See Alaska from the deck of a minesweeper

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Destinations, May 1997

Getting Around:
Anchors — and Bombs — Aweigh

See Alaska from the deck of a minesweeper
By Peter Nelson

In recent years, Southeast alaska, with its 10,000 miles of coastline, towering old-growth spruce, and almost guaranteed sightings of humpback whales, has become one of the most popular destinations in the United States for major cruise ships — and for tourists who don't mind seeing the wilderness from a floating shopping mall.

For those who'd prefer a more intimate, quirky, and historically resonant alternative, there's The Observer, a wooden vessel originally commissioned as a World War II minesweeper. Shallow-hulled and maneuverable, it's more suited to the topography of Southeast than the city-size cruisers are — they can't enter the coves and inlets where much of the region's aquatic wildlife plays.

Of course, The Observer lacks some of the amenities of the big ships. Its six guest cabins are small, and it has no Vegas-style floor show. But it does offer the entertainment stylings of a crew of trained naturalists who'll guide hikes, explain local ecology, and reassuringly hoist shotguns for jaunts into the bear country of Tongass National Forest.

The Observer's greatest attraction, though, is its flexible itinerary policy: Its course changes with each sailing, depending on the wishes of the passengers. Want to see bears cavorting at Anan Creek or glaciers calving up the Tracy Arm? It's your choice.

Trips range from six to nine days, with sailings throughout the summer. Cost is $500 per person per day. For more information, call 360-697-5454.

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