With our ground tackle stowed and motors running by 8 am, the fleet got underway in heavy rain, which lifted as we left the confines of Thomas Bay. The high elevations of the coastal mountains around here trap moisture laden clouds and force them upwards causing bands of rain along the shores, often leaving mid-channel skies clear and warm.
Pulling into Fredrick Sound we find ourselves steaming the opposite direction of the fishing fleet, headed back to Petersburg after another opening, the successful boats sitting low in the water, holds full of fish. With clearing weather and a small following sea we are making good time crossing the Sound. This body of water is a special one for one particular reason which has caused a rise in excitement and even anxiety in the crew. The combination of strong currents, variable bathymetry, cold oxygen rich waters, and astronomical biological productivity have made Fredrick sound one of the greatest gathering spots in the world for humpback whales, who gather every year to gorge on the abundance of small fish and krill.
It isn’t long until the crew of Deception spots telltale puffs of vapor off the bow, south of Point Highland. Soon the horizon is filled with the incredible sight of whales surfacing and diving as for as the eye can see, and a wave of excited chatter crackles over the radio. Tiny Red-necked Phalaropes feed along the current lines and in the wake of the whales. As we draw closer, the whales begin to feed at the surface, lunging through churning white water with mouths wide open, massive tails pumping to propel their 50’ forms speeding through the water at speeds a Grand Banks can only dream of.
With our engines in idle we drift for two hours as whales surround us, sometimes surfacing mere feet from the rails, showering the decks with the salty spray of their exhalations. The breeze picks up and reluctantly we shift back in to gear and steer towards Admiralty Island, passing south of Five Finger Light and Cape Fanshaw. Crossing the southern end of Stephens Passage, huge splashes of white water explode in to view ahead, south of the hazardous Round Rock. As we draw near, the source becomes obvious. An especially exuberant whale is breaching continuously, its whole body bursting vertically from the water and twisting over onto its back before shattering the surface with a thunderous gunshot of water. It is an incredible display of athleticism from an animal easily weighing 40 tons. Witnessing this display, the Mother Goose crews enter what an outsider might describe as a rhapsodic episode. The symptoms of this state are as follows: Speech becomes impaired and vocabulary is reduced to only the most basic Cro-Magnon expressions of amazement; Physical mobility is greatly decreased, the only muscles which function correctly are those which operate camera shutters; The ability of the mind to focus on anything other than the majesty of one of nature’s most fabulous sight is rendered null.
Eventually the whale, still breaching, moved off into deeper waters and the crew, in a happy daze finished the last hour of travel into the stunningly beautiful Cannery Cove. An enormous alpine bowl cradles the bay and affords us cloud streaked views of snowfields and towering waterfalls. With such fabulous surroundings and after such an eventful day, the mood at the potluck aboard the decks of the rafted Deception, Navigator, and Ajax is a jovial one, and reenactments of breaching whales, good food, and excellent company are all in ample supply. Another grand day in a grand adventure. The best part is, it only gets better from here!