Author Archives: Kevin John Gilhooly

About Kevin John Gilhooly

A poet, a dreamer, a caffeine addict. President of KNON 89.3FM - The Voice of the People in Dallas and Ft Worth. President of Sparky's Pals, a humane education non-profit. Wedding officiant. Owned by four dogs. Retired IBMer.

Alaska Routing

Our Alaska itinerary, seven days, round trip Seattle:

Day Port Arrive Depart Distance
Nautical Miles
Notes
Day 1 Seattle 5 pm 0 Embarkation
Day 2 Day at Sea All Day
Day 3 Ketchikan 7 am 3 pm 579
Day 4 Juneau 7 am 1:30 pm 201 AM
Day 4 Cruise Sawyer Glacier (Tracy Arm) 4 pm 8 pm 46 PM
Day 5 Skagway 7 am 5:30 pm 113
Day 6 Day at Sea All Day
Day 7 Victoria 4 pm 10 pm 783 “Distant” Foreign Port
Day 8 Seattle 8 am 64 Disembarkation

I’m still obsessed with navigation, so I’m trying to determine why the port times are so strange, compared to the Caribbean “standard” 8am – 5pm. Juneau is short because we will attempt to get to Sawyer Glacier that afternoon, so it’s really a two-stop day. Victoria is our “distant foreign port” to allow a foreign-flagged ship to call on a bunch of US ports without being US-flagged.

Also, Tracy Arm seems to be a bit of a challenge due to ice for much of the season, so it is questionable whether we will get there or go to an alternative glacier. Who knew there would be ice in Alaska?

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Alaska Planning

The Erie Canal adventures has been bumped by another bucket list cruise: Alaska. My wife was helping some of her family book a cruise to Alaska and by the time I had heard all the details, I finally asked, “Why don’t we go along?” So, now, we’re going to Alaska on the Norwegian Bliss, during her inaugural season.

We never planned an Alaska voyage before, since we generally cruise at Christmas, and the season in Alaska is May – September. Also, my wife is allergic to cold, and apparently, any place you go to look at ice may be a bit chilly.

It will be an interesting trip, since the Bliss was specifically designed for Alaska cruises, but is much larger than the other ships Norwegian generally deploys to Alaska. (It’s a Breakaway+ class ship, like the Escape and the Joy. The Escape is moving from Miami to New York. You never hear about the Joy because it is in China.)  I think it is interesting they are deploying a ship built to be a destination in a place you go specifically to look at the countryside and not just play on the ship (although I may have to drive the race cars.) How many people will miss whales breaching the surface or glaciers calving because they’re in the casino?

As usual, we did everything backwards, since you should choose the ports that are important to you and then find a ship, not vice-versa. This would have required more research than “let’s go to Alaska.” However, I’m pretty sure my wife chose the Bliss for her family because she was still annoyed we weren’t doing the inaugural Atlantic crossing, so the Bliss it is.

As it turns out, we’re doing pretty much the exact cruise my sister-in-law did about ten years ago, so she may have deja-vu the entire trip. For the rest of us, it’s all new.

Side note: don’t choose a cruise based on the ship and then get a generic Alaska cruise guidebook since every chapter will contain lots of information about things you can’t do, because you’re not going there.

Alaska is not the Caribbean. It’s cruise season is very short (May to September), the ports are limited, times in port can be weird, and everything is really expensive. Our port of embarkation, Seattle, seems vastly overpriced compared to other major cities I’ve visited. Still, it should be a fun cruise on a new ship, assuming we don’t have to sell the house to finance it.

We will also need new wardrobes, since apparently the only way to survive in Alaska is to dress in layers. (I hate dressing in layers.)

I’m putting this post here as a placeholder for my notes as research continues.

Some sites of interest (so far):

 

 

Planning is Over-rated

Sometimes, there is no time to plan. If you have a desperate need to get out of town and a credit card, you can have an entire cruise chosen and booked with shore excursions and speciality dining in four hours or less.

You’re trying to get away from stress, why not have some stress putting everything together?

That’s what happened on our first Carnival cruise. I really needed to get away – anywhere. It’s just nowhere is very cheap these days, even though we’re after the summer crush. We got down to driving somewhere in Texas or just going to Vegas, when I looked at cruises one more time.

My wife has a rule to never sail on a cruise less than seven days, but all I wanted was a break, so she caved and said five days would do. Galveston to Cozumel and back, plus a stop in Progresso.

Of course, that cruise was sold out, so we booked the next week.  A seven-day cruise from Galveston to Cozumel, Grand Cayman and Montego Bay. In other words, the same as our Christmas cruise coming up. It’s not like we’re sailing for the ports any longer.

So, we’re on the Carnival Freedom. Now, we have to learn about the ship. I’m pretty much ready to wing it at this point, but my wife’s planner mode is kicking in, so she’s freaking out a bit.

By the time we got the cruise booked, got everything registered (and paid in full), booked excursions, booked dining, booked the pet sitter, and finally downloaded the app, I saw something I had never seen before the day I booked a cruise – You sail in 14 days.

Planning? It’s over-rated.

Of course, I wrote this before we left. I may have updates on our return.

Yes, we’re still planning the Erie Canal, but that may be 2018 at the rate we’re going.

 

Erie Canal Options

This is a placeholder page for all the links I’m collecting, as I’m still researching cruising the Erie Canal. This includes my currently reading Wedding of the Waters: The Erie Canal and the Making of a Great Nation (on the history of the Canal with a lot of interesting parallel histories of canals in general), watching some really bad (and often repetitious) YouTube videos, and lots of searches.

The State of New York has a lot of information on their canal system. (They are also happy to sell you a massive canal cruising handbook which just arrived today with a bunch of maps and pamphlets. It was worth the $20.)

I subscribed to their email list which includes their Notices to Mariners, so I am officially a Mariner now, I suppose.

Here are the most easily found companies that will rent houseboats for cruising the Erie Canal:

The boats all seem similar – they’re English canal boats (which is lucky, since I only speak English.)

I asked houseboating.org for a Captain’s manual, but I don’t think they understood the request. I really would like a guide to cruising from a Captain’s perspective – a driver’s manual. They sent some proposed itineraries, which were useful for generating Google Maps, but they don’t explain how the boat works. I’m still looking for that information.

It seems surprising to me that companies will give you a rather large boat after a couple hours of training and assume they will see you back home and dry in a week. I guess it shouldn’t, since I was once given the controls of a three-quarters of a million dollar Caterpillar tractor and told “Have fun. Dig a hole.”

The two hours of training does seem to be consistent – it’s virtually the same for the Le Boat rentals in Europe.

Le Boat is how this whole journey started, since I would really like to sail the Shannon River some day. The Shannon rises near my ancestral home (if one can refer to a very small farmhouse that my Grandfather fled as an “ancestral home”), so we could see family and then cruise. The Erie Canal requires less flying time and no passports. Plus, I’m pretty sure our cell phones would work the whole time. It would be a good dry run, if anything on the water could be considered a dry run.

 

Cruising the Erie Canal

I’m in the planning (very early planning) stages of an Erie Canal cruise. This will take more planning than usual, mainly because there is no Captain or staff. We’re the Captain and staff. This is renting a bare-bones boat and sailing up and down the Erie Canal – through locks, under raised bridges and the whole schmeer.

I think this would be great fun, and my wife actually agreed. Many of the YouTube videos show couples older than us, so if they can do it, we can do it.

Here’s one possible route, with ports (you may have to expand the map to be able to actually read it.) The ports are lettered in order – you depart and return from Macedon. It’s a one-week cruise. Except for North Tonawanda (the termination of today’s Erie Canal), all of the ports are overnights. (I think you have to see the end of the canal, so you sail to North Tonawanda and then head back.)

We’re probably talking 20 miles per day (or so), at about five knots. You need to add time for traversing the locks.

There’s a minimal kitchen onboard, but the itinerary  I mapped (which is a suggestion from houseboating.org) has you overnighting in towns, so you could always just have dinner in town and grab coffee and something on the way out. I don’t think you’re ever far from a town, so you could stop for lunch if you didn’t want to bring food along.

This is a cruise where your cell phones would always work, everyone would speak English, and if the boat stopped, you could probably just walk to the nearest town. (The original Erie Canal was four feet deep, so you could just wade to shore, but it’s deeper now.) It should be simple. (I always fear anything that should be simple.)

I’m starting to collect all the information I can – but I don’t think my request was understood. I now have the brochure on the rental boat and I have the planned itineraries, but I really wanted a Captain’s guide (like LeBoat in Europe has.) I would like some specifics on how you actually drive – it’s a diesel-powered boat, so that should be simple enough. It has bow thrusters for getting in and out of ports. The electrical systems are battery-powered, but it’s not clear how you charge the batteries – unless they charge while you’re connected to hotel power in port.

Much more research to follow. I will document as I go, so I don’t forget anything.

I always wanted to do a LeBoat tour in Europe – mainly on the Shannon in Ireland or through Loch Ness in Scotland. This is a lot closer to home for practicing.

The interesting thing to me is that all the rental companies are pretty much similar in their restrictions: you don’t need a license, we’ll show you how to drive the boat, you have fun, be back on time. (They require insurance and deposits, so they don’t expect it to always go smoothly.)

The tricky part to most of the routes would be the locks, I think. You’re always promised that the lock-keepers are friendly and happy to help, but they must get tired of the same questions all the time. Also, on parts of the Erie Canal, you have to remember to contact the bridge master to have the bridge raised.

Travel Lessons

This page is a work in progress.

There was a time when I was traveling a lot. In fact, at one point, I seemed to be in Europe two or three times a year or more. After a while, you find the patterns. The challenge to international travel is that once you stop, you forget. Then, if you ever start up again (say, go to Kuala Lumpur on twenty minutes notice), you have to relearn things.

Painful things.

When I was younger and unattached and working for a company obsessed on treating employees well and not just making next quarter’s numbers, it was pretty easy. If I had my passport and my corporate card, things would work out. If I needed something, I just bought it. If it was work-related, I just expensed it. If not, I just paid it.

That was then. This is now.

I have a wife who really dislikes when I travel. I have dogs that have their schedules disrupted which can cause all sorts of issues. I don’t have unlimited funds anymore, because I have a wife and dogs.

So, travel means planning. Usually, I obsessively plan – for personal trips. For business, I try, but if something comes up last-minute, I just go.

Here’s some things to remember, that came flooding back while I was in Malaysia in March 2014:

  • Communications
    • Remember time zones! You won’t be able to just call home.
    • Google Voice will let you send and receive texts from your (Sprint) phone or from the web, as long as you have an Internet connection. Texts are better than voice calls (Skype, etc) because you don’t have to both be awake at the same time.
    • There’s always email, for the same reasons – it’s not real-time, so you don’t both have to be awake.
    • Pay for WiFi in the hotel. Don’t just think “I’ll wait until I’m at the office.” If your company won’t reimburse, eat the cost, but ask yourself – why does my company not want me to be productive?
  • Power
    • Always have a plug adapter in your computer bag. Always. I had left mine in my backpack from years ago, and I’m glad because I really needed it when I got to KL, and I hadn’t thought about it until I arrived.
    • Having a small power strip is also a good idea. Foreign hotels don’t have a lot of outlets. If you have a plug adapter and a power strip, you can plug everything in.
    • Make sure you have USB cables for all your excess personal devices. Worst case, plug them into your laptop, and plug your laptop into the wall. This way, you only need one outlet – but everything takes longer to charge.
    • Along with the plug adapter – make sure you know which electronics you have are dual-voltage. You may need a converter, as well. This is different from a plug adapter. If you plug something in and see smoke, you needed a converter, not just an adapter. Oh, and you need a new device.
    • If you need electronics to sleep (I have a C-PAP), you really need a power strip or you need flexibility. I’ve had to sleep with my head at the bottom of the bed before, because there was no place by the headboard to plug in.
  • Life
    • Pack light. This is true for all trips. If you don’t need it, don’t take it. I don’t care what your wife says, if you don’t need it, don’t take it.
    • Take a week’s clothing, max. Hotels have laundry service.
    • Don’t expect ice. This is painful for someone who loves ice in drinks.
    • Don’t expect refills or large glasses.
    • Don’t just automatically go find American food, even though it will be around almost anywhere you go. You’ll miss local specialties and it annoys your hosts. Let’s not make people self-defensive about their food, shall we? (My rule is to always let my host choose. If I’m alone after work, eventually, I am going to find an American chain for homesickness. I admit it.
    • Same with drinks – just ask the bartender, “What am I supposed to drink?” In all my years of travel, I’ve never been given American beer, except for one bartender in Linköping, Sweden who was obsessed with Budweiser. (I declined. The local beer was a Pilsner, so the bottle said “Piss” in script, so I decided Piss beat Budweiser.)
    • Take your own entertainment. Pre-load videos on your  iPad, eBook readers, something, anything. If you go far enough from home, you will have CNN, maybe Discovery channel and everything else will be local language. TV will not be the crutch it can be at home. Bruce Springsteen once complained about 57 channels and nothin’ on, so he’s obviously never watched TV in Malaysia.
  • Travel
    • Pay for GPS in the rental car. You will kill your phone batteries if you use the “free” GPS in your phone.
    • If you don’t have to drive, don’t. It’s always exciting to navigate a new city, just not always in a good way.

Married at Sea

One of the romantic traditions at sea is to be married by the Captain. Someday, I have to research if a ship’s Captain could ever marry someone at sea, although a Notary Public can in Florida, and a Captain certainly outranks a Notary.

I never really thought about being married at sea, but when my wife and I were discussing our wedding almost fifteen years ago, we spent days trying to find a place. Her family is travel-allergic and mine are cranky, so finding a venue was really about us. Most of the cities we both loved had residence restrictions, so they were out, because she had just started a new job and had limited vacation. Plus, I had limited job security, so it wasn’t like I wanted to be away too long.

I finally played my trump card – Hawaii – and she said “Too far.” At that point, I gave up, and told her to tell me where I was supposed to be. The next morning, she suggested Key West. I had never been to Key West, so I agreed.

Then, the research began. In Key West, you get married at sunrise or sunset. We are not morning persons, so sunset it was. Then, you get married on the beach or on a boat. I couldn’t picture being married on a beach with everybody else that had chosen beach and sunset the same day (how big could the beach be?) so it was the boat.

That’s how we got married at sea. On the Dream Catcher, a 60-foot schooner, off Key West. However, the Captain didn’t do the ceremony – the ship suggested Deborah Noeker, a local healing minister (and a Notary Public) who did the ceremony (and did a lovely job).

Later, as our cruising hobby (addiction) began, I thought about the concept of getting married at sea on a slightly larger ship – but Norwegian didn’t do weddings.

Well, now they do.

In fact, they do vow renewals, which is all we need since we’re already shackled. If you choose a vow renewal, you can get the Captain.

So, now, we can get re-married on our fifteenth anniversary, at sea, on a really big ship, by a Captain. (Having the Captain do the ceremony is an extra $200 – for an hour – so, next time you think your plumber is expensive, have him bless your marriage while he’s fixing your leak.)

We’ll see what happens. A vow renewal is much simpler than an actual wedding, but there’s still a lot to cover.

After the event

The Vow Renewal Ceremony was very nice, actually. Everyone got their lines mostly correct, everybody said “Yes”, so we’re still married.

It was worth the money, especially compared to the costs of a wedding ceremony at sea. (I’ve since learned a lot of people get married by the local JP and then have a “wedding” that is really a vow renewal at sea, so the Captain can perform the ceremony and the cost goes way down.)

The Captain performed our ceremony (which doesn’t seem to be an option on the Norwegian website any longer), and it was short and sweet. He was most gracious. We were given sample vows, which I personalized for us, and the Captain led us through the vows. Afterwards, we had cake and champagne, and the photographer led us about the ship for more photos.

After all of the planning and running around beforehand, the ceremony and cake and photos were over in about a half-hour, but it met our needs, and we’re very happy. It was a very small group – just us and my sister-in-law and brother-in-law, so at one point, we were almost outnumbered by the crew.

Word got around on the ship, since we had dinner comp’ed the night of the ceremony, and were presented with an anniversary cake at dessert. We had met the assistant hotel director on an earlier cruise, so after we met him at the Meet & Greet, he had our room decorated, with towel swans, roses, cake and wine. (We had a lot of cake this cruise!)

My only “regret” is that it wasn’t filmed. We do have photos, so that’s better than our first wedding, where we didn’t even have an official photographer – we had friends with a point and shoot.

We saw a very grumpy bride heading back to the ship in Nassau, so at least after our ceremony, everyone was in a good mood. Plus, we didn’t have to walk back to the ship – we were on it.