The Amazing Cruise: Day 3

By Phil Plait | September 5, 2007 9:18 pm

Day 3:

Well, it’s been quite the past 24 hours or so.

First off, we hit a patch of rough seas last night. Starting shortly after dinner, I noticed the ship was swaying port to starboard. It got stronger, and stronger… and after a few minutes, people started stumbling around. We went up to the top deck to a bar/dance floor/chocolate feast, and it got really bad. Several of our friends got sick. Mrs. BA and I were pretty good, though. I thought it was fun, at least until it was time to go to bed. We are on the 7th deck, at the very fore of the ship, and got the brunt of the action. It took me an hour to fall asleep, with the ship bucking and jumping — mind you, the ship displaces 91,000 tons, so when it moves, it moves. There were several loud BANGS during the night, too. I have no clue what they were even now. And we’re back in choppy waters again. It’s fun, but it definitely makes it hard to shave.

The next morning I gave my talk (about solar flares, aurorae, and such). I think that went pretty well. I made lots of dumb jokes, and everyone had a good time. Regular readers may remember that I got a copy of my first book autographed by several astronauts. I mentioned I had big plans for it… well, today I presented that book to Randi so that he may auction it off and raise money for his educational foundation, JREF. Randi does a lot of good in the world, and I am very happy to be able to contribute in any way I can.

Right after my talk, appropriately enough, a striking rainbow appeared off the starboard bow:

It faded and brightened with time, and at one point there was a secondary bow, too. It was stunning. Better yet, and you can just see this in the image, the rainbow could be seen below the horizon line! Usually you can’t see that, so this was a gift. The raindrops that make a rainbow need to be in a conical shell (like a thick ice cream cone shape) in the opposite direction of the Sun in the sky. Any raindrop in that shell can contribute to the rainbow, whether that drop is near or far. Since we were on the 4th deck, about 50 feet above the water line, we could see many drops looking down, between us and the water. Those drops made the faint part of the bow seen below the water line. Cool.

Shortly after that, the ship approached Hubbard glacier, located in a vast bay on the Alaska coast. This is one of the reasons I wanted to go on the cruise; to see the wonders of nature. We were not disappointed.

This magnificent glacier was hundreds of yards across, and perhaps 200 feet high or more. We came within a few hundred yards of it. The blue color you see there (click the image to embiggen) is absolutely real. You can see layers of silt and sediment in the glacier ice, created as rocks are ground up or sediment swept up as the ice flows from the mountains to the sea. The rails were packed with gawkers, and even above the noise of hundreds of gasping people, you could hear the straining moans of the ice as it cracked. Every minute or so a piece would calve off and fall into the water, making a noise like a gunshot.

It was incredible. I got footage of one tower falling into the water which is spectacular, but my craptastic Mac video editing software wouldn’t import the sound! I’ll see if I can fix that, and post the video on YouTube.

We left before this section could fall off:

I wish I could have seen that collapse. Wow.

The previous calving events produced icebergs, and we got a great view as they floated by.

Up close, they come in fantastic shapes and colors. Some are jumbles of ice and snow, others smooth. Some are clear, others white, and some like mini-glaciers, with blue ice, stripes of silt, and other odd inclusions.

It was a truly astonishing and awe-inspiring event. If you ever get a chance to see such a thing, take it. The power, the inertia, the sweeping beauty and majesty of the glacier is something I will take away from this cruise no matter what else happens.

That’s it for now. Tonight is dinner, and then a relaxing evening before we hit Juneau tomorrow. I imagine I’ll have some more great pictures from that, too.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, Pretty pictures

Comments (33)

  1. WM

    Iceberg? bah! Ice cube! Growler at best. Bergy bit, more like it.

  2. Hafta agree with WM… pfft… ice cubes. Head south (Antarctica) where the icebergs are truly ginormous. Kilometres long. Happened to be sitting in front of a big berg once when it calved. A couple hundred metres of one side of the berg about 30 – 40 metres high just when CRAAACK and dropped into the ocean causing a large wave to head straight towards us. If we’d been in zodiacs (small inflateable dinghys) we may have been swamped but luckily we were still aboard ship at that point. We got into the zodiacs a little while later and cruised amongst all the bergy bits and dragged in a few kilos of 10000+ year old ice to take back to ship to chip into drinks. While we were out another smaller berg rolled over as well. Love cruising the ice.

    Some of the our ice pictures can be found here – just follow the links to the Antarctica gallery.

    I agree with you though BA, north or south, big bits or small the cold areas of the planet are truly awe inspiring. Get out there!

  3. This is pretty awesome stuff. I just knew you were going to do something like that with your book. (I must be psychic 😛 )

  4. I’ve never had any problems with my Mac vid editor.. though perhaps it depends on the vid camera and import technique? I run Firewire into mine and everything runs pretty slick. Heck I am even able to import the videos I make with my cell phone, and that’s a video format that baffles my PC’s…

  5. Grand Lunar

    I know what it’s like to be in rough seas, Phil. I handle it well, but I know one guy that could get seasick just when the ship leaves the pier.

    Really cool sights you’re getting to see! Hope the excitement doesn’t die down.

  6. Best part of Alaska glaciers is that there are ice worms in them that die if you touch them because of the temperature difference. Nothing is cooler than that. 😀

  7. Nadia

    Beautiful photos! :)

  8. American Voyager

    Boy I’m jealous!! I’ve wanted to see Alaska for 35 years. Someday…………………. In the mean time, I’ll just enjoy your description. Sounds wonderful!!

  9. I thought it was fun, at least until it was time to go to bed. We are on the 7th deck, at the very fore of the ship, and got the brunt of the action.

    Hey, certain hotels in Vegas charge extra for that kind of thing.

    There were several loud BANGS during the night, too. I have no clue what they were even now.

    Obviously the ships ghosts were disoriented and kept hovering into things.

  10. Michael H

    click the image to embiggen

    I cringed when I read that.
    I looked it up in wiktionary. It’s a neologism. One of the meanings of neologism is apparently:
    “The newly coined, meaningless words or phrases of someone with a Psychosis, usually Schizophrenia”. I suppose that is what happens when you hang aroud Hubbard’s glacier too long :)
    Seriously though; thanks for the great commentary on the cruise. I am looking forward to more. Have fun.

  11. Bruce Almighty

    Embiggen? It’s a perfectly cromulent word…

  12. Gary Ansorge

    Ah, to embiggen the smallest man, what a truly cromulent idea. So, Schizophrenia is the source of new words? No wonder women seem to like the crazies so much,,,they’re the source of language. My only contribution to the English language is the word atanoid,,,defined as: the firm belief that the entire universe is working really, REALLY hard to make everything come out right for you,,, as opposed to paranoid, the realization that those enemies out there are just tax collectors,,,

    An upside to global warming is that, in 10,000 years or so, there will be no pollution laden ice samples from our era for scientists to point to as proof of our profligate ways,,,Hey, no proof, no guilt, right?

    Ancient ice cubes? Just right for my margarita.

    Love the pics. Thanks, Phil.

    GAry 7

  13. Alex Whiteside

    Those are amazing. They remind me of the big blue fluorites in the Natural History Museum in London. At the time I thought the looked like a surreal, comic book version of ice, and latterly maybe Ice-Nine, but evidently I misjudged.

  14. Wow. Great photos and no seasickness!!

    Seriously, I’d hope to take an Alaska cruise this year (I turned 50 and hoped to do that as a birthday celebration). I still hope to go in the next few years, just not quite sure when. I want to see the actual glaciers, and not just photos of them.

  15. MarkH

    BA, my wife and I were on pretty much the same cruise in June (different cruise line, Ketchikan-Juneau-Skagway), and we went up to the Sawyer glacier instead. I would bet real money that those bangs you heard were Infinity hitting wee glaciers that night — we hit a few on our ship and the BANGs are very loud and can be felt all through the ship. Tres cool.

  16. MadProphet

    Well, for all you who think they are pretty and want to see them, you better make plans fast. Won’t be too long before they are all gone.

    Global warming is impacting the arctic faster than anywhere else (at least visually), save perhaps the glaciers in the Alps.

    We need a virus to course through the planetary population, but one that kills only stupid people.

  17. Lem

    As a physicist, you should be aware that the sway effects are least near the ship’s center of gravity (low and mid-ship), and worse away from the center of gravity (high and fore or aft). Oddly the cheaper cabins on the lower decks are better for folks who are sensitive to sea-sickness.

    If you’re having trouble with the sway while shaving, (or just fitting into your shower – they’re not very tall), try the locker room near the aqua-spa – which is much larger than your private bathroom, and closer to the center of the ship.

  18. Lurchgs

    having spent a fair number of years cruising those waters in a steel hulled ship, I’d venture to *guess* the bangs in the night were moderately sized chunks of ice bouncing off the hull. Or, possibly deadheads, but I’m unsure how they’d sound on hull that large. It’s also *possible* the ship hit a buoy or two – you’d be surprised how often that happens…

    However, generally speaking, I’d say any simple *bang* is not worthy of worry. a >>BANG

  19. Lurchgs

    having spent a fair number of years cruising those waters in a steel hulled ship, I’d venture to *guess* the bangs in the night were moderately sized chunks of ice bouncing off the hull. Or, possibly deadheads, but I’m unsure how they’d sound on hull that large. It’s also *possible* the ship hit a buoy or two – you’d be surprised how often that happens…

    However, generally speaking, I’d say any simple *bang* is not worthy of worry. a **BANG** followed by a host of other sounds (ripping metal, buzzers, kalaxons, or dematerialization) might well be a cause for worry.

    I would also mention that the sound of running water – as in a stream or brook – is a very bad thing to hear aboard a ship. I used to think “made his blood run cold” was poetic license. ‘Tain’t so.

    It’s been my experience that seasickness is frequently related to the size and configuration of the ship. As an example, I never got seasick on my 25ft cabin cruiser (fishing boat).. but if I was facing large seas (20ft plus – or 15 on the beam) I’ve been known to make acquaintance with the local garbage can. On the buoy tenders, that is. Round-bottomed ice-breaking hulls. Nothing to counteract the motion of the ocean. Ferries and cruise ships, on the other hand.. no problems experienced – no matter the size. Trim tabs are mondo cool.

    I’m still jealous, though. and homesick as hell.

    [oops – note to self: stay away from angle brackets when emphasizing – silly software thinks it’s an HTML tag]

  20. I fished for 30 years in Alaska; I still live here–stop by some time!When I heard a loud bang on the boat, I jumped up to see what caused it–if I wanted to live; it was my job.

    The glaciers are melting at an increasingly fast rate–enjoy them while you can!

  21. Ken B

    There’s a website called “Atmospheric Optics” that has all sorts of great pictures (and explanations) of just about anything atmosphere-related.

    A recently-added page is a photo that shows 6 (yes, *six*) rainbows.

    (Of course, there’s nothing like seeing them in-person. I wish I had a camera the time I saw a secondary rainbow so strong that I think I saw a tertiary rainbow.)

  22. Bruce Almighty

    So – in the glacier, could you see the face of the man who won an award for designing that particular coastline?

  23. Quiet_Desperation

    >>> Hey, certain hotels in Vegas charge extra
    >>> for that kind of thing.

    Not really. Vegas seems to be on another of it’s “we’re a clean family city!” acid trips.The soulless hotel coporations have ruined it. 6-5 on a Blackjack? Blow me.

    God, I wish they’d put the mob back in charge of that place.

    As long as you didn’t act like a complete idiot, you’d have a blast. Drinks, hookers, gambling, hookers, more drinks, more hookers, more gambling.

    And they took care of any small time criminals that might harass customers outside the casinos. Took care of them way out, deep, deep into the desert. Probably all the way to the nuke testing ranges. Now THAT’S freakin’ law enforcement, children!


    What was the thread topic again?

    Oh, cruise.

    I can see going on a vacation with like minded folks. I keep threatening to go on one of those Macintosh cruises. But why the speeches? Aren’t you preaching to the choir, or are you sharing ideas to fight to ignorant power?

    Anyone have a way to teach ignorant gamblers that 6-5 on a BJ makes single deck worse than an eight deck shoe?

  24. Mena

    I have never been to Alaska and I’m only familiar with the cracking noises that you hear when you are around land-only glaciers, like in the Canadian Rockies. Is it similar?

  25. Irishman

    Quiet_Desperation, 6-5 on a Blackjack? What does that mean?

  26. Willo the Wisp

    I love how enthusiastic you are about this whole trip. I am so jealous of that fantastic glacier sailby. Enjoy!

  27. Quiet Desperation

    >>> 6-5 on a Blackjack? What does that mean?

    They pay 6 to 5 when you get a 21 on the first two cards instead of 3 to 2.

    Whether you play a system or basic strategy, one of the primary foundation stones of the players statistical advantage is the solid return base of the 3-2 payoff.

    Removing that is an extra 1.4% advantage to the house. If you know much about gambling, you know that’s a BIG number.

    They’ve also ruined the video poker payouts. I liked VP to relax a bit between table gaming sessions. You could put in a $20 bill and play for quite a while and enjoy the free drinks and cocktail waitress costumes- and sometimes even walk away with >$20.

    Instead of 2-1 for two pair and 3-1 for three of a kind, it’s 1-1 and 2-1 respectively. These seem like little things, but most of the payoffs in VP are those sorts of low end hands.

    I’m a huge free market supporter, but when an industry as endlessly profitable as gambling feels the need to squeeze its customers for every last penny, it’s just depressing.

    Vegas used to treat Joe Average like a champ. Casinos would comp you meals and rooms if you so much as peeked in the door. Prime cuts of beef could be had for $1.99 as late as the 1990s. All you can eat buffets were gifts.

    Now he’s just a chump. Now it’s just a place for the idle semi-rich to be seen at the Wynn’s Ferrari dealer.

  28. OK, since we’re doing Alaska and glacier pictures:

    which includes pictures of Juneau. I hope Phil is having better weather than we did a year ago, because it rained every day we were there (but the sun also came out every day we were there).

    I have to say Phil is right about the blue color of the glaciers; if you’ve never seen it it’s hard to describe and hard to capture properly in a photo. It’s one of the most intense blues I’ve ever seen, and is even more impressive if you get to see it up close.

  29. KaiYeves

    Seasickness sounds rough. Probably my worst travel experience was a red-eye Delta flight in economy class. I was in the middle seat, and tired like heck, but shutting my eyes just made the nausea worse. As you may know, sleeping in the middle seat is pretty darn hard, anyway.

  30. North Pole

    Just returned from as close to the pole as any cruise ship has gone. Cold, but beautiful. Surprised at the coal mining on Svard Island that far North. Also you must carry a high powered rifle if you wander too far from the city. Polar Bears are a big problem.

  31. Buzz Parsec

    Let’s get this back on topic :-)

    BA says he saw layers of sediment in the ice… How many layers? Were there more than 6000? How did the Flood manage to freeze in layers with dirt in between, and not in one solid mass? (That must be where glaciers came from, freezing flood waters, and not from thousands of years of snowfall, right?)

    (Let’s see if all the responders to the Colbert takedown thread take this seriously…)

  32. topoli

    “There were several loud BANGS during the night, too”

    You mean THAT kind of bangs?


  33. Grumpy

    Dave Strauss: “It’s one of the most intense blues I’ve ever seen, and is even more impressive if you get to see it up close.”

    If you’ve been on top of a glacier, the pools of meltwater on pure blue. The water is sitting in a white bowl, basically, so there’s nothing to diminish the intrinsic blueness of H2O as the light streams through it. Alaska has a couple of drive-up glaciers: Mendenhall in Juneau, Worthington just north of Valdez, and Matanuska about a hour’s drive from Anchorage. The entrance to Mat Glacier is on private property, but if you pay the fee it’s probably the easiest way to hike on a glacier.


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