☰ MENU

Trip #294 Recap – May 6 – 17, 2017 – Canadian Inside Passage

Trip #294 – Northbound Bellingham to Ketchikan Trip Recap

Twice a year the M/V David B relocates from Bellingham to Alaska – Northbound in May and Southbound in August. It takes us 12 days in total and there is a lot to see and do along the way. Here are Captain Jeffrey’s highlights from this year’s Northbound trip through the Canadian Inside Passage.

Day 1) 06 May – Bellingham to Garrison Bay
After a little delay to handle some customs paperwork, we were off. Beautiful weather, and a quiet anchorage with an evening class about Tides and Currents.

Day 2) 07 May – Garrison Bay to Nanaimo, BC
On to Canada, with lots of help steering and operating the boat. We ran Dodd Narrows a little early, just for fun.

Day 3) 08 May – Nanaimo to Tenados Bay Desolation Sound
An early start and long day of crossing the Straits of Georgia, but with perfect weather and Orca whales just before we got to Desolation Sound. Lots of discussion of cruising boat types and what people liked and a little about bouys thrown in. No other boats could be seen from our anchorage.

Day 4) 09 May – Tenados Bay to Cordero Channel Cove
We didn’t need to leave to early to make our Yulculta Rapids time so there was time for a beautiful hike to a lake, then on through the rapids, also a little early, and very swirly.

Day 5) 10 May – Cordero Channel to Blind Bay Lodge to Pearse Islands
No time schedule again, but lots of miles to make. We stopped in at Blind bay lodge to go for another walk, then headed up Johnstone Strait. More discussion of route planning and currents. Had Pearse Islands anchorage to ourselves.


Friendly Squirrel at Blind Channel

Day 6) 11 May – Pearse Islands to Alert Bay to Blunden Harbor
Made a morning stop at Alert Bay to visit the native cultural center, then on across Queen Charlotte Strait to a quiet anchorage by ourselves again.Several guests went kayaking in the beautiful early evening light. Sunsets are already noticeably later.

Day 7) 12 May – Blunden Harbor to “Amy’s Fancy Cove”
Early morning start for a very smooth crossing of Queen Charlotte Sound, with beautiful sun and a light breeze from astern. Amy chose the evening’s anchorage, a tight little cove with the tree branches right to the water’s edge, which were alone in, again. Sea Otters, shearwaters and Jaegers along the way.

Day 8) 13 May – Fancy Cove to Bottleneck Inlet
A late morning start, and lots of navigating through narrow tree lined passages. Everyone who wanted to has had some time at the helm, with J. taking us through Reid Passage and H. going through Jackson Narrows later in the day.

Day 9) 14 May – Bottleneck Inlet to Butedale to Coghlin Anchorage
Always the required brief stop at Butedale, which is slowly crumbling into the forest, lots and lots of waterfalls, then Whales! Humpback whales lunge feeding right off Kingcome point. Of course, we were alone in the anchorage.

Day 10) 15 May – Coghlin Anchorage to Kumealon Inlet
D.drove the boat for the entire day, through Grenville channel. There was kayaking and skiff rides before dinner. We happened to be at the reversing rapids at the Lagoon just before slack water, so we came back in the skiff with better raingear and cameras and got to explore the lagoon for the first time. Again, by ourselves, and a great toast to Christine on her Birthday.

Day 11) 16 May – Kumealon Inlet to Brundige Inlet
Left early, and drove through Prince Rupert, just as 2 ships were maneuvering to and from the dock, lots of discussion of passing situations etc. Very seldom have we been in Brundige by ourselves, but once again, for our last night, we were alone.

The Skiff at Kumealon Inlet

Day 12) 17 May – Brundige inlet to Ketchikan, AK
One last early morning start, and a good chance to see how the new Tin Hat was in bigger seas, probably three to five feet, and as expected, much more comfortable than before. Just as we were approaching Ketchikan, the welcoming committee of bald eagles and whales showed up. J spotted the whale first, and we were able to turn and watch for a couple minutes before we headed into town, the trip a complete success!

If you would like to book a trip on our Southbound 12-day trip, we still have spots available. Just email Sarah@northwestnavigation.com for more information.


Last Minute Discounts for Alaska

We still have a 8 spots available for Alaska Trip #302 – July 30 to August 6 from Juneau to Petersburg. Here is a sample itinerary. Since we are just over two months away, I am able to offer a 20% discount on this trip. Normally this trip price is $5,900 per person, but with the discount you save over $1,000 for a discounted price of $4,720. Contact Sarah@northwestnavigation.com for details and to make your reservation.

Not ready for Alaska? Consider the San Juan Islands. We still have plenty of spots available once the David B returns from Alaska in August. Just look at our Schedule and then email Sarah@northwestnavigation.com to reserve your spot today!

Trip #293 Recap – April 27-30, 2017 – San Juan Islands

Trip #294 – San Juan Islands Trip Recap

Ever wonder what happens on one of our 4-day San Juan Islands escapes? Now you know what scenic anchorages we took, what amazing food Christine made and what incredible sights we saw along the way with a day-by-day breakdown.

Day 1) 26 April – Bellingham to Sucia Island – Echo Bay anchorage

  • Nature hike to Fossil Bay with Christine
  • Saw Bald Eagles, Camus in bloom, Banana Slugs, Pigeon Guillemots, Harlequin Ducks, Saskatoon Berries in Bloom
  • Baked Sockeye salmon with a honey balsamic finishing sauce for dinner with homemade ice cream for dessert
pigeon guillemots
Day 2) 27 April – Kayaking after a leisurely breakfast, then Echo Bay to Garrison Bay
  • Lots of Eagles, pigeon guillemots and geese
  • Creamy Scallop Risotto with Carnaroli Rice, over a bed of spinach, with oyster and shiitake mushrooms and brownies with ice cream for dessert
Day 3) 28 April – Left Garrison after lunch with anchorage in Blind Bay on Shaw Island.
  • A leisurely morning, spent reading and chatting on the boat and in the new Saloon
  • Then Hiking at Bell Point and English Camp
  • Pork tenderloin with black truffle and mushroom pan sauce.
 green point sea lions
Day 4) 29 April – Blind Bay to Rosario Resort, then a return to Bellingham
  • Christine’s amazing Croissants and Pain au Chocolat
  • Exploring Rosario Historical Museum in the main mansion.
  • Whisky crab soup for lunch
  • Disembarking and fond farewells

Experience the San Juan Islands in person! We still have plenty of spots available once the David B returns from Alaska in August. Just look at our Schedule and then email Sarah@northwestnavigation.com to reserve your spot today!

Dalls porpoises riding on the David B’s Bow

Small Ship Cruise Alaska Wildlife WatchingSomething I look forward to every year when we are running trips on the David B are the occasional visits by Dalls porpoises. These mid-sized sea mammals that looks deceptively like baby killer whales love to surf bow wakes. We often see them in the Inside Passage and Alaska. Usually they are foraging for fish, but sometimes, they turn their attention to the David B. It begins with seeing their characteristic rooter-tail splashing a ways off, and with surprising speed, they soon rush up alongside of the boat, and then they begin jockeying for the prime spot just in front of the boat’s stem. It’s a thrill to watch their speed and their agility.

Here’s a little complication of a few of the amazing experiences we’ve had with surfing Dalls porpoises.

Close Encounter

Whale watching alaska small ship cruiseSome days are simply perfect. The weather’s warm. The skies are blue. The water flat calm, and the line between sea and sky is almost indistinguishable. We had a day like that in August. It was the kind of day that happens every-so-often in the temperate rain-forest climate of southeast Alaska. It was the kind of day where all the conditions were just right for watching humpback whales. Not only could we stop to watch, but we were able to turn off the engine and drift silently. Without background noise from the boat, we were able to experience something different. All around us, and spread out over several miles were humpback whales in groups of two or three, and alone. All foraging.  When they would surface, their breath would make an explosive “swooshing” sound. Atomized water particles hung still in the air marking the spot where they had come up. It was hard to know where to look. The sounds of whales surrounded the boat. They would sometimes surface near to the David B. Other times they’d be distant. We just drifted upon the open water; watching, listening, observing.

Our only real plan for that day was to anchor in the evening somewhere at Admiralty Island or Baranof Island. We didn’t have any concrete plans for the day. Having an itinerary means you have to get somewhere, and when nature presents something beautiful and awe inspiring to enjoy, an itinerary means you just have to put on your blinders and keep going. So there we were, sitting around listening to whales. We’d also dropped a hydrophone (an underwater microphone) over the side. The small amplifier on deck that the hydrophone was plugged to revealed all kinds of whale sounds from funny-bawdy to ethereal. From my spot on deck, I could see couple of whales surfacing about a quarter mile away. It soon became evident that they were heading our direction. Everyone on deck turned their attention to these whales. They moved in a straight line. We watched. Each time they broke the surface, they were closer. Soon, one whales was close enough to see it under water –it’swhale watching Alaska Small Ship Cruise long pectoral fins faintly glowing against the deep dark water. Over the amplifier, a couple barking sounds and some bubbles could be heard. Then a few seconds later, a whale surfaced just off our starboard side. It lifted it’s fluke high and dove under the boat. Farther aft, the second whale surfaced and dove as well. There was a moment of joy, then wonder. I wondered why they chose that path? Where were they going? What did the sounds mean? How long would they remain under water? Where would they surface next?

A few minutes later they surfaced again along the same line. I assumed they were traveling to a spot with more food, but I don’t really know what they were doing or planning. We hung around a little while longer. Jeffrey started the engine up, and we picked our way around other foraging whales. In the evening, we anchored in a little cove at Baranof Warm Springs Bay. As I made dinner, I reflected on the day, our luck, and I thought to myself, “it couldn’t possibly get any better than this.

Please note – For full screen click on video, then click on” [ ]” in lower right corner.

Verney Falls in August

A black bear waits at Verny Falls for salmonWhen we enter Nettle Basin on our Southbound Inside Passage cruise between Ketchikan and Bellingham, we always hope we’ll find bears at Verney Falls. In mid-August the salmon come home to spawn here and the bears come for the feast.

Nettle Basin, at the base of the falls will be alive with hundreds of splashing salmon. Sometimes we’ll kayak right up to the waterfall to watch eagles, ravens, and bears feeding on the salmon. It’s exciting to watch bears fishing but I’ve often found myself more mesmerized by the great schools of salmon that gather in the pool at the base of the waterfall. When they jump, it sends a splash of water on to me and my kayak and as they swim their fins cut the surface like sharks.

There’s a lot of energy packed into in this small space. It’s nature’s raw energy of life and survival. I find myself rooting for both the fish and the bears, and I root for the eagles and the ravens too. It’s easy to get caught up in the drama at the waterfall, it’s why we like to come here.

-Christine

Watching whales in the Inside Passage

Whale watching on a 12-day inside passage small ship cruise
Humpback whales at Dundas Island on a 12-Day Inside Passage Cruise

On the second day of one of our southbound Learn to Cruise trips, we came across these two humpback whales foraging near the shore of Dundas Island. As they foraged we stayed a respectful distance to make sure we didn’t disturb them, but we were close enough that with binoculars and a good camera lens we got to see the individual markings on their flukes (tails) when they dove.  When they surfaced, we could see the baleen in their mouths that they use to strain the fish or krill that they were eating.

humpback whale watching on a small ship cruise in the Inside Passage and Great Bear Rainforest
Humpback whales with mouth’s wide open

It was fascinating to watch. The whales would often surface close to shore and my guess is that they were probably using the rocks underwater to help school their prey. We stayed with the whales for 20-30 minuets before heading on to Prince Rupert. Besides these two humpback whales we saw two others, several harbor seals, lots of different sea birds, and many bald eagles.

-Christine

Waiting for humpback whales

Humpback whales bubble net feeing in AlaskaI always feel like there’s sort of a Jack-in-the-box element to watching humpback whales forage. When they are at the surface we can see them breathing, flapping their flippers, or slapping their flukes (tails), but when they dive, it’s anybody’s guess as to where they’ll surface next.

I like to think about the wait between surfacing as a time to refocus my attention on my surroundings. I know that they will be beneath the surface for 3-7 minutes. They’ll be rounding up forage fish and doing the things that whales do — the stuff we can’t see. In that time, I like to think about where they’ll come back up, or how funny it is that there are these enormous animals so close, (only a few hundred of feet away) and yet I can’t see them. I like to look into the water for passing jelly fish, or a tangle of kelp that slips along in the current. I watch the gulls for cues about where the whales are. On occasion when they swim right beneath us, the bubbles of their breath will bounce up along the David B’s planks –a reminder that somewhere, just a out-of-sight, but oh, so close, there are whales. I refocus my attention to the whales. I wonder how long ago they were under the boat. I wonder what direction they are going. I calculate the time. I lift my camera and wait.  I wait for the thrill of hearing the explosive breath again and seeing these usually invisible giants. It’s like a Jack-in-the-box.

-Christine

 

 

Listening to Crows

Crow in Alaska
Crow keeping a watchful eye on me

When people ask what I do for a living, I respond that Jeffrey and I run a tour boat in Alaska, and if that leads to a longer conversation, I usually continue on about how we spend lots of time watching humpback and orca whales, and how we have a couple of spotting scopes on the boat so we can watch bears forage on the beach. Rarely do I run on about how much I love watching crows and other common animals. This is partly because, like weeds, the virtues of crows remain undiscovered for most people.

I find crows fascinating. They help me fulfill my need for nature during the off-season at my urban home where there are no deep-wilderness animals to geek-out on.  Sometimes the crows tell me what’s going on in the neighborhood. Like the time when a raccoon was out wandering during the day. I heard what I like to call a “crowmotion” a few block to the east. The crows were noisily and excitedly moving through yards and alleys. I stepped out the backdoor to see what all the fuss was about. As soon as I opened the door a raccoon came into my yard seeking refuge in a tall cedar tree. Unfortunately for the raccoon, there were already two other raccoons sleeping there and the poor thing was forced to move along. I watched it leave the tree and cross the street. I lost track of the raccoon as it ambled into the neighbor’s yard, but the crows continued their parade “cawing” and flying from tree to tree for several blocks.

I’ve learned a lot from observing crows and that with their help, they often lead me to exciting discoveries. One time I was kayaking close to shore in a cove in Alaska. It was a calm overcast day. I was looking for sea stars, crabs, and small schools of fish. I kept my attention focused on the water below my boat. After a while my ears picked up the sound of several crows in the bushes to my left. The crows were going on and on about something. I half listened thinking there was probably an eagle in a tree. I decided to look up. No eagle. I went back to skimming along the surface and searching the shallow water. They crows kept talking. I looked up again and decided to see if I could find the focus of their attention. I held my boat still by gently padding the water with my paddle. I watched. The crows were clustered low on the branches of spruce, hemlock, and alders. I looked at where they were looking. A branch moved. The tide was high and I was maybe 30 feet from the edge of the forest. I held still and smiled to myself as my eyes made out a dark fuzzy round shape with two more fuzzy round shapes on top. The animal was partially blocked by shrubs and very difficult to see. The crows had discovered a brown bear and wanted everyone to know. I had listened.

Brown bear on Admiralty Island on a small ship cruise
Crows gave away this brown bear’s hidden resting place in the woods.

There have been many other times that the cues of common animals have increased my awareness. I’ve watched gulls flying in a straight line, then suddenly circle. Most of the time it’s a fish coming to the surface, but sometimes it’s a whale. One day I realized that I often say things like, “Oh, that’s just a crow”, or, “It’s just a gull,” when really, they are so much more than “just a.” They are communicators and lively participants in the ecosystems and habitats of which we are part. If we pause to listen to them, we might discover they know things that will truly enrich our lives.

That time we anchored in Tracy Arm…

David B anchored at Tracy Arm Mud Flats
David B anchored at Tracy Arm Mud Flats

It was maybe the coolest thing we did all summer, and it wasn’t planned at all. I didn’t really mean to be there at that time of day anyway.

What started it all was a “boring” glacier in another fjord. We normally visit a glacier on our Juneau and Petersburg trips, and stay around for an hour or so to watch it calve, but this time — no luck.  We drifted around, and drifted around and nothing. The glacier was just sitting there, doing absolutely nothing. Maybe a couple little snowballs, but not like our normal shows. And it was really windy, so we kept having to maneuver to get back into position. There were lots of big icebergs that we pushed up against, and lots of brash ice and the whole thing was really annoying since nothing was going on with the glacier.

So I made a pronouncement “this glacier is boring! I’ll take you to see better one tomorrow.” Seemed like a good idea at the time.

The next morning we got underway at a nice civilized hour. The logbook says: “0935 — Underway“ Then everything seemed to slow us down. The tide was against us, we stopped for whales, we didn’t even make it out of Endicott Arm until well after lunch.

Black bear looking at kayakers un Tracy Arm
Black bear in Tracy Arm

And so, late in the afternoon we were headed up Tracy Arm and we weren’t going to make it. Turning around meant covering this same stretch of water two more times and if we kept on to the glacier, it was going to be dark on our way out. Not good when you’re trying to avoid icebergs.

So I did what anyone would do in that situation. I anchored right in the fjord. We’d been told about a spot where a river flows out into the fjord and pushes the icebergs away, but it didn’t seem that good, so we went back a few miles and dropped the hook on a shallow ledge where another stream flows out. We’d scooped out this spot a few weeks earlier, tested the depths and looked at how the stream flow pushed the ice away.

Seal eating a fish in Tracy Arm
Seal with fish

It was amazingly beautiful. Everyone got in kayaks and paddled around the little bergy bits that were nearby and watched a black bear at the water’s edge. Then we observed a seal eating salmon, and there was even a place to nose the kayaks into a little waterfall flowing into the fjord. Over dinner we spotted the bear again on the rocks high above us.

As darkness fell, Christine, Cass and I set an all night anchor watch, which was mostly an all night berg watch. We plotted the big ones with the radar, we scanned for small ones by searchlight. It was really eerie watching the huge bergs go by all night at a quarter knot or so, but it was too shallow for them to get close to us.  

When you go through a night like this, it seems almost bittersweet when it starts to get light. It was so serene and peaceful as the bergs marched slowly past us in the dark, first one way, then the other as the tide turned. There was a kind of magic to it. We were the only ones there quietly watching what the natural world had been doing for thousands of years

Sawyer glacier calving
Sawyer glacier calving

The spell continued as it got light, and we got underway to be the first ones to the glacier. The sun shone brilliantly, and this time, the glacier performed.

 

-Captain Jeffrey

The Best Hike on Cypress Island – Eagle Cliff

This story was originally published at CruisingNW.com and can be read there in its entirety. 

Where the skiff meets the beach the sound of hundreds, if not thousands of small-flat weathered rocks clatter and scrape against each other as if in protest of having to move out of the way. I feel the same protest from under my Xtra-Tuf boots as I hop out of the boat and onto Pelican Beach at Cypress Island. The shore, as far as I can tell, is made up entirely of skipping stones, accented by a few large weathered logs. Once again, I think, no pelicans, and to the best of my knowledge few, if any have ever visited here. Maybe someone, some day will tell me the story of how Pelican Beach got its name.

It’s always tempting to sit down on a log and mindlessly sort through rocks, or spend the day watching the changing moods of Mount Baker while boats cruise though Bellingham Channel. The reason I continue up the beach is the 1.3 mile hike to the top of Eagle Cliff. It’s a moderately strenuous hike, but the effort is rewarded with one of the best views in the San Juan Islands.

Cypress Island is unusual in the San Juan Islands. It’s heavily forested and virtually unpopulated. As the fifth largest island in this highly developed archipelago it’s remarkable that 91% of the 5500 acres of land on the island is public. Cypress Island is managed by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and most of the land operated as a Natural Resources Conservation Area that’s reserved for outdoor recreation like the hike to Eagle Cliff, and the rest is protected as a Natural Area Preserve.

Rough skinned newt at Cypress Island in Washington State

The hike to Eagle Cliff is through a predominantly Douglas fir forest, but there are also Western red cedars, Western hemlocks, and big leaf maples. I look forward to whatever I might find in the forest. My favorite two animals on Cypress are the poisonous rough skinned newt and the banana slug. As I walk the trail…Continue Reading at CruisingNW.Com.