Story last updated at 1:58 p.m. Thursday, May 9, 2002

Learning the ropes aboard the Aleutian ferry
By Nick Varney
A couple of months ago, I was perusing the Sunday paper when I spotted a blurb about how the Alaska Highway System was offering half-price tickets on their first run to Aleutians.

I contacted my bosses at the Homer News and suggested they send me on the sojourn for an in-depth report on the run.

I heard some mumbling in the background and then, suddenly, the editor gleefully concurred with the idea and said they'd help me set things up. I further inquired as to the possibility of also getting a stateroom. I hung up after waiting 15 minutes for the laughter to die down. Note: When media honchos react like that, one should be afraid, very afraid.

Thus, I prepared for a weeklong adventure in steerage class, where, if the weather gets really rough, the smart ones duct tape themselves to the floor at bedtime.

Because I had the budget of an L.A. wino, my wife cooked up enough chicken for me to reach Samoa along with a loaf of her raspberry nut bread. I contributed to the culinary effort by filling some empty Perrier bottles from the tap and freezing them. They not only kept the food cold in a small insulated carry-on, but once they melted, allowed me to quaff pretentious looking water while I wandered around wearing sundry professional traveler/writer ensembles that looked as if I had an appalling shopping day at a Goodwill rejects outlet.

Those tasks complete, I thought that I had the rest of my requirements pretty well planned out. Wrong.

Here are some tips for sailing steerage on the ferry.

You'll need:

  • 1. Bar soap and towels. They have showers for the commoner, but it's BYOB (bring your own bar). I only brought shampoo and ended up smelling like a 6-foot 3 bottle of "New & Improved," Prell after using it on my bod. As for a towel, it's amazing what you can do with a back-up sweatshirt.

  • 2. Dramamine or those little round patches that you put behind your ear making you look like a victim of an ice pick attack. They don't make a fashion statement but then you don't end up power hurling your $15 dinner toward Guam, either.

  • 3. A small flashlight for desperately digging through your duffel bag in search of ear plugs when, at 2 a.m., some baby lets loose a wail that implodes every eardrum within a 20-foot radius.

  • 4. Six bars of deodorant. You will need just one. The rest will be for those who didn't bring soap -- about the third day out, the truly needy become apparent when they start attracting seagulls to the boat.

  • 5. A good sleeping bag and thick floor mat are a must for floor dwellers. They provide a cushioning effect when other passengers perform face plants in your mid section as they lurch toward the bathroom during the middle of the night. I would also suggest that men wear an athletic cup.

    I have other suggestions and "Lessons Learned," but you'll have to wait till next week.

    Things to come: Launch time on the M/V Tustumena; Kodiak by foot; meeting the boys from Alaskan Magazine TV film crew; a run-in with a cadre of adult delinquents from the Homer Poop Group Gang and other "sites and sights."

    <> In weeks to come, Nick Varney will continue his travelogue to include various notations aimed to educate you on the ways not to do things when sailing the Alaskan Marine Highway to the Aleutians, or anywhere else for that matter.