It’s visitor season again in Petersburg, and cruise ship passengers are already roaming the streets dressed in brightly colored jackets. This year, a Norwegian cruise line is stopping there for the first time, with a state-of-the-art hybrid ship. And he’s excited to connect with Petersburg’s Norwegian roots.
Passengers arrive in small, bright orange boats. They attend a cultural presentation at the Sons of Norway Hall. And outside they take pictures of the Viking ship. It’s a bit smaller than their cruise ship, the Roald Amundsen. But it shares the same roots.
“Roald Amundsen was – is – Norway’s national hero,” said Steffen Biersack, the cruise line’s expedition leader. “He was the first man to actually fly over the North Pole with an airship, which then landed near Nome. That’s why in Nome, and on the other side where they started in Svalbard, they have the identical bust of Roald Amundsen in bronze. And he was the very first man to cross the Northwest Passage. He is therefore a true explorer.
The MS Roald Amundsen is one of the largest ships to visit Petersburg and can accommodate just over 500 passengers. It remains in Frederick Sound and carries passengers on smaller boats. He is sailing to Alaska this summer for the first time, after trips planned for 2020 were canceled due to the pandemic. Hurtigruten Expeditions, the cruise line, started in Norway in the late 1800s when they established a coastal route.
“In Norway, almost no place is connected by a street. So they had to have a system to supply the people of the fjords with food with whatever news, and then they also transported fish, herring mainly to the coast,” Biersack said.
And if that sounds familiar, the feeling is mutual. Biersack said of Southeast Alaska, “It’s such a beautiful country. It’s like Norway on steroids. You know? It’s so much wilder. The peaks are higher. The trees are taller. It’s good.”
The Roald Amundsen was completed in 2019 and features state-of-the-art technology. She is a hybrid ship that uses batteries in conjunction with her four diesel generators. One of the crew described it as a giant floating Prius. Its propellers face forward, so they pull the ship through the water rather than pushing it. And although the ship has two anchors on board, it doesn’t use them much.
“We have something else that we call DP – dynamic positioning,” Biersack said. “That means the ship has very, very accurate GPS systems, several of them. And that dynamic positioning operates the bow thrusters and the propellers and keeps the ship in position without an anchor. And it’s so accurate that “we don’t move more than five or four centimeters at all. Even when the wind picks up, the system engages and gives us more stability. So we can stay in a place where an anchor wouldn’t catch .
The ship will continue to Vancouver, then turn around for its next trip to Nome. It is planned to stop in Petersburg twice this summer.
“I had a lot of really big honchos on the ship the last trip, because it was the very first time we did this,” Biersack said. “And we all agreed that Petersburg is the most comfortable of places. Absolutely. And you have a Viking ship.
As Roald Amundsen’s next stop, the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce plans to present him with a wooden plaque, hand-painted in the traditional Norwegian style.
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