on the bridge with eddie tobacco

We sailed into the fjord that's just to the left of that conical hill.
Yesterday, we sailed into the narrow fjord at the center of this photo.

I met Eddie Tobacco in line for dinner on Saturday night. He was unassuming, just a guy from Washington state heading to Juneau to visit his kids and meet his great-granddaughter for the first time.

The next day — that was yesterday — I was perched outside near the front of the ferry to ride out a rolling trip across the Queen Charlotte Sound when Mr. Tobacco breezed past, walking laps around the deck. On one pass he told me he’d gotten up to 260 pounds by sitting around doing nothing. On the next pass he told me his current weight was 205. On the third pass I got up and started walking with him. We walked for about an hour and had a good talk.

First, I found out that Tobacco is his given name. His family name was Tabacco until immigration officials on Ellis Island got hold of it. Then we talked about some other things like how wool socks are so much better than cotton and what to do for seasickness. Many barf bags were put to use during our relatively brief passage through the open waters of the Sound and even though I’m highly susceptible to motion sickness, I didn’t need one of them. I believe it’s because of my Sea Bands.

Near Klemtu
This passage is narrow but it’s 261 meters deep — that’s about 856 feet.

At one point, we navigated an awkward discussion about what my husband does for a living. You’d think by now I’d have worked up an elevator speech for that, but even Stewart still struggles with describing The Painting Experience to strangers — especially strangers who aren’t from California. Eddie was quiet the whole time I was trying to describe painting for process rather than product, then he politely changed the subject.

He seemed very familiar with the Kennicott and its meandering path through seemingly endless and identically gorgeous forested islands. He was the one who told me we were in the Queen Charlotte Sound and that it was the first and largest of three open passages we’d encounter on the way to Ketchikan. Finally, a series of pointed questions got him to admit he was a retired Head Steward for the Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS).

He wasn’t boastful. At one point while we were walking he did point to some pipes showing rust stains and said, “You’d never of seen that before.” (This old boat is showing some wear.) Later he mentioned that the captain is a friend, but he didn’t do it in a name-droppy way. He was just saying what it is.

Because yesterday was an exquisite day and the conditions were right, Captain Wilkens decided to guide the ferry on an alternate route through a narrow fjord that glides past Klemtu, a small fishing village on Swindle Island in British Columbia. My walking buddy asked me if I might like to come up to the bridge for that.

Klemtu, population 460
Klemtu, population 460

This is one of those times when the grass on the other side of the fence does turn out to be greener. I’d longingly looked up at the bridge a few times since we left Bellingham, imagining what a view it must have and envying anyone I saw standing on one of the tiny decks that extend from each side like wings. Being allowed to pass beyond the point of AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY was like finding one of Wonka’s golden tickets. I could tell the four other passengers invited to the bridge for that sunlit, blue-green hour felt the same way. When we passed Klemtu, the captain sounded the ship’s horn and people came out onto the beach and waved. We all waved back like crazy.

While on the bridge, we saw a killer whale and porpoises and I spotted the first bald eagle of the trip. But what surprised me most was a pair of hummingbirds. They whirred up in front of us out there in the middle of the passage, as though to emphasize that delight may at any time announce itself with tiny, flashing wings — so you’d better look sharp.

On the Bridge
On the bridge! (We’re in port at Ketchikan today. On to Juneau tomorrow.)

16 thoughts on “on the bridge with eddie tobacco

  1. This post thrilled in a special way. It makes me so happy that Stewart found you as his life partner. Such beautiful energy you have. I remember glimpsing it when you were perched in your bed on the lanai at the Hui all those years ago.


    1. Georgi, thank you! I can’t believe that little lanai bed was ten years ago, just like my first trip to Alaska was ten years ago. I hope you may yet decide to come to the Hui again next year.


  2. I am also very happy to explore Alaska with you and am grateful you are sharing your journey with those of us who long to do such a trip but are not it brave enough.


    1. Trains and ferries are a pretty gentle way to see Alaska. (Though now I’m thinking if I want to pitch the ferry trip I should avoid the word “barf.” It was a very small portion of the journey — and there’s always Sea Bands.) Maybe you will consider it one day. :-)


  3. Shae – I am living vicariously through your summer travels to the Great Land! What a fun trip this one is. Thanks for taking the time to write. If you have time in Juneau and can make it downtown (I seem to remember the ferry docks in Auke Bay, not Downtown) and can make it to Tracy’s Crab Shack, its delicious. The Hot Bite or Thai restaurant in Auke Bay are ok substitutes. Looking forward to your next post!


    1. It is fun! I think we have only a couple hours in Juneau — sadly, that’s not time enough to do much of anything. If I can get to a Thai restaurant, though, I will make a run for it. Thank you for the recommendations!


    1. Ilona, I think you’re probably right about that. I’m not as stuck to myself as I used to be. I used to wonder why I didn’t enjoy my solo trips as much as I expected, and I think it’s because I wasn’t putting myself out there and asking people what they were about.


      1. I can vouch for many wonderful surprises and connections, albeit brief, made while traveling solo. One of the reasons I prefer it. ;-))


  4. I’m loving this sharing of your journey. Oh! I’m lovin’ it. And this wonderful connection with Tobacco just the thing I find most magical (besides the splendor of nature) in travels. Thank you.


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