When the Russians sold Alaska to the U.S. in 1867, they thought they’d got one over on the Americans. It was a vast, barren land, expensive to maintain and their settlers had hunted the indigenous sea otters to extinction, killing off the lucrative fur trade.
What a mistake. Alaska is pure gold. The landscapes are vast, the fjords deep, the mountains capped with snow and massive glaciers come tumbling down to the sea.
It’s twice the size of Texas and five times bigger than the UK. No wonder its first inhabitants called it Alyeska, or ‘great land’.
I’ve come exploring on Ocean Victory, an expedition cruise ship belonging to American Queen Voyages.
A highlight is a hike through Tongass National Forest, pictured, a temperate rainforest that covers 17 million acres of Alaska
Not for us the touristy Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway triangle favoured by the hundreds of big ships that bring thousands of tourists here every summer. Instead we’re calling into Ward Cove, Wrangell, Petersburg and tiny Kake, population 500, and anchoring in pretty bays and close to glaciers to learn about local culture and ice, and hopefully get some wildlife close-ups.
Ocean Victory has an X-bow front that cuts through waves rather than riding them, and an extra strong hull for sailing through ice; entertainment is a lecture or two about whales and explorers and a guy on the piano at cocktail hour, and there’s a mud room where we tog up to go out in zodiacs and kayaks to find wildlife and glaciers.