alaska Marine Highway, current news, and tips for sailing the “people’s cruise line?” Sign up for Sea News, a monthly newsletter full of excellent information and specials.

Curious about our other Alaska Marine Highway trips? Check out last year’s multi-day sailing between Juneau and Bellingham.

~EK

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