The mountaintops surrounding Stephens Passage were lit with golden beams of light that streamed through gaps in the high clouds while the fleet left the protection of Cannery Cove this morning. Leaving the small Islands at the mouth of Pybus Bay in our wake we ran north north-east into a light breeze and low chop, flicking salt spray onto our freshly cleaned forward windows. Humpback whales spouted in the distance all around us as First Mate Rowan made passing arrangements with an enormous cruise ship bearing down on our starboard side. The inquisitive captain of ocean liner switched to a little used channel to ask more about what we were doing in Alaska, and when he heard the answer a distinct note of jealousy crept in to his voice. Seeing a quarter-mile long steel behemoth barrel past at 20 knots on a 7 day there-and-back whirlwind tour really makes our leisurely journey seem even more special. Perhaps it is even more telling that despite a beautiful morning in the scenic heart of southeast Alaska, not a soul stood at the rail of the massive ship.
We leave the coastline at False Point Pybus and cross towards Point Leag on the mainland. Gulls and phalaropes flitted across the open water, while closer to shore flights of Common Goldeneye and the occasional Scaup zipped past on their way to unknowable destinations.
As we arrived at the mainland shore, our eyes were drawn to the sight of a sailboat at anchor in a bight just south of Point Lookout. Titanic splashes of white water shot up all around the boat, and as we drew near the source became obvious. A massive humpback whale sat vertically at the surface with his tail standing 25 feet above the water’s surface. With rhythmic regularity he brought his flukes crashing to the surface. The spray reached far out across the water and the sound of the concussion was audible even over the thrum of the diesels. We throttle back to appreciate the show. The helpless sailboat at times looks to be in danger of falling under the hammer blow of the flukes, but the whale eventually thrashes his way away and we move on, rounding the point and threading through the dangerous channel into Holkham Bay and the mouths of Endicott and Tracy Arm, the latter being home to the Sawyer glaciers, tomorrows destination.
It is here we spot our first ice- smaller chunks at first, but later larger fragments and finally enormous bergs of the most dazzling blue. The color of the ice is nearly impossible to describe. It is a deep and shimmering color that subtly shifts continually from brilliant emerald green to platinum to unfathomably deep cobalt. There is a large iceberg grounded on the bar at the entrance to the bay. After we drop anchor in No-Name cove we brave the rain and set out in our dinghies with the outgoing tide to marvel at its gothic bulk. Seawater and the sun have shaped the burg into glassy spires and organic curves, and below its transparent scalloped surface meltwater can be seen flowing throughout like blood through the veins of some fantastical creature.
Before the rain chases us back to the boats we snatch up a few small floating chunks to chip into cocktails. They sparkle like cut crystal and later, in the comfort of a warm cabin, clink merrily in tumblers as the crews celebrate another great day on the water and prepare for tomorrow when we will witness one of nature’s greatest sights.