A Day on the HMCS Whitehorse at Skagway

HMCS Whitehorse
I’m going to break into my series of posts about being a tourist in Whitehorse to tell you about our day sailing on HMCS Whitehorse out of Skagway yesterday. There was a single notice about this coming event in the newspaper a couple of weeks ago, and City Hall was buried in phone calls from people wanting to participate. A total of 150 of us got invitations to sail on one of 3 ships coming into Skagway for the day, and hundreds of others were reported to have been put on a waiting list.

The forecast for yesterday was good – cloudy in Whitehorse but mostly sunny and 66°F in Skagway. That’s not what happened. A stop at Emerald Lake was irresistible on the cloudless morning drive to Skagway.

The light was perfect for another quick photo-stop at Windy Arm.

We only stayed with this black bear (yes, another brown black bear) for a few seconds, and I like this photo more than the closeups we got (he was only about 10 feet away from the car window).

By the time we reached the White Pass summit the temperature had dropped to 8°C (46°F) and a misty rain was falling. I’d packed some extra layers of clothing in my daypack but was starting to wonder if I had enough.

This was our first view of the ships, with HMCS Brandon to the left, then HMCS Nanaimo, with HMCS Whitehorse hidden behind them. Cathy was quite shocked at how small they are, but at 55 meters long they can get into very tight places along the coast to fulfill their missions, which are primarily surveillance and patrol in nature.

The only cruise ship in Skagway was the small luxury Seven Seas Navigator, so the town was very quiet.

Another visitor was Perseus, a 50-meter UK-flagged charter yacht that is reported to currently be on a 2-year cruise with its owner. She accommodates 8 or 9 people comfortably (very comfortably, I’m sure!), with a crew of 9.

Boarding HMCS Whitehorse at 9:30 Alaska time. This ship is a Kingston-class Maritime Coastal Defence Vessel (MCDV), and was launched on April 17, 1998. Part of Canadian Fleet Pacific, she is based at Esquimalt, BC, which adjoins Victoria.

The small gym was the first thing that surprised me. It’s up on a view deck just like they are on cruise ships 🙂

We were given access to the entire ship, the only restriction being that we had to have an escort in the engine room. I had lots of questions for the crew members in the main control room, and they had lots of answers. Among other things, I was interested in the fact that the ship’s crew of 36 is comprised of 2 Regular Force personnel and 34 naval reservists. I didn’t realize that in the Canadian Navy, reservists can be full-time employees with multi-year contracts, very similar to regular members.

Sailing down Taiya Inlet.

This is one of my favourite waterfalls in Taiya Inlet.

I found this training dummy stuffed under a stairway to be rather unsettling every time I saw it 🙂

At 11:00 a demonstration of the ship’s performance was given. Experiencing rapid stops going right into full-speed astern, and then going into a hard turn at 14 knots and spinning in its own length is very impressive! Video is the only way to properly capture the turn and spinning.

There is Yukon memorabilia everywhere on HMCS Whitehorse – both serious material and fun stuff. Here, the photo of Yukon Senator Ione Christiansen is captioned “Senator Mom”. Below that photo is one of Whitehorse mayor Bev Buckway, who was also on board in person. The large photo to the right is Skookum Jim, one of the discoverers of Klondike gold.

Despite the levity seen in some interior areas, outside there’s never any doubt that you’re on a warship with a serious mission.

The bridge, though smaller, is very similar to the one I spent so many hours in on the Coral Princess last summer.

We sailed into the calm waters of Lutak Inlet for a while – a nice break from the wind outside.

The setting of Fort William Seward at Haines is stunningly beautiful.

HMCS Brandon.

HMCS Nanaimo.

Sailing back towards Skagway in formation, with HMCS Nanaimo to starboard.

HMCS Brandon in a tight turn.

HMCS Brandon changing position at full speed.

The crew of our ship getting ready to fire lines across to the ships on each side to do transfers, which in practise could be materials or personnel. The death of cruise ship passenger Janet Richardson off the coast of Norway in April clearly illustrates the dangers of ship-to-ship transfers when done by people who are not properly trained.

Once the line line was across, a heavier line was hauled across by hand.

The next video shows a bag of mail being brought across (since Canada Post is still on strike!).

Mayor Buckway thoroughly enjoyed the letter she received from one of the kids on HMCS Brandon. Part of the humour shown is the fact that her finger is covering part of the letter’s address to “Mr Mayor” 🙂

HMCS Brandon steaming up Taiya Inlet.

Back in formation, sailing north.

Little boys and big guns – Taylor takes aim 🙂

Each ship has this little crown on a mast at the bow.

This is a training cruise as well as having a PR function, with navigation of the complex channels of Alaska being excellent training. Here information is being input into the navigation computer.

The ship’s insignia on a carpet in the bridge.

One of the 50-cal machine guns at each side of the bridge.

Among the people chatting on the bow are Whitehorse Mayor Bev Buckway, second from the left, and Yukon’s new Premier, Darrel Pasloski, third from the left.

This is the ore dock at Skagway. Construction of a new facility will be starting soon.

A TEMSCO helicopter was slinging loads of cargo from off in the mountains to the east somewhere. We’ve been watching progress on the construction of an enormous house on the cliff for a few weeks now. Most of the homes up there blend into their surroundings but this one is certainly maximizing the available views!

Getting ready to dock.

Setting up for a group photo.

In front of the bridge for the photo are Tammie Pasloski, Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski, Skagway mayor Tom Cochran, Whitehorse mayor Bev Buckway, Lieutenant-Commander Angus Fedoruk, captain of HMCS Whitehorse, and 2 of his officers.

The 5 hours that we were aboard passed far too quickly. We filled the car with gas then went back for a final photo of the ships lined up – HMCS Brandon, HMCS Whitehorse and HMCS Nanaimo.

Cathy and I can’t say enough positive things about the experience of the day. We were hugely impressed by the ships and the crew, and we proudly salute you all.


A Day on the HMCS Whitehorse at Skagway — 10 Comments

  1. Murray,
    Thanks for posting this. I truly enjoyed it… and could almost feel the spray on my face . The ships are impressive. I am glad you and Cathy had the opportunity.


  2. Thank you so much for the photos and videos of your experience on the Whitehorse.

    Our oldest son, one of the Whitehorse’s officers, Sub/Lt John Dunn was onboard.

    We are proud of him and all who serve in our Navy.

    PS. Andrea – for the record. Canada Post was on strike – rotating strikes.

    • Very cool – I chatted with John briefly 🙂

      Andrea was right, though – posties were locked out, though their rotating strikes precipitated the lockout.

  3. Thank you! Our daughter is on the Brandon, this kind of made us feel like we were with her.

  4. What a wonderful and enlightening experience – you were so fortunate to make the cut. We thought Haines was stunning, too. Thoroughly enjoying your journal of being a tourist at home. I think Canadians do marking of sites of interest, historical interpretive places, museums, etc., very well. Possibility of being back in BC in Sept. 🙂

  5. Loved the post as I am a huge supporter of our navy. Have seen many of those ships, including the Whitehorse, when I was visiting Victoria a few years ago.

  6. I truly enjoyed this post very much. When we took the drive last year from Skagway to Emerald Lake I must say that it is a beautiful drive. We took the train ride the last time through Skagway and I think the drive is so much more enjoyable with better scenery and besides that it’s a lot cheaper to rent a car than paying for 3 train tickets. 🙂

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