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Brace Yourselves!

The weather in Ketchikan yesterday was pretty dramatic…but not for Ketchikan. It was raining sideways, and the wind was gusting to just over 40kts. Even “protected” between the mountains behind us and the cruise ship in front of us, we were getting gusts t0 40kts right here at city floats. We’d been working all morning here on Airship and decided we should go get some late lunch, so I thought I’d head down and hop in the shower. The cruise ship that had previously been at Berth 3 (the one right in front of us) had just left, and I noticed another one out in the channel that looked like it was coming in. Something seemed weird with it. I wondered which berth it was going for, because it didn’t look set up for this one…it seemed too far out toward the middle of the channel or something…I wasn’t sure. I just registered that something seemed weird. Maybe it was just the weather.

I showered, got dressed, and was toweling off my hair when I heard and felt a big crash. It was almost like something had hit the boat! I rushed up to the pilothouse and Kevin and I watched the Celebrity Infinity, going way too fast, scraping along the pilings and dock structure at Berth 3, leaving giant scratches and marks along its side. Kevin had seen the whole thing. He said he was thinking “Wow, that ship is coming in pretty fast. I didn’t think they could stop that quickly.” Turns out they can’t. This boat was running its thrusters like crazy…but to no avail (or maybe just to not enough avail.) The wind was not blowing it on-dock either; it was blowing from off the port side bow, more head-on/slightly off-dock…and the current was against it, so there’s no telling what actually caused the botched approach, but it was VERY dramatic. And we had a front row seat right from our bow.

As the cruise ship hit, the dolphin (the set of multiple pilings holding up a platform) buckled and came up several feet, breaking off the walkway between it and the next dolphin (you can see this happen in the video below). Luckily, the longshoremen and women could see that things were going to go wrong and were able to get off the platforms and the dock before the ship hit.

Two other boats were tied to the other side of the berth from the cruise ship side…the Aleutian Ballad tour boat and an Un-Cruise Adventures boat called the Safari Explorer. One of the crew members from the Safari Explorer captured this video of the whole thing:

And this was our view:


The dark blue bow just over our bow rail is the bow of the Safari Explorer. It was crazy!! Scary, because we were so close, but after we realized it wasn’t going to keep coming, super interesting to watch such a gigantic (albeit slow motion) accident at such close range. No one was hurt, but the boat suffered some damage (a big gouge through the hull down the front port side), and Berth 3 is now unusable, and will probably take up to two months and 2-3 million dollars to fix. Berth 3 is the biggest cruise ship berth and for a few of the of the ships that come to Ketchikan, it’s the only Berth where they’ll fit. It’s a big problem.

I hope we get to find out the cause of this catastrophe. Yes, the wind was gusty, but was not blowing the ship on dock…so to our untrained tourist view, it seems more likely that it was an approach gone bad. You can’t really “turn around and give it another shot” in a vessel that large, like you might do if you were having trouble in a smaller boat when dealing with current and wind or whatever. It seemed like the ship’s thrusters were working…but that the boat was going too fast to begin with, and maybe wasn’t set up for a successful docking. Also interesting that there are SO MANY VIDEOS out there of the entire thing…not just from the bad part. People all along the waterfront took video starting pretty early…saying “wow, he’s coming in hot” or “that approach doesn’t look normal” … things like that. Our friends up in Bar Harbor saw the ship in the channel as it was heading in and even way up there they thought things looked odd with it…it was getting abeam to the wind and seemed to be struggling. So something was amiss before they even got close to the dock. (One interesting thing…the previous cruise ship had only just left Berth 3 maybe 20 or 30 minutes prior. Seems to me that they don’t usually cut it quite that close.)

Two tugs were immediately on scene and they towed the Safari Explorer out (their bow line broke during the impact) and then Aleutian Ballad left the dock right after that. (The U-brackets that hold the dock around its pilings broke, so it wasn’t safe to stay there.)

Jennie B., towing the Safari Explorer out of the marina:



Aleutian Ballad, heading out into the channel:


Exciting stuff! Here are some of the photos we took while watching things unfold:




(Notice that this is taken from INSIDE our boat…quite a view!)




The passengers could not get off the boat (since the boat still wasn’t docked, and the dock was basically broken). They eventually moved the ship down to Berth 2 and the passengers were able to disembark and see Ketchikan a little bit. We talked to one passenger who told us all about his experience on the ship as it happened. He said he was super disappointed though, because that meant their zip line excursion was cancelled. (Ketchikan has a zip line??) I said to him “Zip line ride?? Anyone can ride a zip line! This is a WAY better story you get to go home with!”

Seriously? A zip line? Most of the excursions for the day were cancelled though, which for the tour operators is a huge bummer.

We grabbed some lunch and then met friends for a beer at the Arctic Bar. Afterwards, we walked down to Berth 2 to see if we could get a closer look at the damage, but we couldn’t. I did get another angle at Berth 3…of just how front row we were to the whole thing: 


Celebrity Infinity, in Berth 2 awaiting repairs. (They left the docks shortly after midnight and by the time we woke up this morning, were all the way down in Hecate Strait…so I guess they patched up okay.)


The weather is MUCH nicer today. Sam and I took Kevin across the channel to the airport (quick business trip) in Sam’s dinghy (best airport shuttle EVER!) and dropped him off at the Small Vessel Float:

On the way back into City Floats we swung by the outer side of Berth 3 to get a closer look. (You can see Airship, right underneath the broken walkway):



The giant fender floating the water above, is how they’re supposed to look. This one is after I think it got squished by the ship and ruptured:


We think this may the corner that created the big gouge down the side of the ship:


Anyway, there you go! Excitement in Ketchikan!