+27 (0)82 4000 470 rob@robcaskie.com

Siegfried Sassoon once famously said “Measure Life not by how many breaths you take, but rather by how many times Life takes your breath away”. Given his ghastly experiences in the trenches on the Somme, and the death of his dear friend Corporal O’Brien, Sassoon was perhaps granted a different lens to Life than ours? Nevertheless, I contemplate these words often given the travel privileges this vocation affords me, and the places I am fortunate enough to visit. The past three weeks have been spent plying the gorgeous Inside Passage along the west coast of Canada and Alaska. An area/experience on many bucket lists, and rightly so.

This week we travelled to our Farthest North thus far, Hubbard Glacier at nearly 60 degrees latitude, and only 6 degrees short of the Arctic Circle. Hubbard is the largest tidewater glacier in North America, and contrary to most glaciers, is actually GROWING. The front of the glacier is roughly 6 miles (9.6km) wide, and the face is 400 feet (120 meters) clear of the water level. On a beautiful, sunny day a majestic natural spectacle. Harbour Seals rested on the ice, in profusion in front of the glacier.

Despite the laws surrounding knives in the UK, we are encouraged to carry knives when driving Zodiacs. One of my colleagues had permission to approach the side gate at Hubbard Glacier (platform from which guests alight into the Zodiacs), and tie up, ready to unload passengers. Through some rare miscommunication, propulsion was engaged on the ship, putting all occupants of the Zodiac in danger. My colleague, quick as a flash, pulled out his serrated knife and cut both lines attaching him to the ship, and a potential disaster was averted. Experience cannot be bought, and this driver’s experience and preparedness saved the day.

A morning was spent in the Inian Islands, tours conducted by Zodiac and Kayak. Guests enjoyed Stellar Sea Lions, Sea Otters, puffins, gulls, cormorants, murralets and stunning scenery on a calm, perfect morning. I spoke at length on a Zodiac to one of the performers onboard, who comes from Phantom of the Opera in London, and entrances guests with Elton John songs, particularly the stories about the songs. With Phantom, he was nameless, faceless, without identity. Onboard a relatively small ship like this, we cannot remain nameless and faceless, particularly when hosting dinners. I host dinners every second evening, and it is a fascinating study in human behaviour/interaction.

18 June ~ Some Alaskan reflections
Today we docked at Wrangell, largely a fishing town in Alaska. The Stikine River bringing plenty of nutrients to the ocean, and providing spawning grounds for 4 species of salmon. This pretty town is situated on an island, with 65km of tar road, and timber logging gravel tracks. I was fortunate enough to accompany a group of guests to Rainbow Falls hike. The hike is roughly 2.4km, along boardwalks and steps, rated as moderate to strenuous. Some guests thought they had seen bear prints. Their disappointment was acute when the guide and I pointed out they they belonged to a large dog, running with its owner. I chose then to walk the 8km back to the ship. To most, this probably sounds very ordinary. After my motorbike fall and knee surgery in May 2019, we came to Alaska 7 weeks later to join a ship. I was in a wheelchair unable to put any weight whatsoever onto my left leg, and Karen graciously pushed me around, taking care of my every need. I even did my lectures from a wheelchair. I clearly recall what I saw from the wheelchair, eventually moving to a walker and then onto crutches. Some yards are exactly as I remember them. Not much has changed, particularly not with Covid, but my PERSPECTIVE has changed markedly. After wondering at times if I would ever walk again, days like these are diamonds. Please excuse my elation, dampened considerably by Karen’s absence.

Wrangell has a 12 foot tidal change, so there are places where owners tie up their boats and wait for the tide to go out. This leaves the boats standing on poles mounted in the sand, giving owners 6 hours to clean, maintain, paint their boats, before the tide returns refloating the boats. What they would give for 12 hours between tides, but much cheaper than hauling their boats out of the water. The interaction between cruise ships, recreational craft, fishing boats and sea planes is fantastic to watch. We had a seaplane pilot explaining that when the prop catches the water, the aircraft can turn upside down. Calmly she mentioned that should this happen, please open the door before releasing your seat belt, as you may be disorientated. I thought understatement was the domain of the British? Clearly not. Alaska has a disproportionately high number of “bush pilots”. Float-planes regarded as an efficient means of getting around the largest state in the United States.

Sea Otters, The Old Men of the Sea, with the densest fur on Earth abound hereabouts – once known as Soft Gold, such was the value of their pelts, investigated our presence swimming on their backs, some carrying pups on their chests. Probably one of the most adorable faces in the animal kingdom, uniquely adapted to live all their lives in sea water. Enlarged kidneys to process sea water, and lungs double the size of comparable mammals. Importantly they eat sea urchins, which consume coral and kelp. The Sea Otters are thus crucial in the preservation of coral reefs and kelp forests. These beautiful creatures blow air into the belly fur of their pups, to avoid them drowning when left alone. They swim on their backs, and the pups will hold paws forming large rafts, or the parents will wrap them singly in kelp so they do not drift away. Often using rocks as tools to loosen or break food, they delight our guests daily.
Some of our guests were on deck for me to point out puffins, with their bright red beaks, and facial markings. Beautiful birds, but not great flyers, earning them the name of Flying Potatoes!

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